After years of playing it safe in the mobile space, Microsoft is charging forward in 2010. Its Windows Phone 7 update is a logical step for the world's biggest computer company, but today's launch of the Kin One and Kin Two are a little more left of field. These are phones with limited functionality aimed at a very specific audience, but they hold a few new tricks which could make them a great, big hit with the kids.
Kin One — first impressions
After clapping eyes on the Kin One you won't be surprised to learn its production codename was Turtle. The handset's rounded square shape is quirky and different, though only hands-on experience will tell if it is actually a desirable form factor for day-to-day use. Microsoft says its smaller, square-shaped keyboard is optimised for single-handed use, but again we're not yet convinced this is a plus over the two-handed keyboard on the Kin Two, or any other QWERTY slider for that matter.
Interestingly, Microsoft was happy to show off the handsets and discuss their unique software, but is keeping specific details about the hardware close to its chest for now. We know, for example, that the Kin One has 4GB of storage, HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth, but we don't know which networks it will run on, the dimensions of the touchscreen or the handset, and what sort of hardware powers this chunky monkey.
One feature Microsoft refers to frequently in its press materials relates to the quality of the camera which, according to Microsoft, can record high-definition video and "are designed for use in low light". The two phone models use different resolution sensors, the One has a 5-megapixel camera, and Microsoft is banking on the camera being a major part of its social-networking message, as well as promising something special with these shooters.
Microsoft isn't actually referring to the platform on these handsets as Kin OS, but this name seems as good as any to describe the system that reads like a watered-down version of Windows Phone 7 (WP7). Elements of the WP7 design and the Zune OS inspire this truly funky-looking platform. But it's not all good looks, the Kin OS has some really cool features up its sleeve too.
There are three highlight features to refer to when talking about this system, Kin Spot, Kin Loop and Kin Studio. Beyond its role as mobile phone, Microsoft sees the Kins as social-networking hubs. The home screen of these phones is littered with recent social-networking updates from the accounts you connect to, this is the Kin Loop. People who want to share this information can drag and drop these items to the Kin Spot, like a clipboard on a Windows PC. Multiple items can be dragged to the Kin Spot at a time, including photos, videos, map references, website URLs, and then these items can be sent to one or numerous contacts via MMS or email.
Kin Studio is desktop PC software which lets you view all of your photos, contacts and SMS messages collected by your phone on a timeline view on the PC. Data from the phone is auto-synced with a server so that you don't have to come home at the end of each day and manually sync with a USB cable.
While the phones look nice, it's the software that has us buzzing, though after using the often-sluggishand its Motoblur social-networking software, we have our reservations as well. Motoblur struggles when users have large-scale Twitter or Facebook accounts, and we're sincerely hoping this isn't also the case with the Kin. These integrated social-networking tools look fantastic, but the user experience needs to be seamless as well.
We contacted both Microsoft and international partner Vodafone for information regarding an Australian release, but neither company could confirm launch details for Australia at this time.