Verizon kicks off Microsoft relaunch with Kin phones

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) will debut Microsoft's Kin social networking phones tomorrow. This will be the first phase of the software giant's attempt to get back its mobile mojo this year.

Microsoft Kin One and Two Verizon WirelessThe companies, which unveiled the long-rumored devices last month, said the Kin One will be released online for $49.99, and the higher-powered Kin Two will debut online for $99.99--both with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. Both phones will be available in stores May 13.

The phones, which are made by Sharp, are part of Microsoft's two-pronged mobile strategy this year. Toward the end of the year, Microsoft will begin rolling out smartphones based on its Windows Phone 7 platform.

Microsoft recently lost smartphone market share to rivals, including Google's Android platform. According to ABI Research, Microsoft's global smartphone market share dropped to 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 12.5 percent in the year-ago period.

Though not smartphone devices per se, the Kin phones are aimed at heavy users of social networking services. The heart of the Kin experience is the homescreen, called Loop, which is similar in some respects to Motorola's MotoBLUR user interface for its phones based on Google's Android platform. Kin Loop brings together feeds from Microsoft services and social networking services such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Users can prioritize feeds from their favorite friends. A unique interface called Spot allows users to drag videos, photos, text messages, Web pages, location and status updates to a specific area, and then decide who they want to share it with and how.

The Kin One is a clamshell phone with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard and a touchscreen display. The phone has a 5-megapixel camera with flash and 4 GB of internal memory. The Kin Two also has a slide-out Qwerty keyboard and touchscreen, and is similar in design to the Sidekick devices made by Microsoft's Danger subsidiary. The Kin Two has an 8-megapixel camera, shoots HD video, and offers stereo speakers and 8 GB of internal memory. Both devices run Nvidia's Tegra processor.

Reviews for the devices appear mixed. Some liked the social networking services, but many complained of a cluttered user interface.

For more:
- see this release
- see this MobileCrunch post
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this ZDNet article

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