Getting The Right ‘Free Laptop’ Deal

You need a new laptop and your mobile phone provider has a huge sign in their window advertising free laptop deals with mobile broadband. They’re offering good machines by trusted brands. It’s tempting. Here’s what to consider before you sign-up.

What’s your new machine’s function?

If you’re planning to use it as a one-stop office, social media, on/offline entertainment and communications tool, then you’ll need a laptop with windows 7 Home Premium addition. The downside with this is you often get a larger laptop – minimum thirteen inches, usually fifteen inches – and they’re typically not lightweight. They will however do everything you need. Further considerations are the size of the memory and hard drive.

If you want a machine that allows you to browse the internet and fits nicely into your (not oversized) bag, you have two options:

The netbook. A smaller version of a laptop, usually loaded with the Starter version of the windows OS. Before you sign up to a mobile-broadband-netbook contract, research into just how much you can achieve with Windows Starter. An upgrade to the Home Premium edition will cost you £70 and may become necessary. Alternatively, look for a deal that gives you a netbook with the full Windows XP or 7 OS. They do exist.

The Tablet. Think iPad, think Samsung Galaxy TAB, think “more to come” later this year. The commercial tablet is in its infancy, but the list of brands releasing machines this year bodes well for the future of tablet technology.

You can currently purchase the iPad or the Galaxy TAB independently, or as part of a mobile-broadband-tablet contract. With a contract you’ll get the wi-fi+3G version of the hardware, plus a monthly data allowance. Here’s where it gets interesting.

If you purchase an iPad independently you will pay either £429 for 16gb, £499 for 32 gb or £599 for 64 gb model. You’ll then need a Micro SIM from the carrier of your choice: currently offered by o2, 3, Vodafone and Orange. For between £7.50 and £25 for 30-day data plan you can browse at speeds of up to 7.2meg with data limits of between 1 and 10GB. There is also a pay as you go option for the infrequent user.

If you sign a 24 month mobile broadband contract that includes a tablet, you’ll be asked to pay around half the price of the hardware with a monthly charge and a download limit. The larger the data limit, the larger the monthly charge. It’s the same as netbook and laptop deals. The major drawback at this stage is the speed at which the market is developing. Several new devices are scheduled for this year, with many likely to be upgraded in the next eighteen months. Sign now and you’re looking at third or fourth generation tablets before you’re released from your contract.

Customers should also take care with face value prices before considering a purchase. One deal with 3 asks for £699 for a 64gig iPad and then gives you the Micro SIM on a 30-day rolling contract. If you purchase the same model from Apple at £599, you can set the Micro SIM up for free. I’ll say that again. FREE. Note the £100 price difference.

About the author: Marie-Paule Graham writes on behalf of Broadband Genie and Mobile Phone Genie, the independent comparison sites for broadband, mobile broadband and smartphones