Growing up Chumby
If you like the Chumby, you’ll dig Best Buy’s take on the Internet appliance. The Infocast runs the Chumby operating system, but it has a much larger touch screen, a faster CPU, a memory card reader, and 2GB of internal memory.
Insignia is Best Buy's house brand, but the Infocast is no me-too product.
If, on the other hand, the first- and second-generation Chumbys left you shrugging your shoulders, the Infocast will do little to change your mind. Don’t know the Chumby from Tennessee Tuxedo’s sidekick Chumley? Think of a stripped-down all-in-one PC designed primarily for data consumption, versus data production. There’s no mouse or keyboard, for instance; and you can display your digital photos on it, but you can’t edit them.
The Infocast’s eight-inch, 800x600-pixel resistive touch-screen is well suited to the Chumby’s graphical user interface, but you won’t want to use the onscreen keyboard for much more than entering the occasional user ID or password. The device is powered by Marvell’s Armada 168 system-on-chip, which includes Marvell’s Sheeva CPU core running at 800MHz.
The Infocast can run any of the surprisingly diverse collection of widgets—RSS readers, games, and everything in between—that have been developed for the Chumby OS. There are more than 1,500 applications available for free.
The device costs about twice as much as the typical Wi-Fi-equipped picture frame, but it does a whole lot more than display photos. The Infocast can play simple games, display your Facebook and Twitter updates, play YouTube videos, retrieve stock quotes, and stream music from its own memory or from a connected storage device. It can also connect to your Pandora account or play any Internet radio station available via ShoutCast or Chumby’s Blue Octy Radio.
The Infocast's speakers do a poor job of representing its audio capabilities; fortunately, there's a headphone jack for headphones or external speakers.
The Infocast doesn’t have a hard-wired network interface, relying instead on your 802.11b/g wireless connection. In addition to accessing storage devices on your network, the box has two USB 2.0 ports in the rear and two memory card readers on the left side to accommodate CompactFlash, SD, MMC, xD, and Memory Stick flash-memory media. Don’t judge the Infocast’s audio capabilities based on the chintzy stereo speakers mounted behind the display, they sound terrible. We were much happier with what we heard when we connected B&W’s exquisite P5 headphones.
The two USB ports in the back and these memory card readers on the side give the Infocast plenty of I/O options.
Musically speaking, the Infocast is no substitute for a Squeezebox Touch, but it makes a great alarm clock. It’s no substitute for an all-in-one PC, either, because you can’t really produce anything with it. But it is fun and very easy to use, and its $170 price tag is almost low enough to render it an impulse buy.