Guide to 'free' laptop, tablet PC/iPad deals and other mobile broadband offers

by Chris Marling

Mobile broadband packages offering laptops for free were a huge success, both with providers and consumers. But as technology has moved on so have the deals, meaning laptop deals are less common. But there are still bargains to be had!

The 'free' laptop deals of old are rarely offered by networks now, as they prefer to offer subsidised tablet and iPad offers instead. However, they work in the same way so we'll explain them here. 

So what's the catch?

The biggest point is the laptops/tablets aren't really free; not even close. You pay more per month for a deal which offers a ‘tablet for free’ than you would for the equivalent deal without the tablet - essentially, it's subsidised. So the first lesson is make sure you do the maths, and work out exactly how much you’re paying for that iPad.

Also bear in mind that, if you already have a laptop or tablet - even a pretty old one - you probably don't need a new device to get online with mobile broadband. The exceptions to this could be wanting to upgrade to 4G and having an old incompatible tablet - or wanting to upgrade your dongle/MiFi unit to a 4G model.  

Thirdly, 'free' tablet deals and similar almost always involve hefty two-year contracts. With mobile broadband pricing being fiercely competitive, and with the technology still maturing, it’s likely new deals and better speeds will be available well before your contract has expired.

Lastly, if you find your perfect deal, don’t forget to check the mobile broadband package it comes with is right for you. There’s no point getting the right computer if the mobile broadband package is all wrong, or the network coverage in your area is poor.

So why choose a discounted laptop, iPad or other tablet PC deal?

While some deals may not be quite as amazing as they initially seem, you certainly shouldn't rule them out. With the economic climate as it is, the opportunity to spread the cost of a top-end internet gadget is a blessing for many - much less of a shock than a quick £250-plus payout.

Also, the tablets and laptops on offer are generally good ones; they're brand new, high specification machines. In particular, many Android and Apple tablets are little larger than a paperback, which look great and make mobile broadband truly mobile. 

Offer most people a light but powerful device they can pop in their bag, but which connects to the internet anywhere and they're going to say, "Yes please". Provided you go into it well informed and shop around, there are some great deals to be had. Compare all tablet deals here.

I don't want a laptop or tablet. What other special offers are out there?

Keep an eye out for great offers when signing up to a new mobile broadband package. The deals change all of the time but if you scout around you could get a cheap or free dongle, mobile phone or some free months thrown into the mix. 

If you're just looking for a dongle as you already have the rest of the kit you need to get online (laptop, tablet, PC etc), check out our dongle only deals page. If you take a contract, even a short one, you'll often find the dongle itself is now free, while the 'extras' column will fill you in on any other freebies!

To keep a check on all the latest mobile broadband offers, visit our main mobile broadband comparison page.

My provider has released a better mobile broadband dongle. Can I upgrade for free?

Just like finding out your mobile phone operator has added a new free snazzy phone to their range the day after you extended your contract, getting your hands on a new dongle whilst you're under contract can be tricky. 

They tend to be used as an incentive to attract new mobile broadband customers, so there's no option for current subscribers to upgrade - especially galling in these days of superfast 4G mobile broadband. However, as soon as your contract is close to expiring, you should find it easy to convince a provider to upgrade your dongle to keep you on their books. Just hold tight!