As an evolution of one of CNET's favorite technological misfits, the, the Sony Dash offers a range of online news and media, boiled down to a small, simple, touch-screen device. We can't say it's the most practical piece of tech you'll own, but at $199, it packs just enough features to justify a place in any tech addicted home.
Powered off, the wedge-shaped design of the Dash looks more like a glorified doorstop than a Personal Internet Viewer (as Sony titles it). Plug in the included power adapter, and you'll realize that the Dash's unassuming design is only there to set the stage for the real star of the show: the screen.
The color LCD on the Dash measures 7 inches diagonally, and offers a bright and crisp view of default information, such as the local weather and time. The screen also responds to touch, allowing you to pull up menus and juggle between different media.
On the top of the Dash you'll see 2.5-inch-wide Menu button that also acts as a snooze for the built-in alarm clock. To its right, an inch-wide volume rocker allows fine control over audio. The back of the Dash is bare; the bottom houses a recessed power adapter input. Battery power is not an option.
A hinged door on the side of the Dash gives access to a 3.5mm headphone output, as well as a standard USB port. In theory, users can load music, videos, or photos by connecting a thumb drive to the USB port, but the firmware on the unit we tested didn't allow it (it's coming soon, apparently).
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.