Reviews are mixed, but there's potential for this whole dual-screen functionality to catch on

When we previewed the dual-screen Kyocera Echo back in February, it garnered a fair number of comments -- good and bad -- thanks to its unique form factor. Now, early reviews are coming in and they generally highlight the good, although there certainly are some downsides, too.

First, a quick recap of the Echo's specs:
  • Dual 3.5-inch LCD WVGA (800 x 480 pixels) capacitive touchscreens (4.7 inches diagonally and - 800 x 960 pixels when opened)
  • Android 2.2 — Froyo
  • 1GHz Snapdragon QSD 8650
  • 5 megapixel camera with flash
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Wi-Fi
  • EVDO Rev. A
  • 115.0 x 56.5 x 17.2mm
  • 193 grams (6.8 oz.)
Right out of the gate, Jonathan S. Geller at BGR calls the Echo both "innovative" and "bold." Geller likens the hardware on the device to a tank, which is also both good and bad. It feels well-built -- "indestructible," as Geller puts it -- but is "very bland to the point of being boring" design-wise. It also means that the Echo is quite thick, thanks to its two screens, making it troublesome to carry in-pocket.

Geller also seemed to have a problem with the actual phone functionality, noting that the "ear speaker is extremely quiet even on the highest volume setting." Reception, though, was great, with the Echo getting five bars of service in areas where Geller usually experienced about three bars on other Sprint devices.

Since the start, battery life on the Echo has always been a concern. Here's Geller's take: 

Battery life is relative as each person expects something a bit different, but after spending days with the Echo, I can confidently say that battery life isn’t that good. It’s not terrible, but again, that’s relative. It lasts a little bit longer than the original HTC EVO did for me, and that’s a 4G handset.

Thankfully, an additional battery and an external battery charger (which charges the battery without having to plug in the phone itself) are both included in the box.

Geller concludes that he actually enjoyed using the device. But:

While the Kyocera Echo is the first device in what Kyocera says will be a lineup of devices featuring dual-display configurations, and I’m not sure this first try quite hits the mark. It’s thick and heavy, and without a more extensive suite of custom apps and developer support, I just can’t see enough of an advantage over going with a device like the Google Nexus S 4G or the upcoming HTC EVO 3D.

While we're on the topic of custom apps and developer support, Darren Murph at Engadget had a bit to say about that. He notes that, while the Echo runs a custom version of Android 2.2 Froyo (Gingerbread is promised by year's end), it is about as close to stock Android as you can get. The customization is largely relegated to the Tablet Mode Extension app. "Outside of seeing Android work across two screens, you aren't apt to notice any irregularities. And that, friends, is impressive," Murph writes.

Murph gave the fluidity of the software high praise:

We'd like to point out just how fluidly Froyo cruises along on the Echo, regardless of how many applications we've opened or how many times we've forced it to change orientation. ... If we're being candid (and really, why wouldn't we?), the Echo felt snappier than our Nexus One (with Android 2.3) in all instances, be it in single- or dual-screen use. 

If there was one criticism that was fairly consistent, it's that the Echo's Simul-Task app, which allows two apps to run simultaneously on both screens, lacks support. In all, there are just seven apps that can take advantage of this functionality. 

Unfolding the phone to reveal its second screen isn’t a smooth step, and the limited number of apps that can take advantage of the dual-screen functionality will frustrate people. For now, one-screen phones will do just fine.

Murph at Engadget was a bit more forgiving. "What the Echo delivers is an entirely new approach to Android, and somehow, Kyocera has managed to add a second screen to the experience without flubbing the execution," he concludes. "If and when developers begin to embrace Kyocera's dual-screen SDK, we could see a whole host of applications that make this layout even more appealing, but thankfully, shoehorned programs make great use of the extra real estate as-is." He added that the Echo wasn't for "speed-craving power users," but that it fills a niche for anyone wanting 960 x 800 pixels.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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