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Insignia Infocast review:

Insignia Infocast

Across the top of the Infocast's screen you'll find a series of gray tabs taking you through the less noteworthy system features, such as brightness control, volume, wireless network setup (Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, passkey-compatible), night mode, and alarm clock settings. There's also a home button located here that backs you out to a simplified version of the menu, which we mentioned earlier in the Design section of this review.

It may not have the portability, Web browser, or e-mail capabilities of an Apple iPad, but the Infocast's 1,500 apps and 8-inch touch screen deliver many of the same feature for a fraction of the price.

Not only does the Infocast deliver on all its promises, but it's the most responsive and swift member of the Chumby family. After watching HP's similar DreamScreen product go down in flames, it's refreshing to see Insignia do the concept justice.

Sure, the built-in speakers aren't great, the 2GB of integrated memory is meager, and the plastic bezel on the front will scratch just by sending it a mean look, but at $170, you're getting a whole lot of great tech. The dual-layer resistive screen is surprisingly responsive, and we had no issues using the onscreen keyboard to enter our Wi-Fi passwords, name photo albums, or log in to Pandora.

The worst thing we can say about the user interface is that it puts too much information right at the surface. The layout is practical, but a little overwhelming, for the tech-timid. You can tell that Insignia designed the simplified five-icon home screen to address this, but it's a paper-thin veneer that drops you into the tabbed interface once you make a selection.

Photos look great. Images don't have the same pop on the Infocast's matte screen as they would on a glassy screen, but the resolution is sharp and the screen has a very practical advantage of resisting smudges.

As sub-$200 Internet radios go, the sound quality of the Infocast is better and louder than the Dash, but can't match the quality you'd hear from the Logitech Squeezebox Radio. Insignia does include an SRS sound enhancement setting on the Infocast, which is activated by default, and adds some noticeable oomph. If you really want to get great sound out of this, though, you'll need to take advantage of the headphone jack output.

Final thoughts
Held up against similar products, the Insignia Infocast offers a rich set of features and surprisingly good performance for the price. But just like the original Chumby, it is still a specialty product that suffers from an ambiguity of purpose. As excited as we are to geek out with the Infocast for the sake of this review, we're still not clear on where it fits in our lives.

Unlike the Dash and original Chumby, the Infocast is too big to make it as a bedside alarm clock. As a digital photo frame on a dusty bookshelf, it seems overqualified. Is it a kitchen gadget? A newsreader for the bathroom? Only time will tell if devices like these really have a role to play in our homes. If they do, we can safely say the Infocast is the most deserving of the part.

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