Like its cousins, the Sony Dash and the Chumby One, the Infocast from Insignia serves up a smorgasbord of digital photos, news, Internet radio, social networks, alarm clock, games, and video, all customized just for you. We still can't tell you where exactly these types of devices fit in your home, but at $169, sporting an extra large 8-inch touch screen, the Insignia Infocast is the best of the breed.
There's no two ways about it: the Infocast looks like a digital photo frame. With an inch-wide glossy black bezel wrapping a matte-finish 800x600-pixel resolution LCD, the Infocast is certainly a fitting place to showcase your family albums, but it's capable of much more. To see what's on offer, press the Insignia-branded menu button at the top of the screen and you'll get a simple menu with five icons for apps, friends, photos, music, and video. Select a feature and you'll dive into a more sophisticated (and arguably more confusing) layer of content, submenus, and settings, all of which respond to direct touch-screen control.
The Infocast measures 7 inches tall, 5 inches deep, and 8.75 inches wide. The base, which rests behind the screen, includes a large power button, two USB ports, power adapter input, integrated stereo speakers, and a headphone jack. In addition, there are two memory card slots allowing the Infocast to accept up to seven format types (SD, SDHC, MMC, Compact Flash, xD, MS, and MS Pro Duo).
Overall, the construction is reassuringly solid, given its bargain price. We noticed that the plastic bezel surrounding the screen scratches easily. Fortunately, the Infocast will probably spend its life sitting on a table or bookshelf, avoiding the kind of wear and tear that mobile gadgets are usually subjected to.
You will most likely run into the Infocast in the digital photo frame section of your nearest Best Buy (Insignia is a Best Buy house brand). In spite of its prowess as a Wi-Fi connected jukebox and news reader, pegging the Infocast as a photo frame makes sense. You can play slideshows from local memory (2GB), USB stick, or memory card, stream photos from your networked PCs, and view libraries from Flickr, Photobucket, Picassa, Facebook, and more. Any standard-definition videos shot on your digital camera can be imported and played here, as well, with support for most camera video types (AVI, MOV, MP4).
When you connect a USB stick or memory card filled with photos or videos, you can play the media directly or selectively drag and drop files to the internal memory, and even create and manage photo albums. Of course, the 2GB of included memory isn't going to hold a ton of content, but the intuitive drag-and-drop control for managing media is something we haven't seen in a product like this before.
But make no mistake, the Infocast is no mere digital photo frame. In fact, you could argue that the sophistication and breadth of features offered here is a potential turn-off for those who want a set-and-forget digital photo frame solution. What makes the Infocast unique is its use of customizable Web apps, which they license from Chumby Industries, just like the Sony Dash.
There are more than 1,500 Web-based apps you can install on the Infocast, and they're all free. The types of apps range from utilities (clocks, calendars, stock quotes) and games, to popular content from Facebook, Twitter, TMZ, The New York Times, NPR, and more. You're given complete control over what apps are installed, and you can group apps together into channels, which can be tailored to different users or types of content.
Music playback features fall under a separate tab, and include local playback of files stored on memory cards or USB devices, as well as streaming audio from Pandora, Shoutcast, The New York Times podcasts, and a library of Internet radio stations grouped together as Blue Octy Radio.
The Infocast also has the capability of sharing content among multiple users. Under the Friends tab, Infocast users can invite and bookmark any friends or family members who also have an Infocast (or similar Chumby-based device). Once a friend request has been confirmed, you can share apps, photos, and videos between devices by dragging and dropping content into the friends tab. It's a neat feature, and one that has been part of the Chumby DNA from the beginning. We don't expect Chumby friend networks will become the next Facebook, but it's a workable solution for tech-savvy families interested in beaming birthday pictures to one another.