AT&T on Wednesday launched a trial offer of mini-laptops starting at $50 with a two-year contract for wireless and wired Internet access.
The promotion, which AT&T is calling a "limited trial," is only available in the Atlanta and Philadelphia areas. The telecommunications company didn't say whether it would expand the offer to other cities.
While using heavily subsidized smartphones and mini-laptops, also called netbooks, to lure people to long-term data plans is not new, AT&T's latest deal takes the model a step further. While most offers involve only a wireless data plan, AT&T is looking to entice potential customers with a plan that includes an at-home DSL connection, along with access to the company's 3G wireless network. The two-year subscription starts at $60 a month.
In addition, like current AT&T DSL subscribers, people signing up for the new offering will also get access to AT&T's Wi-Fi network in the United States with nearly 20,000 hotspots in airports, Starbucks coffee shops, and other locations.
"Pairing mini-laptops with AT&T's home, Wi-Fi, and mobile broadband offerings enables consumers to get the most from their new devices, virtually anywhere, anytime," David Christopher, chief marketing officer for mobility and consumer markets at AT&T, said in a statement.
Indeed, ubiquitous Internet access is the bait, along with the chance to get an ultraportable laptop at a bargain price. AT&T is offering an Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 12, or the LG Xenia. Promotional prices range from $50 to $250 for the mini-laptops, which typically cost from $450 to $600.
With the exception of the Dell Inspiron Mini 12, which has a 12-inch display, the laptops fit the industry definition of a netbook, which is a laptop that has a screen 10 inches or less and runs a full operating system, usually Windows XP or Linux. The devices sell for less than $500, with many selling for as little as $300.
In choosing to offer netbooks, AT&T is tapping into the hottest selling segment of the PC market. While analysts expect a decline in sales of standard-size laptops and desktops this year because of the economic recession, sales of netbooks are expected to increase 80% over last year to account for about 8% of the PC market, according to Gartner's latest forecast.
For people looking for a higher-performing laptop than the above systems, AT&T is offering the Lenovo ThinkPad X200, an ultraportable laptop with a 12-inch wide-screen display. The PC normally starts at about $1,100, but AT&T is offering it for $750 with a two-year DSL-wireless plan, and $850 for people who buy a two-year wireless-only plan. The latter option is also available with the mini-laptops. Prices for the systems with the wireless-only plan range from $100 to $350.
AT&T is providing a 30-minute technical session at no charge to get customers' systems up and running before they leave the AT&T store.
Netbooks and mobile broadband can be ideal ways to arm your road warriors, but there are still questions about connectivity and security. InformationWeek has written an independent report on how to equip your mobile workforce, and it can be downloaded here (registration required).
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