When I wrote about the Sony Dash for Engadget, I said that it signaled a more practical approach to delivering new category-shaping products by delivering new functionality for less than $200. Another other difference between Dash and some other recent Sony flops is that it has a clear lineage, serving as a mashup between a connected digital picture frame and an alarm clock, a category where Sony still participates.
One compromise that Sony had to make to reach that magic price point was to make the Dash a corded product. However, it does allow it to be used in two orientations, one being it lying flat on its back. In that instance, the screen orientation flips and the device becomes easier to see from a standing position. Another compromise includes a ascreen that certainly feels like a resistive device. In fact, I’ve found that I most effective way to operate the Dash is by cradling the top with my fingers and pressing buttons with my thumb. Perhaps it should befriend the Weighted Companion Cube.
The Dash is also a content mashup, combining Chumby’s channels and Sony’s own, which include some smart content-centric choices such as YouTube, CBS, Netflix,
Slacker and Pandora. Music plays in the background while you’re doing other things. Like the iPad, the Dash has only one physical button other than the volume controls. That button’s size and location make it a good fit to double as the Snooze bar. Perhaps the coolest feature of the device is a “Save to Alarms” feature that shows that Sony really thought about how the device could be practical as a nightstand device as opposed to just a widget player.. Like the Chumby products, though, there’s also a night mode that provides a screen that won’t interfere with trying to get to sleep.
Contrary to its name, the Dash is not going to impress you with its speed; it reminds me a bit of the Nokia N800 devices in that respect. While it has a single USB port for loading your own music, this is a cloud product, and it is at the mercy of cloud services. That said, even the offline elements of the UI are a bit leisurely. Perhaps Sony can address some of this through firmware or software updates.
But even this should be taken into context. You’re not going to be doing a ton of manipulation on the Dash. I would argue that the average usage interaction will be almost smartphone-like That doesn’t excuse poor performance and a crisp, snappy experience always adds to a device’s appeal. It’s just that it’s not a deal-breaker. Remember how slowly pages turned on the original Sony Reader? In any case, the video I’ve tried plays generally played well although I did run into one or two“content not found” errors.
Another potential issue that came up on my appearance on Gadgets and Games last Friday was, why not put an iPod touch and a clock dock next to your bed instead? Well, there are indeed certain advantages to doing this, or will be with an iPad once the accessories enabling it start to arrive. But the Dash is just the right size for a digital nightstand device. An iPod touch is a little small and the iPad is a bit large.
An iPad it’s not. If that’s what you want, buy one. You won’t be alone. The iPad, though, is going to invite competition from every slate-slinging technology company west of CES. The Dash, though, has its own platform potential. There are a range of benefits that would accrue from having a number of inexpensive, and unobtrusive Wi-Fi devices around the home. DLNA and home automation controls would be a natural fit. EPG display could be another.
All around, it’s a solid first iteration that I think should do well in Sony’s stores, and certainly one of the best glanceable digital appliances to be introduced in recent memory. Now Sony needs to work on making it a bit more responsive to the touch and faster on its feet.