$99 Laptop offered by RadioShack

Dennis Faas's picture

Radio Shack is selling an Internet-ready laptop computer for just $99. However, the deal is only available to customers who subscribe to a $60/month 'data plan'.

The device is an Acer Aspire One netbook: a slimmed down laptop designed mainly for Internet browsing. It's a relatively low-spec computer with a 120GB hard drive, a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of memory. This helps keep the cost down; the machine is available elsewhere for around the $300-350 range.

The computer comes with Windows XP pre-installed (Vista simply wouldn't run effectively on such a low-spec machine). That makes the $99 price a particular bargain given that Dell is currently charging an extra $150 to 'downgrade' new Vista machine to XP.

There is, of course, a catch. The Radio Shack deal requires buyers to sign up to AT&T's DataConnect mobile broadband service costing at least $60 each month. With a minimum two-year subscription, that brings the total price to $1,540. (Source: jkontherun.com)

It is possible to simply sign up and then cancel the subscription, but even if you did this in the first month, an early cancellation charge of $175 will virtually wipe out the savings on the laptop purchase.

The mobile service does have a generally good reputation and gives home broadband-style speeds across most major cities. There's also a 5GB monthly download allowance which is higher than most mobile competitors and should cover all but those who regularly download video content or play online games. The $60 deal also includes free access to AT&T's WiFi service in locations such as coffee shops and airports. (Source: att.com)

That said, anyone tempted by the $99 price really needs to do some calculations to work out if they'll use the mobile service enough to make the subscription worthwhile. Those using it less often might be better off paying full-price for the laptop and then choosing a cheaper data plan elsewhere.

It seems almost certain the data plan is being used to subsidize the netbook itself and that Radio Shack is selling the device for below cost price. After all, the One Laptop Per Child scheme, which aims to produce low-cost machines for children in developing countries, has struggled to make laptops below the $100 target.

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