The 411 on Microsoft's Kin (FAQ)

CNET has answers to your questions about Microsoft and Verizon's just-introduced ubersocial phones.

Microsoft's introduction of the Kin One and Kin Two on Monday answered a lot of questions about the company's long-running, secretive "Pink" effort . But the unusual devices also left a lot of folks scratching their heads .

Well, CNET is here to try to clear some things up . We'll try to answer as many questions about the device as possible. And, if we missed one, just let us know and we'll do our best to track down an answer.

Also, be sure to check out Bonnie Cha's initial hands-on look at the Kin .

Who is this phone aimed at?
If you have to ask, it's probably not for you. From an age range, Microsoft and Verizon are aiming mainly for the 15 to 30 set, a group it refers to as "generation upload"--the folks posting their every thought, sight, and sound to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It also sees some potential in young parents looking to upload all those adorable pictures of their kids and/or puppies.

How does the interface work?
The Kin interface doesn't really look like other phones with menus and programs and the like. Unlike phones that treat Twitter and Facebook as separate applications, Microsoft has the social experience at the center of the Kin, in sort of the same vein as Motorola does with Motoblur or Sony Ericsson does with the Timescape feature on the Xperia X10 .

The user experience centers around a "loop" of three main screens, one focusing on pictures of a user's favorite contacts, one on the phone's built-in applications and another with the latest status updates. To share a photo, link, or other piece of content, one drags it to the Kin Spot and then drags a picture of the contact the user wants to share that content with, or uploads it to the Web. There's also a companion Web site--the Kin Studio, where folks can see all the content on their phone from any Web browser.

Are these just new versions of the Sidekick?
Although the Kins target the same demographic as the Sidekick--and some of the same people worked on the two devices--the Kin bears little more than a family resemblance to the Sidekick. On the inside, the Kin runs a version of Windows CE, as compared to the Java-based operating system that Danger used for the Sidekick. There is also some similarity in the approach--in that all the data on the device is automatically backed up to the Web.

Will I be able to download additional programs?
There's no mechanism for a user to add more programs, such as the app stores for Android, BlackBerry, or the iPhone. Microsoft said its focus was on building most of the features that people want into the phone itself. That said, the company said it could push an over-the-air update with additional programs or features if it wanted to.

So are these smartphones or feature phones?
It depends on one's definition of a smartphone. Microsoft and Verizon say they think of them thought of as entry-level smartphones, but, since users can't add-on applications, they certainly aren't in the same category as the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android devices, or even other Windows Phones.

Aside from their shape, what's the difference between the Kin One and Kin Two?
The Kin Two is the higher-end device, sporting not only a larger screen and keyboard, but also twice the memory (8GB vs. 4GB), a more capable camera (8 megapixels vs. 5 megapixels) and the ability to shoot HD video (The Kin One takes standard definition videos). Also, the external speaker on the Kin One is mono, while the Kin Two sports a stereo speaker. Both models touchscreens, slide-out keyboards and have bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

When will the Kin be available?
Sometime in May. I tried to pin down Verizon and Microsoft, but they wouldn't be any more specific.

What will the device cost?
Again, the companies aren't saying. This will be a key question. With Apple selling the iPhone 3G for $99 and the Palm Pre practically being given away, Verizon and Microsoft would be wise to aim low, particularly with the Kin One.

What will the service plans look like and how much will they cost?
This is another key question. A lower-price data plan would make the Kins more attractive. However, it's not clear how much data the phones will be gobbling. Among the features is a Zune Pass streaming option that lets one listen to songs over the air, something that can use a lot of data.

The Kins come with Zune, right? How does this work?
Yep. Like the Windows Phone 7 devices due out later this year, both Kin models have the features of a Zune HD built into the device. Users can transfer music and movies from a PC to the Kin's internal storage, plus the Kin also has an added ability for Zune Pass members to stream music on-demand over the cellular network.

Microsoft is hoping the Kin appeals to the "upload generation" that broadcasts its every thought and image to Facebook and Twitter. Ina Fried/CNET

Is Microsoft building the Kin?
Microsoft designed the device, both inside and out, but Sharp is doing the actual manufacture of the product.

What types of e-mail does the Kin support?
There's support for Web-based mail, POP and IMAP services, as well as Exchange for both business e-mail and contact sync.

What about a calendar?
This is one of the stranger omissions on the device. There's no built-in calendar, though one can check a Web-based calendar via the browser.

Which social networks can the Kin tap into?
The Kin gathers together contacts and feeds from Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and Windows Live. Users can upload their photos to all of the above, with the (unfortunate) exception of Twitter.

Will it work with my Mac? Yes, although Microsoft isn't bringing the full Zune software to the Mac. It has created a piece of code that will allow people to transfer their music and photos from iTunes and iPhoto onto a Kin device. It just won't work with music that has Apple's digital rights management protections on it.

So what did we miss? Send along your questions to ina (dot) fried (at) cnet (dot) com and I'll try to find out the answer.

 

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