Widget Whatsit

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's probably not a good thing when a company website features a video of its own product that asks the question, "What is that thing?"

One thing we know: Chumby costs $180 and is available in basic black, pearl or latte. Go to buy it, and you'll again see the question, "So, what's Chumby anyway?"

The Chumby connects to the internet via Wi-Fi. It has no web browser, so it uses widgets to offer up news headlines, sports scores, weather, stock quotes, photos, videos, gossip, games or internet radio.

Simply, Chumby is a tech-toy that downloads and displays widgets.

Chumby.com offers more than 800 widgets. To some, getting David Letterman's latest Top Ten List is reason enough to buy; for others, it may be the live EarthCam shot from Times Square. If nothing else, Chumby can be a clock, with more than 100 available faces.

The latte Chumby looks like a handheld version of Fred Flintstone's prehistoric TV, with 3.5-inch color LCD touchscreen nestled in an Italian leather-covered bean bag. Inside is a Linux-based computer with a 350-MHz processor, 64 MB SDRAM and 64 MB flash ROM.

Chumby has a couple of two-watt speakers and only two switches: an on/off switch on the back and a squeeze sensor buried under its top.

Like the iPhone, Chumby has an accelerometer, so you play games by tilting it to either side, up or down. Sadly, Chumby only gets power from a wall plug, and you must have Wi-Fi in your house (or from a close-by neighbor) for the unit to work.

I played with 71 widgets on my test Chumby. My absolute favorite is "Hard Drinkin' Lincoln," cartoon vignettes of Abe Lincoln as a falling-down drunk. The cartoon's theme song proclaims: "The Great Emancipator becomes an irritator. He's an avid Irish hater and a public masturbator " Well, you get the idea.

There's also an interactive portrait of Mona Lisa that changes facial expression. Instant Rimshot (tell a bad joke and hit the button for your "badup-pssh" drum/cymbal sound) and Screen Clean (a video of a pug pup licking the inside of your touchscreen) are two more favorites.

The problem with the Chumby is that all but one of my favorite widgets is accessible on my iPhone or laptop.

Which brings up the question: What is this thing, and why pay $180 to buy one?