Subsiziding netbooks or laptops essentially takes the sting out of the initial sticker price (same as with cell phones). In today's example, customers can pay $299 out-of-pocket for the Nokia Booklet 3G rather than the full, unsubsidized price of $599. Now, $599 is dangerously close to the price of a low-end laptop, which, in general, could be more useful than a netbook. (By the way, Nokia refers to the Booklet 3G as a "Mini PC" -- can we please call a horse a horse?).
Once you buy a subsidized netbook (or cell phone, smartphone, laptop, etc.), you are then beholden to the terms of the contract. In this case, that $299 Booklet 3G price is only valid if you subscribe to a $60 monthly data plan with AT&T. As we all know, over the course of 24 months that $60 adds up to a whopping $1440. Add that to the cost of the netbook, and suddenly you realize you're paying $1740 for that netbook (before taxes). If you check Dell.com or HP.com or even Apple.com, you'll find you can buy yourself one hell of a laptop for that kind of money.
That $599 price point suddenly sounds a lot better for the Booklet 3G, doesn't it?
However, you can pay even less and still get away contract free. Here's what you do.
Go to a Best Buy store. Purchase the Nokia Booklet 3G for the contract price of $299 and sign yourself up for the data plan. Wait a day or two, and then call AT&T and cancel your contract. You'll have to pay an Early Termination Fee. ETFs typically run $175. The math is pretty simple from here.
$299 + $175 = $474 (before taxes, etc.) You just got a $599 netbook for $474.
[UPDATE] Some more math for you. You have to add the wonderful $36 activation fee for getting the subsidized netbook. This, however, is partially offset by the $21 in tax savings you'll see by purchasing the netbook at $299 versus $599 (depending on your local sales tax. It's 7% in NJ).
The only snags might be these: AT&T may lock the Booklet 3G to its network, meaning you can't put another SIM card in it to use on another network. AT&T may force you to pay at least one full month of its data plan cost. Even then, you're looking at $535. More likely, AT&T will prorate the cost of the plan down to the number of days you actually use it, which means $2 per day.
In my opinion, even $475 is a bit too much for a netbook.