It's hard not to look at the Kyocera Echo from Sprint as anything but a novelty device.
The Android 2.2 smartphone, which went on sale April 17 for $199.99 with a two-year contract, is a chunky little brick of a smartphone with two 3.5-inch WVGA capacitive touchscreens (800 x 480 pixels) stacked atop one another.
The screens are separated not by magic or wizardry but by a patent-pending pivot hinge that swings out and snaps into place to let the two screens sit side by side and form a 4.7-inch (800 x 960 pixels) display when opened. If this sounds tablet-esque, well, it is, but Kyocera calls it the industry's first dual-screen smartphone.
It's the type of device that would make Apple CEO Steve Jobs cringe because, far from being a sleek, simplistic device, the Echo tries to do a lot, straining toward conspiciousness. Open this phone on a bus or subway or in a Starbucks and you will call attention to yourself. And yet... it does most of these things quite well in spite of the funky form factor.
The Echo, which weighs a hefty 6.8 ounces and is 4.5 inches long, a narrow 2.2 inches wide and more than half an inch thick, can be used in four modes, all driving data with the help of a speedy, 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
There is the traditional single-screen mode, which lets users consume apps, make calls, text, email and the litany of tasks users do with their smartphones these days. This use scenario performed well, allowing us to flit cleanly across five customizable home screens and access apps preloaded on the phone from Sprint, Kyocera and the Android Market.
There is also the tablet mode, which sports a single application spread across both screens for a full 4.7-inch viewing area. This worked well for Google Maps and YouTube videos in landscape or portrait mode, despite the skinny frames that separate the displays.
To test data integrity between the Echo's dual screens, I downloaded Google Maps update in single-screen mode, then popped the hinge to tablet mode with both screens and the app finished downloading without delay.
Optimized mode is interesting because it lets users run one app across both displays with "complementary functionality." For example, when you text or email with both screens parallel, the compose window sits in the top screen in landscape mode, with the virtual keyboard commanding the second display.
In dialer mode, users can view the phone's contact directory on the top screen, and type phone numbers via the virtual dial pad on the bottom. Users can also scroll through thumbnail images on one screen while viewing an enlarged image on the other.
Kyocera even included an app for optimized mode called VueQue, which lets users watch a YouTube video on one display while browsing, queuing and buffering additional YouTube videos on the other display. This worked really well in a few tests.
The keyboard, by the way, was a joy to use. The Echo featured rich, large keys or integrated Swype gesture input, which is pretty ubiquitous on Android phones these days, for those who prefer it.