There’s nothing special about a smartphone with a slide-out keyboard, but a smartphone with two touch screens is enough to turn heads.
At first glance, the Kyocera Echo from Sprint looks like a normal Android touch-screen smartphone—albeit a chunky one. But a special hinge allows the Echo’s top screen to shift up, over and snap down beside a second screen hidden beneath. The two screens correspond with each other to create what looks like one large screen, but one that also allows a different app to run on each screen, or display two activities from the same app on each screen.
For the past week, I’ve been testing the first dual touch-screen phone, the Kyocera Echo from Sprint, which will be available on Sunday for $200 with a two-year contract.
Using two screens at once makes sense from a productivity standpoint. I enjoyed flipping through a list of emails on one screen while reading an email on the other screen, or browsing Facebook on one screen with text messages opened on the other. I liked turning the Echo sideways to see a large, landscape view of a Web page spilled across its two 3.5-inch screens, which combine to create a 4.7-inch screen. (The recently released HTC ThunderBolt’s screen measures 4.3 inches; the iPhone 4 screen is 3.5 inches.)
The Echo’s two touch screens allow two apps to run at the same time on different screens.
But the Kyocera Echo may turn out to be a niche product. I’d wager many people will use just one screen most of the time, since revealing the second screen requires the clunky step of folding back the top screen with an awkward hinge.
The hinge also protrudes from the back of the Echo and keeps it from lying flat on a table in its two-screen view. The large, two-screen image is broken up by each screen’s black frame, which forms an unsightly line smack in the middle of the image.
What’s more, only seven of the phone’s apps work in the mode that runs an app on each screen.
At 6.8 ounces, the 3G Echo is noticeably heavier than both the 4.8-ounce Apple iPhone 4 and Research in Motion’s 4.3-ounce BlackBerry Bold 9700. When held up to an ear in its closed position for phone calls, this 0.68-inch thick phone felt bulky. (Calls sounded fine.)
It has a five-megapixel camera with a flash, built-in GPS, one gigabyte of on-board memory and an eight-gigabyte microSD card that comes with the phone. It runs Android 2.2, though a Sprint spokeswoman said the Echo will be upgraded over-the-air to the newer 2.3 Android operating system before the end of the year.
At first glance, the Kyocera Echo looks like a normal Android touch-screen smartphone—albeit a chunky one.
The Echo must be used with one of Sprint’s Everything Data plans, which start at $70 a month, plus a $10 required Premium Data add-on charge. The Echo also functions as a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to five devices for an extra $30 a month.
Users might worry about the Kyocera Echo’s battery life since it has two screens.
Sprint estimates the phone’s talk time battery life to be about seven hours, and I usually made it through the day without charging my Echo. The phone comes with a spare battery, which can be swapped out for your original battery or can act as a power source if used with a portable charger that plugs into the phone.
The seven apps that can run in what Kyocera calls Simul-Task Mode—a different app on each screen—include email, Web browsing, contacts, gallery, phone, messaging and VueQue—a way of showing YouTube videos on one screen and a queue of upcoming videos on the other. For Simul-Task, users must simultaneously tap a finger on each screen, which displays a menu on both screens showing the seven apps. Each screen will run the app that’s selected on it.
One large image can be shown on the two screens together, but their frames break up the image.
On Sunday, about 30 apps (including the seven Simul-Task ones) will run in Optimized Mode, which refers to any app that has been tailored to use the two screens in a complimentary fashion. Examples include email, which will show an on-screen keyboard on one screen and the email’s text on the other. A gallery of several thumbnail images will appear on one screen with a large view of one image on the other. Sims 3, which comes preloaded, will show game play on one screen and the game controls on the other.
Tablet Mode lets certain apps run across both screens, and some of these will only work after a Tablet Mode Extension is downloaded. One app that runs in Tablet Mode is Amazon’s Kindle app, which spreads an eBook’s text across both screens. But even here, the black line created by each screen’s frame got in the way. Though reading Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in Tablet Mode wasn’t so bad if I held the Echo in landscape view and the text was broken up with a horizontal black line rather than a vertical one down the middle.
The Kyocera Echo has some useful capability and its combined screens create a roomy display for scrolling through websites, reading emails or looking at maps. But unfolding the phone to reveal its second screen isn’t a smooth step, and the limited number of apps that can take advantage of the dual-screen functionality will frustrate people. For now, one-screen phones will do just fine.
Email Katherine Boehret at email@example.com.