After looking at the hardware of the Kyocera Echo on Sprint, you might be left wondering just how the device operates with its two screens. Since Android wasn’t built for multiple displays, Kyocera had to do a lot of work to design the UI around the two screens. We’re excited to say that the way the Echo handles this feat is quite smart, but there are a few caveats.
Essentially, with the two screens out, apps can operate in one of three modes. The first is tablet mode, which requires a small piece of software from the Android market. Tablet mode will stretch an ordinary app, like Twitter, Facebook, or Angry Birds across both displays, granting the app the full 960×800 resolution that dual-WVGA displays can provide. Much like you get on the Galaxy Tab with apps that can stretch for the whole display, text is sharp since it’s rendering at the operating system level, but some graphics look stretched and sometimes pixelated. You’ll have to get used to the thick black bar between the two displays, which fades away after a few minutes of use.
The second mode or way that an app can display is actually just a failed version of tablet mode. Apps like SpeedTest.net and NYTimes do not stretch across both displays. Instead, they hover awkwardly between the two screens. We’ve tested many apps on the Echo, and the vast majority can properly take advantage of tablet mode, which is great.
The real magic happens with the simul-task apps, which are apps that can work in parralel with each other. These apps also have special views that take great advantage of both screens. Simul-task apps are limited to email, web, gallery, phone, SMS, contacts and YouTube. Kyocera has released an SDK to allow developers to make their app simul-task capable, but our guess it that not many apps will get the treatment, unless the Echo becomes a runaway hit. Simul-task apps not only can be run side by side (so, imagine having email on the top screen with web on the bottom, or YouTube on the top and phone on the bottom), but they can stretch across both displays and provide different content in each. For example, in email split view, you can see your message inbox in one display, while your message preview appears in another, much like an iPad or other tablet.
So is it a novelty to have two displays on a smartphone, or does it increase usability? We’ll have to answer that question in full in the final review, but so far it seems that two screens on a smartphone makes sense and can increase productivity. That said, we find the Echo to be rough around the edges: it’s slow and buggy at times, plus it’s ugly, heavy, and thick. We’re hoping that another company (we’re looking at you, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola) will come around and do a better version of a dual-screened phone at some point.