Microsoft Kin One (Verizon Wireless) Review

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Pros: Unlimited cloud storage with Kin Studio ; Small, pocketable design ; VGA camcorder

Cons: Confusing and cumbersome interface ; Social networking features make sharing tedious; Lacks third-party applications and games

Verdict: The more affordable of Microsoft's two social networking phones offers a unique design but very limited functionality.

Well, it's way cuter than the Kin Two. And cheaper. The size of a woman's compact, the Kin One (free with two-year Verizon Wireless contract) is all about social networking and sharing. This phone is meant to let you grab pictures, videos, and links and pull all your friends into one place. While it's a great idea, the Kin One actually makes the process unnecessarily complicated and confusing. For its target market, youngsters and 20-somethings who are all about socializing and networking, the Kin One misses the mark in terms of hardware, the operating system, and even its monthly pricing.

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Design

Unlike its larger sibling, the Kin Two, the Kin One is a tiny phone meant for single-handed use. At 3.3 x 2.6 x 0.7 inches, it's similar in shape to the LG Lotus, but has rounder edges. At the fully closed position, there are portions of the body exposed above and below the screen, which looks awkward. The back is a textured, plastic shell that makes the phone feel a little cheap. On the top left corner is a volume rocker; further to the right is a 3.5mm headset jack, dedicated camera button, and an on/off/sleep/wake button. On the left you'll find the microUSB charging port.

The face of the phone features the rather small 2.6-inch capacitive touchscreen and a home/back button. Pressing the button takes you back a screen while pressing and holding it takes you to the home screen no matter where you are. To the right of the earpiece are ambient light sensors, but they're dark enough that it doesn't take away from the clean look of the face. Sliding the screen open reveals a full QWERTY keyboard.

Display

Since it's so small (2.6 inches) and the resolution isn't that high (320 x 240 pixels), the capacitive touchscreen display isn't going to wow anyone. However, it's bright and vivid enough that we had no problems seeing it outdoors as long as we weren't in direct sunlight. The colors and contrast are rich, but that might be attributable to the themes of the phone. The display is made of plastic instead of glass like the iPhone, but we've thrown it into our pockets and backpacks without suffering a single scratch. It is also very responsive to touch, and we didn't experience any lag.

Keyboard

The Kin One's keyboard is reminiscent of that on the Palm Pre Plus, except it has larger keys. It is tactile, textured nicely, and well-spaced, but, owing to the size of the phone itself, works best with just one hand. Holding it with two hands feels awkward, especially if your paws are large. Ironically, constant text messaging and e-mails might quickly become cumbersome on the Kin One.

We were initially confused about the keyboard layout, too. In the lower left corner is a dedicated phone button that takes you straight to the phone app to make calls. On the opposite side is a search button. To the left of the space bar is a green function button that lets you switch to special characters, such as the @ symbol, as marked on the keyboard. However, you have to press the smiley key to enter other characters--such as brackets, underscores, and yes, smileys.

User Interface

The Kin One runs what Microsoft calls Windows Phone: it is neither Windows Mobile, nor is it the upcoming Windows Phone 7 so far. We can't really say it's anywhere in between, either, because although its aesthetic is modern and hip, it's lighter on features than Windows Mobile or Windows Phone 7. It has three major features that Microsoft is pumping called The Loop, The Spot, and Kin Studio. All three focus on what this device is intended to do, and that is to share your pictures, videos, and status updates with friends via social networks.

The Loop is the home screen. When you power up your phone and you're done setting up your accounts, you'll see a number of status updates from your friends on Twitter and Facebook with their avatars serving as the status background. From the home screen, you can set your status to update globally or to either Facebook or Twitter depending on your choice. The downside here is that you can't upload images to go along with your update. The layout looks nice, but if you're following hundreds of people on Twitter or you have hundreds of friends on Facebook, you'll be missing out on a lot. That's where your favorites come in.

Swiping the home screen to the right will reveal several spots where you can add favorite contacts. Once you pick your favorites, you can view their status updates, Facebook profiles, and contact information; you can call, text, or e-mail them from there, too.

The Spot is literally just that: a small green circle on the bottom center of the screen into which you can drag items and contacts. After dragging, say, a photo into the Spot, you then have the option to send those items to your friends via SMS, MMS, or e-mail. It sounds easy and convenient, but we don't see the point when you can do the same on other platforms from within an e-mail message or MMS. We find the Spot method to be just an added and unnecessary step to sharing stuff with your friends.

Kin Studio is great. A dedicated website automatically syncs pictures and videos with the cloud. When you log into Studio with your Windows Live account (yes, you'll need one of those), all your pictures, contacts, videos, and messages are synced to the service. Best of all, and the reason why we call it the Kin's saving grace, is that storage is truly unlimited. Microsoft and Verizon assure us that you can put as many videos and pictures as you want onto Studio and you'll never run out of space. Comparable services such as MobileMe charge you $99 per year and you're limited to 20GB unless you pay for more.

The nice thing about the Studio web service is its design and layout. You can see your pictures online almost instantly when you shoot them, and videos go up in a short amount of time, too. There is also a timeline there so you'll know when and where you shot those images and videos. If you're all about documenting and sharing things in your life, you'll develop a good appreciation for Studio. We wish that other manufacturers and service providers would offer something similar.

Performance

The performance of the Kin One is one of the very few things we don't have to complain about.For a small phone with a paucity of features and no third-party applications, it's no surprise that the Kin One breezes through the screens and applications, considering it has 256MB of RAM and a 600-MHz processor, the sort of thing you'd expect on a full-featured smart phone. We never had any problems opening up the web browser, camera, or e-mails and getting them to work right away. Switching between screens and applications worked without a hiccup.

Messaging and E-Mail

Messaging on the Kin One is pretty straightforward; the client allows you to view voicemails, text messages, and MMS in threaded view. When you're away from the messaging application, a quote bubble pops up on the screen when you have an incoming message. Tapping on the bubble takes you straight to the messaging thread. Even when the phone is asleep or on lock mode, the bubble pops up and you can get straight to the message to respond.

Setting up a Windows Live, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft Exchange, or an IMAP/POP mail client is very easy: You just enter your e-mail address and password. What we find really interesting is the inclusion of Microsoft Exchange, considering the chances of the target demographic using an Exchange account are slim.

Web

Browsing the web on the Kin One was an annoying experience. Pages rendered well and in a timely manner, but the screen is so small that we only found ourselves using the web browser when we needed to search for something. As if that wasn't enough of a problem, half of the URL bar is always visible on the top of the screen, taking up even more real estate. It's a shame because it looks nicer than the current BlackBerry browser.

Pages did load quickly, however. The New York Times' mobile site launched in just 6 seconds, and ESPN's mobile page was fully rendered in 8 seconds. However, non-mobile sites that are loaded with graphics, ads, and links took longer. Slate.com, for example, took 29 seconds to finish loading, and it was missing some elements such as links and tabs. The Kin One should be fine for very light browsing, but anything beyond that and you'll find yourself getting frustrated quickly.

Multimedia

Like the Kin Two, the Kin One comes with Microsoft's Zune software. In order to use it, you must first download the Zune app to your notebook, and sync the Kin Two via USB. Considering everything else is managed in the cloud, it would be far better if you could do this through the Kin website. It's yet another app you have to deal with. Still, we like the Zune interface; it's pretty intuitive compared to iTunes, and we liked that you could listen to music while using other features on the phone. However, the Spot feature does not work here, so you can't share music with friends. Also, if you want to use Zune Pass, you'll have to fork over another $14.99 per month. We think it should be free or maybe $5 on top of the already expensive data plan.

Camera

The 5-megapixel camera on the Kin One features autofocus and flash, and we generally liked the picture quality. The dedicated camera button is much easier to use compared to the Kin Two: you don't have to position your hands awkwardly and it doesn't take a very firm press in order to get the shot. There is also an option to tap the camera button on the screen to take a picture. The camera focused on our subjects quickly, even objects an inch away from the lens. Colors looked natural indoors and out, although they didn't look as sharp as we'd like when viewed on the desktop as an e-mail attachment or on Kin Studio.

It's definitely not going to replace your pocket cam, but the Kin One's VGA camcorder is pretty good for a free phone. Video quality was generally clear, but we noted pixelation when panning around quickly. It worked well in dark and bright conditions, and if you're shooting in an area where there is a wide range in terms of light and dark (such as a well lit street from the shadows) the Kin One does surprisingly well.

Call Quality and Battery Life

The Kin One doesn't have the greatest call quality we've experienced, but it's decent. Some of our callers said we sounded mechanical and tinny, while others told us they couldn't tell we were on a cell phone. In both cases, our callers said they could understand us perfectly and never had any issues with clarity throughout our conversations. Callers sounded loud and clear to us, but half the time it seemed like they were cutting out. This happened to us whether we were inside our offices or out on the street. On a few occasions, the interruptions on our end became so annoying that we told our callers we'd call back later. We're not quite sure why calls sounded perfectly clear in some cases, and intolerable in some, but if you make a lot of phone calls and it's an important feature to you, the Kin One might disappoint.

Battery life on the Kin One is respectable. Even with the constant uploading of pictures and videos and the status updates on our social networks, we were able to get through a full day of use without worrying about battery life. At 9 a.m. we would unplug the Kin One from the charger, and by 7 p.m. we'd still have about 30 percent battery life remaining.

Verdict

The Kin One is a decent phone for documenting and sharing your life with friends, but it's missing so many features that, even now that it's offered for free, we don't think it's a great deal. It doesn't have any games or access to third-party apps, and the fact that you're forced to pony up $30 a month for an unlimited data plan is tough to stomach when the browsing experience is weak. If you're going to pay that much for a data plan, you might as well pick up a Palm Pre Plus or LG Ally from Verizon Wireless. At least then you'll also have more apps, features, and better web surfing.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor QWERTY Slider
Operating System Windows Phone
Networks CDMA 800, 1900
Data EV-DO Rev. A
CPU 600-MHz
RAM 256MB
Internal Memory 4GB
Memory Expansion Type
Display (main) 2.6 inches/320 x 240
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with A2DP
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
FM Radio Yes
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Audio formats supported WMA
Audio formats supported MP3
Audio formats supported AAC
Video formats supported WMV
Video formats supported MPEG-4
Video formats supported H.264
Photo formats supported JPEG
Photo formats supported PNG
Talk / Standby Time 5.7 hours/8.8 days
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Size 3.3 x 2.6 x 0.7 inches
Weight 3.9 ounces
SAR Rating (Head) 1.38
SAR Rating (Body) 0.491
Company Website http://www.verizonwireless.com