Sprint ZTE Peel cradles iPods with 3G goodness

Once a rumor, now a reality, the surprisingly affordable Peel adds a 3G hot spot to any second- or third-generation iPod Touch. Could this combo effectively replace an iPhone?

This a-Peel-ing cradle from Sprint delivers 3G broadband to your iPod Touch and up to two other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
This a-Peel-ing cradle from Sprint delivers 3G broadband to your iPod Touch and up to two other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Sprint

Back in June, I wrote about a rumored iPod Touch accessory that sounded almost too good to be true: the Peel, a combination case/cradle that would bring SIM-card-powered phone calling to the device.

The just-announced Sprint ZTE Peel has little in common with that rumored device except the name, but it's no less tantalizing. Drop your Touch into the cradle, press a button, and presto: you're connected to Sprint's 3G network.

But wait, there's more: the Peel doubles as a Wi-Fi hot spot, allowing up to two other devices to tap that 3G goodness at the same time.

By now you're no doubt entertaining visions of using your Touch as an iPhone and telling AT&T what it can do with its $65-per-month-minimum-not-including-taxes-or-texting two-year contract. That's definitely an option now, what with voice-over-IP apps like Fring and Skype, but there are some caveats to consider.

Price, believe it or not, is not one of them. The Peel lists for $79.99, which strikes me as pretty reasonable. Slightly less reasonable, but still way cheaper than AT&T, is the no-contract monthly service plan: $29.99.

I could easily live with that except for one major bummer: a 1GB data cap. Although AT&T famously said that most users can get by on 2GB per month, that doesn't factor in phone calls. I'm not sure how much data the average Skype call consumes, but it's a safe bet that if you're planning to use your Touch for phone duty, you'll blow through that 1GB in short order. Even if you don't make calls, 1GB just isn't a lot of data. Boo on Sprint for that.

What's more, the Peel works only with second- and third-generation Touch models, so anyone who just bought a fourth-gen Touch is out of luck. (The current iteration of the Peel hardware would block the rear camera anyway.) And it adds nearly an inch of thickness to the Touch, making your previously svelte device quite a bit chunkier.

Sprint promises 3 hours of operation from the Peel's 900mAh battery, though it doesn't specify how it charges or whether it provides supplemental power to the Touch.

The maddening data cap notwithstanding, I think the ZTE Peel shows a lot of promise. I'll reserve final judgment until I can get my hands on one; when I do, I'll post a full review. In the meantime, you can get your hands on one starting November 14. Will you?

 

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