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Kyocera Echo Dual-Screen Android Smartphone Review
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Date: May 06, 2011
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

We've seen a number of hot smartphones hit the market recently, including the HTC Thunderbolt, Droid Charge, and others. Although each phone has its own appeal, there are also a lot of similarities among today's hottest smartphones—most have a 1GHz processor, at least 16GB of storage in one form or another, at least a 4-inch display, etc.

Sprint and Kyocera weren't content to simply offer more of the same in terms of smartphones. That's where the Kyocera Echo comes in to play. This smartphone features an innovative design with not one, but two, screens. The Echo is the first dual-touchscreen Android-based smartphone to hit the market, and it certainly brings a new experience to Android.

Similar to other sliding phones, the Kyocera Echo can be folded to hide the second screen and function as a smartphone with a traditional candy bar form factor. It's when you open the phone to dual-screen mode that things get interesting. When opened, you can view one application across both screens for a full 4.7-inch viewing area or you can choose to view two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. 

See the dual-screen Echo in action here in our hands-on demo...

The Echo certainly brings a unique feature set and experience to the Android platform. But does it live up to the hype or fall short? Find out in our hands-on review...

Kyocera Echo
Specifications & Features

Processor and memory
1GHz Snapdragon processor (QSD 8650 Android)
1GB of onboard memory
preinstalled 8GB microSD card (support for up to 32GB)

Operating System
Android 2.2
Connectivity
3G
Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
Wi-Fi hotspot capability
Bluetooth 2.1 (+ EDR)
GPS
microUSB

Display
Dual 3.5-inch LCD WVGA (800 x 480 pixels) capacitive touchscreens (4.7 inches diagonally and 800 x 960 pixels when opened)
Size and weight
4.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches
6.8 ounces

Cameras and multimedia
5 megapixel camera with flash / 720p HD camcorder
3.5 mm stereo headset jack

Additional Features
Four modes of interaction:
--Single-Screen Mode with all the functionality of a single-display touchscreen smartphone
--Simul-Task Mode with two of the phone’s seven core apps running concurrently but independently on the device’s dual displays
--Optimized Mode with both displays supporting a single, optimized app with complementary functionality and enhanced usability
--Tablet Mode with one application spread across both screens for a full 4.7-inch viewing area

Battery
Removable 1370mAh battery; includes spare battery (1370 mAh) with portable charger that can also tether to the phone as an external power supply
Talk time: Up to 7 hours

Carrier
Sprint
In-Box Content
2 Standard Li-Ion Battery (1370 mAh)
AC Adapter (MicroUSB Data cable pluggable)
SD Adapter
Travel Charger
microSD Card (8GB)

 

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Design

The Kyocera Echo uses a unique pivot hinge that allows it to fold to a single-screen or dual-screen view. When closed, you'll see a single 3.5-inch touchscreen that supports a resolution of 800x480. When opened, you'll get the benefit of both screens for a combined 4.7-inch diagonal screen and a resolution of 800x960.

Because the Kyocera Echo has two screens, it's a bit thicker than some of the other smartphones we've seen recently. The Echo measures approximately 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches. It's also a bit on the heavier side, coming in at 6.8 ounces. This makes it the heaviest phone we've reviewed in recent months. Although the phone may be a tad thicker and a bit heavier than other smartphones on the market, we're willing to give the Echo some leeway since its unique design requires more size and weight. Overall, we felt the phone was still pocketable and easy to hold and carry.

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Taking a look at the edges of the Kyocera Echo, and you'll see a bevy of ports and options on the left edge of the lower display. In fact, all of the connectivity ports, etc are located on the left edge. Here, you'll find the 3.5mm headset jack, microSD card slot, power button, volume rocker, and microUSB port. The microSD card slot and the microUSB port are covered by little rubber stoppers that pull out to reveal the card/port.

On the back of the phone, you'll notice the 5 megapixel camera and single LED flash as well as a small self-portrait mirror and a speaker. The back cover slides off to reveal the phone's user-replaceable battery. As you'll notice from the list of box contents, the Echo comes with a spare Li-Ion battery as well as a travel charger. When removed, you'll notice that the back battery cover is very thin and flexible, more so than with other covers we've seen lately. Although we were a bit concerned the cover might crack or snap due to its flexibility, once it was securely attached to the phone it did its job sufficiently.

  

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Below each of the screens you'll see three backlit touch-sensitive buttons (Home, Menu, Back) that provide haptic feedback when pressed. When the phone is opened to dual-screen mode, the touch sensitive buttons below the rightmost screen are disabled.

The hinge on the Kyocera Echo works quite well, though we wish it was a bit sturdier—when opened, the top, or rightmost screen wiggled a bit. Frequent texters will appreciate the fact that the Echo can be used in landscape mode and the lower screen can be used as a keyboard. In situations such as these, you can tilt the upper screen for easier viewing.

Under the hood, the Kyocera Echo's specifications are similar to many of today's other popular smartphones—there's a 1GHz Snapdragon processor as well as 1GB of memory and an 8GB microSD card for file storage. The Echo also ships with Android 2.2, aka Froyo.

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User Interface

The Echo ships with Android 2.2 installed. In many regards the user experience is exactly what you would expect from an Android 2.2 handset. The basic Android functionality is there, as are many of the standard Android apps. You'll also get some Sprint-specific apps such as Sprint Football Live, Sprint Radio, Sprint TV & Movies, and Sprint Zone.

Kyocera has encouraged developers to create apps that take advantage of the Echo's unique form factor and dual-screen design. To that end, Kyocera provides its own web-based mini-app store of sorts that provides access to apps that take advantage of the Echo's dual screens. Some of these apps are also available through the Android Market while others are only available directly from the third party developer.

   

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The Echo comes with the popular SWYPE keyboard. We really like SWYPE, so we're glad to see it included as the standard keyboard on the Echo.

The Echo can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices. In order to enable this feature, you'll need to pay an additional $29.99 per month beyond the standard data plan and Sprint's $10 Premium Data add-on charge for smartphones.

Definitely the most unique feature of the Echo is its ability to operate in dual-screen mode. While the phone is open, you can use the phone's displays independently with two separate applications displaying—one in each screen—or together in a tablet-style mode so you'll get a larger screen to view maps, videos, websites, documents, and more.

   

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As of this writing, seven of the Echo's applications (messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, phone, gallery, contacts and VueQue) can run concurrently but independently on the dual displays in a Simul-Task Mode. In other words, with these apps, you'll be able to open one app on one screen and another app on the other screen.

To use two applications at the same time, you simply open one application and then touch both screens at the same time to open the Compatible Simul-task Applications window and select the second app you want to view. If you want the apps to swap screens, touch both screens again and press the swap icon. When you're using Simul-Task Mode, the touch-sensitive buttons below the active screen will be enabled. In Simul-Task Mode, you can interact with applications in landscape or portrait mode.

     

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There were numerous times during the course of our review that we appreciated the ability to view two applications at the same time. For example, on one instance, we wanted to look something up on the Web while texting a friend. Being able to view both applications at the same time in this instance was quite handy and useful.

We also enjoyed using the Echo in Tablet mode, particularly while browsing the Web. Although there is a separation between screens that breaks up the view, you still get additional screen real estate which can be handy, particularly for sites that are not optimized for mobile browsers. In both single-screen and Tablet mode, you can tap the screen twice to zoom in and out within the browser.

With select apps, Kyocera also enables an Optimized Mode that offers additional functionality to some of the applications. For example, with Optimized Mode, you'll be able to compose email on one screen and use the other screen as a touchscreen keyboard. By placing the keyboard on its own separate screen, you get a larger view of your message as well as a roomier keyboard. Another example of the Optimized Mode can be seen with the VueQue app which enables you to watch a YouTube video on one display while browsing and queuing additional YouTube videos on the other.

   

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Performance

Thanks to its dual-screen design, the Kyocera Echo provides an experience that's unlike any other smartphone we've seen to date. Both screens were responsive and we definitely enjoyed the roomier keyboard that's available on the second display when using apps such as messaging and email. Both of the 3.5-inch screens were responsive and offered excellent viewing angles. Viewing the screen outside under direct sunlight proved to be quite difficult, but not impossible.

The phone comes preloaded with an 8GB microSD card. We're starting to see more and more phones ship with 16GB and larger cards, so 8GB is a little on the lean side. Nevertheless, the phone will support up to a 32GB card, so you're welcome to expand as necessary. The microSD card slot is easily accessible from the left edge of the phone. Both the microSD card slot and the microUSB connector are covered by rubber stoppers. 

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The Echo has a 5 megapixel camera with video capabilities. Overall, images were sharp and crisp. The flash occasionally washed out a close subject indoors, but that's not uncommon for a camera phone with LED flash. Also, like other camera flashes, the distance the flash on the Echo can illuminate is limited. The Echo does not have a forward-facing camera for video chat.

Kyocera rates the Echo's talk time at up to 7 hours. Due to the fact that two screens require double the power of a single screen, we expect that the Echo will drain batteries faster than other devices. Indeed, when we used both screens for an extended length of time, we noticed the battery drained more quickly than when using only a single screen. To make matters worse, the phone's battery seemed to drain more quickly than we would have liked even when using only a single screen.

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Thankfully, Kyocera and Sprint include not one, but two batteries as well as a separate charger for the spare battery. Although carrying a spare battery and possibly a spare charger isn't all that ideal, it's certainly better than losing power mid-day. Also, it's a tradeoff for having dual-screen capabilities.

To get another perspective on battery life, we also ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Echo's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. We used only one of the Echo's two displays for this test. In this test, the Echo managed to last only 170 minutes before it died, confirming our suspicions that the Echo's battery tends to drain quickly. Here's a look at how the Echo compares to a few other smartphones we've ran through the same test:

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the Kyocera Echo in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Echo compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

 

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

The Kyocera Echo performed well in the Linpack test, coming in just behind HTC's powerful 4G smartphones, the Thunderbolt, Evo 4G, and Evo Shift 4G. In An3DBench, the Echo earned the top spot by edging out the Nexus S. In the SunSpider benchmark, the Echo once again outperforms other smartphones in our reference database.

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Performance Testing - Web Browsing

Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Kyocera Echo compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

In terms of Web browsing performance, the Echo didn't perform as well as we would have liked to see in the Xtremelabs test, but it still posted reasonable scores. In the BA.net speed test, the Echo earned high scores during the Wi-Fi test and came in about average for the 3G tests. The Speedtest.net benchmark shows the Echo performed about average in the Wi-Fi test and struggled to compete with others in the 3G test. In fact, the Echo came in last on the 3G test.

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Conclusion

Certainly the Kyocera Echo's dual-screen design is the most unique and attention-grabbing feature of the phone. By using dual displays, the phone is able to offer a user experience that's different from any other phone we've reviewed to date. By allowing users to use the screens independently or together as a larger display, Kyocera has opened many doors for what can efficiently be done with a smartphone.

We enjoyed our time with the Echo and its two screens. There were numerous times during the course of our review that we used both screens, either to use two applications at the same time, or simply to enjoy a roomier keyboard when tapping out a message to a friend.

In terms of performance benchmarks, the Kyocera Echo earned very respectable scores in almost all of the tests we threw at it. During our hands-on time with the phone, we were pleased with its responsiveness.

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The biggest downfall to a phone that has two screens is the drain those displays place on the phone's battery. Also, we felt the Echo's battery drained more quickly than it should have, even when using only one of the screens. We appreciate the fact that Kyocera provides a second battery and travel charger with the Echo. It's definitely a step in the right direction, though having a single battery that lasts longer is certainly better.

One other minor sticking point is the Echo's hinge. It isn't quite as sturdy or smooth as we would have liked, but it does the job adequately and doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of using the phone.

All in all, we enjoyed our time with the Echo. Candy bar form factor phones are the norm these days, so it's nice to see something new and innovative every now and then. Although we don't expect the Kyocera Echo to revolutionize the way in which other manufactures design smartphones, it's nice to have options, and the Echo definitely provides a unique form factor and user experience that you won't get with other phones.

     
  • Two screens that can be used individually or together
  • Ability to run two apps at the same time
  • Easily accessible ports
  • Comes with spare battery
  • 8GB microSD card is a tad on the small side
  • Heavy @ 6.8 ounces
  • Battery life

 



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