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Nextbit Robin Review

Performance

The Nextbit Robin is a budget phone, so some sacrifices have been made on the spec sheet. Instead of going down to Qualcomm’s second tier of 600 SoCs, Nextbit opted for the Snapdragon 808, which was in some premium 2014 phones. The 820 is the premium SoC in use today, while the 810 was used mostly in 2015. Skipping the 810 was probably a good call — that chipset was prone to overheating, and the Robin gets hot enough as it is with the 808. Besides the chipset, the Robin has 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage (plus 100 GB of cloud storage).

Benchmark Test Score
PC Mark for Android Work 4574
AnTuTu 70931
GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen 656.9 frames
3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1 1127
PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life  6 hours, 41 minutes

The 808 still holds up OK. Higher-end games released in the last couple years will run a little slow, but basic things like web browsing and watching videos are usually fine. You’ll see some slowdown occasionally, which we expected — not only is it running Android 6.0 on older hardware, the Nextbit OS overlay is running over that. We’ll cover Nextbit OS in the software section, but in general, overlays almost never add enough value to outweigh the performance costs, and we think that’s true here, too. The phone also gets very hot, especially if you carry it in your pocket or try to run several apps in the background. But, it also gets uncomfortably hot just when using Facebook Messenger for an extended amount of time, even with no background apps running. It runs hotter than most metal or glass phones we’ve reviewed this year, and considering the Robin is made of plastic, I think it’s a long-term durability concern.

Battery life isn’t great compared to most phones this year, thanks to a relatively small 2,680 mAh battery. The benchmark score puts it far behind anything else we’ve reviewed this year, and in practice, I didn’t often get a full day’s worth of use out of it. It does have QuickCharge 2.0 compatibility, which is nice — the phone went from 16 percent to 86 percent in 50 minutes of charging. Unfortunately, the charger doesn’t come with the phone, and is sold separately for $15. Like most phones this year, the Robin has a USB Type-C charging port.

The 1080p IPS display is reasonable for the price. Colors tend to be a little washed out, and the display doesn’t get as bright as many other phones with 1080p displays. It’s also hampered by how reflective the screen is, but it’s still usable in sunlight. The display isn’t ideal, but it’s not a deal breaker either.

4G LTE connectivity using MetroPCS (the T-Mobile network) was fine, with calls clear on both ends. The Robin is particularly nice as a speakerphone, thanks to two forward-firing speakers that are surprisingly powerful thanks to a dedicated amp for each. Forward-firing speakers can make a big difference for many buyers, so if that’s a feature you wish you’d see on more phones, the Robin is worth a look. Unfortunately for frequent travelers, it’s a single SIM phone. GPS performance was consistently fast and accurate, and the Robin has NFC connectivity for use with Android Pay.

The fingerprint scanner isn’t the greatest. Putting it on the wake button on the side of the phone is a good idea in theory because it’s where your thumb would usually be when holding the phone, but it didn’t work well for me in practice. Because it’s on the side, the scanner has less surface area than most other back- or front-side scanners, which led to more misreads. The scanner also won’t read your fingerprint when the screen is off, so you’ll need to push the button to wake the phone first. It’s unreliable and slow enough to where I preferred using a PIN instead.

Camera

The Nextbit Robin has a 13 MP rear camera with phase-detection auto-focus, dual-LED flash, and an f/2.2 lens, plus a 5 MP front camera. There is an HDR mode, although it’s not automatic. You’ll want to keep HDR in mind, because the camera doesn’t do well on sunny days without it. But, in the right conditions, the camera works pretty well — they used a Samsung ISOCELL sensor, which are some of the more highly regarded in smartphones.

We do have to emphasize right conditions, though. If you’ve got some light at your back and there’s not too much contrast between the subject and the background, photos come out crisp. If things get too dark, you start to see a lot of noise, washed out colors, and a lack of focus. The Robin’s autofocus can be a little slow sometimes, so you’ll need to stand still for a few seconds to get a good shot. It’s not ideal if you want to take quick shots and be reasonably satisfied — you’ll need a little more patience.

Software

Nextbit OS looks a lot different than stock Android, although many of the changes, like the system icons, are only cosmetic. The settings and notifications panes are mostly stock Android, with the latter having a nice semi-transparent white background. There are some weird tweaks, though — there’s no one-touch button to close all apps in the app carousel, and while there is an app drawer of sorts, it’s not as convenient to use as the stock version (we’ll go into detail when discussing the cloud storage feature). Widgets can’t be placed on home screens, but on a special pane brought up by pinching the screen. I suspect this is a matter of preference, because it doesn’t seem to offer any clear advantages or disadvantages. It’s also not possible to jump to settings with a long-press on an icon in the quick settings pane (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc), which can be a little annoying.

Nextbit’s most advertised feature is its cloud storage. Not only do you get 100 GB of free cloud storage from them (using Amazon Web Services), but Nextbit has created a smart storage management system. As you use the phone, apps and photos that are infrequently used or accessed will get automatically pushed out to the cloud to make room for new stuff. The system works fine — nothing gets pushed out to the cloud until you start approaching max capacity, and you can pin anything to make sure it stays on the device. Using a special menu, you can pin apps or view all installed apps — the latter is your replacement app drawer, but it’s an alphabetized list instead of rows of app icons. Anything that has been pushed out to the cloud will be greyed out, and can be downloaded back onto the device with a tap.

You have to know ahead of time whether or not this makes sense for you. For the most part, though, I think most will find having a microSD card much more convenient than cloud storage. Having to re-download apps takes time and could count against data caps with your carrier if you’re not within range of a Wi-Fi network. The advantage is that you can back up your photos easily in case the phone gets lost or damaged, but then again, chances are you already use a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive for this.

That makes me think the Robin would be a good fit for tech novices, but that doesn’t seem to be who it’s being marketed toward. Nextbit is going for the enthusiast crowd by making it possible to unlock the bootloader and load custom ROMs. Usually, that would void your warranty, but Nextbit encourages users to play around with their phones, and will still cover phones that have been bricked by a root gone wrong.

Read on for the verdict

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