Microsoft Kin Phones: The Reviews Are In

The first reviews of Microsoft's Kin phones are in, and while critics don't agree on whether the phones are a success, they do agree on one thing: the price of Verizon Wireless' data plans could doom the phones to obscurity.

Microsoft headed off the beaten path with Kin, designing phones that emphasize text messages, status updates and e-mails packed with photo and video, in a free flowing interface that combines your entire universe into one feed. After reading Kin reviews from PCWorld, Engadget, Gizmodo, All Things D and PCMag, I've concluded that the Kin One and Two are deeply flawed phones with some ideas that work. The dealbreaker is Verizon's mandatory $30-per-month smartphone data plan, appalling given the Kin's limitations.

Flawed Hardware

The Kin's hardware seems respectable, at least in terms of specs. Nvidia's Tegra APX2600 powers the phone, and while storage is tight at 4 GB for the Kin One and 8 GB for the Kin Two, most of your data gets backed up to the cloud (more on that below). Both phones have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1.

In practice, the gripes with Kin's hardware pile up. Gizmodo says the main user interface is sluggish, and PCWorld noticed lag even when typing. PCMag had qualms with the Kin One in particular, blasting its weak speakerphone and tiny display. Several reviewers noted that 5-megapixel and 8-megapixel cameras on the Kin One and Two, supposedly a central feature, create dim or blurry photos in low light and washed out photos when flash is involved. Engadget noted that the positioning of the camera buttons on both phones tend to make your hand block the lens. PCWorld is the dissenting opinion, praising photos as sharp, with powerful flash to boot.

Limiting Software

Classifying the Kin as a smartphone is questionable given the things you can't do with it, no matter what Verizon says. You can't watch Web video, you can't send photos or video on Twitter, the Web browser doesn't support tabs, there's no native calendar or ability to sync other calendars, and there's no native GPS for accomplishing the very social function of meeting up with friends in real life. All of these limitations make the $30-per-month data plan requirement hard to swallow.

So, what can the Kin do? Its essence is the "The Loop," a running feed of e-mails, text messages, status updates, and RSS feeds from your favorite Web sites. Complementing this ticker is "The Spot," a dot at the bottom of the screen that lets you pull in photos, video and Web links. Once your media is gathered, you can send it out to the world by text, e-mail or social network. Gizmodo liked the idea. Engadget hated it. To say it's a matter of preference is probably a safe bet.

One Beautiful Feature

The one thing that drew unanimous praise from critics is Kin Studio, which actually has little to do with the phone itself. This desktop app automatically pulls photo, video, text messages, contacts, and news feeds into the cloud. Phone gets lost? Friend grabbed your phone and deleted the more unflattering photos? No problem, everything's stored away with no effort from the user. Windows Phone 7 needs this feature.

Pre-orders for both the Kin One and Two start on May 5 for $50 and $100 respectively, with a two-year contract with Verizon Wireless. The phones will be available online starting May 6, and will reach Verizon stores on May 13.

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