Is Paying On A Contract The Best Way To Get A 3G Netbook?

DellNetbook.jpg Dell and Vodafone have joined forces to sell the Inspiron Mini netbook like a phone, allowing you to purchase a 3G broadband-equipped device for a fixed monthly fee over 24 months. Is the future of computer purchasing, or just a good way of wasting money? Buying on contract is pretty much standard practice in the mobile market, and it makes purchasing that shiny new phone look much more affordable. So it's no real surprise that the same approach is now being used with netbooks/ultra-portable computers/mini notebooks (or whatever else you want to call them). Both categories involve ultra-portable devices and 3G networks, so really it's a bit of a surprise that it's taken this long. Under a deal announced last week, Dell will sell you its Inspiron Mini 9 for $69.95 a month over 24 months, with a built-in 5GB a month of 3G broadband. The package goes on sale this week. Note that despite the Dell branding, you have to purchase it through a Vodafone store or a Vodafone site, given the characteristic level of credit checking that goes with 3G deals. How much do you end up paying for that convenience? The minimum total cost over two years is $1,678.80. You can buy the Mini on its own for $548.90; adding in the equivalent broadband cost ($39.95 a month for 24 months) is $1507.50, so you're paying $171.10 over the odds. Spread over 24 months, that's an extra $7 or so a month (or a 10% interest rate, which beats whacking it on your credit card in all probability). Normally, I'd point out that one problem with this kind of deal is that you're stuck with the same provider for 24 months and won't be able to take advantage of any changes in the market. However, as our recent roundup of 3G plans made clear, the 24-month deal is pretty well entrenched in the 3G broadband sector, so that's going to be your lot in any case. The big downside of this approach is that you don't have a modem which you can switch between machines — the 3G broadband is built into the PC, so you can't plug it into your main office computer if the ADSL dies. That might not matter to you, but it is one of the benefits of having a standard USB device. If that's not an issue, then the questions become the fundamental ones: is the notebook right for you, and are you happy with the Vodafone coverage? If you're only looking at east coast capital cities, then you'll be fine, but regional users need to exercise more caution. If you're looking for other machines, Nick at Gizmodo points out that Dell has a bunch of other sale items right now. Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman doesn't want to turn into somebody with three separate PCs every time he hits the road. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


    "However, as our recent roundup of 3G plans made clear, the 24-month deal is pretty well entrenched in the 3G broadband sector, so that's going to be your lot in any case."

    Not quite so. You could walk into any 3 store and ask to be put on a USIM-only Mobile Broadband plan. No upfront cost, no contract, and $15/1GB, $29/3GB or $39/6GB makes it a pretty good deal.

    I think a netbook on a contract is a good idea, but this particular plan definitely isn't great value. I'd be much happier with something closer to 1 or 2 GB for $30 or $40 per month.

    Then again I don't really spend all that much time away from wireless. If I were a uni student or a road warrior, this might seem like a much better deal.

    Well I think its a good start. When we see more of these devices hopefully it will get cheaper.
    As for the non-removable modem, im pretty sure windows still has that internet connection sharing built in? Its not as elegant or easy as just plugging a modem into your desktop but it would work for emergencies.

    I like this idea, but the monthly cost seems a little steep for what it is, doesn't it? Personally, the sweet spot for me would be about $49 a month, although I find it hard to justify even that when I already have an iPhone!

    Some good points but one you didn't pickup on is that the Dell mini that you can buy from Dell for $548.90 does not have 3G capability. The WWLAN card is not installed. $170 is about average price for a 3G modem.
    I got the Dell mini from Vodafone and love it.

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