Acer’s $99 netbook can actually cost you $1,540. Should you get it?


AceraspireoneFor those of us already accustomed to the lifetime cost of a subsidized device, this isn’t news. But netbooks are a relatively new market so there’s bound to be many folks new to mobile tech and subsidization plans. It’s true that you can purchase a brand new Acer Aspire One netbook at the low upfront cost of $99 at your local Radio Shack. Normally, this device sells for around $350 or so. Bear in mind to get the $99 price, you’ll be signing up with AT&T for a new two-year data plan. That can be good and that can be bad.

Here’s the good: you’ll be able access the Internet on your hundreddollar netbook anywhere that AT&T offers coverage. That means inmost metropolitan areas and fringes, you’ll be surfing the web on whatwill feel like a standard home DSL connection. It’s a greatexperience… so good that it’s one I’ve paid for monthly since 2004.

Here’s the bad: that data plan will cost you $60 a month beforetaxes and other fees. And you’ll need to commit to that monthly billfor two-years. Simple math says that the mobile Internet connectionthat supplements your $99 netbook will cost you $1,440. That’s $1,540total for a $350 netbook. There’s also an early termination fee fromAT&T, which is usually $175, so if you end the contract early, thesubsidy that brought your netbook cost down to $99 is essentiallygetting repaid.

Here’s the advice: consider this deal if you plan to use the deviceto remotely connect to the web on a near-daily basis. Connecting to theInternet wherever you are is a truly enabling prospect. But at $2 aday, it adds up quick so if you’re not going to use it often enough onthe road, it’s not a value proposition. Evaluate if a cheapernationwide WiFi plan might better serve your purpose. For as little as $9.95 a month you can use WiFi at thousands of locations, so if your area is well covered, this is worth a look. Sure, the Acer will cost your around $350 now, but 24 months of WiFi is only $240, making your total outlay only $590 instead of $1,540.

Something else to consider: that data plan is essentially tied toyour netbook. While you should be able to swap out the SIM card fromthe netbook into another device to use wireless broadband, you’ll stillneed another piece of hardware in that other device. If you plan to useAT&T’s data plan on multiple devices, it might be worth consideringa USB adapter that will work with all of your devices, getting you alittle more bang for your buck. I tend to go with USB because it’s supported on every computer. The drawback is that you’ll have a piece of hardware sticking out from your laptop, but you’ll gain flexibility to get more value for your $2 a day.

Don’t misunderstand the liberation that wireless broadband can bring. It’s a fantastic productivity booster that’s well worth it for some. Just be certain you’ll be making good use of it before you commit to it and don’t be swayed by the low $99 price of a device.



We tried to get one today, but they wouldn’t accept our credit. We had a score of 540 but they wanted a $750 deposit on top of the 99. So they essentially wanted $850 for a $350 laptop.


Just got mine in the middle of Iowa! Another note, there is fine print that if you cancel the AT&T within 90 days you have to pay the retailer $200 on TOP of any cancellation fees with AT&T if the unit is not returned. I am on it in Panera now, but trying to get the 3G connected. I had to get a new line of service and will need to cancel my old one because AT&T are idiots and although my old plan was out of contract as of 4/08 I am not eligible for an upgrade until 3/09?????????????????????????????????????????

Mike Copeland

Another question to ask…is the consumer forced to pay for the first month of service? That would add $60 to $99 Base + $175 ETF = $335


@br0adband- I will need to check the TOS for my current plans but is the 5GB cap new for AT&T? I know my Verizon one used to say “unlimited” and in the fine print said 5GB but I didn’t notice that my AST&T said such.

Bob K

This is like the fallacious argument that the iPhone actually costs $2000 because of the two year contract… which is BS because *everyone* with a smartphone pays $2000 for a voice/data plan over two years, with or without a subsidy. And that monthly payment goes on forever until you wise up.

If you think like you get a discount on a netbook when you sign up for a mobile data plan, then you can realistically decide whether this Acer’s worth it to you.


You might consider amending the article to mention that specific data plan only comes with 5GB of bandwidth a month, so the cost should be factored to account for it. I can do 5GB just by websurfing for a few hours these days considering how much Flash banner crap I have to deal with – I don’t deal with it as it’s blocked, but your average Joe (not me, I assure you) doesn’t do such things, and their web browsing bandwidth is sucked down by Flash crap, ads, multimedia banners of various kinds, watching YouTube videos and such, etc.

When Sprint and other companies offered truly unlimited bandwidth on broadband wireless for $60 to $80 a month, that was worth it. Now, $60 a month for 5GB of measly bandwidth makes this a fairly lukewarm deal considering the lockdown to the 2 year contract.

I’d say save your money and get the Samsung NC-10, with nearly 8 hours of battery life, and check out the Wi-Fi spots where you’ll be moving around in. Far superior in almost all respects, and more cost effective in the long run.


True, but I am already paying them $50 a month for the data service so if I cancelled my current, or simply renew the contract if I can, then will still be cheaper than MSRP. BTW, the retail on this one is $499 not $349 as the non-WWAN ones are. So even paying the $50 a month for two months ($100 cause I get a work discount) the EFT $175 if I choose to cancel instead of cancelling the expired contract one, and the $99 for the netbook, still less than the $499 retail and only a few bucks more than what the NON-WWAN was going to cost me last month.


I have one of the precious uncapped Cingular orange SIM’s in my XU870 and I can indeed still get more than 5GB. (the other cool benefit: while the iPhone 3G’s overload the blue SIM network, the orange SIM network has been peaceful).

The main attractor to me in the deal is not having to tnkgrl an AAO to get integrated 3G. The blessings of AT&T using SIM cards makes the deal for me. I can move the $60 account around by moving the SIM card between XU870 and the AAO.

Heck I might even be able to pop the SIM out of my iPhone 3G and pop it in in a pinch (accidentally left SIM in XU870).

When I crunch the numbers I’m still getting a deal with an early out and return to my orange SIM. Plus no waiting for a 3G non-subsidy option to show up at Newegg or Amazon.

I’m going to be playing Garfield at the door of my local Radioshack this sunday waiting for them to shuffle in and open up.

I’ll be on pins and needles hoping for a six cell battery. Hopefully they toss that in to keep the battery life up with that HSPA power hog on board. :-)

Jeff McCord

Great news and info – thank you. The deal sounds so enticing but after calculating the cost (AT&T) it’s not a deal worth doing, for me.



It will cost a bit more if you plan to cancel and pay ETF. I’m sure there will be an activation fee of around $36. Then you cannot cancel the contract right away since AT&T will then ask you to return your Acer. You need to stay as a customer at least for a month to be eligible to pay ETF. Also I am not sure if it’d be technically possible to cancel the contract right after one month and just before second month starts. Otherwise, you will be charged for the second month and as far as I know, AT&T doesn’t prorate. So if you do the math, your cost will be around $350 ($36+$60+$60+ETF($175?)+Tax&fees) plus initial purchase price of $99 and tax. Still not a bad deal considering you get two months of 3g service, but the cost is higher than computer itself. Also you need to have your credit checked (hard full?) and have to go through AT&T customer support which is not always pleasant experience.


Furter to mpj’s comment –

While no wireless provider has yet offered a netbook capable of being bundled with a data plan, circumstances are far worse here (in regards to cost) in Canada for any data plan-enabled device.

For example, while Rogers/ Fido is offering a ‘free’ USB data stick for notebooks, their measly 2 GB/month data plan as will cost mpj some $2700 over the course of the 3 year Plan. Same costs apply to anyone picking up an iPhone or similarly data-enabled smartphone.

A $3100 netbook anyone?

Someone is benefiting from all this portable connectivity goodness and it isn’t the consumer…

Kevin C. Tofel

It’s true that we don’t know what the amount of the subsidy is. That transaction is between Acer and AT&T, so from a consumer standpoint and out of pocket cost, it doesn’t matter that much. Now, if you purchase the device for $99 and pay the ETF as you stated, then the deal does look sweeter. Especially if you already have a 3G SIM card and plan that you could use for your $274 netbook. My guess is that < 1% of sales for this deal actually go that route. Actually, I'm really curious how many customers do make this purchase. Hard to say since it's the first subsidized netbook (or notebook deal for that matter) in the U.S. that I can think of!


Kevin’s math is off a wee bit.

I haven’t been able to suss out if the unit is the six cell model that generally gets the 160GB HDD. They may have put in the 3 cell battery to cut corners. The Six cell unit is regularly a $399 item.

Whatever the battery, Kevin is totally forgetting the cost of the 3G modem card. HP gets $199 for theirs and PCI-e HSPA cards are generally around $100 on eBay.

So to me this unit looks like its getting an iPhone sized subsidy of around $400. Which would make paying the $99 + $175 ETF a bit more reasonable… if AT&T hasn’t covered their posterior and raised the ETF. :-)


Hardly a revelation. Unfortunately news sites ridiculously report “it costs $99 plus the price of a contract” as “it costs $99”. Almost all phone prices are misquoted in this way by otherwise respectable sites.
It’s just now they are going beyond phones. What next; they will be reporting “free cars” when they are paid off later at interest, or “free money” when a company offers a morgage or credit card or loan.


I wish I had the option. Here in Canada, no one yet offers this kind of bundle. I’d probably go for it if they did, because I don’t like being locked down in the home office. Although, I’m still foolishly holding out for an Apple netbook as well, since I can’t bear to go back to a Windows-only machine. Also not sure how I feel about the various Linux-kernel based OSes.

For now I’ll likely just get one of the new 3G dongles from Fido/Rogers and use my huge, heavy, non-netbooky black MacBook. :(


I am going to get one and here is why. I could get it today, cancel later paying the cancellation fee and the computer would still be less than the selling price of one WITHOUT internal WWAN and then I could put my own SIM card in it and use that. OR I could get this one and just cancel my current data plan which is our of contract. MAN I am on my way to RS now.

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