Get one of these: Chumby (updated)

So what is Chumby? It kind of defies description.When I first saw Chumby I thought that it was an alarm clock that displays that weather and news headlines – which it does – but it's really more than that.

Get one of these: Chumby

So what is Chumby? It kind of defies description.

When I first saw Chumby I thought that it was an alarm clock that displays that weather and news headlines – which it does – but it's really more than that. It's really a little WiFi connected Internet appliance that displays various "widgets" that you choose, depending on your needs.

If you want Chumby to be an alarm clock that displays the weather forecast – so be it. If you want it to play a video of Letterman's Top 10 list and rotate pictures of your friends from Facebook, it can do that too.

Chumby is a small Internet-connected device with a 3.5-inch touch screen that retails for US$179. It pulls down your widget data and dashboard using a standard WiFi connection in your home or office. You program it by creating an account on Chumby.com and picking the widgets that you want Chumby to rotate on its display. It's that simple.

Chumby specs:

  • 3.5" LCD color touchscreen
  • Two external USB 2.0 full-speed ports
  • 350 MHz ARM processor
  • 64 MB SDRAM
  • 64 MB NAND flash ROM
  • Stereo 2W speakers
  • Headphone output
  • Squeeze sensor
  • Accelerometer (motion sensor)
  • Leather casing
  • AC adapter included
  • Wi-fi connectivity
  • Access to the free Chumby Network
  • Over-the-air software updates

If you want it to cycle between RSS feeds of your favorite sites and eBay and Craigslist, go nuts. There are even widgets that display the surf report, your Netflix queue, Apple movie trailers, kids cartoons, the list goes on. It would be hard to find something this unique device doesn't do.

But I'll warn you – it's addictive.

When I got mine I spent the first two days configuring and playing with dozens of widgets. They're so much fun that it's hard to keep yourself from trying every one, just to see what it does.

If you want to use it as an alarm clock, you can wake up to a ShoutCast stream of ambient music, or the New York Times being read to you aloud (courtesy of their Podcast). The amount of things that you can do with Chumby is dizzying. I recommend that you go to their Web site and surf through the demos and widgets to see for yourself.

While it's true that you can do many of these things on your computer – that's exactly the point – you can now do them away from your computer. On your night table, for example. In fact, I like Chumby so much that I keep it on my desk next to my computer during the day because it's a welcome distraction from everything that's going on on my computer, and so I don't miss that important bit of breaking news because it's buried under a Window on my computer somewhere.

Update: Chumby can be connected to a 9-volt battery but it's only there as an alarm fail safe (and even that's in beta). Chumby software currently does not support the running on a 9v battery so you'll have to run it solely on AC power. I recommend buying an extra AC adapter if you plan to move it between two locations (i.e. bedroom and office) a lot. I suggested that Chumby 2.0 ship with a rechargeable battery and the company said that they're considering it, but that it would increase the price. Volume is also difficult to adjust (it's buried a couple of menus deep) and there's only two brightness settings, where there should be a slider.

Chumby users can send messages, pictures and widgets to other Chumby users, so if you're a user add "PowerPage" as one of your chums. I've posted a bunch of Chumby pictures in this gallery.

I don't say this often, but go get a Chumby, they're a whole bunch of fun and the best little innovation to come along since the iPod.