Nextbit is a relatively new player in the smartphone segment. Unlike the legacy players which have been operating in this space for years and with huge teams, Nextbit gets by with just under 50 employees and their first smartphone, the Robin, actually started out as a Kickstarter project in September 2015. The device has finally made its way to India though. It will be available from 30 May for Rs 19,999, exclusively on Flipkart. With founding members who've worked in Google’s Android department and at HTC, the Nextbit team is certainly run by veterans in their fields. Nextbit’s pièce de résistance is the fact that you will never run out of storage space on your phone. Is that reason enough to buy this phone though? Read our review to learn more.
Build and Design: 8/10
You either love the design of this phone or you hate it. Having tested many smartphones with similar looking silver/black/gold/rose-gold shades, for me it was refreshing to behold the white and turquoise coloured Nextbit Robin. And every four out of five friends I met, inquired about the phone on first glance—something that rarely happens with other smartphones these days. Yes, this includes Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. Nextbit hasn’t gone with any of the metal body designs with chamfering finesse and instead, kept the phone design relatively sharp and angular. The polycarbonate material used in the construction of the device is really good and the phone feels really good to hold. It comes in white and a pastel-green shades called Mint. Rounding of the palette is a dark grey that Nextbit calls Midnight.
The phone is neatly divided into sections, and kind of resembles those early Project Ara mockups or even earlier Lumia phone designs. The back of the device is white, complemented by Mint coloured strips on the top and bottom. If you have a Midnight-coloured phone, those strips would be Midnight.
On the front you have two, circular, front-firing speakers placed along the central axis and they have a nice rounded dip with perforations—again, this is a refreshing change from the sharp slits that make up phone speakers today. To the left of the earpiece speaker you have the front facing camera module and the proximity sensor beside it. The phone measures 149x72mm and is 7mm thick.
The circular design on the top edge, on the front, is replicated in some manner on the rear. The 13MP rear camera module is placed flush with the plane of the phone body and just beside it you have a dual-tone LED flash placed inside a circular chamber. The Nextbit branding is located towards the base, on the rear, and on the top half you have the cloud shaped Nextbit logo. Below the logo you have four perforations hiding white-coloured LED lights, which blink when data is being transferred to the cloud.
The base has a USB Type-C port on one corner with a secondary mic and an LED indicator beside it. You'll find the 3.5mm audio jack on the top. The volume rocker buttons are present as two turquoise-coloured dots which are a bit too flush with the left hand edge. On the right-hand side you have the nano SIM card tray and the power/standby button above it. Since the power button also houses the fingerprint scanner, it's placed slightly inside as compared to the external plane and requires some extra pressure to activate it.
Overall, the phone is quite sturdy and although it has a 5.2-inch display, the top and bottom bezels make it unwieldy to operate in single-handed mode. The phone does tend to get a bit slippery at times.
The Nextbit Robin sports a 5.2-inch full HD display which is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It houses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 chipset, which is a hexa core processor that includes a dual core Cortex A57 processor and quad-core Cortex A53 processor. This is paired with an Adreno 418 GPU.
The phone supports 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. There is no provision for a microSD card slot, instead you get 100GB of free cloud storage. We will talk more about this in the software section. The Nextbit Robin runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow along with the Nextbit OS skin atop it—which is very close to stock Android.
On the camera front, you get the standard 13MP rear and a 5MP front-facing camera modules. There is a 2680mAh battery under the hood, which is non-removable, and is charged via a USB Type-C charger. In terms of connectivity, you get a single nano SIM card slot, Wi-fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1 and more.
The Nextbit Robin comes with a 5.2-inch fullHD display which looks quite sharp and thanks to the IPS LCD panel, the viewing angles are wonderful. The display is quite bright and colour reproduction is excellent. However, we did tend to notice the underlying display matrix when seeing the phone at certain angles, especially with a light wallpaper. Watching movies and videos on the display was a joy, although the display did tend to look a bit washed out when the majority of the colours shown were in lighter shades. We did not notice any backlight bleeding with the display.
Nextbit Robin comes bundled with Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the Nextbit OS skin atop it. Now while the skin is called Nextbit OS, it's quite close to stock Android, as in, the bloatware is minimal. There are very few system apps and apart from the Google suite of apps, there is no other bloatware, which is great.
There is one purple-coloured circular icon with three dots on it which stands out though. Tapping on this lets you see the archived apps, pinned apps and "All apps". The All apps feature is a different way of implementing the app drawer. You can pin a particular app by holding onto the app icon, pulling it down and then releasing it. You will see a tick mark sign animating under the app. Pinning an app means that it will never be taken offline and shunted to the Nextbit cloud.
Nextbit OS's main conceit is tight integration with the cloud. At the moment, the Robin backs up your apps, phone data, photos and games. Strangely enough, video is not backed up. You get 100GB of free cloud storage space once you buy the Nextbit Robin. In case you are not using an app for long, it will be automatically archived to the cloud (if the space on your phone is less than 2GB) and you will see a grey coloured icon in its place. The app’s user data stays on the phone, so whenever you tap a greyed out icon, it will pull in the app data from the cloud and you can pick up where you left. Of course, the app will take some time to reinstall if you are on a cellular data connection. You can also select certain photos that you may want to backup and share them to the cloud manually.
The auto-backup happens when the phone is on Wi-fi and is charging. You will notice those four lights blinking, indicating a backup is in progress. These are the default settings, unless you want the backup to happen even on your mobile data and when the phone is not charging—it’s up to you. I preferred leaving it on defaults.
Photos which are sent to the Nextbit Cloud, appear downsized to the screen resolution of your phone, and they look normal so long as you are just browsing through your gallery and swiping through the photos. It's only when you try to zoom in to see more details that the phone will pull start the Restoring process, ie. pulling in the original image from the cloud and replacing it with the downsized image. Also the image gallery app behaves a bit strangely. To get to the album view, we realised that we had to hit on the back button many times. Even the omission of the share feature for images is really strange.
We'd like to point out that Apple's iCloud Photo storage works in pretty much the same way. When the feature is enabled, your photos will automatically be backed up to iCloud, leaving low-res versions on your phone that will download when you open them.
The backup mechanism is quite different from what’s offered by DropBox or Google Drive. You cannot see what has been backed up on the Nextbit Cloud as the Smart Storage menu in Settings only shows how much free space you have on the cloud, and a division of space according to the type of data backed up (apps, photos, etc.). So in a way, there is no way to manually do anything with the Nextbit Cloud. Also unclear is what will happen to the online data on the cloud, once you switch the phone.
Call quality on the Nextbit Robin is excellent and thanks to the loud earpiece speakers, the person on the opposite end is audible even in noisy traffic. The same cannot be said for the speaker quality in general though. The music output was a hit and miss affair. Anyone expecting a performance similar to HTC's front-firing BoomSound speakers will be disappointed. There were times when the audio sounded clear, but at times, especially when listening to podcasts or while watching movies, we noticed that the sound was muffled. Even while listening to music when there were instrument heavy sections, the sound was quite muddy.
The Snapdragon 808 paired with 3GB of RAM is good enough to handle most tasks coming the Robin’s way. We did not face any major issues such as slowdowns. But the phone does have a tendency to get warm. When out and about in the Mumbai heat (which is nothing compared to Delhi or Gujarat by the way), we noticed the phone’s rear heating up every time we had to take a call or browse through heavy apps. We did not notice any app shutdown due to excessive heating, but yes the warmth is certainly noticeable.
Gaming on the phone is a smooth affair, though the phone does tend to get warm. Games such as Dead Trigger 2, Modern Combat 5 and Asphalt 8: Airborne were playable at medium settings. The fingerprint scanner is not the most accurate I must say, as there were many occasions where I needed to tap multiple times to unlock the device.
Nextbit Robin sports a 13MP rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture along with phase-detect autofocus and you also get a 5MP front camera. The camera app is minimal and gives you an auto mode, manual mode and video mode. There is a "quick button" for switching between HDR and regular mode, although that requires an extra menu button press so maybe it's not actually that quick. Manual mode lets you adjust focus, white balance, ISO and exposure.
The first thing that strikes you about the phone is how awfully slow the camera is to start up. If you're into street photography, the delay between hitting the camera app icon and the camera actually starting means missing multiple shots. It's that frustrating. The camera did, occasionally, fire up in a second, but 5-6 seconds was the norm. This is just pathetic on a 2016 smartphone camera and is in desperate need of a fix.
The image quality of the Robin does redeem the camera to a certain extent. Daylight shots were quite good with enough detail and respectable edge sharpness. The HDR mode also gives a good output. We noticed that it struggled a bit with macro shots. Reviewing the images on the phone display at 100 percent zoom shows images with jaggies and makes them appear a bit soft, whereas taking it on the monitor didn’t throw up these issues. Another drawback of the image processing algorithms, I must say.
Low light images are usable and nothing out of the ordinary. The camera output is nowhere close to the one we saw with the Google Nexus 6P, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge or the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. The video camera is capable of shooting 4K video. The output is good enough for casual use so long as the smartphone is held steady. There is no optical image stabilisation on board.
Battery Life: 6/10
The battery life on the Nextbit Robin isn’t impressive at all. With the 2680mAh battery, we noticed that we ran out of juice before the work day got over, on many occasions. Even with the adaptive display on, things didn't help much. During heavy usage, it just makes sense to carry around a power bank on you. It does support quick charge, but the Nextbit box does not bundle a power adapter, just a USB Type A to USB Type C cable—which seemed liked unnecessary cost-cutting. PCMark for Android placed the battery life at around 5 hours 38 mins of on screen time, which isn’t terribly impressive.
Verdict and Price in India
Nextbit's Robin is a good first attempt by a company which wasn’t even in existence some years ago. The phone certainly commands attention, the way even Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy flagships haven’t managed to do over the last couple of years. The seamless backing up of data to the cloud and keeping the storage free on the phone is a unique idea which Nextbit is banking on. Though we're not very sure of Nextbit's implementation.
On most counts this works quite well. It's a relief to not see that "Your phone is running out of Storage" notification once you start hitting the phone's storage cap. Even the idea of archiving unused apps on the cloud is a good feature. It just clears up that much more space while ensuring that whenever you need to use the archived app, you don't have to start from scratch after app installation.
But the phone has certain glaring flaws, which, compounded with the reality of internet bandwidth in India, may prove to be Nextbit's undoing. The slow camera startup time is particularly irritating, especially when everything else works so smoothly. Nextbit should release a patch to fix this as soon as possible. Battery life certainly needs a lot of work in future patches, especially if Nextbit is trying to target the power user crowd. More control over the cloud storage would also be appreciated. At the very least, I'd like to see some clearer information on what is on the cloud and what isn't.
At an asking price of Rs 19,999, Nextbit has priced the Robin quite sensibly. There are of course proven competitors in the form of the Moto X Play (which excels in the battery and camera department), Lenovo Vibe X3, the Google Nexus 5X and OnePlus 2. The expandable cloud storage feature is something that is not seen on other phones and it may appeal to those who are always running out of space on their phones. But one must keep in mind the internet bandwidth and FUP limitations in India, and of course, the shortcomings of the Nextbit Robin that we have elaborated on above, before deciding to get this phone. Also, if you're out and about and desperately need to access an app which has been archived, then you'll need to download it on your data connection. So yes, the same cloud backup feature which is a boon for the Robin, may also work against it. It's good to be aware of all these aspects before investing in this device.
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