Tagged: Zune

Microsoft's KIN: A very social phone

The Microsoft KIN One

The Microsoft KIN One

It looks like someone mashed up a Palm Pre and a Samsung Cleo. At least that’s the first impression you get when looking at one of Microsoft’s first branded entries into the mobile phone space, the KIN One. Together with its sibling the KIN Two, it represents a clear expression of what Microsoft thinks the future of mobile is all about, namely social networking.

A multi-touch screen with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the KIN One has a distinctly feminine feel, mimicking a make-up compact in size and shape in its closed position, while the KIN Two sports a more conventional rectangular shape. Microsoft’s KIN website claims that the KIN One will appeal to those who like to one-hand-text while and the KIN Two is better for people who prefer to double-hand it when they type. Size and shape aren’t the only differences. The KIN One has 4GB of storage, a mono speaker and can shoot SD video, while the Two has 8GB of memory, stereo speakers and can capture HD video. Both phones contain Microsoft’s Zune software for media playback.

But size and shape aside, the real story here is what happens when you turn the KIN on.

The Microsoft KIN Two

The Microsoft KIN Two

Microsoft has created an experience they refer to as “KIN Loop”. It’s what you see on the phone’s home screen and it’s meant to be a collage of everything that is going on in your social network, right now. You can bring in feeds from top social apps such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Microsoft’s own services and then identify the people in your network who matter most to you. These updates are always front and centre. Microsoft feels that the KIN’s target market of twenty-somethings will prefer this experience over one that emphasizes menus and icons. This strikes me as a love-it or hate-it gamble.

If KIN Loop is your way of staying on top of your rapidly evolving social scene, KIN Spot is the way you let your network know what’s going on with you. Using the touchscreen, you can drag and drop any item of interest to a small green circle near the bottom of the screen and then craft your message/tweet/status update before blasting it out to everyone, or just a select audience.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the KIN though, is one that doesn’t live inside the phone at all, but rather in the cloud. Dubbed “KIN Studio”, Microsoft has created an online backup system for the KIN that not only preserves nearly every item on the KIN be it photo, video, contact, or call history but lets you “re-live” all of these in a kind of timeline-type display. Microsoft claims the online storage will be ample – more than enough to keep your memories alive for extended periods. There is no mention of what kind of data plan will be required if you are a heavy user of the KIN Two’s 8 megapixel camera or it’s built-in HD camcorder.

Rounding out the KIN feature list is a mobile browser that appears to use the same pan/zoom model as both the Pre and the iPhone, an FM Radio and Search powered by Bing.

Opinion is pouring in already, with the editors at Gizmodo – who have already released videos of the KIN in action – declaring it to be sluggish, but not to the point of being unusable.

The KINs will debut in May in the U.S. on the Verizon network and later in Europe with Vodafone. No word yet on a Canadian launch date or which mobility provider will offer it.

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iPod Nano: now with FM tuner, video

Apple iPod Nano, with FM radio tuner

Apple iPod Nano, with FM radio tuner

Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a brilliant move on Apple’s part to take on the wildly popular Flip video line of super-small camcorders today, by instantly turning every new iPod Nano into a portable video studio.

But I was much more impressed by the addition of an FM tuner. Why? Well for one thing, this feature has been missing from every single iPod since they launched the product back in 2000. That’s nearly 10 years of everyone (give or take a few Apple fanboys) telling them that they should add radio capability.

So either Steve Jobs has proven that he can listen to his customers, or he’s realized that the quarter of the media-player market that Apple doesn’t control is dominated by devices that can play FM radio – including the Microsoft Zune.

Speaking of the Zune, the new Nano borrows a trick from Redmond’s baby: While listening to your favourite FM radio station, you can “tag” the songs you like for future lookup and purchase in iTunes. It’s a killer feature, but it requires that the station you’re listening to supports iTunes tagging, which not all of them do.

I’ve tried to find a definitive list of Canadian stations that have this, but have so far come up empty. Drop a comment below if you know of a good resource for this.

But Apple has not only met the Zune in the radio department, they’ve also upped the ante. The Nano’s FM radio behaves more like a satellite radio receiver than a typical FM receiver: as soon as you tune-in to a station, the iPod starts buffering the audio to memory, allowing you to pause or even scroll back and forth along the recorded timeline. PVR users will identify with this right away as it’s the same thing you get when watching live TV with a PVR.

Nice work Apple, now tell us again why we had to wait a decade?

Update: Apple’s Canadian spokesperson, Simon Atkins, tells me that there are no radio stations in Canada that currently support iTunes tagging. Bummer.