Chumby One review: Chumby One

As an Internet radio, Chumby One offers an ever-growing list of listening options, including Pandora, AOL's Shoutcast, iHeart Radio, New York Times Podcasts, Blue Octy Radio, CBS podcasts, NOAA Radio, Squeezebox, MediaFly podcast channels, or the capability to directly enter the URL of an audio stream. If you want to listen to your own music collection, you can connect an iPod or MP3-filled memory stick (OGG, WAV, FLAC, or M4A files will also work) into the USB port on the back of the Chumby One, or stream music from any networked computer in your home. If you feel like going primitive, the Chumby One also offers a basic digital FM radio tuner.

The most novel of all of Chumby's features is its Internet widget functionality. Just like the stable of Web-based utilities for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, the Chumby can host a growing assortment of light apps, ranging from practical newsreaders to absurd flying pig screensavers.

The Chumby does not include a standalone Web browser, however, so configuring your Chumby's widgets has to be done by logging on to from a PC. The Chumby Web site includes a treasure trove of widgets for your Chumby, with categories such as News, Photos, Social Networks, Games, and Weird. Some of the more practical Chumby applications include a widget that displays your personal Flickr photo collection, Google apps such as Gmail and Calendar, eBay auction statistics, local weather, and a YouTube video browser. Chumby widgets number by the hundreds including apps from mainstream content partners such as CBS and VH1.

It's also worth noting that fellow Chumby users can send widgets and customized e-cards between each other, providing a means to share photos and information. Up until now, the prohibitive price of the Chumby made it difficult to find other people to share with. Hopefully, the new, lower price will result in a boost in the Chumby population and make the sharing feature more useful.

The Chumby One is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. We can think of several products that make for better Internet radios, alarm clocks, news readers, or digital photo frames. In fact, aside from the lack of a snooze button and FM radio, a $199 iPod Touch kicks the snot out of the Chumby in every conceivable way.

What the Chumby One really has going for it is a friendly design, a tantalizing price, and the unmatched flexibility to do a lot of things "good enough." For instance, it might not be the most ideal way to read news from the Web, but it's probably the best RSS newsreader you can plug next to your coffeemaker. Nor is it the gold standard for alarm clocks, but it is the best alarm clock we've seen that will also let you watch YouTube videos before going to bed, wake you with Pandora, and let you browse The New York Times headlines before brushing your teeth.

Speaking of Pandora, it's worth mentioning that the Chumby One's $99 price tag makes it one of the least expensive tabletop Pandora radios you can buy. The Chumby One's Pandora player delivers most of the features found on the Pandora Web site, including station creation, bookmarking, track skipping, and song voting. A closer look at the Chumby One's Pandora player can be found on CNET's MP3 Insider blog.

The Chumby One does a great job streaming music from the Web, but the stream of music going from the Chumby to your ear isn't so flattering. The built-in 2-watt mono speaker won't knock you over, but it will certainly get you out of bed. To fully take advantage of the Chumby's audio potential, you'll want to run audio from the stereo minijack output to a pair of headphones or external speakers.

The Chumby's visual performance as a photo frame and video player is decent for the price, but keep in mind you're still working with a relatively small 3.5-inch screen. Expect bright and colorful images, but abandon any delusions of high resolution.

Final thoughts
The Chumby isn't the most practical device, but at $99, it's an incredibly fun tech toy and one of the least expensive ways to bring Pandora's popular Internet radio service into your home.

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