- Full Product Name, Model: Sony Dash Personal Internet Viewer
- Manufacturer's URL: http://www.sonystyle.com/dash
- Price: $199.99
- Pros: Alarm clock, news and weather station, video viewer, and Internet radio all in one; thousands of free apps available; compact.
- Cons: Menu controls are cumbersome; switching between functions can be a chore; no internal battery so it needs a power cord.
Many of the really interesting products lately have centered on freeing the online experience from the computer. The iPad, Kindle, any smartphone: They're all about delivering mobile functionality that would have been impossible a few years ago. Add to that list the Sony Dash, which wants to be a one-stop Internet dashboard and essential home companion.
The Dash's list of functionalities is long and impressive. It's an alarm clock, an Internet radio and a video player (it even plays Netflix). It's a portal to over a thousand different online experiences you can reach by downloading free apps. It's a weather station and news reader. It's whatever and wherever you want it to be.
The fact that it misses the mark and that the Apple iPad is the hottest product of the year shows how close Sony came. That makes it a little heartbreaking, really.
Perhaps because it was spurned by poor (even disastrous) early reviews, Sony asked us to live with the Dash for a while before passing judgment. Take three or four weeks, try it in different rooms and at different times of day. Okay, fair enough. The Dash, after all, is designed to fit into any room, serving any function.
The Dash is a large, black frame with a 7-inch color capacitive touchscreen on its face. It offers 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and includes a 500-MHz processor. Plug the Dash in and connect it to your home network. In our testing, we had to attempt our first connection several times before it took. After that, the Dash connected smoothly every time.
If you've already used a Chumby device, you have a good idea what the Dash experience will be like. The Dash is actually built on the Chumby platform, so if you've created Chumby channels (collections of free apps that display in order) you can access them here. If not, you can scroll through the more than 1,000 apps and create new channels. You might create one channel of news sources and another of photos from friends' Flickr accounts, for example.
The Dash isn't just an extra-large Chumby, and so there are controls for calling up the alarm clock, videos and more. The top of the device features one long button labeled "Menu/Snooze" and two volume buttons. Press the menu button once to call up a simple menu where you can customize the playing time of the current app, mute the volume, or go into a lower power mode that only shows the time. This menu screen also features its own Menu button that brings up controls for the major functionalities: clock and weather, themes and apps, video, music, photo and system controls. It's surprising that this is the best interface Sony's team could come up with. Having two pages of menu controls is confusing, and switching from one area to another takes too long.
The Dash is ready for whatever room you want to put it in. If you plan to use it as an alarm clock, you'll like the easy setup controls that let you create multiple alarms for different times of the week. You can even set the length of the snooze alarm interval. The controls let you set a custom alarm, so you can wake to various sounds or even to music videos, if you like. That must have seemed clever in a planning meeting, but waking to a music video isn't really any different from waking to music. It's odd that Dash offers the Internet music services Slacker and Pandora, but they can't be used with the alarm clock.
If you want to place the Dash on your breakfast table, try loading a channel of news apps. If you want it in the living room, try a channel full of photos and make the Dash into a streaming photo frame.
For the den, the Dash can stream videos from your Netflix account, YouTube, and other sources. Content actually looks pretty good on the 800 by 480 pixel screen. While we had some buffering delays, they didn't crop up that often.
While the Dash does a reasonably good job of providing access to those functions, switching between areas is a chore. And the fact that the device is tethered to an outlet makes it a mobile device that isn't really mobile. The Dash comes so close to doing what the iPad does, and it just misses. If it were easier and faster to switch between functions, and if the device had an internal battery so that it didn't have to remain plugged in, it would be so much more useful. It can do so much that you'll want to carry it from room to room, but that's too much of a bother. If you use it as an alarm clock, for example, are you really going to unplug it from your nightstand and carry it downstairs to read over your oatmeal, then back up to the bathroom so you can listen to streaming radio while you wash up? Of course not, you'll use it in one room and get one function out of it. The problem with the Dash is that you're forced to choose a place for it, when it wants to be so much more portable.
If Sony can just make the interface more intuitive and add an internal battery, it'll really have something. And the iPad will have some real competition.
Troy is a senior staff editor at StreamingMedia.com and OnlineVideo.net, and is also a regular contributor to Computer Shopper and PCMag.com's blogs. He writes a weekly consumer technology column which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TDreier.