Above all else, you should know that the Dash takes 100 percent of its features from the Internet. If you don't have Wi-Fi in your home, the Dash is about as useful as a baked potato. During the initial setup, the Dash will show a list of available wireless networks and allow you to enter in any required passwords using an onscreen keyboard. The Dash will remember and automatically join the network you set up.
The next step involved in setup is creating an account online on the Dash Web site, which you'll need to do from your computer, since the Dash lacks a Web browser. Here, you'll enter the product serial number and set up which apps, games, and services appear on your Dash. There are thousands of apps to choose from, ranging from New York Times headlines and Twitter, to gossip news and a virtual bubble wrap popper. All of the apps are free. Like most app stores, however, the ratio of usefulness to silliness isn't in your favor.
Many of the available apps for the Dash are repurposed and licensed from Chumby. Because these apps were designed for a screen half the size of the Dash, many of them appear a little awkward and grainy viewed full screen on the Dash. Other features of the Dash were conceived in-house by Sony and look right at home on the 7-inch display. Default features such as the five-day weather forecast, Slacker, and Pandora Internet radio tuners, and Sony Bravia video services (Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, CBS, and two dozen others) all fill the screen from edge to edge.
The Dash also includes a relatively sophisticated alarm clock, with multiple alarms that can be set up for daily, weekly, or one-time use. You can wake up to a selection of standard alarm sounds or a handful of music options. Unlike the Chumby, however, users can't use the Dash to wake up to Pandora or music from a connected iPod or thumb drive, although that functionality may come in firmware updates promised in the near future.
For its price, the Dash puts a whole lot of features into a sharp, sturdy design. Sure, we wish the built-in stereo speakers packed more punch, or that the touch-screen interface would be more responsive, but all in all we think it's a good deal.
The problem is: where do you put it? The Dash is a product aimed to fill a void we didn't know we had. It's great for video, but it looks silly next to your TV. The music-streaming capabilities are nice, but the speakers sound thin and running a cable out of the side to your stereo looks awkward. As a bedside clock, it's overqualified.
Ultimately, we had the most fun with the Dash in the kitchen or at our desk, letting it run in our peripheral view as headlines, tweets, Facebook updates, and Flickr photos shared time on the screen. Under this guise, it works as a high-priced, passive alternative to the morning paper. Overkill? Maybe, but you do get a little futuristic thrill having it nearby.