Nextbit's cloud-savvy Robin phone is set to fly. Good luck catching one

The Kickstarter darling, which boasts a phone with massive cloud storage, is launching its online store with just 3,000 to 6,000 phones.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

Nextbit's Robin is ready to leave the nest. There aren't many in the flock.

The San Francisco startup, which captivated Kickstarter last year by promising a phone that taps the cloud for massive amounts of storage, will open its online store in the coming days.

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The Robin phone promises 100GB of cloud storage.


Chief Design Officer Scott Croyle warns that the early supply will be limited.

"There will be maybe 3,000 to 6,000 phones available," he said in an interview Wednesday. In comparison, Apple sold 13 million iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Pluses in their first three days.

The launch of the online store and the Robin marks the culmination of an unorthodox journey for a phone maker. Rather than go through a carrier, which is how most people shop for handsets, or even set up an online store, Nextbit tested the waters by asking for commitments through Kickstarter and nearly tripled its goal of raising $500,000.

Nextbit isn't the typical unknown startup. Co-founders Tom Moss and Mike Chan were part of Google's original Android team. Croyle was behind the critically acclaimed HTC One phone.

Nextbit plans to ship the first batch of Robin phones to early Kickstarter backers on Tuesday. The online site that will sell the phone to the public is scheduled to open two days later, at 7 a.m. PT Thursday. In addition to the phone, the site will offer three kinds of cases, as well as screen protectors and custom power cables. (The Robin uses a new USB Type-C port, rather than the more common Micro-USB cable.)

Nextbit's new Robin smartphone flies to the cloud (pictures)

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The company blames the limited initial supply on the Chinese New Year holiday, celebrated in the second week of February. If the phone sells out, the company said it will provide updates on when the next batch will arrive.

Robin is among a new crop of affordable phones packing competitive components. At $399, it offers an alternative to the far more expensive iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S6, which start at $650. Robin's standout feature is the ability to access the cloud for 100 gigabytes of storage beyond the internal 32GB provided.

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On its opening day, Nextbit's store will stock just a few thousand of the Robin phones.


Nextbit, meanwhile, is one of a growing number of companies looking to build a relationship with you by selling its phones without a carrier middleman. Companies, including Chinese handset makers ZTE, have set up websites to sell their phones directly to consumers, and even Motorola, a unit of Lenovo, has opted to sell its flagship phone online.

"Going direct-to-consumer allows us to have that authentic conversation," Croyle said.

The business model also allows Nextbit to shave costs associated with working with a carrier, such as Verizon or AT&T, including promotional expenses and the resources needed to get through their testing processes. Those savings are partly why the Robin phone is priced below other flagship phones.

Nextbit has no plans to sell Robin through the carriers, Croyle said. The company is in talks to get its phone listed on e-commerce sites. The startup is also looking into placing kiosks within retail stores and plans to spread the word at the South by Southwest show next month in Austin, Texas, to drum up awareness.

Given its low cost structure, Nextbit only needs to sell "hundreds of thousands" of phones to break even, Croyle said. The company hasn't released how many phones it has sold through Kickstarter.

"We should be profitable by the end of the year," Croyle said.

Correction, 8:40 a.m. PT: The store's launch date has been fixed.