Review: Chumby. Verdict: Great, But Needs More Local Content

chumby.jpgIn the short time since Internode sent me a Chumby to review, the little hacky-sack-slash-internet-widget hybrid has become one of my favourite household gadgets. I use it to check the weather, get the latest news headlines, listen to internet radio, tell me the time and play the occasional game of Sudoku. With a slight upgrade to my home's wireless network, it will definitely become my bedside alarm clock as well. But for all the great features the Chumby offers, it is held back by one simple flaw - a lack of Australian widgets for Australian users.It's a problem that Internode are aware of, seeing as how they launched a competition to incite local developers to code for the Chumby. It seems to be working, with a new "Australia" category with five widgets on offer (a combination of weather and news headlines). But to really reach its maximum potential down under, the Chumby needs a lot more local content.

That's not to say that the US-centric content is all bad. There are some fairly universal widgets that are a must install, like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail viewer. Then there's a whole heap of gadget blogs with dedicated widgets, including the US Giz (anyone want to code up a local Giz widget for us? Might send you a prize or something if you do...). If a favourite blog doesn't have a dedicated widget, you can still get its content on your Chumby via the generic RSS reader, which does the job admirably.

One of the features I love most about the Chumby is the Internet Radio function. In particular, you can access the normally US-only Pandora through your Chumby - just sign up at a special Chumby address, make up a mailing address in the US and your squishy widget screen will let you create stations based around your favourite artists. Better yet, you can use those stations as your alarm clock, giving you a pleasant wake up experience. As I hinted at before though, you're bed will need to be in range of your wireless network for this to work.

Setting up the Chumby is a piece of cake through the Chumby web portal. You select which widgets you want on your device, customise how long they remain on screen before switching to the next widget and rename your widgets as well. You can group simlar widgets together and have them run as a group at different times of the day (weather and news in the morning, jokes and games of an evening). If you know other Chumby users, you can even send widgets to their Chumby... Essentially the hardest part of the entire setup is deciding what to name your device. I went for Chunk...

Of course, the other hurdle facing potential Chumby owners is the price. In these times of economic turmoil, $299 isn't exactly petty cash that you can just throw around. But if you do feel like throwing, the Chumby sure is a lot of fun, and even though it's lacking local widgets, hopefully we'll see more of those every day.

[Chumby on Giz]