For smartphone manufacturers, getting the display size right can be a bit of a balancing act. People want a screen that is big enough for doing things like composing and reading emails and viewing pictures, but they also want a device that fits comfortably in their pocket. To offer the maximum screen real estate while retaining the compact size of a smartphone, Kyocera has taken a leaf out of Nintendo’s book and come up with a dual touchscreen smartphone that offers multitasking capabilities called the Echo.

When folded up, the Echo can be used as a single-screen smartphone but, through the use of a patent-pending “pivot hinge,” the phone can be opened to have the two 3.5-inch 480 x 800 (WVGA) resolution displays operate independently, side-by-side or combined to form a single 4.7-inch display.

Running a customized version of Android 2.2 and powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, the Echo is also designed for multitasking. Unfortunately, dual-screen multitasking, which Kyocera has called “Simul-Task Mode,” is limited to the phone’s seven core apps that have been optimized for the Echo’s dual-screens. These apps include messaging, email, Web browsing, phone, gallery, contacts and VueQue – a preloaded Kyocera app for queuing YouTube videos.

Kyocera says this means users can mix and match each of these apps to have one running on one screen and another on the second screen. Unfortunately, third party apps that aren’t optimized for “Simul-Task Mode” will fill the entire screen. However, an SDK will be released before the phone is launched to allow third party developers to include dual-screen support for their apps.

The phone can also be used in “Optimized Mode” which optimizes a single app for dual screen use. For example, an email can be displayed on one screen while a touchscreen keyboard is displayed on the other or users can view gallery images on one screen while browsing through image thumbnails on the other.

Finally, “Tablet Mode” spreads a single app across both screens to form a single 4.7-inch display.

Other features include 3G (no 4G), 802.11 b/g, Wi-Fi hotspot capability, 5-megapixel camera with flash, 720p HD video capture, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 1GB of onboard memory and an included 8GB microSD card with support for cards up to 32GB. The Echo also comes with a spare battery, which is probably a good thing since two displays are going to drain the battery twice a fast.

The Kyocera Echo will be available this coming Spring in the U.S. exclusively through Sprint for US$199 with a two-year contract.

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