A Rabbit Hunt

The Rabbit R1 sounds quirky, fun, and half-baked. But the price and expectations were set correctly.
A morning with the Rabbit R1: a fun, funky, unfinished AI gadget
Playing with the R1 is fun. But there’s not much to do with it yet.

David Pierce is back with some thoughts about an AI device. And while he may not be able to slaughter a startup like MKBHD, he can certainly take out its knees. Run, Rabbit, run!

From a hardware perspective, the R1 screams “kinda meh Android phone.” Here are the salient specs: it’s about three inches tall and wide and a half-inch thick. It weighs 115 grams, which is about two-thirds as much as the iPhone 15. It has a 2.88-inch screen, runs on a 2.3GHz MediaTek MT6765 processor, and has 128 gigs of storage and four gigs of RAM. It has a speaker on the back, two mics on the top, and a SIM card slot on the side right next to the USB-C charging port. It only comes in one color, a hue Rabbit calls “leuchtorange” but is often known as “brilliant orange” or “luminous orange.” It’s definitely orange, and it’s definitely luminous.

At this point, the best way I can describe the R1 is like a Picasso painting of a smartphone: it has most of the same parts, just laid out really differently. Instead of sitting on top or in the back, the R1’s camera sits in a cutout space on the right side of the device, where it can spin its lens to face both toward and away from you.

But actually, Pierce sort of likes the quirky Rabbit R1 device.

After spending a few hours playing with the device, I have to say: it’s pretty nice. Not luxurious, or even particularly high-end, just silly and fun. Where Humane’s AI Pin feels like a carefully sculpted metal gem, the R1 feels like an old-school MP3 player crossed with a fidget spinner. The wheel spins a little stiffly for my taste but smoothly enough, the screen is a little fuzzy but fine, and the main action button feels satisfying to thump on.

As it turns out, if you don't promise Heaven and Earth, you don't have to deliver Heaven and Earth. That's not to say the R1 wasn't hyped up in its unveiling – it obviously was – but it felt far more organic. Almost like the crowds at CES were just sitting around waiting for some AI hardware to drop. And when it did so with a playful video – yes, with Apple-like echoes, but almost Bizzaro-Apple, in again, a fun way – everyone ate it up. And pre-ordered. It helps that the device is $199 not $699.

Once I was eventually up and running, I started chatting with the R1. So far, it does a solid job with basic AI questions: it gave me lots of good information about this week’s NFL draft, found a few restaurants near me, and knew when Herbert Hoover was president. This is all fairly basic ChatGPT stuff, and there’s some definite lag as it fetches answers, but I much prefer the interface to the Humane AI Pin — because there’s a screen, and you can see the thing working so the AI delays don’t feel quite so interminable.

Literally all such a device needed to do. Again, I would argue it could have even been simpler, as a voice-only ChatGPT communicator without a screen, but as Pierce notes, the screen actually seems to help you forgive any lag here.

The R1 is far from perfect, of course:

Almost immediately, though, I started running into stuff the R1 just can’t do. It can’t send emails or make spreadsheets, though Lyu has been demoing both for months. Rabbithole is woefully unfinished, too, to the point I was trying to tap around on my phone and it was instead moving a cursor around a half-second after every tap. That’s a good reminder that the whole thing is running on a virtual machine storing all your apps and credentials, which still gives me security-related pause.

In general, a lot of it sounds sort of half-baked. Decent ideas that weren't full fleshed out:

The R1’s Vision feature, which uses the camera to identify things in the scene around you, seems to work fine as long as all you want is a list of objects in the scene. The device can’t take a photo or video and doesn’t seem to be able to do much else with what it can see.

I imagine Apple is going to do a far better job on the same general idea... And to that end, is there a space for the R1 in a world where very soon it feels like the smartphones are going to charge into this market? Not if you're trying to replace the smartphone, like Humane's AI Pin. But if you're just trying to augment it, there may be a path at the right price, like the Limitless Pendant.

R1 feels sort of in between those two extremes, but with a price closer to the Pendant, which is good. And again, it's fun. Probably not the future of everything, but something that might point in the direction of the future if you squint.

Update May 6, 2024: Well, turns out that in his full review, Pierce likes the Rabbit R1 even less than the Humane AI Pin...

No Rabbit Out of the Hat
Sadly, it sounds like Rabbit’s R1 AI device sucks too