Sprint’s New ‘Echo’ Phone Sports Two Pivoting Screens

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Snap judgment: Sprint’s new Echo Android phone looks cool, but there are a lot of intangibles at play that’ll ultimately determine its success.

The big story here is the Echo’s dual 3.5-inch touchscreens and patent-pending “pivot hinge” that holds everything together.

261801_3Slide the right-hand screen down over the left screen and the handset takes on the appearance of a standard candy bar-style phone when used vertically to make calls. Tilt it sideways and it’ll function similarly to any other single-screen smartphone.

261798_3Open the phone up and you can leverage the two screens to “Simul-Task,” as the term’s been trademarked by Kyocera. It’s a fancy way of saying that you can have two apps open at the same time—one on each screen.

You can also use the phone with individual apps that have been optimized to take advantage of both screens. The built-in e-mail client, web browser and YouTube app will all stretch their respective interfaces out over both screens, for instance.

The hinge system leaves as little room as possible between the two screens, so you’ll be able to scroll up and down a website that’s made use of the phone’s combined 4.7 inches and 800×960 pixels of screen real estate. The e-mail app lets you have your inbox open on one screen and whatever message you’re reading open on the second, as another example.

So while the ability to run two standard Android apps on two screens at the same time is cool, the power of customized apps that take up both screens and provide extra features is hampered by the very fact that the apps have to be customized for this particular phone.

Aside from the pre-customized apps that ship on the handset, you’ll have to wait for other apps to get the dual-screen treatment by developers. And developers won’t have much impetus to create custom apps for one dual-screen phone available on one carrier—it’d take a market full of dual-screen phones to start seeing plentiful apps that take advantage of both screens.

The Echo seems like a perfect candidate to run on Sprint’s fast 4G network too, but it’s been designed as a 3G phone for some reason. The handset even ships with a spare battery, which could have potentially quelled complaints that 4G phones don’t last long enough on a charge.

At any rate, the idea certainly is interesting. The true test will be whether or not consumers take to it and if they do, whether developers decide to start programming dual-screen apps for it. The Echo will cost $200 with a two-year contract from Sprint, with availability slated for sometime this spring.

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