With a name that sounds more like a "Sesame Street" character than a sophisticated Internet media receiver, the Chumby One ($99) is a challenging product to describe to people. First, think of all the stuff you care about on the Internet: the news, photos, videos, weather, stocks, and music. Then, try imagining all that stuff squeezed into a device the size of a softball. That's the Chumby One.
If the idea of getting your Internet fix through little 3.5-inch touch screen seems more novel than useful, you're absolutely right. But at just $99, the Chumby One packs a whole lot of novelty for the price (especially compared to the $179 of the original Chumby). Hold one in your hands, and you're bound to think of some void in your life where the Internet has yet to penetrate. Next thing you know, you're using it to read New York Times headlines in your garage, viewing Flickr photos in your breakfast nook, or streaming Pandora Internet radio in the bathroom.
When the first-generation Chumby hit our desk in 2008, it looked like miniature television made for infants. The design was round, soft, and squeezable, stitched together from leather and rubber. The Chumby One keeps the toylike aesthetic of the original, but strips it down to a leaner, lighter, cheaper design. But even though the hand-stitched Italian leather of the original lost out to a generic-feeling ABS plastic, the new model benefits from a faster processor (454MHz RAM), a built-in FM radio, a dedicated volume knob, 2GB of microSD memory, and USB 2.0. They've finally made it portable, too, with an optional rechargeable lithium ion battery (Fujifilm NP-120) good for an hour of use.
What hasn't changed is the size, measuring around 3.5 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide, 3.5 inches deep, and looking right at home as a bedside alarm clock. The single built-in speaker fires a measly 2 watts out from the top, but a stereo audio output is included on the back for hooking up the Chumby One to a pair of external speakers. A relatively large, logo-embossed, 2.25-inch snooze/menu button sits in front of the speaker, perfectly situated for early morning abuse.
Another welcome addition to the Chumby One design is the oversize 1.5-inch volume knob located on the right side of the device. Compared with the touch-screen-only control of the original Chumby, the ability to quickly kill or boost the volume is a great feature.
The biggest hurdle the Chumby concept still faces is its ambiguous purpose. We love that the Chumby One can be used as an RSS reader, an Internet radio, an alarm clock, an iPod speaker dock, a photo frame, an IPTV, and countless other things--but it's hard to decide exactly where it belongs in the house. Whatever use you find for the Chumby, its essential features can be divided into three basic camps: alarm clock, music, and widgets/apps.
Given its small size, legible display, and the snooze-worthy button on its top, the Chumby One's suitability as a bedside alarm clock is unmistakable. You get two alarm modes, including an uncomplicated Quick alarm and a Custom alarm that allows for multiple alarm profiles that can obey weekday or weekend schedules.
Putting the Chumby One in Night mode dims the LCD and displays the current time in oversize digits. While in night mode, an extra press of the screen renders the LCD completely black. Alarm options range from basic beeps to customizable snooze durations and audio sources (including Internet radio, such as Pandora). The Chumby One's Achilles' heel as an alarm clock, however, is that should the power or Internet connection give out during the night, your morning alarm may be in jeopardy. To remedy this, the Chumby can default to a basic beeping alarm sound when an Internet connection goes haywire, and an investment in a compatible battery pack should be enough to carry the Chumby One through a temporary power outage.
In an ironic twist, we noticed that the FM radio built into the Chumby One is suspiciously absent from the list of available alarms. This is possibly a holdover from the original Chumby, which lacked an FM radio.