Are Service Provider Netbook Bundles a Good Deal?

By Mark Sullivan and Patrick Miller, PC World |  Mobile & Wireless, AT&T, netbook

You can get a deeply discounted netbook from either AT&T or Verizon, as long as you're willing to sign up for a two-year data plan; but no matter which service provider's netbook deal you choose, the price will be about the same. We saw similar price parity when we conducted our cost-of-ownership study of popular smartphones.

We discovered the similarity in bottom-line prices after examining the two-year costs of ownership of various (subsidized) netbooks sold by Verizon and AT&T (Sprint and T-Mobile don't yet offer such deals). The wireless broadband carriers began selling netbooks only this year, and they have adopted a pricing model similar to the one they use for selling cell phones and smartphones.

What's on Sale?

Verizon offers either of two netbooks--the Gateway LT2016u or the HP Mini 1151NR (currently out of stock)--for $150. If you were to buy them elsewhere and without the data plan, the Gateway would cost around $300 and the HP would run about $400.

AT&T sells the Acer Aspire One, the Dell Mini 10, and the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 for $200 each. If you buy any of these netbooks elsewhere (sans data plan) you will pay about $300 for the Acer, $349 for the Dell, or $330 for the Lenovo.

Click on the thumbnail image to the left to view our chart containing a detailed comparison of the total cost of ownership for the five netbooks now being sold by U.S. wireless broadband service providers.

Not Unlimited Data

Unlike smartphone data plans, which typically promise to provide unlimited data for $30 per month, data-only 3G service for netbooks gives you much less for a lot more. Both AT&T and Verizon offer two tiers of data-only service: for $40 per month, you get 250MB (from Verizon) or 200MB (from AT&T) of data per month; for $60 per month, you get 5GB of data per month.

Exceed your monthly bandwidth cap, and you'll pay extra: Verizon charges 10 cents per additional 1MB on the lower tier and 5 cents per additional 1MB on the higher tier; AT&T charges $10 per additional 100MB on the lower tier and a whopping 50 cents per additional 1MB on the higher tier.

The Cost of Speed

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