Hands-on with Pandora for Chumby

CNET's Donald Bell writes his account of using Pandora on the Chumby interactive media player.

Photo of Chumby next to Zune 80 MP3 player of table.
Thanks to Pandora, the Chumby has graduated from an overqualified alarm clock to the most adorable part of my living room Hi-Fi. Donald Bell/CNET Networks

For the past eight months, my latte-colored Chumby has been at my bedside, waking me up with an '80s music mix from Shoutcast and feeding my insomnia with RSS tech news. Today, however, I ceremoniously relocated my Chumby from my nightstand to my living room stereo--right between my Zune and my turntable.

The sudden relocation was caused by invisible Chumby fairies silently upgrading my Chumby's firmware yesterday (Hooray for free upgrades!), adding Pandora Internet radio to an already impressive list of streaming music options. The Chumby is meant to be a very flexible, multipurpose gadget, so the fact that I've been using it a glorified alarm clock is a shame. Maybe I've just been in denial over the Chumby's suitability as an Internet radio receiver, but it took the addition of Pandora to finally motivate me to relocate it to my living room.

Aside from the Grace ITC-IR1000B, the $179 Chumby is now one of the cheapest ways to get a standalone Pandora jukebox into your living room. It's definitely the most adorable solution (sorry Grace). Sure, you can get more powerful Pandora systems, like the $300 Logitech Squeezebox Boom, or more sophisticated systems like the $999 Sonos Digital Music System, but for me, a Chumby and a $5 RCA-to-minijack cable is the perfect combination of price, style, and capability.

Screen shots of Pandora on the Chumby.
The Chumby version of Pandora is visually very similar to the Web version. Donald Bell/CNET Networks

The Chumby version of Pandora doesn't deliver the exact same experience as Pandora on the Web, but the best parts are still here. After logging in to your Pandora account using the onscreen keyboard (for creating a new account) you can listen to any station you've already created, pause and skip through songs, adjust volume, rate tracks, bookmarks songs, view the artist and title information of the currently playing song (including album art), and even create new stations on the fly by typing in artist or song names. The only drawbacks are that you can't purchase songs directly or share songs with friends the way you can with the Web or iPhone versions of Pandora .

To be fair, the majority of Pandora-compatible receivers lack these same features, and few of them offer niceties such as album art and touch-screen keyboards. With the way I have the Chumby set up currently, I'll probably just let Pandora run perpetually in the background, without much interaction, and leave the station creation and playlist grooming for those moments when I've got the Web version of Pandora running on my computer at work.

As free upgrades go, the addition of Pandora to the Chumby is pure gravy. The sound quality is good, the interface is slick, and the price is perfect. After eight months, I'm glad to finally see the Chumby take on more responsibilities around the house.

 

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