But it isn't perfect: limitations and omissions within the software keep the Microsoft Kin Two from being a threat to lower-priced smartphones.
Design-wise, the Microsoft Kin Two is much more attractive than its squat sibling. It has a larger display and roomier keyboard, as well. In our tests we found the keys comfortable to press and nicely spaced. It isn't on par with the Sidekick, but it comes close.
We were impressed with the Microsoft Kin Two's 8-megapixel camera. We took a few snapshots at the launch event, which took place in a dimly lit nightclub, and were impressed with how powerful the flash was. Faces were nicely highlighted without being completely blown out. Details appeared sharp and colours looked fairly natural in test shots. The Kin Two also captures HD video.
Kin OS: Stylish and Intuitive
While it's a bit overwhelming at first, Kin OS is visually pleasing and incredibly easy to navigate. The main screen, called Loop, displays your selected friends' status updates and messages as well as your favourite RSS feeds in a colourful collage of text and images. Flick to the left, and you'll see a panel of all your applications; flick right, and you'll see your contacts.
We also liked how easy it was to share photos with your friends via the Kin "Spot". The Spot is a green circle that sits at the bottom of the user interface. If you want to share a photo, video or news story from your RSS feed, you simply drag and drop it into the Spot. You can then tap the Spot and decide whether you want to send it to your friends or upload it to one of your social networks.
Another highlight: The Microsoft Kin Two ships with the Zune HD media player for video and music playback. There's also an FM radio.
The OS was a bit sluggish while we were navigating through various menus, but this might be due to the fact that our test units were preproduction devices.
Kin Studio: Useful, but Problematic
When you capture photos or videos on your Kin phone, they're automatically uploaded to the Kin server. You can then log into your Kin Studio account on your PC to view and share your media - no USB cables or microSD cards to hassle with and no tedious uploading procedures. This is an ideal feature for the non-tech-savvy audience Microsoft seems to be targeting with these phones.
But there's one disturbing problem with the Kin Studio: You can't delete photos off your phone without deleting them from the Kin Studio. In some ways, Microsoft's explanation for implementing this makes sense. If a user wants to delete, say, an incriminating photo from a bar the night before, they probably want it completely erased from existence. But if you're simply deleting photos to free up some storage on your phone, this is a big problem since the Microsoft Kin Two's memory is restricted to 8GB (there's no microSD support). 8GB might seem like a lot, but you'd be surprised at how quickly that fills up with HD videos, photos and music.
We also wish there was some sort of photo editing or video editing software built into the studio. To edit a clip or photo, you have to download it to your PC first, edit it in a third-party program, then re-upload to the Kin Studio to share with your friends.
Microsoft Kin Two: Missing Key Features
Unfortunately, the Kin OS is missing some features that, in my opinion, are crucial for social networkers. First of all, there's no native calendar nor is there support for syncing your Outlook or Google calendars. If Kin's main goal is to connect people together, then why isn't there a way to create and share events via a social calendar?
There's also no native IM client, which seems strange for a phone that's built for messaging. Lastly, Microsoft Kin Two lacks support for uploading photos or videos to Twitter. You can upload videos to your Facebook or Myspace profiles, but forget about Twitter. Microsoft says that it might be adding these features in future over-the-air updates, but don't expect them at launch.
Also, if you're a heavy app user, you'll be disappointed to learn that there's no software development kit currently available for the Kin phones, nor is there an app store. For now, you're stuck with what's preloaded on the device.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>
See also: Microsoft Kin One review