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Gadget of the Week – Chumby

Here at The Online Mom, it’s not that we’re insensitive to the impact the economic meltdown. It’s just that some gadgets are just too much fun to overlook, almost regardless of price!

Introducing the Chumby, a quaint, cute – and at almost $200, a somewhat overpriced – little touch-screen Web appliance that can do a whole lot of very neat things.

This plump, sack-like device with a 3.5-inch video touchscreen contains a low-powered computer and Wi-Fi receiver. You squeeze down on the cushy padding on the top of the device and a hidden button activates the central control screen, where you can select your favorite Internet features and how they'll be displayed.

It's got a motion sensor like the iPhone, so you can play games by tilting it back and forth. There's even a built-in microphone. It doesn't much yet, but Chumby hopes to offer software that will let the device respond to voice commands or act as an Internet-based telephone.

You need a PC with an Internet connection to set up the Chumby, and Wi-Fi access in your home or office to get it online. There's a blessedly simple procedure for registering the device and making it your own. Once you do that, you go to a web page that lists hundreds of Internet service "widgets." Pick the ones you like and, with a few mouse clicks, they're installed on the Chumby and ready to go.

Chumby offers over 1,000 widgets in 30 different categories, ranging from news and entertainment to music and sports, as well as thousands of Internet radio stations, online video clips and more.

There's lots of good stuff there: headlines from The New York Times, weather information, entertainment links like YouTube and Top 10 lists from David Letterman. You can make travel arrangements through Priceline, check out Facebook pages and Twitter streams, even skim the latest job listings at Monster.com.

You can set Chumby to scroll the widgets across its screen or "pin" favorites so they're on constant display. When a particular item catches your eye, just touch the screen to read a news report or watch a video. If you can't resist squeezing the cuddly little thing, you can play Chumball: You roll an onscreen ball down narrow pathways merely by tilting the Chumby back and forth.

Or you can just listen to music. The Chumby makes a decent Internet radio; its small, pudgy frame conceals a pair of surprisingly good speakers. The software allows access to hundreds of Internet radio streams through pre-selected services like Shoutcast. Chumby recently added access to Pandora, a very popular online service that lets you create personalized streams of your favorite musical genres. With two USB ports in back, you can also listen to your own musical selections from your MP3 player or iPod Nano. (The Chumby has compatibility issues with newer iPods.)

All in all, Chumby's the kind of stylish gadget that might have had a chance with upscale gadget lovers before the global economy imploded. Still, the smart software that it runs on could soon appear on other devices. As a matter of fact, that’s Chumby’s real business model anyway. According to CEO Stephen Tomlin, his company built the Chumby to get the attention of other electronics firms. And it's working. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Chumby announced a partnership with Samsung to incorporate its technology into digital picture frames and possibly TVs

For those who can’t resist the cuddly device itself, Chumby is available at www.chumby.com starting at $199.95.


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