CNET First Look
Kyocera EchoThe Kyocera Echo's design offers some unique advantages, but its appeal is hampered by usability quirks and a lackluster feature set.
-Hi, I'm Kent German, a Senior Editor at CNET.com. Today, we're gonna take a first look at the Kyocera Echo. This is a new phone for Sprint. It looks kind of blocky, pretty chunky, very big, certainly thick, and pretty heavy actually. It's over 6 ounces. So, this phone actually has 2 screens. And so the way you see that is you just hold it towards you, push forward, and then it flips up like that. Now then, you can use it this way, but to finish, you really need to push it down, and then you push them together, and there you go. So, this is really what the Echo's main story is. So, the Echo actually works in a few modes. This is called Tablet Mode and it almost resembles a tablet in some ways. Whatever app you're showing on the screen does stretch to cover both screens and that becomes a 4.7-inch screen. There is a seam running down the middle, so that is gonna limit your long finger swipes. As you move back and forward, your finger will hit that. You can keep going, but as you hit that seam, it's just gonna, you know, whatever you're scrolling through is gonna stop for a moment. You can see that the home screen is going on both displays. There's an accelerometer, so even if we turn it like that, we'll see it click in. Now, in Tablet Mode, it works with pretty much everything. So, you can go to the menus, you can go to messaging, you can go to contacts. Everything will span to both screens. Now, instead of having the touch controls for the menu, the calling feature, and the browser down below, they switch over here to the right side; kept wanting them to be down there. I think maybe Kyocera was trying to say, "Well, we don't-- we can't put it in the middle 'cause there's the seam." But even if they had put it on one side, I would've preferred that. There is a second set of touch controls that light up below this bottom screen. Now, in Closed Mode, those controls appear below the top screen. But when you open it, a second set appears here, and the first set deactivates. I don't know why. Kyocera just could've kept this here. I didn't like having to switch back and forth. So, I didn't like that as well. Also, in Tablet Mode, the phone does not rest comfortably on a table. It wobbles back and forth because of the hinge. So, that's Tablet Mode. Next, we'll go Optimized Mode. That's a mode where one screen will show the user controls for a particular feature, and the other screen will show actually what the feature is doing. So, a good example of that is messaging. So, when I'm in the messaging feature, down here I have the virtual keyboard, and up there I have the writing area. So, I found this pretty useful in some ways. It was nice to have the virtual keyboard the whole display, and it was very comfortable that you have to hold it like this and see the screen tilted up. Also, it's good that this mode, when you have the screens tilted, it does rest comfortably on a table so you can use it for typing. It works with the camera. You can see the view finder and camera controls down below. With gaming, for instance, you can get 2, sort of, player views. So, there's a lot of features that that works for. So, it's pretty cool. The last mode is Simul-Tasking, and this is the mode that Sprint and Kyocera are really pushing when they're talking about the Echo. So, only certain features work in this mode, things like messaging, the browser, or your phone book. To get there, start with one of the features that works in Simul-Task mode. You tap the screen, both screens, at the same time, and you'll see that there's a list of the other features you can open. And then, once you press that other feature, it'll open on the other screen. This is kind of cool, too, to be able to look at an e-mail. If you type in an e-mail for instance and say, "Hey", you wanna look up somebody's phone number, you can get in your contacts list. You don't have to swap back and forth. I don't think it's a gigantic timesaver, but it's certainly unique. It's certainly interesting. Now, I am worried about this hinge. It is rather cumbersome, kinda works in 3 spurts. In each spurt, there's a click. It's pretty cumbersome, it's clunky, it's jerky, and I never really got the handle of it. I never really felt that it was really smooth. Certainly, I can't test long-term durability when I've had the phone over only a few days. But we'll be watching this phone for a while to see how it works; also concerned about having 2 displays that affect on battery life. It seemed like the battery life dropped by about 40% to 45% from a full charge. Fortunately, Sprint does give you a second battery in the box. They also include a separate charger. It's great that they're giving you this, but the fact that they are, it kinda suggests that it may not have the best battery life. Right now, rated battery life is 7 hours. As I mentioned, the features set isn't great. You're gonna have a 5-megapixel camera. You'll have Wi-Fi. You'll have Bluetooth. But we don't get 4G on this phone and that's really disappointing because I think that with a phone with 2 screens, it could really benefit from 4G. The phones does have a 1 gigahertz processor, so it felt pretty fast inside. But, Kyocera Echo certainly interesting, certainly unique, offers some usability enhancements, but when you move beyond that design, there's just not more to say about this phone. I'm Kent German and this is the Kyocera Echo for Sprint.