Kyocera Echo Video Hands-On: First Dual-Screen Android Phone Comes to Sprint with 960 x 800 Pixels, “Simul-Tasking”

Android is good at multitasking but not at letting you do multiple things at the same time. The Kyocera Echo  is tailor-made for Simul-Tasking (yup, the term is trademarked). Launching this spring on Sprint for $199, this Android 2.2 phone leverages two 3.5-inch screens to create one mammoth 4.7-inch canvas, equaling an impressive 960 x 800 pixels when opened. The dual displays not only let you see  more content at once (such as a map) but also enables users to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. So, for example, you can have two browser windows open on top of one another, or you could text in one window while looking up a contact in another.


Hardware

The Echo is capable of three positions: single-screen mode with one display showing; PC mode, where the top screen sits at an angle, similar to a laptop; and tablet mode, where the two displays sit flush with each other. Though they are two distinct screens, Kyocera designed the Echo so that there isn’t a significant gap between the LCDs when locked in tablet mode. So it’s possible to scroll or drag across the two displays without missing a beat, whether it’s a web page or panning around Google Street View.

The pivot hinge is specially designed to make the transition between these three modes easy. In our short hands-on time, the hinge motion wasn’t as smooth as we expected, but it’s not supposed to be seamless. The hinge pops and locks as you go from clamshell to PC mode and tablet mode. Kyocera assured us that they’ve done a lot of testing around durability since they anticipate users moving between modes all the time. The concept is well-executed, but it may take people a while to get the hang of it.

Our biggest issue with the design is that it’s relatively thick (0.67 inches) and heavy (6.8 ounces). By comparison, the Evo 4G weighs only 6 ounces. So you’ll have to decide how much value the extra screen real estate provides. The Echo has a 1-GHz Snapdragon CPU under the hood, plus 1GB of RAM and 512 MB ROM; an 8GB microSD card is included.

Unfortunately the Echo doesn’t have a front-facing camera, but you do get a 5-MP camera around back for stills and recording 720p video. The phone will come with two 1370 mAh batteries and a charger to keep one juiced while you use the other. Sprint says to expect about 5 hours of talk time. The biggest bummer is the lack of 4G support, especially since Sprint’s Mobile WiMAX coverage has improved a great deal in the last several months.

Software

On the software side, Sprint and Kyocera have enhanced some Froyo apps specifically for this phone. Here there are four modes: Standard, Optimized, Tablet, and Simul-Tasking.

Optimized mode lets you use apps that take advantage of the dual-screen setup. For example, using the e-mail app we could see  our inbox on one side and a specific open message on the other. This will work in any orientation as well, so you can have the message up top and the list on the bottom. Another example of an optimized app is the Sims 3 game. Our character and environment stayed on the top display while we made choices and used controls on the bottom. (Shades of the Nintendo DS.)

Tablet mode simply spreads whatever is on display across both screens. There is a break where the two screens meet, but otherwise it’s a nice view. Sprint demoed Google Street View on the phone, and we can definitely see the benefit of the larger area, even with the narrow black bar in the center. Last but not least was VueQue, which lets you watch a YouTube video up top while you browse for more time-killing clips and add them to your cue using the bottom screen.

Simul-Tasking mode is only available for certain apps right now, such as the browser, e-mail, gallery, phone, contacts, messaging, and VueCue. With these apps, users can open a different app on each display and even switch them around easily. To access Simul-Tasking mode, simply tap both screens at the same time when you’re within one of the above listed apps to bring up a menu that looks similar to the standard Android task manager. This overlay shows all the Simul-Tasking apps. Then just tap the app you want to use in the window you want to use it in.

Sprint will release an SDK for the Echo on its website tomorrow, so developers can get busy creating or modifying apps to work in Optimized, Tablet, and Simul-Tasking modes.

Another nice perk of having two screens is that one can serve as a keyboard. The default Android keyboard is a full 3.5-inches wide and takes good advantage of the available space to make large, wide keys. Swype will also be supported.

Outlook:

There’s no doubt about it. The Kyocera Echo is a big statement for the brand in more ways than one. We like that Kyocera and Sprint thought of compelling ways to use the dual displays and that the design is almost seamless in tablet mode. On the other hand, the lack of 4G support is kind of baffling for a $199 phone these days, and the Echo’s design is on the chunky side.

Should heavy-duty multitaskers pick up this device? Stay tuned for a full review. But in the meantime, check out the gallery and video. And don’t forget to share your comments.

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  1. bob smith Says:

    wow , this looks great. I am really getting bad eyes cause I am stairing at my iphone way too long. I’ll make the switch asap!

  2. Tom Says:

    Innovative. I’m hoping it succeeds so that version 2 will come out with a thinner design (lt;0.5 in) and lighter weight (lt; 5 oz).

  3. JS Says:

    So this is the big announcement, or was there something else as well? I think this is too gimmicky for mainstream use,

  4. JS Says:

    My opinion is this: Most people are going to use the secondary display as a keyboard only. The secondary display will be useless in most scenarios. This is a waste, because a physical keyboard would have been sufficient and it wouldn’t take an expensive toll on battery life and overall design size, width, and weight.

  5. vertigo Says:

    I wouldn’t say it’s gimmicky. I personally think it’s a great idea and a step in the right direction for further innovation. It’s nice to see a company that’s taking strides toward advancing phones beyond what they are now instead of just being lazy and relying on what they currently have out to carry themselves. Even if this phone specifically doesn’t do well, it will at least get people thinking and hopefully force the other companies to get off their butts and develop some new phones. The first attempt at such a new idea usually isn’t great, but over time this could really develop into something. I for one get irritated when I have to leave one app to go do something in another, and this would do a lot toward dealing with that issue (although the best solution would be for Android to implement a sort of “taskbar” that apps could be minimized to).

    As for the lack of 4G, I see this as both a hindrance and a great thing. I hate that all the new smartphones have it and therefore require an additional $10/month to own, even if you don’t ever use 4G, or even have access to it. It would be nice if phones were all made as two versions, one with and one without 4G.

    The biggest issue I see with this, aside from bulk which is to be expected with two screens, is that it is using a small battery. A battery that size with two screens and a 1GHz Snapdragon won’t make it halfway through the day with more than light use. I also don’t care for the USB port and headphone jack being on the side (they belong on the bottom and top, respectively, IMO, plus the USB cover would get annoying).

  6. Dominik Says:

    It is certainly a first however no 4G will keep me from purchasing the device.

  7. i told u so .com Says:

    its trash read the engadget and BGR review they go more in depth. You cant multitask on this thing at all (like you cant on a regular android OS) all your doing is hibernating applications still so 2 apps or more are not in realtime unlike webos which is the only true multitasking OS built from the ground up to do so.

    no front facing cam:
    bad battery life:
    no 4G:
    old processor:
    199 after rebate:
    heavy and bulky:
    only 4 apps work for it correctly the rest just go over both screens:
    Froyo 2.2 wow thats a old version:

    so in conclusion no need for a review I would say one big epic FAILLLLLLL!
    thanks sprint

  8. MobileLife Says:

    Wow, the above poster is making a lot of criticisms. It’s not an old version of Android considering the lead in time needed to make this phone. This is something new, not basically an updated version of an existing phone like a lot of phones coming out with 2.3, plus its upgradeable. 5.5 hours of talk talk is pretty standard battery life for a CDMA smart phone as well, plus they are including a spare battery, which is awesome. Actually, 7 apps work on it correctly, with tons more to come soon, even before the phone goes on sale. And $199 is a problem? I don’t think Sprint and Kyocera are targeting people who don’t even have $200 to spare lol.

    For something one can carry in their pocket, this thing offers unbelievable functionality. I don’t want a real tablet because I’d have carry something around to put it in, but something that fits in my pocket that gives me this much functionality? I’m on board.

    As far as no front facing camera or 4G? Almost no phones offer either, so that’s a non issue.

  9. Scott Says:

    I think it comical for there to be so much talk about the lack of 4G these days unless you are one of the very lucky few who happen to reside in 4G land or you travel to 4G land often. I have a laptop in my hotel for that. I mean really, by the time any carrier gets 4G to Madison,Wi where I live, the Bionic, Atrix, Thunderbolt etc. will all be obsolete so, for me, 3G or 4G is more or less irrelevant at this juncture. I have a Blackberry right now which, ironically, is now like owning a phone that Crocket and Tubs used to wield around. Not because of it’s size but because of its snail like performance and useless browser (Tour by the way). What it is good for is email and its ability to sync with outlook without some dumb third party app and its messaging along with the ability to copy/paste and delete multiple emails and texts. I have convenience keys to left and right for easy access to text and email. Is there a phone on the planet that can offer the business guy the BB conveniences that has a fast processor and full browser on a screen bigger than a postage stamp?! I thought the Droid Pro until I heard the battery sucked and it got scorching hot. Maybe the Evo Shift but it has no front face camera and no HDMI. Can anyone please explain to me how HTC comes up with the Shift and Thunderbolt, especially and leaves out a simple HDMI port?

    Sorry for the tangent. Back to the Echo: love the concept and would deal with the extra size but since it is a monster anyways, why not put a bigger battery in it? If it is anything like my BB as far as boot time, changing out a battery you have to lug around with you and keep charged would be a huge pain in the ass. I would probably get this for a day and see how fast/slow it is and figure out how often I have to “reload”, lol. And, Froyo is what most Androids have so why the rip there? Atrix, Thunderbolt and Bionic are supposed to be the best upcoming phones on the planet and all will have 2.2 supposedly so…? Does Echo have HDMI out and can you sync contacts from PC Outlook with having to use Google etc.?

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