Yesterday at CES 2016, we finally got the chance to spend some quality time with Robin, Nextbit‘s “cloud-first” smartphone, and came away quite impressed. As a refresher, Nextbit launched Robin last September on Kickstarter and raised over $1.3 million. The company, which is based in San Francisco, is made up of seasoned handset makers like ex-HTC designer Scott Croyle. Needless to say, it’s refreshing to see a phone getting successfully crowdfunded, especially one coming from a US-based startup.
So, what makes Robin special, and why should you care? It stands out in two major ways: one is good design, and the other is smart storage. Nextbit wanted to build a device that looks and feels great, but stands out in a sea of generic smartphones, and we think it’s succeeded. This is a bold design, with strong rectangular lines and interesting color combinations (called mint and midnight). It fits nicely in hand and features solid specs while still remaining affordable. Watch our video after the break.
In front, you’ll find a quality 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display alongside stereo speakers and a five megapixel shooter. There’s a 13MP camera with phase detection autofocus around the back, plus four LEDs that light up when the handset syncs to the cloud. A power/lock key with an integrated fingerprint reader is located on the right side, and a USB Type-C charge/data port lives on the bottom edge. Inside, Robin packs a Snapdragon 808 SoC with 3GB of RAM, NFC, and a 2680mAh battery that supports Quick Charge 2.0.
But it’s Nextbit’s tweaked version of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) that really pushes the envelope. Robin features 32GB of built-in storage (no microSD here), but that’s just a subset of 100GB that Nextbit provides online. The hardware and software work together to automatically backup your pictures, apps, and settings to the cloud when the device is connected to WiFi and charging. If you start running out of space on-board, Robin archives what you use the least and lets you restore it anytime with a simple tap.
Basically, it’s a really smart approach to managing storage. In most cases, this means you’ll never have to worry about running out of space ever again. You can even “pin” apps that you don’t want removed from your phone. Nextbit’s made a few other changes to Android’s UI with a custom launcher that basically puts the app tray front and center. We didn’t have much trouble adapting to this new paradigm, and we didn’t experience any major bugs in our time using Robin.
One pleasant discovery we made is that the camera app features a manual mode. So we took a few pictures with the rear shooter in dim conditions and found the results to be pretty decent. Of course, keep in mind that Nextbit is still putting the final touches on the software before it starts shipping the hardware to its backers on Feb 16. Shortly after this date, you’ll be able to buy Robin on the company’s website for $399 (unlocked).
In the end, there’s a lot to like about Robin, and it appears Nextbit’s done a fantastic job at realizing its vision of a smartphone that embraces the cloud. Stay tuned for our full review and in the meantime, take a look at our hands-on photos below.