Rating: ★★★½☆

Pros:

  • Available apps are often tremendous and ridiculous, like Hulu+ and Netflix
  • Build quality is superb, should stand the test of time against raging wakers
  • App customization and installation through Sony’s Dash website is excellent

Cons:

  • Expensive, even at the discounted $150
  • Touchscreen lacks sensitivity, isn’t nearly responsive enough
  • Organization of apps is awful on the device

It almost feels like a little piece of Star Trek. Sony’s Dash is just a simple alarm clock, running off of Chumby’s UI and apps, and it’s a remarkably simple little device, but it still feels like the future. But does this expensive piece of tech really survive in the bedroom?

The Sony Dash is the sort of thing I’d expect some well-to-do aristocrat to have. It’s shamelessly gadget-like in an 80’s sort of way, with that large 7” screen and thick, rubbery build. And it’s got just one main function: waking you up.

For some background, I haven’t had a standalone alarm clock in about four years. With the proliferation of cellphone alarms, a move and giving my last clock to my kid brother, I never replaced the 10-year old CD player/alarm. Why bother when you can just check your phone? As I quickly learned, thanks in part to Chinese businesspeople and wrong numbers, who have no concept of time, keeping a cellphone near the bed is never a good idea. For a short trip, maybe. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.

Sony’s Dash has most of the same timewasters as any of today’s smartphones, but without the ability to receive calls from that uncle seeking bail. Thanks to Chumby’s UI, the Dash not only plays the clock, it can check email, play videos, show RSS and Twitter feeds, play games, etc. Meaning like your smartphone, it has apps. The available apps are limited, but you can be sure that anyone looking to buy this smartclock will be satisfied when they see Dilbert comics and Philosoraptor on the Dash.

The Dash is a perplexing piece of hardware. It’s thick and big, which is the complete opposite of what most manufacturers, Sony included, strive for.  A thick base seats the Dash firmly in place, and like a pyramid it thins towards the top. The capacitive touchscreen is only single-touch, and is not very sensitive. This isn’t a serious downside, though mostly because it is, after all, an alarm clock.

More tech-savvy users who want to get the most out of the Dash may be disappointed. As a piece of hardware, the Dash seems like nothing special. Chumby was great, but only in a very geeky way. It lacks a long list of apps that so many of us rely on these days, though the small community does churn out useful and fun apps regularly. The most important ones are there: Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, news feeds and more.


The Dash beside a Blu-ray case. The Dash uses a pyramid base that gets thinner at the top

In some ways, the limited functionality of Chumby does keep the Dash from being all it could be. That, and a few of the odd features. Features like an accelerometer, which makes no sense to be in the Dash. Why does it need to know which way is up? There is no built-in application for it, besides tipping the Dash over when the alarm goes off. Even then, really? Similarly, I think Sony could have done better than relied on Chumby, possibly using Android, though it’s understandable that Chumby was their ultimate choice. The hardware requirement is much less stringent, and after all, the Dash isn’t meant to be a tablet.

Some of the best features of the Dash are, frankly, the same you could get with any modern alarm clock. The sound of birds or the ocean instead of an annoying ringing, multiple alarms on separate days…there are analog clocks that can do that! But no analog clock can show you the daily pictures from NASA or Confucious saying, nor can they wake you up and show emails or your daily calendar first thing in the morning.


With USB and headphone ports, plus the surrounding rubber frame, the Dash can take a beating and keep you in bed longer! Why leave the warm confines of your warm blanket? Snuggle up and watch TV or read comics!

I’m of the impression that these functions are all niceties, and for someone with less self-control, it’s far too easy to sit on the Dash and play around with it. That is to say, sit and play with an alarm clock. The idea is ridiculous, stupid and cool at the same time…geeky for the sake of being geeky.

My bigger concern was that the Dash uses an LCD screen, and one reason I never replaced my analog alarm clock was because I hated the light on it. It always was too bright, even after making it as dim as possible. At first, the LCD on the Dash looked like it would be a nightmare, but it really isn’t. The Dash has a sleep setting where it just acts like a clock, and the brightness can be set so dim that in a pitch-black room, the numbers are just barely visible. Light sleepers who are sensitive to light when sleeping can rejoice with the Dash. It won’t make you lose a wink of sleep.

Not surprisingly, the biggest actual flaws from the Dash stem from the software which Sony worked on. Everything with Chumby runs fine, albeit slow at times. Updates however take 5-15 minutes, though in the month of testing I only needed to update the Dash once. The combination of the insensitive touchscreen and the slow software is a harsh reality, one that could easily have been remedied with a multi-touch screen instead of the projected capacitive touchscreen technology currently used.


Philosoraptor, just one of the many Chumby apps available on the Dash

Then again, hating on an alarm clock which can actually play 1080p video (even though the Dash has an 800×480 screen resolution) is pretty hard. Why it needs that ability is beyond me. The fact that I can stream content from Hulu, Amazon, several major TV networks, a slew of online radio stations and far, far more is almost beyond ludicrous. It’s almost as if Sony just got a room of engineers together and said “you have 90 days, put whatever you want into this box and we’ll ship it.”

Sony’s Dash really is a piece of the future. Being able to have all that power – in an alarm clock – is downright insanity. It’s irresponsible. And there is no reason why every electronic device can’t be so jam-packed with features that we have to rely on an alarm clock to show everyone else how it’s done. The only stumbling blocks are the lack of organization, slowness of the UI and the touchscreen, but even then its so easy to see why this makes an amazing gift. Just remember, in the wrong hands, anyone you give it to could suddenly disappear for days at a time, so be careful. Especially if that person is you.

You can buy the Sony Dash from Amazon for $129.  Alternatively, you can choose from one of the retailers below.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.