Chumby 8: the adorable, open networked device grows up

CNet reviews the latest Chumby device, these being adorable little networked appliances that do a little of everything, with loads of engineering smarts and a wide-open platform that invites innovation from all comers. Chumby is the brainchild of Bunnie Huang, the author of Hacking the XBox -- a brilliant engineer and great creative thinker. His idea for a general-purpose networked cute computer was years ahead of its time, and it gets even better with every revision.
Breaking away from its legacy as a touch-screen beanbag, the Chumby 8 cuts a trim figure with a modern photo-frame-like design that looks like a boomerang from the side. The device is 8.75 inches wide, 6.75 inches tall, and 5.5 inches deep, giving it a steady base against your touch-screen-jabbing finger.

On the left side you'll find a Tic-Tac-size power button near the top and a pair of memory card slots at the base that can accept SD, MMC, MS, and Compact Flash. There's a speaker grille on each side that can be used to crank your Internet radio or locally stored tunes loud enough to wake you up or keep you rockin' at your desk.

On the top edge, above the Chumby 8's antiglare 800x600-pixel-resolution, 8-inch screen, there's a proper inch-wide button affectionately called the "smash bar." It basically acts as a home button to take you back to the top of the main menu, but pulls double duty as an alarm clock snooze button, as well. Flip the Chumby 8 around, and you'll notice four sockets on the back: one for power, one for audio output, and two full-size USB ports for hosting music or photos.

Overall, the Chumby 8's design is sturdy, functional, and pleasing to the eye from just about every angle. Unlike the softball-size Chumby devices of the past, this latest model is a little large to work well as a glorified alarm clock. We picture the Chumby 8 more as a living room accessory for displaying photos, playing music, or showing headlines. But really, it's meant to be a multipurpose device, and its design is adaptable.

Chumby 8 (via Engadget)


  1. It’d be awesome if you could tie it into your lighting or heating system. Then you could have lights on when you are vacationing, and a cool house ready for you when you come home in the summer. I want this home of the future. It will happen.

  2. I’ve always wanted a home version of the Panic Status Board.

    It would display a page with a bunch of panes. The panes could be set to display an RSS feed. I’d point it to a private twitter account that anybody in my family could tweet to and it would show up on the board.

    Other panes might show random photos from a Flicker or Picasa feed, the weather forecast, etc…

    Looks like this device might be just what I’m looking for.

  3. I love the idea of web device as appliance. Chumby seems to get to the heart of that idea. It sits on an end table, nightstand, or kitchen counter, and just about begs to be used for something. Clock, recipe lookup, picture frame on those off hours, music player, news reader, twitter feed.

    I’d love to get one of these, just to see what it’s capable of.

  4. I’m a big fan of the Chumby One. I bought 10 of them to act as the brains behind a networked multimedia art project and its performed well.

    To complete the project, I had to physically disembowel the chumby, attach a larger speaker, hack the Linux serial drivers, write a lot of custom scripts and some custom flash animations.

    None of that would have been possible if the Chumby weren’t a (mostly) open platform.

    The folks on the developer forums are supportive but you’re on your own if you brick your Chumby.

    In my case, it worked out.


  5. I actually was lucky to get into the beta rollout of the Chumby 1. I have it and love it. It lives on top of my rice cooker in my kitchen when I’m not using said rice cooker, and gets moved over to be on top of the blender when rice cooker is in use.

    I mostly use it as a mini-Internet radio player when I’m busy in the kitchen, with my Flickr stream on it as a channel. I also have a ton of other applets, including a kitchen timer one.

    The Pandora app is especially robust and nice.

    The one issue that I have with it is that it never, ever really got along with my iPod (never got the hookup to work) but it doesn’t really matter since I can get Pandora and the full Shoutcast line of stations on it.

  6. I have a Chumby One and i love it. As an alarm clock and internet radio it’s very robust and flexible, though i constantly wish that it had better applications. Hopefully the Chumby 8 will bring in more creative programmers.

  7. AFAICT, the depth is entirely due to the back stop. Is there some reason it isn’t fold-able when necessary? That would tip the scale for me.

  8. By “grows up” do you mean “gets boring”? Cause thats what it is. It’s now a run of the mill photo frame with fancy innards. Congrats. Why call it Chumby? Why not Frumpy?

  9. Sam–I hear you. I love the beanbag “pat it on the head” thing. I also have the full set of “chumby charms” to fit on the little metal stud on the side (right now I have a cute little flame icon on it). Also, the beanbaggy body thing means that it stays stable on top of my curved rice cooker and blender top–I can just sort of prop it or smoosh it to put it where I need it to be at the moment.

    My Mom is an avid knitter; I may ask her to make me a Chumby Cozy. Can’t really do that with this model.

  10. I have a Sony Dash but it’s not really what I’d call good value.

    $200 for a nice big alarm clock screen, ability to wake up to Internet Radio, alarm on weekdays only and check the current temp or forecast. These are really the only features I use.

    SMB/CIFS client would be nice, and the rotating apps are pretty lame. I do have it rendering pics from the Boing Boing Flickr pool though :p


  11. I bought the bare Chumby Guts from maker Shed about a year ago intending to make a custom installation. Instead it’s still bare circuit boards and screen on my nightstand and works fine. There are one zillion apps for this cute device, including all the clocks a time obsessive could want. I have mine plugged into a quality pair of powered computer speakers and use the internet radio function and sleep timer to play the sound of ocean waves while I doze off.

    1. I use the Inforia Infocast sold by Best Buy. It uses Chumby software and sounds identical to this device. I also use powered computer speakers with a sub-woofer. The spakers probably cost $60, but sound great.

      Where on the internet do you listen to ocean sounds?

      Thanks for sharing.


      1. I think I found it under Shoutcast Sleep Sounds. There’s also Rain, White Noise and Traffic, available for sleepless urbanites in too-quiet bedrooms.

  12. By far, my favorite app for the Chumby One is ChumbySpy, which displays live feeds from random cameras around the world. It’s like peering through a magical portal :) Sometimes it’s a University square in Hungary, a rooftop garden in Cleveland, or some fat dude’s desk in Sicily.

    1. > By far, my favorite app for the Chumby One is ChumbySpy

      Thanks, I wrote that! Nice to get some props.

      I haven’t updated it in awhile so it probably has a bunch of dead cameras. I’ll update it next week.

      I also made a little college radio tuner that I also like.

      I wonder how these apps written for the original Chumby, which I think has a 320×240 screen, will work on the 800×600 screen?

      Personally I lost a bunch of faith in Chumby Co. when they started piping soooo many ads into their widget feeds. It got to the point where it seemed like every time I looked at the device it was showing one of their ads instead of my content, so I didn’t bother replacing mine when it broke.

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