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Insignia Infocast review: Insignia Infocast

Insignia Infocast

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
6 min read


Insignia Infocast

The Good

The Infocast weaves Web apps, digital photos, and streaming audio and video into an affordable, tablet-esque superscreen.

The Bad

With all its features, the Infocast isn't for the technologically timid. Its sheer size makes it awkward for use as an alarm clock.

The Bottom Line

It won't slice or dice, brew your coffee, or fetch your slippers, but the Insignia Infocast's ability to put news, music, photos, calendars, and social networks at your fingertips makes it a worthy addition to today's digitally-enabled home.

Like its cousins, the Sony Dash and the Chumby One, the Infocast from Insignia serves up a smorgasbord of digital photos, news, Internet radio, social networks, alarm clock, games, and video, all customized just for you. We still can't tell you where exactly these types of devices fit in your home, but at $169, sporting an extra large 8-inch touch screen, the Insignia Infocast is the best of the breed.

There's no two ways about it: the Infocast looks like a digital photo frame. With an inch-wide glossy black bezel wrapping a matte-finish 800x600-pixel resolution LCD, the Infocast is certainly a fitting place to showcase your family albums, but it's capable of much more. To see what's on offer, press the Insignia-branded menu button at the top of the screen and you'll get a simple menu with five icons for apps, friends, photos, music, and video. Select a feature and you'll dive into a more sophisticated (and arguably more confusing) layer of content, submenus, and settings, all of which respond to direct touch-screen control.

The Infocast measures 7 inches tall, 5 inches deep, and 8.75 inches wide. The base, which rests behind the screen, includes a large power button, two USB ports, power adapter input, integrated stereo speakers, and a headphone jack. In addition, there are two memory card slots allowing the Infocast to accept up to seven format types (SD, SDHC, MMC, Compact Flash, xD, MS, and MS Pro Duo).

Overall, the construction is reassuringly solid, given its bargain price. We noticed that the plastic bezel surrounding the screen scratches easily. Fortunately, the Infocast will probably spend its life sitting on a table or bookshelf, avoiding the kind of wear and tear that mobile gadgets are usually subjected to.

You will most likely run into the Infocast in the digital photo frame section of your nearest Best Buy (Insignia is a Best Buy house brand). In spite of its prowess as a Wi-Fi connected jukebox and news reader, pegging the Infocast as a photo frame makes sense. You can play slideshows from local memory (2GB), USB stick, or memory card, stream photos from your networked PCs, and view libraries from Flickr, Photobucket, Picassa, Facebook, and more. Any standard-definition videos shot on your digital camera can be imported and played here, as well, with support for most camera video types (AVI, MOV, MP4).

When you connect a USB stick or memory card filled with photos or videos, you can play the media directly or selectively drag and drop files to the internal memory, and even create and manage photo albums. Of course, the 2GB of included memory isn't going to hold a ton of content, but the intuitive drag-and-drop control for managing media is something we haven't seen in a product like this before.

But make no mistake, the Infocast is no mere digital photo frame. In fact, you could argue that the sophistication and breadth of features offered here is a potential turn-off for those who want a set-and-forget digital photo frame solution. What makes the Infocast unique is its use of customizable Web apps, which they license from Chumby Industries, just like the Sony Dash.

There are more than 1,500 Web-based apps you can install on the Infocast, and they're all free. The types of apps range from utilities (clocks, calendars, stock quotes) and games, to popular content from Facebook, Twitter, TMZ, The New York Times, NPR, and more. You're given complete control over what apps are installed, and you can group apps together into channels, which can be tailored to different users or types of content.

Music playback features fall under a separate tab, and include local playback of files stored on memory cards or USB devices, as well as streaming audio from Pandora, Shoutcast, The New York Times podcasts, and a library of Internet radio stations grouped together as Blue Octy Radio.

The Infocast also has the capability of sharing content among multiple users. Under the Friends tab, Infocast users can invite and bookmark any friends or family members who also have an Infocast (or similar Chumby-based device). Once a friend request has been confirmed, you can share apps, photos, and videos between devices by dragging and dropping content into the friends tab. It's a neat feature, and one that has been part of the Chumby DNA from the beginning. We don't expect Chumby friend networks will become the next Facebook, but it's a workable solution for tech-savvy families interested in beaming birthday pictures to one another.

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.


Insignia Infocast

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8