Mobile phones have come a long way since the 2000s (just take a look at our hands-on review of the Nokia E70 in 2006). More than a decade later, as smartphones have undeniably become daily essential tool in our lives, it feels like we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns in terms of software and hardware from the major tech behemoths, with focus on incremental improvements. It’s devices from start-ups, like Monohm’s stone-shaped Runcible (with planned non-obsolescence) to Sesame’s touch-free smartphone for those with physical disabilities, that are stoking the fire for innovation in the mobile phone world. Today, the Robin device from Nextbit joins the line-up as an Android smartphone that integrates the cloud directly into the OS and intelligently manages your storage. With this “cloud-first” mindset, the Robin—which launches on Kickstarter today—has 32GB of offline storage and 100GB of online storage.
Nextbit was founded in 2012 by Tom Moss and Mike Chan, who both worked on the Android team at Google. To develop Robin’s outer look, they hired former HTC design lead Scott Croyle to be their Chief Design and Product Officer. “Our brand is about simplicity and rebellion,” Croyle tells CH during a demo of the Robin prototype (noticeably, he was wearing teal Adidas sneakers that matched the phone’s minty colorway).
Robin is available directly to the customer, not sold through a carrier, so it comes unlocked and with zero bloatware—no third party apps to delete upon unboxing. The phone’s most distinguishing factor is its cloud integration and smart storage software. Photos and apps are backed up to the cloud regularly, and once your phone starts running out of space, Robin will use its knowledge of how you use the phone to offload the photos and apps you haven’t used in a while—and if they’re needed, a simple tap brings them back right away. That dreaded “Storage Almost Full” message—which always seems to pop-up at the most inconvenient times—can be banished forever.
“It’s your phone, do what you want with it. If you remove our custom operating system and install stock Android, we’ll still honor your warranty,” says Moss when asked what happens if a customer likes the phone, but not the software solution. This intensely customer-centric point of view is a refreshing focus given their limited resources as a start-up. And having spent a little time with the device, we found hard to consider wanting to remove its simple user experience anyway.
Overall, the Robin looks like it’s actually taking advantage of the major leaps in cloud technology over the past few years—the first of, hopefully, more cloud-based phones to come. Plus it’s leveraging the commoditization of processors, screens and components to bring a premium feeling phone to market at a reasonable price.
Nextbit’s Kickstarter campaign launches today; the first 1000 backers can reserve the phone for $299 (a $100 discount) with expected delivery in February 2016.
Images courtesy of Nextbit