Note: The User-friendly Product (UFP) Watch is a way to spot and discuss products that have paid attention to details and are useful, intuitive, and fun to use.
So back to the main point, what’s a Chumby, you ask?
What’s a Chumby?
According to Chumby.com,
Chumby takes your favorite parts of the Internet and delivers them to you in a friendly, always-on, always-fresh format. It’s a window into your Internet life that lives outside your desktop, so content like weather, news, celebrity gossip, podcasts, music, and more has a place to play away from your world of documents and spreadsheets. Just plug in your chumby, connect to your wireless network, and use your computer to create a lineup of favorites from over 1,000 widgets in more than 30 categories, with new ones arriving all the time. Then let your chumby do its thing—streaming everything you like, from sports scores to stock tips, from video clips to interactive games, from photos to trivia.
And that’s seriously no joke. It really does do all those things and does them well.
A Chumby can display widgets like a NY Times news feed or pictures of the year.
I stumbled upon the Chumby when I was looking at digital picture frame reviews. A site I found, whose name unfortunately escapes me now, had reviewed the Chumby concept model (it wasn’t yet available) and had included a picture, which grabbed my attention, and a quick description of what the idea of it was. I was sold. It looks like a big marshmallow with a screen. Sure that’s the reason my husband and others won’t ever buy one, but for me, it’s part of its charm.
Chumby’s Charm is in Its Thoughtful User-friendly Details
I’m a user experience designer, so I’m always looking at products with that lens and wondering how much thought was put into their design. When it comes to Chumby, it seems like there was a lot of attention paid to small details that matter. Everything from the initial setup that was so much easier than any other product setup I remember to the size of the touchscreen buttons and alarm options (wake up to Pandora radio? Awe-some).
Chumby works with your wireless network, so unfortunately if you haven’t yet gone wireless, wait until Verizon Fios finally sucks you in and then set up a wireless hub before next holiday season.
Touchscreen with Big Buttons
The Chumby works almost entirely by touch. You can go to the Chumby Web site to set up widgets and preferences, but primarily, you’ll find yourself tapping your options on the display to:
- Change the display to Night setting, which dims the light and just displays the time and an alarm on indicato
- Scroll through your widget set and tapping the Chumby picture on the display to go back to full-screen mode
- “Stay,” “send,” “rate,” and even “delete” a widget from your stream
- Interact with the widgets, and pause news feeds that have that options or moving among Current, Forecast, and Radar on my favorite widget – The Weather Channel
1000+ Widgets in 30 Categories
Besides the useful and interesting news feeds from sources including The New York Times, Wired, and many others, there are widgets around fun things as well. Some great ones I’ve found include:
- Flickr photo stream, to cycle through your Flickr photos (that was where the digital picture frame piece came in and how I originally found it)
- Food Network Recipe of the Day
- “Screen clean” widget with a dog licking the inside of the Chumby screen
- Weather Channel Weather Forecast, with tabs including the Current weather, forecast for the next 3 days, and radar
- Letterman’s Top 10 lists
- Social media feeds from Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc.
- Gmail feed
There are so many more at http://www.chumby.com/guide.
It took me a while to ditch my old, ugly but reliable, brown and frustrating-to-program alarm clock. I wasn’t sure the Chumby could hold its own in the real alarm clock division. And then one day I realized what I was missing. With the Chumby I can set up so many different alarm options it’s almost ridiculous. I can set one for:
- Weekday mornings with a Klaxon noise to wake me up and a short snooze time
- Weekend mornings with a nice lulling Alternative Radio streaming radio feed as the alarm and a different volume setting
- Naptime alarm with Pandora radio waking me up
- A just-in-time alarm to try the NOAA Weather Station radio feed to see if that would announce the weather forecast to me as I’m waking up like the coming Sleep.fm promises to do (which incidentally will be available for the Chumby platform)
I’ll have to time how long it takes to set the alarm on the Chumby vs. on the old model. I suspect it’s a couple seconds longer on the Chumby, but that’s also due to all the different alarm options (hmm, would Monday start better with a Klaxon waking me up or with Pandora?).
Snooze-like Button on Top to Get Back to Options
The big target at the top of the marshmallow-looking thing gets you back to your options quickly. Very handy when you want to jump quickly to the Weather widget or over to the news feed widget to get a quick update.
Web Access Synced with Your Chumby
It’s the little details that make a product shine. Whenever I visit Chumby.com to do anything fancy or just explore different widgets, the Chumby frame on the site and my account credentials combine to show me what’s “playing” on my Chumby at home while I’m monkeying with the online virtual version of it. Nifty.
Its Logo’s an Octopus – What’s Not to Love?
The Chumby logo includes an octopus
It may have been the Chumby’s logo that grabbed my attention too. It’s an octopus as best I can tell. About 10 years ago, there was a Web site called My Octopus or something like that that let you set up windows into other Web sites. Log on to My Octopus (name?) and you could see the headlines from the NY Times and other sites. That was a bit more groundbreaking back then, when XML feeds and readers weren’t quite available yet. The site disappeared abruptly one day, after I’d captured another victim’s attentions to tell them about its glory. I’ve long suspected copyright problems were to blame, but since then, I’ve somehow tied the ideas of “octopus,” “great,” and “cutting edge” in my mind.
Either way, the Chumby with its nice octopus logo and marshamallowy looking housing is a great product and holiday list worthy.