Sprint ZTE Peel: Cost Effective iPhone Replacement?

The ZTE Peel from Sprint is official. Sprint:

Beginning on Nov. 14, Sprint customers can attach ZTE PEEL to their Apple iPod touch and connect to Sprint’s 3G network. ZTE PEEL is a unique device that cradles the second- and third-generation iPod touch with a case-like form factor. With universal Wi-Fi compatibility and support for up to two Wi-Fi enabled devices, iPod touch users will have a virtually anywhere, anytime Internet connection that removes the reliance on a Wi-Fi hotspot for a data connection.

The Sprint ZTE Peel is priced at US$79.99 and is paired to a $29.99 per month data plan for 1GB. WiFi is of the BG variety with WEP 64-bit security. The ZTE Peel weighs 3.2 oz, which almost doubles the weight of the latest iPod touch (3.56 oz, 101g) with a total weight of 6.76 oz. That’s a bummer. Not only that the Peel is 0.86 inch thick. It looks like the 0.28-inch thick iPod touch protrudes out a little bit so we’re talking a combined thickness of about a whole inch; that’s MacBook Pro territory. There’s also another knock: the 900 mAh Li-Ion battery lasts up to three hours, similar to a MiFi.

Comparatively speaking, the iPhone really seems like a marvel. It weighs 4.8 oz is just 0.37 inch thick and lasts for up to six hours on 3G and 10 hours on WiFi. The ZTE Peel + iPod touch combo is about 2.5x thicker, weighs 40% more and lasts 50% less.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

My thinking on the “why not just buy an iPhone?” is that almost everyone is going to want a cell phone, too, and even a cheapie feature phone is going to run another $30 a month in service.

Gruber is probably right in that almost everyone would want a cell phone, too. But I was thinking, “Do I?” Maybe all I need is a device that connects me to a 3G network, and runs Skype. $30 per month for a complete “voice”+data solution sounds much better than the current plan where I spend $40 for 450 minutes of voice and then another $25 for 2GB for a total of $65. In two years the difference between the two becomes enormous, or does it. Out came the calculator.

Peel + iPod touch + Skype

  • Initial cost: $80 (Peel) + $229 (iPod touch) = $309
  • Skype: $20 (Online number for three months)
  • Monthly: $30 (1GB on Sprint) + $6.90 (Skype unlimited US subscription) = $36.90
  • Two years: $309 + $160 (Skype online number) + $885.60 = $1354.60

iPhone 4

  • Initial cost: $199 (iPhone 4)
  • Monthly: $40 (450 minutes of voice) + $25 (2GB data) = $65
  • Two years: $199 + $1560 = $1759

I deliberately left out texting. Texting on Skype is about 11 cents per. The $5 for 200 texts on AT&T makes it 5 cents per message. So if you’re a heavy texter AT&T’s cost advantage can make a big difference. (BTW, you can text free on Google Voice.) On the other hand if you’re a heavy phone user the Skype option can make a huge difference too, but then you’re limited to three hours per day (the Peel’s battery). The bottom line is that you’re saving about $400 in two years and almost $17 per month. That’s a good chunk of money, but not as much as I thought.

As mentioned above there are some inconveniences going with the Peel + iPod touch option. The main one being the three hour limit. That simply doesn’t work for me, but you might not have an option where you live. Sprint might have excellent coverage while AT&T doesn’t. Going with the iPhone has other benefits: the iPhone 4 is thinner, lighter, has a better camera (you can’t even use the iPod touch’s camera on the back with the Peel on it seems), GPS, etc. The choice really depends on coverage in your area and how you use your iDevice. If you’re a heavy texter it seems AT&T has the advantage. On the other hand if you’re on the phone a lot the non-phone Peel + iPod touch option is the cost-effective choice.