Editors' note, November 24, 2010: Though Microsoft discontinued the Kin One and Two in June 2010, Verizon brought them back in November and is now selling them as feature phones with modified capabilities.
Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Kin One since they share a number of similarities.
In April 2010, Microsoft finally took the wraps off Project Pink and introduced two new phones targeted at the younger generation of social butterflies: the Kin One and Kin Two. However, the reveal was shrouded in questions and doubt rather than excitement. Who would want this kind of device, especially in the wake of the Windows Phone 7 announcement? Even though Microsoft was very clear in saying that the Kin devices would not appeal to everyone and was specifically targeted at a younger, more social crowd, we were still apprehensive.
Flash forward to now, when we've had a couple of days to check both the Kin One and Kin Two and can see things more clearly. Stepping back from our role as tech journalists and trying to get in the mind frame of the target demographic, we can see how the Kin One and Two might appeal to teens and twentysomethings. The phones offer instant access to favorite friends and a constant connection to them through the tight social-networking integration. They also offer a different and fun user experience than a lot of other full-featured phones on the market.
All of this is well and good, but as we said before, part of the devices' success would depend on the pricing of the phones and data plans. Interestingly, when we first received the phones, Microsoft and Verizon said the pricing would be $79.99 for the Kin One and $149.99 for the Kin Two, both with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. We were just about ready to launch into a tirade when at the last minute we received word that the pricing had been changed to $49.99 and $99.99, respectively--much, much better. Unfortunately, though, there's no adjustment to the monthly data plan. Both the Kin One and Two will require monthly $29.99 unlimited data plans, just like Verizon's other smartphones and 3G multimedia and feature phones. Considering the amount of data the handsets use, it makes sense, but still: the target group probably doesn't have much disposable income, and this may pose a problem to the Kins' overall success. In addition, for the same price (or sometimes less), you can get a full-fledged smartphone, so why would you pay more for less? Hopefully, all parties involved will reconsider the pricing scheme, but for now, we'd go with one of Verizon's other feature phones or smartphones, such as the Palm Pre Plus or the HTC Droid Eris.
The Microsoft Kin One and Two will be available for preorder through Verizon's Web site starting May 6 and will ship within 48 hours. The devices will be in all Verizon stores nationwide May 13.
The Kin Two has a familiar design, resembling a number of other touch-screen slider phones on the market today. The handset is pretty nondescript, aside for some branding on the back, which isn't a bad thing, but certainly is a stark contrast from the Kin One. It will also take up more room in a pants pocket, as it measures 4.25 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.75 inch thick and weighs 4.7 ounces. It's a hefty phone, but it feels solid.
Of course, one of the advantages of having a bigger device is a bigger screen. The Kin Two features a 3.4-inch capacitive touch screen, so you can see more information at a glance than you can on the Kin One. The screen is also sharper than the Kin One's and includes a built-in accelerometer so you get support for portrait and landscape modes. The accelerometer was pretty quick to change the screen orientation, but it takes a couple of seconds to repopulate the Loop screen with all your feeds.
Similar to that of the Kin One, the scrolling experience wasn't very smooth on the Kin Two. It catches a bit as you try to scroll through longer lists, but the smartphone does offer pinch-to-zoom gesture support in the browser and picture gallery. Again, you get only one physical control button below the display, which takes you back to the previous screen. We really wish Microsoft and Sharp had added at least a home shortcut to easily get back to the main screens when deep in an app, because hitting the back button multiple times is not fun.
To expose the Kin Two's keyboard, just push the screen to the right. The sliding mechanism is smooth and the screen securely locks into place. The keyboard is reminiscent of the Sidekick LX's--not surprising since the Kin phones are made by Sharp, which also made the Sidekick for Danger and is now a part of the Microsoft family after the April 2008 acquisition. The circular buttons are on the smaller side, but there's a nice amount of spacing between them so that cuts down on any mispresses. There are shortcuts for the phone app, search, and emoticons on the bottom row.
There are other controls scattered around the edge of the phone. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top and a power button and volume rocker on the right side. You'll also find a camera activation/capture button near the bottom of the right spine. Unfortunately, it's also awkwardly located on the downward slope of the phone's edge, making it difficult to press while trying to hold the handset steady to take a picture. It usually took us a couple of tries to get a clear picture. As usual, the camera and flash are on the back and the Micro-USB port is on the bottom of the device.
The Kin Two comes packaged in a cylindrical canister along with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please read our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Both the Kin One and Two use the same user interface. The software on both devices was created on the core elements of Windows Phone 7, but the user experience is designed completely around social communication, with the Loop home screen at the center of it all.
Loop displays all your contacts' updates and tweets from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Windows Live, and will also pull in any content from your subscribed news feeds. It retains a bit of the look and feel of Windows Phone 7 with the tile layout, and you can tap each tile to either read the full story or comment on a person's status. Information is shown in chronological order with the most recent news up top; as more updates and stories come in, stories are pushed down, but be aware that the screen doesn't pull data in real time but rather in 15-minute increments. Your status and image, however, always remain at the top, where you can instantly update your MySpace or Facebook status or send out a tweet by simply tapping the screen. One note about the social-networking integration: though you can upload photos to MySpace and Facebook, you can't upload to Twitter, which is unfortunate.
To the left of the Loop screen, you will find all the phone's apps, such as e-mail, music and videos, phone, browser, settings, and so forth. When you swipe to the right you'll find all your favorite contacts. You can have up to 51 favorites, and adding contacts is simple. You can't change the size of the tiles, but you can rearrange them, as well as apps, by doing a two-finger tap on the screen.
The Kin One and Two aren't just about having access to information; they're also about sharing, and the phones have a unique way of doing so with a feature called the Spot. The Spot is literally a green dot at the bottom of all three home screens to which you can drag and drop content and then add contacts (also through drag and drop) with whom you want to share the information with via text/MMS or e-mail. You can share anything from the Loop screen, as well as Web pages, which we thought was pretty cool.