Two smartphone screens aren’t yet better than one

T-Mobile introduced another Android handset on Monday with a unique feature to help it stand out from the sea of Android(s goog) smartphones. The LG DoublePlay has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that’s split by a second touchscreen. The 2-inch sub-display complements the main 3.5-inch touchscreen for what the carrier calls “simultaneous mobile activities.”

The DoublePlay will be available in time for the holiday season and few details on the specifications are available. Based on the carrier’s news release, the handset appears to be mid-range phone and not a high-end performer. A 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon(s qcom) powers the DoublePlay and it uses a 5 megapixel rear camera sensor with LED flash for still images and to capture 720p video. T-Mobile hasn’t yet said if the handset will support its 42 Mbps network.

Although I haven’t held or used the device yet, I’m leery of the split keyboard with extra screen for a few reasons. One of the biggest battery hogs of any mobile device is the display. In the case of the DoublePlay, that means use of the second screen could drain the phone’s battery faster than a similar phone with just one screen. Perhaps the second display can be turned off, but if not, it will be using power each time the hardware keyboard is used.

And one of the main draws for consumers who desire a physical keyboard is to improve the typing experience, so that keyboard is likely to be used quite a bit. But is the addition of a secondary display worth the much smaller keys on a¬†physical¬†keyboard? For some, perhaps, but I’d expect that most potential buyers would value a full-sized keyboard over a small secondary display. Android’s multitasking is more than capable for task switching, which reduces the need for a second screen. And Android poses enough fragmentation challenges for developers who have to code for different display sizes and resolutions.

Besides, smartphones with two displays have already been tried on the market; the Kyocera Echo was the most recent attempt, debuting earlier this year. Do you remember that model for Sprint(s s)? Probably not, and there’s a reason for that: two screens aren’t always better than one.