Chumby Industries Chumby (2009)

The 2009 Chumby is a hackable touch-screen-equipped device that hosts widgets.

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Chumby Industries Chumby (2009)
  • Chumby Industries Chumby (2009)
  • Chumby Industries Chumby (2009)
  • Chumby Industries Chumby (2009)
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Cute design, tinkering encouraged by manufacturer, good quality screen

Cons

  • A bit expensive, not much difference compared to the 2008 model, no battery

Bottom Line

The 2009 Chumby is a small and attractive device with a 3.5in touch screen for hosting Web widgets. It requires a power point and Internet connection to use. The growing online community and the ability for aspiring programmers to create new widgets make it worthwhile.

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The 2009 Chumby is an attractive leather-wrapped device with a 3.5in touch screen that is designed to host Web widgets, play music, entertain and inform. It requires a wireless connection to the Internet, needs a power point to operate and costs $349, but the growing community of widget makers makes it an interesting bit of tech. It has an operating system based on the open source Linux kernel, offering aspiring (or accomplished) programmers the chance to hack the device.

Widgets are essentially mini-applications. Although they used to be little more than Web-tickers and basic clocks, widgets have developed to the point where they've moved from being a side-act on a computer's desktop to centre stage. From Dilbert cartoons to satellite maps, simple games and news tickers, a wide variety of things can be displayed on the Chumby.

At its most basic level, the Chumby is a shell for these widgets. By using the on-board memory and Internet connection, the Chumby hosts widgets and lets users interact with them. If you want to add widgets to the Chumby, you must create a profile on the manufacturer's Web site, register the device online and then create one or more "channels" for widgets to be downloaded to the Chumby. Although it sounds like a time-consuming process, it's actually fairly simple and new users will be registered and running quite quickly.

Chumby Industries encourages users to push the boundaries of what is possible with the Chumby, offering detailed information about the device's hardware. We used the secure shell client PuTTY to access the Chumby from a PC, and discovered that it was running the 2.6.16 version of the Linux kernel. The Chumby has a 350MHz ARM processor and 64MB of SDRAM.

For networking, the Chumby offers 802.11b/g wireless connectivity. One qualm we have is the lack of batteries, which means it is stuck near power sockets. We'd love to see the Chumby get fitted with batteries, but given the amount of energy the touch screen and built-in wireless module use, this would likely result in either a size or price increase.

The Chumby has a 3.5in LCD colour touch screen in a plastic and rubber frame, which is in turn wrapped in leather. A "squeeze sensor" button sits beneath the leather on the top of the Chumby with two speakers, two USB 2.0 port, a single headphone port and the power cord sitting on the back. A built-in accelerometer detects the speed and direction of the Chumby when moved.

How the ports, button, motion sensor and screen are used depends entirely on what functionality a programmer has put into a widget. By default, pressing the top of the Chumby (2009) once enters the menu, and holding it down while tilting it left or right changes the widget being displayed.

The 2009 Chumby's design is almost identical to the Chumby (2008), but that's not to say the latest version isn't better. The screen is brighter and provides more detail, and Chumby Industries claims that the touch sensor is more accurate.

We found that the increased performance was barely noticeable. In fact, almost all of the upgrades between the two products have been cosmetic, with the manufacturer listing features like "Modified charm attachment" among the four main changes. Internode is currently selling the Chumby (2008) for $199 and the Chumby (2009) for $349.

The display often failed to recognise contact on the upper edges of the screen, especially when using fingers. The screen is best suited for use a stylus, but the Chumby is not bundled with one.

There is occasionally a half-second lag between hitting on-screen buttons and actually getting a response. Although this doesn't sound like much on its own, the delays build up when you're trying to quickly scroll through news items or photos.

But aside from this, the operating system and control panel work smoothly and provide a good variety of options. You can change the widgets being displayed and a variety of other settings like screen brightness.

We found that the screen got quite warm after a few hours of operation, but it never got too hot to touch. The horizontal and vertical viewing angles are both good, but you will need to re-angle the whole Chumby to view the screen properly. The touch screen displayed colour images with vibrancy; a satellite picture of Australia we put up looked vivid and detailed.

If you want a cute, adorable and highly customisable home for an increasing range of widgets in an innovative form factor, then a Chumby is a good bet. But given that Chumby (2008) offers almost all of the same features for $150 less than the 2009 model, there is little reason to upgrade if you already have an older Chumby.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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