Hisense is usually more associated as a maker of affordable smart TVs, but the company actually has a pretty robust lineup of smartphones (in some cases, literally). At its MWC booth, the company showed off another interesting device: the Hisense A2, featuring an e-ink display.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an e-ink display on a smartphone; a Russian company called YotaPhone did it back in 2013, before attempting it again with the YotaPhone 2 the next year. It didn’t really catch on, simply because it didn’t actually have tangible benefits.
Hisense attempts to rectify this with the A2. Once again, there are little tangible benefits with the e-ink display. You can use the it as an emergency display if your battery is running low, for example. Or it can e-reader without blue light harming your eyes over the long term. But credit to Hisense for adding some fresh new ideas with the A2.
The company makes it easy to switch between the main and e-ink displays via a software button on the bottom right, but what’s really cool is that the Hisense A2 allows you to unlock your phone directly to the e-ink display. Simply unlock the device with the e-ink display facing you, and the phone automatically displays your home screen there. The trick is that Hisense utilises the accelerometer to detect which side of the phone is up when you unlock it.
There are also some gesture controls that let you control the main display, but that didn’t really work when I tried it myself. The idea is that you can swipe between photos or scroll down a webpage by swiping the screen behind, but it may need some software tweaks before it’s ready.
The e-ink display management page also allows more control over what appears on the secondary display, letting users customise the default screen with widgets and shortcuts.
Finally, the Hisense A2’s e-ink display can also be used to capture higher-resolution selfies. In fact, there’s a dedicated icon on the home screen just for that (unsurprisingly called Rear Selfie). Tap on that on the main screen, and you’ll be prompted to turn the phone around. It’s actually a pretty neat feature, especially for taking group photos.
Nonetheless, as a smartphone, the Hisense A2 is not excellent. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chipset with 4GB RAM, and has a 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED screen (with a similarly-sized 960 x 540 e-ink display at the back). As you can see from the photos, it has lower than expected refresh rates that result in bright and dark banding in the photos – but of course, this isn’t an issue in real life.
Other hardware specs of the Hisense A2 include 64GB of expandable storage (up to an additional 128GB), 16MP (f/2.0, PDAF) rear and 5MP front cameras, a 3,090mAh battery with Hisense Quick Charge, and a side mounted fingerprint sensor. It runs on Android 6.0, and supports Cat 4 LTE.
Surprisingly, the Hisense A2 was launched back at CES 2017 to little fanfare, and was released in China several weeks ago for 2,999 Yuan (about RM1,940). The company does not have a mobile presence here in Malaysia, so it’s best to assume that this device will not be coming to our shores.