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Saturday, May 8, 2010
A week with the Microsoft Kin One
After saying a long goodbye to the HTC Incredible, I started using the Microsoft Kin One as my primary mobile device. After a week of use, I feel like I have a good idea of what the phone's capable of. It's definitely not going to complete with a smartphone, but it might have just enough extras to lure some feature phone users.

Kin One

The Good
Just to reiterate, the Kin One is NOT a smartphone, so it isn't fair to compare it to an iPhone or a BlackBerry or an HTC Incredible. It is a pretty simple little feature phone aimed squarely at those who want their social content and contacts integrated into a feature phone OS. Not sure how big that audience is, but that is who the Kin One is going for.

So, back to "The Good" list:

1. The hardware design
You've gotta give Microsoft credit for taking a unique approach to the design of the Kin One. It's original product codename of "Turtle" pretty well sums up the look. When in the closed position (the Kin One has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard), it does sort of resemble a turtle or a hockey puck. When open, it looks a bit like a shorter and fatter Palm Pre.

I had several people comment on how "cute" the Kin One is.

Kin One back

2. The keyboard
One thing that many handset makers often get wrong is the keyboard. Over the past few months, I have reviewed several phones, like the Palm Pre Plus, where the physical keyboard were a real hindrance.

Kin One open

The Kin One's keyboard is actually pretty nice. It has good separation between the keys. The keys are also large enough and raised enough to be easy to target.

3. Cloud-based storage & Kin Studio
The Kin puts all of your data (photos, text, etc.) in the cloud, so Kin Studio is how you interact with it on the web.

Kin Studio
My Kin Studio home screen. See a larger screenshot

Kin Studio is actually pretty slick. It gives you access to all of the data you have created or shared on your Kin One. It also gives you access to your Loop which is the stream of social content that you see on your Kin device's home screen.

The Not-So-Good
If read all of the other reviews of the Kin One, you would expect this list to be much longer. However, I don't think other reviewers actually used the Kin One as their primary phone for any significant length of time. Sure, it has some issues, but I wouldn't consider it a disaster as some have claimed.

1. The look and feel of the software
Some of the user interface elements for the Kin feels more like it was designed for the Jitterbug demographic rather than millennials. It features a tile layout similar to what we've seen from Windows Phone 7, but the tiles are huge on the screen. You only manage to see 4 tiles at a time. Part of that is due to the relatively small screen on the Kin One, but most of the problem is that the tiles are just too big. This forces you to have to scroll too much to find the apps or contacts you're looking for.

It also means you have to scroll a lot to see all of the content in your Loop.

Kin One

I dig the tiles concept, but just dial the size back a bit.

2. The usability of the software in some places
Early on with the Kin One, I found myself running into dead ends where I couldn't figure out what to do next.

The most puzzling one was when taking photos. After you take a photo, you have no idea where it went or how to access it. The camera simply returns to viewfinder mode. You don't even get a couple of seconds to review the photo.

After taking several photos, I accidentally swiped my figure to the right across the screen to discover that all of my photos had been floating out in space to the right of my handset.

Of course, once I learned all of these secrets of the interface, I was fine. However, it should be a bit more intuitive than that.

3. The camera
As you might expect from a $50 device, the camera on the Kin One isn't the best. It's not terrible, but you really need to have a steady hand and just the right lighting to get good shots.

Here are a couple that I took this week.

Photo from a Kin One
This one turned out well

Photo from a Kin One
This one... not so well

The Bottom Line
If you are able to avoid comparing the $50 feature phone Kin One to smartphones like the iPhone, Droid or BlackBerry, then you will appreciate that Microsoft took a shot at something completely new by focusing on social media integration and cloud-based storage. Will it appeal to the millennials that Microsoft is going after? We'll just have to wait and see.

BTW, I purposely did not discuss Verizon's requirement that Kin One owners buy a $30/mo data plan. While that will affect the overall adoption of the Kin One, it is not something that has to do with the phone itself.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
A week with the HTC Incredible
As a contributing blogger for CNET's TechRepublic, I get the chance to test out a lot of new smartphones. I generally have pretty high expectations for devices and, honestly, most handsets don't meet all of them.

HTC Incredible

I spent the past week using the new HTC Incredible from Verizon Wireless. It may be the best smartphone available in the U.S. right now.

The Good
There is a lot to love about the Incredible, but I will focus on three:

1. The design
The Incredible is a light and sleek handset despite having a big 3.7" screen. One of my favorite elements of the hardware design is the back of the case.

HTC Incredible

The back of the case is designed so that your hands are always holding the Incredible at the thinnest points. So rather than try and create the thinnest smartphone, HTC choose to make the phone *feel* thinner. Really smart design choice.

2. Sense UI + Android 2.1
I love Android, but it feels a bit unpolished in spots. HTC has developed their own Sense UI that runs on top of Android and makes it a much more refined experience. Really makes a big difference. It was one of the reasons I preferred the underpowered Droid Eris to the beefy, bulky Motorola Droid. It is also why I love using the Incredible.

3. The overall speed
The Incredible really blew me away with its speed. Everyone that picked up the phone over the past week commented on just how fast it is. It is the most responsive handset I've ever used. There is absolutely no lag.

The Not-So-Good
Of course, with just about every device, you will find things that you wish were a bit better. The Incredible is no exception.

1. Battery life
This one shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The Incredible is a powerful smartphone with GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi and a big, bright screen. No matter the handset, that is a recipe for shorter-than-optimal battery life.

I found that I could usually get through the work day (and well into the evening) on a single charge. Not terrible, but I found on heavy usage days that I would need to charge up during the day to keep it running. Not terrible for most users, but the Incredible would definitely not survive a day at SXSW Interactive.

2. The back of the case
While I love the design of the back of the case, I don't like how you take it on and off. First, it is made of plastic, so it may not be the most durable. Second, it doesn't slide on and off. You have to pry it off. I always found myself feeling like I was going to snap it in half.

This is the same issue I had with the Droid Eris. Wish HTC would rethink that choice. If you need to swap the battery or the microSD card, you will need to pry the case off each time.

The Bottom Line
Despite those small issues, the HTC Incredible is the best mobile device that I've ever used. The only reason I'm not picking one up is that I am waiting on the Sprint EVO 4G in June. If you're on Verizon, it is definitely the phone to have. Go get one right now. You'll thank me later :)

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.