Sony Falls Just Short With Online Alarm Clock: Rich Jaroslovsky

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Sony Corp.'s Dash personal internet viewer retails for $199. Close

Sony Corp.'s Dash personal internet viewer retails for $199.

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Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Sony Corp.'s Dash personal internet viewer retails for $199.

Sony Corp. calls its $199 Dash a “Personal Internet Viewer,” but they got it wrong. It’s actually a contender for world’s coolest alarm clock.

Granted, the competition isn’t fierce. There’s Clocky, which jumps off your nightstand and rolls around the room screaming until you get out of bed and shut it off. Then there’s Chumby, an eccentric, Wi-Fi-enabled device that runs more than 1,000 applications.

The Dash, based on the Chumby, connects to your home Wi-Fi network, and runs the same apps. But Sony has replaced Chumby’s funky design with a sleek wedge shape housing a seven-inch touch screen and stereo speakers.

A snooze button on top doubles as a menu controller, there’s a built-in microphone -- not yet used for anything --and ports for headphones and a USB drive. An accelerometer flips the screen around if you lay it flat, creating a viewing angle that’s better for a kitchen counter or desktop.

The Dash is probably the first alarm clock on which you could, if you wanted, watch a full-length film: It comes with a built-in player for viewing movies streamed from Netflix and Amazon.com.

Bedside Twitter

You can also check Google’s Gmail or your friends’ Twitter feeds, display photos you’ve stored online or wake to one of your personal Pandora Internet radio stations. Oh, yeah: It tells time, too.

Apps, which are free, can be selected and arranged into custom channels via a Sony website; some, though not all, the functions can also be managed from the device itself. On the Dash screen, the apps scroll past in a window until you tap one, which expands and lets you interact with it. So if, for instance, you can’t get to sleep, you can use the Dash to change your Facebook status to “Can’t sleep.” When you start to suffer from media oversaturation, you can put it into night mode, which dims the screen except for a faint time display.

Sony is onto something with the Dash, but it unfortunately suffers from too many early bugs and odd decisions. Setup is much more cumbersome than it should be. The Sony website is an unattractive jumble, and activating some of the services requires you to go to various sites to obtain or enter special codes. Even more annoying, my Dash at first wouldn’t let me manage some settings because it wrongly thought it hadn’t yet been registered.

Pushing Out a Fix

On that one, at least, Sony says it’s pushing out a software fix to address the bug -- one advantage of being Internet-connected. Another advantage is that the device can automatically be upgraded with new features and functionality -- something to take advantage of that microphone, for instance.

Puzzlingly, there’s no battery-power option in the Dash. You’re tethered to a wall outlet, and if you decide you want to actually watch a movie on it -- in bed, say, so you don’t disturb your spouse -- you’ll have a power cord draped over you. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough to make me reach for Apple Inc.’s iPad instead.

It also means you’re out of luck if there’s a power failure when the alarm is supposed to go off. Granted, the odds of that happening are slim enough so it isn’t a deal breaker, but for $199, you do have a right to expect the Dash to be 100 percent reliable at waking you up.

I’m guessing the decision to forgo a backup battery compartment was partially the result of Sony’s reluctance to acknowledge what it has actually built. “Personal Internet Viewer” indeed. I say, admit you’re an alarm clock, and be proud of it. Embrace your destiny.

At least you don’t jump off the nightstand and run around the room screaming.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in New York at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

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