Nextbit Robin full review

If you scratch beneath the mainstream smartphone surface of Apple and Samsung, there is a vast ocean of Android phones down there, each trying to swim to the top. It can be hard to stand out, but the Nextbit Robin doesn’t struggle at this first hurdle. Its striking two-tone looks certainly aren’t Apple-esque, and if anything in the UK it looks a little too close to an EE branded phone (it definitely isn’t).

Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals

Nextbit was founded in 2013 by former employees of Google, and the Robin’s lead designer is the man who dreamt up the HTC One M7 and M8, two exceptionally attractive Android handsets of years gone by. 

The company has gone out on a limb and created a bold looking phone with the selling point that you’ll never run out of on-board storage – something that happens regularly with fleets 16GB or under smartphones and the downloading of large-file apps. We looked at whether this is a truly helpful feature, or a gimmick that confuses the fact that this is a capable smartphone.

Nextbit Robin review: UK price and availability - where to buy the Nextbit Robin

The Nextbit Robin is actually a tad hard to get hold of in the UK. It was funded through a Kickstarter programme, and is only available online through its official website. It costs $399, which is roughly £281 at the time of writing. This is actually a tad higher than it perhaps should be, considering its main market rivals are phones such as OnePlus’ excellent OnePlus X, which is £199 – even OnePlus’ flagship, the OnePlus 2 is £249.

Nextbit Robin review: Design, build and screen

Before we go into the unique functionality of the phone, it’s best to step back and see if it does the basics well. The bottom line is that it does, with some reservations. The design is, rather than a love or hate situation, a like or hate one. We think the design is fine; it stands out, and no one is going to think it’s an iPhone. Yet after a week or so with it, we realised the body probably doesn’t need to be so boxy and long, and takes away from the pleasure of using what is a decent screen when it’s a little to large for one hand. Our review model came in the ‘Mint’ colour, but it’s also available in ‘Midnight’, which is a deep grey-blue. 

The screen is a 5.2” 1080p IPS LCD covered with Gorilla Glass 4, and colours pop surprisingly well. It isn’t in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S7 but it’s entirely acceptable for a phone of this price, if quite reflective. The build quality is also good, and despite the absence of any metals feels a good, sturdy weight in the hand.

The volume buttons could positioned slightly higher but click nicely when pressed, and thankfully the clever power/lock button is also a fingerprint scanner, similar to the one first seen in Sony’s Xperia Z5. It is an excellent addition but, like with Apple’s improved Touch ID, actually unlocks the phone when you press it to look at the time – the technology being so good it actually ends up annoying you if you didn’t intend to unlock.

Where you’d expect a traditional home button to be is one of two front facing speakers. Nextbit even makes a joke out of this with the packaging the phone comes in. Despite that, we didn’t actually press it very often accidentally as it is quite low down.

Nextbit Robin review: Hardware and performance - how fast is the Nextbit Robin?

One of the biggest breaks from the norm the Robin makes is the addition of a USB-C port. Word on the street is we’ll all be powering our devices by this universal connection soon, and even Apple is embracing it on its latest MacBook. It’s a step up from the micro-USB ports usually found on Android phones as is reversible, like on a lightning connector on an iPhone, so no more jamming the cable in the wrong way.

The phone supports fast charging, but annoyingly comes with no fast charger – in fact, it doesn’t even come with a charger. All that’s in the box is a USB-A to USB-C cable, and there are no headphones, which is surely a missed opportunity to push the Robin’s bold colour scheme (and also give the punters their right to headphones with a smartphone).

Both handsets pack a Snapdragon 808 processor with 32GB on board storage and an impressive 3GB RAM, support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards and Bluetooth 4.0. It’s also got NFC for when Android Pay goes live in the UK and two fairly decent front facing speakers. The rear camera is a 13MP lens with autofocus and a dual tone flash, while the front facing is an acceptable 5MP.

All in all, the hardware doesn’t appear bad at all for a phone under £300, particularly the screen and the RAM. The battery is a non-removable modest 2680 mAh, and in our experience was a flighty so-and-so in terms of reliability. Its Geekbench battery score of 2322 relfects this. We found that from one day to the next using this as our personal device either left us with anything from 40% left by 8pm to needing a full charge at 4pm. Most modern smartphones struggle to give a full day’s use, but this one is particularly erratic.

The phone was disappointing in our performance testing. Using Geekbench 3.0, the Robin scored 2660. This is compared with the OnePlus X which scored 2524, the OnePlus 2 which scored 4094, and, for comparison, the high-end Samsung Galaxy S7 which scored 6466.

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Nextbit Robin: Software and cloud storage

The Robin is only available with 32GB of on board storage. Its unique feature is that it gives you 100GB cloud storage, but not in the way that the likes of Google Drive or iCloud work – this isn’t a simple file saving feature. When you have filled the 32GB of physical storage on the device, the system looks at which apps you have used the least, and sends them up into the cloud for storage. The app icon appears greyed-out on your device, its data securely saved online. All you have to do to get it back is tap it, providing there’s enough physical storage to re-download it.

The greatest problem with this concept is actually using it – which is obviously a massive problem. Nextbit has had what we thought initially was a good idea, but when it comes to trying to take advantage of it, it falls down. The fact the user can’t easily control the automatic cloud storage feature is frustrating. We downloaded a lot of apps onto the Robin to see how it behaved, and we loved it for the first few days – when it was a simple, quirky Android phone that zipped along nicely and looked great.

When the 32GB filled up, things got messy. Apps that we thought we used quite a lot, like Facebook and Spotify, got relegated to the cloud and replaced with new apps. To get them back, you tap on the greyed icon to download (notably, at the cost of your data package or subject to a Wi-Fi connection).

The system also automatically saves higher quality versions of pictures taken with the camera to the cloud in order to save space on the phone. However, this means the images on the phone are grainy when you view them given their low quality. Stay on the photo for a second or two, and the Robin drags the high-res version back down from the cloud. What seemed a good idea on paper becomes a confusing, messy user experience where your photos don’t look good and your apps aren’t always there.

It’s not that the technology isn’t clever – it really is – it’s that it doesn’t convey the benefits clearly enough. Unlike the instant intuitive use of your first iPhone, the experience of the Robin’s headline feature actually detracts from its usability. Low storage in phones is an issue that easily solved by expandable storage. When that storage is cloud based, it’s just too much of a bumpy ride. The fact you can also dive into settings and turn off both the option to back up photos and apps is telling – on what other phone can you turn off the headline feature?

Other software niggles include the laggy shutter speed on the camera, meaning shots often come out blurred in the few seconds it takes the phone to compute. Also, the Back, Home and Recent buttons aren’t physical, they’re on screen, which means you lose not only the physical button, but sometimes the icons themselves. A couple of times we opened game apps that went full screen, and then became stuck in the app, unclear as it is on how to recall the home button. It’s usually with a tap, but again – it’s not consistent and it’s not intuitive. 

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The operating system is Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with Nextbit’s own UI skin layered over it. It’s an attractive, clean set up that is quite close to stock Android. It does away with the app tray, meaning all apps stack up on the home screen like on Apple’s iOS. If you’re coming from the customisable world of Android already, it’s a bit of a step backwards. You can also ‘pin’ apps to the home screen in order to prevent them ever being relegated to cloud-based purgatory. But again, this isn’t clear, and we actually pinned apps a few times by accident before realising it was a feature.


Nextbit Robin: Specs

  • Android Marshmallow 6.0 5.2in 1080p IPS LCD touchscreen Gorilla Glass 4 Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor 13 MP rear-facing camera with phase detection autofocus, dual-tone flash 5 MP front-facing camera Dual front-facing speakers with dual amplifiers Android Pay Ready Fingerprint ID sensor NFC Qualcomm™ Quick Charge 2.0 USB Type C Bluetooth 4.0 LE Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 3 GB RAM 32 GB on-board/100GB online storage 2680 mAh battery GSM (for AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US
  • best choice for all international users including Canada) GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSPA 850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100 LTE Bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20/28