Opinion: Free laptop deal looks good

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Jon_smal.gifJonathan Weinberg writes…

Let’s face it, who among us is ever going to turn down a free gift – especially when it’s worth up to £500. Well, that’s the prospect facing techno shoppers at Carphone Warehouse, Currys and PC World this week.

You couldn’t have failed to see the ads in the newspapers over the weekend proclaiming the gratis machines in return for signing up to broadband with the likes of Orange and AOL. ‘So where’s the catch?’ I hear you ask. ‘There’s always a catch!’

Well, you’re right, to get the free laptop you are tied into a contract with the firms for two years and yes, the machines aren’t super-spec’d enough to suit most Tech Digest readers. But in terms of getting people interested in technology and onto the interweb superhighway, it has to be good news.

After all, you’re going to need broadband anyway and if you can get everything you want by signing one piece of paper, what’s so wrong with that. Click to read after the jump and we’ll look at the facts.

Carphone are taking pre-registrations for what it describes as a limited-while-stocks-last offer. It doesn’t say how many that actually is but a report in the Sunday Times reckoned the company had ordered 100,000 ready for shipping in September.

The Dell Inspiron machine has an 80GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, an Intel Celeron 540 processor, WiFi and an 8x DVD writer. It runs Windows Vista Home Basic and is said to be worth £500, which for those specs is pretty standard fare.

The broadband has the usual up to 8MB caveat, a 40GB monthly download allowance and a NetGear wireless router. It costs £19.99 a month and there’s a £14.99 laptop delivery charge to pay for too making a total of £494.75, a few quid short of the laptop’s ‘value’.

So assuming you’re not already hooked up to the web, it has to be good news – assuming there are enough machines to meet the demand. Of course, there are far cheaper monthly broadband deals out there, but this one-stop shop has to be a great way at breaking down barriers to entry for many across the UK who’ve been unable to afford a computer and net connection until now.

The Orange deal works along similar lines, is available now and offers a range of laptops at varying discounted prices. They start at free with an Ei Systems machine running XP Home (possibly better than Vista) but only 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Pay just £19.99 though and you trade up to Vista Basic, 512MB RAM and WiFi (worth an advertised £349.99).

The other laptops go up to £199.99 for an Advent Centrino Core 2 Duo which normally retails at £499.99. All in the deal have at least £300 off and each is available within 10 days of signing on the dotted line.

Just on that basis it’s not as good a deal as the Carphone/AOL promise – and when you look at the broadband it’s only the Orange Starter pack with up to 2GB speed, a 2GB download limit and £14.99 monthly fee with the first three months half price. That’s a total of £337.26.

Add the £19.99 machine and you come out at just over £350 – saving nearly £150 over the course of two years against the rival deal.

But that still isn’t bad. The laptop is perfectly functional just not flashy and a 2GB download limit each month is fine for anyone new to the net, who’s simply using it to find their feet, surf and possibly download a few music tracks along the way.

You’d certainly struggle to get both pieces of the puzzle for less than the Orange deal. Broadband at £9.99 a month would cost £240 alone.

Often free deals aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and while these will suit only a minority of shoppers, it’s certainly a large minority just waiting to be tapped. Who knows, one of those signing up could go on to create the next Facebook or become a successful internet entrepreneur, even if only turning over enough cash via eBay to make their life a little easier.

And in two years, they’ll no doubt need another laptop and then they can trade up and fuel demand for better machines.

Everyone in this day and age is entitled to have their life enhanced by access to the information superhighway and if this brings that one step closer by attracting new users, then it has to be a positive move for the future of the technology industry.

What do you think about the free deals? Publicity stunt or good news? Let us know by having your say – you can post a comment below.

Jonathan Weinberg

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