Sprint debuts dual-screen Android smartphone, the Kyocera Echo

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) turned rumors into reality with the announcement that it will soon launch a dual-touchscreen Android-based smartphone from Kyocera. The operator is hoping the smartphone, called the Kyocera Echo, will result in big sales from consumers looking for an innovative twist on the typical smartphone screen.

Click here for pictures, specs and details of the Kyocera Echo for Sprint.The Kyocera Echo has a patent-pending pivot hinge that the company said will enable the smartphone's two displays to operate independently, side-by-side or combined to form a 4.7-inch integrated display.

The phone will use Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android 2.2 operating system and will support WiFi. Interestingly, it will operate over Sprint's CDMA EV-DO network instead of Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile WiMAX network. Sprint's only other major smartphone launch so far this year was the HTC Evo Shift 4G, its third phone running on Clearwire's network.  

The Kyocera Echo offers customized, pre-loaded apps that are optimized for the dual-screen. For example, VueQue lets users watch a video in one display while browsing, queuing and buffering additional videos in the other.

The device also offers four viewing modes:  

  • Single-Screen Mode, which acts like a single-display touchscreen smartphone;
  • Simul-Task Mode, which displays two of the phone's seven core apps running concurrently but independently on dual displays;
  • Optimized Mode, which allows both displays to support a single, optimized app; and
  • Tablet Mode, which allows one application to be spread across both screens for a full 4.7-inch viewing area.

The phone, which Sprint said will be available sometime this spring, will retail for $199.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate. Sprint currently sells one smartphone from Kyocera, the Sanyo Zio (Kyocera acquired Sanyo's handset business in 2008).

In one sense, the Echo is a way for Sprint to regain the initiative in smartphones. "Sprint needs something splashy to reignite it, especially given the Verizon (NYSE:VZ) iPhone and the (Motorola) Atrix at AT&T (NYSE:T)," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told FierceWireless. "All Sprint has been able to put out is the HTC Evo Shift 4G, which just isn't that special or uniquely interesting. Sprint needed something to talk about."

The bigger coup could be for Kyocera, which has a negligible presence in the U.S. market. "They need something to reignite their brand in the consciousness of consumers," Greengart said. "And you couldn't ask for a better device to do that than the Echo. Even if the Echo doesn't sell, it will perform its function in getting Kyocera back in the consciousness of the consumer."

Greengart said the Echo's form factor can help distinguish it in the market, but that the real challenge will be encouraging developers to create applications that take advantage of the gadget's multiple viewing options.

Ross Rubin, an analyst at the NPD Group, said the Echo's two screens can provide greater flexibility for users. "However, when working with an operating system with a wide variety of apps across a wide array of hardware such as Windows or Android, it can be difficult to attract third-party software developers to take real advantage of a dual-screen device, which limits its potential," he told FierceWireless. "This is in contrast to products that are created specifically to support dual screens such as the Nintendo DS."

In a bit of related Sprint news, analysts at J.P. Morgan said they expect Sprint to post positive postpaid subscriber gains in the fourth quarter. The analysts expect Sprint to report a net gain of 25,000 postpaid subscribers, which would be the carrier's first such net gain in years.

For more:
- see this release
- see this fact sheet on the Kyocera Echo

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