Kyocera Echo: Phone that wants to be a tablet

The Echo attempts a bold design innovation, but its two screens don't create something greater than the sum of the parts

The Kyocera Echo on Sprint ($200 with a two-year contract) is the first dual screen Android smartphone to hit the United States. With a design reminiscent of the Nintendo DS, the Echo seems to make a better tablet than a phone.

Clunky and Chunky

The Echo has two 3.5-inch WVGA screens that can be combined to form one giant 4.7-inch display when the phone is in "tablet mode" (more on that later). There are two sets of Home, Menu, and Back buttons (one for each screen). Strangely enough, the Echo lacks the dedicated Search key found on almost all other Android phones. The left spine of the device houses the microUSB port, the volume rocker, power button, microSD card slot, and 3.5mm headphone jack. I was happy that I didn't have to remove the battery to access the SD card, but not so happy about the power button being located on the spine of the phone. You'll find a 5-megapixel camera (with flash) on the rear of the device.

At 6.80 ounces the Echo is definitely one of the heavier phones out there. That second screen adds a lot of bulk to the device, giving it similar dimensions to phones with slide out QWERTY keyboards. The bulk and the overall rectangle shape of the phone did not make it very comfortable to carry around or talk on for extended periods. The hinge that holds the two screens together is made of a "Super Copper Alloy" that is supposed to be quite durable, however whenever I opened or closed the phone I was afraid it would break apart somehow. When the phone is opened, you can push the two screens together to lock them in place and reduce the gap between them. This effectively turns the Echo into a giant touchscreen; I found that this configuration was the easiest way to use the device.

Performance

The Kyocera Echo is a 3G phone with a single 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, making it seem a little dated among all the dual core phones that have shown up this year. This does not mean the phone is not responsive -- far from it. The Echo is able to run two apps simultaneously (one on each screen) and it does this rather well.

Call quality was average with some minor hissing heard on my end of the call. When I tried to hang up, the proximity sensor did not respond and so I was unable to end my call. I had to pop open both screens (activating the speakerphone) in order to hit the "End Call" button. This happened both times I tried making a call.

The Echo also cannot take advantage of Sprint's 4G WiMAX network, relying instead on the CDMA network for voice and data service. This might ease the burden on the phone's battery, but other services might sap the battery just the same. While I couldn't run exhaustive tests on the battery, I noted that having both screens open and running seems to eat away at the battery rather quickly -- the battery dropped from 30 per cent of capacity down to 12 per cent in a span of 30 minutes or so. Kyocera may have anticipated this; it includes an external battery charger with the phone. Echo users might do well to pick up a spare battery and carry the charger at all times.

Software

The Echo comes with a largely unmodified version of Android 2.2 (Froyo) with relatively few add-ons.

It comes loaded with a handful of apps that can be run simultaneously using both screens. "Simul-task Applications" (as they are called) can be identified by a small blue square that displays next to the application icon. To run two applications at once you simply tap both screens at the same time while running a "Simul-task" app. A list of compatible apps will pop up on both screens, and you can choose which app you would like to run alongside the one that is currently open.

I found running two apps at once to be awkward, however; you have to constantly re-adjust your grip on the phone to navigate the two screens. Currently only 7 apps (Browser, Contacts, Email, Gallery, Messaging, Phone, and VenQue) can take advantage of this feature but more are supposed to come in the future.

'Tablet Mode' is a Win

As I mentioned earlier, you can lock the two screens together to form a large 4.7-inch touchscreen. Browsing the web in the device's "tablet mode" was an exceptional experience. The extra room made it easier to maneuver around larger webpages, and it was nice to have a bigger screen for reading and replying to email.

If you download the Tablet Mode Extension app from the Android Market, you can run some apps on the Echo in the same way that they would run on a full sized tablet. You can easily toggle this feature on or off from the app depending on your preferences.

The Echo comes with Swype pre-installed, with the keyboard taking up an entire screen when in tablet mode. I found it easier to create error-free messages and emails using the bottom screen than when doing so using a virtual keyboard on a smaller device.

Other Pre-loaded Apps

Along with the usual apps that Sprint loads onto its phones, the Echo comes with a few other notable apps such as VueQue, MyBooks, and Jibe Social Messenger. VueQue is a YouTube application that lets you queue up videos while you watch. MyBooks turns the Echo into a mini ebook reader, complete with ebook store. Jibe, which replaces the Facebook app found on many other Android phones, lets you link up your multiple social networks (much like Friend Stream on HTC Sense) and view them in a clean, easy to navigate layout.

Multimedia

The 5-megapixel camera does a decent job at capturing still images. Videos didn't seem to have that problem, but the camera did have a tendency to over-expose whites.

While overall the camera was okay, holding the phone to take pictures was not. With both screens open, I had to hold the phone by the top screen to make sure I wasn't accidentally blocking the camera. This isn't a problem when the phone is closed, however.

The Echo comes with the stock Android media player, which doesn't fully exploit the phone's larger screen. Playing videos on the device is not really recommended since you will be missing a chunk in the middle of the phone where the screens meet. Also, I found the top screen to be not be as sharp as the bottom when it came to displaying images.

Bottom Line

Aside from having a larger area for web browsing, the Echo didn't seem to benefit greatly from having two screens. Most of the time, the second screen on the Echo felt like a bit of a gimmick. A physical keyboard might have been a better use of the extra panel than a secondary display, and would have made the phone more attractive for people who frequently text or email. Couple that with the relatively outdated specs, and you have a phone that might be more gimmick than utility. As such, you might want to pass on the Echo in favor of a 4G or dual core phone.

Tags sprintconsumer electronicsPhonesAndroidkyocera

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Armando Rodriguez

PC World (US online)

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