If you've been looking around for a new mobile phone or even a mobile broadband plan, you might have noticed that mobile service operators are tripping over themselves trying to give you a free laptop. Getting a free computer seems like a pretty good deal. But is it really true? We're not talking about some dodgy internet site here; we're talking about major mobile service operators like O2 or Orange. What's going on here? And should you buy into it? If you're thinking about taking up one of these offers, then keep reading to find out.

The History...

Some people will remember that a few years ago this same thing happened with mobile phones. Cell phones went from being a serious investment (not that some of them still aren't) to companies throwing them at you for free. And this happened for the same reason that it's now happening with computers. The cost of technology and devices has dropped so much recently, that's it's relatively easy for a company to offer a free computer as an incentive. And remember, these service providers aren't giving you an Apple Macbook, or a top of the line Samsung. In general, free computer deals will include a relatively low end device. Although, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad deal.

But is it Really Free?

They say that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and that does hold true here. Of course, you can't just walk into the shop, pick up a laptop and walk out again. These laptops come with strings attached. In order to get one you're going to have to sign a pretty lengthy data contract with the company in question. But again, that does not necessarily mean that it's a bad deal.

Doing the Numbers...

As an example, right now Orange will give you a free Acer Eee 900 with a twenty four month data contract. That contract will cost you £25 per month, and will include 3 GB of data and 100 text messages. Over the course of the contract you will pay Orange a total of £600. If you got just the contract, 3 GB of data and 100 text messages with Orange it would cost you £15 per month, for a total of £360 over the course of twenty four months. Buying the Acer Eee 900 alone from a high street retailer will cost you £222. So buying the laptop yourself and the independent contract would cost you £582. So, technically, the laptop isn't really free, in fact, Orange are making a massive £18 out of the deal.

But You Said it's Not a Bad Deal!

And it's not a bad deal. Given that when you sign Orange's contract you won't have to put any money up front. In effect, you are simply paying for your laptop in instalments, rather than buying it outright. And for some people, that's a good idea. If you don't have all the money right now, but need a computer getting a free laptop with a mobile data contract might be a good plan.