Nowadays, smartphones come in different storage variants, and many with no expandable storage option either. More often than not the only solution is to shell out more money to buy a higher storage variant. Even I had to settle for a 16GB model of the iPhone 6, because the higher storage variants were beyond my budget. Another workaround involves buying a lower storage variant, and back up your content on cloud services like Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud in case of an iPhone. But what if a smartphone is able to automatically back up your data, and even your apps when your internal storage runs out? US-based Nextbit is trying to deliver this through its first smartphone, Robin. Also Read - Nokia 5310 Review: A heavy bet on XpressMusic nostalgia
Priced at Rs 19,999, the Nextbit Robin is also touted as the first cloud smartphone. I will elaborate its much-hyped smart storage feature in a bit, but first let’s talk about the hardware, camera and other key features of the smartphone. Also Read - DxOMark has received offers of money to review cameras on many occasions
Design Also Read - Xiaomi Redmi Y1 Review: Embracing the selfie
I have had the privilege of using some of the most beautifully designed smartphones such as the HTC One A9, Samsung Galaxy S7 and even budget devices like the LeEco Le 1s. If you look at these smartphones, it’s not hard to guess that the modern smartphones have embraced metal and curvy design, and that’s the way it is going to be in the near future. The Nextbit Robin though neither has metal nor the curves, yet it manages to grab your attention with its unique design.
I have lost count of the number of times people have gazed at the smartphone with utmost curiosity. It is safe to assume that a non-tech enthusiast would not know about the brand, nor might they have seen such a slab-like smartphone in a long time. Donning a plastic body, the Robin has a 5.2-inch rectangle with straight and relatively sharp edges, reminiscent to Microsoft’s Lumia smartphones.
The symmetrical design of the smartphone is quite cool. Elements like speakers at the top and bottom of the front panel, and neat back panel among others help it stand out in the crowd. In fact, the button-shaped speaker can be easily confused as a home button, but it isn’t. It doesn’t have physical capacitive touch buttons for navigation, and the home button is located on the right edge, which also happens to double up as a fingerprint scanner. The placement of the fingerprint scanner on the right edge on the power button reminds you of the Sony Xperia Z5, which was launched last year.
It does take a couple of days to get used to the unique form factor, but once you are used to it, the smartphone feels much better to hold in your hands. I’d like to point out that the 5.2-inch Robin does feel like a large phablet as compared to compact the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7.
I have been using the ‘Mint’ color variant, which I think is quite cute if not sexy. That said, the color of the smartphone, particularly the off-white back panel, tends to fade after a few days of usage. Overall, the smartphone does score high on delivering a unique design, and is likely to woo customers wanting a different looking smartphone from the rest.
Being a new entrant, Nextbit is making sure it offers the right hardware and software balance. But sadly, it doesn’t really get it right. The 5.2-inch IPS display on the Robin has full HD resolution, but it is reflective and is very difficult to use under direct sunlight. It works just fine indoors.
The smartphone runs on Nextbit OS based on Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 out-of-the-box and is powered by a Snapdragon 808 processor along with 3GB of RAM. Nextbit hasn’t overly customized the stock Android experience, though there are some noticeable changes like custom icons for each stock app. It doesn’t have an app drawer, so all your apps appear right on the home screens.
The Robin handles regular tasks such as browsing and messaging well, as well as heavy duty tasks such as high-resolution multimedia streaming and gaming. Graphic intensive games like Need For Speed and Mortal Kombat ran fluidly on the device.
One of the things that really turned me off about the Robin was its poor battery life. The battery won’t deliver more than 5-6 hours of back up on varying normal to heavy usages. Most of the times I had to carry a powerbank along with me to keep the smartphone alive. Another bummer was the erratic fingerprint scanner. Oddly placed on the right edge, an inconsistent fingerprint scanner didn’t really help.
If you are into smartphone photography, the Robin will not thrill you. The 13-megapixel camera at the back features phase detection auto-focus and dual-tone flash. There’s a Pro mode as well. The smartphone works best in good light conditions, but results are pretty mediocre in terms of detailing, sharpness and color balance. Low and dark light images are just not up to the mark. For a Rs 20,000 smartphone, the camera leaves a lot to be desired. The 5-megapixel front camera is just about good enough to take selfies that can be shared on social media.
Now let’s talk about the most important feature of the smartphone — smart storage.
How does the smart storage work?
Basically, the Nextbit Robin comes with clever software that manages your internal storage as you put more content and apps on your smartphone. It offers 100GB of smart storage on the cloud, which starts to back up your content as soon as the 32GB internal storage (24GB user available) starts to run out. The software automatically learns your usage behavior and keeps only those apps and content on your device which you use the most, and the rest are backed up.
Do not confuse smart storage with usual cloud services like Google Drive. Justifying its ‘cloud smartphone’ moniker, the smartphone has a much deeper integration of the cloud. You cannot separately access the smart storage like you would do on Google Drive or OneDrive since it’s integrated within the OS.
Spotting your archived apps is an easy task. Once smart storage is activated, the lesser used apps turn grey. To reuse them, you need to tap on the grey icon, and smart storage will restore your archived app. In case you don’t want a particular app to be archived, you can choose to pin an app. To pin an app, you need to swipe down on the icon. The icon gets smaller in size with a checkmark on it. You can also keep track of all your pinned apps through a dedicated section for pinned apps, which is available on your home screen.
Do note that system apps or even Google apps cannot be archived or pinned. This makes sense, as altering them could mar the overall software experience. Another thing to note is that the Nextbit Robin does not back up your videos, so you have to either rely on Google Drive or the traditional method of cut and paste on your laptop or hard drives.
The Robin also allows you to monitor the cloud storage levels. Head over to Settings, and tap on smart storage. You will be given a graphical presentation of your internal storage as well as cloud storage. Nextbit further gives you multiple options to control the way you want archive your apps. In Settings, tap on the three dots icon, choose options whether you want to back up or not, or back up only when Wi-Fi is on or both on Wi-Fi and mobile data.
Smart storage: Do you actually need it?
So the questions is, do you really need a solution like smart storage? Well, yes and no. The smartphone comes with 32GB internal storage, had it supported microSD, say up to 128GB, you may not have needed the backup, at least in the immediate feature. It is worth pointing out that Android Marshmallow lets you move your apps to SD cards. Also, you might have already backed up your photos and videos on your Google Drive or iCloud, so yeah, you may not necessarily need it.
Here’s the thing, smart storage can be a nice add-on feature to have but it cannot be the main USP of a smartphone that otherwise has mediocre performance. It is innovation for the heck of it, when for most people a microSD card would suffice. Uploading and then downloading your stuff would consume data from your Wi-Fi connection’s FUP limit, so it isn’t truly free. Also if you are outside a Wi-Fi network and require something that has been archived, you will have to download it again over relatively expensive cellular data connection.
So should you buy this smartphone? Let’s summarize what do you get for Rs 19,999 — good user experience and 100GB smart storage solution. The unique design will certainly attract youth and style enthusiasts. But then you have to compromise on the display quality, camera and battery life fronts.
The smart storage is a novel feature but it is not something that you cannot live without. Personally I can live without such storage solution if I get good battery life and a decent camera in a smartphone. Better still a microSD card slot. For approximately Rs 20,000, you can get powerhouses like Asus Zenfone 2 and Motorola Moto X Play. If style is your thing, you should check out the Lenovo Vibe X3, which not only has the looks but also delivers near-excellent performance on all fronts.