Hands-On with the Kin 1 and Kin 2 [Update: Video]

After years of rumors, hearsay, and leaks, we’ve finally gotten the opportunity to play with the final product of Project Pink. These are the first real products of Microsoft’s 2008 acquisition of Danger, creators of the sidekick. So how are they?

Read on for our impressions

Update: Now with video of the Kin 2 in action – check it out after the jump.

Both phones:

  • These are not smart phones. They’re not really trying to be. They’re fancy, flashy featurephones, aimed at people who obsess over social networks and nothing else. If you’re reading this site, these phones probably aren’t for you. If you’ve ever thought, “Hey, I wonder if I’m a power user,” these phones are probably not for you.
  • The interface is pretty, albeit a bit overwhelming at first – and, unfortunately, not all that smooth. I saw a fair amount of lag when hopping between panes of the homescreen on both the Kin 1 and the Kin 2.
  • For some crazy reason, Microsoft has built a whole new OS here. It’s not Windows Phone 7, but it is Silverlight based.
  • There is no development SDK currently, and there don’t seem to be any plans for one. This leads to…
  • There is no App Store. What you see is what you get, for the time being.
  • There is no instant messaging. For a phone focused on social networking and keeping in touch, this seems like a deal killer. We also can’t find a Calendar.
  • The sharing experience, “The Spot” — essentially the main feature that Microsoft is betting the entire farm on — is pretty clean. Hold your thumb on content you want to share, drag it to the persistently-there circle at the bottom of the screen, then drag over the contacts you want to share it with. If this (and pretty much only this) sort of function is all you’re looking for in a phone, you’re set..
  • My favorite aspect of these phones had nothing to do with the hardware itself — it’s “Kin Studio”, the browser-based syncing backend. Snap a shot, and it’s online. Snap a video, it’s online. It’s all super slick and surprisingly fast. Theres an entire market of people out there who don’t have the damnedest idea how to pull their media off their phone – for them, this is a godsend.

Kin 1:

  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but this phone is god awful ugly. The screen is smaller than the keyboard, which exposes about a 1/2 inch of white plastic each side of it. I’m not talking about Oh-you-can-see-the-lines sloppy design here; this seems very much intentional, and seems like a poor choice. It does not look good.
  • While not a looker, it’s not a bad size. It fits right in your palm.
  • The keyboard on the Kin 1 is average. . Sharp’s got a bit of a history building keyboards with this team (Kin was largely built by ex-Danger folks, and Sharp they built most of Danger’s Sidekick line), and it shows. The keyboard here is a bit better than most feature phones we’ve dabbled with, but not on par with the Sidekicks of yesteryear. It’s a bit playschool (for the lack of a better word) looking, but seems to function well. They’re a bit harder than any of the keys from the Sidekicks, lacking that familiar thin gel layer.
  • Kin 2:

  • In a nutshell: The Kin 2 makes the Kin 1 look bad. It’s considerably prettier than its baby brother.
  • The keyboard here is surprisingly good. It’s still not quite what most Sidekick users might be aching for – but it’s close. Keys seemed well spaced, with great tactility.

In the end: neither of these phones are for me. They’re probably not for you, either. Microsoft is sure there’s a market here, though — one that wants social networking as the main (and in a sense, only) focus. Is it worth it to bring out hardware with a whole new platform specifically for this market, rather than working to make your current software platform (Windows Phone 7) more accessible to them? They’ll have to bring the prices in low — and I mean low — to compete. We’ll just have to wait and see how many of these they can actually push.