Review: Nextbit Robin Unlocked Smartphone

3 weeks ago comradetao 0

The Nextbit Robin offers some serious specs for an unlocked smartphone at an incredible price. What’s the catch? There must be a catch right? Well, yes. There are a few actually. They may not stop you from buying this phone though. The company Nextbit has been sold and support for this phone has ended. Is the hardware still worth buying without support? Read on to find out.

I’m going to go through this review a little differently. Instead of listing the specs and giving a general write-up, I’ll take each feature individually and try to expound on why they matter to you. Then, I’ll tie all of it together at the end.

The Body

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149mm X 72mm X 7mm dimensions are pretty crazy for a phone. That’s very thin for as large as it is. It’s one of the first things you notice when you pick up the phone. That body of the Nextbit Robin is entirely plastic though, and not terribly hard plastic either. You can see very slight bulges on the back that are likely caused by the internal components. It causes me to wonder about the durability of the phone and resistance to bending. A quick search on YouTube showed a gentleman bending the phone in half. Based on my use, with even a standard level of care, that shouldn’t be much of a risk. That said, the thinness of the phone makes it feel barely there when you place it down on a table or even when you’re using it regularly. The body has hard corners that are only slightly rounded, which reminds me a bit of Sony designs.The body also comes in unusual colors for a modern smartphone. I bought the blue and white model. There’s also a dark blue model that looks a little more mainstream.

My experience with the body was pleasant. It was a bit too big to put in a front pocket, and I couldn’t put it in my under-saddle bike bag either when I go biking. The hard corners meant that you really needed the exact dimensions of the phone to be clear if you want to store it somewhere. I liked the feel of a 7mm thick phone though. With a case, that’s going to increase significantly, but still be thinner than many other phones while adding to durability.

Full High Definition IPS Screen

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A 5.2″ 1080p screen doesn’t sound amazing compared to flagship phones, but it’s very nice. The Gorilla Glass 4 that covers it gives it a smooth touch and reasonable durability and the IPS technology means you’re getting beautiful colors and wide viewing angles. I thought the screen size and resolution was plenty for comfortable use. It was big enough to type somewhat accurately but small enough that I didn’t feel awkward carrying it.

I bought two of these and tested both. Two negatives stuck out to me; both being very minor. In glaring sunlight it was easy to see the touch sensitivity lines in the glass. That’s virtually nothing. The second negative concerned me more. I noticed that both units had a slightly brighter area near the bottom center of the screen. On a busy screen it would be near impossible to notice, but on a flat color screen it was easy to see. That said, most people I showed it to didn’t care enough to try and look for it. Those that did find it didn’t care enough to let it bother them.

Android 7.1

Android 7.1 does not come with the Nextbit Robin; that’s an after purchase upgrade. That said, it does give you 7.1 features like context menus when pushing and holding on certain icons. It’s a good update that will come to you in increments and cost you probably around 3GB of data. Make sure you’re doing that on Wi-Fi.

One quirk of the software was that, when listening to music through headphones, if I let the phone fall asleep and then woke it up with the music still playing, it would play through speakers instead. I think that’s a software issue but I’m not sure how related it is to the android 7.1 update or if it’s a driver quirk. The stock Nextbit launcher on this phone departs from the normal android design motif and splits the difference somewhere between apple and android. It didn’t impress me and I quickly downloaded the Google Now launcher instead.

Sound

Headphones sounded great out of the Nextbit Robin. Significantly richer than the Moto E4 I reviewed earlier, but not enough to make me avoid that phone for music listening. The speakers are another matter. Nextbit advertised dual amplifiers for the dual front-facing speakers on the Nextbit Robin. Well, they do sound good and pack a decent punch. They’re more pleasant to listen to than many budget phones I’ve tried. An interesting note too is that the Nextbit Robin speakers seem to gradually get louder at a slow pace as you turn up the volume until the last volume increment. When you hit the maximum, there’s a significant jump in speaker volume. I think that’s pretty smart. If I turn it all the way up, I can get good volume, but for the rest of the time, I can more precisely regulate it.

CPU Specs

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 powers the Nextbit Robin. That’s a hexacore CPU with 3GB of RAM. That’s a lot more phone that most around this price point. It’s strong enough to keep up with games, makes browsing the OS easy, and can multitask with much higher priced phones. That said, it’s getting older. It is NOT on par with current flagship CPUs. The graphics processing in this phone is markedly weaker. The difference in price, in my opinion, more than makes up for the performance difference.

In my use, I didn’t have any complaints about the Nextbit Robin‘s CPU. It just works.

Storage

The Nextbit Robin does NOT have a microSD card slot. That means the 32GB of internal storage is all you get. The selling point of the Nextbit Robin is the 100GB of cloud storage that comes free with the phone. I did NOT review that feature. Here’s the main reason, and one of the biggest catches when you buy this phone:

Nextbit has been sold to a gaming peripheral company called Razer. They are no longer supporting this phone through software updates or warranty service. 

For that reason, I’m not confident that the cloud storage will be available indefinitely; or even through the near future for that matter. You can use google drive and streaming services as a substitute of course. In my use though, 32GB was plenty. I loaded up about 48 hours worth of FLAC and MP3 files on there and still had a good 10GB left of free space after accounting for common apps and the OS storage needs. Unless you are a really heavy storage user, I wouldn’t sweat only having 32GB. You’ll have to examine your storage needs for yourself though.

Camera

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The 12MP camera with flash on the back with phase detect auto-focus and a dual-tone flash on the Nextbit Robin disappointed me a bit. The lag between pressing the shutter button and and taking a picture can sometimes be surprisingly long; even approaching a whole second. The pictures are pretty detailed though and generally not terrible. However, in low light, details get really muddy. The rear camera also features 4K video recording at 30 fps and some level of slow motion. That’s pretty neat. Just keep in mind your hard limit on storage when recording 4k video.

The front camera is a 5MP sensor and gives you the basics for pictures of yourself (I refuse to type that word) and video chat.

I recommend downloading an app like Open Camera to make the most of this camera’s features. It brings more function to it than the unusually basic stock camera software.

Sensors

Compass and GPS were good, but sometimes GPS lock was slow. Having a gyroscope meant apps like the ISS tracker and Sky Map worked much more fluidly. Other things like the brightness sense functioned as expected.

Notification Light and Fingerprint Sensor

I think the fingerprint sensor placement is genius. When I picked up the phone to use it, my thumb practically landed on the sensor each time. That means I can unlocked the phone with barely any effort. That said, I don’t like my phone having my fingerprint stored and I like effort, so I don’t use it.

The notification light on this phone is in an unconventional place; right next to the charging port. Why would you put the notification light on the bottom? Funny you should ask that. Think about this:

If you put your phone in your pocket or purse with the bottom facing up, you can see if you have a notification without having to turn the screen toward you.

When the phone is face down on a table, you can clearly see the notification light pulsing on the bottom of the phone.

To me, it’s a genius design feature. It’s about as good as Motorola’s active display at challenging the status quo of phone design.

Radios and Connectivity

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Dual band Wi-fi with AC at this price is practically unheard of. I love that it’s here. Nextbit claims GSM support for AT&T and T-Mobile plus bands for international calling. Check their official spec page HERE for more information on supported bands. on top of that, you also get Bluetooth 4.0 LE. The only port other than a 3.5mm headphone jack is the USB Type-C charging port at the bottom. If you’re an early adopter of the new USB standard plug, great. If you’ve got a ton of spare micro USB cables around, they’ll be useless here without adapters.

Battery

The nextbit robin battery is notoriously small for the specs of this phone, but the android 7.1 updates, according to some, have improved battery life quite a bit. In my non-scientific testing, the nextbit did worse than the Moto E4 in battery life, but still got me through the day.  Quickcharge 2.0 did help me get the phone charged to 100% in a hurry, so the smaller battery didn’t bother me much. As a side note, the Nextbit Robin does NOT come with a wall-USB adapter. You’ll have to supply that on your own. They assume you’ve already got one.

Overall Review

I thought the Nextbit Robin did almost everything well and nothing great; excepting pushing innovation in phone design. The real question is, with all the quirks and features you just read about, is it still worth $129 (or slightly less). Does the low price make up for the lack of support? Well, that’s for you to answer. If you’re a light user like me, then you really probably don’t care about 4K video, 6-core CPUs, and even 1080p screens. Heavier users looking for a budget option might like this phone.

I think it gets the nod as a curiosity as long as you can stomach the lack of support after purchase.

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