Chumby review

4 out of 5

For

iPod connection, loads of apps, doesn't take itself too seriously

Against

Some touch controls can be a little fiddly, no Ethernet connection

Best described as a large hacky-sack with a screen on the front, the Chumby is part of a new wave of connected internet buddies. We don't even know what to call it. Sporting a 3.5-inch screen on the front, it doesn't try to be serious like the Joggler - even though they have equally silly names - but is a lot of fun.

The screen provides touch interaction with the Chumby to play the games, play videos, flick through photos and so on, whilst a button under the soft leather top accesses the main menu and what there are of settings. One of the important settings here allows you to dive in and connect to your network.

The Chumby only connects via Wi-Fi which is great for many homes, but might not be so good for those who want to throw it into their office network for a bit of distraction.

Part of the activation process involves heading online and registering your Chumby through their website. This isn't really a standalone device as the website is your access to all the available apps - and there are over 1000 on there and more being added all the time. Once activated, however, your Chumby is preloaded with a number of apps to get you started.

There is a default set of apps for UK owners, so it was nice to find that it was already picking up train times and the state of the London Underground. Of course you can add and remove as you please so you can make Chumby exactly what you want it to be.

Basically the Chumby will sit there and cycle through the apps it has on offer, giving you 30 seconds (or so) on each one. You can change the interval of each app, or you can choose to pin one so it stays on that app – great for waking up and checking the trains running from your local station. Did I not mention that? Yes, it will head off to National Rail's live departure boards to pick up real-time info on your station - fantastic for commuters.

We customised it by adding in some technology news feeds, some fun games and other miscellany and the Chumby proved to be the ultimate distraction. A small dog licking the screen proved a hit with the wife, as did the bubble wrap popping game. And who could resist a quick photo gallery of rabbits? Everyone say ahh.

It's the sheer randomness of Chumby that makes it so appealing. Sure, the novelty will wear off, but there is plenty of variety to give it a long lease of life.

But aside from the distraction and novelty items, Chumby has a more useful side. We've mentioned the London Underground and train times - of course you have weather in there as well - but you can hook up to things like Google Calendar and your Picasa or Flickr photos.

Google Calendar is a view only offering and a but rough and ready, so you don't get the sort of polished, comprehensive, offering that you do via the O2 Joggler, but it was synchronised with iCal on the Mac and on the BlackBerry, which let's face it, is the way that connected devices should work.

Around the back of the Chumby you'll find two USB ports. These will let you plug in a USB memory stick or even an iPod that will then let the Chumby run off and find music to play (MP3, M4A, AIFF, WAV). It's a neat solution as you can charge your iPod and playback music (with the iPod nano at least), but it is worth checking compatibility with your model before you fork out. The Chumby also has a list of internet radio stations so you can get some music.

The onboard speakers are better than you might expect and there is a 3.5mm headphone jack as well. There is a power button on the back to switch it off, with startup taking about 30 seconds. There is also a motion sensor built-in to control various apps and games.

So it's all pretty much perfect? Well, not entirely. The touch is pretty good, but at times it can get a little fiddly, especially when plugging in your Wi-Fi password or selecting tracks. You do get used to it, but it isn't as crisp an experience as you'd get from the latest mobile phone.

The style also won't be for some either: Chumby will look out of place in your minimalist loft apartment but he'll fit right into your chilled pad. In reality you could do it all on your mobile phone or PC if you're being really miserable about it.

Verdict

Step outside of the funky squishy blob and Chumby is a service delivering customised online content, just as your next TV will want to do. Why not break it out and offer a variety of devices? Well that's the plan for Chumby, to break out and take over every available screen in the future.

Chumby wins in the cute stakes: a squishy blob clad in Italian leather that doesn't take itself to seriously. It wins in the customisation stakes with plenty of apps to entertain, inform and distract you. And it is a real plus to be able to connect to your existing online content, Google apps, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa so easily.

Terrifyingly distracting. Beautifully pointless. Hopelessly adorable.