The Kin One, along with its beefier, bigger cousin the Kin Two, are the first of the Kin platform devices. Kin was built from the ground-up as a “social” operating system a notch above typical feature phones but without the complexity of a smartphone. The Kin One succeeds in a few places, but the overall experience is disappointing.
Basic navigation is generally quick and responsive, but sometimes there would be almost inexplicable lag — the phone would stop responding for five or ten seconds and even crashed permanently once. When it crashed, the usual methods of resetting the device stopped working too, and I just let the battery run over the course of several hours until it died (I later discovered the battery is removable).
Call quality was good if not great. All of the calls I made while in a signal area went through fine, although the audio was slightly tinny at points and there was enough static to detract from a crystal-clear conversation.
The data connection was abysmal, even in areas with strong Verizon coverage and over Wi-Fi. I had to double check that the Kin was, indeed, a 3G phone because small e-mails loaded slowly, pictures would abort downloading and Web pages would quit loading at the halfway mark on a regular basis.
The problem was compounded by the fact that the Kin, by default, pushes most of the picture and video data to Microsoft’s servers, so if you took a picture earlier in the day on your phone, you might not necessarily be able to show it to your friends or set it as your background later that day unless all of the are stars aligned in your favor.
Central to the Kin platform is The Loop, the phone’s home screen and a busy hub of cascading status updates. Most of these will probably be short bits of text — someone announcing they made it to the mall or thanking their deity that it is Friday — but the display also includes new Facebook picture albums and updates from site RSS feeds, letting you plug in celebrity gossip alongside your personal drama.
The idea behind The Loop is noble: In one place, you can see all of your friends’ activities, share funny updates or even just scroll through the latest tech blog news. But in practice, because so many critical features were implemented half-heartedly or not a tall, The Loop quickly becomes a cacophony that makes it hard to actually connect with any of your social connections.
With Facebook, for example, while you can quickly respond to another person’s wall posting you’re not given an update if someone posts on your own wall. You also cannot send private messages: If you don’t want to share it with your entire social circle, you’ll have to load up the Facebook website through the browser. The same shortcomings are found in the Twitter client, which doesn’t let you retweet or easily reply to other users.
The phone also noticeably lacks instant messaging or the ability to upload to, or even view videos from, YouTube.
Flick to the left of The Loop and you’ll see the Apps screen, which contains most of the basics like email, a Web browser, text messaging and an alarm clock. More noticeable is what it’s missing: The device doesn’t have an instant messaging client, a calculator, a calendar, or even the ability to install new applications.
The email is rather vanilla but can (usually) handle both HTML and text emails. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, about 5% of my emails were unreadable by the Kin, prompting it to ask me to go either to the Kin’s web browser or my desktop PC.
Two applications that do standout from the usual fare are Feed Reader, an RSS reader that can subscribe to blogs and news sites and which also feeds those updates into your Loop, and the Zune Experience, which offers the ability to play music and video.
The Feed Reader is adequate, allowing you to easily subscribe to sites by “pinning” them as a favorite. It doesn’t have search or any other advanced functionality besides the ability to display pictures from the post.
The Zune Experience, labeled as Music & More, offers just that: The ability to play music and watch videos. If you have a Zune Pass, which costs $14.99 a month, you can listen to any song from the Zune’s expansive catalog over the air, assuming the wireless connection is strong.
At first, this was one of my favorite features on the phone, but track skips are commonplace and the features are minimal. I couldn’t uncover a way to put streaming songs in a playlist, for example, unless you wanted to listen to an entire album. And while album play was typically smooth, if you switched from one song to another the load time could be anywhere from near-instant to 10 seconds or more.
A user could avoid these pitfalls, and the monthly charge, by uploading their own music via a USB cable and the freely available Zune software, which makes adding songs and videos to the device’s 4 GB hard drive a simple drag-and-drop operation.
Video playback was generally smooth this way, although the screen size is small enough to leave you squinting after extended viewings.
In both music and movie files, there was a slight tininess at times but the provided headphones offered a generally rich, noise-canceling experience.
The Kin also offers a full-fledged browser, and pages generally looked crisp and faithful to a traditional browser’s rendering unless the website is specially configured for mobile browsers. You can quickly pinch to zoom, add a site to your favorites with a single touch and I found navigation worked quite well in terms of pin-pointing where I wanted to click. You won’t be able to download much beyond pictures or listen to streaming music or video, however. Kin doesn’t support Flash or allow downloading video or music files over-the-air.
The included 5.0-megapixel camera takes pictures and video and comes with a relatively powerful flash, improving picture quality in even low-light settings. Videos are limited to a minute long, and all the multimedia then sync back up to Kin Studio, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage for all your Kin data, including contacts, text messages and your call log.
The pictures generally came out well, particularly if the subject was holding relatively still and the natural light was good.
Battery life is rated at 5.7 hours of talk time and up to 210 hours of standby. I typically got 15 hours of use in the days I reviewed it, which included a mix of phone calls, text messaging, picture uploads and plenty of streaming Zune music. If you opt not to use the Zune Pass, your battery life will likely dramatically improve.