At CES this January, startup Rabbit unveiled its first device, just in time for the end of the Lunar Year of the Rabbit. It’s a cute little orange square that’s been positioned as a “pocket companion that moves AI from words to actions.” In other words, it’s basically a special AI machine that acts like a virtual assistant’s walkie-talkie.

Sound familiar? You’re probably thinking of the Humane AI Pin, which was announced last year and started shipping this month. I awarded it a score of 50 (out of 100) earlier this month, while outlets like With cable and On the edge gave it similarly low scores of 4 out of 10.

The folks at Rabbit are paying close attention to the implications of the Humane AI Pin launch and reviews. This was evident in founder and CEO Jesse Liu’s address at an unboxing event at the TWA Hotel in New York last night, where the company showcased the rabbit R1 and eager early adopters listened rapturously before picking up their pre-orders. Engadget’s sample module is on its way to Devindra Hardawar, who will be handling this review. But I was present last night to check out units at the event that industry peers were unboxing (thanks to Max Weinbach for the help!).

For a refresher, the Rabbit R1 is a bright orange square co-developed by Teenage Engineering and Rabbit. It has a built-in 2.88-inch color display, an 8-megapixel camera that can look in both directions, and a scroll wheel reminiscent of a Playdate crank. The latter, by the way, is a compact handheld gaming device that was also designed by Teenage Engineering, and the Rabbit R1 shares its charming retro aesthetic. Again, like the Humane AI Pin, the Rabbit R1 should be your gateway to an AI-powered assistant and operating system. However, there are a few key differences that Liu covered in detail at last night’s launch event.

Let’s get this out of the way: the Rabbit R1 already looks a lot more attractive than the Humane AI Pin. First of all, it costs $199 — less than a third of the AI ​​Pin’s $700. Humane also requires a monthly subscription fee of $24 or its device will be rendered useless. The rabbit, as Liu repeatedly repeated throughout the night, required no such fee. You’ll just be responsible for your own cellular service (4G LTE only, no 5G) and can carry your own SIM card or just default to good old Wi-Fi. You’ll also find the USB-C charging port there.

The R1’s advantages over the Pin don’t end there. By virtue of its integrated screen (rather than a flimsy, albeit intriguing projector), the orange square is more flexible and much easier to interact with. You can use the wheel to scroll through items and press the button on the right side to confirm the selection. You can also touch the screen or press a button to start talking to the software.

Now, I haven’t taken photos with the device myself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images I saw on its screen. Perhaps my expectations were rather low, but when reviewers in a media room set up their devices using the built-in cameras to scan QR codes, I found the images on the screens to be crisp and impressively vivid. By the way, users won’t just capture photos, videos and QR codes with the Rabbit R1. It also has a Vision feature like the Humane AI Pin, which will analyze an image you take and tell you what’s in it. In Liu’s demo, R1 told him he saw a crowd of people at an “event or concert venue.”

A Rabbit R1 device on top of a table with a USB-C cable plugged into its left end.  The screen is on and says

Cherlynn Low for Engadget

We’ll have to wait until Devindra actually takes some pictures with our R1 unit and downloads them from the web-based portal that Rabbit cleverly calls the Rabbit Hole. Its name for camera-based features is Rabbit Eye, which is simply adorable. In fact, another thing that distinguishes Rabbit from Humane is the former’s personality. The R1 just oozes character. From the witty feature names to the retro aesthetic to the on-screen animation and the fact that the AI ​​will actually make (cheeky) jokes, Rabbit and Teenage Engineering have developed something that has a lot more flavor than Humane’s almost clinical look and approach.

Of all the things Liu covered at Humane last night, however, conspicuously absent was talk of the R1’s thermals or the AI ​​Pin’s heat issues. To be clear, the R1 is slightly larger than the Humane device and uses an octa-core MediaTek MT6765 processor compared to AI Pin’s Snapdragon chip. There’s currently no indication that the Rabbit device will run as hot as Humane’s Pin, but I’ve been burned (metaphorically) before and remain cautious.

I’m also slightly concerned about the glossy plastic build of the R1. It looks good and feels lighter than expected, weighing just 115 grams or about a quarter of a kilo. The scroll wheel moved smoothly when I pressed it up and down, and there were no physical grooves or notches, unlike the rotating hinge on Samsung’s Galaxy watches. The camera housing sat flush with the rest of the R1’s case, and overall the unit felt refined and finished.

Most of my other impressions of the Rabbit R1 came from Lyu’s on-stage demos, where I was surprised by how quickly his device responded to his inquiries. He was able to write on the R1’s screen and tilted it so that the controls were below the display instead of to the right. That way, there was enough room for an on-screen keyboard, which Liu said was the same width as that of the original iPhone.

Rabbit also attracted attention with its so-called Large Action Model (LAM), which acts as an interpreter to convert popular applications such as Spotify or Doordash into interfaces that run on the R1’s simple operating system. Liu also showed off some of these at last night’s event, but I’d rather wait to try them out for ourselves.

Liu made a lot of promises to the public, seeming to admit that the R1 might not be fully equipped when it arrives in their hands. Even the company’s website has a list of features that are planned, in development, or under investigation. For one thing, an alarm is coming this summer, along with a calendar, contacts app, GPS support, memory recall, and more. During his speech, Liu repeated the phrase “we’ll work on” amid veiled references to Humane (for example, emphasizing that Rabbit does not require an additional subscription fee). Ultimately, Liu said, “we’re just continuing to add value to this thing,” in reference to the roadmap of upcoming features.

We hope Liu and his team are able to deliver on the promises they made. I’m already very intrigued by the “teaching mode” he teased, which is basically a way to generate macros by recording an action on the R1 and letting it learn what you want it to do when you tell it something. Rabbit’s approach certainly seems more suited to do-it-yourselfers and enthusiasts, while Humane’s is ambitious yet closed-minded. This looks like Google and Apple all over again, except whether the race for AI devices will reach the same scale remains to be seen.

Last night’s event also made it clear what the Rabbit wants us to think. The host was at the TWA Hotel, which itself was the main home of the TWA Flight Center. The whole place is an homage to retro vibes, and the entrance to Rabbit’s event was lined with display cases containing gadgets like the Pokedex, Sony Watchman, Motorola pager, Game Boy Color and more. Every glass case I passed made me squeal, triggering a pleasant sensory memory that also resurfaced when playing with the R1. It didn’t feel good for being premium or durable; It felt good because it reminded me of my childhood.

Whether Rabbit is successful with R1 depends on how you define success. The company has already sold more than 100,000 units this quarter and looks poised to sell at least one more (I’m pulling out my credit card already). I remain skeptical about the utility of AI devices, but largely due to the price and its ability to work with third-party apps at launch, the Rabbit has already managed to make me feel like Alice entering Wonderland.