Monday, May 11, 2009

On The Road with the Peek Pronto

One of my entanglements with the world involves monitoring the email and routing queries appropriately. While in theory I could rely on Wifi connections with my Eee PC or Nokia N800 to deal with this task or spring some extra bucks up front and every month till the end of time for a smarter cell phone, the Peekonomics 101 video combined with my "ooh-nifty" response and an excess of Amazon credit made me press that buy-now button that promises every good consumer that we can spend our way to frugality. I now am the happy owner of a Peek Pronto.

I recently took the Peek with me on my cycling trip from Issaquah to Olympia and back and the little 109 gram gadget proved itself to be an extremely handy companion. So even though this is a cycling blog, it's going to turn into a gadget blog for at least the duration of this post and if such things bore you, feel free to surf away.

The most important thing to understand about the Peek is that it is JUST AN EMAIL DEVICE. It does not make phone calls. It does not surf the web. It does not take pictures. It does not play music. It is JUST AN EMAIL DEVICE. Actually, the Peek will also do text messages and if you're into that Twitter thing it'll do that as well, but basically the Peek is JUST AN EMAIL DEVICE.

It's the simplicity that got me. The same impulse that makes me think things like "hey, I bet I could tour on a fixed gear bicycle!" makes me think "hey, I bet I could do a lot just with email!" And while that turns out to be true, as the Peek folks themselves admit "making it simple can be...complicated." But just as pushing against the limits of a single gear makes me stronger while questioning every gram of my touring kit, the Peek's limits made its designers and users come up with some interesting solutions.

The Peek makes sense for me because I've never been much of a phone person. My cell phone is a minimal, pay-as-you go device and I tend to spend less than $5 per month on it. Add on the $20 per month to feed email into the Peek and I'm still paying much less than I would for an iPhone. And I get a decent keyboard out of the deal.

Yeah, the Peek has a surprisingly good little keyboard. And the connectivity is darn simple. Tell it your email and password, pay for a month of access and you're good to go. I hooked it to my gmail account which was already hooked to my work email accounts, but the Peek will handle up to five different email addresses. I think the Peek connects to the big cloud in the sky via T-mobile but I'm not sure about that and I don't need to know. All I know is the thing hooks up and grabs my email.

Throughout my trip and the couple of weeks I've had the Peek, it does what it's supposed to do, it lets me send and receive email from anywhere. The Peek saves time by just grabbing the first 4K of a message and for a lot of email's that first 4K is plenty, I read enough to know where to route the mail and send it off. In other cases, I read more. Once I get to the end of the 4K, the Peek says [Retrieving more] and gets the next chunk. This can continue for a while and on huge emails the Peek will hit a point where it says [Wow! This file is too long for your Peek. View the rest on your computer.] In my world, I don't hit this limit too often and when I do, it's just about at the point where I'm figuring I shouldn't be doing this much work out of my pocket. But if this limit bugs you, the Peek isn't your kind of thing.

It is my kind of thing. I've figured out that I like pushing up against limits and seeing how much I can do with little. The little Peek does some cool things and there are some cool email services that the Peek and other folks have come up with. For example:

Sending a zip-code or a city-state pair to will return a weather forecast for that area including some weather maps as attached jpeg files.

Sending an address to will return a zoomed Google map and an area overview map as jpegs. will give you news headlines from NPR, the BBC or the New York Times. You specify your prefered news source in the subject line of the email.

Other email services from Peek include local traffic reports and Google local search results. Sending the Subject "help" to returns a list of various useful things like text versions of world wide web sites and local movie times available from Ent.

I used the Peek multiple times each day of my trip. I kept my wife up to date on where I was camping and used the map feature to find the house I stayed at in Olympia. I kept on top of my work email so I didn't have a big pile of it waiting back at Bike Works when I returned.

The Peek is earning its $20 per month keep. Actually the fee is lower than that if I buy access in three month chunks and I think I'll be doing that. The Peek folks also have an active community of users who discuss all things Peek at:

And even though I've said over and over that the Peek is JUST AN EMAIL DEVICE, it also works fine as a clock and a flashlight for finding your way around a dark campsite. And I've been using the draft function of the email editor as a notepad. And you'll be happy to know that most of my notes are for a whole series of bike repair blog posts. Thanks for your indulgence in this gadget geek-fest. We now return you to your bike blog, already in progress.

Keep 'em rolling,

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