Mobile providers often seem to think their customers are fools, mere marks to pickpocket and cheat as they wander the carnival that is a cellular store. The latest example: Microsoft's Kin, a pair of kids' cell phones masquerading as smartphones. Worse, its exclusive carrier -- Verizon Wireless -- charges $30 per month for its data services on top of the voice service, so you're talking $70 per month for one of these unremarkable devices.
The Kins are all about social media, so the devices feature video and photo sharing, texting, Facebooking, tweeting, and so on -- just like the hundreds of cell phones available from every carrier (they call them "feature phones") without requiring a data plan.
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Microsoft is doing its part to mislead customers as well. It says the Kin is part of the Windows Phone family, a surefire way to make people think it's one of the new Windows Phone 7 devices coming out this fall to replace the Windows Mobile smartphone platform. If you don't notice that "7" is missing from the Kin marketing, you'd easily believe it's a smartphone. The truth is, the Kin's operating system is not the same as Windows Phone 7.
Here's the truth: The only real smartphones are the Apple iPhone, the various Google Android devices (such as the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris), the various Microsoft Windows Mobile devices (from a variety of hardware makers), many of the Nokia E- and N-series devices, the Palm Pre, and the RIM BlackBerry series. Anything else is a feature phone. What makes a smartphone: corporate email support, an apps market, at least basic security, PDA capabilities, and true Web browsing. VPN support is part of most smartphones' functionality as well.