Rating: ★★★★☆

Pros:

  • Easy to setup and use
  • Vast array of apps that fulfills almost any bedside need
  • Bright screen, loud alarm and USB input and headphone jack

Cons:

  • Pandora sometimes stutters during playback
  • Touchscreen is not capacitive
  • Video plays at an unwatchable frame rate

At first glance the Chumby can probably best be described as an alarm clock.  But turn on the device, setup the time and think of something that you might just need to know at a moment’s notice while laying in bed and I’d wager a bet that the Chumby is willing to facilitate.  No, it won’t perform nefarious activities like make an appointment with a call girl or send your ex-wife harassing emails, but thanks to the vast community of apps it can do everything from display the weather forecast, to showing the latest earthquake readings to viewing the hottest movie trailers.

To be frank the Chumby has been around for sometime now.  The company started with the Chumby Classic, which was an adorable padded device that sported the same 3.5-inch touch screen found in the device of today, the Chumby one.  What’s changed, or more importantly been added is a volume knob, FM radio tuner, a battery slot for a user provided battery and a faster 454 MHz ARM processor.  However, removed in this iteration is the stereo speakers and one of the two USB ports.

In terms of physical features the Chumby is sparse, and rightfully so since the meat of the product is found in the endless array of apps.  There is a volume knob, snooze/menu button, USB port (for charging 5V products as well as reading the contents of an MP3 player), rope radio antenna, 2 watt mono speaker and a headphone jack.  Also included, is WiFi b/g connectivity complemented by a setup process even my mom could accomplish.

Chumby Dashboard for organizing, customizing and removing apps

James talked a bit about the Chumby community when he reviewed Sony’s Dash.  It’s a vast array of apps that can be added to the device allowing you to view a variety of content.  So vast in fact that it feels like it’s almost impossible to think of something that hasn’t yet been created.  Given the nature of the Chumby, which is intended largely as a bedside companion, there are a variety of clocks which goes beyond the standard digital or analog presentation.  Games are also available, though they’re limited to the relatively rudimentary since the form factor of the Chumby, a rather boxy device (3.5″ wide x 4″ tall x 3.5″ deep), negates the possibility of aggressive and long term gaming.  My favorite apps include the ability to manage my Netflix queue, Pandora (built-in), Accuweather, Facebook news feed and many others that are far from necessary, but fun to have in the invent that boredom sets in while laying bed.  All of the apps are free, but before you get too excited there is a caveat to that statement.  From time to time Chumby will add promotional apps to your device that are sponsor supported.  Chumby assuages it’s users by explaining this is how the app store has remained free.

As mentioned earlier, this iteration of the Chumby includes a digital FM radio.  Reception comes by way of one of those rope like antennas.  And believe me, unless you’ve got a near by window or lamp that you don’t mind desecrating with its slightly unsightly presence, the FM radio will be filled with static.  Sufring the air waves is simple enough, though I would have preferred that the volume knob, at least in this instance, worked as a tuning knob.  Up to 4 presets can be set and the station of your choosing is displayed in a very rudimentary, yet effective fashion.

Fortunately, FM radio is far from your only option.  Shoutcast, Pandora and many others can be tapped into simply by logging in.  If you own an iPod you can plug it directly into Chumby’s USB port and view the content directly on the screen, though it is not compatible with Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, or with 6th generation iPods and newer.

Snooze/menu button

As with any touchscreen device there should be some concern as to whether it actually adds value, let alone works.  The Chumby Touchscreen measures 3.5-inches from corner-to-corner.  It’s definitely not capacitive, but nonetheless reactive enough to serve those laying in bed, setting the alarm or tinkering with the occasional app.  It should work directly out of the box, which was my experience, but in the event that it does not, there is a calibration option that has you touching a few points on the screen.  While the screen size is suitable for displaying clocks, Facebook news feed, and so forth, it’s annoyingly small for viewing trailers, which is made worse by the slow processor which cuts the frame rate to an almost unwatchable experience.


Virtual Chumby

And speaking of processing power, at times the Chumby would stutter when playing back Pandora.  This issue seemed to vary from time to time, and the best resolve I found was to switch the station.  Apparently, the Chumby sometimes performs some background operations, which might explain this slight hiccup.  It’s a massively annoying bug that we’ll hopefully see fixed in a future software iteration.

Adding new apps to the Chumby requires you to register and then log in to their website.  The process is relatively simple, but means you can’t add new content directly from the device itself.  Which also begs the question as to why Chumby doesn’t provide a remote access feature that allows you to control the Chumby using your computer or smartphone.  While the need is few and far between it would be a nice feature for administering music during a party.

Back of the Chumby; USB input for an iPod, headphone jack and power port

I would be remiss if I didn’t detail the alarm functionality of the Chumby.  There are two options: quick alarm and custom alarm.  The quick alarm, as implied by the name, let’s you setup a one off alarm that is limited to a few audio alerts.  The custom alarm however, can be setup to go off daily, one time, weekdays, weekends, or specific days of the week.  An unlimited amount of custom alarms can be created, each with their own audio profile that includes FM radio, Pandora and other music sources.  Fortunately, someone at Chumby wasn’t asleep at the wheel when they created this feature and realized that network connectivity may not be present at all times, so they’ve provided you with the option to setup a back up alarm that uses one of the rudimentary tones in the event that music can’t be played.  It’s worth noting that the alarm is very, very loud for such a small box.

The Chumby, at its core is an alarm clock.  It’s not a device that should be considered to resolve a technological conflict in your life, such as the need for a gaming device, or a means to viewing online video content.  However, the more I looked through the Chumby apps the more I realized that diminutive box had abilities well beyond any other bedside alarm clock, thus making it the cheapest $130 alarm clock money can buy.

You can buy the Chumby from Amazon for $129.95.



Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."