This review is the culmination of a 2 year saga I’ve experienced with a potentially game changing product called Peek. It offers unlimited email and text messaging using an always on cellular network for between $10 and $20 per month with no contract. Unfortunately, the whole operation may go down in flames because of a total network shutdown due to poor operational planning. First some history on how I picked this device and service.
I have access to a very bucolic, but remote mountain cabin, which I use for 3 months out of the year. It’s a great place to get away, but there are times it would be nice to have access to modern technology, especially email. For years I used dialup, but that tied up the phone and was very slow. I could also run down to the library 10 miles away to connect my laptop using Wifi. Also, cell service at the location is non-existent, except for one small spot where I could get a 3 bar AT&T signal most of the time.
The Peek intrigued me because it operated on the T-mobile cell network which has a roaming agreement with AT&T at the remote location. I was also impressed by the cost of entry, being the $9.99 I paid for the device and the $20/month charge which didn’t require a contract. Here’s what was promised:
The Peek device itself is solidly built and small enough to fit into a shirt pocket.
The color screen is easy to read. The qwerty keyboard is acceptable considering the size of the unit and the unit feels very solid.
On the right side you have a scroll well that moves a cursor through the text and when pressed brings up context related menus. The square button is the backup key and pressing it repeatedly will bring you back to the inbox which is considered the home screen.
On the left side it the port for the power connector which uses a micro-USB plug. The port is also used to attached the upgrade cable needed to update the firmware.
The back cover is metal and conceals the removable battery. The sim card is also behind the cover, but is not made to be removed. You can find the pertinent serial and IMEI numbers under this cover.
When I first bought the unit, I didn’t realize it was a Peek Classic, which limited me to scanning 3 email accounts and it didn’t have the push email of the Peek Pronto. No problem however, because the good folks at Peek offered to upgrade any Classic units to Pronto for no charge. Well, no charge if one has the upgrade cable ( $14+) and the ability to perform a tricky install. I opted to send the unit to Peek and have them do it for the cost of the postage and loss of use of the Peek for a week.
When it returned I had a full-fledged Peek Pronto which, had I bought it, would have cost me several times as much. By the way, the differences between the Classic and Pronto were mostly a function of Peek’s servers determining which service they assigned to your device. The upgrade was for the firmware to be able to talk to the servers correctly.
Now that the hardware was up to snuff, I began the learning curve to understand how to operate the device. Unfortunately, at my main residence I have very poor T-Mobile signal, so I wasn’t getting connected very frequently with the Peek. I did drive to a location with better signal and was able to set up my Peek with 5 of my email accounts and the stuff just started flowing in. Reading the mail was intuitive, but writing and sending took some research which turned out to require web access because there are no instructions with the device. You’ll have to search through the Peek website FAQ’s to figure out the keyboard commands. For example, to move the cursor horizontally in text you are writing required holding down the shift key while turning the scroll wheel. I did spend a fair amount of time on their web site getting to know the Peek.
Once I got the hang of the Peek, I initially found it very useful. At the cabin home I was able to set it in a window where the cell signal was strongest and received emails. I carried it with me everywhere and people I showed it to were impressed. I even got my wife to like it and was able to cancel the dial-up internet access which cost more than the Peek monthly charge.
Shortly however, cracks began to appear in my enthusiasm and limitations of the device became apparent. Getting the emails in a timely manner was great, but many of them couldn’t be read because the device is text only and the HTML and graphics only display as a link. The device is supposed to be able to display PDF and .doc files, but they never were readable. It is possible to send txt (SMS) message to cell phones and this did work, but for someone to send a message to the Peek, you would have to send to them first and they could then reply. This is because the Peek, while operating on the cell system does not have a phone number associated with it.
I could accept the above shortcomings, because I could understand enough of the email messages to determine whether I needed to head to the library with my laptop to see the parts not displayed, but when system and hardware reliability issues increased, I began to have second thoughts.
Sometimes the Peek would do unusual things like spontaneously reset. This would often lockup the device which could only be rectified by removing and reinstalling the battery. No I’m not making this up. It is one of the suggestions for clearing problems listed on the Peek web site. This became more and more frequent over the months and was becoming rather annoying. There are also issues of slow response of the unit itself. Sometimes the scroll wheel takes a long time to respond to input, and when it does you’re in a screen where you didn’t intend to be. During this time, multiple firmware revisions were issued that may have fixed some of the problems, but I didn’t have a cable and Peek removed the offer to upgrade the firmware at their offices.
The biggest issue was the downtime of the service. It started out as only an hour here or there, but on several occasions complete weekends were without service. Last July 4th weekend there was no service until the holiday was over. The sad part is that Peek appears to be a 9-5 company working only Monday through Friday. I’ve tried calling for support on the weekend and a recording said I should call during their work week. There’s a bunch of comments on the Peek forums about this lack of support, so I’m not the only one who has this issue.
The latest fiasco involving Peek service is that one of their service providers recently shut them off, making all Peek Classics and Pronto’s paperweights. To Peek’s credit they have offered to send all current Classic and Pronto users a free (in Peekspeak the $7.95 charge = free), Peek9. This new device does not require the “bum” (Peek CEO’s term) service provider to operate. I have received mine after 2 weeks, but am awaiting activation. The device looks exactly the same as the Pronto.
I haven’t totally given up on the Peek. I have too much vested in the product and would like to see it succeed, but I have my doubts. I can’t imagine a corporate user would be too happy about the situation. I also see competition sneaking up on the benefits of the Peek in the form of new data plans from the wireless providers. I’ll be looking at some prepaid data plans for a USB dongle for my laptop. If I were newly looking at the Peek, I would probably wait 6 months to a year to see how their problems play out.