Review: Kyocera Echo

Posted by CR H. on May 28, 2011

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The Kyocera Echo from Sprint is definitely one of the most unique Android handsets we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t even need an introduction — just knowing the fact that it’s packing two displays is all you need to know. We’ve been playing around with one for a while now, so keep reading for our full review!

Hardware / Design

At first glance, the Kyocera Echo looks like a pretty ordinary Android device. The second display isn’t immediately noticeable (when it’s closed, obviously), and it looks discreetly awesome. The large chrome pieces, one of which is sporting the Sprint logo, are a bit cheesy though.

On the front of the device, there’s a 3.5-inch display with an 800 x 480 resolution, along with three touch-sensitive Android controls: Home, Menu, and Back. An LED notification light along with a microphone is chilling below the display, and the earpiece is above the display.

Because of the hinge design, all of the ports and slots are housed on the left side of the device, which is a little weird to get used to. Starting from the top, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD card slot (pre-loaded with an 8GB card), power/lock button, volume up/down, and finally, a microUSB port for charging/sync. Both the power/lock button and the volume buttons are pretty small, but they provide great tactile feedback thankfully.

Along the back of the Echo, a 5MP camera is accompanied by an LED flash, and a self-portrait mirror. Under the flimsy, but easy to open, battery door, Kyocera packed one of two included 1370mAH batteries.

The most unique thing about the Echo would definitely be the secondary display. Yep, it’s 2011, and we have two displays on our phones. The second display is basically a duplicate of what you get on the front panel — a 3.5-inch, 800 x 480 display, along with (a second) set of touch-sensitive Android controls: Home, Menu, and Back.

When the Echo’s two displays are in action and connected together, it becomes a 4.7-inch display sporting a fantastic 960 x 800 resolution – and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately the separation between the two displays can be a little annoying, especially for apps where the main content is right in the middle. But for the most part the experience is a good one, with the combined resolution approaching that of the 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Since Kyocera wanted to fit two screens on the Echo, they had to make a few design compromises that we’re not elated about. At 17.2mm, it’s a bulky phone. For comparison’s sake, the Echo is essentially the thickness of two iPhones 4s stacked on top of one another. Yes, we’re aware that you’re getting two displays here, but it’s something to definitely consider before purchasing the Echo. Slipping the Echo into our pants pocket is a bit awkward, so we found ourselves carrying the phone around.

Hinge

Fitting two screens on a phone isn’t an easy task. Kyocera definitely thought it out, and the hinge that makes it all work is pretty crazy.

To reveal the second screen, you have to push the first screen forward, and the hinge kicks in and puts the device into a laptop-style form factor. Pushing the primary display even further would flatten it into tablet mode. We found ourselves using the full tablet mode over 95% of the time due to the two screens having relatively low viewing angles. Unfortunately the poor viewing angles makes the laptop-style form factor rather annoying and hard to use.

So while the hinge looks crazy, it’s actually really easy to use, and it grows on you after a while. It’s really solid and it doesn’t seem like it’ll break over time.

Software

The Kyocera Echo runs Android 2.2.1 that’s very similar to the “stock” Google experience, but there’s a few tweaks that utilize the dual displays. Thankfully the tweaks Kyocera did make are all to help get the most out of having dual displays, and none of them get in the way of an excellent stock Froyo experience. Unfortunately, because of these tweaks, we don’t see the Echo ever moving beyond the current Froyo 2.2.1 OS it’s on – which isn’t even the latest build of Froyo available, 2.2.2.

Kyocera has introduced what it calls “Simul-task”, which is the ability to use two separate Android apps on the two screens at the same time. Unfortunately the apps which are compatible with Simul-task are quite sparse, only covering the browser, contacts, email (not Gmail), gallery, messaging, phone, and Kyocera’s YouTube app, VueQue. Activating Simul-task is easy, just tap on both displays at once and you’re present with an app picker on each screen. We found this feature to be pretty fascinating and useful, so we’re glad Kyocera baked it into the OS.

Kyocera has also released a special API for developers to properly use the two screens, but we doubt adoption will be high. Thankfully every app we downloaded from the Market had no issue making use of the two screens, so that’s promising.

As we mentioned previously, the Echo runs a stock build of Froyo, which we applaud Kyocera and Sprint for doing. We’ve always been fond of the stock Android experience, and it’s really great on the Echo. Everything is smooth, including scrolling between home screens with our favorite live wallpaper enabled – Nexus.

Unfortunately the browser does not support multitouch, which is something we’ve come to expect in phones nowadays. Tap to zoom still works, but multitouch seems like a glaring omission to us. Maybe this is something Kyocera can enable in a future software update, but we are doubtful of that happening. Rendering speeds were quite fast and overall very accurate. Flash 10.3 performance was average when we could get Flash videos to play. Most often the browser would just crash.

For those of you interested in Linpack or Quadrant scores, you’ll find them below.

Linpack – 32.356 mflops
Quadrant – 826

As you can see, those scores are rather disappointing for a modern smartphone.

Camera

The 5MP shooter took average shots, which we would guess is just fine for the average consumer. The camera cannot take shots without the SD card inserted, which we thought might be a fun little fact to share. The Echo does not feature a front-facing shooter, which is definitely a little disappointing, but not something which really bothers us. We still find them to be a little gimmicky.

Battery Life

Obviously, battery life isn’t going to be fantastic on a a device powering two full displays. Thankfully Kyocera and Sprint recognized that fact, and included a second battery in the box – along with a pretty awesome external battery charger. The second battery can be popped into the external charger so that you always have a charged spare available to you. Or, if you prefer, the external charger can hook up to the Echo and power it! We found that feature to be completely awesome.

Battery life was actually quite a bit better than expected, and we would think most people would be able to make it through a day with the two batteries. With really light use, you might even make it through a full workday with just one battery.

Call quality, reception, etc.

Call quality was pretty good for Sprint, which has traditionally been rather poor for us. The speaker on the Echo is a bit tinny, but still quite loud for when you need to use it in a noisy environment. One bug we found quite annoying is that while using speakerphone, if the display dims, you cannot tap it to stop the screen from turning off. You have to press the power button each time, which can be annoying if you need to quickly get to the dialer pad to enter an option or extension.

Reception on the Echo is simply fantastic. In fact, it’s better than any other phone we currently use. Data speeds were also pretty good for Sprint, averaging 600Kb down and 300Kb up.

Pricing

The Echo is available directly from Sprint for $199.99 on a two-year contract.

Conclusion

When we first got the Echo, our first thought was that it’s really quite bizarre. Now that we’ve used it for a while, we actually think Kyocera came up with something pretty awesome. The combined resolution of the two screens is great, and besides poor viewing angles, the screens are quite nice. The software tweaks are also all quite useful, and we applaud Kyocera and Sprint for sticking with the stock Android UI.

Unfortunately, the trade offs in terms of weight, thickness, and battery life for having dual screens are a little too much for us to overcome. We’re not quite sure who is the target audience for this device, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Sprint sees quite poor sales. Now, if you’re someone dying for a dual-screen Android phone (we suspect there probably aren’t many of you guys), then you’ll probably enjoy the Echo quite a bit. But for those of you who are using Sprint and would like a fantastic Android experience, we think there are much better devices to choose from, especially now that Sprint has the Nexus S 4G.

CR H. (11 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


CR H. is avid about all things technology, especially in the mobile space. Credit for his love of technology goes to his mom who signed him up for ComputerTots at his daycare. CR is currently a full time student in Baltimore, MD working towards a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems. Student by day and IT consultant by night, CR surrounds himself with technology whenever possible. He’s especially fond of mobile phones, generally going through a device per month, but can always be found with at least one iPhone. His email is: CR(at)mobilitysite(dot)com, and you can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MRCUR

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