My Chumby Review

I received my Chumby yesterday; It was shipped UPS Expedited from Shenzhen, China to my office and it took about 7 days between placing the order to receiving.  Not too bad considering I ordered it on New Year's eve (not sure if they did processing on New Years day). 

What is a Chumby?

A Chumby is basically an alarm clock with a 3.5" touch screen and wireless network connectivity.  It has a 350Mhz ARM processor, 64MB of RAM, 64MB of ROM, two USB ports and stereo speakers on the back of the unit.  In essence it is a pocket PC in a different form factor- but running Linux instead of Windows Mobile.

The real benefit of the device is that it is open-source software and people are encouraged to develop applications (widgets) for the device.  At present there are close to 200 widgets available for the device (and this is still in pre-release status), ranging from games to photo galleries to ebay/facebook/netflix status windows.

My purchase was as an alarm clock that will allow me to play a specific MP3 and not take up a lot of space on my night stand.  In addition it will double as a digital photo frame.

Anyone considering spending $100 on dedicated photo frame should definitely consider the Chumby as an alternative- but just be warned that the system software is still in development and it will require some technical knowledge to setup (like how to use Flickr).

Chumby Opening:

My Chumby arrived in an average looking box.


From Scenzhen, China to Atlanta, GA- it arrived intact.

Contents of the box; the Chumby is protected in a foam bag and secured with an official chumby seal

The actual Chumby is contained inside a burlap sack

Furthermore, the sack contains two additional sacs and a Chumby guide.  The sub-sacks contain the power adaptor and some 'Chumby Charms'

The packaging is fairly interesting, but kind of wasteful- I have no idea what I will ever do with these sacks or the charms; perhaps I will hide them away in the attic in case I decide that I want to resell the Chumby one day. 

Physical Appearance:

I ordered the black Chumby, but it is also available in latte and pearl.  It is a fairly simple device: A 3.5" touch-screen on the front and two USB ports, a headphone jack, a power plug and power switch on the back. 


Front of the Chumby (protective cover still adhered)


Front of the Chumby (protective cover removed and screen semi-cleaned)


Rear of the Chumby


Bottom of the Chumby


My Chumby in it's new home on my nightstand.

There is a single button atop the Chumby (beneath the leather material); this appears to be a rocker switch of some kind that give an tactile click when pressed.  There is a silver button on the side of the unit; as far as I can tell the sole purpose of this is to allow a place to attach the Chumby charms for decoration.

On the back of the device there are two speaker outlets and there are microphone holes next to the screen on the front (I have not found anything that uses the mic as of yet- this must be for developers to play with).

The USB ports can be used to connect a USB memory stick, an iPod or other devices (as developers work up software for this).  Connecting an iPod will allow the user to play music

The bottom of the Chumby has a Velcro opening with a 9 volt power plug; I assumed this was for a battery back-up for the clock and settings.  However there is a warning tag on the battery terminals:


Visiting the specified page further indicates that a battery is not currently supported and may be used for future features.  It also goes on to state that using a battery may void the warranty.  It sounds like they are concerned that people will try to use a battery to make the Chumby portable and the system cannot be supported by a 9V battery (which is further re-enforced by the 12v power adaptor included in the package).

Chumby Setup:

When the Chumby is first fired up it goes through a boot-up sequence and setup wizard (and a introduction video which I promptly skipped).  During setup it has a network wizard for wireless setup that supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 setup, allows you to give your Chumby a name and goes through activation (accomplished through online and interaction with the device to associate it with an account you create on the Chumby web site.

Most of this is pretty self-explanatory and is detailed in the setup manual, so I will not go into detail on this:


You must active the Chumby and setup and online account to create 'Channels' for the device.  The channels are groups of widgets that play in the order specified on by the way they are arranged on the website.  May widgets also have various options, including 'time displayed' for each item.  Some also request zip code/city information (for weather reports) or have you add the widget as a trusted device to Flickr or Picassa web album accounts.  The Netflix widget uses the RSS feed from Netflix and there are specific (Engadget, Digg, Gizmodo) RSS feeds as well as a generic RSS reader widget.

The button atop the device activates the contol panel:

The main screen allows scrolling through widgets; selecting one and clicking the screen representation or the 'hide control panel' returns to the widget- the top button does not return to the widget.
The mute button mutes the sound (obviously). 
The channel button goes to the channel sub-menu to allow selection of different channels.
Night dims the screen and displays a clock only
Music opens up a music player if you have an iPod connected via USB cable.
Settings opens up the settings menu.
Clock allows date/time and alarm settings
Stay keeps the current widget from cycling
Send forwards a widget to a friend's Chumby
Rate allows you to rate the widget with one to five stars
Delete removes the widget from the channel (you can only add widgets on the web site)

The channel screen allows you to select which channel is playing on Chumby.  The 'i' button gives info on the channel and the 'refresh' button refreshes changes that have been made to channels online (This happens automatically on regular intervals as well)

The clock setting allows Internet NTP time sync and allows you to setup two alarms.  One note on the Chumby Tricks page explains how to over ride the alarm sounds by placing 'alarm1.mp3' and 'alarm2.mp3' files on a USB drive installed in the unit.

An iPod attached to the USB port will allow you to play music form the iPod play lists.  The sound is surprisingly good for such small speakers.  (The beta version of the control panel offers many more options for music- this is reviewed later in this post)

Settings give info on the Chumby, allow you to change volume (note- this is a terrible place for this as there are no physical volume buttons on the deivice), change screen brightness (two settings only- 100% and night mode), setup network connections or re-calibrate the touch screen.



There are a ton of widgets that are available for the device, with more being added each day.  As you add widgets to a Channel you are given a preview before adding and allowed to enter specific settings for your region, account, etc.





The volume controls (outside of the music player) are only accessible through control panel -> settings -> volume; this is a pain-in-the-ass if you are watching youtbue and you need to increase/decrease the volume:


Brightness has two settings; Full and low.  The full is pretty bright but the low is a 'night mode' that can only be seen with all lights in the room turned off.  This should be a slide-bar setting to allow different levels:


As I stated before, the Chumby is a pre-release product at this time and these may change before the final release.  There is already a beta version of the control panel that has drastically enhanced the functionality (with custom alarm settings, music streaming options and many other welcome features).

The Chumby is a unique device that will appeal to the person that likes gadgets.  It is also an interesting gift that can be pre-activated and configured for a loved one that can constantly be evolving (there is an email photo to Chumby widget that is fairly popular) based on changes that you make to a channel.  It is still a diamond in the rough but has the potential to be an indispensable device if configured with the proper info (weather and traffic reports in the morning, changing to a digital photo frame during the day and then to a RSS reader or youtube player for bedside entertainment while winding down).   $180 is a little steep for some and others may find it a bit complicated with creating an account and having to manage some of the features through the web site- but the device has an great footprint size for a bedside alarm clock and lots of features that will keep expanding as the community grows (I am looking forward to Google Maps with local traffic myself). 

In a later post I will review some of the improvements already brought forth in the latest beta version of the Chumby control panel.

I also have managed to disassemble my Chumby and taken some pictures that I will post in another blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:09 AM

    Nice review thanks for posting! How's it working now?