30 April 2009

1 year with the Chumby. Verdict: Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

I remember telling one of my coworkers about the Chumby for the first time:

"Dude, did I tell you I've got a Chumby?"

"A what?"

"You know, Chumby? Bean bag looking thing?"

He stared at me.

"Runs Linux?"

"That's fucking weird man. Don't talk about your chubby anymore."

Unfortunate name or not, Chumby does what its supposed to do and more, and I really have only a few complaints about it after a year of ownership, so I'll get those out of the way. The touch screen is not so great. You can poke it and it usually does what it is supposed to, but you're not going to be enjoying touchscreen games on this little device (though accelerometer games work great). It sometimes flakes out and requires a restart. This is very un-Linuxy and very disappointing. Finally, text entry is terrible (ties back to the "poking" problem above).

So what does it do well? I know this sounds weird, but for an alarm-clock-radio replacement with an Internet connection, this thing is deluxe. The way you can program alarms for different days well in advance is the Chumby's killer app, as far as I am concerned. The alarm feature couldn't really be any better, and its just awesome that you play any kind of digital audio you can think of (Internet radio, MP3s, iPod, and more!).

The Chumby's ability to dish out the Internet in bite-sized chunks is also nice. The Google News app works well, I like the Rotten Tomatoes widget the most since it can tell me about new movies right away, and the Flickr widget gives me something to look at in the morning when I'm trying to motivate myself to roll out of bed. It's also nice for when I'm going to sleep to listen to Soma.FM at a very low volume instead of having a laptop or some other wasteful device piping out music.

The hardware is also damn cool. I wish my laptop was covered in semi-plush pleather and had big spongey buttons and controls to do stupid things (not text entry--stupid things). The fact this thing is fully hackable immediately gives it a much longer service life than iPods even have, and I can see the community carrying this device on for many years to come.

Heck, I even like the menu. The menu, as the story goes, was designed by one of the UI folks who worked on one of Apple's System 7, and it does show. The buttons are intuitive and I never raised an eyebrow at the placement of any options (other than the button to open up SSH and other hacking features, but this makes sense from a consumer-protection standpoint).

Finally, above all the sunshine I've blown into the ass of my alarm clock, this is a device that gets better with age while not having to invest another dime in it. Smart phones have app stores and service contracts that cost lots of money while the Chumby continues to sit and be awesome.

Don't let the fact that this computer-clock-Internet-thing comes in a miniature laundry bag (which I still use to this day... most eco-friendly packaging ever) sway you. If you are thinking this would be a cool device to replace your alarm clock or want to give it as a gift, then do it. They are currently on sale with a $40 off coupon, bringing the price down to $169.99 with free shipping.


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