As I proclaimed (on camera) at CES earlier this year, 2010 ushers in a new category of media consumption devices. Something us geeks have dabbled with for ages, but the trend is finally making its way into the mainstream. And while I actually missed the Sony Dash at CES, it landed on my radar big time when Netflix streaming was announced in February.
Unlike the tablet-esque iPad or Nook, the now-shipping Sony Dash ($199) is more of a stationary Internet widget station that houses a 7″ capacitive touchscreen. Speaking of those widgets, the core app catalog is provided via a partnership with Chumby. But fortunately dispenses with the hacky sack look. The Dash features at least two default displays and Chumby widgets, added via the unit and/or configured via an online portal, are windowed – but can optionally also be expanded fullscreen. My preferred presentation, after about 24 hours of testing this loaner unit, is pictured above.
Beyond Chumby, Sony has impressively channeled their Bravia Internet Video platform — which includes the likes of Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and Slacker. I briefly played with the Netflix app and was surprised at how good it looked when streaming an episode of Weeds. Of course, most of us won’t want to actually watch long-form content on a 7″ screen. Which is why one of my first stops was Slacker. That particular UI consist of grainy album art and lacks text labels, but once I got my account linked online, I was loving the Dash. Audio volume and quality are OK for a kitchen or bedroom. The speakers won’t blow anyone away, but they’re better than most laptops. Most impressively, and something an iPad can’t do (yet), is the ability to stream that Slacker audio in the background while say running the Chumby Twitter app.
In addition to the various Chumby and Bravia apps, the Dash features various alarm options. Including waking to random music videos. In fact, instead of comparing the Dash to a tablet, it may be more appropriate to consider it the evolution of the bedroom or kitchen alarm clock. And those are the two rooms I find myself using it in. Related, Dash has a night mode that lets you seriously drop the brightness as it displays the (LED-looking) time. It won’t keep you awake the way an iPhone or Droid does.
After a day, I definitely dig the Sony Dash. Although, at times, it does feel a bit like the first generation device it is. As Engadget noted, the UI can be a bit sluggish. Also, the online registration stuff is a bit disjointed at the moment with Chumby apps being handled in a different area than the Bravia apps. To make this more of a kitchen or den accessory, I’d like to see more online photo viewing options beyond Facebook and Photobucket. Additionally, I’d like some live streaming video news (CNN, MSBNC, etc) beyond the decent podcast collection. But, for the money, I’d much rather have the multifunction Sony Dash than a Logitech Squeezebox Radio (same MSRP). It also does more than the similarly priced HP Dreamscreen. However, I wouldn’t mind a remote for volume adjustment and track advances from across the room.