The Sprint Kyocera Echo took us by surprise on many levels. Never did we expect a company–not exactly infamous for smartphones–to do something as radical as bring a “first” to the industry.
Before we tell you what we think of the concept of a dual-display Android phone, let’s talk about the Echo and exactly how it works.
First, let’s go over the hardware. The phone, as you might expect, is a bit of a tank. It has sharp edges, a very boxy design, and a rather thick profile. That said, it’s not much thicker than (name your favorite smartphone slider). It’s also a bit lighter than you would expect. The hinge that makes the first display flip next to the second display seems quite robust, and we’re excited to see that it can work in multiple positions so that you can get either a side-by-side view, or a slightly tilted view, ideal for using the bottom display as a keyboards.
In terms of specs, it’s running on the (now becoming last-generation) Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz CPU with around 512MB of RAM and Android 2.2. The battery is a paltry 1300mAh or so, but you get two batteries when you buy this phone.
In terms of availably and pricing, expect the Echo to hit for $199 on Sprint’s 3G network in the Spring of 2011. Also included is a second battery, and a second battery charger, cause face it…two displays will consume twice as much power as one.
How does it work? Let’s start by explaining that Kyocera has had to redo all stock applications in order to get them to properly display in split screen. For example, email will show you your email inbox on one screen, with a preview of the message on another. Third parties will eventually be able to take advantage of this tablet-like functionality once Kyocera release its SDK for the Echo. Our guess is that with such a niche product, there’s not going to be much traction with developers to make their apps work on two screens.
Beyond native applications, you can choose to stretch any application to both displays, making for 900×800 resolution (since with displays are 800×480). With the bezel inbetween the displays, this looked a bit weird and unnatural, despite Kyocera pushing hard to minimize the height of the bezel. The better option is to display two different apps on both screens. The way you do this is with a tap on both displays simultaneously. You’ll then get an application picker for each screen. We’re not exactly sure how the Echo handles two applications (since hey, Android is tuned to run one app in the foreground at a time), but from what we hear, there’s some hibernation going on whereby as soon as you interact with one app, the second goes to sleep until you tap on it again. Another choice you have when you tap simultaneously on both displays is a “swap” function that will swap one screen for another. We still have some questions about how all of this comes together, and certainly we’ll have the answers as we approach the release, and certainly after we get one in the labs to review.
So, what do we really think about this? The concept of a dual-screen phone is fascinating, and dare we say, a bit futuristic. It’s a very compelling prospect to be able to work in two apps at once, kind of like a desktop computer. Whether you want to call it “simul-tasking” or whatever term Kyocera coined up, dual-screens are a natural evolution of today’s smartphone and in the future, phones could have more than two screens. While the technology exists today for such a phone (requiring heavy customization from an OEM since core software doesn’t support it), the Echo looks to be a haphazard execution. Granted, we’ll need to put the Echo through our full suite of tests to make a final judgement, but from what we’ve seen, the device performance is sub-par (laggy) and the hardware is rather ugly. I’d love to see Samsung, Motorola, or HTC come through with a Tegra 2-powered dual-screen smartphone with 1GB of RAM and a svelte design. What Kyocera might have done here is crack open the market for dual-screen form factors, which can only mean good things to come. In the end, this is a total Gen 1 product.
What do you think about the dual-screened Echo?
P.S. Above is the promotion video for the Echo, in case you missed it.