Microsoft KIN ONE and TWO Review
The death of the long Sidekick line of handsets aimed at the hip, young, and connected individuals brought on the birth of Microsoft's foray into the market of manufacturing their own set of devices that contrasts closely to what the Sidekick tried to accomplish during its time. Microsoft has long been acquainted with the smartphone market, but now that Windows Phone 7 is expected to revamp things for the company later on in the year, it's going to be interesting to see how Microsoft's KIN devices will be able to attract customers – especially when it targets one specific demographic. Despite knowing its heavy focus on bringing social networking to the extreme on these handsets, KIN is able to stir up a new concept with the cloud based KIN Studio which offers owners a haven to experience the happenings in their daily lives. This isn't the first time we've seen devices mesh some social networking aspects, such as MOTOBLUR and webOS's Synergy, but it's safe to say that it seamlessly blends everything into a singular experience that removes some of the hassles of juggling multiple accounts. Naturally KIN greets us by saying “nice to meet you,” but will owners ultimately say the same after checking it out?
• Microsoft KIN ONE or TWO
• Quick Start Guide
• Wall Charger
• microUSB Cable
• Stereo Headset
• Product Safety & Warranty Guide
Without any major changes in design since the first leaked images of the two “Project Pink” devices came into fruition, the Microsoft KIN TWO isn't ground breaking in terms of design. Interestingly enough, it has a stark resemblance from afar with the Palm Pre, but we notice that it's slightly better built all around and the materials look to be more durable. The feel and look of the handset's form factor is typical of what we would've expected, but it does feel rather noticeably heavier (4.7 oz) than its smaller brother. By no means does it try to beat out the slim look of the QWERTY-packing Motorola DROID, but rather, it's your normal looking device that blends into your pockets without adding much bulk (0.75” thick). Although it's mainly constructed out of plastic, the acrylic layer around the touchscreen makes it feel sturdier and less prone to scratching, but it's also a magnet for the usual finger prints and smudges. The rear cover has a subtle soft touch feel to it and tastefully repels most of the moisture from our hands while holding it.
You can compare the Microsoft KIN TWO with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
The easiest distinction that the KIN TWO has over its brother is its 3.4” HVGA touchscreen that's both spacious and pleasing to the eyes. The themed colors does well in highlighting important text on the tiles and are easily legible thanks to the higher resolution. Although there are at times some lag or delayed responses when using the touchscreen, we believe it to be related to the software as opposed to the display – fortunately though it's accurate enough to the touch. However, the glossy acrylic coating on the touchscreen makes it difficult to view what's on-screen in direct sunlight, but the automatic brightness does well in offering the most optimal viewing.
Only one hardware button adorns the face of the touchscreen and acts as the back function when pressed once, while holding it down will bring you back to the home screen; the KIN Loop. The button itself is slightly raised from the surrounding surface and wide enough with a good tactile feel to accompany it. All the other dedicated buttons can be found on the right side and are appropriatly located in the most comfortable positions except for the camera key which is awkwardly placed closer to the rear of the phone – which will require a firm grip with both hands to make sure that pressing it won't make the display move up. Thankfully the volume rocker and power button have a decent push to them, but we can't say the same for the camera button. Centered on the top edge of the phone is the standard 3.5mm headset jack while on the opposite bottom side there is a small opening for the microUSB port. The rear cover prominently displays the KIN name and the 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash while the notches on the left corners hide the speaker. Finally, removing the cover will only give you access to the 1390 mAh battery.
Of all the areas on the phone, the QWERTY landscape keyboard is the only thing to pay homage to the Sidekick with its similarly-looking circular sized buttons. As much as we liked to use the Sidekick LX's keyboard, we can't say the same for the KIN TWO. Although they're slightly raised and easily differentiated from one another thanks to some spacing in between each key, they felt somewhat stiff for the most part and made us wonder if the phone recognized our presses. Numbers are located on the top row and require the press of the dedicated single green button located on the bottom left area, but it would've been helpful if another one was located on the other side to alleviate the awkward position of fingers while typing. Additionally, the space button only has a distinct feel towards the left or right sides of it – hitting it squarely on the middle gives it that double push feel. We feel as though the real estate left unused on the QWERTY could've been used to add a few additional buttons to round out the experience.
Not to be outdone by the better specs seen on the KIN TWO, the other half of Microsoft's tandem makes a larger impression in the design department. We were thoroughly surprised holding the hockey puck sized KIN ONE for the first time because it felt relatively compact and uniquely throws a bone to customers with its deceptively decent looks. Constructed out of the same plastic materials, which makes it feel light weight (3.9 oz), it is also accompanied with the acrylic layer for the touchscreen portion of the phone and the same somewhat soft touch material for the rear. Although it feels sturdy in the closed position, opening it however, we could feel that the mechanism that holds the two pieces in place felt a bit wiggly; just like the original Palm Pre. Despite that shortcoming, it doesn't take away from its eye catching looks.
You can compare the Microsoft KIN ONE with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
Following it's “shrunken” design, the hardware specs follow suit as the 2.6” QVGA touchscreen is perfectly center aligned to the handset – where its attention is most prominent. Considered as being quaint by some of the high resolution displays out there, it's more than fitting with the KIN ONE's compact nature – although it's noticeable that the image quality is not as detailed as on the KIN TWO. The same acrylic layer is again overlaying the touchscreen which makes it difficult at times in viewing the display in direct sunlight. In addition, it's prone to the usual set of problems of attracting dirt and smudges that can tarnish its pristine glossy looks. Moreover, it's small real estate does pose a problem when trying to make out text on-screen as they are a bit hazy and don't have the fine details with the KIN TWO.
The hardware button below the touchscreen acts similarly with the one on the KIN TWO as it's used as the back/home key – and it has that similar button feel to it. The left side of the phone houses the microUSB port while the well sized volume rocker is placed on the left corner of the phone. Conversely on the right edge of the phone are the dedicated power and camera button – the latter of the two is again located closer to the back of the phone and makes for some awkward finger placements when trying to press on it. You'll find the 3.5mm headset jack on the top side with a small notch for the speaker phone right next to it. Thankfully the 5-megapixel auto-focusing camera with LED flash is placed towards the top right area of the rear so that there's enough distance from the shutter key to prevent any fingers from moving into its view. Finally, the 1240mAh battery can be accessed by removing the back cover.
Surprisingly, we were impressed by the KIN ONE's portrait style QWERTY keyboard which is probably more usable than the one of the KIN TWO. Slightly more oval looking buttons are used instead which doesn't make it feel too cramped thanks to the full utilization of the real estate of the phone. They're also slightly raised from the surface and offers a tiny bit better tactile feel over the KIN TWO. However, the same problem still plagues it because there is only a single green button, which acts as the function key, that slightly hinders the overall speed typing experience. At the same time, we did notice the same double push feel with the space button if it is hit squarely on the center – but with some practice, it becomes less of an issue.