Review: Microsoft Kin One and Kin Two

Verizon’s newest phones, the Microsoft-designed and Sharp-manufactured Kin One and Kin Two, put social media front and center.

More capable than cheap, feature-sparse dumbphones, but quite a few IQ points shy of being true smartphones, the Kins are the latest entrants in a new space where traditional phone features are almost an afterthought, and it’s all about the Twitter and Facebook updates.

Palm’s Web OS, Motorola’s Blur interface, and other Android-based phone operating systems have been doing this kind of social media integration for more than a year. Kin just takes that idea and improves on it.

On the home screen (what Microsoft calls the Loop), a pleasingly formatted stack of randomly sized squares shows the latest updates from your networks. Your friends’ avatars are shown large, filling the background of each text update, making the Loop into a photo album as well as news feed. It’s hard to look at it without smiling.

Flick the touchscreen to the left to reveal your favorite contacts, swipe the other way to access a vertical stack of applications (text messaging, phone calls, web browsing, music and more.) A camera button activates a still/video camera function, and a Back button on the phone’s face takes you back to whatever screen you were looking at before. And that’s about it: The phone’s interface is amazingly uncluttered, friendly looking and minimalist.

The system still has some glitches to work out. As a Twitter client, it’s only half baked, since you can’t view @ replies, search or post photos. Similarly, Facebook features are limited to showing or posting status updates, though you can post photos. The phone will easily connect with a Gmail account to display your e-mail, but won’t let you access your Gmail contacts. Hotmail or Windows Live user? You’re in luck, the Kin is well-integrated with those services.

YouTube videos won’t play at all on the Kin, there’s no map application, and even though the “Bing Near Me” search button helps find nearby restaurants and cafes, it relies on a browser interface, not a map: Clunky.

Overall, the Kin OS is promising, entertaining and — despite some obvious glitches — fairly well-suited to its target audience of social media addicts: in other words, tweens. How does the hardware stack up? Read on.

Reviewed by Dylan Tweney and Priya Ganapati

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