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If you have the pocket change, Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) has your netbook.
The leading consumer-electronics chain is offering a Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) Compaq Mini netbook, which it typically sells for $389.99, for just $0.99 this week.
There's a catch, of course. You have to commit to paying SprintNextel (NYSE: S ) at least $59.99 a month for the next two years, in exchange for online connectivity through Sprint's 3G mobile broadband plan.
If portable cybersurfing is important to you, paying $1,441 over two years may not sound like a ludicrous trade-off to paying $390 and praying for free Wi-Fi hotspots along the way. However, if you're willing to fork over $60 a month to be perpetually online (well, within the confines of 5 gigs of data usage a month), wouldn't you probably be in the market for something more than a netbook?
Subsidized netbooks aren't new. RadioShack (NYSE: RSH ) turned heads over the holidays when it began selling an Acer Aspire One netbook for just $99.99. The catch? A two-year mobile broadband contract requirement with AT&T (NYSE: T ) .
But Best Buy's deal is unique, in that the retailer is offering customers three wireless carriers to choose from. Unfortunately, going with AT&T or Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless will mean a price tag of $199.99. Sprint is apparently the only company bold enough -- or perhaps stupid enough -- to essentially subsidize the entire price of the netbook.
You've seen this happen for years in the cell-phone space. When AT&T moves an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone for as little as $100, it's actually paying Apple hundreds of dollars more per unit for the exclusivity behind the required two-year contract. It's only natural for netbook makers to make the same offer, but how big can this potential market be?
Netbooks sold like crazy over the holidays, but they probably went to Wi-Fi-enabled homes where residents were looking for an entry-level portable computing device to take from room to room. Netbooks' cheap prices were as big a factor as their compact designs. So how many people want to pay $60 a month for connectivity on a secondary machine?
More to the point, shouldn't the full-sized laptops -- and especially Apple -- be making the leap to subsidized mobile broadband deals? Netbooks are lightweight and extremely portable, but who even knows whether they'll still be relevant in two years? As a bargain-priced alternative between smartphones and notebooks, netbooks hold a huge appeal today -- but don't go stapling me to a two-year mobile broadband contract. I may have other plans come June of 2011.
What's the deal with netbooks these days?