Hands on: Microsoft Kin Two review
14th Apr 2010 | 16:18
Extra power in a more traditional design
Microsoft Kin Two: Overview
While the Kin One from Microsoft is unquestionably dinky, the Kin Two is designed to be a much more powerful beast.
Featuring a more traditional rectangular design, the Kin Two is larger and designed to be used two handed, thanks to a keyboard that slides out from the side, rather than the bottom, of the screen.
The headline specs are also improved - an 8MP camera with 720p HD video recording as well as doubling the memory onboard to 8GB.
The same style of keyboard is used on the Kin Two as the Kin One - similar in the fact the keys are the same rounded plastic options, but with a wider spacing thanks to more of a chassis to stick them into.
The slider mechanism is also a little plusher than the Kin One - it feels a little more premium with little plastic grating.
The Kin Two isn't too thick either given the full QWERTY keyboard on offer - something that's going to appeal to the more stylish social networker (but we hope we never meet such a person - they sound hideous).
The chassis is well stocked with buttons - there's a the volume up/down key, a camera shutter button as well as the microUSB cable and 3.5mm headphone jack in a recess at the top of the phone.
The main thing though is the Kin Two feels pleasant to hold in the hand - in both two- and one-handed operation it's an easy phone to pick up and use.
The hardware only tells part of the story though - the Kin Two is far from a dumb feature phone with limited purpose.
The new operating system, which is built on a similar core to that of Windows Phone 7, is all about interaction - specifically offering direct and easy links to social networking and email.
You can synchronise the likes of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter with the phone, downloading friends from each into the contact list.
From there you're able to link them together, with the Kin Two featuring some decent software to give some (usually accurate) suggested links).
Microsoft Kin Two: The Loop and The Spot
Once you're contacts are up and running, you can bust out 'The Loop', which is basically a tiled interface that shows you all the things your friends and followers are up to, with an easy way to comment, retweet and all manner of web 2.0 things from your phone.
Another cool new addition is The Spot, which epitomises the social-media focus of the Kin Two.
You can simply hold, drag and drop practically anything onto it to share with a friend, be it a picture, contact, hyperlink (in the form of a screengrab) over MMS, Text, e-mail or through a social networking site.
It takes a while to get your head around this principle, but once you have and you start sharing a lot of info with people it suddenly seems to make a lot more sense.
The Kin Two also offers you the chance to segregate your favourite people on the phone - these will be close friends and family and not some celebrity you follow on Twitter because you fancy them and hope they'll one day reply to your desperate attempts to contact them.
These people will also automatically be given priority when updating your feeds - meaning you'll get to see what they're saying above the babble of riveting status updates from your old school friends.
The Loop seems to work well as a method of seeing all your friends and interacting with updates and the like - but we'll need to use it for a while to see if it's really usable or turns into a large amount of noise.
Microsoft Kin Two: Internet, media and camera
Beyond The Loop, there's the apps section - but this is not the same applications you're used to from Apple or Google.
No, Microsoft has decided that there's no need for an application portal on the Kin phones, despite having the Apps Marketplace already up and running for Windows Mobile.
This means there are only a few other basic functions on the phone, such as the internet browser.
To be fair, this isn't the worst browser we've seen on a mobile phone by quite some way - it works well at rendering full HTML, although the loading times are a little slow and the images grainy.
We do like the thumbnail bookmarks offered though, which are accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen.
It's also multi-touch enabled as well thanks to the capacitive screen, which makes it easy to pinch and zoom for a closer look at the words.
The other high point from the 'apps' screen is the media player, which uses the Zune interface to offer up all your music and videos.
It works really well, responding nicely to the touch and organising your music in a simple view, building on the popular Zune interface.
One element we don't think we'll be seeing is the Zune Pass application, a Spotify-style streaming service that you pay $15 a month for in the US.
That's a shame, as along with the social media element of the Kin phones we could see that the two options together would make the handsets really desirable for the teen and early twenty-something market.
The other part of the Kin Two we were impressed with was the camera. Although we didn't get to play with it too much, the early pictures looked impressive from the 8MP sensor.
Microsoft has decided against putting a microSD card slot on these phones, instead preferring to siphon all the content off to the cloud. All your pictures and video are automatically uploaded to the Kin Studio, which presents itself as a timeline of all the media you've captured (apart from HD videos, which have to be sideloaded up the net to preserve quality.
There's also an option to geo-tag your photos and see them presented through the Bing Maps application - making it much easier to work out where your night out went if you can't remember where a snap was taken.
The high end features on the Kin Two could be both a blessing and a curse for those interested in picking up this phone.
On the one hand, having all this cool stuff, like multi-touch and HD video recording, will make it a really desirable phone.
But on the other hand, it's pretty light in some areas (like lacking an app store) and the focus on social networking sounds like it's aimed at teenagers and students. This demographic can't afford to spend a lot on a phone, and if the Kin Two costs more than £200 (which you'd have to think it would given the high end hardware) we can't see it flying off the shelves.