Yotaphone

CES isn’t even over yet, and already the press and pundits are lamenting the overall lack of innovation on the show floor. Well, there’s at least one phone maker out there trying to do something different.

Like the little engine that could, a largely unknown company from Russia called Yota Devices had the chutzpah to show off its new YotaPhone. Announced last month, this curious sort of Android gadget features a radically different concept: It’s a smartphone that boasts a full-color touchscreen on one side and an e-ink display on the other. With this, users get gesture controls for flicking content from one to the other. To truly get how this works, you have to see it in action, as Time‘s Jared Newman did this week in Vegas.

The YotaPhone’s most notable feature is its 4.3-inch e-ink display. It sits on the curved rear, where the back plate should be, and serves as a sort of holding tank for the time, notifications, photos, boarding passes or any other types of data users would want to keep within easy reach. It’s super-simple to take a screen-grab of the front and flick it over to the other side for safekeeping. And why not? There’s no battery drain, and stashing it on the back is easier than launching apps and navigating to the desired content. Plus, I could see the e-ink display working much better than glossy, glassy screens for scannable club cards.

YotaPhone also has a cutesy personality: When you’re snapping a pic, the e-ink display side becomes a cue card telling your subject to smile.

The phone features Android 4.1 and boasts a 4.3-inch 720p display, dual-core 1.4 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, a 13 MP camera, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB storage (minimum). The form factor’s curved, but at its thickest part, it’s 0.38 inches in depth. So it’s not exactly a skinny phone, but considering it’s packing two displays, it’s actually not that bad.

Okay fine, this is kind of a goofy device. But it’s interesting for the mere fact that it’s different. Does it mean that the masses will clamor for this wacky smartphone? It’s doubtful. Even so, it’s refreshing to see a new approach against the backdrop of same-old, same-old.