Nextbit's Robin looks to break the smartphone mold

The startup hopes its focus on cloud storage and design will help it win over customers bored by the same black-slab look from Apple, Samsung and others.

Nextbit design chief Scott Croyle, talking with CNET executive editor Roger Cheng at CES, says people are "hungry" for a different design in phones.

CNET

A new take on the smartphone is hatching next month.

Nextbit, a San Francisco-based startup run by Google and HTC veterans, plans to start shipping its first smartphone, called the Robin, on Feb. 16 to those who've preordered it. On that same day, it plans to unveil its e-commerce store. Preorder sales are ending next Friday.

The company is hoping the Android phone's clever design and heavy focus on cloud storage will help it gain attention in a crowded smartphone field dominated by tech titans including Apple and Samsung.

"Nothing really stands out anymore," Scott Croyle, Nextbit's chief designer, said on CNET's Consumer Electronics Show stage in Las Vegas on Friday. "Everything feels like a derivative of either the [HTC One] M7 or the iPhone."

For that reason, Croyle said, many people are "hungry" for a fresh look in smartphones and the Robin's spare, square-sided design may fit the bill. Croyle knows a little about smartphone design, having been a key designer behind the look of the HTC One M7. Still, to avoid making another phone that blends in, he said he didn't use design cues from the M7 to create the Robin.

To prove there are folks out there who want something different, Nextbit took to Kickstarter, where it reached a goal of raising $500,000 in just a day. It eventually raised more than $1.3 million on the crowdfunding platform. The interest underscores a burgeoning trend of companies bypassing carriers and selling their smartphones directly to consumers, a strategy embraced by lesser-known companies such as ZTE and Alcatel One Touch and by giants including Apple.

Despite the Robin's early successes, it will take a lot for Nextbit to survive in the brutal smartphone industry, where tech leaders including Microsoft and Samsung have struggled and where Apple seems to be the sole company able to consistently pull a profit.

The Robin is the first smartphone to claim cloud storage as its key feature. While the phone has 32 gigabytes of internal storage, it will have a total of 100 GB of storage in the cloud. The phone moves little-used apps, photos, videos and other files to the cloud to ensure you always have room to complement your built-in storage.

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