Just kidding — Vodafone is offering a free Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook for users who sign up to the company's $69.96, 5GB broadband plan. It's a convenient bundle for anyone who wants to get a new, basic laptop, as well as the convenience of a mobile broadband connection. It's also about time the telcos got onboard the netbook wagon, because they really are the most convenient devices for checking e-mail and uploading content while you are on the road; and so far, the Dell Mini 9 in Vodafone's bundle is the only netbook on offer such have a built-in 3G facility.
In the past, some vendors have mentioned that their netbooks would ship with a built-in 3G module, but they have not been able to implement it due to regulatory delays or a lack of deals with the telcos. This is still a set-back for the netbook community, as an integrated 3G facility that works with your favoured provider, in your favourite netbook, would make it so much more worthwhile. The Aspire One and MSI Wind are two examples of netbooks with room for 3G modules, and it's a shame that Optus and Vodafone, for example, haven't started offering them as part of a bundled solution, too.
You can plug in a USB dongle on any netbook you want, in order to give yourself mobile broadband access, but why should you have to carry around and plug in a separate device when you could just have a tiny, unseen SIM card doing the same job? After all, the premise of the netbook is that it is an inexpensive, very small and light, and easy to carry laptop. A USB dongle makes it a little more cumbersome.
Netbooks with an ExpressCard slot, such as HP's Mini-Note and Lenovo's S10, are a better option if you want mobile broadband, but don't want a protruding modem; and a plan with an ExpressCard modem is cheaper than what you will pay for the Mini 9 plan — as long as you already own the netbook. But still, if you don't already own a netbook, it's worth doing the sums: Vodafone's own 5GB, 24 month plan with a free ExpressCard costs only $39.95 per month, which is $20 cheaper than the netbook bundle. Over the course of 24 months, that $20 saves you $480, which isn't enough to buy you a netbook with an ExpressCard slot. So the extra money you pay for the Dell over the course of the 24 months does seem worth it if you want a netbook with built-in 3G.
With Vodafone's deal, there is hope that more netbooks will get picked up by the telcos and offered as part of a bundle. It would definitely be worth it.