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Before I knew what to do with the Tidbyt, I liked it so much that I didn't even know what to do with it. If you asked someone in 1956 to design an echo show for Amazon, it would look a lot like it does today. It is a little big to put on your bedside table, but it is nicely placed into a bookshelf or large desk. It is an impressive thing for a first product.

The $179 Tidbyt doesn't seem to know what it's for. The clock is not an alarm clock. The digital photo frame is terrible. Your phone does all those things better and it doesn't do anything you can't. If you don't need a Tidbyt, it's an excellent delivery system for quick bits of ambient info. The charm is real and still hasn't worn off on me, but it still feels unfinished.

A couple of years ago, the team behind Tidbyt started working on this, and they launched the product on a crowd funding platform. The device is generally available after a year and a half. Rohan Singh says the current supply is sold out, but there are more on the way. Singh believes that Tidbyt can stay on top of things in manufacturing.

Buy for $179.00 from Tidbyt

There are a lot of clues that Tidbyt is new at this. A black wall plug that came out of a bin in a factory in China came with my device. At least the cable is one of those nice braided ones, but the Apple-like experience is not something I like.

The whole point of the film is the screen. There is a collection of individual LEDs that can be lit up and controlled individually. I kept the display's brightness at about 15 out of 100, and at full strength, the 2,048 LEDs were bright enough that the Tidbyt lit my home office by itself.

The Tidbyt’s screen is delightfully low-res, but it still works for most purposes.

It is low-res because it is not intended to do much. The makers of the Tidbyt want to keep you from looking at your phone when you need a small amount of information. The original prototype was built to find out when the subway would arrive. He says that if he got on his phone to check, he would also check the social networking site. I would check social media for an hour. He was able to tell him when the next G train was going to arrive by hacking into the New York City subway system. That is exactly what it is, it is a subway status board.

The genre of gadgets that pitch themselves this way is a lot. The Apple Watch is one of the gadgets that will free you from your phone. You can't interact with the device at all, that's what Tidbyt does.

All your interaction with the Tidbyt actually happens with the app on your phone.

Plug in the Tidbyt and you're good to go. When it turns on, it jumps into the matching mode. The work is done in the Tidbyt app, which is available on both the iPad and the mobile device. The app is where you make your decisions about the Tidbyt. The idea of not using your phone is defeated a bit, but once the Tidbyt is set up the way you want it, you don't really need the app anymore.

The app also allows you to get stuff on the Tidbyt. You can install all of the free apps in the store in a few taps. There are a few silly apps, like a Nyan Cat animation or a recreation of the bouncing DVD logo that I watched for about 20 minutes just to see if it would hit the corner. It did and it was great.

It is still pretty basic even though there are more apps coming to it. There isn't a way to see most to-do lists other than from Todoist or Things for Outlook or iCloud. If you have access to Linux and basic Python, you can write your own app that is easy to build. The Tidbyt team wants the platform to work like a no-code platform for anyone to create custom applications. There are a lot of holes in the app store.

It’s easy enough to add apps to your Tidbyt, but I wish I could do more to manage them

I wish I could do more to manage the apps. All the apps you have installed are displayed for 15 seconds at a time. If you drag the apps around to determine the order in which they show up, you can shorten the time it takes to switch from one app to another, but you can't make it any longer. I want to be able to freeze it on a single app, like hitting hold on a thermostat to keep it at one temperature instead of running the normal schedule. It's a lot more work than it should be, since you can schedule when apps do and don't run, but you can reverse engineer it.

You will only want to add apps to the Tidbyt if you have this kind of control. I ride the DC metro occasionally but not daily, and it became annoying when I looked at the schedule on days I didn't care. Nyan Cat was funny, but it wasn't enough to keep you awake.

I have never appreciated how little it does or wished it would do more. It would be a great alarm, but I don't want it shouting at me all the time. It would be great to be able to scroll through my apps manually, but I don't want to turn my Tidbyt into something I have to interact with.

The Tidbyt’s hardware and software are both made to be tinkered with.

There is a button here. I would love to have a button on the top. Singh told me that it was a key part of the button's purpose, but I would use it as a way to stop and start the Tidbyt.

The Tidbyt isn’t meant to be used too much — but I’d like to use it a little more

I don't think I'll get my button anytime soon, but the team is working on some more controls for the software It is limited right now, but it is simple. It is very obvious. There are a lot of things we can do, like add scheduling, or allow you to hold an app, but the question is how to give you a user experience that makes sense. He doesn't want to lose the usefulness of the Tidbyt because he doesn't have to use it.

Multi user support is something that is missing from Tidbyt at the moment. The fact that you can only control it from a single phone is problematic for a device that is likely to be placed around peoples homes. Better controls for homes with more than one Tidbyt are being worked on by the team.

One shows the forecast, one shows the next event on my calendar, and one is a cute picture of my two dogs. The Tidbyt does a flip between them.

It doesn't offer anything you can't get with a quick glance at your phone but it is a super-powered desk clock. It has many of the same features as a smart display from Amazon, but at a lower price. The idea of light, ambient gadgets, which have information I need but don't push it in my face with push notifications or try to lure me into doom scrolling, is something I like. I like what the Tidbyt represents more than it does. I don't want it to do anything else. I would like to control it better.

DavidPierce is a photographer for The Verge.

Every smart device has a set of terms and conditions that you have to agree to before you can use it. It is not possible for us to read and analyze all of them. We started counting the number of times you have to agree to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people can't negotiate.

You need to create an account in the Tidbyt app for both devices. You give the device with your address and password when you set it up. By signing up and using the product, you agree to the Privacy Policy and terms of service.

Two mandatory agreements were the final tally.