NEC seeing double with dual-screen smartphone

NEC's latest smartphone packs two LCD screens and can run two Android apps side by side

Japan's NEC has come up with a different way to answer consumer demands for bigger screens on smartphones. Rather than use a single, larger display, which makes the entire phone larger, the company has fitted a second screen to its Medias W handset that folds out when needed to double the display area.

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At first glance the phone, due on sale in Japan in April, doesn't look very different from other Android handsets. Its 4.3-inch display takes up most of the front of the device, but flip the phone over and there is a similar screen taking up most of the rear. In fact, if it wasn't for the phone's brand name on the front and a camera on the rear, it might be difficult to tell the front from the back.

In normal use only the front display is powered, with access to all the usual apps and software.

But flip the back of the phone around and the screen size can be doubled. There's a black border between the two screens down the center of the enlarged screen, so it's not quite as good as a single, large display -- but it's much easier to fit in the pocket.

(See video of a demonstration of the phone on YouTube.)

Each screen has 540 x 960 pixel resolution, giving the side-by-side screens an effective resolution of 1,080 x 960 pixels.

The two screens can either be run side-by-side as a single large display -- albeit interrupted by that border -- or each can be used to run a different app. This is one area where the Medias W has an advantage on phones with a single large screen. Usually it's impossible to run two Android apps side-by-side, but that's not a problem on the new NEC handset.

NEC demonstrated the phone running a video in one screen and a Web browser in the second, or a map on one screen and note taking app on the second.

The back-to-back screens means the phone is almost certain to be sitting on one of its displays when resting on a desk, but both are protected with Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 so scratches shouldn't be an issue.

The phone was on show at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. A prototype version for the global market was also on show, although it's unclear how much this differed from the Japan model. NEC has not made any announcements regarding global availability of the handset.

The phone supports GSM, WCDMA and LTE, runs Android 4.1, and includes a Sony Exmor R image sensor in its 8-megapixel camera. NTT DoCoMo, which will sell the handset in Japan, puts battery life at up to 630 hours in standby and 3G talk time at just over eight hours.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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