The Nextbit Robin has had my attention since I started here at TechnoBuffalo. I’ve been more than enamored with the notion of not just a novel storage method, but the possibility of a kickstarted device that doesn’t fall flat on its face, paving the way for the era of the democratized smartphone.

Good news, NextBit did it.

The Robin is not without it’s fair share of issues, but between the price and the execution of what made it to launch, it is a phone to contend with in the price range. That is saying a lot with so many great phones falling in this price category. Good, quality competition at an affordable price point is absolutely great for consumers and you should definitely give the NextBit Robin a thorough look.

Robin OS

Let’s start with the differentiating factors. What makes the Nextbit Robin stand out? Why this one over the rest? Well, aside from the aforementioned success with crowdfunding, with 100GB of storage in the Nextbit cloud, your Robin should never run out of space. How? The Robin’s intelligent OS will watch your behavior, and intelligently mark the photos and apps you use the least. When your phone runs out of space, these will be the first to go. If you want to make sure an app doesn’t get archived, you can pin it to your device by swiping down on it from the home screen.

If you ever need an app that has been archived again, just tap on it and it appears magically right back where it was. In fact, it never really leaves. The icon turns to greyscale when an app has been archived, which allows for a cool resaturation transition as the app restores from the cloud. Don’t worry, though, all your information is exactly where it was. The Robin only removes the apk file from the device, so all the rest of your information stays intact, and you stay logged in to your services even when the app is archived.

There’s been plenty of chatter about whether or not this is ultimately a useful feature or not. Many folks are citing data consumption, accessibility while offline, and device performance as major potential issues. In practice, though, it works. It isn’t something you’re going to use every day, but it works. As always, a feature like this also depends on a user’s needs. What drives me crazy is the implementation of the necessary Chrome UI. The only way you can interact with the Robin’s flagship feature is through a baffling floating action button on the home screen. I don’t know why this was necessary over other options, but we’ll get to that in more detail in the software section.

If we’re being honest, I’m not sure this is the right solution to the problem. It’s clever, and it’s demonstrative of Nextbit’s engineering prowess, but I don’t know that this isn’t a stopgap solution. Then again, I’m also still confused why anyone needs more than 32GB on a mobile device. I like what Nextbit is going for, though. As a gamer, I find myself with lots of large games on my phone that I keep just in case I want to play them. I can see value in a dynamic storage method, I’m just not convinced this is the right way to go about it. Are we supposed to load up our Robins with everything we could need and walk around with it full? I’m still having a hard time filling 32GB with movies and music, but I suppose I forgot what it was like to always have entertainment on me regardless of connectivity access. Either way, Nextbit needed something to differentiate itself, and differentiate itself it did.

Software

Nextbit Robin-28

I’m really impressed with the fact that Nextbit was able to get Marshmallow on the Robin for launch. It’s great to use a brand new device that isn’t obsolete out of the box. There are some really confusing things about this software, though. Why did they get rid of the app drawer? And why is the floating action button on the home screen just sitting there taking up extra space? As a former product manager and UI/UX professional, it’s incredibly frustrating to see (multiple) better solutions for a feature that could have been taken advantage of. Then again, there may be a very good reason that we’re not aware of. At least all the proprietary features are mostly relegated to the custom Home Screen, so if you dislike Nextbit’s offering, Nova awaits you without getting in the way of any functionality.

Ultimately, the Robin is, in every way, different from anything else you can find on the market today. The Robin comes ready to OEM unlock, too, so you can install any ROM you like.

Build

The combination of a striking color scheme with a boxy frame featuring circular elements is positively fantastic. It works. It works so well. The Robin is exactly what I’m looking for in terms of what I think a modern device should look and feel.

I haven’t fallen so hard for a device in what feels like years. The Nexus 5X did a good impression of the Nexus 5, but where it fell short of making me feel the way the Nexus 5 did, the Robin excels. I keep reaching out to pick it up just to hold it again. The polycarbonate case is coated in a soft touch finish that doesn’t take on fingerprints and is a delight to hold.

There isn’t a sharp corner on this thing. It’s just a pleasure to hold in the hand. I really cannot say enough about how great a build this is. Each tiny external element looks as though it was intended to be viewed and meticulously placed. The buttons are clicky and responsive, the fingerprint reader placement is perfect (on the side) and it works very well. The fingerprint reader isn’t as fast as Huawei’s devices, but it’s certainly above average, and in my xperience, better than the Xperia Z5. (see what I did there?)

There are a few indicator lights on the back to let you know when something is archiving or restoring from the cloud. Moving down the device, right next to the USB-C port and mic on the bottom, there’s a white LED that serves as a charging and notification light. The attention to detail here is astounding. Tiny modicums of minutia like the grey elements of the case actually being ever so slightly raised from the white material give the distinct feeling that this device was made just for me.

I’m not sure why the LED on the bottom couldn’t be RGB, though. I love using LightFlow to customize my LEDs, but I can’t here. What I would have loved to see is a native app to take advantage of the lights on the back to serve a similar purpose. Blinking in a certain pattern would indicate that a particular person is calling or texting you. Seems like a missed opportunity to me, but maybe it’s already on the way. This is where I can see the Robin taking chances. It has the nuts and bolts down, but the bells and whistles are what need some refinement. If Nextbit can build on

If Nextbit can build on the Robin’s success, and start changing the little details about how we interact with our phones, it has a chance at pioneering features that could be found on every device not too far from now.

Performance

It is a looker, but how does the Nexbit Robin perform?

The Snapdragon 808 performs much better than I expected it to. It’s on a par with this year’s Moto X, and it even performs better than the Nexus 5X. It is worth mentioning that all three of those devices run a pretty clean version of Android. I did get occasional stutters when something intensive was going down, but nothing I’d consider a damper on the experience. It never locked up on me or rebooted on its own, and it has been handling all my gaming habits with ease. In fact, I was even able to stream the screen to Twitch, broadcasting titles like Magic: Puzzle Quest. For all its faults, the Robin was able to handle what I threw at it. Performance was excellent on the Nextbit Robin.

Battery

The 2680 mAh battery held up quite well. The battery life is just a tiny smidgen above average. I wasn’t getting absurd screen time, but you can absolutely make it through a day with juice in the tank and, with careful use, you can stretch to a day and a half, but that’s about it. Long story short, you’re going to be charging the Robin nightly, but the battery life is more than competent.

Display

The screen was just OK. It’s a bit washed out for my liking, and the colors don’t seem true to life. Pixel density is high enough, though, and the size of the screen hits a goldilocks zone for me. Not too small, not too big. Yes, you know I’m going to say it: I really miss AMOLED when I don’t have it, but that’s not a fault of the IPS LCD display in the Robin. Overall, though, the screen doesn’t stand out as great or poor. It’s serviceable, and it certainly gets the job done.

Camera

Now onto some of the less ideal entries. The camera on the Robin is just OK. You’re going to miss some shots. I will say, though, Nextbit has already pointed out it has speed improvements and bug fixes on the way for the camera. In its current state, I’m getting blurry shots because of a slow shutter, and really poor front facing camera performance. For those of us who remember not having a front facing camera, it may seem like a trivial feature to knock, but as more and more social services utilize it, its performance really starts to matter. Suffice to say that most of my Snapchats from the Robin will be from the rear facing camera and in decent to good light.

The rear camera just doesn’t keep up with the rest of the devices I’ve been using lately. Photos are usually blurry, and colors are oddly poppy. Photos also have this weird dreamy look to them, and I don’t care for it. It does have HDR support, but the software is too buggy and slow right now to justify giving it positive vibes. If part of the schtick with the Robin is its ability to back up your photos, it has to take great photos. Depending on some users, photo storage may add up to the biggest use of storage on their mobile devices.

Nothing Nextbit adds on gets in the way of Android. You can absolutely still use Dropbox or Google Photos to back up your images without a problem. I’m holding out hope that Nextbit gets the camera up to snuff because I want to love this device, but without an above-average camera, I can only like it.

Final Thoughts

Rating: Buy

The Robin has landed, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s see how how high this bird can soar.

The Robin’s grassroots heritage makes it a historical debut. This is the start of a new era for the industry. Nextbit has proven that a rag tag group of brilliant minds can get together and decide to take a device to market. The space Nextbit is entering is a bit crowded; there is no shortage of great devices in the same price range with great pedigree. Thankfully, the Robin has no trouble standing out in the sea of options.

If the Robin is Nextbit’s first outing, then count me in for the inevitable ‘Batman’ big brother. If this is what Nextbit can do with a $400 device, I am thrilled to see what they can do with a bigger budget. The Robin has landed, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s see how high this bird can soar.

Disclaimer: I used the Nextbit Robin for one week prior to writing this review. Nextbit sent us this unit to review. 

Pros:

  • Great design
  • Marshmallow at launch
  • Clean (nearly stock) Android
  • Decent performance
  • USB type-C

Cons:

  • Poor outdoor screen visibility
  • Front-facing camera
  • Buggy camera software
  • Software quirks