Chumby One Review--Extraordinary Window to the Internet... Or Just a Fancy Alarm Clock?

In a total impulse buy (what some might view as a temporary loss of sanity, because they have never heard of it) I picked up a chumby from for an exceptional price. However, I probably would have spent more if I knew what it was capable of.

However, my purchase was driven most by the simple question: What exactly IS a chumby?

I'll hold off on the dirty jokes for this review, although the folks in my personal life won't be so lucky. In all seriousness what the heck is this thing?

chumby is lots of things.

Yeah, not a simple answer, I know. The basic idea is that chumby displays a variety of applications, also called widgets, on its touchscreen that allow you to interact with it and perform a variety of tasks or features--such as monitoring your Twitter or Facebook feeds, setting up alarms, displaying a clock, etc. These widgets rotate regularly, giving you a dynamic and interesting window into your Internet life.

So, here's the best "list" I could come up with for what chumby is. It can be one of these things, or several:

  • An Internet-connected alarm clock
  • An Internet radio streamer
  • A desktop widget
  • A digital bedside or coffee table companion
  • An at-a-glance window into your social networking life
  • A useless yet entertaining diversion
  • A digital photo frame
  • A news reader

Let's unbox it first so you can get a look at my chumby (sorry) and then we'll delve into how to use it, how you might be able to fit it into your life, and why I think it might be one of the most underrated gadgets to come along in a great while.

Unboxing the chumby one

The chumby one comes simply packaged in a very square box, fitting for a very square gadget. The Pandora screen and the "wake up to your Internet life" slogan greet you and try to clue you in on the potential of the device.

The chumby one itself is pretty simple in appearance--it really does look like an alarm clock with a touchscreen. There's a power button and USB port on the back, as well as a headphone jack for external speakers. It also has a large volume knob on the right (which feels a bit cheesy and plasticky but works fine) as well as a "Snooze" button on the top, which is also used to access the main setup and options screen (more on that later.)

The chumby one comes with everything you need to get started inside the box, which isn't much--just the power connectors, as it doesn't need a software disk. The power adapter is pretty sweet, as it ships with a number of plug adapters to enable it for worldwide use--a nice touch. However, as shown in the photo above, it does not come with a rechargeable battery. That's something you'll have to purchase separately.

Now that we've gotten an initial look at the thing, let's bring it to life.

How to set up the chumby one

Fortunately, the onboarding process is pretty easy, and activating the chumby went smooth and problem-free for me.

Before you begin, you need to open a (free) account at chumby's official website. This will serve as your base station for configuring the widgets that will appear on your chumby, and is necessary for activation as well. Once you have it set up, and your chumby is connected to your Wi-Fi network, it will guide you through the process shown above. You enter your chumby ID into the chumby, and it transmits your chumby's info to the web based service, at which point you're prompted to enter the series of circles you see into your chumby. (It's kind of like verifying a Bluetooth pin.)

After this, activation is instant, leaving you to be free to play with your chumby all you like. (You, in the back, stop giggling. Wait, I promised no jokes, right? I lied.)

At this point, however, I'd recommend against that. Why? Because what the chumby really has to offer won't make a whole lot of sense until you set up your widgets online.


How to set up chumby widgets

While the web-based interface for setting up chumby widgets is a but cumbersome, and sometimes not all that intuitive, it certainly works well, and consistently.

The first screen you'll see is your main dashboard. Here, you can select which chumby to manage (if you have multiples) and which channel you'd like to edit. Channel, you say? What's a channel?

Well, the basic idea behind chumby widgets, as I mentioned before, is that they rotate in and out while the chumby is powered on, allowing you do check/do a variety of things. However, you might not want your news apps popping up at the same time as your Twitter and Facebook feeds. This function allows you to organize your apps by "channels," which when selected, will only stream the apps you select to live in each channel.

The Channels pane is where you can add new widgets, search new widgets, configure the widgets you have added, and manage your separate channels.

Adding widgets is easy enough--all you have to do is select one from the lists displayed and click the "add app" button. It will then add it to your current channel. If you want to add it to other channels, you can click the small "send" link below the widget's thumbnail in the section below, which represents the current widget stream for your channel. (This is where the web app gets a bit cumbersome--for example, say you want to add multiple apps to another new channel, there's no "easy" way to do it.)

Not only can you drag and drop the widget thumbnails to control the order in which they appear, but you can also configure certain widgets to expand their functionality. For example--the Facebook widget allows you to display your news feed and post status updates to your account.

So, what to do next? What I haven't pointed out yet is that many of the widgets in chumby are pre-installed and integrated with the device. Now, I'd like to break down the "What is chumby" question into something more usable, while exploring the built-in widgets, by looking at several ways you can actually use chumby in your day to day life.


chumby as an alarm clock

The most obvious use for chumby is as an alarm clock, and it does extremely well in this area. Alarms are highly configurable, allowing you to set multiple separate alarms, all at different times, different snooze options, music or alarm sources, and so on. Plus, the speaker gets pretty loud and the built-in alarm choices are nice. chumby will also display different screens during the daytime and nighttime, so it isn't too bright while you are sleeping.

Of course, after you turn off the alarm, you can get your first daily dose of the Internet without even leaving your bed. Peek at your Gmail inbox? Check. Scroll through your Twitter feed? Check. Weather and news updates? Check. A nice way to wake up, if I do say so myself.

chumby as a social networking station

Speaking of Twitter and Facebook, chumby works well as an auto-updating, rotating and constantly refreshing window into your social networking life. The usual suspects are here, such as Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr and more.

Most of these apps work as advertised--for example, the Twitter app allows you to send tweets, check your profile, and scroll through your feed.

The Facebook app allows you to read the latest posts from your friends, with a separate app enabling you to update your Facebook status.

The Picasa app will stream based off of a Picasa RSS feed. And so on.

chumby as an Internet radio streamer

This is, by far, my favorite use of the chumby, and has earned it a dedicated place next to my "iPod stereo," which I suppose could be renamed to "chumbyStereo."

The chumby has several Internet radio partners built in to the device, including Pandora and shoutCAST--by far the best of the bunch. Both of these apps work remarkably well, and through hours and hours of listening and changing channels, the chumby didn't freeze up or slow down on me, not once. The Pandora interface links with your Pandora account, of course, and should be familiar to anyone who uses the service. The shoutCAST app enables you to quickly search and stream the tons of available channels they have, and works equally as well.

To top everything off, chumby can stream virtually any open Internet radio stream, and supports a variety of stream formats (even Ogg Vorbis--but note that in my screenshot, I have OGG selected, which is actually incorrect. I had to go back and change to M3U to get it to work. But I digress.) I was able to update it with a few of my favorite custom feeds, and it works like a charm. You can even listen to the radio in the background while using other widgets.

Oh, and it gets FM too, but who uses analog radio these days? Lots of people, you say? Guess I'm just an Internet radio nerd. Moving on...

chumby as a useless diversion

The iPhone has fart apps... the chumby has noise apps too. Lots of them. Most consist of merely pressing the screen and having a noise come out. Or a random insult courtesy of Weebl and Bob (one of my favorites.)

But wait... there's more. How about a People of Walmart widget? What's better than seeing the worst-dressed people on the planet on your chumby? Well, lots of things, but that's not the point. Ok, how about a I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER widget that pulls in pics from your favorite cat site? (I'm in ur chumby, nibbling your widgets. Problem?)

chumby as a digital photo frame

You can easily stream photos to your chumby from a variety of services, including Picasa, Flickr, and SmugMug. Depending on the app, chumby can scroll through public photos at random, your friends' photos, or your own private albums.

chumby as a convenient news reader

The news apps available for chumby are super cool, and there are tons available from several major news sources--including Engadget, Gizmodo, the New York Times, npr, the list goes on and on. Most of these apps will auto-refresh with the latest content, allow you to scroll through articles, and read full pieces (often with photos, too.)

While your chumby is cycling through your various news sources, if you see an article you like, there's usually a button you can press that will email you a link to read later. The chumby service will automatically email you this link to the address you have linked to your account, as I show above in the photo. Pretty cool, if you ask me.



While I think I've given a pretty good high-level view of what chumby can do, there's so much it's hard to cover in one place. There's hundreds and hundreds of apps that are available, all free, that run the gamut from games to utilities to the apps I mentioned above, and it would take forever to explore them all. There's hundreds of clock apps alone.

The real question you're probably asking is--do I need a chumby?

No. You don't need one. But, if you're asking that question, you probably don't explore much with gadgets anyway, or at least do so more cautiously. The chumby is not a device to be cautious with. It's daring, weird, experimental, and multi-faceted. It does a lot of things--some better than others.

However, it's the sheer variation in uses for chumby that are what make it so appealing. For example, if I go on a trip, I could use chumby as a portable alarm clock--and an Internet stereo, only to return it to its former place as a photo frame when I get home. Just for one example. Or, I could keep it on my desk and dedicate it exclusively to rotating Twitter feeds.

Plus, it seems the service is still evolving, including a beta update (which I haven't tried yet.) The community seems pretty vibrant, and there is certainly no shortage of content.


There are a few gripes I have with the chumby--none that would prevent me from recommending it as a purchase (because I love it, and I do recommend it) but these shortcomings are worth being aware of.

  1. It's not an iPhone, folks. Don't expect liquid smooth scrolling or lightning fast load times. This isn't a processing powerhouse. Plus, it doesn't have an ultra-high-res display, but it does look nice.
  2. The volume control knob sucks. No better way to put it. The steps are way too big and it feels cheap. One click too many and you're blowing your ears out.
  3. The speaker isn't too great, either. Don't expect concert-quality audio. It works, and it's plenty loud, but kinda scratchy. Overall, I recommend external speakers if you plan on using it as a radio.
  4. I'm not sure how it would work without the content partnerships and chumby web service. I have a feeling the chumby is rather useless without a connection to the background web service. A quick search revealed this thread, which seems to indicate that if the company goes away, so do the servers, and you're done--meaning you're left with either a very, very limited device, or the need to install 3rd party firmware on it. In short, purchase this device with the knowledge that someday, it may not work originally as advertised, requiring you to roll up your sleeves a bit--I would imagine that resourceful programmers would quickly whip up third party firmware to do the job.

All in all--if you're a gadget geek who loves to try new and innovative devices, give chumby a try. has them for less than $99 right now--but since the Woot sale, a bunch of them have popped up on eBay.


Thanks for the info. It sounds pretty cool but the price is a little higher than I would pay for something like this.
Somewhere around $50.00 would make me think seriously about buying.

Yep, I got it on a Woot-off, so I only paid $50 plus shipping. I do think the asking price of $129 is far too high for this product, cool as it may be. You can get them for under $100 at various online stores, and eBay for probably less.

What ap are you using for the alarm clock? Looks nifty!


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