As an Internet radio, Chumby offers an ever-growing list of listening options, including AOL's Shoutcast, RadioFree Chumby, 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 one of the two USB ports on the back of the Chumby, or stream music from any networked computer in your home.
The most novel of all of Chumby's features is its Internet widget functionality. As with the customizable Web applications you may have used on Google, Facebook, or your own PC, the Chumby can host a growing assortment of Web-based utilities, 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 Chumby.com 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. At the time of this writing, Chumby widgets number by the hundreds and mainstream content partners such as CBS and VH1 are just starting to come on board. It's also worth noting that fellow Chumby users can send widgets and customized eCards between each other, providing a means to share photos and information within your Chumby clan.
The Chumby's performance is dependent on the context of its use. For instance, it might not be the best way to read RSS newsfeeds, but it's probably the best RSS reader you can plug next to your coffeemaker. It's not 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 and browse The New York Times headlines upon waking up.
From an audio perspective, the Chumby makes no pretentions of high fidelity, and for the most part its multimedia performance is tied to the inherent restrictions of the Web content being streamed to it. The built-in 2-watt stereo speakers won't knock you over, or hold up under golden-ear scrutiny, but they'll certainly get you out of bed and meet the demands of YouTube soundtracks. 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 rather good, considering you're only working with a 3.5-inch screen. The Chumby's images are bright and colorful, although the screen's resolution is only average.
We can think of dozens of interesting uses for the Chumby: such as a breakfast table newsreader, an Internet radio alarm clock, or a digital photo frame. Unfortunately, despite the Chumby's adaptability, there's no one feature it can hang its hat on as a compelling default selling point. You're either convinced that all of the Chumby's little features add up to the final price, or you're not. A product like the iPod, for instance, includes an alarm clock, video playback, a calendar, games, and podcast support, but at the end of the day people buy it because they value its MP3 player above all its other features. It remains to be seen whether the world will find the Chumby's Internet widget-hosting capabilities to be its keystone feature, or a passing novelty. Of course, given the Chumby's open development platform (Adobe Flash Lite) and user-submitted widgets, it's possible that the killer app for Chumby just hasn't been written yet (we'll update this review as new features roll out).
As it stands now, the Chumby isn't the most practical device, but if you have a general love for the Web, digital music, and new technology, you'll have no problem finding a fun use for the Chumby in your home.