Saturday, January 29, 2011

WardworksTech: Why I love the Sony Dash

The other day I was listening to my favorite podcast, Buzz Out Loud, and Molly Wood mentioned that she finally bought herself a Sony Dash when it was a Gold Box special on Amazon for $99. I was excited that she finally came around to check it out! Then, sadly, a few days later she mentioned she is already having second thoughts about the Dash and may send it back.

I obviously respect Molly's opinion--I will admit the Dash is not for everyone--but I wanted to make a case for why the Dash, and its cousins the Chumby and (Best Buy) Insignia Infocast series, are worthwhile Internet-connected devices. Here is why I love the Sony Dash.

I think the Dash, Chumby, Insignia Infocast are misunderstood. They are not tablet alternatives or smartphone replacements. They are gadgets that act as clock radio replacements that include widgets, local and Internet music and video, and photos. They are meant to be passive internet viewers with only basic input ability. Yes, they have so-so capacitive touchscreens. Yes, they have virtual keyboards. Yes, you can check your email and post to Twitter. These use cases are not the strengths of these devices.

The strengths of these devices is in their relative (I must emphasize relative) simplicity. They have alarm clocks, access to Internet radio like Pandora and/or Slacker, ability to play local or streaming audio and video (including Netflix and Hulu Plus on the Dash), and can act as digital photo frames with content from Flickr and Facebook. They can all use the Chumby application store to add additional widgets like stylish clocks, world photo viewers, news feeds, Twitter, Facebook, Google Calendar, and weather apps. They do these tasks well, with (mostly) simple controls, and usually just work as advertised. Nothing more, nothing less.

You could use a smartphone or iPad in a similar way, but then you lose use of the other functions on the device while it is docked. Those devices are also much more expensive. The Dash is a dedicated device, hands off for the most part, just sitting there and doing its job. It's like having a Roku to watch Netflix vs. hooking your laptop to your TV every time you want to watch a movie. The latter will work, but it's a pain and you lose access to your other programs when it's being tethered.

I got my Dash a little after it came out last year and have loved it ever since. Now my 4-year old son loves it too. He's figured out the basic touchscreen controls and knows how to set it to show his favorite clock, the RoboClock, full screen. I got my brother--someone who's not a gadget freak like me--one for Christmas and he loves it. I recently picked up the Insignia Infocast 3.5" for $40 over Christmas and I love that too. I even got myself the Chumby app for Android, and happily play my Chumby Clocks channel on my HTC Evo when it's not in use.

Now to the reality of the business world. The Chumby and Dash are probably not being marketed very well, and their pricing is also not ideal. I've always said these devices should be in the sub-$100 range for them to take off and really be worth the money. The Dash is finally hovering around that price point right now, and the Infocast 3.5" is well under that (I picked one up on sale for $40 during Christmas and now they're back to around $70).

They are devices that no one needs and do not compare to much of anything else available at the moment, but once you get one and learn it's sweet spot of usage (clock, picture viewer, radio, passive widgets), they are quite fun devices.

Finally, others have written about the Dash with similar thoughts, particularly Dave Zatz of Zatz Not Funny. Dave has even covered the upcoming refresh of the Dash platform, something I have been looking forward to. I think Chumby and Sony have created a good platform for a passive Internet device and I am looking forward to updates and improvements that may expand this to a wider audience. We shall see if it works, or if it becomes the 3Com Audrey of the 2010s.


MLangmyer said...

Do you think it's something your cousin might want for his 50th bday??? I'm thinking it might be right up his geeky alley!!!!

Joelsef said...


Joelsef said...

BTW, there is a newer Dash coming out this summer if you can wait. But if you can't, the current (original) Dash is still a good choice. :-)

Cliff said...

I bought and returned the Sony Dash for one reason, trying to listen to internet radio, that was not already loaded was very difficult. Pandora was easy to listen to, but entering in a channel not already loaded was really difficult. I like the large numbers, and I liked the alarm function, but I will wait till version 2 to see if they fix the internet radio issue. That will make it a device I will want to own.

Joelsef said...

Hi Cliff! Excellent point. The out-of-the-box features and apps work pretty well if you remain within them, but if you try some content that's not built in, like adding an internet stream, it's not intuitive. I also wish it had an FM or even an HD radio, as odd as that sounds, just to round out the audio options. That plus home network streaming.

I am very much looking forward to the next version of the Dash, as well as software updates to the current version of the Dash. Sony has been putting effort in to improving the platform and listening to its customers, and I hope that will continue.

Overrated said...

Thanks for you post. I also love my Dash. some people think its just an overpriced alarm clock. which it is, but it is also a well priced photo viewer and feed reader. I am realizing more and more its simplistic power.

Like the settings of how it displays itself from lets say night mode, to power save mode, to wake me up with a radio station from France.
I hope developer keep the chumby UI in there minds. Because honestly best hundred bucks I've spent in years.

MLangmyer said...

Just bought an Insignia for Tom. He hasn't tried it out yet - but I think he'll use it!

Yuzzy said...

Nice pic!!! I made that clock!!!

Joelsef said...

@Yuzzy: He loves the "construction clock"!