Nextbit Robin review: Up in the air

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Something is different about the Nextbit Robin. This isn’t your usual new company showing up with bold claims that the mobile industry will go through a shakeup following the launch of its phone. Nextbit is a small, smart group of experienced individuals who worked with giants like Google and HTC over the years. Now these people are together to pour their knowledge and ambition into a device unlike we’ve ever seen before.

Nextbit’s Robin is the first phone in the world to heavily leverage the cloud. Since the phone ships with a limited amount of internal storage without any on-device expansion possible, Nextbit is relying a newer method to store everything on your phone. We’ve never seen a phone like the Robin, but it’s selling point may not matter if the seamless cloud storage the company claims isn’t a reality.

Hit the break for our review of the Nextbit Robin.

Before you even get the phone in your hands, Nextbit treats you to a unique unboxing. The Robin doesn’t come in traditional packaging. It’s a tall, thin box that opens similar to a box.

Design

Nextbit went out and executed a truly special design for the Robin. The shape, build, and colors will have you and onlookers mesmerized every time you see it.

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While it’s not premium by any stretch of the imagination, that’s not the point here. It’s actually a polycarbonate phone, which is a step up from the plastic that we’d bash and dismiss in 2016 but still far from what we’re used to in flagships from Samsung, HTC, and LG. Nextbit’s Robin is an off-contract phone that needs to stay affordable, but the company didn’t abandon aluminum and glass for something cheap. Polycarbonate is a material used in many of the cases you already put on your devices, so you know it’s a durable option for the body of a phone. Don’t let the Robin’s cuteness fool you into thinking it’s going to be weak and cheap.

The Robin is a pretty tall phone for one with a 5.2-inch display, and the thick top and bottom bezels are the cause of the unusual measurements all around. It sizes up somewhere between Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, and the phone’s screen is noticeably compact due to the black border around the display. HTC’s One A9 has it, too, and I’m not a fan if you read my review of that phone. Nextbit should have really reduced the amount of space between the display and the phone’s edges because the bezel’s are fat on the left, right, top, and bottom.

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Despite these odd bezels and borders, the phone is comfortable to hold using one hand or two. Don’t let the sharp-looking edges and corner fool you! The Robin isn’t jabbing you in the hand because of the polycarbonate. Everything is smoothed.

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A simple rectangle is all that the body of the Robin portrays. From there, the company added clean lines and circles. It’s the coolest, calmest phone we’ve seen in a long time.

The wait for another phone that is literally shaped like rectangle is finally over. Are Sony’s Xperia phones too serious for you? Then go with the Robin because it’s like a Xperia but with a softer vibe. Plus, Sony is a little bit of a hot mess with its mobile business right now. You can buy a PlayStation 4 from them, but buying one of their phones is indefinitely dangerous. Nextbit, though, is going to be committed to its sensible Robin.

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Above and below the Robin’s display are front-facing speakers shown by small, precise dots. The phone’s front-facing camera and ambient light sensor are also on the front of the phone next to the top speaker. Each of these things stay true to the simplistic nature of Nextbit’s design language.

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The left and right sides of the phone are the only places you’ll find physical buttons. Two separate volume buttons are on the left and the power button doubling as a well-placed fingerprint scanner is on the right. That fingerprint scanner is a standout feature on the Robin. Since it’s positioned on the right side, a finger will almost always be naturally placed over it.

Like most phones and tablets, Nextbit’s Robin has two ports. On the top of the phone is an auxiliary port while the opposite side has the USB Type-C port. Nextbit felt the auxiliary port is still necessary despite other companies getting rid of it in favor of using the USB Type-C port alone. Some would rather have the auxiliary port on the bottom, but there are plenty of people who either like it on the top or don’t care where it is.

The strangest thing about the phone’s design? Its notification light is awkwardly positioned on the bottom of the phone next to the USB Type-C port and microphone. You’ll just never see it unless the phone is placed down at a distance where you have a clear vantage point of the Robin’s bottom.

Mint / Midnight

Forget about getting a plain black or white phone from Nextbit. The Robin comes in Mint and Midnight, which give very different impressions for this device. Mint has a white back with mint everywhere else while midnight is a black-like blue for the entire phone. You get a silent or bold theme from the hardware alone. Both, though, come with a very light clouds spread across the backs to represent Nextbit’s cloud-driven beliefs.

Believe me when I say each and every person you show the Robin will be surprised, stunned, and impressed by its appearance. There is nothing else on the planet like it. The Robin is a breath of fresh air because just about every hardware manufacturer is pumping out phones that come in the same colors and similar designs year after year.

Hardware

 Nextbit Robin
AnnouncedSeptember 1, 2015
ReleaseFebruary 2016
Display5.2-inch Full HD (1920x1080) IPS LCD with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 808
RAM3GB
Storage32GB with 100GB cloud storage
Rear Camera13MP with phase detection autofocus, dual-tone flash
Front Camera5MP
Battery2680mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0
SoundFront-facing stereo speakers with dual amplifiers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Nextbit OS
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, compass, gyro, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements149 x 72 x 7mm
Weight150g
ColorsMint, Midnight

Performance

Nextbit’s choices for the Robin’s display are smart on paper but iffy in real life. The panel itself measures a cozy 5.2 inches, and the common Full HD resolution isn’t meant to blow you away or come in underwhelming. Except it does come in underwhelming. Like Google’s Nexus 5X, the Robin has a cold display and being of the IPS LCD variety may be a contributing factor. You could argue that’s not actually a real problem, though, for the Robin because it doesn’t have the same expectations as a Nexus device made by LG and display technology is somewhat of a subjective area to judge. But that’s not even my biggest issue with the display on this phone.

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There are these stacked horizontal lines going from the top to bottom of the Robin’s display. And it’s not something you have to hold the phone up against your eyes to notice nor do you need a light background to pick up on them. With my review unit, those lines were visible from more than six inches away with any color. If you do a little search on the web, you’ll find that it’s not just this Robin with the problem. Multiple Robin owners are seeing the faint lines like me. Apparently this is common with IPS LCD technology, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it on any phone or tablet I’ve used in the last few years.

While I wouldn’t call the display “bad,” it’s definitely not satisfactory for me. Blacks aren’t very deep, whites don’t illuminate as bright as you’d hope, and bold colors lack vibrancy. Although I can definitely say this display is better than the Nexus 5X’s.

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The front-facing stereo speakers will make up where the display falls short if you’re wanting to watch a movie or listen to music on your phone. It’s not as strong as I’d like, but it beats out much of the competition. Thanks to the dual amplifiers, the Robin’s sound is rich with plenty of depth.

Shortcomings for the display on a phone can be overlooked by consumers, and because of that the processor’s performance is really what matters for many. So I’m thrilled to tell you the Robin flies right through everything you throw its way. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 processor is paired with 3GB of RAM, just like Lenovo’s Moto X Pure Edition, and gives it the right amount of strength to never slow down.

Battery

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This year we’re seeing companies move away from micro-USB and toward USB Type-C. Nextbit is among those proudly embracing a new technology. The Robin’s USB Type-C port is where you’re going to be charging the 2680mAh battery from, and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology is present to keep your phone from spending too much time connected to a wall outlet.

For all the praise Nextbit deserves for including the USB Type-C port and a USB to USB Type-C cable, we have to wonder why the charger itself is not included. Sure, you probably have a dozen of them lying around, but it’s pretty standard to get a phone with a everything necessary to charge it.

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Battery life on the Robin is a little bit of a disappointment, unfortunately. The phone’s battery simply lacks stamina. On a typical day, I send a bunch of messages and emails while getting lost on Twitter and BaconReader for way too long. Occasionally I’ll fire up energy-devouring Snapchat. Doing all of this on the Robin taps out after less than 12 hours, which is scary. But aiding the poor battery life is Quick Charge 2.0’s advantage where you can get a boost in very little time.

At the end of the year, Nextbit will have a software update out that overhauls battery optimization on the Robin. So be on the lookout for that if you have this phone.

Software

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Before we get into what’s unique about the Robin’s software, we’ll get this out of the way: Nextbit is barely touching stock Android. The phone is currently running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow behind the company’s own Nextbit OS that’s way lighter than Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense.

The Nextbit-made apps on the Robin are: Phone, Messaging, Camera, Calculator, Clock Contacts, Downloads, Gallery, and Settings. Everything else here is from Google. No pre-installed junk in sight.

Those apps, and the ones you download from Google Play, are spread throughout the home screens. Nextbit decided to not put an app drawer on Nextbit OS; therefore, you’ll need to download a launcher to hide your apps.

Nextbit’s software overlay is a silent beauty full of white, mint, and transparent layers. Everywhere you go, the color scheme is consistent and inspired by Google’s Material Design. Just before, I mentioned that Nextbit has its own apps. What’s funny about them is that they’re exact copies of Google’s but with the company’s own color scheme. You’re getting the same apps google would provide except the coat of paint matches your phones.

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When reviewing phones, the Performance section typically trumps all. For our review of this phone, the Software section is everything. Nextbit has invested its resources heavily to make the cloud the star of the Robin. The Robin, as I’ve said earlier, leverages the cloud to back up pictures and even apps on its own.

Here’s what Nextbit says about the Robin’s software:

“It’s Android with an advantage. Convenient and secure, you always have everything you need when you need it.”

Right when you connect the Robin to a WiFi network, the entire devices syncs with the cloud. And Nextbit tells you exactly when this process is happening through the four little lights at the back of the phone just below the company’s cloud logo.

So what you get with the Robin is 32GB of internal storage, but that’s expanded by an additional 100GB in the cloud. It’s basically a measure to always keep open space on your phone. Nextbit does this by analyzing your behavior on Nextbit OS, predicting what you are and aren’t using, and deciding what should live in the cloud until you’re ready to use it again. Think of it like a fancy archive. Right when you need it, Nextbit will immediately send all of the necessary data back to your Robin and the app will act just as it would if it never left.

For pictures, you’re probably thinking that Nextbit downgrades quality like Google Photos does to allow unlimited storage. That’s only true to a degree with the Robin. Nextbit downsamples to screen resolution, but the company creates a link to full-size version as well. You’re never actually going to lose the best version of a picture on the Robin even when it’s stored in the cloud.

Data is stored in Nextbit’s cloud with encryption, Google authentication, and secure transition on an in-house server.

Camera

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The Robin’s camera, on paper, seems competitive; however, it’s a little bit of a disappointment if you’re used the results produced by Samsung or LG’s phones. Nextbit has a 13MP camera with phase detection autofocus and dual-tone flash, but pictures never seems as crisp and vibrant as you’d hope.

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The Camera app sticks to the basics in terms of the user interface, but Nextbit has a few options ready for those that don’t just point and shoot away. Nextbit did put a manual mode on the Robin in addition to the usual automatic mode most people ride along with.

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See? Nothing really stands out from the Robin’s camera. It’s just.. average. And slow. Don’t expect to pull off quick shots with this phone.

For $299 though, there really isn’t any room to complain about the camera. It holds up well for the price, but you’d expect a little more consistency in results when buying a company’s flagship.

Closing

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The Nextbit Robin is still up in the air, and not because of its cloud-based structure. A unique design can only get you so far. Until the phone’s battery life is boosted and the camera is tweaked to be quicker and stronger, it’s difficult to recommend at $299. What’s good for Nextbit is that it now knows what can be done for its next phone to be a fantastic buy. Like the company’s intelligent team who come from all different backgrounds, the experience in developing and releasing the Robin can be used to create a new phone built through smart choices.

Buy it now: Nextbit, Amazon


About the Author: Justin Herrick

Born and raised in New Jersey, Justin is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University where he studied marketing with a focus on digital marketing. He's very talkative and enjoys discussing anything from technology and sports to video games and television. As for Justin's current device rotation, he carries around the Google Pixel and Nexus 9. In the rare case that his phone or tablet is not in his hand, he is either flicking through cards on his Moto 360 (2015) or typing away on the Microsoft Surface Book. Justin is patiently waiting for the day that Google replicates the Galaxy Nexus with modern day specifications.