More and more broadband providers are offering free laptops with both their home and mobile internet packages. We’ll show you exactly what to look for and how to choose the very best deal for your needs.
- What should I be looking for?
- Research the best value internet provider
- What do you want from your laptop?
- Alternatives to free laptop deals
What are free laptop deals?
These are subsidised offers where, in return for signing up to home or mobile broadband contract, you get a shiny new laptop thrown into the bargain. As networks continue to struggle against each other for your custom, these deals get more and more competitive.
Is the laptop actually free? The laptops they offer are not actually ‘free’, as you’re paying more per month for the broadband deal to cover what it costs them to give you the laptop.
So why would I want to get one? Their main advantage is that they enable you to spread the cost of buying a laptop over a lengthy period of time (typically between 18 and 24 months, depending on the contract).
Be warned that some of these packages are expensive rip-offs. It is often cheaper to take out a standalone broadband contract and buy a laptop separately. Still, a broadband package with a free laptop could be worth considering if you tick the following boxes:
- You could do with a new computer, but don’t need anything too flash
- You don’t have several hundred pounds burning a hole in your pocket, and would prefer to spread your costs over a period of time
- You’re looking to get broadband (or change to a better deal)
If this is you, read on…
First and foremost, you need to make sure you get a good broadband deal and a laptop that will actually meet your needs. It sounds obvious, but too many people are either lured by the prospect of a ‘free’ laptop (and end up with a poor broadband service) or find that the laptop in their deal can’t handle the tasks they need to use it for.
To begin with, you need to decide whether to go for a fixed-line or mobile broadband.
Mobile broadband (using a USB modem connected to your computer) is great if you’re frequently on the move or tend to work at different locations. It’s often something that suits businessmen who like to work while traveling, or students who split their time studying between library and home.
There’s no need to pay for landline rental (which can be a waste of money for some if you don’t tend to use a home phone and rely on your mobile). Having no landline rental could save you around £130 a year.
Mobile broadband technology is easy to use – all the software is automatically installed when you plug the portable modem into your laptop.
On the downside, mobile broadband tends to have lower download limits and slower connection speeds than fixed-line connections. Having multiple users on a mobile connection (so several people with separate dongles that all connect to the same wireless network) also compromises speed. This can be the case for fixed-line broadband, but you can protect your connection with a security password, but with mobile broadband you have to learn to share.
And although most mobile broadband packages are fine for surfing the net or sending e-mails, they often struggle when asked to download files of a substantial size. It can even be an effort to stream music and video online. What’s more, wireless coverage can be patchy in many parts of the country, especially rural areas.
Compare the best mobile broadband deals here.
If you aim to do more than just surf the web and send e-mail, and want to do things like download lots of files or stream music and video online, a fixed-line deal is probably best. You’ll get faster connection speeds, bigger download limits, and the connection should be very reliable.
The downside, of course, is that your connection is fixed to one place and you’ll have to pay line rental costs. There are some very reasonable deals on the market at the moment, however.
Compare the best fixed-line broadband deals here.
Once you’ve decided on fixed-line or mobile broadband, you need to find out which providers can give you the best deal. The main things to compare are:
- Monthly cost
- Installation/set-up costs
- Total cost of contract
- Length of contract
- Maximum connection speed
- Data/download limit
Luckily, we’ve done all this for you! Simply check out our completely independent, Ofcom approved broadband comparison tool. It covers both fixed-line and mobile broadband packages, and you can filter the search results by first year cost, monthly charge, download limit, contract length and so on. Simple!
Our broadband comparison tool has the option to compare both standalone packages and those that include phone and digital TV. It also covers broadband deals that come with free laptops.
However, buying a broadband service and the same laptop separately is frequently cheaper than getting a combined package. What’s more, combined broadband and laptop packages tend to tie you in to a long contract (often 24 months or more). So not only are you paying a premium for the laptop, you’re stuck paying the same rate on your broadband for years – during which time substantially cheaper deals may have come onto the market (which you obviously won’t be able to take advantage of!)
Therefore if you want to get a broadband laptop package that suits your needs, you’ll need to put your research cap on.
Look at the specifications of the laptop offered in broadband deals. Don’t worry if you’re not a computer guru – with some help from our friends at Mobile Broadband Genie, we’ve included a list of the essential things to look out for:
- Processor – This is the brain of your laptop- crunching all the numbers and working everything out. Look for higher GHz in the specification for a faster processor, or for ones listed as dual-core, which mean they have two processor cores instead of one.
- Hard drive – This is the amount of data you can store on your computer. The more gigabytes of space (GB) the more room for games, videos, music and programs.
- Screen size – Be aware of screen size when making your purchase. A typical laptop will have a 15.6″ screen.
- Random Access Memory (RAM) – This is where your computer stores programs and information for quick access while it is running. The more RAM you have, the less chance of your computer slowing down when running multiple processes. We’d recommend looking for at least 2GB for anything using Windows 7.
Do I want a netbook or a laptop?
You will probably notice that as well as offering laptops, these deals sometimes offer a netbook instead. These have a smaller screen, normally about 10″ in diameter, weigh less, have a longer battery life and consume less power, making them great for anyone who is constantly on the move.
The drawbacks over a regular laptop are the lack of a DVD drive, less powerful graphics and processing, and a smaller keyboard, which can be a bit fiddly to type on.
If you are constantly on the move, and don’t require anything more than emails, internet browsing and office software a lightweight netbook is probably for you. If you are looking for a home computer that you can use for things like watching DVDs and storing all your music and photos on, a laptop would be more suitable for you.
REMEMBER! Check how much the laptops offered in broadband deals are selling for online and in the high street. Try price comparison sites like Kelkoo, Shopping.com and PriceRunner for starters, as well as big retailers like Amazon.co.uk and Dixons.
Work out the difference between what you’d pay for the broadband with and without a free laptop – this is essentially what you’re paying for the computer. Then you can tell if it’s cheaper to pick up the laptop for less by buying it direct.
If you are considering getting a combined broadband laptop deal on the grounds it allows you to spread your costs, there are alternative ways to do this (which give you better value for your money).
For example, you could purchase a new laptop and spread the cost by putting it on a 0% purchase credit card, such as the Tesco Clubcard Credit Card, which gives you 18 months 0% interest on purchases. See our full guide to 0% purchase cards here.
However, not everyone necessarily gets approved for one these cards. But if your credit rating isn’t up to scratch, you can go for a card with a low regular balance instead. Check here for the lowest standard rates.
Alternatively, if you don’t need a new laptop immediately, you could always just save up for it! It will save you money and ensure you are free to take advantage of the best broadband deals.