A Computer for the Price of a Cell Phone

$300 Computer Sets New Standard

Getting a laptop for the price of a cell phone may sound far-fetched, but it has become a reality, thanks to test offers from companies like AT&T for netbooks the new class of small no-frills portable computers.

The newest round of netbooks exemplify the term inexpensive. For $50 users in Atlanta can purchase one of these mini-computers from AT&T as long as they sign up for two years of high-speed Internet service. In Philadelphia, the mini-computers go for $100.

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"This is something new in the united states. I mean, we've seen this with the cell phone model: Pay for the service, get a free cell phone, but with laptops, this is new," said Tom Merritt, executive editor of C-NET-TV.

Even without a subscription, netbooks have been big sellers. Amazon said nine out of 10 computers it sells right now are netbooks priced at or below $400.

"It's phenomenal. It's an awesome opportunity, especially for people who don't necessarily have a laptop and could use one," shopper Tammi Moore said.

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Sifting Through Offers

The trend to cheap or free netbooks is changing the computer landscape for big companies and consumers alike, and for those who've been excluded from technology's advances.

Verizon Wireless plans to offer a $99 netbook with a service plan and there are rumors that Apple is considering a lower-cost netbook.

And the AT&T deal for the $50 netbook means you pay almost $60 a month for a wireless data service that's both in your home and out on the road.

This is really only the right deal for someone who needs to have constant connetivity, according to "GMA" technology contributor Becky Worley.

AT&T does offer another option, which is a $99 computer with a $40 monthly plan.

Keep in mind you don't have to get these notebooks through a data provider like AT&T. These machines can be purchased for $350 and used with the broadband you already have in your home, or at any WiFi hot spot.

If you are in the market buy a netbook, then get a six-cell battery machine. It has much better battery life than a four-cell battery.

If you plan to do more than surf the Web, such as write papers, create spreadsheets, run third-party software programs, for an extra $50 your life will be easier if you get a Netbook running Windows, Worley said.

Low Prices Offer Access to More People

The low prices are making for a whole new experience for buyers.

The last time Georgia Santos went computer shopping, she steered clear of the hulking desktops and barely glanced at the dizzying array of laptops.

Instead, the 23-year-old New York student made a beeline for the newest and cheapest species to emerge from the computing industry: the netbook.

She said she has an aging laptop at home, but instead of swapping it for a similar model, she wants to replace it with a sub-$300 Hewlett-Packard Mini netbook.

She knows this new class of computers can't compete with fully-functional laptops and desktops when it comes to memory, power and battery life. And, truth be told, she is a little worried that she won't be able to easily watch or burn DVDs on a netbook.

But she told ABCNews.com, "I work most of the time on the Internet and not with large files. ... I think it would work."

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