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An early look at Nextbit's 'cloud first' Robin smartphone

Nicole Lee , @nicole
09.04.15
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Nextbit wanted to celebrate the launch of its debut smartphone today at a party in San Francisco, but it turned out to be a celebration of success as well. In just under 12 hours, the startup reached its $500,000 Kickstarter goal to fund the Robin, an Android phone that isn't only "cloud first," but also surprisingly design forward as well. We had a chance to get an early look at what the final product might actually look like (though bear in mind these are all still prototypes) and asked Scott Croyle, Nextbit's Chief Product and Design Officer -- who's also a former design lead for HTC -- a few questions about the phone too.

Gallery: Nextbit Robin early look | 12 Photos

First, let's recap: The big idea behind the Robin is that not only does it have 32GB of internal storage, it also comes with 100GB of cloud storage -- completely free. When you've maxed out the capacity on your phone, Robin is intelligent enough to slowly offload lesser used apps and/or media to the cloud. "It's a unique hybrid approach," said Croyle.

While he wasn't able to show the software running on the prototypes to me, he did show a beta version of it running on a Nexus 5. He showed how a lesser used app was greyed out. Tap it, and you'll see a progress bar as the app is loaded back onto the phone from the cloud. After a few minutes, the app will no longer be greyed out and you can use it just as you could before. And if you never ever want an app to be offloaded to the cloud, you can just pin it so that it'll always be on your phone.

As for photos, he says that if you choose to back them up in the cloud, the phone will only load up the original high-res images while keeping downsampled versions in local storage so you can see what you have stored away. You don't always have to use the cloud either; it's completely up to you if you want to enable cloud storage for just media, just apps, both media and apps, or not use it altogether.

What's perhaps even more impressive however, is that hardware. It's a nicely designed device, with straight sides, a slim profile and cool colors -- it comes in both "mint" green and "midnight" blue. On the right side is a power button that also doubles as a fingerprint sensor; just tap and hold it to unlock your phone. In addition to the regular microphone on the bottom, there's also a noise-canceling microphone at the top. As for the rest of the hardware, it also has a 13-megapixel camera, LED flash, a 5.2-inch 1080p screen and a USB-C port.

It's hard to really give hands-on impressions at this point due to the early prototype nature of the device -- the one we're showing here is an EVT, or an "engineering verification test" -- but we're at least able to show a mockup of what it could look like. The overall feel is very light and smooth to the touch. Even though it's squared on the sides, it still felt pretty comfortable to hold thanks to a bit of a "soft touch" finish on the back, which we're told is close to what they want in the final hardware. Powering it all is a pretty-close-to-stock Android Lollipop, albeit with a few Nextbit touches.

There's still 27 more days to the Kickstarter at this point, so you still have time to get one for $349 (the $299 early bird specials are all gone). But if you do, bear in mind there'll be a wait: Croyle tells me they won't start shipping until January 2016 at the earliest.

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