Google has finally given a price and release date for the Jamboard, the 55-inch touchscreen display it wants businesses to buy and use as a hybrid whiteboard / conferencing system. That price is pretty high at $4,999 plus a $600 annual fee, but still much cheaper than Microsoft’s similar Surface Hub system. It’s designed for whiteboarding and teleconferencing, and it’s as good a system for doing anything else that I’ve tried.
It also finally has units out in the wild for the unwashed masses to try out at its Google Cloud Next conference, so I went out and did just that. It’s a 55-inch 4K TV with a touchscreen that can accept up to 16 multitouch points. It’s also pretty reflective, so if you have a well-lit conference room you probably won’t want it opposite the window.
The panel looks fine, but this is not presenting itself as some top-shelf piece of electronics. The back is a matte red plastic and the whole thing is pretty thick. It’s meant to feel approachable and durable, I think, and that aesthetic also applies to the styluses that come with it. They’re more like giant plastic crayons than styluses. Google is quick to point out that they’re passive, so if you lose one it won’t cost too much to replace.
Basically, where the Microsoft Surface is an imposing system that says “I am very serious about business let us do real work together” the Jamboard says “I am okay at that stuff too but I am cute so do you want to put a frowny emoji on that sales chart?”
The Jamboard can tell the difference between them and your finger — though in a couple cases I went to erase with my hand and drew instead, so there’s probably a bit more tweaking to be done there.
But don’t let that small slip up ruin what otherwise seems like a remarkably polished and well-thought-out software experience. Everything that I tried swiped and moved around with very little lag and with a lot of cute visual flourishes. Erasing a swatch of color sends little sparkles floating down the screen. You can have two people pinching and zooming Google Sheets slides that have been dragged on to the board at the same time — and it didn’t hiccup.
The whole thing is controlled by a panel that sits docked on the left or right, which give you options like adding Google Docs files, searching for websites to screencap and add, taking photos of the room, and various drawing options. One fairly impressive one automatically does OCR on your scribbles and turns them into actual text — again with a little animation.
It’s also a video conference machine: the camera points down a bit from the top and you can move and tilt the whole TV to position it (or mount it to a wall). Each whiteboard gets its own little short code that you can share with anybody to make it easier to join the meeting, and you can move around and resize the video chat windows so they don’t occlude the whiteboard itself. Remote users can use the app to add stuff to the whiteboard, and in the demo I saw it took just a couple of seconds for a post it to jump from an Android tablet to the Jamboard.
It all worked really seamlessly on the show floor here — with the kind of animations that you basically never see on Android user interfaces. Is it worth five grand to your business? I guess that depends on whether or not your business loves drawing arrows on screenshots as much as Google and Microsoft do. It’s certainly a lot more fun to do it on the Jamboard than I expected.
Oh and one coda for my fellow Palm nerds: the Jamboard is a big, rectangular square with a rounded plastic back. It has a small, horizontal line centered at the bottom as a power indicator. It’s pretty easy to imagine it’s just a giant Palm TouchPad. So there’s that.