Finally we come to the burning question; that of cost. Just like a mobile phone, the deal you get from Vodafone is a subsidised one, with both the £25 and £30 (inc. VAT) contracts lasting 24 months, offering the netbook for free and having usage limits of 1GB and 3GBs per month respectively. These bring a total cost of ownership, over two years, of £600 and £720 respectively.
Unless you’re a very demanding user, the £25 tariff, even with its smaller 1GB limit, compares pretty well to buying a Mini 9 from Dell and entering into your own contract. Using a 24 month £15 tariff with free USB modem and 3GB limit as our benchmark, the £299 Windows XP version would cost you £659 over two years, while the cheaper Ubuntu version would be £629. Of course, if you have another notebook you’d want to use HSDPA on then this might make more sense, but if not, the convenience of an integrated solution is very attractive and the 1GB limit will only worry a minority of heavy users.
Things are even better, however, if you enter as a business user. If you’re prepared to pay £199 ex. VAT (£233.83 inc. VAT) up front, you can get a 3GB limit £12.76 (£15 inc. VAT) tariff that gives a total cost of £505.24 excluding tax and more importantly, £593.93 inc. VAT. It’s the perfect less is more scenario so if you expect to use your Mini 9 extensively, then entering into a business contract is worth thinking about.
Arguably, however, if you don’t want integrated HSDPA then things remain very complicated. At £299 for the Windows version and £269 for the Linux version the Mini 9 is by no means priced out of the market, but the Eee PC 901 is now selling in the £250 to £285 price range and offers a few more features and massive battery life. This still remains hard to argue against regardless of its weaknesses, though some will value the design improvements of the Mini 9 above these features.
All this really illustrates is what we were talking about earlier: there is no ‘one size fits all’ netbook. Like all netbooks, the Inspiron Mini 9 has its strengths and weaknesses and though it’s very difficult to differentiate one netbook from another, it does a better job than most. Clearly HSDPA helps here, but even without it the Mini 9 is a more usable alternative to the Eee PC 901 and arguably boasts the most accomplished basic design in its price-range.
With integrated HSPDA, though, it’s a different beast entirely, making it perfect for mobile workers who are presenting, lecturers and students on campus and anyone who simply wants full access to the Internet absolutely everywhere. It’s bound to have more competition as other netbooks get in on the integrated HSDPA act, but until they do this is one very tempting proposition and one that will get even better if/when Dell makes secondary batteries available.
If you want a “connected” netbook then the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 on Vodafone is your best bet right now. Available for free on some attractive contracts, it’s the only netbook to offer integrated HSDPA. That it’s found inside a cohesively designed, attractive and highly portable chassis only adds to the appeal.
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