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What if you could put your important internet information -- weather reports, news headlines, and Facebook news feeds -- on a touchscreen bedside appliance? Ask this question in 2006 when the original Chumby debuted, and we’d be thrilled at the potential. Today, we just shrug and hold up an iPad or iPhone.
Even though it has a tough battle against those heavies, don’t dismiss the Chumby8 (the third Chumby hardware release) outright. This internet appliance slurps data into any of its 1,500 specialized, single-purpose widgets -- they’re too limited to call “apps” with a straight face. The Chumby8 cycles through active widgets on its 800x600-pixel, 8-inch screen like an interactive screen saver, asking for minimal input and acting more like an ambient information source.
You can follow your Twitter feed, stream Flickr photos as a digital picture frame, get David Letterman’s latest Top Ten List, and more. However, Chumby also tosses in occasional ads, too, breaking up your content. (We saw them only rarely, and a Chumby representative said that the company is testing the process, but didn’t specify when they’ll be fully turned on and how often they’ll occur.)
It’s like an internet-enabled Etch A Sketch.
Hobbyists and content companies develop their own Chumby widgets, so the quality and depth varies; we often wanted more from the available options. For example, the Twitter stream auto-scrolls in a loop and you can’t slow its speed, while Engadget’s offering shows only the first paragraphs of a story -- you have to email yourself a link to read the rest on a computer. Sadly, without a web browser, the Chumby8 can’t go straight to your favorite sites.
Like the prior devices, the Chumby8 streams online music from sources including Pandora, a beta version of Napster, Shoutcast, and many more. Audio sounds fine considering the Chumby’s size, thanks to its acceptable built-in stereo speakers, although audiophiles will want to connect external speakers or headphones. You can also play back music through USB, SD, or Compact Flash, but unfortunately, this time around, Chumby can’t play songs from a Squeezebox Server on your home network, a feature we used frequently in the last version.
Why pick up a Chumby8 at all? Alarms. It can wake you up with different music stations and widgets on each day. While the alarm interface can require needless steps (like the rest of the device), the best-at-a-single-purpose Chumby8 can get you out of bed better than an iPad or iPhone. Whether that’s enough is another question.
The bottom line. After several years of updates, the Chumby8 finds its footing as a fancy clock radio. For everything else, you’ll probably reach for an iPad or laptop.
Wi-Fi internet router or USB Ethernet adapter
Many alarm combinations can trigger different music and widgets on each day. Presents data from many internet sources. Streams online music stations.
No web browser means you can’t access some of your favorite content. Mediocre device interface. Widget quality varies greatly. Can’t stream music from local network. Ad widgets might pop into your rotation.