The Kindle Phone Exists. Sort of, but Only in Russia

June 21 (Bloomberg) -- It was the first to send man into space, but is Russia still an innovator? Ryan Chilcote speaks to Yota CEO Vladislav Martynov, maker of a Russian smart phone with a twist. (Source: Bloomberg)

Russia is known for many things, but producing consumer electronics is not one of them. Moscow-based Yota Devices wants to change that with a new gadget that combines a smartphone with an e-reader.

The YotaPhone, which is expected to go into production by the end of this year, has a touchscreen on the front and an e-ink display on the back. The selling point of the second screen, which uses similar technology found in Amazon.com's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and other e-readers, is that it's easier on the eyes and requires far less energy than a liquid-crystal display.

"You can read much longer on our phone," Vlad Martynov, the CEO of Yota Devices, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "It consumes power only when you refresh the page, so it can last four or five times longer than if you read the same book on an LCD display."

Amid a growing smartphone market dominated by U.S., South Korean and Chinese consumer electronics makers, Russia has largely been absent. The YotaPhone may not change that reality, given the ongoing popularity of products by Samsung Electronics and Apple. But the dual-screen device is one of the bolder attempts by a Russian company to innovate in the competitive industry.

Others have hacked together similar products. PopSlate and Gajah make cases for the iPhone that have e-ink displays on the back. And you can find Android phones using e-ink as their main screens at consumer electronics trade shows.

The YotaPhone packs both screens into one, bulkier phone. That could make it a tough sell as companies brag to consumers how thin their smartphones are. The YotaPhone is thicker and heavier than the 3-year-old iPhone 4.

Still, an extra screen has its merits. Because the electronic-paper display is always on, it can be used as a black-and-white picture frame or to keep a digital boarding pass always accessible at the airport. Users can, of course, read books on it like a Kindle or set it to show notifications of new e-mails and text messages without turning on the main screen.

The YotaPhone, which runs on Android, is expected to cost between $400 and $500 before any carrier subsidies, Martynov said.

"Initially, we'll go for the Russian market because it's our home," Martynov said. "But we are talking already with several European and North American carriers."

The company, a maker of modems and routers, was part of mobile-phone operator Yota Holdings until billionaire Alisher Usmanov bought the network last year and a group of Russian investors took over the manufacturing business.

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