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Top 5 Things to Know About Kin One and Two on Verizon

I've had Microsoft's Kin One and Kin Two in hand for about a week now. I posted unboxing videos and written first impressions after a day with the devices. Full reviews are coming soon. For now, if you're considering joining "Generation Upload" (Microsoft's term for their target Kin owners), here are five quick points to consider before signing on the dotted line:


1. They're Both Way Too Expensive

Kin Two is $99.99 on after rebate and Kin One is $49.99, and both require two-year contracts with a $29.99/month data pack on top of your voice minutes. That's just far too expensive for what are essentially really gussied up dumbphones. Without looking outside of the Verizon family, consider what else you could get for your up front and monthly dollars:

Palm Pixi Plus (Free up front) or Pre Plus ($49.99 up front) - Far more capable smartphones with free Mobile Hotspot support that will cost you less out the door and the same thirty bucks a month in data charges.

HTC Droid Eris ($79.99 up front) or BlackBerry Tour 9630 ($99.99 up front) - If you're going to spend $100 on Kin Two, may as well get yourself some BlackBerry or Android OS power under the hood and a full smartphone experience in your pocket. Verizon offers other BlackBerrys - and a few Windows Mobile phones - for less than a C-Note after rebate, but the Tour is the current high-end Berry on Big Red.

LG enV TOUCH ($79.99 up front) or Samsung Reality ($49.99 up front) or one of many other 3G Messaging phones - Unless you really want The Loop or Kin Studio, you can get your messaging, Mobile Web, and social networking on for less $$/month via one of Verizon's 3G Multimedia phones and a compatible plan. Occasional data users can opt for a $10/month plan that allows for 25MB of data and an optional messaging plan or pay-per-message use. 

No matter how you look at it, it's too bad that Verizon is mandating a $30/month smartphone data plan for Kin users. Neither Kin device offers enough functionality to justify the cost to all but the most diehard fans of MSFT's new phones.

2. No Games

Whoever decided that Gen Upload didn't want mobile games on their new must-have device should be fired. I'm guessing that Microsoft and Verizon are already at work on a gaming solution of some sort to be pushed out to Kin users via OTA update in the next month or two.

3. Lousy Ergonomics

Kin One features a 5 Megapixel camera with VGA video capture. Kin Two ups the ante to 8 MP for still pics and 720p HD video. Both cameras feature autofocus and LED flash, and actually take decent images. Except that it's nearly impossible to use the cameras properly thanks to the industrial designs of the handsets. 

Dedicated camera buttons on multimedia phones are good. Placing said buttons and the camera optics themselves so that the user's hands and fingers wind up getting in the way of the photo he's trying to capture is not good. Laying the whole darn device out so that more early reviews than not mention noticeable problems with shaky hands during photo/video capture is also not good.

Yes, yes, you can get used to the problems and train your hands to work around them. But the issues with button placement and overall ergonomics as relate to using both Kins' cameras are the worse I've encountered on any new phone design in some time. 

4. No Calendar, No Apps, Limited Syncing

An app download solution of some sort is, in all likelihood, coming soon to the Kin platform. I really hope that a free Calendar is amongst the first batch of choices when Kin Apps (or whatever it's called) rolls out. At first I thought, "Well, okay, I'm an older guy with a professional work life, so I probably rely on my phone's calendar program much more than younger folks with student-type social lives would." But then I thought, "Wait a second! I bet those whippersnappers have way busier daily lives than I do. They need weekly/monthly views and automated reminders in their pockets way more than I do!"

Also, even the most rudimentary of free-on-contract flip phones come with calendars these days. So why doesn't Kin?

And syncing your Kin with contacts outside of Facebook/mySpace/Twitter/Windows Live is literally impossible (unless you want to take on a truly cludgey manual workaround). Even though Kin asks you to enter an email address when you first turn it on, it doesn't even offer to pull contacts from that email account as Android and webOS devices do. Why not? 

I understand the whole Gen Upload LUVZ Facebook thing, but I think even those crazy kids use regular old Email, too. I mean, I hear that Gmail thing is pretty popular. And I bet some of those tech-savvy teens in the Kin ads even have Address Book software on their computers. It'd be, um, nice if there was an option to import contact info from online and local address books into Kin, no?

Syncing is good. That's why everyone uses it. Kin needs to support syncing beyond a handful of pre-determined Social Networks.

5. Kin Studio is Way Cool

You've probably figured out by now that I'm not sold on Kin. What started out as admiration for a new look, new platform, and new way of approaching the mobile phone experience quickly deteriorated into a Gripe List. But it's not all bad: Kin Studio is pretty neat.

I really like the whole timeline-based online backup concept. Not only do you not have to worry about offloading and backing up photos and videos from your handset, but you also get an always-there, Web-based way to relive all those good times you captured with your phone - and to share them with friends. Kin's method of automatically uploading full-resolution photos to Studio and replacing them with optimized versions that take up less memory on your handset is very clever, though we'll have to see how it performs in the wild (if any network can handle the data load, it should be Verizon). And while I actually get a little creeped out by seeing my entire call and messaging history on Kin Studio, I'm sure lots of potential users would love it.

One complaint, though: Kin Studio uses Silverlight. Not surprising considering it's a Microsoft product, but still annoying since Chrome doesn't support Silverlight yet.

What say you? Have a Kin? Tried one out in a store? Did I get it wrong, did I miss something? What's your take on Microsoft's new breed of social networking phones?


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