Sony Dash Hands-On Review
"Can I watch a movie on your little TV?" My daughter asked one night at mealtime. Hey, if it gets her to eat her vegetables, I'm down. She was referring to the Sony Dash that the company generously lent Luxist to try out, and it's much more than a mere video playback device. Small LCD screens are non-news at this point, so what does the Dash do that warrants attention? Well, how's this? I fulfilled my little cherub's request by deftly tapping at the interactive touchscreen for less than a minute. Up popped the requested princess movie via YouTube, and the plate was cleaned. Later, while burning the midnight oil, the Dash set the mood by streaming music from a Pandora station I created.
All of the functions I've described so far are things you can pull off with a laptop, for sure. The difference with the Dash is that it's an affordable $199, and isn't a universal tool like a laptop. Freed from having to cover every possible base, the Dash is optimized for its media delivery role, and consumes a much smaller footprint. With Father's Day coming, you might like to know if it's the right item for your gadget-fan Dad. How does it do? Read on.
Gallery: Sony Dash Review
The Dash name is indicative of the way Sony's device becomes like a car's dashboard. It puts the information and entertainment you want and need front and center. Park this baby on your nightstand, and you'll be able to wake up to a Pandora or Slacker music station, or get a daily dose of video first thing in the morning. Sony loads the Dash up with an initial selection of apps including a YouTube and Netflix, as well as pushing the latest preaching from TV health guru (and guy with stuff to sell you) Dr. Oz with a pre-installed app that takes you right to health tips from Oprah's buddy. Martha Stewart's got a Dash outpost, and there's a few recipe applications, too; handy if you place your Dash in the kitchen like ours, it'll turn into a deep digital recipe box.
The hyper-connected among us will truly love the ability to check in on Facebook, Twitter, email, weather and traffic in the groggy seconds after hitting snooze. The Dash puts all the information you typically get from multiple news sources and websites in a single place that's compact and attractively designed, and displays multiple sources on-screen at once. In my case, the Dash replaced the newspaper and morning public radio newscast simply by adding the internet radio stream from our local NPR station, NOAA weather and news feeds from Reuters and the New York Times.
Its ability to display weather, traffic, and news headlines made it a good morning companion as I attempted to not burn the toast or dribble coffee on the shirt I just spent twenty minutes starching into submission. There's more than 1,000 apps available for the Dash, too, though list seems a little puny to the truckloads of digital widgets available for Apple products. That said, the Dash and, say, the iPad, are different devices with different missions, and it sure seems like a lot of choice when you're picking applications off the SonyStyle website where you set up the content for your device.
One thing that's important to note about the Dash is that you must be a technophile to set it up and likely to also enjoy using it. It is a simple device that is easy to operate, but the Dash is not without its idiosyncrasies. The touchscreen has its obstinate moments of unresponsiveness, though working with the Dash for a while brings you and the device to an understanding, it seems. Searching for content, like that YouTube video for my daughter, for example, isn't as straightforward as it first seems. You select the YouTube application, then select the search field, *then* insert your search terms with a virtual QWERTY keyboard that pops up. Once your terms are done, they appear in the search field and THEN you select the "search" button. Seems a little convoluted to describe it, but it's not horrible in practice. My point is that once you spend a little time with the Dash, it becomes easy and intuitive, but the time is key.
Likewise, the initial setup of the unit requires creating an account at the SonyStyle website so you can then populate the "channels" available on the Dash with the applications you want. Deeper functions, like adding the NPR radio stream required figuring out what the actual URL for the stream is, what kind of stream it is (mp3, m3u, etc), and typing it in with an index finger. Adding a Twitter feed or GMail viewer, on the other hand, is a breeze. The virtual keyboard for the Twitter app is quite small, however, which makes it difficult to post un-garbled updates, and the GMail app is a viewer, so you can check and read your email, but not actually send anything.
To reiterate, none of this was personally difficult to figure out, it just took a couple minutes of concentrating, but I'm very comfortable with technology. To the less tech-savvy, the Dash may very well be more baffling than a piece of an alien spacecraft dropping into your hands from the clear blue sky. Once it's all set up, the Dash is pretty seamless to use, however, so if the idea of a compact digital IV drip with an easy-to-use touchscreen appeals to you, then it might be right for you, even if you're not into gadgets. Have a friend set it up for you, and then it's certainly less complicated and cheaper than a computer if all you really want is web-based media.
Pictures make the Dash look bigger than it actually is. The Dash's screen measures seven inches diagonally, and the design is clean. Being a touchscreen device, the comparisons to the red-hot Apple iPad are inevitable. The Dash is not portable. It has a power cord. It's much thicker than the iPad, and its shape is clearly designed to keep it stable in either of its two orientations. There is also no web browser for the Dash. Though it connects to the internet via WiFi and has a USB port, the Dash is not a total replacement for a computer, and let's be clear; it's not meant to be.
The Dash is a clock radio with a crazy-deep feature set. It's good at streamlining your life by putting pretty deep functionality in a compact, handsome form that is affordable. Coming back to my dinner anecdote, instead of having my beloved Vaio laptop out to play movies on YouTube for my dear children, the Dash did it in a quick, slick fashion. It nestled right down between the bowl of mashed potatoes and the platter of chicken and kept the peace until the plates had been cleaned.
The apps are free, and don't require any sort of subscription fees, either. Instead of the typical way we're required to actively seek out information with the computer/browser scenario, the Dash *delivers* it. It's a replacement for several devices, too. You won't need that digital photo frame anymore, the Dash can do that. Heck, you can even shop with the thing, there's an eBay application! A sleek device that puts all the vital information I want literally at my fingertips? That's pretty cool, as long as you're prepared to put in a little time climbing the learning curve, the Dash has plenty of charm. Not as much as my kids, though.
Gallery: Sony Dash Review