NEW YORK – Sprint and Kyocera kicked off their joint introduction of the Kyocera Echo, the first dual-screen Android smartphone, with a performance by the illusionist David Blaine at an event off Times Square on Feb. 7. Wearing a three-piece suit and sitting casually at a table, Blaine smoked a cigar and sipped a glass of wine, among other relaxed gestures-while submerged in tank of water for a mind-boggling amount of time. Ten minutes? Fifteen?
“I think we all wish we could have some of David’s magic in our lives,” Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said, taking the stage afterward with Kyocera Senior Executive Officer Junzo Katsuki and working to somehow tie the intro of the Echo to what the audience, a little more perplexed than enthusiastic, had just witnessed.
If not exactly magic, what the pair introduced might at least pleasantly surprise: a smartphone with two touch-screens that can run two applications “simultaneously and independently,” said Hesse. Users can, for example, watch a video on one screen and browse the Web on the other. Or they can perform complementary tasks such as watching a YouTube video on the top screen while queuing up clips on the bottom screen. They also work to a complementary effect in e-mail, which shows the inbox on one side and an open e-mail in the other. (In landscape or portrait modes, ta da!)
The 3.5-inch LCD WVGA touch-screens can also work together-in “tablet mode”-as a single 4.7-inch (on the diagonal) screen for watching a movie or reading. Or, for a bit of old-fashioned fun, one can slide one screen behind the other and look at one thing at a time.
The Echo runs Android 2.2 and a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and can act as a WiFi hotspot for up to five devices. It will arrive in the spring for $199 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.
In addition to the expected suite of Google services, it offers access to Telenav GPS and Sprint TV & Movies, features Bluetooth 2.1 and a 5-megapixel camera, and supports MS Exchange ActiveSync, as well as POP and IMAP e-mail accounts. An 8GB microSD card comes with the phone, though it can support a 32GB card.
Taking the stage after Hesse and Katsuki to offer a demonstration, Fared Adib, Sprint vice president of product development, said the phone’s multi-tasking nature has necessitated two new terms, “simul-tasking” and “hyper-tasking” (both of which seem eligible for a doctor’s prescription), as well as six pending patents for the special plastic “pivot hinge” that the Echo’s sliding displays depend on.
“The big problem has always been creating a seam that doesn’t take away from the profile of the product,” said Adib, explaining that with the Echo, “You really have to get close to notice it. Your eye gets very used to it.”
In addition to sitting together flat, the screens can be arranged to mimic a laptop. A virtual keyboard is notably large: “one of the largest keyboards you’re ever going to see on a device,” said Adib.
If two screens sound like twice the battery drain, Kyocera addresses this by shipping the phone with two batteries as well as a special charger. You can charge the phone and the second battery at the same time, or bring the charger on the go and charge the phone from the juice of the second battery.
“Two screens, two batteries, two experiences,” said Adib.
Both Hesse and Adib noted the “pocket-ability” of the Echo, saying that some larger-screened devices were getting caught in a middle ground (we’re looking at you, Dell Streak). Still, while the Echo measures 4.53 by 2.23 inches high and wide, it’s a rather chunky 0.68 inches thick. (The Apple iPhone, as a pocketability comparison, measures 4.5 by 2.31 by 0.37 inches.)
Sprint will also be releasing the Echo’s API (application programming interface) and SDK (software development kit), so developers can begin designing applications for the Echo’s dual screens. (The ability to watch YouTube while lining up and buffering other videos, for example, is actually a pre-loaded Kyocera application.)
“Today’s busy schedules often demand that we do at least two things at once. Kyocera Echo is the first device that allows us to do a different task on each of two screens while also providing a tablet-like, larger screen experience that easily fits in a pocket when closed,” Hesse said in a statement. “Sprint is proud to boast the most powerful Android portfolio available today, and Echo adds to that legacy with industry-leading technology that will change the way our customers use smartphones.”