As 2016 starts to wind down, It is always interesting to go back and look at how things progressed throughout the year. To be sure, there have been a huge number of phones launched this year from a wide range of manufactures. One of the new kids on the block, Nextbit, launched their first phone in mid-2015 and started shipping it in February of this year. Originally priced at $399 and having more than a few teething problems (mostly related to a really sluggish camera), the phone has slowly and steadily been updated, fixing issues and improving performance as time has gone by. At the same time, the price kept dropping. Mid-way through the year it hit $299 from Nextbit with Amazon dropping the price for a few weeks here-and-there to $199. Now it is available for $169, a price which makes this solid performing phone a no-brainer. Seriously, I would challenge readers to find an equally equipped phone for this price.
What I’m not going to do here is rehash my review of the Robin. You can read that and get the specs and my initial thoughts. But I will make the case for this phone being the unsung hero of the year based on its specs for the price, the update cycle that Nextbit has been keeping and the open and supported nature the company has taken with the Robin. Let’s start with the specs. It is powered by the Snapdragon 808 processor running at 2GHz and coupled with the Adreno 418 GPU. It has 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM coupled with the processor which gives a nice, snappy feel to the Robin during use. Storage wise you have 32GB available on the device along with 100GB in the Nextbit Smart Storage
The Display of the Robin is a 5.2″ renders at 1080 x 1920 Full HD resolution which gives you approximately 423 PPI. That makes the flat screen of the phone easy on the eyes when viewing for a long period of time. The display is protected by Gorilla glass 4. Camera wise, the main camera is a 13MP unit with phase detection auto focus and a dual-tone flash. On the front you have a 5MP camera that is wide angled to give you a good selfie image.
In the market today, there are a handful of phones that run the Snapdragon 808 processor. Those phones are all substantially more than the Robin.
- Blackberry Priv: $399
- LG V10: $368
- Nexus 5X: $299
- Moto X Pure: $299
- Lumia 959 (Windows 10): $369
All of these phones have 32GB or less in storage so from a price point alone, even at $299, the Robin starts to make a lot of sense.
With any Android phone, outside of the Google Nexus and Pixel line up, the question of any manufacture is how often they will release updates for their devices. There are some that are reasonable at this – Lenovo (Moto) comes to mind as does ASUS. Others are horrifically slow. I’m looking at you Samsung. But if you narrow the field down to newer companies in the market, Nextbit has done an
excellent job of keeping the Robin up-to-date. If you compare Nextbit to OnePlus, a company significantly larger but still a newbie to the phone world, update wise, Nextbit has them covered. The Robin right now is up-to-date to the September Android Security patch. That’s not bad at all. OnePlus is still running back on the July update. Nextbit has also done a good job of knocking out bugs in their phone. When the Robin launched in February, the camera was… well, unusable for the most part. Quality was bad and it was incredibly slow. But the company fixed it quick, releasing its first major update in April followed up by smaller ones in June and July. The latest update, released in October, has continued to tweak and improve the phone’s software. Couple that with separate software updates for the Nextbit apps and you have a continually improving device. Is it perfect? No. No phone is perfect. But with the commitment to having a Nougat build out by the end of the year, it is clear that Nextbit is going to keep a pretty reasonable pace of updates out for their first phone.
Finally, there is the openness of the Robin by Nextbit. It is unlocked. Completely unlocked. The bootloader is unlocked and Nextbit has absolutely no issue with you loading another ROM onto the device. Sure you lose one of the big benefits of the phone, Smart Storage, but if you want to run Paranoid Android on your Robin, knock yourself out. Unlike most phone manufactures, not only do they encourage users to try different ROMs, they go as far as not voiding your warranty when you do install one. In fact, they even have instructions on how to get your Robin back to the factory ROM in their community pages.
Try that with really any other manufacture out there. They not only don’t support it but you can forget ever getting help on that phone again.
That makes Nextbit and the Robin as unique as the minimalist design of the phone. It sets them apart and if you are a developer and just want a test phone, you can’t go wrong with the Robin. It will have far fewer hurdles to jump to get a ROM baked on it than other phones.
All of this adds up to a device that has been marginalized and in some cases dismissed as a serious Android phone. I disagree. I believe the value of the Robin is not only the sum of its parts but the company behind it. These are passionate people with lots of phone experience. They know what they are doing and they have built a phone that is outstanding. It is a phone that is functional, feature rich and unique both in appearance and in features that has a company behind it to support its users and a vibrant user community. Frankly, it reminds me of where OnePlus was back on their first phone but they have since lost the plot a bit. Time will tell if Nextbit survives and that is always a risk in a very competitive market. I hope they do because the market needs a Nextbit to buck the system and do something out of the box. They call their users Rebels and they are a bit rebellious as a company. I like that and hope it doesn’t change.