Nextbit Robin review

Bold Design & Innovative Software
by Nicole on February 20, 2016
Positives
  • Beautiful, iconic design
  • “Cloud first” smart storage works quite well
  • Supports Android Pay
Negatives
  • Unfinished camera software

There aren’t many Startups making smartphones, so when Nextbit launched Robin last September on Kickstarter and raised over $1.3 million we couldn’t wait to get our hands on one to review.

If you’re wondering what makes Robin stand out, it’s not just the bold colors and rectangular design but the tweaked version of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow). Robin features 32GB of built-in storage and 100GB of online storage. The hardware and software work together to automatically backup your pictures, apps, and settings to the cloud. By default, Robin automatically backs up your life in the cloud when it’s connected to WiFi and charging. But if you start running out of space Robin archives what you use the least and lets you restore it anytime with a simple tap.

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This unique twist on smartphone storage comes from a San Francisco based company that is made up of seasoned handset makers like ex-HTC designer Scott Croyle. With so much build up we’re here to take a look at whether or not Nextbit over promised and under delivered or if we’re about to see a paradigm shift in the way our handsets manage our digital lives.

Design – Bold Clean Lines

At first glance it’s clear that the Nextbit Robin is a beautiful iconic design full of bold strong lines that are made friendly thanks to circular elements. If you own Robin you can be sure that you’ll be stopped and asked “What phone is that?” The ‘Mint’ colored (turquoise and white) unit we have for review is particularly striking. If you’re not into owning something that flashy there’s a more conservative ‘Midnight’ palette. If you take a closer look at the handset there are lots of small interesting details like concave speaker grilles and convex volume buttons.  Combine all that with high a quality build and materials and Robin just feels great in hand.

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Nextbit wanted to build a device that looks and feels great, but stands out in a sea of generic smartphones: achievement unlocked.

Hardware

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There is nothing disappointing about the hardware Nextbit used for Robin. The fingerprint reader on the power/lock button feels very futuristic to use. If you’ve used the Xperia Z5 you’ll be very familiar with this sensation. This also means that Robin supports Android Pay thanks to NFC. The inclusion of USB Type C is a plus since you’ll never have to consider which way you’re meant to plug in your cable to charge. One thing that’s different from other smartphones is the lack of bundled charger. Instead, Nextbit includes a stylish USB Type A to Type C cable.

Nextbit Robin unboxing

If you want a quick overview of the hardware, Robin comes with a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display which is framed with stereo speakers and a five megapixel front facing camera. On the rear we have a 13MP camera with phase detection autofocus and 4 LEDs which light up when the handset syncs to the cloud. The fingerprint reader and power/lock key are located on the right side of the device. On the bottom we have a USB Type C charge/data port. Inside, Robin features a Snapdragon 808 SoC with 3GB of RAM, and a 2680mAh battery which supports Quick Charge 2.0.

If you want to check out our unboxing, head on over here.

Nextbit Robin Specifications

Processor 2GHz hexa-core
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
RAM 3GB
Internal storage 32GB
Screen size (inches) 5.20
Resolution 1080×1920 pixels
Rear camera 13-megapixel
Flash Yes
Front camera 5-megapixel
Dimensions (mm) 149.00 x 72.00 x 7.00
Battery capacity (mAh) 2680
Removable battery No
Fingerprint Sensor Yes
Operating System Android 6.0
Colours Mint, Midnight
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/ b/ g/ n/ ac
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Yes, v 4.00
NFC Yes
Infrared No
USB OTG No
Headphones 3.5mm
FM No
SIM Type Nano SIM
Radios GSM/ CDMA, GSM, 3G, 4G/ LTE

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Display­

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The Nextbit Robin boasts a 5.2-­inch 1080p IPS panel that provides good viewing angles, nice colors and is bright enough to use outdoors. The panel is of decent quality and we have no complaints.

Software is where things get interesting

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Robin runs the latest version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow and it’s far from a vanilla experience since everything’s been tweaked so that all your content is backed up to the cloud. ­ “Cloud first” smart storage works quite well with 32GB of on-board storage paired with 100GB in the cloud. This combination means that there’s no microSD card slot for expandable memory. Robin is designed to automatically manage storage so you never run of out space. This not only means putting your least used photos in the cloud but also your apps. That 1.2GB Asphalt 8 you’ve got installed that you only play once or twice a month can finally be put to better use.

While playing around with Robin to see exactly how it manages internal storage, you can see the phone archiving apps and pictures when the device storage is almost full. The 4 LEDs on the back actually light up to let you know that Robin is connecting to the cloud. When moving full music albums onto Robin via USB the handset didn’t run out of space, even with its internal storage almost full. After copying each new album, the available space would always settle around 500-600MB.

Since Robin is running Android it’s only natural that Nextbit gives you a certain amount of control. Obviously, you’re able to restore archived apps and related settings on demand. You can even “pin” apps you want to always keep on the phone for performance reasons (pull down on an app icon).

Robin comes with a customized launcher which doesn’t have an app drawer. This is a mixed experience for many people, though it’s increasingly becoming more and more common to see manufacturers opt for this style of UI.­ Widgets live on a separate OS X Dashboard­-like panel, which can be accessed by holding down the recent apps button. This slightly skinned version of Android includes the dialer, contacts, messaging, gallery, clock, and calculator apps, but unlike most Chinese manufactures that have gone this route there’s no theme store. The only major complaint about this software experience is that Nextbit should definitely reconsider the turquoise font on white background since it’s often hard to read.

Camera

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The camera on Robin is nothing to write home about. It’s a 13MP rear facing shooter with an aperture of f/2.2 and phase­ detection AF (no OIS here). On the front we have a 5MP selfie camera. In auto mode it takes decent enough pictures but the results aren’t impressive. The shooter also always reverts the flash to automatic, and turns the grid overlay off when restarted which is annoying. There’s also a lots of shutter lag (especially in HDR mode). The auto focus is inaccurate at times, and if you’re counting on that HDR mode, forget it: it’s pretty much unusable (especially in low light). Manual controls are available for those of you who like to tweak things, but there’s no shutter speed adjustment. ­ Also, third­ party camera apps support full manual controls and RAW output, but not HDR. One feature that was missing during our review which will be showing up later is panorama mode. We hope that when Nextbit adds panorama, the whole camera app gets an update.

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Battery Life

Robin includes a 2680mAh battery which is non-removable and is Quick­ Charge 2.0 compatible. It usually lasts a full day on a charge doing the usual — taking photos, chatting and emailing. As a moderate to heavy users we have no complaints.

Performance

The Qualcomm­ Snapdragon 808 SoC with ­3GB RAM inside Robin is a top notch performer, although now that the Snapdragon 820 has been released, this phone is going to look average in terms of benchmarks. Still, we all know performance is about OS responsiveness and day-to-day use. So we’re going to give you the benchmarks, but suggest that you really take a look at our review video to get a sense of how Robin actually performs.

Sound

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Front facing stereo speakers are the way to go if you’re looking for a device to share music or videos with friends. You’re not going to accidentally cover it with your hand on the back or bottom of the handset, and the sound is actually pointing in your direction. And robin’s speakers sound fantastic. If you listen to music privately more often than not, Robin comes with a high quality DAC and headphone amp which drives most headphones without any problems. As for making calls, the quality is just fine.

Co-written with Myriam Joire of tnkgrl Mobile.

Rating
Design / 10
Camera / 6
Sound / 8
Performance / 8
Battery Life / 8
Software / 9
Price / 7
Editor's Choice / 8
Hardware / 8
Display / 8
Nextbit Robin

The Nextbit Robin is a great handset but it would be interesting to see how it performs after a serious software update. The 'Cloud first' concept is a solid one that works well and is something that we love having on our smartphone. Nextbit just needs to work out the camera. Still, Robin is a sneak peak at the future of mobile computing.

8.0
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