Kyocera Echo Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

It’s been a while since we saw a truly unique product, especially on the hardware side. Looking to establish itself as a real player in the game, Kyocera- nee, Sanyo- has introduced the Echo, the world’s first dual-screen phone. The Echo packs a pair of 3.5” displays on top of one another, then “flips” open and puts them together to create a 4.7” mini-tablet. This Android 2.2 device sports some top-tier specs, like a 1GHz Snapdragon processor with 1GB of ROM and some questionable ones like no 4G or front-facing camera.  As the first of its kind you’re definitely going to pay the early adaptor tax on the Kyocera Echo, but just how steep is that and is it worth it?

Included with the Echo Kyocera has included an 8GB microSD card, microUSB data and charging cable with AC adaptor and a spare battery and charging pod that can double as a charger on the go.

Design:

So, how exactly do they do it? How does the Echo transform (bet they wish they had beaten Samsung to that one) from a single, 3.5” 480x800 display into a dual display with an 800x960 resolution? It’s pretty slick actually; there is a spring hinge that sits between the two displays when closed, but when opened it flips out, providing a back for the top display to rest on which then clicks into place aside the second display.  It’s easier to see than explain, so check out our video of it in action.

In this day and age of black slabs the Kyocera Echo is a refreshing change…but still a black slab. The glossy black front has gaudy chrome accents, and the rear is a very plasticy flat black with an ever so slight coat of soft touch.  It can be a slippery device to hold, but thankfully for safety’s sake there is a lot of it to hold onto. The Echo clocks in at a rather portly 17.2mm thick thanks to the second display.



You can compare the Kyocera Echo with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

If you love Sanyo devices than the Echo will feel right at home to you and in fact it reminds us very much of the M1. The click in the hinge is back (aarg!), the aesthetics are way behind the times and there is a very plastic feel to the Echo. That said, the build quality feels pretty good so far. It’ll be interesting to see how the thin hinge holds up over time, but at least for now there is no play in it.  We do foresee user error issues because the second display doesn’t instinctively click into place next to the secondary one, leaving it loose and prone to hinge damage. It can also be incorrectly used similar to the HTC Arrive, with the main display tilted up like a laptop.



A 480x800 display on a 3.5” screen leads to very crisp resolution, and 980x800 across 4.7” is quite nice as well. The displays do not seamlessly blend together, instead there is a black strip created by the bezels that reminds you of the TV wall of an electronics superstore circa 1995. It doesn’t take long to get over this however and the value of such a big display becomes apparent when browsing the web. The displays are prone to wash out in direct sunlight, but at the highest brightness are still usable. The colors are still a bit warm, but nowhere near as noticeable as the Zio was. At times it looks like the primary display is slightly cooler than the secondary one, but we’ve stared at it so long and still can’t come to a conclusion, so if there is a difference it is extremely minute.


Each display has a Home, Menu and Back set below it, but only one is active at a time (main display when closed, secondary when open.) We appreciate the capacitive buttons, but miss the search option and for aesthetics wish that the icons on the secondary display were rotated 90o.


The left side of the Kyocera Echo is super-busy. From top to bottom you’ll find: 3.5mm headset jack, covered microSD slot, power button, a volume rocker that’s too small, a covered microUSB port and finally a lanyard hole. The right side of the phone is part of the hinge mechanism, so it can’t be used, but it would have been nice to see some of those offloaded to the top or bottom of the phone, both of which are totally barren.  The back of the Echo houses the 5MP camera and LED flash (housed in gaudy silver trim) and the phone’s single speaker, which is a bit weak on the media front but great as a speakerphone.



The hinge is a very cool mechanism that accomplishes something no manufacturer has ever done before, but overall we’re not very impressed with the design of the Echo. It is very thick thanks to the second display, but instead of minimizing that with tapered edges Kyocera stuck to hard lines.  The displays are very nice to look at, but the rest of the phone reminds us of a poor knockoff you’d find in Chinatown.  Kyocera may have been innovative, but is there a law that says they can’t be stylish as well?




Kyocera Echo 360-degrees View:





Interface and Functionality:

The Kyocera Echo runs a vanilla version of Android 2.2.1. It has some Sprint apps and other bloatware that can’t be removed (technically,) but the Android experience is otherwise unmolested.  All the stock apps are there and unmolested, so your calendar and phonebook will be as you’re used to. Of course with two displays the Echo is bound to have a few tricks up its sleeve, and indeed it does.


The Echo has what Kyocera calls Simul-task applications, which have a small indicator on the icon to let you know they are compatible. This means that two applications can run independently of each other on the two screens. For example, let’s say you’re browsing the web and get a text message. You simply tap both screens and pull up the messaging app on the screen you wish.  When you click on the text box to reply the messaging app takes over, with the conversation up top and the Swype keyboard down below. After you send the message the browser window reappears, and if you wish you can maximize it across the two screens.  When two apps are running you can swap the screens if you choose.


Some apps, like the browser or contacts, simply span both screens. Other apps, like the Gallery or VueQue app provide different information on both displays. The gallery loads your photos below, then displays the selected photo above. The VueQue app is a specialized version of YouTube which plays the video on the top display while displaying related videоs on the bottom panel that you can queue up for watching. Of course both have an option to scan both screens as well.


Overall the experience works well, and it's cool to be able to browse two different web pages at the same time, or pull up your contacts while in a text message to look up a number. For now only the six applications we mentioned as well as the phone app are Simul-task compatible, but Sprint and Kyocera are reaching out to developers to create apps that will take advantage of the Echo’s dual screens. 

For apps that are not Simul-task compatible Kyocera has a tablet mode app, which lets most of the rest of your apps run on both displays. The app warns that not app apps will be compatible with it, but in our testing we didn’t find one that wasn’t. For the most part the app simply spans both panels, but we did notice that the included Telenav GPS loaded the search screen up top and a map down below. We’d love to see them take it a step further by offering the navigation map in the top panel, with route info, nearby attractions, gas prices, and other similar info in the bottom panel, but instead when in navigation mode it simply spans both screens.


Like on the Zio, multitouch is curiously absent at times. Notably, it is missing from the browser and gallery, which is very disheartening. Multitouch works on third party browsers that support it, but you can’t Simul-task with them.  It also means that out of the box the super neat 3D effects in Google Maps which require two fingered gestures don’t work. The Echo is preloaded with Maps 5.0.0 (which does support those,) but an update to the most recent 5.3.1 thankfully enabled those features.


Despite the respectable hardware specs (1GHz processor, 512MB RAM and 1GB ROM) the Echo lags a lot more than it should.  It does it in both single and dual screen mode, so we don’t think tablet mode or Simul-task has anything to do with it. There are times when it will run like butter, but other times when it will choke to a slow death. For example, when we fire up the gallery it takes the better part of a minute for the 13 thumbnails we had to fully come visible, and sometimes when we close the phone it will be stuck in tablet mode, with half a screen rotated the wrong way for a while before “waking up” and re-orientating itself. Hopefully these issues will be corrected with software updates.

There are some practical applications for the Echo’s dual screen setup right now, but for the most part it is promise and potential that has us excited about devices like this. Ultimately it will be this app support which determines if the Echo- and dual screen phones in general- become a hit.



Internet and Connectivity:

Kyocera has given the Echo the hardware to compete with Sprint’s other flagship devices, namely the EVO 4G and Epic 4G, but one notable exception is the lack of 4G.  Instead the Echo relies on Sprint’s 3G network (and actually gets a 3G icon, instead of the familiar Ev) and of course has Wi-Fi (a/b/g) as well.  aGPS is built in, as is Bluetooth 2.1+EDR with support for the HFP, HSP, OPP, A2DP and PBA profiles.

As noted earlier the stock browser does not support multitouch, but others like Dolphin Browser HD and Firefox mobile restore the pinch to zoom we all know and love.  Speeds were comparable to the EVO and EVO Shift on 3G and Wi-Fi networks, and in tablet mode browsing was pretty awesome.  We said earlier that we got used to the bar separating the displays, but you still notice it and we look forward to a more elegant solution to this problem (in some other phone, maybe).



Camera and Multimedia:

Being a stock Android device you get a stock Android multimedia experience.  There is no optimization for the dual screen in the music or video players, with the exception of VueQue which only plays YouTube videos.  In tablet mode the bar is very noticeable while watching videos, and since the display in tablet mode is close to square and most videos these days are widescreen there isn’t a huge advantage to watching in tablet versus regular mode.


If the Echo were priced at $99 we’d say the camera did pretty well, but since it’s priced at the same level as the EVO and Epic 4G we’re a bit more critical and it does not stack up.  The first issue is the long capture time, nearly 3s.  Combine that with 3s to load the camera and you’re not only prone to miss the image, but as you can see from our high light sample you’re likely to end up with blurry results.  We left that one in on purpose, but there were at least 5 other samples that had to be retaken because of blur from the long shutter time.  When you do get a clear image results aren’t bad, but again they are not on par with the 5MP camera found in the Epic.  Colors were reproduced very naturally with good saturation, but fine details were often muddled.  The 720p camcorder had some issues of its own.  As you can see from our sample video the video froze up, but it did give any indication while we were filming so you don’t know until watching it.  Impromptu videos may be hit and miss with the echo, but hopefully this will also be addressed in a software update.




Kyocera Echo Sample Video:





Performance:

Callers weren’t very impressed with us on the Echo, rating us a 7.5/10 and complaining that we sounded very hollow and also tinny.  Those sentiments were echoed on our end, with the caller sounding very distant and harsh.  This sound is not unfamiliar to us, we’ve seen it on many past low-end Sanyo devices, but were hoping for a lot more out of a flagship device.  The battery is expectedly bad, but to be fair it has two screens to power and Kyocera does throw in an extra battery with charger (something Samsung charges $39.99 for on the Epic 4G.)  That second battery got a lot of use because even with moderate use we could go through an Echo battery in a matter of hours.

Conclusion:

There is a lot to like about the Kyocera Echo, and the phone no doubt suffers from the “first” plague.  We applaud Kyocera and Sprint for spurring innovation so we can’t be too hard on the Echo, and with the first dual-display device Kyocera has set the standard and done an admirable job.  Once you get used to Simul-task it can be very helpful, tablet mode makes browsing the web a very pleasant experience and we hope to see many cool apps that will take advantage of the dual displays.  All of that said, the overall experience is hindered by system lag, the styling is atrocious and if it weren’t for the dual-displays the Echo very much feels like a dated, mid-range device.  In short, it doesn’t justify its lofty price point.  Its cool, just not for us yet.

Kyocera Echo Video Review:



Pros

  • Dual high resolution displays that combine for a 4.7” tablet mode
  • Mostly vanilla Android experience
  • Comes with an extra battery and charger

Cons

  • Lag, lag, lag
  • You can’t do much with two displays for now
  • Battery life is awful
  • Call quality is poor
  • Build materials and design could be better
  • Very high price point

PhoneArena Rating:

6.5

User Rating:

8.8
4 Reviews

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