Images and video of the "first dual-touchscreen smartphone"

When you think of cutting-edge smartphones, "Kyocera" most likely isn't one of the first company names that come to mind. But that could soon change if today's unveiling of the Kyocera Echo, the world's first smartphone with two touch screen displays, at least according to Sprint, is any indicator of things to come.

Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers, today unveiled the Google (GOOG) Android powered Kyocera Echo at a New York City event hosted by magician David Blaine. Sprint will initially be the exclusive carrier for the Echo in the United States. And the device should be available this spring for $199.99 with a new two-year service contract or eligible upgrade and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

Japan's Kyocera makes a number of smartphones, cell phones and other electronicssome under the brand name "Sanyo" for Sprint -- including a lineup of Android smartphones, the most high-profile of which is the probably the Kyocera Sanyo Zio. But none have really grabbed mainstream attention during the past couple of years.

The Kyocera Echo aims to do just that with two touch displays that connect via a "pivot hinge design." They can be used together to form one single 4.7-inch display or employed separately with different applications on each screen, according to Sprint. And the Echo folds up into what should feel to most folks like a regular single-screen smartphone so it can easily be carried in a pocket.

The device runs Android version 2.2, a.k.a., Android "Froyo." It packs a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. And it is a 3G CDMA device with a 5MP digital camera capable of capturing HD video.

Additional notable technical specifications, from Sprint, are as follows:

* Dual 3.5-inch LCD WVGA (800 x 480 pixels) capacitive touch screens (4.7 inches diagonally and 800 x 960 pixels when opened)

* Wi-Fi hotspot capability (supports up to 5 devices)

* Full HTML Web browser with Google search, optimized for dual-screen experience

* Network: 3G data speeds (EVDO Rev A) peak download speeds of 3.1 Mbps; peak upload speeds of 1.8 Mbps; average download speeds 600 kbps - 1.4 Mbps

* Wi-Fi: (802.11 b/g)

* Stereo Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR

* Digital compass, accelerometer, proximity sensor, light sensor, GPS

* Expandable memory: 8GB microSD card included; supports cards up to 32GB

* 1GHz Snapdragon processor (QSD 8650 Android)

* Dimensions: 115.0 x 56.5 x 17.2mm, Weight: 193g (6.8 oz.)

* Removable 1370mAh battery; includes spare battery (1370 mAh) with portable charger that can also tether to the phone as an external power supply

* Memory: 1GB/512MB; microSD card slot for expandable memory (8GB microSD included)

The device operates in a handful of different "modes." "Single-Screen Mode" works just like any single screen smartphone; "Simul-Task" Mode is activated when two of the phones seven core apps run at the same time but independently on the Echo's two displays; "Optimized Mode" is when both displays show a single, optimized app with complementary functionality and enhanced usability; and finally, "Tablet Mode" is when one application runs across both screens for a full 4.7-inch viewing area, according to Sprint.

Sprint's Kyocera Echo Smartphone

I got some quick hands-on time with the device earlier this evening -- check out the video on the previous page for a look at the device "in the flesh" -- and I must say, I like the hardware more than I expected to. It feels sturdy, and the design is cool, innovative and functional, for the most part. It's a bit awkward opening and closing the hinge to access different screen setups and "modes," but users will likely get used to that fairly quickly.

I also appreciate the idea of running two different applications on different screens. I'm not sure if there's a need for a folding display or just a screen large enough to separate apps, but the concept is a cool one, for sure. And it will likely influence a variety of future smartphones. I use dual monitors along with my PC, and I'm so much more efficient using the two monitors that actually I find it difficult to work on a laptop with no external display after using two monitors for a long period of time.

The Echo software was a bit buggy, but that can be expected with a device that won't be released for a few more months.

My biggest concern at this point is battery life. Two screens equal some serious battery drain, and both Sprint and Kyocera know it; they're shipping the device with an extra battery and charger that can also be juiced up and use as a portable power pack to charge the Echo while on the go.

That's probably not just a nice gesture on Sprint's part, either; the Kyocera Echo likely eats up battery like a starving kid in a hot dog eating contest, especially while streaming video or uploading video content.

Oh yeah, one more thing: Kyocera and Sprint may have been first to market with this dual-screen smartphone, but they're not the only two companies working on such a device. In fact, Fujitsu and others have shown off dual-screen smartphone prototypes in recent days. Verizon Wireless's Samsung Continuum also has two separate touch displays...sort of.

Additional information on Sprint's Kyocera Echo is available on the carrier's website.

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Al Sacco

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