Double vision: YotaPhone 2 with e-ink rear screen coming to US

Although the unique YotaPhone 2, with its front and back displays, can work with AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks, you can’t buy the phone in the U.S. just yet. That’s changing soon but don’t expect to see the handset with e-ink rear screen in a carrier store anytime soon. Instead, the company is taking to Indiegogo to sell the phone for around $600 off-contract, according to PhoneScoop.

YotaPhone 2 front and back

Availability news came out of the Mobile World Congress where company announced the Indiegogo campaign. You can’t purchase the phone at the moment but you can provide an email address for updates in anticipation of April sales. YotaPhone says it will provide early-bird pricing for the Android 4.4 phone — which will get [company]Google[/company] Android 5.0 in the near future — and plans to bring it to retailers such as Best Buy in the U.S. as well.

This is the second iteration of YotaPhone’s handset with a traditional front screen coupled with lower resolution e-ink screen on the back. And this second time around gave the company another chance to show how a secondary screen can add to the phone experience. This hands-on Yotaphone 2 video from Android Central shows how the e-ink screen is better integrated into standard phone features in a way that doesn’t hit the battery too hard.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/w6ZCVdbJbZk]

Key to the approach are new configurable panels, or screens, where you can choose what’s displayed on the e-ink screen: Think of notifications, boarding passes, email, books and more. Compared to the newer flagship phones recently announced at Mobile World Congress, the YotaPhone 2 is a step behind, using last year’s [company]Qualcomm[/company] Snapdragon 801 chip, for example. The addition of that second, low-power screen could offset such a compromise for some users, and the phone does have otherwise solid specs, including a 5-inch 1080p display, 2GB of memory, wireless charging support and a large 2500 mAh battery.

Do e-readers really harm sleep? Depends what you call an e-reader

A new study has claimed that light-emitting e-readers “negatively affect sleep, circadian timing and next-morning alertness” when used in the evening. However, those reading the resulting coverage should look into the details before worrying too much.

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), leading to scary headlines such as: “E-readers ‘damage sleep and health,’ doctors warn” (BBC); “Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning” (Pacific Standard); and “Before Bed, Switch Off The E-Reader And Pick Up A Paperback” (Fast Company).

The key problem with this study and the more alarmist stories that followed, is that when it says “e-reader”, it means “[company]Apple[/company] iPad”. An iPad at full brightness, no less. When I hear “e-reader”, I tend to think “dedicated e-reader” – an e-ink device without a backlit screen — rather than a multi-purpose tablet. And there’s a big difference.

The screens of devices such as tablets and smartphones have long been known to emit short-wavelength light, also known as blue light. All light can suppress the secretion of melatonin – the hormone that controls our day-night cycles – in the evening and night-time, but blue light has a particularly pronounced effect and previous studies have shown that it’s best avoided at night.

The new study, conducted on a small group of 12 participants, adds to these earlier studies by comparing the effects of a light-emitting “e-book” (iPad) with those of a paper book. The researchers found printed books were definitely safer, writing:

The use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment has greatly increased recently. We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning. Use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home. Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.

These effects could be serious. As the researchers note, recent evidence has linked chronic suppression of melatonin secretion by nocturnal light exposure with “the increased risk of breast, colorectal, and advanced prostate cancer associated with night-shift work… which has now been classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.”

But again, there’s a huge difference between an iPad and an e-ink reader such as those in the [company]Amazon[/company] Kindle, [company]Kobo[/company] or [company]Barnes & Noble[/company] Nook ranges. The study does not once mention e-ink e-readers. The iPad was also “set to maximum brightness throughout the four-hour reading session, whereas, by comparison, the print-book condition consisted of reflected exposure to very dim light.”

Charles Czeisler, director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who co-authored the study, told the Washington Post that the “standard Kindle” would provide an exception to the study’s findings as it does not emit light and was more like reading a paper book. A Vox interview with lead author Anne-Marie Chang suggests that the research was conducted between 2010 and 2011, when even the original, non-illuminated Kindle was pretty new and paper books made a better point of comparison.

There has been no mention at all of e-ink readers that are not backlit but that are illuminated, such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight — which is not surprising as these devices were only introduced in 2012. Rather than lighting the screen from behind, illuminated e-ink e-readers are “front-lit” and use small LEDs around the screen, pointing inward rather than outward, to cast a glow over it (the Paperwhite channels this through “light guides” to illuminate evenly). This is more like looking at an earlier Kindle in a lit room, than it is like looking at a light shining directly into your eyes.

What’s more, these devices generally allow users to dim the light – and so do blue-light-tastic backlit tablets, for that matter.

So in short, yes, you should avoid staring at your smartphone or tablet (or PC or TV) for hours before trying to nod off. And that includes the Kindle Fire, which is after all just a tablet. But let’s give dedicated e-ink e-readers, which are very different devices, the benefit of the doubt until someone proves they also pose a danger.

Bad sign for e-readers? E Ink sales plunge

E Ink Holdings, the leading provider of e-ink screens to companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, just had its worst quarter in four years. But the company says it sees growth in the e-reader market outside the United States.