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Hands-On: Kyocera Echo

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Feb 7, 2011, 6:30 PM   by Rich Brome

Our hands-on impressions of the innovative new Kyocera Echo Android smartphone for Sprint. See what dual screens can do for you.

We just had some hands-on time with the Kyocera Echo for Sprint, one of the most unique Android phones we've ever seen. With two full-size (3.5-inch) screens, this phone transforms into a small Android tablet when fully open, or you can tilt one screen up like a tiny laptop (or like an HTC Tilt, or a Nokia Communicator.) Behind the fancy new screens lie a 1 GHz processor and 5-megapixel camera with HD video capture, while data is 3G (EVDO Rev. A). In other words, this isn't the ultimate top-end super-phone. With that said, the specs are respectable enough for all but the most demanding power users.

Hardware

The Echo has a plastic body with sharp corners, and it feels about how you'd expect from that description. The build quality feels about average; not rock-solid, but not about to fall apart. The side buttons are kind of square and sharp; that doesn't make them comfortable, but you'll have no trouble finding and pressing them. The overall weight is average for the size. The size is thicker than most 3G smartphones, but then again most of those phones don't have dual screens. It's actually similar in thickness to a 4G phone like the Epic. It will fit in a pocket, although the sharp corners will probably wear a hole in your jeans after a few months.

 

Echo Body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The big hardware question, of course, is the hinge. The screen that flips is supported on two tiny arms, one on each end. There's nothing else connecting the two halves. It looks incredibly fragile, and even feels like it would be fragile when flipping it. I doubt there's any way to build a device with a lightweight slab supported on two tiny arms that doesn't feel fragile. However, in playing with it, it doesn't feel like it will fall apart. The arms are made of a cast metal alloy (like Liquidmetal) that does, in fact, feel quite strong and rigid. You'll want to handle it with care, but it feels like it could last if you do.

Holding it in landscape orientation with both hands and giving the screen a nudge with your thumb, the screen flips up on springs to the tilted position. The spring action is good; it doesn't take too much force, but doesn't flop around too much, either. Putting it in the flat / tablet position takes a bit more effort, as you need to grab each half with one hand, bend the whole thing flat, then push the halves together to lock it in that position. With practice, you can go from closed to flat quickly and without fiddling, but it is a full two-handed, three-step maneuver. Closing it - from either position - is also a full two-handed trick requiring some dexterity. To be blunt, it's cumbersome to manipulate. With that said, the flexibility of two screens in various positions is pretty great, and we're not sure there's a better way to design a hinge this flexible. That it's cumbersome to manipulate may simply be the trade-off for such a powerful form factor.

The screens are average quality for Android. They looked nice enough in our very limited testing. Putting the device flat into tablet position forms a surface with very little gap between the two displays, allowing them to work as one large display. We'd like to see even less of a gap, but it's not horrible. It's bothersome more in some applications than others. I wouldn't recommend an e-reader app in that mode, where it breaks up the text in a distracting way, but it wasn't bothersome at all in Google Maps, for example.

Software

The base software is Android 2.2. Everything will look very familiar in that the interface is stock Android with no skin or extensive custom widgets. Kyocera has, however, added dual-screen support in key places.

When it's closed, everything is plain Android with one screen. When open, it defaults to joining the two screens as one big screen.

 

Echo UI

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

However, there are seven key apps that Kyocera has optimized to work differently with the dual screens. For example, in Mail, you start with a list of emails, as usual. But opening an email opens it on one screen, while the list stays open on the other screen. Similarly, in the Gallery, you get a list of photos on one screen and a full view of one photo on the other screen (photos would look weird split across two screens anyway.) Kyocera will offer an API to third-party developers to harness dual screens. A special version of The Sims is included optimized for dual screens.

The browser goes a step further, letting you open up two different web pages at the same time, one on each screen. Want to browse Facebook and Twitter at the same time? Now you can! This feature alone will sell quite a few Echos, I imagine.

Taking things yet one step further, with the seven optimized apps, you can have two apps open at the same time; one on one screen and one on the other. That's downright ground-breaking. Talk about multi-tasking! Unfortunately, it's limited to just the seven optimized apps. Kyocera insists there are major technical reasons this is the case; standard apps aren't designed to work next to another app, and there are potential performance issues, too, since this is a step beyond multi-tasking (which can already tax the processor with certain apps.)

A special task-switcher manages the dual-app function. To bring it up, touch both screens at the same time (multi-screen multi-touch; neat!) All seven apps are presented on each display. Touch the one you want to run on that display, or touch the big circle in the middle to swap screens. It's a pretty decent interface for this unique feature.

The battery charger also warrants special mention.*

 

Echo Battery Charger

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The battery is only 1370 mAh. That's somewhat small compared to many 1 GHz smartphones today, and those phones don't have two screens, which can be expected to drain the battery faster than one screen. Kyocera insists that battery life does well in testing. With that said, they are doing some unusual things to address a battery problem they say doesn't exist. First they are including two batteries. That's unusual, but not unheard of.

More interesting is the included charger. Unlike most phones that only charge the battery while in the phone, the Echo includes a separate charger for charging one battery while using the other. Going a step further, the charge also has a "reverse" mode where you connect the charger (with battery) directly to the phone, so it acts as an auxiliary battery. All of this is included in the box. To us, that smells like the Echo has a battery problem and the charger is a band-aid solution. But we won't know for sure until we get our hands on one long enough to run tests for a full review.

It's been a long time since we've seen a true Kyocera in Sprint's lineup, and long time since they've had an innovative smartphone. True industry veterans will remember the Kyocera 7135, a clamshell Palm OS smartphone that was fairly ground-breaking in its day. With the Echo, Kyocera is back at it, making serious smartphones in innovative form factors. We hope this is just the first in series of phones with this form factor that's not only nifty, but seems genuinely useful.

* Battery section added at 8:10pm.

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Subject Author Date
Interesting Philip Berne Feb 7, 2011, 8:55 PM
Kyocera jxdutoi Feb 9, 2011, 8:56 PM
Sprint haters... CamelTowing Feb 8, 2011, 11:54 AM
SOOOOOOOOOOO Twurk Feb 7, 2011, 8:17 PM
A lot of hate-- muchdrama Feb 8, 2011, 6:31 PM
Where the puck where all these haters DiamondPro Feb 8, 2011, 10:07 PM
No wonder Sprint loses customers.... AndroidRules Feb 7, 2011, 7:05 PM
FORGET this stupid phone.... pickles Feb 8, 2011, 5:31 PM
innovative phone weakly Feb 7, 2011, 9:37 PM
If Apple made this? 6667779311 Feb 8, 2011, 11:30 AM
Ultimate Fail bkw79 Feb 8, 2011, 8:53 AM
Funny Azeron Feb 7, 2011, 11:19 PM
  • Re: Funny by Jayshmay   Feb 7, 2011, 11:34 PM
    • Re: Funny by Azeron   Feb 7, 2011, 11:44 PM
...not really what's the real annoucement? TechWorld Observer Feb 7, 2011, 6:57 PM
Color me unimpressed BeanieMac Feb 7, 2011, 6:54 PM
Reviews Hitur Petar Feb 7, 2011, 9:23 PM
Some real possibilities here Hitur Petar Feb 7, 2011, 6:56 PM
so thats it? thecleaner62 Feb 7, 2011, 6:41 PM
wow belovedson Feb 7, 2011, 6:41 PM
 
 
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