Peek Pronto Lightning Review: Simple Email Faster

Peek Pronto is the faster version of the original Peek, an incredibly stripped down slab of screen and keyboard that does one thing—email—but aims to do it simpler than anyone else.

It's boxy, whimsical minimalism done right. Its unfussy shape and the front's bubbly keys are friendly and inviting. But its chrome back, and its slimness—thinner than the BlackBerry Curve 8900, the thinnest BlackBerry you can buy—infuse it with the sufficient gadget allure.

The screen is bright—a little dimmer than blinding Curve 8900 screen—and just large and crisp enough to make a text-only device nice to use—a mite higher resolution would always be better, but everything's clear and readable. The markedly ugly themes are actually the screen's real undoing.

Whether or not you'll like the keyboard is largely a matter of taste—I'm usually not fan of chiclet-style keyboards that sacrifice button surface area for spacing between the keys, but even though I don't particularly like typing on the Peek, my pinpoint accuracy consistently astounds me. I think that this is because the strike point on the keys is deceptively larger than it appears to be, and the way the keys are shaped prevents half-misses from becoming whole misses. They're easier to press than on the original Peek—since this is by no means a squishy keyboard, frequent users of the original who didn't wear iron gauntlets must be afflicted with crippling arthritis by now. The rubber coating is a perfect consistency—not too sticky for your nubs, but you won't slip off either.

Your primary method of navigation is the scroll wheel, a throwback to the old-school BlackBerry days. Which, in theory is fine, since you're merely navigating in cardinal directions, not across a plane (like with a trackball) but in practice, I miss the speed of a trackball. Also, considering you have to use it as a button a lot—to bring up the menus that you use to do anything, it's a bit too thin, making it a harder than necessary target. The back button, which sits just below it, could use some steroids too—obviously, it shouldn't be too easy to hit, but it should be easier to mash without accidentally hitting the scrollwheel too.

Software and Experience
It's a simple, minimal experience. I get that. But why does it have to be ugly too? The three colour schemes—Slate, Tangerine and Spring are seriously gross. BlackBerry's latest OS makes a text-oriented screen look pretty snazzy, for the most part—especially in media menus—so I know the Peek guys can do better.

Starting up really is easy: Enter your email account info and name and go. (Yes, you can do multiple, up to five.) And for the people Peek is aimed at, that's how it should be. When you power up, it takes you directly your inbox. It took a couple minutes before mail started pouring in, but everything flowed in perfectly.

So, the big thing about the Pronto over the past Peek model, as far as the average user is concerned, is that the UI is less sluggish, it uses Push for email, so all of your email arrives automagically, and you get unlimited text messages.

Push indeed seems to works just fine—not much more to say about it than that. Text message implementation is a bit messy—it's essentially an email converted into a text message, so it's not a very clean solution, with headers and stuff to wade through on the Peek.

I didn't spend a whole lot of time with the original Peek, so I can't say how much faster precisely the Pronto moves—BoingBoing's Rob and others have complained about its sluggishness—but for the most part, it's fast enough. Some things are slower than they should be—deleting an email takes about three seconds, though deleting a whole bunch (hold shift and scroll down) takes about four.

While the Pronto adds Exchange support, it still lacks, for instance, IMAP and custom folders. The tricky thing about critiquing something like the Peek, which wears its minimalist monofunctionalism as a badge, is finding the line between missing feature (custom folders) and pointed omission (IMAP?). What exactly should it add? If it keeps adding features, when does it move beyond itself?

Should You Peek?
The Peek Pronto is $US80 for the hardware plus $US20 a month for the service that rides on T-Mobile's service. It's a bit much on the monthly end—$US10 would make it immensely more attractive. If you have to ask why you would buy it when you could get a BlackBerry, whose data plan isn't much more than that, this probably isn't for you. It doesn't organise your email (much less your life), browse the web or do anything else but let you—wait for it—peek at your email and execute only the most essential and defining functions of email. It does this pretty well, for the most part.

I can't imagine someone who really wanted email on the go would want something this simple from the outset. But if I wanted to a ditch a full-featured device to more completely untether myself from the world when I get away from my desk, but can't give it up completely, Peek would be a solid form of Nicorette. [Peek]

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