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.

Specs

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