In an ever more crowded field of tablet gadgets and do-it-all devices, the Sony Dash may stand out primarily because, despite its movement-inspiring name, it is a stationary experience, and can only be used with an outlet nearby. While this fact alone may send some potential tablet PC buyers running for the nearest Apple store, the Dash does offer a Chumby OS (reworked a bit by Sony) that allows for solid web browsing and use of sites like Facebook and Twitter (but unfortunately does not make for a smooth user experience). The Dash sports 256MB of RAM to go along with a 500MHz processor, which allows the Dash to support streaming video, making it further compatible with Netflix, Pandora, and other similar sites. And, in contrast to many of its competitors, the Dash does not bust your wallet wide open. With these things in mind, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the Sony Dash to see if this new gadget can stand well in comparison to other tablet computers.
Naturally the first hardware feature worth mentioning is the lack of an independent battery, something that Sony execs have already announced will be included in an updated model of the Dash (and obviously something that will make the device much more attractive). The screen is the increasingly common seven-inch touch, which features speakers below it. The menu button and volume control are located along the top of the device, with headphone and USB connections located on the left side. Also included is accelerometer technology, made famous by the iPod Touch and others, so that the viewing screen can be flipped 180 degrees when the device is turned sideways. Sony got the screen itself right also, making for a sharp and crisp viewing experience. Linux is the platform of the Dash, but the OS itself is not very different than the Chumby OS already commonly used. The main difference is the aforementioned video compatability, made possible by Sony’s Bravia Internet Video, which allows the Dash to integrate Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and others. The screen itself is centered around the home screen, which can be oriented using either the App View, which allows for app selection along with a time/weather display, or the Dashboard, which more closely resembles a list grid (neither is clearly better, it will probably be more of your preference). Also distinct from previous Chumby devices is the ability to edit your widgets on the device itself, allowing you to avoid having to use your PC.
Netflix functions very similar to it would on any device, just limited by the Dash’s 7-inch screen, but the quality is fine. For a movie rental site like Amazon, the Dash seems a bit superfluous, as since the device is not mobile in the sense any TV or PC screen around would serve this purpose much more capably. YouTube, while still limited by the tablet computer and mobile format as it is in many other devices, is also ably supported by the Dash. The same is true for other common and popular tablet PC user sites like Facebook and Twitter, while Pandora and other radio applications are supported adequately as well. Where the device also lacks, however, is in an absence of USB support for video or photo playback, rendering the Dash even more deficient while comparing it to the iPad and other competing devices.
The whole debate on the Dash and its usefulness and worth eventually boils down to what you plan on using the device for personally. In comparison to other sedentary devices like the HP DreamScreen (essentially digital photo frames with the ability to web browse etc.), the Dash is certainly a step up and at a very reasonable price ($199 by the way). However, if you attempt to compare the device to, say, the iPad, the BlackBerry PlayBook, or the Samsung Tab, you will eventually get to the same point each time….you wish you could just take the damn thing out to the car with you. In that sense, Sony seems to have given up trying to compete with these new tablet computers altogether.
There are several things Sony could do to make a new version of the Dash much more appealing to the average tablet PC buyer, however. Adding the battery mentioned before would be an immediate improvement, as it is probably the main thing that will hold this device back from ever being accepted and used by a widespread tech audience. Improving the OS for a more optimal streaming video and web browsing experience would also be a sharp and concrete improvement. While the price is certainly right for even the most budget-constrained tablet PC buyer, we’d still like to see a little more power and a lot more mobility to sway us away from other, more able competitors like the Dell Streak.