What's hot: A for innovation, unique design that's funky-steampunk-cool. Two screens are more useful than one.
What's not: We need more apps to simultask. Display quality is just OK., not a fast phone.
Reviewed April 21, 2011 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Dual screens are a micro trend. In 2010 we saw the Toshiba Libretto W100, a 7” dual screen Windows notebook that sold as a limited edition. In April of 2011 the Acer Iconia 6120 dual screen 14” Windows 7 notebook hit the streets and was greeted by little fanfare. Now we have the Kyocera Echo on Sprint, the first dual screen Android phone. Sprint held a big press event to hype the phone which backfired since the Echo lacks a dual core CPU, 4G and a 3D camera—all sore points given current trends. Had Sprint and Kyocera not made much ado of the Echo, it might have been better received. That said, dual screens are pretty darned innovative and useful, at least until we see flexible LCDs, and the Kyo deserves some applause.
When closed, the Echo looks like a perfectly harmless candybar phone.
The Kyocera Echo has two 3.5” capacitive displays, each running at 800 x 480 resolution. Combined that gives you an impressive 800 x 960 resolution display with a black border between thanks to the bezels. It runs on a first gen Qualcomm Snapdragon single core 1GHz CPU, and that does hurt a bit. We wouldn’t insist on dual core here, but a second gen Snapdragon and Adreno 205 graphics would’ve made the phone snappier. Also, you lose WiFi 802.11n since the first gen Snapdragon chipset only supports WiFi b/g. The phone has a 5 megapixel camera, EV-DO Rev. A 3G and it runs on Android OS 2.2 Froyo customized only to support the dual screens (there’s no custom UI).
The Echo is undeniably an acquired taste with its thick body when closed and Steampunk look. It’s techno-utilitarian and kinda cool looking, rather than smooth and svelte like recent high end smartphones. The articulating, floating hinge might worry you, but it’s built like a tank and is comprised of copper alloy according to Kyocera. Copper is a soft metal and we find that odd, but in hand the hinge is robust and operates very smoothly. That said, it is an awkward hinge, and you won’t be honing a slick single-handled open-close routine. You can use the Echo like a standard slate design touch screen phone with the secondary display hidden behind the first (handy for phone calls), or you can lock it open with both displays parallel for dual screen viewing. There’s no lock point for a tilt position, oddly enough. You can put it in a tilted mode but the upper display will swing when you touch it with a finger.
Deals and Shopping:
Since the phone has two displays, it’s very thick when closed and it’s no lightweight; you’ll definitely feel it in your pocket. All other dimensions are modest by today’s big smartphone standards. All ports and controls live on the left side: 3.5mm stereo jack, micro USB port and microSD card slot under rubber doors, volume controls and the power button. The camera lens and LED flash live on the back along with the speakerphone grille. Both front bezels have capacitive backlit buttons for Home, Menu and Back (Search is MIA). It’s sometimes hard to guess which set of buttons are active if the backlighting has timed out, and we wonder why the secondary display bezel duplicates the buttons.
Clearly the displays are at the heart of the Echo experience, and we must lament that these are a pair of dated looking LCDs that aren’t particularly vibrant or bright. There’s no IPS or AMOLED tech here, not even SLCD, and the Echo doesn’t have wide viewing angles, good outdoor visibility (in fact it’s near invisible outdoors) or razor sharpness. Perhaps this was a cost cutting measure to keep the price at $199 with contract, but we’re still a little disappointed.
The CPU is perhaps another cost cutting measure. Recent smartphones with Qualcomm CPUs have used the second generation Snapdragon single core 1GHz CPU with Adreno 205 graphics. That GPU was a big step up fom the Adreno 200 used on first gen Snapdragons, and it likely would have helped drive the dual displays with more oomph. The Echo isn’t a slow phone, but we can’t call it fast either. We see those occasional lags and pauses when navigating the UI or using the browser that we don’t expect on a recent 1GHz Android 2.2 smartphone. The Echo benchmarks at 785 in Quadrant, which is a bit lower than last year’s 1GHz Android phones that averaged 930 in that test.
Double Trouble, Double the Fun
How does this dual screen business work? Watch our video review to see it in action. Most apps simply run across both screens in extended canvas mode. Kyocera includes a utility (shortcut on homescreen, install it folks) that installs an extension to make non-dual screen-aware apps span the screens. We found that most apps did run fine when spanning screens, and those that didn’t run in both displays stayed happily in 1 display, ignoring the other display rather than crashing. If you run across an app that does crash, close the phone to candybar mode and the app will think you’ve only got one screen. When running in “tablet mode” with an app extended to both displays, you get a very large keyboard in the lower display—much easier for typing.
A handful of apps work in what Kyocera terms “Echo Top” mode, and that means you can run a different app in each window, or in the case of the web browser, have a different browser window open in each display. Neato, and actually very useful. We only wish more apps were capable of doing this. As it stands, the web browser, email client, messaging client, Gallery, phone, contacts and VueQue (Kyocera’s very slick YouTube client) can do this. It does mean that you can have the phone app open while browsing a web page or checking your email, or have two websites side-by-side. Nice.
There are a handful of dual-screen games too, and there’s a portal to Gameloft’s site where you can buy Modern Combat 2, N.O.V.A., Splinter Cell Conviction and a few other titles for $4.99 apiece. We downloaded and tested several games and all ran smoothly and make good use of the dual displays (generally your character controls are on the lower display and the action takes place in the upper display).
Beware that when downloading games directly from game makers’ websites using your phone, you may not be able to download and install that game again if you get a new phone. In the case of the Echo, the dual screen games wouldn’t work on any other phone anyway, but you should know that not all game download sites play by the same very lenient rules as the Android Market which allows you to download and install purchased Market apps to any Android device that uses your Google account. Now, back to our original topic…
Kyocera also has a portal to Echo Top apps, where you can buy additional dual-screen apps for the phone. The company has an SDK for developers and is encouraging development of dual screen apps. In the past week about 20 apps have appeared, so there’s hope that you won’t be locked into a limited selection of dual screen apps forever.
Here's our Kyocera Echo video review:
Phone and Data
Kyocera and Sanyo (now one) generally do a good job with voice quality on Sprint phones. The Echo has good voice quality on both ends, and call volume is adequate for even moderately noisy locations.
Data is 3G EV-DO. Rev. A only, no WiMAX 4G here. Data speeds on Sprint’s 3G network averaged 550k down and 400k up according to the Speedtest.net app. That’s decent among Sprint phones in our area, but slower than what we see on the 3 other major carriers’ 3G networks. You can use the phone as a WiFi hotspot and also tether over USB using the standard Froyo Android 2.2 wireless settings applets.
When there are two batteries in the box, it usually means the phone has abysmal battery life. Not so with the Kyocera Echo; battery life is perfectly acceptable as high end smartphones go, and it lasted us through a day of use with both screens in action. The phone comes with two 1370 mAh Lithium Ion batteries and an external charging pod for the second battery, a rare treat given the acceptable battery life.
The Kyocera Echo is an interesting and innovative phone that’s received more negative press than it deserves. The smartphone is not only serviceable but more useful than average when “simultasking” with two apps open in two screens. Even spanning screens in tablet mode makes for a more usable experience when viewing spreadsheets, web pages and the like. I found that the black bar created by the bezels in between displays disappeared once my brain became accustomed to them, but I never stopped wishing those displays’ quality were better.
Pro: Innovative design that actually adds utility. Solid build and robust hinge. Kyocera is working with developers to bring more dual-screen apps to Android. Good voice quality. GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth work well.
Con: Displays aren't impressive in terms of brightness and colors, also disappears in sunlight. Hinge is well-made but awkward to operate. We wish the Echo were faster.
Display:Two 3.5" capacitive touch screens, each running at 800 x 480 resolution. Supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Ion rechargeable. Two batteries and an external charger included.
Performance:Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650 1GHz CPU.
x 2.2 x 0.7 inches. Weight: 6.8 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with 3G EV-DO Rev.A.
Camera:5 megapixel rear camera with autofocus lens and LED flash. Can shoot 720p video.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (headset, handsfree, object push, A2DP stereo, AVRCP, phone book and generic object exchange profiles).
Software:Android OS 2.2 Froyo. Echo Top and tablet software utilities, VueCue custom YouTube player, Flash Player 10.1, Sprint apps including Sprint TV, Sprint Football Liv, TeleNave and NASCAR. Standard suite of Goole apps including search, Market, web browser, email, gmail, maps and navigation.