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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In practice, archiving worked as promised, but there were still bumps along the way, like:
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.
There are plenty of things I do like about this phone:
Still, the fledgling device has a few more flaws to fix.
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).
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."
|Nextbit Robin||Google Nexus 6P||OnePlus 2||LG G4|
|Display size, resolution||5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels||5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels||5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels||5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels|
|Dimensions (Inches)||5.9 x 2.8 x 0.28 in||6.3x3.1x0.28 in||6 x 3 x 0.39 in||5.9 x 3 x 0.39 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||149 x 72 x 7 mm||159x78x7.3 mm||152 x 75 x 9.9 mm||148.9 x 76.1 x 9.8 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||5.3 oz; 150 g||6.3 oz; 178 g||6.17 oz; 175 g||5.5 oz; 155 g|
|Mobile software||Android 6.0||Android 6.0 Marshmallow||Android 5.1 Lollipop||Android 5.1 Lollipop; Android 6.0 upgrade|
|Video capture||1080 HD||4K||1080 HD||4K|
|Processor||1.4GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808||2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810||1.8GHz octa-core Samsung Snapdragon 810||1.8GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808|
|Storage||32GB||32GB, 64GB, 128GB||16GB, 64GB||32GB|
|Expandable storage||None||None||None||2TB (terabytes)|
|Battery||2,680mAh (nonremovable)||3,450mAh (nonremovable)||3300 mAh (nonremovable)||3000 mAh(removable)|
|Fingerprint sensor||Power/lock button||Back cover||Home button||None|
|Special features||100GB online photo and app storage||"Pure" Android||Dual-SIM||Double-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$564||AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)||Converts to AU$450)||AU$879|