It's irreverent and, according to the packaging, "it's like, totally awesome." It's the Chumby 8, but what is it exactly? Part digital photo frame, part Internet tablet, this device does a little bit of everything, from apps to social networking. Chumby 8 hopes to become the in-between gadget that rules your desk or bedroom nightstand, living room table, or kitchen counter. Sporting a more mature look than its predecessor, a faster operating system, and 1,500 free apps, Chumby 8 has the potential to be a fun diversion. However, $199 is a lot to spend on a device that isn't mobile. Should you just get a tablet instead?
When Chumby first debuted in 2009, it was decked out in fancy Italian leather, making it one of the best-dressed gadgets on the market. But with every release, Chumby has gotten a little less whimsical and a lot more functional. Instead of leather, Chumby 8 has gone plastic, with the front and subdued matte finish available in red or black.
With regards to the screen, Chumby 8 is taking a "bigger is better" mantra, expanding to a spacious 8-inch touchscreen from the previous iteration's 3.5 inches. Chumby made sure to include some shiny accents, including two mirror polished side panels and the inch-long home button located on the top right corner. Both panels house built-in speakers, and the right panel also houses the power button along with a 4-in-1 memory card slot and a CF card slot, which is somewhat unusual. The base of the Chumby 8 contains two USB ports, the headphone jack, and the AC adapter port.
The screen is propped up by a stand that extends out the back, giving the Chumby a rough T shape. At 8.8 x 6.8 x 5.5 inches and 1.8 pounds, the Chumby 8 looks more like a digital photo frame than the beanbag of old.
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Display and Audio
The Chumby 8 features an 8-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 600. It's not HD, but it's vibrant and it gets the job done. However, the resistive touchscreen isn't as responsive as what you'll find on a smartphone or tablet. Sometimes it required us to tap a few times to get a response.
Chumby audio was loud and clear, easily filling a small room. While audio was good for listening to podcasts, music was a mixed bag. During our tests at home, vocals and instruments such as piano and horns had good sound quality, but there was little bass. When we listened to Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," the bass sounded flat and washed out.
In order to use the Chumby, you must have a wireless Internet connection. That much was obvious as soon as we powered the device on and it asked us for our router's password. Afterwards, a prompt instructed us to register the Chumby, which brought us to another drawback--the Chumby isn't completely PC-independent. We had to register the Chumby through the company's website using our computer. Even though it took only five minutes, in the world of smartphones and tablets, this puts Chumby at a huge disadvantage. Furthermore, social-networking app permissions (such as for Facebook or Flickr) also must be completed from a computer, which can become tedious depending upon the number of networks a user wants to add. However, users can add apps and create new channels on the Chumby without the aid of a computer.
Apps for the Chumby 8 are stored on channels, which remain on-screen from anywhere between 15 seconds to 5 minutes depending on the user's choice, creating a stream. We created a news channel using various news apps including Google News, The New York Times, and Reuters. Our social-networking feed let us keep abreast of latest news on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The great thing about Chumby's app store is that all 1,500 apps are free, and it includes popular titles such as Cozi, Groupon, and Flickr. There are a number of games, including Chameleon, a deceptively simple matching game, and Reversi, an Orthello clone.
Still, Chumby 8's selection of apps is shallow compared to the Android Market and Apple's App Store, unless you really like clock apps--there's a full 15 pages of those. Also, the apps themselves are limited. For example, the Facebook app only lets you view friends' status updates--you can't comment or change your own status. Making things more confusing, a separate Facebook Photo app lets you view the photos you've stored on the site, but nothing else.
Chumby can also go mobile if you own an Android mobile device. By downloading the Chumby Lite app, users can access their Chumby's channels from their smartphone or tablet. It's a cool feature in theory, but it seems unnecessary when you can access the majority of those same apps from your phone and interact with them directly instead of being a passive observer.
Once we had the Chumby 8 configured, it was pretty simple to navigate. From the home screen, it was easy to access channels, apps, music, alarms, images, and videos. Creating channels and adding apps only took a few minutes, as did channel scheduling. However, switching apps became a hassle as they could only be accessed from their assigned channels. We also noticed a lag when switching between apps, stations, and the home screen.
After sliding our SDHC card into the designated memory card slot, the Chumby took five minutes to start playing a slideshow of a year's worth of photos using its photo viewer. Unfortunately, we couldn't upload photos to Facebook or Flickr.
Of course, the Chumby can also be used as an alarm clock. Scheduling alarms and tasks was straightforward, and we could choose from a variety of alert sounds. On the highest setting, we could easily hear the alarm from a room away. We were also able to set a pretty robust schedule specifying what channels ran and for how long, when to play music, and even when to enter power-saving mode.
Chumby was a great idea when it first debuted, but with the rise of smartphones and tablets, Chumby seems dated. Not only is its app selection tiny, but the apps themselves are limited when compared to their Android and iOS counterparts. We also wish that you didn't need to use a PC to register and get the full benefit of those apps. However, if consumers are in the market for a digital photo frame that does more than your average frame, Chumby 8 is definitely worth a look.