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Microsoft KIN One and KIN Two

Editor's rating for KIN One (1-5): rating starrating starrating star
Editor's rating for KIN Two (1-5): rating starrating starrating star
Carrier: Verizon Wireless
Manufacturer: Microsoft and Sharp
Discuss this product

What's hot: Lovely hardware, good keyboards, strong Verizon network backing them.

What's not: Incomplete features and expensive plans weaken the KIN phones vs. competing products.


Editor's Note, 11/2010: the Kins are now reincarnated as the Kin ONEm and Kin TWOm with more affordable Verizon data plans.

Reviewed May 5, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

And now for something completely different, the KIN One and KIN Two. Trust us, you've never seen a user interface like this and you'd never expect Microsoft to make something this playful and youth oriented. The KIN phones ship in tube-shaped containers labeled simply with KIN One or KIN Two, and Windows Phone. Clearly Microsoft took that MS music player packaging parody to heart since the KIN lacks all the endorsements, fine print and other stuff that clutters most product boxes. The Windows Phone moniker is interesting since this is NOT Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft wants to remind us that both WP7 and the KIN are part of the same happy family.

Kin One and Kin Two

The KIN One and KIN Two are currently exclusive to Verizon in the US, and the KIN One launches at $50 with contract while the KIN 2 sells for $99. The big hurt is the plan pricing since the KIN requires Verizon's $30 smartphone plan. That means you'll pay as much per month to use a KIN as you would for the Palm Pre Plus, Droid Eris and HTC Touch Pro2. Worse yet, the Palm Pre Plus, Palm Pixi Plus and Touch Pro2 all sell for less than the KIN Two (and the Palm models are cheaper than the KIN One as well). For a phone that's aimed at tweens and teens, these are not cheap phones and the plan pricing is too high. Sure, if you've got the money and want to treat your child to something cool, then the pricing, which is comparable to the iPhone 3GS plan pricing, is acceptable. But for less affluent parents and college students, the KIN, like the iPhone, will be a stretch. And the KIN siblings don't have the rich feature set of high end feature phones and smartphones, making the Android-based Verizon smartphones and Palm webOS phones look more compelling.

Kin One and Kin Two

But all is not doom and gloom, and teens want different things from adults who are obsessed with business applications and feature overload. The KIN is really fun to to use and learn. Yes, it has a learning curve because the UI is so original (who thought Microsoft could create something so totally new!), but after an hour, you'll get it if you're under age 25. Why do I mention age? Because today's kids are immersed in technology and learn it quickly; there's actually nothing abstruse about the KIN. The phone is completely social networking-centric and that mirrors the interest of the target market. There's no MS Office viewer here and no PDF viewer, instead there's a home screen that focuses on the "Loop", your group of friends on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Windows Live Messenger. The busy screen is filled with their latest tweets and status updates, and these scroll up and down so you can see quite a bit of the day's social history. Tapping on one of the those pretty and highly graphical status updates takes you to a window where you can reply. If your life revolves around these social networking services, then the KIN should speak to you.

Of course, so will Motorola's MOTOBLUR Android phones which do much the same thing in a less pretty way. These Android phones have an advantage when it comes to streaming video over YouTube and games. That's right folks, there are no games here. And this phone is for the younger crowd? From the age of 5, what were your children doing? Borrowing your phone to play games. But as they move to their later teen years, the social scene does become more important. Still, no games?

Kin Two

And that relates to a bigger issue: no apps. You get a built-in set of applications for web browsing, email, Zune music and video, the phone and contacts, and that's it. There's currently no app marketplace, so those apps better do it all for you. Microsoft may make applications and new features available in future updates, though we have no information on what those will be. So for now, there's no calendar (you don't need to keep track of basketball practice, SAT study classes and the drama club meets, do you?), no YouTube player and no Verizon V Cast services. There's a GPS but it's used only for geotagging photos and Bing local area searches. If you're driving age, the KIN won't help you much beyond text directions from Bing's mobile site. And oddly, Windows Mobile phones with Live Search and feature phones with Bing services offer richer features than KIN. This is a phone that's all about social networking, get it? Microsoft did spend at least a year working with a test group of teens to develop KIN's features, so they may know something us old fogies don't, and we certainly can't say they didn't try out the features and product on the target market.


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Kin One

Both KIN phones have slide-out QWERTY keyboards and bear an embarrassing resemblance to the Palm Pre. The arcing keyboard design and stone-like feel of the KIN One particularly reminds us of the Pre, but Microsoft and Sharp did have good taste in designs to mimic. The phones feel nice in hand, with grippy backs and soft lines but they are hard to hold onto when held in talking and texting positions. The back is too curved and the phone just wants to slip out of the hand (get that phone insurance). The very curved sides make various side buttons hard to press since the phone wants to squirt out of your fingers like a bar of soap. The camera button on the KIN Two is maddeningly difficult to press, for example. The power button is on the top right corner of each phone and is conversely too easy to press. But you're saved from pocket dialing by the nicest lock screen we've ever seen on a phone.

Kin Two

The keyboards are backlit and the light comes on when the ambient light sensor determines you need it. There's an accelerometer that works in most but not all applications. There's no landscape view for the Zune player main menus, though the UI will switch to landscape on the KIN Two if you need to input text. It has to switch because the lateral keyboard requires landscape orientation and there's no on-screen keyboard. That's right, you must use the hardware keyboard to enter text. Fortunately, there's a large on-screen dialer for making calls, and for that matter, every UI element is large and designed to be used with touch. Both KINs have capacitive touch screens that are beautiful and responsive to touch. The KIN Two has a 320 x 480 pixel display (same as the iPhone 3GS and low to mid-tier Android phones) and the KIN One has a lowly QVGA 320 x 240 pixel display. Given the large on-screen elements, that means you'll be scrolling a lot on the KIN One. That said, the KIN One is darned cute and extremely pocketable.

Kin Two

As a phone, the KIN One and KIN Two are OK, but they're not voice-centric by any means. There's no voice dialing, no hardware call send and end buttons and it's not easy to dial on the run or while driving (if legal in your state). It's hard enough to slide the phone open one-handed, let alone scroll to the phone application, then select a contact. Both incoming and outgoing voice quality are very good on the KIN Two. Incoming voice is very good on the KIN One, but outgoing voice sounds digitized and slightly garbled. Incoming volume is quite loud on both phones.

Kin One

Video Review

We cover both KIN models (their software is identical) in our two video reviews. The first video focuses on the hardware, design and user interface. The second covers the Zune experience, web browsing and keyboards.



Zune Phone

If you have a Zune account, the multimedia experience is good. If you don't have a Zune account, the multimedia experience is nonexistent. There is no media beyond self-generated camera photos and videos and incoming MMS. So fire up a Windows PC and create a Zune account if you want to get the most out of these phones. I'm a Zune HD owner and I love the Zune Pass feature, which is an all you can eat music download service that costs $15/month. Microsoft has an advantage over Apple here since iTunes has no subscription music service. That $15 gets you both the music subscription and 10 "free" song credits per month, so it's a pretty good deal given that you get about an album's worth of tunes to keep each month. The bad part if you or your family don't already have a Zune account with Zune Pass? Your already expensive monthly cell phone bill just went up another $15. Of course, you don't have to get a Zune pass, you can stick with a free Zune account which works like iTunes (only payments are calculated in points, same as XBOX Live). You can burn your own CDs and put them into the Zune desktop software, then sync to the KIN. You can buy songs or albums (the prices are generally the same as iTunes) and sync those too. Most but not quite all songs are DRM-free MP3. You can also buy and rent movies and buy TV shows and music videos.

Yes, you do need a PC to set up a Zune account and burn CDs. If you want to shop for music after that, you can do it directly from the phone and you can use the Zune Pass to search for and stream music to the phone over Verizon 3G EV-DO Rev. A or WiFi. You can't download videos to the phone using the Zune app on the device, those must be side-loaded over USB. Both phones have a 3.5mm stereo jack and earbuds are included. The KIN One's speaker is loud and decent sounding and the KIN Two's stereo speakers sound slightly sharper.

Kin Two

The Studio

The Studio is one of the coolest KIN features. You access the studio using a computer web browser (both PCs and Mac are supported and the site uses Microsoft's Silverlight plugin) and your KIN account credentials. When you first set up the KIN, you'll enter your existing Zune/XBOX Live/Windows Live Messenger or Hotmail email account and password. That's how you'll keep everything in sync and access these Microsoft services from the phone (sorry, there's no XBOX on the KIN yet). If you don't have any of these accounts, you can create one. You'll also enter your social networking credentials for Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The phone automatically downloads your contacts from these services as well as your Live accounts, though the KIN lacks the deep contact integration found in Palm webOS smartphones and HTC Sense Android phones like the Droid Eris and Incredible.

Once your KIN is set up, you can log into the Studio and see an attractive and intuitive timeline that shows photos and videos you've taken, messages you've received, favorite contacts and your full contacts list. Your KIN is constantly backing up all content to Microsoft's KIN Studio servers, thus your stuff is available via any web browser (your login is required, so it's private and theoretically safe) and you don't have to worry about losing that content if the phone is lost or dies. Sweet.

KIN Studio

The Spot

Microsoft is very proud of the Spot, a simple little circle, or spot, that sits at the bottom of the screen and is the repository of media and contacts that you want to share via text message, MMS or upload to Facebook. Just press and hold, then drag the item to the Spot (it turns black when items are in it). Tap on the Spot to open it and select an item inside to dispatch it. It's cute and handy but didn't ring my bell the way the Studio did.

Camera and Battery Life

The KIN One has a 5 megapixel camera and the KIN Two has an 8 megapixel camera. Both have autofocus lenses and a bright flash. They take good photos, particularly the KIN Two, though the has some trouble dealing with high contrast outdoor settings and focus of objects closer than two feet is weak. The KIN Two can shoot 720p video that looks very good by US camera phone standards, though it can't beat Nokia Nseries phones.

Given the phone's constant data transfer for social networking updates, email checks and syncing to the cloud, both KIN models have good battery life and should last up to 2 days on a charge (with no WiFi use).


The KIN One and KIN Two are shocking breaks from the dull or cloned user interfaces and business-focused operating systems we've come to expect from Microsoft. They're also extremely youth-focused phones that don't fit the mold made by current high end feature phones and smartphones. I suspect most folks over 30 just won't get it, but those under 20 will. They're fun to use and have highly graphical and attractive interfaces that work well with touch. Social networking (at least those services most popular in the US) are covered, but not deeply covered. Both Facebook and Twitter apps have lightweight features that can't compete with more fully developed smartphone applications for supporting everything those services offer. IM is limited to Microsoft's own Live Messenger, so Yahoo, AIM and other services aren't a possibility. For a phone that's 80% social networking, this is disappointing. But the KIN duo are fine for keeping up with what's going on, texting and IM-ing via Microsoft's service.

The Zune integration is excellent and mimics most things a Zune HD can do (that's a good thing). Like the iPhone and iTunes, it requires side-loading from a PC (other than Zune Pass streaming), but unlike iTunes, you must have a Windows PC (at least for now) to use the Zune desktop application. The web browser is just OK: it renders nicely but is slow and doesn't reflow text when zooming. The hardware itself is quite nice though derivative of Palm, and the display is gloriously sharp and colorful on both phones.

So we have an interesting start from Microsoft, and we'll be interested to see how they evolve the platform (games, deeper social networking and fuller use of the GPS come to mind). We're not in love with either KIN but wouldn't dismiss them as failures either. We'll have to wait and see how the kids vote. For that matter, we'll have to see how their parents vote with respect to the Verizon plan pricing. It's easy to push $100/month with a 5,000 message plan and a Zune Pass subscription, and that's a lot when a QWERTY feature phone with more IM services, some social networking and a decent camera costs just over half that.


Price: $49.99 for the KIN One and $99.99 for the KIN Two with a 2 year contract. A smartphone data plan is required with these phones.


KIN One Specs:

Display: 2.6” TFT, QVGA (320x240), capacitive touchscreen. Supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has ambient light sensor and proximity sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1240 mAh.

Performance: Tegra APX2600 CPU. 4 gigs internal storage, 256 megs RAM.

Size: 3.25 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches. Weight: 3.9 ounces.

Phone: CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A and 1xRTT for data.

Camera: 5.0 MP with autofocus lens and LED flash.


Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Zune software for multimedia playback. Has FM radio.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 with headset, handsfree and Bluetooth stereo A2DP with AVRC.

Software: Microsoft operating system for KIN (Windows Phone family). Web browser, email client for MS Exchange, POP3 and IMAP email, text and MMS cient, Zune media player software, "Feeds" application for social networking and RSS feeds.

Expansion: None.


KIN Two Specs:

Display: 3.4” TFT, HVGA (320x 480), capacitive touchscreen. Supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has ambient light sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1390 mAh.

Performance: Tegra APX2600 CPU. 8 gigs internal storage, 256 megs RAM.

Size: 4.25 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches. Weight: 4.7 ounces.

Phone: CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A and 1xRTT for data.

Camera: 8.0 MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. Can shoot video up to 720p.


Audio: Built in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Zune software for multimedia playback. Has FM radio.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 with headset, handsfree and Bluetooth stereo A2DP with AVRC.

Software: Microsoft operating system for KIN (Windows Phone family). Web browser, email client for MS Exchange, POP3 and IMAP email, text and MMS cient, Zune media player software, "Feeds" application for social networking and RSS feeds.

Expansion: None.



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