(Pocket-lint) - The Sprint ZTE Peel, $79.99, is an accessory that ends the fruitless search for Wi-Fi by turning an Apple iPod touch into its own mobile hotspot on Sprint’s 3G network. Each gigabyte of data will cost $29.99 per month, with additional charges incurred for additional data. Although the Peel enables Wi-Fi, it will not support voice calling unless you resort to a third party application like Google Voice.
The device itself is a lightweight yet bulky looking case designed for a second or third generation iPod touch. The iPod touch snaps into the Peel and is held in place by two claw-like edges of semi-pliable plastic. The Peel is designed to only hold second or third generation iPod touch devices, so you won’t have much success trying to make a first generation or fourth generation iPod touch snap into place. That said, the Peel will work with your first generation iPod Touch, it just won’t hold it properly so be careful when you pick it up, because it probably won’t be held tightly in the case. An iPod touch 4G won’t fit into the Peel at all.
There is an earphone adapter that allows you to plug in your headset through the Peel case.
The Peel itself is wire-free and battery powered so it requires an initial charge for around 4 hours before you can use it. Once it is unplugged from the power source, the Peel has around 3 hours of Wi-Fi juice, which is one of the major points of contention over this device. Some argue that this simply isn’t enough power for a Wi-Fi hotspot, especially when compared to a device like MiFi.
Once the Peel is sitting in the cradle, it is surprisingly easy to connect to Sprint’s Wi-Fi especially since there’s no initial set-up or additional software. The Peel only has one button on the back, so once you press it and when the green light is on, you’re ready to go. By accessing your iPod touch’s settings to see all available Wi-Fi networks, you can locate the “Sprint Peel” network within this list. Selecting the network and you will instantly connect to Sprint’s 3G network. It was surprising how easy and effortless it was to make the Peel work.
Once you’re connected to Sprint’s 3G network, it works at the standard 3G speed and allows you to access the web from your iPod touch. The hotspot also allows one other person to access your internet connection.
The major customer complaint out there is that Peel is priced at $79.99 for the hardware and $29.99 per 1GB of data per month. When compared to competitors like AT&T’s iPad data plan also priced at $29.99 but for twice the data, it’s confusing why Sprint would charge an extra $10 per month for 1GB of data. It’s argued that if Sprint charged $19.99 per month for 1GB of data would run in direct competition with its own 250MB data plans for laptops and aircards. Although it costs more, the upside is that Sprint doesn’t require you to sign a contract in order to use the Peel, unlike the process of selling your soul to AT&T for a cheaper, but stricter extended plan.
The higher monthly charge also causes problems for the estimated 1% of people that exceed 1GB of data per month and will incur the additional $29.99 charge. You may not be safe from this additional charge of 1 month.
Another problem with the Peel is that is uses cheap and insecure WEP encryption designed for low-security usage on the iPod touch as compared to the superior WPA encryption on the MiFi.
Overall, the Peel is a good product because it simply works. Once you cradle your iPod Touch, it is fast and easy to connect to the 3G network and allows you to create a mini mobile hotspot that another user can join. It is also a good way to utilise many the connected apps and capabilities of the iPhone without actually paying for the iPhone. Granted, you don’t get voice included with the Peel, but it is a step in the right pre-paid direction.
The main problems with the Peel are that it’s extremely limited in use and overpriced. With 3 hours of battery and a limited hotspot that only allows two people max, it does not make for ideal mobile surfing. The other major concern is the $79.99 cost and $29.99 per 1GB of usage.
The Peel is a good option for someone who wants to avoid a monthly contract, doesn’t use very much data, and does not need many hours of juice. Another option would be to carry the wall charger around with you, something that is becoming more and more common.
From a consumer standpoint, it seems like there are better, cheaper options out there that might provide more accessibility at a cheaper price.