Microsoft has just launched its new phone service called Kin, along with two devices, named Kin 1 (Kin 1 photo gallery) and Kin 2 (Kin 2 photo gallery). The idea was to create a phone for heavy texters and those who love to stay in touch with friends and family through social networks. Microsoft has introduced a whole new user interface for its phones with design elements borrowed from Windows Phone 7 and it looks very good (photos coming shortly). Kin 1 and Kin 2 will sync all their content and contacts directly with the cloud – at all times. If you lose your phone, just get a new one and re-sync, that’s it. On the desktop side, Microsoft has a web browser application that shows you the phone content, but in the comfortable space of a desktop monitor. You can interact with the content, do whatever you want with the files (on the local disk) and see a view of your friends’ updates. The whole thing is brilliant and it could shake the Teen Smartphone market.
Our 8mn Kin User Interface Tour
Microsoft Presentation Video
In the short time that we have been able to play with it, the user interface was very good. It puts the focus on the people that you communicate the most with, but leave others only a few clicks away. It lets users share stuff easily: just dump everything into “The Spot” (an area at the bottom of the screen) and share. By everything I mean that you can drag and drop Photos, Links, Users etc… and it will figure out that you want to share all these items with the folks in there. It can actually save a lot of typing, if you share things with your inner circle.
The design is nice and curvy. Kin 1 is a small phone that looks like a square pebble. It has a slider keyboard which is surprisingly comfortable and a 5 Megapixel camera. It is a cutie that is very light. Kin 2 is bigger and looks like your average smartphone with a 8 Megapixel camera with an LED flash. It too has a slider keyboard – a design requirement for all Kin phones. The overall build quality is fair, but it is clear that these phones have been designed to be affordable by teens (or their parents!). In our opinion, the Kin 1 is the eye-catcher. Oh, and by the way, multi-touch is supported. What do you think?
The overall performance/speed reminds me of phones like the Pre or some of the Android phones that came out prior to the Droid. Hopefully this will give you an idea of what it feels like, performance-wise. The software has been written of some Windows Phone 7 foundation, with which Kin has a lot to share, we’ve been told. On the desktop side, The Kin Studio is powered by Silverlight and it shows: it looks like a desktop app like Zune, but in a web browser. This is slick.
No calendar?: there’s no built-in Calendar, and this is rather strange for a phone aimed at socially active folks. This is something that might be problematic – we’ll see at launch time.
Software update over the air: since the Kin is always connected to the cloud, software updates are automatic, the Microsoft representative stated that if enough users would require the calendar feature, it would be easily provided after launch.
The “Studio” website, the cloud service: Photos and videos are automatically uploaded into the cloud, and in my opinion, this one of the best feature of the Kin phones: the majority of phones owners do not know or do not bother to download their mobile photos in their computers.
Kin Studio allow Kin’s users to manage their phones content from their computer. You can directly access your messages (but not your emails, very strange!), your photos and videos and your contacts from the home page;, you can only view the content produced during a specific time by selecting it on the timeline (see picture below). Additionally, photos are automatically geo-targeted and you can browse them on a Microsoft map from the Studio. (see picture below)
Built-in search: Since Microsoft is pushing Bing madly for the past months, no wonder why they implemented a physical search button that connects directly to the Bing search built-in application. The search feature is integrated with the GPS and provides automatically the nearby point-of-interests in the second screen ( just slide to the right).
Web Browser: There is a web browser, but given that the screens on Kin 1 and Kin 2 are fairly small (especially on Kin 1), we wonder how the experience will be. Performance might be problematic too.
Email / IM: Email is integrated, including Exchange – which is great – but your emails won’t appear in the overall feed. There’s no built-in Instant Messenger at the moment in case you’re hooked on that.
Social Networks: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter are integrated into the phone, but that’s it for now. Photo sharing is supported for Facebook and MySpace but not for Twitter. Strangely, Flickr is not supported.
Mac: Microsoft says that this will work on Mac too, although we’re not sure if that means “work barely” or “work completely” – we’re digging into this.
Microsoft has done a good job with this one and they have a real chance at pulling the rug under Samsung and LG, the current leaders in the “texter” segment. We need more hands-on time with it, but at the moment, this looks very good. The rest will depend on pricing. In theory, the goal for Microsoft, Verizon and vodafone is to capture market share in the “texter” range of phones. This implies that the pricing of the handsets and data plans will fit within whatever budget those customers currently have. Some pundits are skeptical about the success of this product, but are they visionaries or techogeeks that just don’t get that m
arket? The sales will tell us who’s right.
Kin is coming out next month in the USA with Verizon, and in the Fall in Europe with Vodafone.