Back in January of this year we were slated to meet with Nextbit to discuss the Nextbit Robin at CES 2016, but, for whatever reasons, that meeting never did happen. Many other websites have had their reviews out months ago, with most of them publishing on the same day and at the same time due to Nextbit embargoes. However, we weren’t in that fray as we didn’t have a Nextbit Robin to review. Fast forward to today, where, on a personal level, I was finding myself searching for an affordable, more than capable, yet uniquely designed smartphone to replace my wife’s and my iPhone 6s Pluses. Does the Nextbit Robin have more than enough to satisfy? Find out in our full review why it does and why it is one of our Top Picks.
Nextbit Robin Specifications
To say that the Nextbit Robin has a unique design would be a huge understatement. In a vast sea of rounded corners, the square slab look doesn’t seem to be a form that would work for a smartphone. The lack of metal unibody construction boldly turns its back on the flagship devices from Apple, Google, Huawei and other major players. The bold mint color works brilliantly well with the white and the midnight blue color is subdued but shines in the right light.
On the right side of the Robin you’ll find the power button/fingerprint scanner and the sim card slot. The power button/fingerprint scanner is slightly recessed, which is something many other reviewers complained about. So far I have had zero issues using it. It gives a good amount of tactile feedback and the fingerprint scanner is very fast.
On the left side of the Robin you will find the volume buttons which resemble the old fashioned candy buttons we used to get at the drug store (probably way before many of our readers’ time). At the top of the device is the headphone jack and the noise cancelling mic. I prefer the headphone jack at the bottom of my devices, but I understand Nextbit’s symmetrical reasoning in putting it where it is. At the bottom of the device is where the USB Type-C charging/data connection and the voice mic are located as well as the LED notification indicator. The Type-C port lines up perfectly with the headphone jack on top as do the two mics. This is all part of symmetry.
Around the front of the device you’ll find a 5.2″ IPS Gorilla Glass 4 display along with two round front facing speakers. The front facing 5MP camera and proximity sensor are also on the front near the top speaker. Around back you’ll find a subtle Nextbit logo and four LEDs which indicate when the device is sending information to its cloud storage. Design is a subjective thing and each person is going to have different feelings about the Nextbit Robin. I’m going to say this is easily the best designed smartphone of 2016 and the best designed smartphone I have seen in a long time.
I’ve been using flagship devices the past few years with 5.5″ screens or better, so going down to a 5.2″ screen was an uncertainty for me. I’ve also been using QuadHD displays and displays with a better than 1080p resolution so I wasn’t sure how the Nextbit Robin would fare in my eyes. The display is full HD 1080p with a pixel density of 424ppi, and it is an absolutely gorgeous display for being on a midrange phone. Colors are nice, not over-saturated but very much like the iPhone 6s Plus. Blacks are good (not as deep as an AMOLED) and whites are spot on.
Consuming content on this display is great. YouTube, Netflix, Plex and Amazon Video all look great and gaming is nice looking as well. I thought dropping down to a 5.2″ screen from my iPhone 6s Plus’s 5.5″ would be difficult, but it really wasn’t at all. The Nextbit Robin’s 5.2″ screen could almost be the sweet spot for many people. It’s growing on me, and now I think I prefer the smaller footprint. The IPS display can get a bit difficult to see under really bright sunlight but this is true of almost all IPS displays. These days super thin bezels are the order of the day. The bezels on the Robin aren’t very thin but again, that plays into the design. Overall this display is top notch for being a midrange device. You shouldn’t want for more especially at the price for the Nextbit Robin.
The Homescreen And Android 6.0
The Nextbit Robin ships with Android 6.0 and upon opening and powering it on you’ll be downloading Android 6.0.1 along with the latest Android security patch. Nextbit seems committed to timely updates of the Robin, and if you’re a Nexus user that should be appealing. Many other OEM’s have promised timely updates but usually fail to deliver. We’re hoping the Nextbit team can keep up with updates and security patches. Selling the phone unlocked and with no carrier affiliation is a good start. This way they don’t have to go through a carrier to update the device.
The Nextbit Robin isn’t pure Android as you would find on a Nexus device. Nextbit has a light skin on top of Android 6.0.1, but it’s subtle and easy on the eyes. The launcher software is the obvious first difference of the whole software side. Unlike most Android devices, the Nextbit Robin has no app drawer in sight. Nextbit opted to use the homescreen in much the way Apple’s iPhone works with a few differences. Apps appear on the homescreen and you can move them around and into folders to organize them.
On the main homescreen you’ll find a round icon with three dots that you would assume is an app drawer, but that is your shortcut to “pinned apps,” “archived apps,” and “all apps.” More on pinned and archived apps later. The all apps button functions much like Windows 10 Mobile where all of your apps are listed in a scrolling alphabetized list. If you want, you can call this your app drawer because it is very similar. But is is also very different.
For widget users this homescreen will take some getting used to. Widgets cannot be placed on the home screen, but they can be accessed by pinching the homescreen. Other than those few differences, the Robin is 95% stock Android. There is absolutely no bloatware to be found and it is running the latest Android build and security patches.
Local Storage And The Cloud
The Nextbit Robin comes with 32GB (24GB usable) of local storage and 100GB of Nextbit Cloud Storage. Nextbit is thinking outside the box with this one, and not everyone is on board with the idea, which is perfectly fine. Many other reviewers and tech commentators have been very vocal in letting their readers and viewers know that 32GB (24GB usable) is unacceptable with the lack of a microSD card slot. The complaint is a legitimate one if you’re concerned about having as much local storage as possible, but it’s also cavalier to assume everyone is concerned about local storage.
The Nextbit team understands that people run out of storage, even with 24GB of usable space. But for a great many of us the reason storage capacity becomes an issue is due to the amount of unused apps and photos sitting on our devices. Most often what people do to free up space on their smartphone is to delete apps and photos from the device in an effort to free space up. The Robin’s software is designed to understand how you use your phone. It monitors what apps you use and don’t use and keeps track of your photos and videos.
When Robin notices your phone storage is getting low, it automatically starts to free up space. It begins by first archiving apps in its cloud storage thereby freeing up much needed space on the device. When this happens you’ll notice the app icon turn gray which indicates the app has been archived. You can see all your archived apps in that same round, three-dotted button we spoke about earlier on the homescreen. The advantage to Robin storing your apps in the cloud as opposed to just deleting them off the phone is that Nextbit will keep the APK settings all in place, so if you ever need that app back you will have all its settings come back as well.
For apps you know you don’t use often but don’t want to be archived, a simple swipe down on the icon will PIN the app to the device. If an app does happen to get archived and you want that app back, you simply tap the icon and the app will restore back down from the cloud. The same principal is used for photos. When you start running out of space, photos are down sampled on the device and the full resolution is stored on the cloud. You can bring back the full resolution, should you wish, in the same manner.
Now I know what you’re thinking…”I’m going to use a lot of data with Robin if it’s archiving apps and photos to the cloud.” But Nextbit Robin is a bit more intelligent than that. Apps and photos only archive when you’re plugged in and on Wi-Fi so you don’t have to worry about sucking battery or using data. Be prepared though, pulling apps and photos back from the cloud will take a bit of time, nothing outrageous but in these times of instant gratification it might annoy you.
Nextbit’s combination of local and cloud storage isn’t for everyone, I think the company is smart enough to understand that. The backlash the Robin gets from some tech bloggers and vloggers has more to do with their personal preference than it does with the functionality of the phone for other users. This is also the case for me. Personally, I don’t need a lot of local storage since my photos backup to Google Photos automatically, and I don’t use a huge amount of apps.
The Robin is also developer friendly coming bootloader unlocked and Nextbit encourages you to install custom ROMs if that’s your thing. The nice thing about that is, Nextbit still honors the warranty should you brick the Robin trying to flash the latest Dirty Unicorns build.
Overall, you’ll be getting an excellent, near stock Android 6.0.1 experience with the Nextbit Robin. There are some quirks that separate it from the typical device but those can be squashed using a custom launcher and icons if you like. For a midrange device, the Robin has a lot of major pluses ranging from software version to the update process. Nextbit is starting off on the right foot, and we hope that continues on once Android N is released.
The Nextbit Robin is running a Snapdragon 808 processor along with 3GB of RAM which keep this thing running very smoothly. Animations and scrolling are really good, with the only issue being intense games which will drop a frame here and there. Some have criticized Nextbit for using the Snapdragon 808, calling it 2-year-old technology. Some of the same people believe the company should have gone with the Snapdragon 810.
Here’s the thing. The Snapdragon 808 and the Snapdragon 810 were released the exact same day by Qualcomm. That day was just over a year ago. So the 808 is not old tech and the 810 is not newer tech. Is the 810 better than the 808? Probably yes. But this is a midrange phone with a price tag of $399, the Snapdragon 808 works well in this phone and its lower cost helped keep the price tag down. Sorry fellas, you just can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The Nexus 5X from Google also runs a Snapdragon 808 processor, but it comes in with 2GB of RAM and 32GB (24 usable) of storage (no expansion). So the Nextbit Robin is inline with other quality midrange device in using the Snapdragon 808. I never had an issue with the 808 since I have been using the phone. All normal daily activities ran just fine with some occasional hiccups on more intense games. Normal games like Angry Birds play well. It’s when you get into things like Asphalt 8 that frames drop on occasion.
With that said, the 808 does heat up a bit under intense use, nothing I found to be unbearable or out of the ordinary. I don’t play a lot of intense games, so this never really affected me much. The phone will heat up with long video streaming sessions as well. Overall the Nextbit Robin performed above average for a midrange device, and it’s a straight-on competitor for the likes of the Nexus 5X and the One Plus 2.
I was excited to have front facing speakers again, which I had really missed after getting rid of my Nexus 6P. So, grabbing the Robin and sitting down to watch a few YouTube videos, I was really ready to give it a go. I was a bit disappointed though. The speakers are fairly overdriven, and the lowest volume setting is much too loud. Then when you try to increase the volume it doesn’t actually increase until around 30% of the way up, and then it’s really much too loud.
The drivers sound way too punchy and it was difficult to consume sound content in bed early in the morning when my wife was sleeping. I contacted Nextbit about the situation and they acknowledged there was an issue with the sound. They said the issue should be fixed in the next software update which I hope is soon, because I’d like to see how the speakers do under normal circumstances.
From talking to other Nextbit Robin owners I found out the first run of Robins all had some sound issues which were fixed with the last software updates, and this new version sounded much better than the old version. I never experienced the old sound issues as I updated the Robin right away before I tested the sound. I tested the sound with the latest OS and security updates. I am confident the company will fix the issues at hand though and am looking forward to it.
The Nextbit Robin houses a 5MP front facing camera and a 13MP rear camera. Before we move on, we must understand that this is a midrange phone, not a flagship device. That being said, the photos coming out of the Nextbit Robin are more than acceptable but pixel peepers will likely have something to complain about. The front facing 5MP camera does well in bright light but does get grainy in low light. The 13 MP camera does well in bright light and decent in low light with some graininess coming through but only in the lowest of low light situations.
The rear camera shoots 1080P video and that comes out very nice. There is a manual mode feature that you can access to fine tune things if you’re savvy enough to use manual settings. The one thing the Robin does lack, which is understandable given it is a mid-range phone, is optical image stabilization. It does have phase detection autofocus and that’s a nice thing to have. While I wish OIS was on board, we can’t have every flagship feature on a midrange phone.
Reception on T-Mobile was spot on. I have never had any issues and it’s worked everywhere I used my iPhone 6s Plus. Call quality is stellar with my wife saying I sounded better on the Nextbit Robin than I did on the iPhone. You shouldn’t have any issue with reception or call quality with the Robin.
The Nextbit Robin battery is a respectable 2680mAh’s. Before I comment on battery, this is how I set up all my phones when I use them, so battery life will vary for everyone. I run my Robin with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on all the time. I’m also connected to my watch and a bluetooth speaker, and I also run my screen at full brightness. With all of those parameters in place I wasn’t able to squeeze a full day out of the battery like my iPhone. My day starts at 5am and ends at 9:30pm, and I could make it to about 7pm before I had to plug in.
That being said, that isn’t a huge deal breaker for me as I can plug in during the day at my desk at work so I’m topped off before I leave work. The Nextbit Robin also comes with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 which is super helpful in charging the phone a bit faster than the iPhone. So overall, the battery life isn’t stellar but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker for me.
When Robin hit Kickstarter the early bird price was $299. Recently Nextbit had an Amazon sale on the Robin for $299, and that’s why I picked the Midnight version up and that was an amazing deal. The Amazon price is back up to $399 but even at the full $399 price the Nextbit Robin is an amazing deal. It competes squarely with the Nexus 5X as well as the One Plus 2 and other popular midrange phones. It has some great specs for a midrange device, and the design was a key selling point for me. I ended up buying two, one for myself and one for my wife, and they replaced our iPhones.
Listen. The Nextbit Robin design isn’t for everyone. The Robin’s cloud storage feature isn’t for everyone. The specs might not be up to everyone’s expectations and that’s all OK. But this is an amazingly nice phone with a unique design you’re not going to find anywhere else. If you’re looking for a midrange Android phone you need to consider the Nextbit Robin. If you’re looking to replace an iPhone with your first Android phone, you need to consider the Robin. It is one of our Top Picks of 2016.