Nextbit Robin review: Not quite ready to leave the nest

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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.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 7

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.

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.

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.

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