YotaPhone is made by Russian smartphone manufacturer Yota Devices. It first made a splash at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and has recently gained great feedback from the 2014 Mobile Web Conference in Barcelona. The 2nd generation YotaPhone is an Android based premium category smartphone, combining a 4.3-inch LCD display on one side and an electronic paper display like an e-reader on the other. The rear e-paper display can receive notifications and display news or maps while conserving battery life.
What do customers think about the concept?
YotaPhone were keen to understand how British, German, US and Chinese users would use their latest mobile design. Due to the unique 2 screen concept, it was important to understand how functionality on the e-reader screen affected the usability of the device as a whole.
Understanding cultural differences
Due to the need to speak with 4 different geographic users groups, we recruited 25 people from these areas for 90-minute sessions across 5 days in London. This allowed us enough scope to test the device with all 4 groups to distinguish any cultural differences in the use and perception of the device. User testing focused mainly on the back screen of the phone that was made from an e-ink display. However, we also included more physical elements during testing by asking users to unbox the phone, insert the sim card and turn the device on. Participants would discover the back screen functionality in their own time to understand their initial reaction to the concept.
Improving the usability of the phone
The YotaPhone team were quite ambitious with the functionality of this device, making it possible to use every feature of the phone by mirroring the front display. Whilst this idea sounds great in theory in practice it was a different story:
- The two displays had very different capabilities which resulted in different interactions, causing confusion amongst users.
- More complex functions that require visual feedback did not work well on the limited e-ink display.
- Flipping the phone between back and front caused some error as it was easy to lock the phone by mistake.
- Users became unclear about the purpose of the e-ink display as they struggled to see its benefits (jack of all trades, master of none).
Concentrate on key functionality
At the end of a full week of testing, we recommended YotaPhone to scale back the functionality on the e-ink display to really make clear to users the benefits of the second screen. We suggested concentrating on key functionality that would aid users with multitasking, and that they should work on making fewer features work perfectly instead of more features behaving poorly.
It was interesting researching a physical product together with its user interface. User testing a device like this was complex for several reasons:
- Users go into the session with no prior knowledge to the device. Whereas in reality they would have seen some advertising or marketing before seeing the device for the first time.
- Observations needed to be made of physical interactions and also of cognitive expectations.
- Understanding when to help the participant was difficult. Most would suggest they never used the user guide supplied with a device, but would always need help at some point during testing.
- When using a new device, users needed to learn new interactions to complete the tasks. It was difficult to moderate without leading when the user struggled to understand an interaction… but that’s a finding in itself!