Peek is a cellular handset that looks like a smartphone, but does one thing only: mail. A basic contact manager and image viewer serve that end, and the color scheme and audio alerts can be tweaked, but that's it. It doesn't do voice calls or the web. It's just you, the world, and an email client.
Minimalist and effective, Peek is the perfect simplifier, but only if you're a Peek kind of person. Be warned: it's rather too easy to think you might be. The whole vibe of the device is unspeakably seductive–it's the active ingredient of CrackBerries at a knockdown price–but it has its flaws.
We'll get to those in a minute. First, the fundamentals. Peek's full QWERTY keyboard is a delight. There's nothing magical about it–it's just a well-pitched layout with no faffing around on the design front, a lesson that smartphone makers should learn from. The screen is large and bright.
Peek's user interface is simple. Scroll a clickwheel to browse your inbox (it's the only "home screen" you get) then click it to bring up the menu and read the selected item, delete it, reply to it, and so on. Next to the wheel is an all-purpose cancel/back button. You can delete spam and chaff from the inbox using the backspace key.
Technologically, it's closer to a basic cellphone than a smartphone, with a 100MHz CPU and 8MB of memory. That's enough for a few photos, but the Peek is not storage. This low-end hardware, however, keeps the price under $100. Unlimited data is $20 a month, and there are no contracts or credit checks. It comes in black, pale blue, or burgundy. You can set up three email accounts with it, but it doesn't support Microsoft Exchange.
It's easy to review the idea
of the Peek, rather than the Peek itself. That some have done just that is understandable. It offers smartphone-style email at a fraction of the price, but if you already have
such a device, the proposition is intrinsically pointless unless you're prepared to make a philosophical decision about how you stay in touch with people.
Peek is aimed at those who like small, modest phones and don't want to upgrade them, but still want decent mobile email. The makers imagine a vast potential market of people who will never buy a fancy brick of a cellphone, because they can't or won't pay $50 and up every month for the privilege, but who would love email perpetually at their fingertips. About 10m Americans are hearing-impaired and 1m functionally deaf. And it's for the phone-haters, too: how many of us loathe the ubiquity and pervasive noise of the damned things?
So, there's the idea, and the question of whether Peek lives up to it. Don't worry about the hardware: it's good enough to bring us immediately to the client.
For email users with straightforward needs, Peek nails it. The mechanics of downloading, reading, writing and sending mail are intuitive and effective. It's efficient, limited in scope, and executes every task it's capable of without mucking it up.
• The original BlackBerry was a two-way pager, and could nearly have ended up much the same as the Peek. RIM, however, added calling to its products, and then ever-more expensive and high end features, taking its messaging handheld the "other" direction.
• I can't wait until it does instant messaging and other cool stuff, but don't ever want them to put a phone or an MP3 player in it. OK, maybe MP3. Wouldn't mass storage be neat, too -- an SD card slot, perhaps?
• Also check out the PocketSurfer2, which is a similar idea, but it only does the web
• "I welcome hacking attempts," Peek CEO Amol Sarva says. The limitations, I think, could be liberating: the ultimate ASCII/Interactive Fiction handheld, anyone?
Those who use email as an organizational tool, however, may find themselves limited by that simplicity, especially the lack of custom folders or IMAP. There is a "saved mail" directory, but without the ability to make more, the Peek remains true to its essential promise: its a peek into your email, not a fully-featured equivalent to desktop clients.
It's also occasionally slow responding to commands, which is annoying when you have a lot of mail to delete.
Other minor flaws include incoming mail being stamped with time it is downloaded instead of sent, and the inbox font being so large that subject lines are cut off after the first couple of words. More keyboard shortcuts wouldn't go amiss. It would also be nice if it could delete email from the server.
The Peek is a perfect pocket emailer, then, so long as you don't get too
much email. Given its limitations, $100 is fine for the buy-in, but $20 might be pushing it month-to-month. At $10, I think it would be a no-brainer for anyone without a smartphone.
As it is, Peek is a category creator that gets the basics right, and the possibility of more advanced features in future updates means no-one will ignore it. It's a strange little miracle that could change the way countless people communicate with one another.
• Peek Email Theory
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