Kyocera Echo Answers Call for Travel Display

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you've got an entrepreneurial Dad or grad in your life -- ideally one unafraid to fly his or her geek flag -- have I got a gift for you: the Kyocera (KYO) Echo dual-screen smartphone from Sprint (S) ($99 with 2-year plan).

Released in early April to what amounted to gasps of digital shock and awe, the Echo was the first two-screen, touch-activated Google ( GOOG) Android-based communications tool I know of. When folded up, only a single screen is visible; the thing behaves like your average Motorola ( MOT) Droid or HTC Hero. But pop open the device via its crafty internal hinge and poof, you have a palm-sized desktop computer. The two screens can work as one large display or run as a teenie-weenie Bloomberg terminal with separate programs on each small screen.

The Kyocera Echo is a good tool to consider for simple work stuff such as getting emails, finding information, responding and, most importantly, managing and displaying mobile assets.

Initially, the techno elite dismissed the Echo as too big, 3G-only and lacking enough app oomph to warrant serious business attention. All of which is true.

But Echo haters ignore the pure genius of this device. For small businesses looking for a mobile display that helps explain just about any idea, to any customer, it's tough to beat the Echo.

What you get
The Echo offers just what the sales doctor ordered: a ton of screen real estate still portable enough so you can do and present work anywhere to anyone.

No question, this thing is geek madness incarnate. My test unit is a simply monstrous 5 inches diagonally and a full three-quarters-inch thick when closed. When open, the Echo expands to 4.7 inches square! Personal pizzas are smaller.

But heavens, getting the hang of the two-screen mode is anything but trivial. There is the touch keyboard to manage, the second-screen applications to figure out. And oh so many buttons to finesse.

So why bother? Because for $99 you get the lowest-cost highest-quality display you can pull out of any pocket or bag to show your clients and staff exactly what you are talking about. The can include live emails, Web pages, company collateral, sales presentations, files, whatever. The Echo lets you get to them via the Web and display them in a compelling fashion. And it has phone service to boot.

Yes, that's a niche. But if you're tired of lugging your tablets and laptops around, the Echo is an interesting option indeed.

What you don't get
Here's what you won't find: a keyboard, lots of apps, anything close to reasonable battery life or a device you should mistake for a smartphone.

You really need to be comfortable with touch-based devices to master the Echo. Though technologies such as Swype can make the keyboard easy to use, and the virtual keyboard is without question the biggest I have seen on a device this size, you will miss the real thing. App support for the device, as well, is light. And while in two-screen mode, battery life is a few hours at best.

Factored together, I would not recommend this as a smartphone unless you are a serious nerd. The Echo is cool, but making it work can be complex.

This is a display device, not an interactive device.

Bottom line
The Echo is about doing one thing really well: showing work more efficiently as you travel. It does not offer the multi-app experience of, say, an Apple ( AAPL) iPhone, or the keyboard of, say, a BlackBerry ( RIMM).

But for simple work stuff such as getting emails, finding information, responding and, most importantly, managing and displaying your mobile assets, oh baby, does the Echo make some noise.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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