Chumby June 2009
Stay connected with a Chumby
Chumby brings you internet widgets for news, sport, social networking, photos and videos. Find out what Which? made of the cute Chumby touchscreen gadget in this first look review.
This article, Chumby, was last updated on 08 June 2009 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.
First impressions of the Chumby mark it out as a quirky gadget. For a start, it arrives in a hessian drawstring bag with the cute Chumby logo emblazoned on the front. Inside are some stickers and ‘Chumby Charms’ – small rubber creatures that can attach to your Chumby or to a keyring. Chumby is a product cleverly branded to try to make you form an emotional attachment to it – Chumby has been popular in America since its launch in 2007, and now it's available to UK gadget-lovers.
So what is a Chumby? The Chumby website describes the soft, leather-clad 3.5-inch touchscreen web gadget as an 'interactive media player that constantly streams your favorite (sic) parts of the internet in a fun, always-on, always-fresh format'.
In practice, the Chumby can display small snippets of web content such as weather forecasts, travel information, and news stories. Chumby can also connect to social networking and media-sharing websites to bring you Facebook and Twitter status updates, Flickr and Picasa photo slideshows and YouTube videos, plus you can use Chumby listen to music and play simple games.
Plug in the Chumby using the power adaptor, which also arrives in its own hessian pouch, and the Chumby screen illuminates and starts an animated start-up sequence, welcoming you to the Chumby network and giving an overview of Chumby’s features. The Chumby takes around 30 seconds to power up and connect to the Chumby network.
Connecting and using a Chumby
The Chumby only connects to the web via Wi-Fi – there’s no wired ethernet connection – and this was relatively simple to set up. The only annoyance is having to scroll through a rudimentary on-screen keyboard to type in your Wi-Fi network’s security passcode, but this is a common problem with touchscreen Wi-Fi devices, and you shouldn’t have to do it more than once. For best results, choose a Best Buy Wi-Fi router, connected to a Best Buy broadband service.
Most features are accessed using the touchscreen, but there’s a button on the top, covered in soft leather, which navigates to the main menu. Although the Chumby operates independently of a computer, you will need a PC or Mac both to activate and register your Chumby online, which takes around five minutes, and to customise it with apps – referred to as ‘widgets’ – by browsing the Chumby widget library.
Uniquely, Chumby is a device whose functionality comes entirely from widgets. However, internet-connected TVs now come with web widgets, and of course you can get Yahoo or Google widgets for your computer desktop.
Widgets can be grouped into channels online, and your Chumby synchronises with the network when switched on. Widgets can also be added, removed and re-ordered so you can customise your Chumby to focus on the widgets that you use most often, with more than 1,000 in total to choose from.
Chumby in its default mode continually cycles through the widgets in your selected channel, displaying each one for 30 seconds. This time interval can be changed, or you can ‘pin’ a selected app so that it is displayed constantly on your Chumby.
In terms of UK-specific Chumby widgets, there is a National Rail departure board widget, where you select your local station and get real-time train arrival and departure info.
There’s also a London Tube status widget, but this displays London Underground information on a line-by-line basis only – it could be more useful if it gave more detailed travel information. There's also a BBC news widget and BBC sport headline widget, a BBC weather widget, plus widgets for Twitter, and Wikipedia.
Widgets that connect to your Picasa, Flickr or Facebook photo galleries turn the Chumby into a Wi-Fi digital photo frame, though the 3.5-inch screen isn’t big enough to have the impact of larger models.
There are also widgets that fall into the pointless category, including more than 100 different styles of clock widgets. There's also a widgets called ‘Puppy of the day’, a bubblewrap popping game, and one where different cartoon faces are sketched on the screen.
There’s no widget (yet) for listening to BBC internet radio stations on your Chumby, but a quick trawl through the Chumby forums reveals (rather technical) methods for setting this up.
When it comes to online calendars, the Chumby is beaten for functionality by the O2 Joggler, as the Google Calendar widget, for example, only allows you to view your calendar, not add or amend events.
The initial enthusiasm for the Chumby wears off quite rapidly, but as anyone can develop new Chumby widgets, the active developer community means that new widgets are frequently added to give new functions, which should make sure boredom doesn’t set in.
Chumby internet radio
The Chumby functions as a basic internet radio, with a varied selection of stations available via Shoutcast, though the Pandora service isn’t supported in the UK. Sound through the small stereo speakers on the rear is acceptable given its small size, and the maximum volume is certainly loud enough for use as an alarm clock. If you're looking for the ultimate in sound quality, however, you'd be better off choosing a Best Buy digital or internet radio.
The Chumby has two USB ports on the rear plus a power button and 3.5mm headphone socket. Plugging in a USB memory stick or MP3 player lets you play music files in MP3 M4A, AIFF and Wav formats through the Chumby’s speakers. Some MP3 players can also be charged from the Chumby via USB.
We found the touchscreen a little too small to be useful, especially when compared to the 7-inch display of the O2 Joggler and it got quite warm in use.
Various games are available for the Chumby, though it’s no rival for a dedicated handheld console such as the , partly because you’ll always be tethered to the power supply. There’s a built-in motion sensor which can be used to control some games and widgets. One of the most intriguing game widgets is ChumbyLand – an online world where you can socially interact with other Chumby owners in a simple game environment.
Verdict on Chumby
In terms of the Chumby’s style, it’s fair to say you’ll either love it or hate it. The sample that we tested was two-tone pale brown leather with white trim. There are also versions in two-tone blue and cream, plus plain black or white.
One of the major selling points of the Chumby is its flexibility. For example, it makes a great clock radio. Multiple alarms are easy to set, and you can choose which internet radio station you wake up to, before the Chumby displays travel information for your commute, the weather, your calendar appointments and friends’ Facebook updates. There aren't many other alarm clocks with this many features.
Previously only available as an import from the US, from December 2009 it's available in the UK - you can buy the Chumby from Firebox for £140.
Pros: Unique design, fun to use, flexible
Cons: Pricey, needs more UK content, small screen
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