Peek Pronto: Is its no frills data plan worth switching to?

Both Time and Wired named the Classic Peek ($49.95 + free shipping at their gadget of the year in 2008. (Listen to our podcast to hear our initial impressions on the Peek's popularity.) In recent weeks, we've seen the pricing of this handheld drop considerably from $99 to $49. Simultaneously, the handheld has also gotten more functionality with the ability to text, open images, and even blog to Wordpress. The device is easily hackable and various users have found ways to get RSS feeds and even track UPS packages from their Peek.

Just last month, we saw the release of the Peek Pronto ($79.95 + free shipping at The Pronto adds new features including push e-mail, support for Microsoft Exchange, and a new QWERTY keyboard.

Both the Peek Pronto and Classic Peek are available without contracts. Data plans are a flat $19.95/month for both devices. This got us wondering if the $79.95 Peek Pronto offers a better value than our overpriced smartphone plan.

The Hardware
At 3.8 oz., the Peek Pronto is significantly lighter than most smartphones. Its wider-than-average form factor allows it to fit a 5-row QWERTY keyboard. But don't let its width fool you — the Pronto is 0.11" thinner than RIM's BlackBerry 8900 — the lightest and slimmest BlackBerry currently available.

The Pronto's bubbly keys are rubberized and elevated, each with a comfortable amount of space in between. They're also backlit, which makes typing in low-lit environments possible. Compared to the Classic Peek's keys, which are stiff and rigid, we prefer the feel of the Pronto's redesigned keys.

The Peek Pronto's color screen measures 2.5" with a 320x240 resolution. It's bright and just the right size for viewing e-mail. Along the right spine you'll find the Pronto's track wheel, which is used to navigate through e-mails and text. Clicking the track wheel brings up a context-driven menu bar. Other buttons include a dedicated "back" button (found below the track wheel) and a power on/off button.

Under the hood, the Pronto has an anemic 8MB of storage space and a 104MHz ARM7 processor. Although you don't need heavy horsepower for checking e-mail, the paltry CPU negatively affects the handheld's speed. (By comparison, the BlackBerry 8900 uses a 512MHz Xscale CPU.) Battery life, fortunately, is superb — lasting roughly five days with heavy to moderate use.

The Peek Pronto uses T-Mobile's GPRS network with support for 800, 1800, and 1900MHz bands. It runs on a Linux-based operating system and can support up to five separate e-mail accounts (unlike the Classic Peek, which only supports three). Both Classic Peek and Peek Pronto support Web-based e-mail clients like GMail and Hotmail; ISP accounts from companies like Comcast and Cablevision are also supported. However, only the Peek Pronto includes support for Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

User Interface
The Peek Pronto's UI is very straightforward and intuitive. Upon powering the Pronto, you enter your e-mail and password and Peek does the rest. Once account set-up is complete, you're ready to send and receive e-mail and SMS messages. You even have access to your address book and e-mail contacts.

After setting up your account(s), you're immediately taken to your inbox, which doubles as your homepage. To open an e-mail, you highlight the message you want opened and click the track wheel to open it. To compose a message or text, you click the track wheel and select new e-mail.

E-mail on the Peek Pronto is not synchronized with e-mail on your main account, so if you delete a message on your Peek and later check that same account on your computer, the original message will still be there. Furthermore, all of your messages come into one inbox (the Peek does not support folders for incoming messages) and you can't separate your text messages from your e-mail. However, if you have multiple accounts you can choose which account you want to send e-mail from as you compose each message.

Drilling through the Pronto's menus will bring you to the Peek Manager, which gives you control over your Peek's appearance. Here, for instance, you can register new e-mail accounts, change the Peek's sounds and alerts, activate airplane mode, and more. The Pronto's font size setting, however, cannot be changed. (You can only make it appear in bold.) We found the normal setting adequate, but having control over font size would have been a nice addition.

Although it's not as robust as a BlackBerry, the Peek Pronto does an excellent job with e-mail. Messages and texts arrived instantaneously with little to no delay. However, the Classic Peek, which doesn't support push e-mail, suffered from sluggish e-mail. The average e-mail would often times arrive seven minutes after being sent.

On the next page: Limitations, Value, and our Verdict.

Although the Peek Pronto can view images, downloading them is slow without 3G support. In addition, viewing images is tedious as you must jump through various menus before opening them — they're not embedded in the e-mail. Once you open your image, it is then portrayed in a thumbnail-style view and you're not allowed to make any edits to it; the same applies for Microsoft Word documents, which are only supported on the Peek Pronto. Although we welcome the support for Word files, the Pronto will not display the right fonts and formatting on your Word documents. In addition, if your Word document has images embedded, it will not open the file.

Although we loved the Pronto's keyboard, we disliked its space bar. It appears as one button, but it's actually made of two buttons, so if you click the space bar in the middle (which we did on multiple occasions), nothing will happen. Instead, you must click the space bar directly on the left or right side.

From a value-perspective, the Peek Pronto is significantly cheaper than a smartphone with a data plan. In fact, a 1-year Peek subscription is roughly $120 cheaper than the most affordable cellular data plan we could find, which is AT&T's $30/month plan. By comparison, Verizon Wireless' unlimited data/e-mail plan goes for $49.99/month, Sprint's for $49.99/month, and T-Mobile's for $39.99/month. (Contracts and voice plans are required for all of the above-mentioned plans.)

For simple e-mail and text messaging, the Peek Pronto is unbeatable. It features an excellent keyboard, a simple UI, and an above-average battery. Its interface isn't as polished as that of a BlackBerry's, but the savings are significant. As for the Classic Peek, we'd recommend staying away from it. Its lack of push e-mail makes it obsolete in a time of instantaneous communication.

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features editor.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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