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Microsoft Kin One and Palm Pre Plus

We’ve seen those “Project Pink” phones floating around for a while now, and they’ve finally come to the surface. Named Kin One and Kin Two, the two phones slot somewhere between the feature phone and the smartphone. To be offered on Verizon and Vodaphone, manufactured by Sharp, and running software from Microsoft, the Kin phones are more social media devices that happen to make calls than smartphones with social media grafted on (ala Motoblur).

The Kins, which seem to be built off of the same guts as the Zune and also seem to run an extension of the Zune OS, are easily the most social networking-oriented phones we’ve seen to date. But where the slot between feature phone and smartphone is a bit hazy. If anything, seeing as they are very much inspired by Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger a few years back, we’d have to say that these suckers are the new Sidekicks. Which, incidentally, Sharp also built.

So here’s how Kin works: the singular home screen - "Loop" - aggregates your feeds from Facebook Twitter, MySpace, and specified RSS feeds. What makes Loop unique is that it allows you to specify certain friends that you want to see more from, so those important to you (your kin, naturally) are at the forefront of your Kin experience. A circle, called the "Spot," at the bottom center of every page allows you to drag content from all of these feeds to then share with your friends over email or SMS. Where Kin amps things up, however, is Studio. This online quasi-social network allows Kin users to upload all of their captured content (photos, videos, messages, etc) onto a flowing Silverlight-powered timeline. It’s actually pretty darned cool, but we have to wonder how well it stands to catch on as a platform-specific network in the face of universally-accessible social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The two phones are also Zune-compatible, the first Microsoft phones to be so (they’re due to launch before Windows Phone 7 arrives). Hardware-wise there’s some impressive stuff packed in there. The Kin One has a horizontal 2.6” 320x480 capacitive screen with a small keyboard that slides out from below, ala Palm Pre. The Kin One also packs an impressive 5 MP camera with flash and a paltry 4 GB of storage. The Kin Two is a 480x320 horizontal screen deal, with a larger horizontal keyboard that slides down (ala HTC Touch Pro), and packs 8 GB of storage and an 8 MP camera with flash.

Are these phones a threat to the social networking integration present in webOS? We wouldn’t say so. They’re targeted at the “tween” market that uses Facebook and Twitter to stay in contact more than email and suddenly old-fashioned. They made no bones about it at the presentation, the Kin One and Kin Two are targeted devices, whereas Windows Phone 7 is a general purpose smartphone operating system, like webOS, iPhone OS, or Android.

In fact, the Kins are quite lacking in many areas. There’s no IM, no calendar, no YouTube, and no uploads to Twitter (considering that Twitter uploads are to third-party services, that’s little surprise). What surprises us, however, is the complete lack of any app infrastructure. There are no apps to download and install, and no way to develop for the devices. Which means that these are purely social networking and media devices - you won’t even find yourself playing games on these phones.

In short, the Kin One and Kin Two don't seem aimed at smartphone makers like Palm or Apple. Those that should be concerned are manufacturers of feature phones and messaging phones. As Phil over at WMExperts said, the Kin devices ‘crank social up to 11’ (just like our amps), and that’s their purpose. Pure and simple.