What's a chumby? A funny-named device that's a cross between a clock radio and data-enabled cellphone? Chumby Industries says, "Just plug in your chumby, connect to your network, and use your computer to create a lineup of favorites from over 1,500 apps in more than 30 categories. Then let your chumby do its thing — streaming everything you like, from sports scores to stock quotes, from video clips to interactive games, from photos to trivia." So yeah, it's a computer-ish device that's connected to the internet. I want one!
A coupon code (HOLIDAY10) from their Facebook page and $90 later, the chumby one (actually their second model) arrived at my door. Very much the size of a small clock-radio, it sports a 3.5" color touch-screen interface, a large volume knob on its side, 5V AC adpater (it does run on battery, not included), and an amazing 2W mono speaker. After flashing it with the latest firmware (1-0-7) via USB, I was able to connect to my home wifi network. From there, I used my computer to create an account at chumby.com and activate my chumby (now called "chumbly"). Next, again through their website, I set off to configure a "channel" with various "apps" by deleting most everything from the default channel, and adding a flip-style clock, the Weather Channel, Spongebob, XKCD, you get the drift…
When on, the chumby continuously cycles through the various apps on a channel; each time the app refreshes itself with new information from the net. Whether rss feeds, stock quotes, word of the day, Facebook news feed, Flickr albums, Gmail, Twitter, you name it, there's probably an app available. And if you can't find what you want, write your own; each app is basically an Adobe Flash animation. The chumby also plays music very well, from terrestrial FM radio (well, not so well in my case), to Pandora, Shoutcast – why it even connects to my Squeezbox server as player "Neptune"; the only rub is I need to compile its playlist from a computer. And because the chumby is basically a linux computer running an ARM processor, you can do all sorts of geeky things with it too! BTW, it has a fantastic "night" mode that dims the screen perfectly.
Okay, it's a gizmo, it's slightly gratuitous, and really should be offered in other colors. The app selection is superfluous, but it's rather strange that there isn't a "children's" category, because my kids love this thing! The chumby is certainly extensible, but a lot of its value depends on intended use. In the bedroom, it's little more than a clock radio – do I really need to wakeup to Facebook or Engadget news feeds? No, though that might be useful in a kitchen setting, somewhere a computer isn't. It is however the best clock radio I ever bought, one that even connects to my Squeezebox server. What fun the chumby is!
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