Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

Peek Handheld: Mobile Email Done Right

Keeping it plain and simple.

We usually don't cover modern gadgets, but the Peek is good enough that I'll make an exception. It's a little handheld wireless device that supports unlimited email and (optionally) text messaging. It doesn't include a web browser, calculator, whack-a-mole app or even voice capabilities. It just does email, and the hardware costs only $17.95 without a long-term contract. Keep reading to find out why I love mine and how you can score a free month of service.

The Peek handheld is available in two flavors - Peek Classic (2 email addresses, messages take 3-5 minutes to arrive) and Peek Pronto (5 email addresses, unlimited text messages, instant push message delivery). The hardware is the same for both devices, and the Classic can be upgraded remotely for only $40 at any point.

There's practically no learning curve. When you initially set up the Peek, it prompts you to configure your email account and billing information and then drops you straight into your inbox. As emails arrive, you can view them simply by clicking the side-mounted scroll wheel or by tapping the return key on the tactile QWERTY keypad. The device includes a configurable contact list, which makes sending a message a trivial exercise.

Sending text messages is almost as simple. You just enter the 10-digit phone number of the person you'd like to text and send the message just as you would an email. The peek will automatically split longer emails into multiple SMS texts. You can store text numbers in your contact list, too. The only quirk of the Peek text messaging system is that you have to text your friends before they can send texts your way (you only have to do this once).

Metal back cover and side-mounted scroll wheel.

Peek is a small startup (they've only been in business for a couple of years) that uses T-Mobile's GSM/GPRS network to provide data service across the the United States. Peek is only marketed in the USA, but mine works perfectly on the Rogers Wireless network in Canada without additional fees (you can only send texts to US phones, though). There's even a European version coming soon that will allow roaming throughout most of the EU without roaming fees.

This little email/text handheld isn't for everybody. Smartphone users who need (or want) to run dozens of apps and don't mind paying $50 or more each month for a service plan will probably just laugh at the Peek's limited functionality.

However, if you're the kind of person who uses their mobile phone sparingly and wants no frills email-on-the-go without a hefty price tag, this little beast is perfect. It also makes a lot of sense for a small business -- the device is cheap to replace and ensures that your staff stays in contact without the temptations of online browsing and unpredictable monthly costs. 

There's only one service plan. It offers unlimited email and text messaging (if you have the Pronto software) for $19.95/month. Prepay for a year and the price drops to $14.95/month. If you fall in love with your Peek, you can upgrade to lifetime service for $249. The company will even credit the remainder of your current month's service toward the upgrade.

Very thin.

We can save you money. If you decide to try Peek, just drop us a note using our contact form. Let us know the email address associated with your Peek account and you'll get a free month of service. 

The Peek Classic is available for $17.95 on Amazon and the Peek Pronto sells for $44.24. Peek handsets are also stocked at many Radio Shack and Blockbuster stores. Check out the official Peek site for an up-to-date list of retailers.

My Peek Tips

1. If text messaging capabilities aren't important to you, buy the Peek Classic. The hardware is exactly the same and you can always upgrade to Peek Pronto in the future for $40. The upgrade is wireless and quick.

2. Peek doesn't assign each Peek Pronto its own phone number. This is why you have to text your friends first before they can contact you through a virtual number. It's not a big deal when communicating with your usual circle of acquaintances, but it could cause a bit of confusion with others.

3. You can call Peek and ask them to suspend your service for up to two months. It's a great way to save a bit of money if you're not going to be using your Peek handheld for an extended period.

4. Peek supports multiple emails, but the current software version has only one inbox. You'll have to manually filter and save messages if you're the kind of person who runs with different email boxes for work and home use.

5. There's currently no way to stop your Peek receiving copies of your email unless you delete the email account from the device. This isn't an issue in most cases, but it can cause frustration if you don't use your Peek for a week or two. The handset will attempt to download all of your 'missed' messages as soon as its turned on again.

6. The $249 lifetime upgrade can't be transferred between devices. If it gets squashed by a truck or lost, you're out of luck. Given the lifespan of modern hardware, I'd be inclined to opt for the yearly service plan instead.

7. The OS is simple and clear, but there's room for improvement. There are occasional pauses while navigating and it would be nice to have a basic calculator and notepad app built in. These rough edges are easy enough to fix in future software upgrades, and I'm hoping Peek 2.0 is on the horizon.

Perhaps I love my Peek because it's a throwback to a simpler time when a gadget performed a single task and did it well. I know it's not for everybody, but it could be just right for you.

The Peek Classic is $17.95 on Amazon and the Peek Pronto (with unlimited text messaging) goes for $44.24.


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