Sprint and Kyocera introduced the dual-screen Echo smartphone, running Android 2.2. But can the unique-looking device combat the iPhone 4, plus other Android upstarts?
More screens means greater efficiency. That's the theory
behind installing two of them side-by-side on your desk at work, or a Wall Street
maven's bank of flat screens in their workspace. Laptops are starting to get in
on it, too, whether in the form of an upcoming Acer laptop with dual
touch screens, or other manufacturers' models whose screens telescope out for a
Now, evidently, it's time for the dual-screen philosophy to
make its way to smartphones. On Feb. 7, Sprint hosted a high-profile event in
New York City to debut the Kyocera Echo, an Android smartphone with two
3.5-inch WVGA touch screens connected by a hinge. All in all, the Echo is 4.53
inches long, 2.23 inches wide, and 0.68 inches thick.
Depending on that hinge's angle, those screens can perform
multiple functions. Slide one over the other, the Echo looks and feels like a
somewhat thicker single-screen smartphone. Slid flat and side-by-side, the
smartphone offers a 4.7-inch screen (broken by the hinge) for displaying movies
and other media (each screen offers 800x480 resolution). One screen tilted at
an angle to the other allows for typing on a virtual keyboard, on one screen,
while viewing, say, e-mail or Facebook on the other.
The two screens can also run two applications
"simultaneously and independently," as Sprint
CEO Dan Hesse told the audience at the New York City event
. In other words,
there's high potential for versatility here. For business users, the smartphone
will support Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, in addition to POP and IMAP e-mail
The Echo relies on Android 2.2 and a 1GHz Snapdragon
processor as the foundation for its various functions. That's generally the
standard for Android-based smartphones these days, and it suggests the Echo
will be able to perform with the same speed and power as other devices in its
class. For the particularly gadget-happy, the Echo can act as a WiFi hotspot
for up to five devices.
In a Feb. 8 conversation with eWEEK, Sprint and Kyocera
executives seemed intent on separating the Echo from other plus-sized devices
walking the line between tablets and smartphones, such as the Dell Streak. The
Echo's "tablet mode emulates some functionality of a tablet, but it's not a
tablet," said David Owens, Sprint's vice president of consumer
acquisition. "It's a phone first."
Those executives offered eWEEK a brief up-close look at the Echo,
including a run-through of its video-playing capabilities (using "Avatar,"
inevitably), e-mail (you can sort through an
e-mail box on one screen, while viewing
individual e-mails on the other) and games
(The Sims). Unlike many smartphones currently hitting the market, the Echo
doesn't feature front- and rear-facing cameras for video conferencing; there's
a single 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, paired with the usual Google software
for image-snapping and storage. The Echo will come with an 8GB microSD card
and support up to a 32GB card.
Sprint likely hopes the Echo's form-factor will distinguish
it within an increasingly crowded Android smartphone market. Certainly the
carrier needs a new top-tier smartphone in the spirit of last year's Evo 4G or
Epic 4G, powerful devices in their own right but ones that, given the rapid
pace of smartphone evolution these days, risk looking antiquated. Indeed, with
rivals busy rolling out 4G capability, once touted by Sprint as its primary
competitive differentiator, the company needs something altogether new and
shiny to maintain its market niche-and evidently, that means dual screens.
It also means stretching the battery life. Kyocera
apparently plans to ship the phone with two batteries, alongside a charger
capable of charging the phone and a second battery at the same time.
The Echo will arrive sometime this spring for $199 with a
two-year contract and a $100 mail-in rebate. Whether it manages to wrest
market share from the Verizon iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and its Android cousins
remains to be seen. One thing's for certain, though: Sprint and Kyocera will
have one of the more unique-looking devices on the market.