Echo landscapeIt’s a phone! It’s a tablet! It’s a, um, dual-screen phone? Sprint has always taken chances in the name of bringing innovative products and services to consumers. Sometimes – Evo 4G – it works out for them. Other times – Samsung Upstage – it doesn’t. Frankly, I have no idea if this one’s going to fly.

Kyocera’s Echo is an Android 2.2 smartphone with two touchscreens held together via a swiveling hinge. The hinge is fancy, and lets you arrange the displays as a normal smartphone (one screen hidden beneath the other), mini-laptop (one screen flat, the other angled towards you, in widescreen orientation), or as a tablet (both screens flat, side-by-side). In full-on extended “tablet” mode, Echo offers up the equivalent of a 4.7-inch, 960 x 800 display, which is smaller in physical size but actually almost on par with iPads and Galaxy Tabs in terms of number of pixels.

Echo ships April 17 for $199.99 on a two-year Sprint contract. Thanks to Sprint PR for loaning us a review device a few days before they hit the streets.

On first blush, Kyocera did a nice job of customizing Android 2.2 to run on either one or both displays, depending on how you’re using the phone. Echo also employs a bunch of software customizations that do neat things like put the soft QWERTY on one screen and your Email pane on the other, or enable “Simul-Tasking” with a different app on each screen. The device will ship with a limited number of apps optimized for Simul-Task and/or dual screen use, and Kyocera and Sprint have published an SDK to encourage development for the system.

Echo’s success in carving out a unique niche will depend on developer support, but also on how attractive the concept is in this not-bad, but not-fully-polished form. The device ships with two batteries and an external charger to compensate for the power drain of running two 3.5-inch displays all day long. When you open Echo up into tablet mode, the extended display is split down the middle by the black plastic bezel that surrounds both screens, effectively painting a perma-stripe down the center of your content. You might get used to that, or it might drive you up a wall; only time will tell.

And, oh yeah, Echo is a thick, bulky piece of smartphone. But who’s to say that thin is really better, right?

Check out my first unboxing and hands-on, and hit me up with questions as I explore the wonders of this crazy dual-screen beast of an Android device.