NEW YORK (WSJ)Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) unveiled a smartphone with a twin set of touchscreens late Monday, in a bid to replace its aging high-end devices.
The device, called the Echo, is made by Kyocera Corp.'s (KYO, 6971.TO) U.S. unit and features two 3.5-inch touchscreens that can be stacked side by side to form a pseudo-tablet design. Users can accomplish multiple tasks or programs on the two screens, or drag items from one screen to the other.
The phone, which runs on Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android software, uses a pivot hinge that allows one screen to be tucked under the other, transforming it into a more conventional touchscreen phone. It will be available in the spring for $199.99.
Sprint is hoping the Echo's unique design will drum up more attention for the company's products and services at a time when the carrier needs more high-end devices to replace its two marquee phones, the HTC Corp. (2498.TW) Evo and the Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.SE) Epic, which are beginning to show their age at a time when most smartphones have a shelf life of only a few months.
"Having a new halo device for Sprint will be critical for them to maintain their momentum," said Daniel Hays, who covers telecom for consulting firm PRTM. "Sprint's smartphone line-up is definitely in a need of a refresh."
Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse unveiled the Echo at an event in Manhattan Monday night. Taking a page from Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) playbook, the company sent invitations featuring a magical motif, teasing what the company "has up its sleeve" and hiring magician David Blaine to perform at the event.
Touting the Echo's ability to handle multiple tasks, Hesse said, "Extreme multitasking can be magical."
Sprint's largest advantage--its loudly touted fourth-generation wireless service--has been steadily evaporating as its rivals begin to trumpet their own speedy next-generation wireless services. Last year, the company rode the success of the Evo 4G and the Epic, which were touted as the only 4G phones in the market. The two devices were critical to the company turning around its contract subscriber losses.
The company reports its fourth-quarter results on Thursday. Wall Street expects it to report a loss of 30 cents a share and revenue of $8.16 billion.
Sprint's only recently launched phone is the HTC Evo Shift, a $150 device designed to appeal to more consumers. The company also said last month it would carry the Research in Motion Ltd. (RIMM) Playbook tablet. While the Playbook and Evo Shift run on the 4G network, the upcoming Echo is a 3G device.
Sprint's competitors, however, are preparing a wave of competitive devices. Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. (T) and T-Mobile USA used the Consumer Electronics Show in January to showcase phones and tablets that are coming out over the next few months. On Thursday, Verizon Wireless will begin to sell the Apple iPhone.