Most mobile retailers now stock a range of normal-sized laptops, as well as so-called mini-laptops or netbooks – a new breed of ultra portable computers born out of the dongle craze. These laptops are usually subsidised on mobile broadband tariffs, the same way mobiles are on regular talk and text packages. The light, portable netbooks are designed to complement operators’ mobile broadband offerings.
All the networks are now selling laptops, apart from O2, which was also well behind when it came to launching a dongle.
Devices with a screen size of around nine inches and weighing less than one kilogram are sold as a part of a bundle at 3 on a £30 tariff and at Orange on a £25 tariff. Meanwhile, Vodafone is offering a mini Dell laptop for free on a £25 tariff.
Rory Reid, PC editor at technology website CNET, says: ‘The so-called “netbooks”, like the Asus Eee PC, have small screens and keyboards that can be fiddly to use for those with large hands. However, they are extremely portable, have a good battery life and work well as a second computer.’
Most networks also bundle their dongles with regular-sized laptops, but the majority of laptops in these deals are not free. They have better processing power, but are not as easy to carry around as a netbook.
‘Larger laptops, like the HP dv 6910, are more powerful and have more storage, but are very bulky in comparison,’ Reid adds.
The laptop ranges
3 has the biggest range out of all the operators, offering mini, high-end and mid-range laptops, although they are all manufactured by HP. All its laptops are bundled with a dongle and are free on a 24-month tariff – apart from the high-end HP Pavilion dv 6910 laptop, which has an up-front cost of £49.99.
3 has also bundled in text messages that can be sent from the laptops to mobile phones.
T-Mobile’s laptop offer comes with an embedded Sim card. The operator currently only stocks the Acer Travel Mate laptop, which is free with a £30 tariff. As a part of the package, customers can also access T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi hotspots.
The only laptop on offer at Orange is a mini-laptop with an 8.9-inch screen. It weighs less than 1kg and is free with the operator’s Internet Everywhere tariff priced at £25, which includes a dongle.
Vodafone only offers the Dell Inspiron Mini Netbook with an embedded Sim card for internet connectivity.
The laptop comes free with either the operator’s £25 tariff with 1GB data or the £30 tariff, which comes with 3GB data. Vodafone does not directly offer normal-sized laptops, although Phones 4u sells the operator’s mobile broadband packages with laptops bundled in.
A Vodafone spokesperson says it currently has no plans to add laptops
to its range.
As the first company to offer subsidised laptops, it is no surprise that Carphone Warehouse has the most impressive line-up. It offers four laptop models from Acer, Fujitsu, Toshiba, HP, as well as its own-brand Webbook. The Webbook is a low-end mini laptop, but the retailer offers a range that goes all the way up to a Toshiba, worth £679. The devices are bundled with mobile broadband subscriptions from Orange, 3 and T-Mobile.
Phones 4u is also relatively well stocked on the laptop front, and is offering three different models from Sony and Toshiba.
The price of the laptops it offers range from the free Toshiba L350 with Vodafone’s £40 tariff or 3’s £35 tariff, to the Sony FW11E, priced at £599.95 with Orange’s £30 tariff.
Bundled laptops – are they worth it?
The mobile broadband and bundled laptops market is still in its infancy and the price of the packages available is likely to fall. Consumers are used
to getting a free mobile phone with their contract, but a free laptop is something new and very appealing.
That said, the deals on offer are not always as good as they look. Often the laptops, especially the small netbooks, are low-end and on their own cost as little as £150-£250. They are bundled into mobile broadband deals that cost £25 per month and tie the users to a 24-month contract.
Reid says: ‘The “free” laptop is just bait to sign you up to a lengthy contract and guarantee the networks money over a long period of time. Most deals tie you in for as long as 18 months and, if you’re paying £50 per month for that length of time, you’re looking at a total investment of £900.’
Although the deals also include a broadband connection, they often allow for significantly less data usage than fixed line broadband connections. Even the unlimited deals usually have a fair usage policy that caps the amount of data that can be consumed.
‘Most of these packages will have a cap, which limits the number of gigabytes of data you can download. Users who watch lots of internet video (YouTube, etc.) should spend extra money on a higher cap, but those who simply check emails can get away with a lower cap,’ Reid adds.