Two ex-Googlers are launching a new device that promises to turn a 32GB phone into one with 100GB of storage

Tom Moss headshot


Tom Moss, CEO and cofounder of Nextbit

When Tom Moss and Mike Chan left Motorola in 2012, they began brainstorming ideas for their next big venture.

While the two worked as entrepreneurs in residence at Accel Partners, there was one idea that particularly struck Chan - and it was inspired by "Angry Birds."

"I was very frustrated, because I was really, really into 'Angry Birds,' and switching between your devices was actually a really frustrating experience at the time," said Chan, who also worked with Moss on Google's original Android team until 2010.
That type of problem is at the core of what Moss and Chan's company Nextbit is aiming to solve.

The startup just launched a Kickstarter campaign for their first phone, Robin, which the company says "intelligently adapts" to your storage needs and makes it easier to sync information across devices.

The storage problem

Smartphones today come with a certain amount of local storage, from 16 to 128GB. The more storage you get, the more expensive the phone usually is.

That's why cloud storage has become so popular - Google, Dropbox, Amazon, Apple, and a bunch of other companies offer virtual storage options that allow you to access your files and photos by simply signing into your account.

Robin is an Android phone that will have this capability built in. Robin will automatically backup all of your photos, apps, and files to the cloud via Amazon Web Services when you're connected to Wi-Fi or while the phone is charging so that you'll be able to access them immediately if you switch phones or jump between a phone and a tablet. Apple's iCloud does this too, but you only get 5GB of storage space for free. Google gives you 15GB of cloud storage for free and Dropbox gives you 2GB of free space before you have to upgrade.

Nextbit claims that Robin will expand a 32GB phone into 100GB with cloud storage, and it will all be included in the $400 price. So by that logic, you'll be getting a little less than 70GB for free with the price of the phone.

Making cloud storage invisible

Robin in hand


Robin will also optimize the apps and photos that appear on your phone according to how often you use them so that you get the most out of your storage.

If you downloaded a game six months ago, for example, and haven't played it in over a month, Robin will move that app to the cloud.

The app icon for the game will still appear in your app drawer, but it will be grayed out so that you know it's stored in the cloud. A simple tap will bring it back to your phone, with all of your scores and progess saved. You won't even have to log back into your account when re-installing an app, the Nextbit team says.

Robin will only do this when your phone is running out of local storage. And, you'll be able to pin certain apps so that they always stay on the phone regardless of how often you use them.
Moss also said his team has gone to great lengths to make sure the software is architected in a very "intelligent" way so that it doesn't eat through your data. But, we won't know exactly how well that aspect of the software works until the phone actually ships.

A big focus on design

Robin   Mint   1000x1000 (1)


Although software will be a big part of how Robin aims to stand out, the company has also put a lot of effort into the phone's design. Scott Croyle, the HTC's senior VP of design that lead the development of the HTC One, is Nextbit's chief designer. The first HTC One, which Croyle helped design, was hailed by critics as being one of the most gorgeous smartphones of its time.

The phone's hardware will be about on-par with other mid-range to high-end Android phones. Robin will come with a 13-megapixel camera, a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, a 5-megapixel front camera, 3GB of RAM, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor. There will also be a fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button on the side of the phone, which will let you unlock the phone while turning it on.

For context, the Robin will have the same amount of memory and local storage as the Galaxy S6, but with a lower-resolution screen and a slightly lower-spec camera. But at $400, it will be a lot cheaper than a phone like the Galaxy S6, which costs around $600 unlocked.Those who order the phone early on Kickstarter will get it even cheaper, at either $300 or $349, depending on when you order it.

Mike Chan headshot


Nextbit CTO and cofounder Mike Chan

"We were the underdogs"

Nexbit is one of few startups that are hoping to succeed by targeting the low end with Android devices. Chinese company OnePlus, for instance, also sells low-cost unlocked Android phones with specs that are nearly on par with those of much more expensive Android phones.

But it's still going to be extremely difficult to stand out in a market that's largely dominated by Apple and Samsung.

Of all the companies in the world that make smartphones, only five actually captured a significant portion of the worldwide market in Q2 2015. And Samsung and Apple have account for a large portion of that, with Samsung accounting for 21.4% of the worldwide smartphone market and Apple accounting for 23.9%, according to the International Data Corporation.

But Moss says the idea for Robin stretches beyond the product itself.

"Once networks get there and you have better coverage, you can totally imagine a world where devices are almost disposable," Moss said. "And you can authenticate with any piece of smart glass."

The two cofounders have learned a lot from their early days on the Android team. Before Android became one of the largest computing platforms in the world, it had to compete with the iPhone while convincing carriers to give up their tight control over the mobile phone industry.
"At Android, for the longest time we were underdogs. Not just within Google but within the industry," said Chan. "So I think just being an underdog and fighting that battle and winning it, we bring some of that mentality to Nextbit. Why not just go for it? We've done it before, so let's do it again."

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