Hands-on: Kyocera Echo for Sprint – The first dual-screen Android smartphone

Sprint Echo dual-screen Android phone hands-on
Sprint Echo dual-screen Android phone hands-on

Sprint just announced the Kyocera Echo tonight in New York City and the response has been a bit mixed. Judging from the live blog alone, reader reception has been underwhelming. We took a closer look at the device, and while the dual-screen form factor is neat and novel, it’s certainly not groundbreaking by any means.

We had a feeling that the Kyocera Echo would be announced tonight as the info was leaked earlier this morning. The Echo features two 3.5-inch touchscreen displays which allows users to view it in portrait mode when it’s closed, or like a tablet when it’s open and the screens are adjacent to each other. The smartphone is running Android 2.2 Froyo, but Kyocera has dedicated apps that work for the two screens like VueQue – a YouTube app that lets you watch videos on one screen while you queue up videos on the other.

The device seems pretty solid from what we can surmise given our very brief time with it. The hinge is solid and looks like it will take some use and abuse. During the presentation, Sprint and Kyocera said that the hinge is “light as plastic, strong as steel.” It’s so important to the design and structure of this thing, apparently, that Kyocera has a patent pending on the hinge.

For Android fans who have to have every toy out there, you may take great pleasure in knowing that this is running vanilla Android 2.2 Froyo. Kyocera and Sprint didn’t ruin it with some unusable UI. When I asked whether this thing would be prepped and primed for Android 2.3 Gingerbread, I was told that it’s a possibility, so don’t hold your breath on it.

It’s difficult to see who this device is intended for. The side-by-side screen modes are nice, and almost tablet-like, with the exception of a gigantic gap in the middle where the screens meet. That rules out smartphone users who want a solid tablet experience. Mention of the Nintendo D3S was also made, so it made me consider gamers. The top screen can be used for video game-play while the lower portion can accommodate controls, but the device doesn’t seem enticing enough to attract hardcore gamers.

The question of battery life came up a few times throughout the presentation since the device powers two displays, so Kyocera has decided to add an additional charger and battery to the package. For $199.99 with a new, two-year contract from Sprint, you’ll get the Echo, whatever accessories are included and a second battery and standalone charger. The fact that the battery and charger is included might give you a hint as to what battery life is like on this device.

Overall, I came away unimpressed and a bit confused. Why hold an event for this and commission David Blaine to provide entertainment? Sure, this is an industry first, but being innovative is not tantamount to being good. The Echo’s design is awkward – even the lady holding the device for me as I took pictures had some trouble flipping it open and closed.

Sorry, Kyocera, but in a world where HTC, Motorola and Samsung are making some nice hardware with drool-worthy specs, the Kyocera comes up subpar. Shave $50-100 off the price tag and maybe folks might be a little more inclined to buy.

To see the device, check out the pictures below and stay tuned for our hands-on video.

  • I was right about ONE thing… It IS a tablet in its own way…

    Quite frankly, the whole phone is crap. Its 2011, and while Dual-Screens are nothing new, on a full smartphone they are. Dual Touchscreens are also new, but without the proper coding for them, I dont see Android, Apple, or RIM bothering to do these of their own, or continue with this single phone. In terms of the specs, its a phone that if released last year in summer might have been a contender for Sprint. Released today, with only 1Ghz and 5MP camera and with only 1GB of memory kinda leaves me wanting more. Sure the EVO I own is similar in spec, but I have a few things the Echo doesnt… Front Camera for REAL video calling, 4G WiMAX (which is getting better weekly), Sense UI (the BEST overlay of all outside stock Android) and sure I dont have TWO batteries, I have a phone that is coveted and will hold its value a lot more for reselling in 6 months then the Echo. Not to mention, its Kyocera, known to use cheap low-grade plastics on their phones.

    This is to date, the biggest disappointment for an “Industry First” – And while the Instinct flat out sucks, at the time of its release it was decent. Looking back, the Instinct was a better contender for the time then the Echo is for our time.

  • It is a good idea, but it has a few things that are working against it.
    I use handcent for texting
    I use a different twitter app for tweeting
    I use dolphin browser for web browsing
    I use swiftkey for my keyboard
    So, the problem lies with Kyocera costomizing different apps instead of making their phone run any app I want it to.

    I would actually like to have this phone (aside from the dated processor, tiny battery, lack of a front facing camera, and other hardware problems). However, the idea is not fully implemented.

    Also, make that black line on tablet mode as small as possible. I could never never watch a movie with that black line in the middle.

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