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.
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.
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.
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.