The smaller of Microsoft’s new social networking phones (the bigger and stronger model is the Kin Two), the Kin One has a slick and intuitive user interface, but the hardware is middle-of-the-road and the phone can sometimes be sluggish. Additionally, advanced users might be disappointed with some limitations within the operating system.
Decent but Unattractive Hardware
Priced at $50 with a two-year contract from Verizon, including a mandatory $30 per month data plan (price as of May 4, 2010), the Kin One isn’t the most stylish mobile device you’ll ever see: Short and squat, it looks a bit dated. That said, the Kin One felt solid in my hands and fits easily in a pants pocket or purse. A Back button sits on the phone’s face; on the top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top, flanked by a camera shutter button and volume rocker/digital zoom control. A power/unlock button rests on the right spine of the phone.
Though the 2.6-inch-diagonal display is a bit small for video playback, it’s large enough for reading texts, browsing friends’ status updates, and scrolling through contacts lists.
The keyboard’s keys are spacious and boldly labeled, but they feel less comfortable than those on T-Mobile’s Sidekick phones such as the Sidekick LX 3G (the design team behind the Sidekick phones played a big role in designing the Kin One and Kin Two). I also noticed a bit of lag between when I typed and when the characters appeared on the screen, which I found frustrating when hammering out a long e-mail. The few shortcut keys including a shortcut to the dialer, an emoticon key, and a search key for searching within your contacts and apps.
Kin OS: Intuitive, but Missing Key Features
Despite being a bit overwhelming at first, Kin OS is visually pleasing and incredibly easy to navigate. The main screen, called Loop, displays your selected friends’ status updates and messages, as well as your favorite RSS feeds, in a colorful collage of text and images. Flick to the left, and you’ll see a panel containing all of your applications; flick right, and you’ll see your contacts.
I also liked how easy sharing photos with my friends was via the Kin Spot. The Spot is a green circle that sits at the bottom of the user interface. If you want to share a photo, video, or news story from your RSS feed, simply drag and drop it into the Spot. Then, if you want to share the item, tap the Spot and choose either to send the link or file to your friends or upload it to one of your social networks.
Another highlight: The Kin One ships with the Zune HD media player for video and music playback. The Zune is gorgeous and definitely superior to the boring mobile Windows Media Player of the past. You also also get an FM radio capability; and if you have a Zune Pass subscription ($15/month), you can tag and buy songs you like on the radio from the Zune Marketplace.
Unfortunately, the Kin OS lacks some features that I consider are crucial for social networkers. There’s no native calendar and no support for syncing your Outlook or Google calendars. If Kin’s main goal is to connect people, why doesn’t it provide a way to create and share events via a social calendar? Also conspicuously absent is any native IM client–a strange omission from a phone built for messaging. Finally, Kin doesn’t support uploading photos or videos to Twitter. You can upload videos to your Facebook or MySpace profiles, but forget about Twitter. Microsoft says that it might add those features in future over-the-air updates, but don’t expect them at launch.
Also, if you tend to use lots of apps, you’ll be disappointed to learn that no software development kit is currently available for the Kin phones, nor is there an app store. For now, you’re limited to what’s preloaded on the device.
Good 5-Megapixel Camera
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Kin One’s 5-megapixel camera. My outdoor snapshots looked terrific, with bright, natural colors and sharp details. The camera handled zooming well, too. Even when I reached the upper limit of the Kin One’s 8X digital zoom, my subjects still looked pretty sharp.
The Kin One has a fairly powerful flash, too. Faces were nicely highlighted without being blown out. The combination of a good camera and a quick-upload feature make the Kin One an ideal companion for concerts, as you can snap high-quality pictures and share them easily with your friends or social networks.
Maximum video-clip length is disappointingly brief, at 1 minute. While recording, you’ll see a counter that tells you how much time you have left for your video. Captured video looked pretty good when played back.
Kin Studio: Useful but Problematic
When you capture photos or videos on your Kin phone, it automatically uploads them to the Kin server; you can choose to geotag them automatically or manually. To view and share this content, you log in to your Kin Studio account on your PC–no need to deal with USB cables or microSD cards, and no tedious uploading procedure to step through. The feature seems ideal for the non-tech-savvy audience Microsoft targets with these phones.
Unfortunately, you can’t delete photos from your phone without deleting them from Kin Studio. Of course, if you want to delete an incriminating photo taken at a bar the night before, you probably want remove all copies of it. But if you’re deleting photos from your phone simply to free up storage space, you’re going to start losing content fairly quickly, since the Kin One’s memory is restricted to 4GB (with no microSD support). Realistically, 4GB of memory isn’t enough to hold all of your photos, videos, and music.
I also wish that Microsoft had included photo editing or video editing software in Kine Studio. As matters stand, to edit a clip or photo, you have to download it to your PC, edit it in a third-party program, and then re-upload it to Kin Studio to share it with your friends.
Clean Call Quality; Sometimes Sluggish Performance
The OS behaved a bit sluggishly as I navigated through various menus. Scrolling through my long list of contacts wasn’t the smoothest of operations; the phone stuttered a bit as it loaded my contacts’ information.
Call quality was clean over the Verizon network. My contacts reported that they could hear me loud and clear–even when I was speaking to them while standing on a busy street corner. My 3G service never dropped as I traveled all over the city of San Francisco.
The Kin One occupies an interesting position in Verizon’s lineup. It is more affordable than the network’s high-end smartphones, such as the HTC Droid Incredible and the Motorola Droid, but it has far fewer features and customization options. It will definitely satisfy social networkers–but perhaps not completely. The lack of apps and limitations within the OS might put off even novice smartphone users. And with sub-$100 smartphones like the Palm Pixi Plus ($30 with a two-year contract) available on the same network, it’s hard to say how successful the Kin One (or the Kin Two) will be.