To add more apps to your selected channel, you can dive into the Chumby catalog of more than 1,500 apps (all free and divided into useful categories) and add or delete them at your whim. The ability to browse and add apps directly from the Chumby's screen is a new feature that previously had to be accomplished using the browser on your computer. You still need a computer to set up and associate the Chumby 8 with a free registered Chumby account, but after that initial step, the rest of the Chumby experience can be tweaked directly from the device.
Another new feature for Chumby is an integrated Web browser for exploring content linked within apps, such as Twitter or Facebook. The browser is pretty bare bones, and can't be accessed as a standalone feature. It's just there for those times when an app (such as a news reader) links out to Web content. Once the browser is open, you can scroll pages and click other links on the page--but there's no bookmarking, no URL bar, and nothing approaching a standard browser experience. Still, it's better than nothing, and Chumby loyalists should be happy with the new addition and the added dimension it affords link-heavy apps such as Twitter and Facebook.
From the Music option on the main menu you can choose from a handful of killer streaming audio sources, including Pandora, Napster, Shoutcast, NYT Podcasts, and iHeartRadio. The Chumby also supports playback of local MP3, AAC, and WMA files via thumbdrive or memory card.
From the Photos menu option you can play locally stored files. Within the photo viewer you can use apps to stream photos from your online accounts, and you also have options for individually uploading images to a Photobucket account, sending them to fellow Chumby owners you're linked with, or sending them directly to an e-mail address.
The only thing the Chumby 8 is great at is being a Chumby. That is to say, it excels at being a device that does a little bit of everything, but nothing excellently.
Some of its best features are undermined by fundamental problems. For example, the Chumby's alarm clock offers a luxurious number of scheduling options and alarm types, but the internal battery backup won't keep your Chumby on in a power outage and there's no quick way to switch the alarm on and off without diving into touch-screen menus in the bleary hours of the night. Even putting all that aside, $199 is a lot to pay for an awesome alarm clock.
As a photo frame on steroids, the Chumby 8 fills its role nicely. The 8-inch antiglare screen can display photos or videos from USB drives, memory cards, or online sources such as Flickr or Photobucket. As mentioned above, you can even use the Chumby to upload media online, share it with other Chumby users, or send it over e-mail.
Where the Chumby falls short as a digital photo frame is its inability to work without an Internet connection. In fact, the Chumby won't do anything without first connecting to your Wi-Fi network. For Chumby's intended habitat in tech-savvy homes, a required Wi-Fi connection shouldn't be a big deal. But if you're unsure whether the Chumby 8 is going to live in your home or office or end up as a gift for Grandma, you should know that even tasks as basic as playing photos or music off a thumbdrive will require an Internet connection.
As an Internet radio receiver, the Chumby 8 offers decent (though tinny) sound for its size. The stream quality is good and the presentation of streaming content from Pandora, Shoutcast, NYT Podcasts and others is well-done and easy to navigate. That said, while the selection of streaming services is top-tier, it's still limited compared with the abundance of services available through any modern smartphone or a similarly priced iPod Touch.
The Chumby in all its incarnations will always have a place in my nerd heart. The 8-inch version is the company's best effort yet, offering more processor horsepower, more ports, and a sleeker design.
When the original Chumby made its debut in 2008, the world of all-in-one devices that bridge the gap between laptop and smartphone was thinly populated with expensive devices. In 2011, though, this territory is being overrun with connected TVs, set-top boxes, app-crazy tablets, giant smartphones, and inexpensive Android devices of every size.
The Chumby 8 fulfills the promise we saw years ago, but if you're seriously shopping for an Internet-connected screen with access to a dazzling selection of apps, there are better options out there. If you're just in the market for a fun new tech toy, the Chumby 8 doesn't disappoint.