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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.

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.