Review: Nextbit Robin
Nextbit hopes the Robin will convince people to jump into the cloud feet first. This Android smartphone prioritizes which apps and files get to stay on the phone, and which are relegated to Nextbit's servers. It's a unique approach looking to solve the problem of too much content, and not enough space. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.
is It Your Type?
This is a tough question to answer right off the bat, but I will say this: The Nexbit Robin is a curiosity. It was developed by a company that started out working on cloud software and believes people need a smarter solution for storing files. It's a KickStarter hardware project, which means the company used customers' money to fund making the phone. Right now, I'd say the Robin is for people who hoard digital files, love large apps, and have an eye for high design. Here's why.
I like the idea of the Robin more than I like the Robin itself. From a distance, the pale green and off-white coloring look good. So, too, do the squared-off corners and balanced design. Up close, it's easier to see that the phone was manufactured on a shoestring budget. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
The Robin is made from polycarbonates. I genuinely like the look and feel of the central piece of polycarbonate, which forms the side edges and most of the rear panel. The green end caps are well matched with like-colored buttons on the side. (There is a black version available, too.) The symmetry of the phone pleases my eyes immensely. There's no doubt of that. Both my daughters think the Robin is very pretty.
With a 5.2-inch screen, the length and width are pushing into phablet territory. Like the One M8, the Robin is a bit oblong in its dimensions (5.87 by 2.82 inches). The green end caps hold circular speakers and probably each add three-quarters of an inch to the overall length of the phone. It's a tall drink of water, as the saying goes. The good news is that the phone is narrow, and slender at 7mm thick. I'm going to say the Robin may be too big for some people, but it should be usable for many.
You're either going to love the phone's shape — and thus in-hand experience — or hate it. The Robin is a solid handset. It feels as though every square millimeter of the internal space is crammed with electronic goodness. That much I like, but the phone is truly rectangular, complete with sharp corners. The right angles that form every joint can be uncomfortable. The Robin is thin enough that you can drop it into most pockets, but those corners get old after a while. The Robin jammed the inside of my leg badly several times getting into a car while it was in my jeans. A smoother phone would have moved, or at least hurt less.
The materials used to make the phone are good, but the assembly process is not so great. I've played with the Robin several different times over the last few months. The first was a handmade prototype. The review unit we have on hand now is from among the first assembly runs. Even on this unit, I noticed a rough seam where the end caps meet the core of the phone. The joints are easily found without looking because they are uneven. I really wish these joints were tighter. For me, it interrupts what should be a seamless experience. Beyond this, my particular review unit is slightly (and I mean slightly) bent. When set on a flat surface, there's a small pocket under the middle of the phone, enough that I can slide a business card under it. Nexbit says this is not normal and probably a fluke with my review unit.
Robin's face is friendly enough. The green end caps and white side edges help frame the screen. The stereo speakers are round and indented a bit with a number of teeny-tiny holes. Above the screen, the user-facing camera and sensor are quite obvious thanks to the black circles in which they sit. There are no front buttons — capacitive or physical — as the Robin relies entirely on screen-based controls to navigate through the UI.
Nexbit chose to use two small nubs for the volume controls, which are placed on the left edge. I like the shape and feel of the buttons; they're easy to find and use. I wish they didn't feel so cheap to press. The green coloring helps them stand out visually from the white frame. I truly dislike the screen lock / power button, which is located on the right edge of the phone. The button is flush with the surface, making it hard to locate in a hurry. The button must be depressed into the chassis fairly deep, meaning the action is a tad too much. The screen lock button doubles as a fingerprint sensor. I like that a lot, but you have to press the button to wake the screen before it will scan your thumb. It could be better.
The SIM card tray is located just under the screen lock button and has a similar profile and feel under the thumb. I won't lie: I definitely mistook the SIM tray for the screen lock button a few times. That's a design misstep.
The rear surface is sealed up, so there's no swapping batteries. The camera is a small black circle in the top corner. It's joined by an identically-sized two-tone flash. You'll see a picture of a cloud just below the camera module, with four little lights below the cloud. These lights let you know when the Robin is sending data up to the cloud. That's the only time they come on.
Nextbit chose a USB Type-C connector for the Robin. It's tucked into the bottom edge. As I've said before, USB-C is great thanks to its convenient, reversible design, but accessories and compatibility with other gear is limited for now. Nextbit wisely stuck a little notification light on the bottom edge of the phone, too. I love this. Whether the phone is laying on a table face down or face up, you can see the light blinking when there are notifications to be checked. The headphone jack is on top.
The Robin is an attractive handset that aims high, but doesn't quite reach the level of quality I'd like to see for a $400 phone. Nextbit made some pretty design choices, and it's possible quality will improve in later manufacturing runs.
The Robin's screen measures 5.2 inches across the diagonal and has full HD resolution (1920 by 1080 pixels). The screen looks really nice. Everything on the display is sharp and smooth. The LCD panel puts out an excellent amount of light. It works perfectly indoors, but suffered just a bit when under sunny skies. Even then, however, I was able to use the camera to take pictures and so on. Viewing angles are quite good. It's a quality display.
Nextbit is selling two major variants of the Robin: GSM and CDMA. We're testing the GSM version, which is compatible with the LTE networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile. I used the phone for a week on AT&T's network in and around New York City and found the device did a great job. I didn't run into any trouble making calls, sending email, or watching YouTube videos. The phone handles calls made in moving cars and never dropped calls when hurtling down the highway. Data speeds were about average and I never found myself impatient with the Robin.
The CDMA version of the Robin, which will work with Sprint and Verizon, isn't due until April.
I'd rate the Robin's voice performance as average. The earpiece speaker produces good volume when set all the way up and clarity is decent. I found I was able to keep the volume around 75% for a good balance, but any moderately noisy space will require you to max out the volume. Doing so introduces just a bit of distortion in the earpiece. People I spoke to through the Robin said I sounded just okay.
The speakerphone is another story. It's not loud enough, not by far, and the quality is pretty poor. I took a conference call via the Robin's speakerphone and struggled to hear it when in my quiet home office. Ringers and alerts are plenty loud, though. The vibrate alert borders on too subtle. I felt the Robin vibrate when it was in my pocket when sitting still, but missed it a few times when moving around (like walking around the mall).
The Robin has a 2680 mAh battery and I found it delivers a full day of productivity. I wasn't able to run the Robin's battery down to 0 during my review. I typically unplugged it around 7am, used it all day, and found it still had 15% to 20% left at midnight. I left the screen brightness at about 50% most of the time and was sure to enable all the wireless radios. The Robin's battery did well.
Nextbit is relying solely on the built-in Android battery saver tool to manage battery life. It can be turned on manually, or set to kick in when the battery reaches either 15% or 5%. It helps a little by reducing screen brightness, dropping notifications, and cooling down the processor a bit.
I'm grateful the Robin supports QuickCharge 2.0, but I have to take issue with the Robin's charger. Nextbit sent us what is the standard retail packaging for the Robin. That means we received what regular people will receive. The phone doesn't include a charger at all. (A placard in the box says "charger sold separately".) The packaging includes a USB-C to standard (full-size) USB cable and that's it. You're on your own to find an actual charger. It's true that most people probably have a spare charger or two (or 10) they can use with the Robin, but you can't take advantage of QuickCharge 2.0 unless you have a compatible charger. It's a cost-savings measure for Nexbit, but feels a bit too cheap to me.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
Robin's radios all worked perfectly. I was able to use the on-board NFC radio to help pair the Robin with headphones, speakers, and other phones. The Robin's NFC radio doesn't yet support Android Pay, but Nextbit says it will soon. Calls sent to my car's hands-free system were pretty rough in terms of quality, but calls through a dedicated headset were good. Music sounded average when pushed to my favorite Bluetooth speaker.
The GPS radio worked in concert with Google Maps to locate me in a jiffy. It generally centered in on my location in about 5 seconds, and was accurate to within 20 or 25 feet. The Robin was great for navigating to a far-away restaurant and helped me avoid an accident that would have otherwise made me late for a dinner engagement.
I had no trouble using Wi-Fi on the Robin.
Nextbit announced the Robin last year, but the company is using CES 2016 to re-introduce the phone just ahead of its launch. This phone focuses on optimizing on-board storage using the cloud.
Jan 9, 2018
Nextbit this week warned owners of its Robin smartphone that it plans to shut down its Cloud Storage service on March 1. The company revealed the news in an email to customers.
Aug 1, 2017
Nextbit today announced via its official Twitter account that it is no longer offering customer support for its sole smartphone, the Robin. "Rebels, effective August 1st 2017, we will be shutting down support for Robin," said the company in its forums.
Jul 27, 2016
Nextbit today shared two bits of news concerning its Robin smartphone. First, the company is now selling an ember color variant.
May 3, 2016
Amazon is kicking off sales of the Nexbit Robin with a limited price. Anyone who buys the phone from Amazon between May 4 and May 10 will pay $299, rather than $399.
Is the phone gonna have a case and screen protector?