Nextbit Robin quick look: a fresh take on smartphone design and cloud integration

by: NiraveSeptember 14, 2015
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Crowdfunding is fast becoming a way for companies with bright ideas to gain the funding needed to make their product dream a reality, and Nextbit is no different, with the company achieving its funding goal in less than half a day after launch. Fast forward almost two weeks and the phone is fast approaching the $1 million stretch goal.

At CTIA 2015 in Las Vegas, we managed to get a first look at an EVT model (the earliest physical handset produced by the company) to find out just how cool it actually is.

Led by a team including Tom Moss (previously one of the leaders of the Android Team) and Scott Croyle (former SVP at HTC and leader of the HTC One design team), the company certainly has an impressive pedigree but can the Robin stand out in an ever-crowded marketplace?

A key part of the Robin experience is its design, with Nextbit opting to make the handset standout in a unique and refreshing way. The front 5.2-inch IPS display offers Full HD resolution and is flanked by dual stereo speakers, complete with dual amps. Seemingly akin to the dual speaker setup in HTC BoomSound, the speakers are circular (as opposed to the rectangular design traditionally used in smartphones) and certainly stand out.

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The Robin is available in two colours and will appeal to both those who want to stand out and those would rather be more traditional. For the maverick amongst us, the mint option combines white with Nextbit’s mint colour, and will stand out in a crowd of more conservative designs. Given that more people will prefer to take a safe route, there’s also a midnight variant that is a darker blue bordering black.

To the side of the top speaker we’ve got the 5MP front snapper and sensor array, and, as you can see, the circles design is a key part of the experience and also continues through to the volume keys on the left. Moving to the right and we’ve got a fingerprint scanner built into a flat home button (like the one found on the new Sony Xperia Z5 smartphones) along with a SIM card tray.

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Moving to the back and there’s a Samsung-supplied 13MP camera with phase detection auto focus and a dual LED true-tone flash that looks rather unique thanks to its circular design. Beneath it we’ve got the Nextbit logo and four LEDs, which act as notification lights and let you know when the Robin is communicating with Nextbit’s cloud servers.

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The cloud is an integral part of the Robin and the software is where Nextbit hopes to really differentiate from other smartphones. Although we weren’t able to test all the cloud features with the Robin itself (as it’s an early model), Nextbit did have the software running on the LG Nexus 5 and we got to see exactly what their cloud-first philosophy was all about.

A major problem with current smartphones is that despite ever increasing file system, app and data sizes, many companies only offer 16GB versions of their handsets (with an average of 11GB available to the user). The Nextbit Robin comes with a more respectable 32GB storage on-board, but extends this with 100GB of Nextbit Cloud Storage for the lifetime of the device.

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It’s not just cloud storage to extend your device though, as the Nextbit Robin comes with the ability to free up space and “supercharge” the experience through the cloud. A key part of this experience is the ability to move infrequently used apps (usually if unused in the past couple of months) to the cloud to keep them handy but free up space on your phone.

Once an app is offloaded, the Robin displays a grayed out icon and restoring an app is as easy as tapping the icon after which the handset will download the app and restore any app data and login credentials. A key concern with a cloud-first approach is the reliance on the internet connection, but Nextbit did confirm that the Robin will only perform these actions when you’re plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi, although you can let it use mobile data if you like.

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The Robin runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and Nextbit are already working on bringing Android 6.0 Marshmallow to the handset. There are two versions of the homescreen, with one offering a simplified interface akin to the iPhone, while the other offers the classic Android launcher, complete with app drawer. Even if you choose another launcher, the offloaded app feature will still work, and the company said that it may consider working with developers to create other ROMs for the Robin in the future.

Other notable specs of the Robin include a Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage which expands by a further 100GB using Nextbit cloud storage and the usual array of connectivity including NFC and LTE Cat 4. The handset also comes with quick charging, and Nextbit plan to publish the charging times in the near future, once they’ve finished testing.

Given the pre-production nature of the Robin, we’re certainly impressed with both the hardware and software, and it’s likely to be much more refined when the handset launches early next year. With a retail price of $399 or $349 for Kickstarter backers, Robin is certainly an interesting device that aims to combine premium specs with a cloud-first philosophy. For the most part, the Robin certainly seems to deliver.

So there you have it, a quick look at the crowd-funded Nextbit Robin. What did you think of the Nextbit Robin? Were you one of the Kickstarter backers? Let us know your views in the comments below.

  • WhoaManWtF

    Storage is so much cheaper than data for 95% of people..

    • Final Stretch

      Sprint user here lol. Unlimited is so great

      • Phyo Thu Aung

        too bad this phone isnt compatible with sprint lol

  • retrospooty

    Meh. It looks beyond horrible. Retro-ugly.

  • Final Stretch

    Heres the thing, its a great idea. They’re definitely taking a chance and sticking their necks out there to do something that should have been attempted years ago. They’re going to be pioneers in this. What will end up happening is that a large company with one hell of an r&d department will create a device that will both be beautiful and operate seamlessly. Not saying that this device is neither. Its just that you can easily tell its the first of its kind. I personally enjoy the look of the device. It is pretty appealing, given what it is and what its being birthed from. I would love to have one, The downfall is the fact that by the time it launches the 808 will have age on it. Yet maybe shipping with marshmallow will definitely help it out.

    • Marty

      HTC tried to push for cloud storage a few years ago with the introduction of the One X line of phones. If anyone remembers, they didn’t go higher than 16GB of storage memory and didn’t include expandable storage.

      It didn’t work out because cloud storage wasn’t viable as a reliable memory system. It still isn’t today because of the vast areas of inconsistent data coverage. What happens when you reach an area with no coverage and need to access something on the cloud?

      • Final Stretch

        Good point made here. Thing is depending on how they build their ecosystem, if there isn’t a heavy reliance on data then it works fine. They stated it pushes less used apps to the cloud. So if it actually pushed those rarely used apps with precision. Its possible that it can work out

    • David Camacho

      I found myself having an internal stuggle over whether or not to purchase this phone because processor speed and RAM is big to me. You mentioning the tidbit about the 808 being outdated brings up something I never really thought about. Thank you for that.

  • SharkGaming

    Wow. We haven’t seen an actually useful innovation in a smartphone for a LONG time, and especially in software. Even of this phone doesn’t nail it, as long as they don’t start churning out model after model like Samsung they have a BIG future.

    • Agreed with that. They definitely have a bright future and having spent a while talking to Tom Moss and Scott Croyle, there’s a lot of interesting things in the company’s future.

  • PeddleRD

    I am definitely having one of these phones! I love everything about it! I hope they make the in call ear speaker loud also, not just the dual stereo speakers on the front. Many companies fail to bring high volume to in call sound…..

    • Can’t comment on this but if you check out the Extra Volume feature on the Galaxy S6/Edge/N5/S6 Edge+ (yes they have a lot of other things you might not be happy about), the in call volume is exceptionally loud.

      • PeddleRD

        But what have that got to do with this Robin phone?

        • I was replying to the last point about other companies. You are right that many companies do not but I was pointing out that some do. Removed the comment as in hindsight it’s not entirely relevant (as you pointed out).

          With regards to the Robin, I can’t answer the in call audio as I wasn’t able to test that feature. We will of course test this as soon as we get another hands on or a review sample.

  • David Camacho

    What are the thoughts on how much the actual device will sell for once released? Not kickstater pricing

    • The video and post address this – kickstarter pricing is $349 (plus little additions like a special SIM tray etc), the retail pricing is $399. Early kickstarter backers got it for $299, but this sold out pretty quickly (on the first day if I remember correctly)

  • Phyo Thu Aung

    I would prefer a phone that merges sdcard and internal memory as one huge storage bucket.

  • Mark Schwacofer

    I got in at the 775 mark so i got it for 325 inc shipping im really excited and i think its better then my lg g4 because of the front firing speakers the fingerprint scanner the 100 gig of cloud storage also glad AA did a review ty

  • Ghost

    That’s an Awesome Cellphone… I Love Its design…