The paradox of the modern cable box is that even though we have thousands of channels at our fingertips, there's never anything good on. Or maybe it's just that we can't find what we're looking for. The Peel looks to change all that. Used in conjunction with an iOS app, this $99 pear-shaped device learns your TV-viewing preferences and shows you only the programs you want to watch. It also suggests new stuff based on your preferences. Does the Peel have enough appeal to let you toss your other clickers?
The most conspicuous part of the Peel is its transmitter. Appropriately called the Fruit, it's about the size and shape of a pear with the stem cut off. The top of the Fruit is a mustard yellow, while the bottom is a dark-brown hue; while they're both neutral colors, they feel a little dated. The top of the Fruit twists open to accept a C-cell battery, which should power the device for three to six months, depending on how often you change channels.
The other piece of hardware, called the Peel Cable, is a cylindrical device that's a little smaller than a hot dog (with its bun). One end has an Ethernet cable coming out of it; the other end has a power cord. The Cable must be plugged into your home's wireless router, which could be a problem if you want to use the Peel with a TV on the other side of your house; the Fruit and the Cable must be within 50 feet of each other to work.
Setup and User Interface
After plugging the Cable into our Wi-Fi router and outlet, we put the battery in the Fruit and aimed the device at our TV. For this accessory to work best, the Peel should be within 15 to 20 feet of your entertainment center, with its flat top angled away.
We then installed the Peel iOS app and followed the on-screen instructions; the device was able to "learn" the controls for our TV, cable box, and receiver within a few seconds. (You can also use it with Apple TV and DVRs). It was much easier than setting up a universal remote control, and we were able to tell the device that we controlled the volume using the stereo receiver, not the TV. After that, the app had us arrange the genre of shows (comedy, drama, news, reality, etc.) in order of preference. Then we were all set to go.
If a show you want to watch doesn't appear in the Peel's recommendations, you can search by name using the iPhone or iPod touch's keyboard. However, you can't use the keyboard to enter program names in a TiVo or Apple TV's search. Also, if you leave the Peel app and then return to it, the app doesn't bring you back to the screen you were last using.
Using the Peel is a lot different than channel surfing using a traditional remote control. You'll be hard-pressed to find the name of a station, or even a channel number. That's not the point. Since the Peel's focus is on the content--and not where it comes from--the channels themselves become irrelevant.
As with setup, using the Peel app was simple and intuitive. Movies and shows were represented by large and colorful icons. Tapping on an icon made it fill the screen and brought up an episode description. This is the only place where you'll find the name and number of a given show's channel. At the bottom are icons to watch the show, cut it (so it doesn't appear), favorite, set a reminder, or post to Facebook or Twitter that you are watching the program.
The best thing about Peel is that it's smart. You can mark shows as favorites or cut them so that they don't show up (you can uncut programs later if you change your mind). The more you do this, the more the Peel app gets a feel for what you like, and it will add in shows that it thinks will appeal to you. It takes some time and tinkering; the second day of us using the Peel, the tween-targeted iCarly was still showing up alongside Sons of Guns and Justified.
The Peel app also lets you change the volume, mute, and change channels by sliding your finger on the screen. It takes a little bit of practice to control accurately--at first, we found ourselves accidentally muting the volume instead of turning it up or down. You can also use the app to access your cable's on-demand content, so you're not just limited to live TV.
We wish that there was a Peel app tailor-made for the iPad and Android devices; the company said that the former should be available in June, and the latter in the spring. Also, there's no way to set up multiple accounts on a single iPhone or iPod touch, so if your viewing preferences veers more towards 60 Minutes while another person in your house prefers Jersey Shore, it could cause problems.
After a few days, we found ourselves using the Peel almost exclusively; instead of aimlessly scanning hundreds of channels to find a show we wanted, we were able to scan through only those programs that appealed to us. At the very least, it consolidated all of our remotes. The Gear4 Unity Remote (also $99) also serves as a customizable universal remote, but it doesn't display channel listings on the iPhone itself. While channel surfing is, by definition, a leisure activity, the Peel lets you get to the programs you want to watch quicker. Best of all: No more QVC.