Feb. 7, 2011 at 5:46 PM ET
Sometimes, one screen is not enough for a phone — two is better, right? Well, not exactly, but that's not stopping Kyocera from coming out with a two-screen phone called the Echo that will be carried by Sprint in the United States.
The Echo, with two 3.5-inch touchscreens, will cost $199.99 (after a rebate and signing up for a two-year contract), and be available later this spring, according to Sprint. The Echo is the kind of product differentiator that the carrier likes to have in its lineup, although it will be running on Sprint's third-generation, or 3G, network, and not its snappier fourth-generation, or 4G network which holds the most appeal for smart phone buyers looking to upgrade and to get their data more quickly.
When the two touchscreens are used as one, they total 4.7 inches. Why two touchscreens? Sprint asks, answering its question in this release:
Until now, a single screen on a smartphone could only be used to complete one task at a time. Kyocera Echo, exclusively from Sprint this Spring, will provide the ability to do two things at the same time and get more done – send an email on one screen while surfing the web on the other, watch a video on one screen while texting on the other, comparison shop online with one web site on each screen and so much more.
The Echo also will run an older version of Google's Android operating system, 2.2. It has a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor and a 5-megapixel camera — but no front-facing camera. The phone itself weighs 6.8 ounces.
Sprint says that Kyocera's "innovative hardware and optimized software" let you use the touchscreens in four ways:
1. Single-Screen Mode with all the functionality of a single-display, touch-screen smartphone.
2. Simul-Task™ Mode with two of the phone’s seven core apps (messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, phone, gallery, contacts and VueQue™) running concurrently but independently on the dual displays – e.g., reading e-mail on one screen and opening a text message on the other; checking Facebook via the browser on one screen while looking through a photo gallery on the other; or even searching the Web on one screen and checking email on the other.
3. Optimized Mode with both displays supporting a single, optimized app with complementary functionality and enhanced usability – e.g., composing e-mail on one screen with a touch-screen keyboard on the other; watching a YouTube™ video on one display while browsing and queuing additional YouTube videos on the other (with a preloaded Kyocera app called VueQue™); or viewing gallery images on one display while browsing image thumbnails on the other.
4. Tablet Mode with one application spread across both displays for a full 4.7-inch viewing area. Tablet Mode is ideal for viewing maps, videos, websites, detailed documents, and long lists on-the-go.
The Echo requires Sprint’s Everything Data plan, starting at $69.99 a month, plus a monthly $10 Premium Data add-on charge Sprint now has for smart phones. You can learn more about the Echo here. As The Wall Street Journal noted in an earlier report Monday:
Sprint is hoping the Echo's unique design will drum up more attention for the company's products and services at a time when the carrier needs more high-end devices to replace its two marquee phones: the Evo, made by HTC Corp. of Taiwan, and the Epic, made by Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea. The Evo and Epic are beginning to show their age at a time when most smartphones have a shelf life of only a few months.
And smart phones are hot, no question: A report Monday from research firm IDC says smart phone shipments globally were up 74.4 percent in 2010, to 302.6 million, from 2009.
Sprint has had a lot of exciting phones in its stable over recent years, and appealing monthly plan pricing, for the most part. Still, the carrier remains third in the U.S., behind Verizon Wireless and AT&T. So perhaps there is some wisdom to two screens-are-better-than-one. Well, if not wisdom — there's certainly novelty.