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Nextbit Robin review: Not quite ready to leave the nest

Nextbit's new Android phone has a great look and concept, but by trying too hard to be different, it gets in its own way.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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4 min read

When you're a new phone by a brand-new phone maker, you have to do something really different to grab people's attention. It's absolutely clear to me that the Nextbit Robin brings something all its own to the phone world: software to temporarily archive apps and photos online when you run out of space (up to 100GB and you can get them back any time). No other phone does that, and as a phone reviewer, Nextbit's "first" gives me a little glow.

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7.0

Nextbit Robin

The Good

The Nextbit Robin has a fresh, minimalist design, the latest Android software and a flawless fingerprint reader.

The Bad

Its cloud storage solution has some execution turbulence, and battery life could be better.

The Bottom Line

Nextbit's unlocked Robin is a decent midrange Android phone, but its novel cloud storage concept isn't seamless enough for the masses.

However, it's also clear to me that the Robin tries so hard to be distinct, it winds up getting in its own way. I like the Robin, but I wouldn't want to own it. Even on its best day, it's a niche device. That's probably one reason the company is kicking off sales with only 3,000 to 6,000 phones.

The custom software layout running over Android 6.0 can be cumbersome and sometimes slow. Online, or cloud, storage seems like an elegant fix for the problem of limited storage space, but the phone itself doesn't dish up the smooth experience it should. While I love the refreshingly minimalistic and unique design, Nextbit's Robin is going to have to preen more than just its plumage to win me over.

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The Robin is a cool-looking phone.

Josh Miller/CNET

Nextbit is one of several new crowdfunded players to sell its unlocked phone for less than a traditional flagship device, in a bid to lure buyers away from big brands. There's at least modest money to be made using this direct-to-consumer model, but as a small outfit, Nextbit and others like it have more freedom to experiment with new designs and features. For $400, which converts to about £280 and AU$564 (for about 40 countries), it competes against both higher-end devices and phones roughly two thirds its price.

It's a nice, interesting effort overall, and I'm looking forward to seeing the next model.

Main trick: How cloud storage works on this phone

Instead of supplementing the Robin's 32GB of onboard storage with a microSD card slot, Nextbit built a system that automatically archives apps and photos you haven't used in a while, and stores them on Nextbit's servers online.

Cloud storage seems like a great idea -- it gives you a total of about 100GB for keeping photos and apps (but not video files). You can redownload any archived app or photo by tapping its grayed-out icon, and you can "pin" apps by swiping down on them -- the phone won't ever archive those.

Nextbit's Robin is an ode to phone design (pictures)

See all photos

To manage the apps is an icon you can access from every home screen. It expands to let you quickly find apps you've pinned and archived; you can also scan all your apps alphabetically.

Archived photos don't receive the same treatment. You can't tell by looking at the thumbnail which photos have been archived until you zoom in, and there's no tool to manage it. I think this is a good thing, though, since it makes the experience a little more seamless, minus the wait to reinstate the photo.

When downloading an archived app or photo, a tiny strip of LED bulbs along the back light up to signal the action.

My problem with Robin's cloud storage

In practice, archiving worked as promised, but there were still bumps along the way, like:

  • Organization: Archived apps live alongside active apps, so you often have to swipe through patches of ghosted apps to find live ones
  • The icon for managing archived apps took up the screen real estate I want to reserve for apps I use more often
  • Downloading archived stuff takes some time, even over Wi-Fi
  • If you aren't on Wi-Fi, downloading archived apps and photos comes out of your monthly data allotment

It would be better if there were an option to have the Robin auto-arrange home screen icons (those that aren't in folders), so that an app you just archived moves to the further screens and non-archived (active) apps shift closer to the home screen. The persistent icon that manages all the apps should also be optional, and you should be able to access the same information through the notification menu if you prefer.

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Tap the always-there icon to manage your pinned and archived apps.

Josh Miller/CNET

What I like about the Robin phone

There are plenty of things I do like about this phone:

  • Crisp, clean look of the physical handset and software, especially the circular motif
  • Fingerprint reader in the power/lock button -- this is my favorite implementation so far
  • Recessed power/lock button never turns on in my pocket or purse
  • Loud audio through dual front-facing speakers
  • Comfortable grip on the handset's straight sides
  • Solid gameplay experience

Where Robin still needs work as a phone

Still, the fledgling device has a few more flaws to fix.

  • Camera capture is on the slow side, in both HDR and automatic modes
  • Camera overexposes some photos (this is relatively minor)
  • Shorter battery life relative to some rivals (10 hour average, based on CNET's official battery test results)
  • Since apps live on the home screens, you have to pinch the screen or long-press the Recents button to see the widget layer -- which makes that layer pointless (or at least diminished)
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The built-in fingerprint reader is fast and easy to use.

Josh Miller/CNET

Can I get more storage?

That's the plan. Nextbit told me that customers will have the option to get more storage if the company expands your allotment (or, as I suspect will eventually happen, when you pay for more).

Why is it called Robin, anyway?

Nextbit won't give me a straight explanation for why the Robin is called the Robin, but with the phone's emphasis on online storage, its tattoo of a cloud on its back, and robin's egg blue as one of its two colors, I think the ornithological analogy is a safe bet. (The other color is "midnight," by the way.)

Nextbit's boilerplate response? This: "Robin was designed to feel like it's truly yours, so you can use your own interpretation of the name--intentionally ambiguous. It's up to you to pick whatever gender or personality you want: man, woman, bird, or even superhero."

Specs and performance

Nexbit Robin 1,173 3,429 19,991OnePLus 2 1,142 4,261 22,645Google Nexus 6P 1,286 4,313 24,224
  • Geekbench 3 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 3 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Ulimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Nextbit RobinGoogle Nexus 6POnePlus 2LG G4
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 424ppi515ppi403ppi538ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.9 x 2.8 x 0.28 in6.3x3.1x0.28 in 6 x 3 x 0.39 in5.9 x 3 x 0.39 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 149 x 72 x 7 mm159x78x7.3 mm152 x 75 x 9.9 mm148.9 x 76.1 x 9.8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.3 oz; 150 g6.3 oz; 178 g6.17 oz; 175 g5.5 oz; 155 g
Mobile software Android 6.0Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 5.1 LollipopAndroid 5.1 Lollipop; Android 6.0 upgrade
Camera 13-megapixel12.3-megapixel13-megapixel16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 1080 HD4K1080 HD4K
Processor 1.4GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8082GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8101.8GHz octa-core Samsung Snapdragon 8101.8GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
Storage 32GB32GB, 64GB, 128GB16GB, 64GB32GB
RAM 3GB3GB4GB3GB
Expandable storage NoneNoneNone2TB (terabytes)
Battery 2,680mAh (nonremovable)3,450mAh (nonremovable)3300 mAh (nonremovable)3000 mAh(removable)
Fingerprint sensor Power/lock buttonBack coverHome buttonNone
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CMicro-USB
Special features 100GB online photo and app storage"Pure" AndroidDual-SIMDouble-tap to wake
Price off-contract (USD) $400$499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)$330$552-$630
Price (GBP) Converts to £280£449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB) Converts to £215£500
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$564AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)Converts to AU$450) AU$879
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7.0

Nextbit Robin

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Camera 7Battery 7
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