The Chromebook of smartphones? Nextbit Robin uses the cloud to expand your storage

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The Nextbit Robin, currently raising funds on Kickstarter, takes a cloud-based approach to the modern smartphone

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In the last few years, storage space has become a bigger concern on many flagship smartphones – especially entry-level 16 GB models. Rather than increasing the phone's storage, one startup thinks it's high time we remove the concern altogether by sharing smartphone storage with the cloud.

Nextbit is a self-described "small band of rebels," founded by former Google and HTC vets. Somewhat similar to Google's Chromebooks, the startup's new flagship, Robin, uses the cloud to make internal storage a moot point.

The phone technically has 32 GB internal storage (double what you'll get out of an entry-level iPhone, and equal to an entry-level 2015 Samsung flagship), but it also includes 100 GB of cloud storage. The company says everything you do on your phone – apps, photos, you name it – is backed up to the cloud while the handset is charging and connected to Wi-Fi.

Then, after you start running out of space (and after it's learned your usage habits), the phone starts offloading some of your least-used content to the cloud. If you want an app or photo back, just tap on it and "we restore the full version right away."

The idea is similar to how iOS manages cloud photo backups in its latest Photos app, only Robin casts its net wider to include apps.

Nextbit says this can open some exciting new doors, like the ability to shoot all your photos in RAW format, without worrying about all the storage RAW requires.

So what happens if you go crazy by, say, shooting every photo in RAW and then downloading 500 games from the Play Store, and fill up all 32 GB of local storage and 100 GB cloud storage? A paid option to upgrade cloud storage seems like the logical answer, but Nextbit's Kickstarter campaign and press materials don't specifically address that possibility. We reached out to the company and will update if we receive a comment.

Either way, much of the approach's effectiveness will depend on how quickly "right away" really is. If re-downloading a cloud-based app isn't much faster or more convenient than downloading it from the Play Store, then the whole idea sounds a lot less appealing (and of course wireless speeds will play a part in that equation as well).

The phone itself looks as unique as its approach to storage, with an angular design complete with round, dimple-like speakers above and below the screen. It will ship in mint and midnight color options.

In terms of hardware specs, Robin has a 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS display. Its engine is a Snapdragon 808 processor with 3 GB of RAM, while cameras include a 13 MP rear and 5 MP front. It will charge via USB Type C and have a fingerprint sensor on its power key (which sits on the right edge of the phone).

Robin is built on Android (Nextbit says it will do its best to ship with the upcoming Marshmallow flavor), and the company says it will push OTA updates as soon as it can after Google releases new versions. It's hard to imagine the custom flavor of Android not requiring some considerable modifications to stock, though, so we'd guess Nexus-like turnaround times will be a stretch.

One update obstacle that Robin won't have to deal with will be carrier approval, as Nextbit is skipping the US wireless behemoths and selling Robin unlocked (GSM only) directly to consumers. Right now it's raising funds on Kickstarter, where Nextbit says a US$299 minimum pledge will get a Robin (early bird pricing, after that the minimum jumps to $349). If all goes according to plan, the company expects the phone to ship in January of 2016. At the time of publication, it's already raised 39 percent of its $500,000 goal with 29 days to go.

You can find out more about Robin at the source links below.

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