Is the Microsoft Kin 2 Worth Kinsideration?

The Kin 2 is a three way collaborative effort involving Microsoft, Sharp, and Verizon. The result is a new approach on the way to Smartphone telephony that for me was disappointment piled on disappointment. It seems strange somehow that while the Windows Mobile operating system is ready for a serious redo, this Microsoft device has nothing to do with WM OS.

Right out of the gate, the most profound and amazing letdown is the fact that it is not possible to add any applications to this unit. You must accept it as is. So there’s no use complaining about the lack of an app store, for there are no apps. Unbelievable.

You cannot even add things like Google Maps. Of course there is no GPS and not even a way to add third party functionality with an antenna because you cannot install any software.

While you can access Google Docs and Notebook you cannot edit or create new documents. If you want to access other Microsoft applications such as Word or Excel or PowerPoint you can forget about it. There’s not even a way to take notes or to record audio notes.

I could go on about how it won’t make 31 flavors of ice cream and it won’t stop a missile attack, but it was never intended for these things. What was the intention? Apparently the developers have isolated a target market for this device among the younger generation and its preoccupation with music, photos, texting, and social networking. But what about gaming? Sorry, no games—not even solitaire.

The programs that come pre-installed on the device facilitate the above functions, and that’s about it. The installed apps include the following: Phone, Music, Help, Alarm, Browser, Settings, Email, Feed Reader, and Search. By the way, the search function only applies to items on the phone, not the Internet, and there is no voice search.

All these apps appear on one of three panels that can be rotated into view when the device is turned on.

Two more panels are available with the flick of a finger (yes, it is finger friendly—but the scrolling is slow). One of the screens contains posts from your favorite social networking sites such as My Space, Facebook, and Twitter. This page is called the Kin Loop. The remaining page contains your favorite contacts with pictures if you wish and access to all the rest of your contacts.

These would be handy functions for many people. You can add more content to the apps page as links to your favorite Websites, which is nice. But you are still limited to only three pages.

An innovative feature that goes along with the teenie bopper crowd that this device is apparently aimed at is the ability to share stuff. There is a little blue button at the bottom of every screen. This is called the Kin Spot. All you have to do is drag something to it and you can share it with your pals. It can be a file, a Website, a picture, a video, a tune, an email, a text message, whatever you want, however you want to send it. This is nice.

Another innovative feature of the Kin 2 is that everything is backed up online to the Kin Studio so that you never have to worry about losing your data. There is no syncing as such, but you can connect to your online account wirelessly and remotely to transfer files back and forth. I like this feature, but I fear that it may add to the cost of the account.

I was able to import all my Gmail information and contacts. I was also able to access my calendar from Gmail as well as my tasks.

Thank goodness for Google. Without Google, this device would be less useful. While I can edit and add items in calendar, tasks, and notebook, I cannot edit or create new docs in Google Docs, which is a shame. At least Notebook gives me the ability to take notes, a functionality that is otherwise lacking. However, I understand that Google has discontinued the support of Notebook and that if you don’t already have an account, you cannot get a new one. Too bad.

As an aside, there are some good alternatives to Notebook available such as Evernote and Zoho Notebook. I prefer the latter because of its collaborative features.

I am happy to report that Google Voice works with the Kin 2. If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, I recommend applying for an account. Voice not only records your voice mail, it transcribes it and allows you to scroll through your list of voicemail so that you don’t have to listen to every message. It also compiles a directory of all your messages in one place so that you can instantly review your email, texts, IMs, and voice mail. It notifies you of incoming activity too.

But that’s not all. Voice also gives you a free Voip phone number that you can use to make free phone calls over the Internet. People can also call you on that number. You can use it for free texting as well, which makes it a great money saver and convenience.

Browsing on the Kin 2 at first seems to be just fine with the initial screen fitting the device perfectly and with little tabs along the top. You can drag down the address bar to type in a new address or to go back to a previous screen.

You can scroll with a finger gesture, but it doesn’t glide as well as other devices I’ve tested. You can also use a finger gesture to expand or contract the image on the screen. However, when the image is enlarged, you must be prepared to scroll around for it does not wrap to the screen, which I find annoying and inconvenient.

While my first choice of a keyboard is in the vertical position, I must say that the slide-out QWERTY, horizontal, backlit keyboard on the Kin 2 is very nice. The keys are round and elevated for a good tactile quality that makes it easy to type without mistakes.

I found the sound quality on the phone to be satisfactory as well as the audio playback on the FM radio and stereo music player. I did miss calls repeatedly because the phone simply did not ring for incoming calls even though the volume was at the highest level. Media playback formats include AAC, MP3, WMA for audio; h.264/AVC, MPEG-4, WMV for video; JPEG and PNG for images. There is a 3.5 mm jack for stereo audio output and built-in speakers.

As far as music goes, you can import your own but this device is an extension of Microsoft Zune, and you are encouraged to join the Zune music streaming service for $15 a month, which adds considerably to the monthly cost.

Kin 2 has a nice 8 MPX camera on board with video, auto focus, digital zoom, and flash. Pictures are automatically geotagged if within range of cell towers for triangulation. I found that this feature rarely worked.

This device comes with 8 GB of internal memory which could get filled up fast with tunes and pix. Unfortunately, there is no expansion slot. I suppose that’s a good reason to take advantage of Zune’s streaming media so as not to use up valuable storage space.

With a 3.4 inch display and a 320 x 480 resolution, the Kin is not the brightest kid on the block. It measures 4.25 X 2.5 x .75 inches and weighs 4.7 ounces.

Its 1390 mAh Li-ion battery has a suggested standby time of 232 hours. I found that the battery drains fairly rapidly under normal usage and I would have difficulty getting through the day without a recharge. At least the battery is replaceable so that you can carry a spare.

Connectivity to the outside world is accomplished by means of 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi with WEP, SPA, WPA2 encryption as well as Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. There is no infrared and no GPS. Localization is accomplished by means of cell tower triangulation, which is referred to as GPS.

The Kin 2 is capable of sending both SMS and MMS messages. It supports POP3, IMAP, and Push email (exchange).

There are built-in sensors for an accelerometer and ambient light detection. Additional features include flight mode and TTY/TDD accommodation.

Kin 2 costs $199, but you get a $100 rebate with a two year contract bringing the price down to $99. A contract will cost in the neighborhood of $69 per month for text, phone, and data. Add another $15 for streaming Zunie tunes.

Conclusion

The Kin 2 has some innovative features such as wireless Web syncing and automatic backup of data online. The Kin Spot for sharing is also a creative idea unique to the Kin. I suppose the Zune tune streaming approach is a good idea too, if you want to pay for it. It has a nice 8 MPX camera, and you can easily send video clips via email or MMS. The slide out horizontal keyboard is a pleasure to use. I hope the Kin will appeal to the intended audience with its orientation to social networking.

However, the Kin 2 impresses me more as a novelty phone than a serious productivity tool. I would never consider the Kin 2 personally because I can’t hook it up to a Bluetooth keyboard for travel and meetings. I cannot access, create, or edit my Office documents. It has no means of taking screen shots. I wish it had a memory card. Navigation with GPS would be nice too.

I could go on and on about what it doesn’t do but that’s not fair because it clearly was not designed to be a workhorse for a road warrior who wants to leave his laptop at home. It’s more of a toy for teens who are attached to Twitter, text, and tunes.

The biggest deal breaker for me is the fact that there are no apps available for it, and it is incapable of downloading common apps out there such as Google Maps. This is really inconceivable this day and age with iPhone, Android, and Palm Pre Plus competing for market share with bazillions of cool apps. And what about the intended audiences’ penchant for game playing? No games. Big mistake.

I have heard a rumor that Microsoft may eventually integrate the Kin with Windows Mobile 7 when it is released and then it would be possible to add apps to it. But for now the lack of apps is a highly negative factor.

While the Kin 2 does not measure up to my expectations for a device I would want in my pocket, it may very well suit the needs of the intended audience if the interest is indeed focused on social networking, pics, tunes, and text.

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