Well, today’s smartphone world is witnessing a trend that has somewhat become all-too-familiar.
Manufacturers seem to now be making targeted or niche-specific devices, so more and more devices are being released with some clear selling points that offer something that is either unique or an advance.
How this uniqueness fares for them is more of a hit and trial.
Following this trend, Nextbit launched its new device – the Nextbit Robin, with a rather unusual selling point, I have to admit.
The Nextbit Robin is a phone that aims to promote itself via a cloud storage USP. This does not imply that the device does not have other strong points, but the differentiator with the Robin clearly seems to be the move to Cloud.
The Robin basically offers the buyer 100 GBs of cloud storage on top of the internal storage that comes with the phone.
Now what this esentially means is that your photos, videos and every other sort of data you have on your device will quietly be backed up onto the Cloud, and if there are apps that you do not use often, you fill find them archived to the Cloud too. Automatically.
Sounds smart doesn’t it?
So, that should be it then. Well, it is not. The fact that it is majorly a ‘Cloud Phone’ does not go on to imply that this phone does not have other things on offer.
This is a cutting-edge device the features and specs of which deeply impress but eventually do render you pondering upon the thought – is all of it really necessary?
The Nextbit Robin uses a 5.2 inch IPS LCD panel that has a 1080p resolution, which should be adequate for a 5.2 inch screen.
Moreover different manufacturers seem to have been using this resolution with good effect over the past few years and the quality of display panels seems to be improving all the time.
The display on the Robin seems very good – the colours are very punchy and at the same time not over saturated. It seems like the device targets Adobe RGB style rather than sRGB.
The viewing angles are very good as well, well with it being an LCD panel and all. The contrast seems very good as well by LCD standards, of course.
The display really is uniformly balanced in terms of colours and pixel density. It is fairly consistent and does seem to be very sharp as well.
The screen is sharp and texts look very sharp, clear and distinct. This is really is a top notch LCD display and it is as good as it gets with LCD screens.
There are some added features here as well. In Settings you can switch between Standard and Dynamic screen styles. Rather than being the sort of dynamic contrast mode you get on TVs, this appears to change screen settings depending on what you’re doing!
So there has to be something worth talking about that is not so good about this screen, right? Right, there is. Well, not about the screen technically but about the design and in turn the practicality of it.
The huge top and bottom bezels really take their toll while watching videos for a long time in a sense that you really expect the screen to be a little bigger because what you’re physically holding in your hands. The display area seems disproportionate to the mass, at such times.
However to be fair, this is the only issue I have with the display which otherwise is seriously good.
Before starting to discuss the design aspect of this device let me tell you who it’s aimed at.
This phone is not made people who are trying out their first smartphone and do not really know a lot about what they are doing. The people manufacturing this device are Google and HTC veterans. So they do know a thing or two about form and factor, and which one is the more important of the two.
Now, with that in mind, let me assure you that (bezels aside) the device looks good. I personally am not a big fan of boxy designs, but this device seems to pull it off. It is not the most beautiful device around. But what it has, is personality and character. These two things are in enough abundance to make you take notice and actually be impressed.
The material used here is plastic, but the whole device seems to be very well made and it does seem like the best use you could get out of a plastic body. The styling could have been a wee-bit better and although the Cloud symbol at the back may be significant, it does look childlike.
The front has a 5.2 inch display with a camera and a proximity sensor. The back is plain as day apart from the rear camera and the flash sitting on top. And there of course is the Cloud graphic.
The phone is relatively thin at 7 mm thickness. But the thing is, that you will not notice this skinniness because what this device is not, is small, even by the regular 5.2 inch screen standards.
The primary and sole reason for this is ‘tall’ design is that for some reason, people at Nextbit decided to put dual stereo speakers (one above and one below) around the screen. Obviously, this will make the top and bottom bezels huge. The side bezels are extremely thin but that doesn’t matter at all because the top and bottom ones give this phone a gigantic feel.
It really does feel big and somewhat uncomfortable to hold. It is not heavy and the weight seems to be well distributed but it just is a tad too big for a 5.2 inch device.
All said and done, the design of this device to me is a mixed bag. The styling is okay and the build quality is good and the device looks good generally. It does seem too big to hold and use and the design is a little boxy as well. And then there are the colours, that are going to divvy up the viewing public down both sides of the aisle.
The Robin comes with a Snapdragon 808 SoC which is a hexa-core affair. It comes with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of physical internal storage. That is supplemented with the additional 100 GB of complementary cloud storage provided by Nextbit.
Now this is not ground breaking stuff, neither is it cutting edge. But I think what Nextbit’s done is to use hardware that will survive for a while and be adequate for 3 years.
Now, to start off, the specs are decent and the phone seems to perform well. But then the OS spoils the party here, unfortunately. That said, when the hardware is uninterrupted with the software niggles it really seems to impress.
Apps run ever so smoothly and anything you do on this phone is stutter free. But then again the thing is – the software niggles do interfere and in a big way.
There is a lot to think about here. I mean the hardware is good, the OS is good but the performances of the two suffer from stuttering. Why is that? The only possible explanation I can think of is the fact that the people at Nextbiit have had to rush this device a little.
Now if that is the case, all of the major issues in this device may be rectified with software updates and bug fixes. But that is something in the future, as of now this is what it is.
The performance of the phone seems to be able to make full use of the hardware but is not at-you-service all of the time.
The device comes with a battery of 2,680 mAh. Now bear in mind that this is a 1080p device and the display is one of the best feats of this device, so it might eat up on your battery and 2,680 is small by 1080p standards.
Well, I will have to say that this is the case here. The battery life is round about 8 hours which is not impressive at all.
The Nextbit Robin does support Qualcomm Fast Charge 2.0, which will get you from empty to 80% in well under an hour. But that’s a remedy, not the cure.
All in all, the performance of this phone could have been much much better but it is let down by software niggles, and in the real user-world, by a sub-par battery.
As I said earlier, things are not all good with the Robin’s software.
We’ll cover the problems in a bit. To start off, the device runs the Android version 6.0 Marshmallow. At first it does look similar to the default style but there are a few tweaks here and there which may not be necessarily for the good.
The UI in general looks and feels good. The interface seems posh and classy.
My problem with it however is and this is a big one, that it made me feel that the performance of this UI needs to be improved and when you come to think of it, it is all about that feel with UIs in general. If it makes you feel the way it does, you know it isn’t good enough.
The hardware that is available with this device does not get to stretch its legs because of the software. And its not as if the problems end here. The things that cast the shadow on the performance are things like an additional button to open the multitasking window. It is not the button that is the problem, it is the few seconds the device takes to open the window and this is something that you have to deal with in your everyday use.
Quite frankly this is quite annoying. And what is even more annoying is the fact that on top all this the software in general is buggy and what this essentially does is cause hiccups and inconsistencies in the performance. The phone will be as fast as it can be, and suddenly there will be an occasional lag which will cause the device to stutter and lose your flow of actions.
It feels as if this could have been a great UI, but it just isn’t.
It does feel near-Stock but the lags and stutters really spoil the party here. I really do not see a point in attempting something different with a possibility of failure when it is in fact your first device. I would have rather had them stick to the basics; and on this device the Stock Android would have really shone bright.
(The Cloud storage feature is discussed in under the USP section.)
Having discussed the OS, which definitely is an Achille’s Heel for the Robin, the bad news is, the camera may be another bad heel!
Despite a 13 megapixel rear camera too, seems to be not as good as what one expects nowadays.
To be fair to the Robin, it does seem capable of clicking some decent shots in the daylight. The details packed into the images, are enough from a 13 megapixel sensor. The colours seem natural and well balanced.
Night time shots do suffer, but are by no means the worst.
The problem is, that pictures daylight and night shots seem to suffer from some distortion if the lighting is not correct. In fact, the shots even seem to suffer from overexposure from as little as one light source being present in the frame.
And that’s not a good thing. In fact, the camera seems decent at first, but that changes when you start using it everyday. The camera is disastrously slow. There’s almost 2-3 seconds of lag between photos. The shutter speed is also a concern – there’s a lag between your hitting the capture button and the camera actually capturing the photo.
The shutter lag to put it delicately is severe.
Following the OS trend – appearances wise, the camera interface looks good and polished but in use, it too is slow and buggy.
Also, the Manual mode does not offer you a lot to tinker with, and as a result the difference between the Auto shots and the Manual shots, is barely discernible.
The one hardware downer is that the Robin does not come with Optical Image Stabilisation.
The front 5 megapixel shooter narrates the same story, on a smaller scale. The photos again are decent but the lag is real.
All in all, the camera is a let down for this device.
Having said that, this device seems to be a little rushed as if Nextbit had to speed things up to match a pre-planned release date and that may be the reason of the software flaws.
All the flaws that we have discussed here concern lag and stutter and that may be something that is fixed in a couple of months time, in which case the camera of this device could be termed as adequate. But not for now.
Now this is the headliner, the show stopper feature of the device – the Cloud features of the Nextbit Robin. The most impressive amongst which is the way it handles apps.
The Nextbit Robin is different from pretty much every phone you’ll have experienced so far, in a sense that all devices download apps and keep them onboard until you delete them.
With the Nextbit Robin you install apps as normal, but after assessing your usage over time, the smartphone quietly, regularly removes unused apps from your internal memory. The App data is shifted from your phone to the Cloud server.
These apps’ icons then become greyed-out on your homescreen, needing to be revived with a tap, which then retrieves the data from the Cloud.
As standard this only happens over Wi-Fi when the Robin is plugged-in to a power source, to avoid using too much battery life or mobile data. Four little LED indicators on the back let you know about the progress of the sync process.
This is an interesting idea, one based on the premise that it leads to a phone that could have unlimited memory. All those games you install, play for a week and then forget, eventually slink off the phone, until you either have a proper spring cleaning or choose to revisit (and hence re-download) them.
I’ve used the phone for a few weeks now, and initial reaction aside, I haven’t loved the experience. To test the entire process, we rammed our Robin unit full of apps, pushing it to archive regularly and aggressively. It worked fairly well, I must say.
However, I’m just not conviced it’s a real solution. Dormant (removed) apps still take up visual space on your phone, creating visual clutter, and already a couple of times, I’ve had to ‘refresh’ auto-archived apps, which at the time just feels like an inconvenience.
It’s doubly annoying if there’s a large app you use sparingly, but it’s one of your core drivers. And if one day you desperately need it, and therefore may have to re-download using mobile data, you’re not going to be a happy camper.
The other side of the Robin’s storage style is photos. Like Google Photos, it uploads your shots to the Cloud. The only big benefit is that you get more space here. 100 GB on Google Drive costs INR 80 a month, although if you upload at a slightly reduced quality, you get unlimited space on Google’s service…. so the benefit is moot.