Kyocera Echo: The Phone That Wants to Be Your Tablet
By Armando Rodriguez
At a Glance
Running two applications side by side is useful
Unique design and idea
Hardware feels gimmicky
Dismal battery life
Since the Echo is more gimmick than substance, you might want to pass it over in favor of something with more power.
The Kyocera Echo on Sprint ($200 with a two-year contract as of April 13, 2011) 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 combine to form one giant 4.7-inch display when the phone is in “tablet mode” (more on that later). The device has 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 Micro-USB port, 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 pleased to have the power button located on the edge 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. The 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 made it somewhat uncomfortable to carry around and to 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 feared that it would break apart somehow. When the phone is open, you can push the two screens together to lock them in place and reduce the gap between them, which effectively turns the Echo into a giant touchscreen. I found that this configuration was the easiest way to use the device.
The Kyocera Echo is a 3G phone with a single 1GHz Snapdragon processor, making it seem a little dated among all the dual-core phones that have shown up this year. That does not mean the phone is unresponsive–far from it. The Echo can run two apps simultaneously (one on each screen), and it does so rather well.
Call quality was average with some minor hissing audible 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 the call. I had to pop open both screens (activating the speakerphone) in order to press 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 carrier’s CDMA network for voice and data service. That might ease the burden on the phone’s battery, but other services may sap the battery just the same. Although 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 quickly–the battery dropped from 30 percent of capacity to 12 percent in a span of 30 minutes or so. Kyocera may have anticipated this, as the company bundles 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.
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 you can run simultaneously using both screens. “Simul-task Applications” (as Kyocera calls them) are 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 to run alongside the one that is currently open.
I found running two apps at once to be awkward, however; you have to constantly readjust your grip on the phone to navigate the two screens. Currently only seven apps (Browser, Contacts, Email, Gallery, Messaging, Phone, and VenQue) can take advantage of this function, 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 exceptional: The extra room made maneuvering around larger Web pages easier, and it was nice to have a bigger screen for reading and replying to e-mail.
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-size tablet. You can easily toggle this feature on or off from the app, depending on your preferences.
The Echo comes with Swype preinstalled, with the keyboard taking up an entire screen when in tablet mode. I found it easier to create error-free messages and e-mail using the bottom screen here than when using a virtual keyboard on a smaller device.
Other Preloaded Apps
Along with the usual apps that Sprint loads onto its phones, the Echo comes with a few notable apps such as VueQue, MyBooks, and Jibe Social Messenger. VueQue is a YouTube app that lets you queue up videos while you watch. MyBooks turns the Echo into a mini e-book reader, complete with e-book store. Jibe, which replaces the Facebook app found on many other Android phones, lets you link up your multiple social networks (much as Friend Stream on HTC Sense does) and view them in a clean, easy-to-navigate layout.
The 5-megapixel camera does a decent job of capturing still images. The camera did have a tendency to overexpose whites, but videos didn’t seem to have that problem.
While the camera was okay overall, 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 that I wasn’t accidentally blocking the camera. That 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. I don’t really recommend playing videos on the device, 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 less sharp than the bottom when it came to displaying images.
Aside from having a larger area for Web browsing, the Echo doesn’t seem to benefit greatly from having two screens. Most of the time, the second screen on the Echo feels like a bit of a gimmick. A physical keyboard might have been a better use of the extra panel than a secondary display, and it would have made the phone more attractive for people who frequently text or e-mail. Couple that with the relatively outdated specs, and you have a phone that might offer more gimmick than utility. You may want to pass on the Echo in favor of a 4G or dual-core phone.