Product review – Peek mobile email device (part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of my Peek review. A quick reminder; Peek is a pocket email device that will be on shelves at your local Target stores in 2 weeks for $99. Unlimited email service is $19.99 a month.

In this follow-up to my initial “unboxing”, I’ll describe my experience with Peek in real life use over the past couple of days.

Normally, I’ll receive email from all my accounts on one device; my Blackberry. For this test, I actually switched one account to the Peek so I could determine how well it would perform.

The Hardware

As I pointed out in my first look, the hardware impressed me a lot. The device feels great, it looks fantasic and they clearly put a lot of thought into the design. Peek is powered by a 700mAh Lithium-Ion battery pack, which is enough to get it through several days of average use.

It can be charged with the included MicroUSB charger. MicroUSB is becoming quite popular nowadays, and large companies like RIM (Blackberry) and Nokia are including it on their newest devices. Using a spare MicroUSB cable I had lying around, I tried to charge the device on my PC, but couldn’t get past the “unrecognized device detected” message on my desktop.


The Interface

The same thought that went into the outside, has clearly also been applied to the inside. The interface is clean, bright and easy to navigate. Of course, since the device has just one function, it isn’t hard to find your way around.

Email notifications are provided through a vibrating alert, an audible alert and a blinking blue LED above the screen. The settings menu has options for vibrate, 3 levels of audio and silent.

On the email screen, the device displays 8 emails with the sender, subject and time/date. Above the email list, is a signal indicator, battery indicator and the time/date. Next to those is an activity indicator that starts spinning when an email is being sent or received.

In the main email screen, the menu is activated by pressing the scroll wheel. The options in this menu are:

  • open email
  • new email
  • reply, reply all
  • save email
  • mark read/unread
  • delete email
  • Sent folder
  • Drafts folder
  • Saved folder
  • Trash folder
  • Send/receive
  • Contacts
  • Peek Manager

The “Peek Manager” screen is where the system settings can be found. Options are present for setting up your email accounts, registering a credit card to pay for the service, sounds/alerts, backlight settings and a choice of 3 different color themes (dusk, tangerine and spring).

Email performance

I did several email tests both sending and receiving emails from the Peek. On average, an email sent to the device arrived in about 5 minutes. Email sent from the device arrived on my desktop anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes later. Since the device won’t be used by the Blackberry crowd where every second counts, I don’t think these times will bother anyone.

Peek for travelers

Peek operates on the T-mobile nationwide network, which covers most of the country. Peek does not allow international roaming with their device, so once you leave the United States, the device will no longer function. Since the device only provides access to email, you also won’t be able to browse flight update information or other online sources of travel news unless it is email based.

The cost

The cost model for getting a Peek is simple; $99 out the door, and $19.95 per month for service. There is no contract and no credit check involved. The device comes with 30 days of service, and to keep that service going, you provide Peek with a credit or debit card. That is all there is to it. No paperwork, no long term commitment and as long as you have a valid credit card, you are good to go.

I’ll admit that my initial reaction was “that is too expensive”. Then I looked into the alternatives. There really aren’t any. It’s not hard to get email on a device, most mobile phones currently have some form of email included, but to get that on a prepaid or commitment free device is much harder.

The only close competitor is the T-mobile Sidekick. This swivel-screen mobile phone has been available on a prepaid plan for several years. The downside to this plan is that you’ll have to pay the full unconnected price to purchase the Sidekick, which is between $299 and $499 depending on the model. The Sidekick prepaid service costs $1 per day, which includes unlimited email and SMS messages. Of course, because this is a regular prepaid phone, you’ll also be able to make phone calls on the device.

Other alternatives involve purchasing a separate smartphone, Blackberry or iPhone. Each of these solutions will usually end up costing more than the Peek. The only solution that costs the same as the Peek service is adding a T-mobile Blackberry to an existing Family Plan ($9.95 for the line, and $9.95 for email-only Blackberry service). Of course, as with all line additions on a mobile carrier, this solution will come with a 2 year contract.

Final thoughts

When you tell a geek about a product like Peek, their natural reaction will be to think it’s a crazy concept. $100 for something that only does email? Preposterous! They’ll show their iPhone and its GPS enabled Wi-Fi surfing superiority. But to be honest, I doubt that really is the target audience for Peek. When I talk to less technology savvy people, their number one complaint is that most products nowadays do too much. Many of them just want something that can make a phone call, or a camera that just makes photos without trying to be too cocky.

I won’t go so far as saying that Peek is designed for the Jitterbug generation, but it really is perfect for anyone who just wants email, and wants to be left alone the rest of the time. I’d have a hard time trying to convince a corporate email user that Peek could replace his Blackberry, and I would probably be killed if I tried to swap someones iPhone for a Peek.

But even as a hardcore geek, I think Peek is cute. It does one thing, and it does it really well, in a well presented manner, without trying to seem too smart. It is the perfect solution if you want to give your kids email access without the risk of costs spiraling out of control.

There is however a downside to being too easy; I can’t help feel that Peek has removed just a little too much. I’ll cut them some slack for not including email filters, or any kind of Exchange server compatibility. But the device does not even offer a password protection feature. When I asked a Peek representative about this, they let me know that they are constantly improving the features on the device, so it is certainly something that might appear in a future update.