Laptop deals galore on Cyber Monday

Tis the season to be jolly about laptops which are rivaling discounted cell phones in price. In fact, a rock bottom model or two are cheaper while $400 laptops offer decent quality, selection and performance.

Who'd have thunk it? Laptop computers are now cheaper than cell phones and much, much cheaper when you consider that laptops don't tie you into an expensive two-year contract like cell phones.

If you were perusing Amazon and Best Buy online or the latter's newspaper ads last week, you undoubtedly saw the $197 Celeron-based HP laptop at Best Buy ($198 at Amazon if I recall correctly). Those deals have vanished for the time being, but are a sign of things to come.

The new Droid smart phone from Verizon is $199.99 and including a two year service nets out to $2394.51, according to an analysis in PC World. At $199, it's the same with the iPhone which adds up to $2394.76 over two years, according to PC World's tally. Most laptops are far cheaper than so-called "discounted" cell phones.

Which brings us back to laptops (not netbooks, full laptops) as Cyber Monday looms. Now the $197 teaser to get you into the store is gone, but there's still plenty of powerful laptops for around $300-$400. In fact, I am typing on one which I picked up last week for $415. It's a Toshiba Satellite M505-S4945 with a 13.5x9.1 screen, Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 microprocessor, 160 GB hard disk (a tad small) and 3 GB of RAM.

The unit came with Microsoft Vista and there's the hassle of sending into Toshiba for Window 7 and waiting two to three weeks to get it. Best Buy advertises free Windows 7 upgrade, but then charges $40 for Geek Squad to do it. No thanks. I'll do it myself.

The Satellite was marked down 20 per cent from $589.99 to $415 so I grabbed one. The first one had been opened and all the docs as well as the Windows 7 coupon were missing so I trekked back to the store and got one that was unopened. Best Buy has great prices, but the quality of the shopping experience and help leave something to be desired.

Toshiba Satellite

It wasn't the absolute rock bottom deal and I may have pulled the trigger too early because on Black Friday, Best Buy came out with a $400 Sony Vaio laptop with a slightly less speedy Core 2 Duo microprocessor, but with a 320 GB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM and Windows 7 already installed. In fact, Best Buy still has eight laptops under $400 including an eMachines unit for $297.97 although prices in its newspaper ads have ticked up since Black Friday.

I can take solace in the fact the cheapest of 33 Toshiba models on Amazon is $474.99.  Yes, I am the type of shopper that tries to come down with a case of buyer's remorse!

Of course, you have to be satisfied with a laptop, but here's the kicker for me: the Toshiba Satellite I bought oozes quality with terrific speakers (a rarity), a great display and decent performance. My wife needs a laptop and this may be the week we pick up another one.

But prices almost never go up on PCs so maybe we should wait. The higher price points just get occupied by more powerful or versatile units and knock older models down. It's great for consumers, but a word of caution: laptop vendor advertise cheap laptops online, but when you click on it or "show now" button, the click path usually leads to more expensive models so look around for the deal and product YOU want.    

A reporter friend who said he just wants to do e-mail, word processing and Facebook asked me this weekend to recommend a laptop. Take your pick.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com