Review: Nextbit Robin
Smart Storage is a great utility, but is it the only reason to get the Robin?
There are thousands of smartphone models out there, and for the most part they all look much the same, and operate in much the same way. The number of OEM’s in market today is huge, and the number of various devices these companies sell is even bigger. In this, saturated market, there’s hardly difference between the offered features, the only major distinguishable factor is price.
The Nextbit Robin is different – it looks different, and with cloud storage baked into its very OS it works differently too. Even the way in which the phone came into being is different, with the fledgling company taking to Kickstarter to fund it. And seemingly there’s a market for ‘different’, as Nextbit raised $1.36 million, despite only asking for $500,000.
So what is this unique selling point of the Robin?
Nextbit claims that you’ll never run out of space on your phone, and to keep that promise they have a pretty unique online storage method. Apps you rarely use are offloaded to the cloud, and when you do want to use them, a tap restores everything just as if it were never gone.
The company is charging just $399 (₹19,999 in India) for that, while for its many Kickstarter backers the price is even lower. This puts the device in the mid-range segment, competing against OnePlus 2, Moto X Play and Style and Samsung’s A Series.
Usually, we start the review with the Design, but today, we shall start off with
Nextbit’s Smart Cloud Storage:
The Robin has a very unique feature that helps make sure you never run out of room. It’s called Smart Storage, and it’s basically 100GB of secure cloud storage where your phone can offload apps that you don’t use very often. When you do need to use one of the offloaded apps, you tap the icon and it reinstalls. Everything is right where you left off the last time you used it.
Instead of supplementing the Robin’s 32GB of onboard storage with a microSD card slot, Nextbit has provided a Cloud Storage Solution. I have used the device for two weeks now, and this solution hasn’t disappointed me yet. Everything happens in the background, and with added settings, the sync takes place only when I’m connected to a WiFi network and charging simultaneously. Nextbit has said that they are working on an offloading system, in which you can migrate the data from their Cloud to some other third party cloud.
Overall, I would rate the system 7/10. The loss of three stars because you cannot view your cloud files like you can in a File Manager. It is strictly functional with the Gallery App only, while the Apps get synced in the background. It would have been better if some more manual controls were provided. Also, none of your files like pdf’s and doc’s will be synced. Right now, the backup system is strictly for Apps and Media. So, you cannot rely on this as your sole Cloud Backup.
Also Read: Explained: What is Nextbit’s Smart Storage?
Nextbit has built a plastic phone that’s nice to hold. In a time when premium seems to be all about metal and glass or rubber and leather, the Robin looks good, feels good and is built extremely well using plastic. There are a lot of good looking devices out there right now, Galaxy S7, M10, iPhone 6 and OnePlus 3. All of them are made with premium materials and are curved for maximum comfort. The Robin is a complete opposite of all of them. It is a rectangular block, made of good quality plastic. There are no curves or subtle bends, everything is symmetric. The Robin clearly stands out from the crowd and has it’s own aura of a different ergonomic design.
The front mounted sensor is in a hole the same exact size as the camera, and lined up perfectly. The same goes for the rear camera and LED flash. The volume buttons align with the top and bottom of the power button even though they aren’t on the same side of the phone. Everyone I met, had only one question, “Which phone is that?”, Everyone loved the design. It screams premium for a very affordable price tag.
The Robin takes limited hardware and squeezes top notch performance out of it. When it comes to web browsing, installing apps or playing games, the Robin simply outclasses other phones using the same internals.
It has a 5.2-inch 1080p display that’s plenty sharp, but a bit washed out compared to a Samsung Galaxy handset or an iPhone. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor and 3GB of RAM, which is enough for decent, if not face-melting performance. Its 2,680mAh battery is good enough to get me through a full day of use without worry, and the dual front-facing speakers make for a nice sound experience when watching video or playing games. The Robin’s camera is a 13-megapixel sensor with dual-LED flash, and there’s a 5-megapixel selfie camera up front. It also has a fingerprint sensor embedded in the side-mounted power button and a USB Type-C charging port on the bottom.
The front facing speakers are both beautifully designed and highly functional. There is a nice mix between sheer volume and clarity, and while other phones can be louder, the Robin sounds good even at full volume.
The way Robin is able to outclass other devices using the same hardware was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Robin to anyone interested based on the way it acts as a “normal” Android phone.
The Robin’s camera can best be described as sufficient. It’s not the best by a long shot, but it will serve most people. The two issues I have with the camera are low-light performance and shutter speed. There’s lag of 2 to 3 seconds between photos most of the time, including very severe shutter lag and processing lag.
The 13MP rear camera uses phase detection autofocus. That means you have multiple places that detect what the camera is pointing at from slightly different angles, and when every detected image is exactly the same, you’re in focus. It also means that using tap to focus is very important. There is no optical image stabilization on the Robin’s camera; the PDAF system they use works well enough, but there will be times when having OIS would make for a better picture.
The camera app is really smooth. The controls stay out of your way when you’re using them, and nothing is buried under layers of menus. It’s a casual experience, that let’s you take pictures quicky without a lot of hassle here and there. It’s minimal, many would want to use an app like ProShot for more options, but everything most users will want in a smartphone camera is present and works. There’s a full manual mode that offers control over focus, white balance, ISO and exposure compensation, but there is no control over the shutter time or any RAW capabilities.
There are also no specific shooting modes to choose from, other than auto, manual or HDR. You can also turn on grid lines to aid composition, and a timer, and set the photo and video quality – photos max out at 13MP on the back camera and 5MP on the front camera, while videos can be shot at up to 4K with the rear snapper and 1080p with the front-facing one.
The important thing, though, is the quality of the photos, and the Robin does an acceptable job here. In ideal conditions photos are captured nicely, with fairly accurate colours and a reasonable amount of detail in both the foreground and background.
The Nextbit Robin runs Android 6.0 and looks similar to the system’s default style. However, Nextbit has complicated the it a little.
There are going to be a lot of people who hate the software on the Nextbit Robin. The typical homescreen and app drawer setup we see on just about every other Android phone is nowhere to be seen. Widgets are not supported on the main layout and you need to pinch in, which brings a layer on top, wherein widgets can be added.
Nextbit has at least made it easy to find things by adding a floating bubble to the bottom-right corner of each screen, which when tapped can give you an A-Z listing of all your apps. I find the bubble to be annoying as it just sticks to the screen and takes up space on every panel. You can also get a quick overview of any pinned or archived apps from here, so your favourites or those which have been sent to the cloud are never far from sight. The app icons too seem overly large for a full HD display.
It’s a polished look, but general performance still needs improving. Right now there are quite a lot of bugs in the Robin’s software, which cause hiccups that make it appear inconsistent.
The phone has a 2680mAh battery which is fairly small among 1080p resolution phones that don’t have a particularly efficient system architecture like last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6. It’ll last for around eight and a half hours of locally stored video, which is fairly poor for a phone of this grade.
It got me through 9-11 hours of usage on one charge with WiFi switched on all the time. It’s fairly decent. Though sometimes the device did get a little warm while charging or doing easy tasks like browsing Quora. I would’nt term is overheating, but the warmth is annoying.
The Nextbit Robin supports Qualcomm Fast Charge 2.0, which will get you from empty to 80 per cent in well under an hour. Keep in mind, the Robin does not come along with a power Adapter, only a USB-C Cord and the device are included. So, you’ll have to purchase an adapter separately.
There are few things not to like about the Robin. Some will take issue with not being able to change the battery, or use an SD card or just want more than 32GB of storage even with Nextbit’s Smart Storage cloud system.
At $299, I would spend my own money on the Robin (I actually did). The device is well built, the design stands out, has adequate hardware, software is different yet simple and the camera is mediocre. Considering the price though, I would highly recommend this device to everyone. Even the absence of a Micro SD card slot is ignorable due to the 32GB ROM, and at some point of time, everyone is bound to use their cloud storage system.