Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

Summary: The Microsoft Kin One and Two are now available at Verizon Wireless. I had my two teen daughters use the devices for the past 5 days and was a bit surprised they were not more excited about the newest phones from Microsoft.

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Last week customers could order and receive Kin One and Two devices from the website and today you should be able to visit your local store to get some hands-on time with the two new Microsoft phones. I received the devices last week and immediately gave them to my two oldest daughters who provided some quick first thoughts. They have now been using the two Kin phones every day for the last week and have answers to several of my questions about the devices and the user experience, as well as some concluding thoughts on using them. I'll start this review with the basics for you all, but then jump right into their sections so you can see how the devices perform from a teenager's point of view. Check out my updated image gallery with photos of the devices and sample photos taken with both Kins. You will also find our second sit down interview video discussing the Kin below.


Image Gallery: Check out some photos of the Kin One and Kin Two from Microsoft. Image Gallery: KIN ONE in hand Image Gallery: KIN TWO in hand

Kin One and Two review index

While I think the specs, walk around the hardware, and software may interest some of you, I wanted to also make it easy for you to get to the parts of this review where my daughters provide their experiences and conclusions. You will see that I helped get the girls writing started by asking them several open ended questions after they used the devices for several days. Follow a hyperlink below to jump to a page that interests you or continue to read the full review below:

Specifications

Both the Kin One and Kin Two are Windows Phone devices with a highly specialized operating system with some functions from the Zune and future Windows Phone 7 devices. Sharp makes the device and as much as Microsoft tries to say they do not make phones, in all reality the Kin devices are Microsoft Zune phones. They both have QWERTY keyboards, but in two different form factors. Here are the known specifications for each device.

Kin One full specs on GDGT

  • CDMA radio with EV-DO Rev A support
  • 600 MHz processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 2.6 inch 240x320 capacitive touchscreen
  • 4GB integrated flash memory
  • 5 megapixel camera
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi radio
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR radio
  • Integrated A-GPS receiver
  • FM radio
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Mono speaker
  • Dimensions: 3.25 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches and 3.9 ounces

Kin Two full specs on GDGT

  • CDMA radio with EV-DO Rev A support
  • 600 MHz processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 3.4 inch 320x480 capacitive touchscreen
  • 8GB integrated flash memory
  • 8 megapixel camera that captures HD video
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi radio
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR radio
  • Integrated A-GPS receiver
  • FM radio
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • Dimensions: 4.25 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches and 4.7 ounces

As you can see, the specifications are very similar between the two devices, with the main differences being the camera resolution and video capture quality, screen size, and mono vs stereo speakers. The Kin One is priced at $50 and the Kin Two at $100 so there isn't much of a difference in initial price while the better camera and larger display make the Kin Two a pretty clear choice IMHO.

Walk around hardware

Kin One: The Kin One code name was Turtle and when you first pick it up you can see why it was so named. The device feels like a thick skipping stone in your hand and is quite pocketable. On the front you will see the display takes up most of the device with a back button centered on the bottom and a headset speaker above the display. The white part of the device below the display protrudes from the top and bottom and after sliding the display up the full QWRTY keyboard is revealed. This is one of the largest QWERTY keyboards I have seen in devices with this form factor, including the Palm Pre Plus. The keyboard is very functional with all of the essential keys, an emoticon key, search button, phone button, and large space bar. The characters are offset to the left a bit and are large and easily viewable.

Along the curved top you will find the volume buttons, 3.5mm headset jack, camera button, and power button. The volume and power buttons wrap a bit around the left and right sides with the microUSB port on the left side of the Kin One. There is a lanyard opening on the bottom of the Kin One with the back cover release button centered on the bottom.

The camera and flash light are found on the back with the words Kin, Windows Phone, Verizon, and Sharp.

Kin Two: The Kin Two has a form factor very similar to many smartphones and high end feature phones with a side slide QWERTY keyboard. The Kin Two has the same buttons as the Kin One, in different areas.

The 3.4 inch display takes up most of the front of the device with the back button below the display and headset speaker above the display. The display slides to the right to reveal the QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard has the same keys as the Kin One, but are spread out more than the Kin One.

The power button and 3.5mm headset jack are found on the top. The volume buttons and camera capture button are on the right side. The only thing on the left side is the back cover release button. A microUSB port is found on the bottom. Both the 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB port are recessed in from the edges so there may be issues with your own headsets.

The 8 megapixel camera and flash are found on the upper left side of the back along with the same words as the Kin One.

Walk around software

The Kin user experience is divided into three primary displays; the Apps page, Kin Loop, and Favorites page. The Apps page has the following included apps and utilities; messages, alarm, music & more, email, camera, phone, settings, browser, search, feed reader, contacts, and help. The Kin Loop provides updates and dynamically changes as your friends post things. The Favorites page contains the people you specifically add to the page and lets you easily interact with them.

Since this particular review is focused on actual user experiences of my teen daughters and I don't want to go into all the details of the software that you can read elsewhere I recommend you visit one of these reviews below to read about the software and functionality:

Let's hear what Danika thinks about the Kin Two »

My oldest daughter just turned 16 and her mobile phone history includes a Sidekick 3, Motorola RAZR, and Sidekick LX 2009. She now has data on her new Sidekick and is one of five phones on our T-Mobile family plan. Let's hear what she thought about the Kin Two that she has been using for several days.

  1. What do you think about the user interface (displays, menus, navigation around the device)? It's nice, fun to use and there are different colors for the background theme. The default is green, but you can also change it to blue, pink or red.
  2. Did you use the Kin Spot much? What did you use it for most of the time? I found no use for it. Anything I wanted to upload, or would have used the Spot for, already had an option itself for uploading.
  3. What did you think of the Kin Loop? The Kin Loop was cool. I liked the design and layout of it.
  4. Did you put music on the Kin? What did you think of the Zune functionality? No, not my personal music but I used the Zune Pass. Dad connected the Kin to our Mac to transfer our music, but it did not appear as a drive or anything. Dad said Mac software was coming out, but it isn't available yet. The Zune Pass was very cool though there wasn't much music to browse from and it seemed that you had to search to find what you wanted. Downloading it was easier to listen to than streaming because the streaming took a while and stopped to buffer frequently.
  5. How was web browsing on the Kin? It was average. Not the best mobile version of the sites, MySpace for example, but it was still good enough for some basic browsing.
  6. What did you think of the social networking integration? What service did you use the most? What are your thoughts on the services? The social networking is cool, but it's all about the status and no other updates or functionality as compared to full clients or what you can do on the websites. I most often used the texting, as most teenagers would, and just viewed social status in the Loop.
  7. Did you make any phone calls? What do you think of the quality and functionality of the phone part? I made one phone call and it was decent quality. Nothing special and it wasn't bad.
  8. What did you think about the camera? The camera was clear and it was very easy to upload photos directly, although you cannot upload video.
  9. What did your friends and classmates think when you showed it to them? Did they ever hear of the Kin? They had never heard of the Kin and were confused by the name. Some thought it was cool, but most thought nothing special of it.
  10. What did you think about the Kin Studio? What did you use it for most of the time? I only went on it once, just to try it. I doubt teens would ever use it since I spend most of my online time on MySpace or Facebook.
  11. What did you like most about the Kin? The Zune Pass music and texting conversation bubbles.
  12. What did you like least about the Kin? The cheap feeling of the phone.
  13. Did you like the Kin more than your current phone? Would you switch to the Kin if you were given the choice? No, I love my Sidekick LX.

Let's hear what Maloree thinks about the Kin One »

My middle daughter is about to turn 14 and is a big fan of using my older smartphones, but also jumps back to QWERTY feature phones since she primarily uses her phone for text messaging. She is currently bouncing back and forth on an HTC Touch Diamond and Samsung Gravity. She has no data on her line and again is one of the five people on my family plan.

  1. What do you think about the user interface (displays, menus, navigation around the device)? The 3 main screens have easy accessible ways to get to places. It took a while to get used to the phones navigation because of its complex features. I enjoyed the big buttons because with the touch screen you can't make it too small or it would be difficult for users with different finger sizes. The theme colors are a nice feature although a few more colors would satisfy people with different opinions. The silver main button is very handy and is used as a back button.
  2. Did you use the Kin Spot much? What did you use it for most of the time? I used it about twice, its a nice feature for saving information for uploading at another time, but it is just as easy to send things in their own apps. I personally used it for putting pictures in to upload to MySpace or Facebook.
  3. What did you think of the Kin Loop? I thought the Kin Loop was pretty cool how it showed all the updates on my friends, but I didn't use it as often as the other features.
  4. Did you put music on the Kin? What did you think of the Zune functionality? I did manage to put music on the Kin, but I must say it was a very long process to do so. You had to sign up and go through a bunch of screens to get a Zune Pass on a Windows computer. Then you had to set up your profile and download music. All in all it was a long process.
  5. How was web browsing on the Kin? The web browsing was kind of slow but it was pretty much the same web browsing as any other phone I have had experience with.
  6. What did you think of the social networking integration? What service did you use the most? What are your thoughts on the services? The social network was one of my favorite parts! Very fun and easy to use. I used MySpace the most, Facebook in my opinion was a little more confusing. My thoughts are overall a great setup for teens and adult users of these networks. I do not have a Twitter account so I didn't experience that network.
  7. Did you make any phone calls? What do you think of the quality and functionality of the phone part? I made only a few phone calls. Teens don't talk on the phone much anymore, it's all about texting. The phone quality and functionality was simple and nothing to get excited about, but easy access.
  8. What did you think about the camera? The camera and video camera was very crisp and clear. I used the camera quite a bit and realized that it has no zoom or options to change colors or any changeable features. The video had this very cool crisp looking way of recording memories.
  9. What did your friends and classmates think when you showed it to them? Did they ever hear of the Kin? My friends and classmates enjoyed exploring this phone and thought the camera and music was awesome. But some were stating they would never get a phone like that because it was way to confusing. They have never heard of the Kin, but in the movie theaters when I saw Iron Man 2 they had a commercial for it which I thought was a great one. The commercial was good because it explained and showed how the phone was focused on social networks.
  10. What did you think about the Kin Studio? What did you use it for most of the time? The Kin Studio was very impressive! I loved the set up and how you can do practically anything on there that you may do on the device. I used it mostly for transporting pictures.
  11. What did you like most about the Kin? I mostly liked the camera and conversation feature in texting.
  12. What did you like least about the Kin? The thing I liked least about the Kin was probably the navigation around the phone.
  13. Did you like the Kin more than your current phone? Would you switch to the Kin if you were given the choice? I like my current phone (the HTC Touch Diamond) more than the Kin. I would not switch to the Kin if I did have a choice because I love Windows Mobile menus and features.

Conclusions and closing thoughts from me and the girls »

Daughters' closing thoughts

Danika: Overall the Kin Two was an okay phone. I think they could have done much better with it and I don't think a lot of teenagers will have it due to the large data cost. I myself would not recommend it to my friends, the Kin and Loop update page is not really worth it since it just limits you to status updates.

Maloree: In conclusion, the Kin One was an overall great phone. It had some flaws, but don't all phones? The phone is really focused on friends and social networking which is great for teenagers and adults in their early 20's. The camera was good quality, but not having zoom was inconvenient. I would personally not go back to this phone, but I think some people will be very interested in it. They are advertising fast in the movies and on MySpace. I enjoyed my time with it, but I didn't find it good enough to switch from my current phone.

My closing thoughts

In talking with my daughters and observing their behavior I have a few summary points regarding their usage of the Kin devices:

  • They made little use of the Kin Spot, RSS feeds, web browser, or phone functionality.
  • They were not concerned at all about the lack of games.
  • They loved the text notifications and conversation style for texting.
  • They enjoyed using the Zune Pass and would probably be big fans if they had it on their phones.
  • They were not pleased with the limited MySpace, Twitter and Facebook capability.
  • They did not find the Kin devices compelling enough to give up their current phones.

I had to provide assistance a couple of times to Mal and once for Danika. For both I had to setup the Zune Pass part of the experience since a Windows PC and Zune Pass account was needed just to get the Kin devices to associate with Zune. There is no way to sign in or sign up from the Kin itself. I also had to assist Maloree with logging in the first time because she did not have a Windows Live ID like Danika did for her Xbox Live account. It appeared that we could enter her Gmail address and we tried it a few times with errors popping up. I finally looked around online and found you needed a Live account so we went and set one up with her Gmail email address as the login. Microsoft needs to make the process of setting up the Zune experience better, IMHO. BTW, there is a 155-page user manual for the Kin One and Two, which indicates how complex the device really is with different functions and features that people will most likely never discover on their own. It really should be a simpler device if it wants to fully appeal to the "upload generation".

I think the price of the Kin One and Kin Two are very reasonable at $50 and $100 and have no concern with that initial price. However, IMHO Verizon pretty much killed the Kin with smartphone pricing. I imagine most of the group of people that would use a Kin are part of a family plan so the $39.99 minimum voice plan may not apply. However, paying $30 for each child on your family plan is too high for families to swallow. I would love for a carrier to offer some kind of family data plan offering and imagine T-Mobile or Sprint will be the first to come out with such an offer. With the ability to share the Zune Pass with up to three devices and family plan minutes that can be shared, the Kin One and Two may be an option for many families if they are willing to pay the $30 data fee for each one.

I spent very little time myself with the Kin devices so I only have some basic impressions of using them. However, I agree with my middle daughter that the user interface can be a bit confusing and overwhelming at first. The menus and some other options are not always consistent across the devices and this surprised me a bit since the project has been under development for quite some time. With the social networking focus I was disappointed that richer Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter experiences were not present at launch. You can get a better experience with these services on the iPhone, Palm Pre Plus/Pixi Plus, Google Android devices, and other smartphones that are priced similarly to the Kin devices so I have yet to see any compelling reason for someone to buy a Kin.

Back to the first page »

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Microsoft, Telcos

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32 comments
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  • Thank you!

    These reviews can be helpful for parents and grandparents!
    They also illustrate an often overlooked part of any cellphone/
    smartphone purchase...the carrier. It really matters very little
    about the "up-front" cost of the device, it's those ongoing,
    recurring monthly costs that get expensive. Perhaps it's time
    for a "consumer revolt" to at least get the various carriers to
    recognize that families with 2 or more kids don't really need
    4 data plans! Same with text messaging plans. Your 2
    daughters also demonstrate the changing usage of cellphones...texting. They don't "call" anymore, so claims
    by carriers of "no dropped calls, crystal clear voice" have
    limited impact on this demographic.
    I also thought it funny when asked about "web browsing",
    both didn't use the browser much, and pretty much agreed
    that all phone browsers leave something to be desired!
    Nicely done!
    wizard57m-cnet
  • More blogs like this are needed here.

    Great Job, Matthew. With so many people here complaining "It's MS, it sucks, blah, blah", and other bloggers complaining of it's lack of full blown features and downloadable apps, it seems they [i]never[/i] stopped for a minute and asked "why not ask the intended audiance what they think about it?[/i]

    This is a nice perspective from the people who would actually use it, and not too bad from the overall review of it. Great Job!
    John Zern
  • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

    Matthew - Your daughters sound savvy, intelligent and articulate. Are you setting-up a blogging dynasty?
    AdeeFeinstein
  • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

    Thanks for the great review. Leave it up to Verizon to put in the limited browser, even though it is considered a feature phone. Its still good to see a review from people who actually used it and the intended audience. I was having higher hopes for this phone and thought the interface was new and slick. Very honest reviews of the interface and the phone itself. Don't see this selling as well as I would expect, partly due to the data plans.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Regarding games...

    Sure you won't find teens playing games on feature phones, feature phone games suck, dude! You offer teens great games on their feature phones to play, they will love it. It's not like they would ignore it because they're busy texting on their phones. Its just that they've been conditioned to think of these feature phones as just cheap texting phones. Companies never bothered to put the effort in offering games. With the Kin being slightly more advance and powerful than your average feature texting phone, why they're not offering games and apps is beyond me. <br><br>All you need to do is take a look at the iPod Touch and how it took off with the young demographic (playing games and using Apps). Now place an iPhone in their hands and the choice is easy. Kin probably wouldn't even be considered.
    dave95.
  • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

    Do teens really have $90 a month to spend on cellphone service? Verizon is greedy and Microsoft is nuts to even offer a phone for teens with such an outrageously expensive data plan. Before squealing that it's only $70 a month, keep in mind that texting is $20 on top of the $70. of course, no teenagers care about texting.
    wmundy
    • Get your facts straight about teens who do texting.

      @wmundy, please cite your sources about teens who don't text on their phones.
      Grayson Peddie
      • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

        @Grayson Peddie
        I think wmundy was being sarcastic.
        pfyearwood
      • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

        @Grayson Peddie
        According to the two, age appropriate, viewers, they just want to text and go to social sites, with emphasis on texting.
        eargasm
  • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

    @wmundy - and don't forget the $15 a month for the zune pass to take full advantage of the Zune functionality - for a total of $105 a month - is MS insane?????

    BTW, I'm a big Zune fan and the Zune pass is a great value alone - but it's ridiculous to expect parents to pay this much for their kids to fully take advantage of Kin

    Also, THANK YOU for actually having teens review a product designed for teens - I can't believe more tech sites haven't done this - and Kudos to Mathew/ZDNet for doing this
    jimmyq69
    • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

      @jimmyq69 <br>This. <br><br>No parent is going to pay $100 a month on their kid's cell phone bill, over a two year contract. In fact, most adults balk at that.<br><br>They had a potentially decent featurephone, but the pricing/data plan killed it on arrival.
      Theseus
      • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

        @Theseus <br><br>Lets not forget the $150 and $200 upfront you have to pay for the phones, before the mail in rebate you get (sometime down the line). <br><br>They're crazy if they think these will sell well. This just shows Verizon's control and maybe why Apple is not dealing with them.
        dave95.
    • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

      @jimmyq69 <br>Most of the cost has nothing to do with MS. They are responsible for the $50 and $100 price tags, which is reasonable to many people. <br><br>The $30 data plans are pretty much standard Verizon/AT&T/etc. You will encounter that with any smartphone or PocketPC device if you want full functionality (or your carrier simply requires it). The texting plans are similar. Neither these costs nor the monthly voice rate have anything to do with MS, thus I believe that referring to MS as insane is a bit misplaced. At the very least you would need to say the same thing about HTC, Apple, RIM, and every other manufacturer who has put out a phone that needs data plans for the full experience.<br><br>One thing that everyone one seems to have missed is that unless your carrier mandates it, the Kin and some other devices are perfectly fine without a data plan since they have wifi in them. That is, of course, assuming you have wifi available, which many do. I for instance have an HTC TouchPro2 on AT&T. I have no data plan for it, despite how much it relies on internet connectivity. I get all of the functionality, however, using the wifi connection since at home, friends' houses, on campus and virtually everywhere I go it is always available.<br><br>Pricing faults should be directed at the carriers, not the phone creators. Additionally, you can not blame them for producing phones that need texting/data services since that is what the customers want in their devices, particularly the 20-something and younger demographic.<br><br><br>I thought that this review was great. Having the intended audience make the calls is how it should be. Well done! I must say that I would still be very willing to test one of these devices out if given the opportunity. The main issue is that I do not care for Verizon, who has an awful track record with all of my friends and family in regards to customer service and reliability in my area.
      luxsphinx
    • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

      @jimmyq69,<br>I am not sure your point about the Zune pass is valid. Teens are already spending more than $15 a month buying ITunes music. With Zune Pass, you get unlimited music for $15 and get to keep 10 songs per month if you cancel.
      joe620
  • Thank you for such a great, wonderful review.

    And thank you, Danika and Maloree, for reviewing Microsoft Kin phones.

    I hope other tech reviewers will follow suit like Matthew Miller have done to let you review the phones.
    Grayson Peddie
  • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

    Getting the opinion of others on devices targeted to specific audiences really helps those looking for a particular device for their teen children. The questions and answers with your daughters really shows a teenagers perspective, with honest thoughts, and their own critique of the devices.

    This device is not for me. I need the most powerful phone doing everything. But seeing it in the eyes of a teen makes me wonder what Microsoft was actually trying to do. Is it for the 14 and 16 year olds? Or is it for the 12 and 13 year olds? More and more people use technology at younger ages. Did Microsoft target the wrong audience? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
    d4rk
  • Umm...

    Did you paraphrase for your daughters? I can't help but think that sentences like "The 3 main screens have easy accessible ways to get to places." or "Teens don??????t talk on the phone much anymore, it??????s all about texting." seem totally bogus.

    If you were summarizing their thoughts, you should have said so and written your article in a way that didn't seem like a completely bogus interview. As it stands, I can't help but feel that the entire thing is made up.

    If I'm totally wrong, and you have raised such well articulated teenagers I sincerely apologize and take my hat off to you.
    Yensi717
    • RE: Review: Do teens really want a Microsoft Kin?

      @Yensi717 Honestly, I did not edit their thoughts or writing and left it as they sent it to me. I have their emails that shows what the wrote. The only thing I did was make some capitalization corrections (Mal wrote "i" for "I" the whole time). This is their words and not mine, but I felt it was good to leave it that way and just put up with the criticism that some gave regarding grammar last time. You can see why they are straight A students, huh?
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • Well-articulated teens

      @Yensi717

      Why, are they double-jointed or something?
      SpiritusInMachina
  • I am a little confused...

    Thanks for the post, but maybe i am just a different person, and I nerver had a chance to use it the phone, but from many videos I have watched, it hard for anybody not say wow. The software just make the tiny screen feel like using a desktop computer, you don't feel constraint of screen size. I feel that's the greatest design I ever seen on a phone.

    The girls say no, I can't understand why?
    jk_10