AT&T Spruces Up Subsidized (Pricey) Netbook Line

Here we go again. Just as you're finally choosing which netbook you're going to buy on which carrier, here comes AT&T to make your decision even tougher. Or maybe, it actually makes things easier. As the world warms to 3G-equipped netbooks sold directly through mobile carriers, AT&T is doing its best to take advantage of the situation. And frankly, to take advantage of the uninformed.

Let's take a look at the mobile operator's newest offerings. If you'll recall, it started offering netbooks for sale at discounted prices earlier this year, but there's one big catch: if you buy it, you've got to commit to a two-year data plan of $60 per month (5GB cap) or $40 per month (a lousy 400MB cap). And, mind you, the 3G card that's integrated into the netbook cannot be removed, so you're stuck with an already sluggish machine for two whole years. Can you imagine how lethargic an Atom N270 will feel in 2011? We think it feels slow now!

At any rate, AT&T has today announced the expansion of its mobile broadband-enabled netbook lineup, and thankfully it has made the whole lot easy to pass on. At first glance, the proposition seems interesting. After all, it's not like the company is offering up no-name netbooks. They're offering Acer's Aspire One, Dell's Inspiron Mini 10 and Lenovo's S10. The problem? The price. Each of those three only sport a 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Somehow, AT&T thinks it's okay to charge $199.99 after a mail-in rebate for each of them, and they require you to sign on for a two-year data plan.

Compare that deal to this: Gateway introduced an eerily similar netbook yesterday with basically the exact same specifications for $299 outright. So you can pony up an extra $100 in order to pick your own favorite carrier, get a 3G USB stick for free after rebate (with a new two-year agreement) and have the ability to use that data plan on any computer you want. Yeah, we think we'll pay the $100 premium for that kind of flexibility. Seriously AT&T, you might want to consider selling these for $0.99 on contract like Sprint--otherwise, you're making it far too easy to turn down.