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Kyocera, a company mostly known for making printers and dumb phones (through its Sanyo brand), isn’t usually associated with innovative smartphones. But last night, with the reveal of its dual-screen Android Echo phone, it proved it’s ready to compete in a new market.
Unveiled at a Sprint press event in New York, the Echo features two 3.5-inch screens which together offer a tablet-like 4.7 inches of screen real estate. In addition to using the two screens as one large display, you can also run multiple apps across them at the same time — a trademarked process Kyocera calls “Simul-Tasking.”
That Kyocera can manage to deliver such an innovative device is a testament to the power of Android, as well as to the proliferation of powerful mobile hardware. Previously, it was much more difficult for companies to jump into the smartphone arena. Now, Android provides a useful software starting point, and powerful mobile chips and touchscreens are readily available.
The Echo’s two screens are connected by a liquid-metal hinge that offers a variety of orientations. You can have both screens sprawled out as one giant display, folded together to use the phone as if it only had one screen, and propped up in a pseudo-laptop fashion (where it resembles the dual-screen Nintendo DS).
The phone runs Android 2.2, but Kyocera has heavily modified it to take advantage of the two screens. Currently, seven apps are optimized for the dual displays by letting you run them on each screen individually, while a few offer the ability to run across both screens. The latter is especially useful for the maps application, since it allows you to see more map data than any other phone. Third-party apps at the moment just fill up both screens, but Sprint and Kyocera say that an SDK is on the way to let developers optimize their apps.
Under the hood, the Echo runs a 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor. Surprisingly, it’s 3G-only — after the successful launch of the Evo 4G, it’s strange to see Sprint offering a flagship phone on its older network. Sprint is also selling the phone bundled with a second battery and charger, a wise move since its two screens will draw much more power than a typical smartphone. The company says the Echo should get around 5 hours of talk time and last a full day with heavy usage of both screens.
I don’t expect the Echo to be a hit — it’s one of the uglier phones we’ve seen recently, and the dual screens won’t appeal to everyone — but it’s nice to see further innovation in the smartphone field.
The Echo will retail for $199 (after a $100 rebate) with a two-year contract when it launches in spring.
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