Sprint, Kyocera Set Date for Dual-Screen Echo Release

Sprint and Kyocera have set a release date for the Android-based dual-screen Echo smartphone.

Sprint and Kyocera plan to make the dual-screen Kyocera Echo smartphone available April 17, for a retail price of $199 with a two-year contract. In a bid to drum up consumer interest ahead of the release, Sprint is also taking reservations for the device online, starting March 26.

On Feb. 7, Sprint hosted a high-profile event in New York City to debut the Echo, an Android smartphone with two 3.5-inch WVGA touch-screens connected by a hinge. Depending on the hinge's angle, those screens perform multiple functions: slide one over the other, and the Echo looks and feels like a somewhat thicker single-screen smartphone. The screens can also be slid flat and side-by-side-to create a 4.7-inch screen for displaying movies or other media-or tilted away from one another at an angle, to multitask or type with a virtual keyboard.

The two screens can run two applications "simultaneously and independently," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told the audience at the New York City event. For business users, the smartphone supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, in addition to POP and IMAP e-mail accounts.

At the Echo's heart is an Android 2.2 operating system powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. 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 5-inch 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 showed off an Echo running through various applications, movies and e-mail. Unlike many of the smartphones and tablets on the market, the Echo doesn't feature front- and rear-facing cameras for video conferencing, keeping instead to a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera.

Balancing out the advantages of dual screens, however, is the Echo's demands on battery life, something that Kyocera hopes to solve by shipping the device with two batteries and a charger capable of simultaneously juicing both the phone and a second battery.

Sprint and Kyocera evidently hope that the Echo's unique form factor can distinguish it within an increasingly crowded marketplace. Even as Apple's iPhone battles for market share against an increasing number of Google Android devices, and Research In Motion continues to push into the consumer and business space with its BlackBerry line, Microsoft is making a renewed smartphone play with Windows Phone 7.