Microsoft KIN: Unboxing and hands-on with the KIN ONE and KIN TWO

Microsoft announced their new KIN ONE and KIN TWO devices today and I had the chance to spend time with both devices. Check out my videos, image gallery, and thoughts on these two devices.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I was at the Microsoft event in Redmond today for the launch of the KIN ONE and KIN TWO and tried to keep you updated with a live blog and the announcement. The great thing about being in Redmond instead of taking the trip down to San Franscisco was that I was able to play with both devices for quite a long period of time and was able to shoot the unboxing (aka untubing) and hands-on videos below and capture several product images in my image gallery. While these are not targeted to the smartphone enthusiast, I am pleased to see Microsoft offering devices for the younger market who is a growing segment of the mobile phone community.

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

Unboxing (untubing) of the KIN TWO

Microsoft is differentiating a bit with the packaging of the devices as you can see in the video. Your KIN device will come in a tube with green and black color schemes. I am a bit surprised the color pink was not included since that was the code name of the project and when I visited their offices there was pink everywhere. Inside the tube you will find the device, envelope with materials (Quick Start Guide, etc.), USB to microUSB cable, USB A/C charging adapter, and wired stereo headset.

Intro to the KIN ONE

There are two models of KIN devices with different form factors and slightly different specifications. We do not yet know the price of each device, but I doubt they will differ too much so that it will come down to a personal preference for the form factor that helps people decide which to buy. The KIN ONE is a slide-up portrait QWERTY keyboard device, similar to the form factor seen on the Palm Pre devices. Specifications of the KIN ONE include the following:

  • Nvidia Tegra powered chipset
  • Windows Phone 7 OS
  • 2.4 inch capacitive QVGA display
  • 5 megapixel camera with SD quality video capture support
  • Mono speaker
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • microUSB port
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, and 3G radios
  • Integrated GPS receiver
  • 4 GB of integrated memory

The KIN ONE feels like a large skipping stone in your hand and I felt like skipping it across the lake with it in my hand. It feels quite durable with the textured plastic back and the keyboard was actually quite well spaced for text entry. The device is very pocketable and should appeal to those looking for a nice light phone. I personally felt a little cramped by the small display, but I am the kind of person who likes a large display and don't mind bigger devices to get one.

Intro to the KIN TWO

The KIN TWO is a device I would personally consider and has a landscape QWERTY slider form factor. The form factor reminds me of some Nokia and Windows Mobile devices and provides you with a spacious QWERTY keyboard and larger display. Specifications of the KIN TWO include the following:

  • Nvidia Tegra powered chipset
  • Windows Phone 7 OS
  • 3.5 inch capacitive 480x320 pixel resolution display
  • 8 megapixel camera with HD quality video capture support
  • Stereo speakers
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • microUSB port
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, and 3G radios
  • Integrated GPS receiver
  • 8 GB of integrated memory

The KIN TWO also felt very solid in my hands and the display let me see quite a bit of information. The display rotates quickly between portrait and landscape and was very responsive. It was refreshing to use the interface and I could see this appealing to the younger crowd looking to stay connected and enter text on a large keyboard.

Major software features

There are a few parts to the new software and user interface, including the Loop, Spot, and KIN Studio. When you first turn on your device or select to go "home" you have three main screens for Apps, Loop, and your Favorites. The Apps are what Microsoft calls all the integrated applications since there is currently no support for 3rd party apps. These include the email client, text messaging client, web browser, RSS reader, contacts, and more. The Loop is the places where feeds from your favorite people appear and includes photos, social networking updates, and more. The Favorites screen is where you can place your favorite people for quick access to their information.

The Spot is a cool functionality I would like to see on other devices and is located at the center bottom of the display. You simply drag and drop items onto the Spot to share them with your friends and networks so you no longer have to take several steps to share things.

The KIN Studio is the desktop part of the experience that is browser-based and gives you a visual of all the data synced wirelessly and automatically up to the Microsoft servers. I really like the central timeline where you can slide up and down to see photos and videos that are captured on your device or shared with you. There is even a virtual Spot here so you can use it like you do with your KIN.

The Zune software is used on your PC to manage your media content and I understand that a web-based Mac client will be available for KIN users as well.

There are no games or apps supported or included on the KIN devices at this time. Supported social networks include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Windows Live.

Current unknowns; network and price

We know that the KIN ONE and KIN TWO will be coming to Verizon Wireless in May and Vodafone in Europe (not sure about the time frame). We were not given any information about the hardware price or monthly wireless plans. While I think the devices do offer a very compelling solution for social networking and sharing, I think there needs to be a compelling data plan for people to jump on board the KIN bandwagon. With the youth market targeted to these devices, Verizon probably won't sell a lot with their current high price data offerings since data is really a requirement to have a device like thus, much like the way T-Mobile requires a data plan with their Sidekick devices. I know as a father of three daughters with five phones on a family plan I am not paying $30 to $60 for each person to have data since my bill is already at $200 with just my phone having data service enabled.

If Verizon prices the monthly plans at a reasonable level, then I can see these devices being quite appealing to young people. From what I saw with my time spent with the devices they are responsive and give you quick access to the information you want.

I don't think the hardware pricing is a huge deal since I have family and friends where their teens have saved up to buy a $100 to $150 phone because they wanted a particular model. The hardware is a one time cost and I think the real revolution comes when monthly data plans are priced for the younger market.

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