When most people are looking for a new phone, Kickstarter usually isn’t a first pick for a new device. Well, I’m not most people, I’m not even similar to the average person...and one cold night on eBay, I bought a Nextbit Robin for $130.
Why? I already had a brand new Honor 8 that I had just acquired at the time and other perfectly serviceable smartphones all within reach. Well, at such a cheap cost, why not?
Such is one of my arts. I tend to get crazy deals on phones that haven’t even had their wraps taken off them. Of course, I’m mainly writing you this review today because I scored another crazy deal, a new Honor 5X for $40.
Well, it’s the Nexus 5X’s nerdier, clumsier, slightly younger brother. Where the Nexus excels at being one of the purest experiences you can get for little dime, the Robin strives on an eye-catching design and a cloud saving concept.
In short, the Robin is a 5X for someone who wants something just a little different.
The Robin seemingly breaks the mold with a design that proudly stands out from the rest. In a smartphone world where rounded metal reigns supreme, I never knew I’d find such a rectangular box a welcoming sight.
That’s pretty much all this phone is. It’s a thin plastic box that comes in three colours (white/mint, gray/gray, gray/red).
I adore the design. The plastic doesn’t feel cheap and despite being as plain as a box of Corn Flakes. I do wish the screen wasn’t bordered by a thick black frame, though it’s a forgivable design quirk given the launch price.
The Robin has about the same guts as the Nexus 5X. A few things differ, though in all honesty nothing that even advanced users will be able to pick out.
My favourite feature of this phone is actually the fingerprint scanner. The power button (there is no home button here) lives a second life scanning fingerprints. The neat thing about this is that you can press the power button to wake and simultaneously unlock your phone in less than a second!
It’s a little annoying when you just want to skip a song or just dismiss notifications on the lockscreen, though I’ve found the best solution to that being using the joint or tip of my thumb to wake the phone.
The Robin comes with a lightly modded skin of standard Android. It’s absolutely delightful to see a phone that doesn’t come filled with bloatware or murdered by a heavy skin.
That said, the skin is quite annoying when it comes to how it scales icons and completely dumps widgets. To fix that, I recommend Nova Launcher like above. You can also set the screen DPI to something smaller through the Android Debug Bridge. I recommend:
adb shell wm density 350
Otherwise, it’s actually the first Android skin I didn’t immediately want to replace with another Rom.
The Robin was a promising concept. Get some of the biggest minds in Android together then build a phone that does something that no other does. On paper, the Robin is revolutionary. In practice, it solves a problem that already has a better solution. Ironically, such seems to be an industry issue in general. Companies claim revolutionary features, when at best either they’re incremental changes or at worst they break the phone.
In the case of the Robin, its revolutionary feature is also its arguably most useless. In a world where some people are always running out of phone storage, the Robin employs the help of the cloud. The idea being when you buy a Robin, you get 100gb of free cloud based storage on top of the internal 32gb, negating the need to purchase a microSD card.
Again, on paper this is great. In practice? Well it doesn’t really work fully.
The idea assumes the phone’s user is going to have unlimited, un-throttled data or are only going to sync on wifi. Basically, you can pick and choose what gets stored on the cloud, and the phone itself will automatically “remove” old unused apps from the phone and store them on the cloud as well. The phone also automatically backs up your data when you plug it in on wifi as well. In most situations, this works just fine. You tap a grayed out app, and it just downloads back onto your phone. When it opens, it starts off when you left off, it’s actually pretty brilliant.
The problem comes forth when you need an app and you aren’t online. If you forget to download a certain app or other wanted data before boarding a plane or going off the grid, well you’re going to have to deal with it. If Nextbit’s servers run slow (which is at least half the time), it also takes forever to get the apps back...often way longer than it took to download it from the Play Store to begin with.
Then comes the problem with the Razer acquisition. The Robin storage servers will be shut down around 2018. That means the most revolutionary aspect of the phone only gets to live for about 2 years. When the servers get shut down, the phone becomes a Nexus 5X in a cuter body.
After using my Robin for a while, I feel like the cloud aspect is a complex solution to a problem that was already solved. Why go through all the work (and the money) of setting up a cloud server when just adding a MicroSD slot would have been easier with a better lifespan?
But, I am willing to forgive the Robin. It’s not a flagship nor a flagship killer. It’s an affordable phone that has a few tricks up its sleeve. Not revolutionary and will ultimately be forgotten, but still a nice phone nonetheless.
(Photo from Photobucket: The rear camera is not the best. With distance images like the above it’s pretty good. It actually brings out reflections really well. It is pretty terrible with close-ups, the focus just can’t seem to get it right without a lot of painful work.)
IF you’re able to ignore the cloud quirks, the phone’s build quality will stop you in your tracks. On the surface, the Robin has a great and solid build. The plastic of the phone feels smooth and sturdy, the screen feels like it can take big hits without damage. Well...
It’s a bit of a mess. Early Robins would warp badly around the battery - the plastic couldn’t stand the heat - and the phone doesn’t get nearly as hot as anything from Samsung.
Other Robins would have screens that pop out of their housings, plastic that was so brittle it cracked, and other phones that experienced bad discolouration really quickly.
On phones with later builds like mine, they somehow figured out how to solve those issues, only to screw up even more things. On later builds, the screens have prominent bright spots, dead pixels, and splotches from the factory. These same phones have weird software glitches like a bluetooth that randomly outputs flat audio, onboard speakers that are tinny and pop right out of the box, a hotspot function that doesn’t work unless you don’t have a password on it, among other issues.
All these phones also cannot be put into a back pocket without bending. Their plastic builds aren’t backed with beefy metal inner frames like most phones. This means they do bend kinda easily with a weak spot near both the volume buttons and the power button.
In other words, it’s a phone that reminds you any time it can that it was birthed from a startup company. And that’s when it’s working.
If you break the screen or need replacement parts, you’re out of luck. Nexbit never bothered making replacement parts. So, if you broke your screen, they just replaced your phone. When Razer took over, this process became horrendous. Their warranty process takes approximately one month. You send in your phone, then wait a month for a new one to be sent to you.
An alternative method they suggest is that you return your phone to the vendor you bought it from and buy another. Such only works in a situation where you didn’t buy the phone at a discount. Otherwise, you’ll be returning your defective phone then spending more money to replace it. That’s not how a warranty works.
If you buy a new Robin today, too bad, your warranty is only for a month. Razer is only honoring the warranties to sometime this month. So even if you buy a brand spankin’ new Robin, know that it’s not going to have a warranty and soon, not even a cloud server.
(The front camera produces some bold colours! It’s one of the better Android front cameras I’ve used. I’d even say it outpaces the Galaxy s7's camera.)
I like the Robin, I really do. The Robin will be joining my Honor 8 in my display case. They both are interesting phones that deliver memorable experiences. They’re phones that catch the eye. It’s the first phone that I’ve ever owned that people actually come up to me and ask me what it is. The phone gets a lot of attention wherever it goes.
It is also really cheap. I got mine for only $130 brand new. Since these phones are basically in “forgotten” status, they’ve depreciated steeply.
However, with all that is great, there are plenty of headaches. They’re not replaceable, they don’t have replacement parts, the warranty is meaningless, and the build quality is terrible.
Is it a good phone? I think so. However, like a smart isn’t for everyone, a Robin definitely IS NOT for everyone as well...With that in mind, I’d rate the Robin a 3.7. It’s a solid phone, but it’s not without its many flaws.