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Mobile phone contract, SIM-only or SIM-free?
When looking for the best phone deals, you have three types of contracts to choose from:
Monthly contract mobile phone deals see you pay a monthly fee in return for a new phone and an allowance of calls, texts and data. You’ll be tied to a network provider by a contract that typically ranges from 12-24 months. It could be a good option if you use your phone a lot or if you want to spread the cost of buying the latest phone.
This is typically either a one-month rolling contract or a 12-month contract that doesn’t include a new phone. SIM-only contracts are useful if you already have a phone you want to keep, but want a better price for data, texts and minutes.
Here you only pay for what you use. It’s a good option if you don’t use your phone very often and prefer not to be tied to a contract, or if you can’t get a contract due to a poor credit rating. You’ll need to top up your credit when you run out, otherwise you won’t be able to make or send any more calls or texts.
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What should I look for in a phone contract?
The best mobile deals depend on how you use your phone. If you make many calls, you might want a contract that offers unlimited call minutes and texts. If you’re more of a WhatsApp user and need constant internet access, you’ll be more interested in a generous data allowance.
When you compare with us, you can filter down your options, so you’ll only see deals based on your preferences.
When looking for the best phone deals, consider:
- Calls, texts and data allowance
- Your preferred networks
- Which deals offer 5G or 4G only
- Upfront and monthly costs
- International roaming rates if you frequently use your phone abroad.
How do pay monthly phone contracts work?
Once you’ve found a deal you like, here’s what happens:
You sign up for a new contract – usually 12, 18 or 24 months. You’ll typically need to show two proofs of address (such as a utility bill or bank statement), proof of ID and have an active bank account so you can set up a direct debit. The phone provider will also check your credit score before you can sign up.
You pay the upfront cost (if there is one), then a fixed amount each month by direct debit. Your monthly payment includes a service charge from your network provider and the agreed amount of inclusive calls, texts and data. If you go over your monthly allowance you can still use your phone, but the extra usage will be added to your bill at the end of the month.
Once the contract comes to an end, you can choose to upgrade with the same provider or look around for another deal.
Why compare mobile phones with us?
Whether you’re looking for the latest new phone or you’re happy with the one you have and want a SIM-only deal, we can help. When you compare with us, you can:
See exclusive deals
Find exclusive deals and special offers on mobile phone deals
Shop by manufacturer or network
Save time by browsing only the brands and networks that interest you
Tailor your search
By contract length, data, minutes and more
It’s quick and easy too – you can find a deal in just one minute.
Correct as of December, 2021
How do I compare mobile phone deals with comparethemarket.com?
We have a huge range of mobile networks, handset deals and contracts to choose from. Our comparison service allows you to find the best mobile deals from our panel, with the right package for your needs. You’ll first choose whether you want a phone deal or a SIM-only package and, from there, you’ll be able to filter and choose from a variety of options to find the best fit for you. You can compare by:
- Phone contract vs SIM-only
- Phone model – including storage options and colour
- Monthly cost
- Data, minutes and text limits
- 4G vs 5G
- Contract length
- Option to include phone resellers – you can specify which resellers you can choose from, as well as the second-hand phone’s condition (new, nearly new or refurbished)
- Free gifts.
With all of these filtering options, you can quickly find the best phone deals from our panel, after ticking the relevant boxes. Then you can compare deals and choose the one that fits you at a price you like.Compare now
Compare mobile-phone brands
When looking for the best phone deal, it can be hard to choose between all the latest models. There are a lot of phone brands out there, so, to help you out, we’ve put together a summary of all the different brands that you can compare with comparethemarket.com.
With the launch the iPhone 13, the Apple iPhone remains one of the most recognisable phone brands in the world. Originally launched in 2007, the iPhone series has seen many iterations, introducing features such as Apple Pay, FaceTime, Face ID and more. Apple iPhones are popular because of their simplicity and compatibility, allowing you to seamlessly integrate apps and features with other Apple devices you own. Apple’s premium phones now support 5G for lightning fast internet and are boasting the ‘fastest chip in a smartphone’ with the A15 Bionic.
As the leader of the international smartphone market, Samsung offers some of the most popular phones in the world. Their Galaxy series offers a range of models to suit your needs, with ultra-high specs that push phone technology to new heights. They’ve even embraced the new foldable touch screen trend with their Galaxy Z Flip. Most recently, their Samsung Galaxy S21 range offers their fastest-ever chip, along with key features including a 108MP camera, 8K video support and a super smooth 120Hz refresh rate.
Google’s Pixel series offers some top-quality specs, as well as integration into a number of Google’s other systems, including Google Stadia for gaming and infinite cloud storage through Google Photos and Google Drive. Also, Pixel phones are often a cheaper alternative to the more expensive Apple and Samsung models. The latest Pixel 6 model boasts a 48-hour battery life and also offers wireless charging. It’s also up to 80% faster than its predecessor, the Pixel 5, so users can expect more responsive gaming.
While it may have appeared as though it came out of nowhere to overtake Apple as the second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, Huawei has been around for decades. Founded in 1987, this Chinese telecoms firm has extended its reach throughout the western market in recent years to become a major player. Their P40 range has very impressive specs that rival other market leaders such as the latest Samsung Galaxy and iPhone models.
Phones have come a long way since Nokia’s first model launched in 1987. Most famous perhaps for their famous Nokia 3310 series, which took the world by storm in 2000, Nokia is well-known for reliability and excellent construction. You can get top-of-the-range smartphone models that boast some of the latest features and technology, as well as basic models that act as an excellent back-up phone, boasting fantastic battery life and durable design.
Sony’s smartphone offering provides something for pretty much everyone, with its Xperia series offering ultra-fast phones with the latest specs, as well as much more budget-friendly models that still perform really well. Its Xperia 1 III is 5G-ready and includes camera features that take phones to a new level.
Contract vs pay-as-you-go?
If you’re into the latest smartphone models and want to spread the cost without having to continually top up your credit, then a contract phone deal may be the way to go. But if you’re happy with your existing phone and are a relatively light user, pay as you go (PAYG) could be the best phone deal for you.
In a nutshell:
- A contract gives you a new phone, often at no upfront cost, with no worries about topping up your credit.
- With a PAYG deal, you can use your existing phone, so it could work out much cheaper than a contract plan as you haven’t got the added cost of an expensive handset.
- Under a contract deal, you could be locked in for as long as 24 months. PAYG offers flexible 30-day rolling plans, so you’re not tied into any one provider for a length of time.
- Contract deals can often work out better for heavy users, while PAYG might be a cheaper option if you’re a very light user.
- Contract phone deals require a credit check, so if your credit score is low, PAYG may be your only choice.
What do mobile phone tariffs include?
Mobile phone contracts vary by network, but typically include:
You’ll get to choose from a set number of inclusive call minutes. This is where finding the right deal is really important, as you’ll be charged if you exceed your limit. Be aware that not all types of calls will be covered by your inclusive minutes.
4G vs 5G:
This is a decision more and more phone users are facing. As 5G begins rolling out further, phone deals with 5G are becoming increasingly common. 5G is a new generation of mobile network that, while not available everywhere yet, makes previous data speeds look slow.
Most packages come with a number of inclusive texts but, just as with inclusive minutes, you could be charged if you go over your limit.
International calls from the UK:
If you call overseas frequently, then look for a plan that offers a good deal on international calls. If there’s one country you call often, see how different providers’ charges vary for that location.
If you travel overseas often, you’ll have to pay roaming charges. Since Britain left the European Union on 1 January 2021, those charges could now also apply when travelling in the EU and the European Economic Area, up to a limit of £45 per month. You’ll be prevented from exceeding that amount in any monthly billing period when using your phone within the EU and EEA, unless you ‘actively’ decide to continue spending.
Government advice is to check the roaming policies of your mobile operator, before you go abroad, so you’re aware of what you may (or may not) be charged. You can visit GOV.UK for more information.
Most deals come with a data allowance, so it’s important to know how much data you’ll need. 1GB of data lets you send around 10,000 emails and allows you to stream about eight hours of high-quality music. Some mobile phone providers do offer unlimited data deals, so you won’t need to ever worry about running out.
How do I find the best mobile phone deal?
When looking for the best phone deals, think about:
- Switching when it’s cheaper: if you’re outside your contract, you won’t need to pay any cancellation fee.
- Work out how much data, texts and minutes you need: you don’t want to pay for more than you’ll use, but remember that going over your limits could be expensive, as you’ll be charged for using extra.
- Get the right length of contract: don’t get tied into a long contract if you think that you’ll want to switch deals soon.
- Look for add-ons: if you make a lot of international calls or think you’ll need to top up your data, look for add-ons that can save you money. For example, you might be able to add on an international call bundle.
- Check the network: make sure there’s good reception in your area for the network you’ve chosen.
- Make your old handset pay: getting a new handset? See if you could make money by recycling the old one. There are many online companies that take old mobile phones in exchange for cash.
Frequently asked questions
Do you have to pay for a phone contract upfront?
Not always. Some of the best phone deals are available with no upfront cost.
Should I get a phone plan with unlimited data?
If you’re a heavy user, some of the best mobile deals come with unlimited data. If not, a limited data plan could be cheaper.
Which mobile phone deals have unlimited data?
Unlimited data plans are available from most of the leading networks including Three, Vodafone, iD Mobile, O2, Virgin Mobile and giffgaff.
Most unlimited data deals are available on a 12-month or 24-month contract; however, giffgaff, iD Mobile and Voxi offer unlimited data plans on their monthly rolling deals.
Is it better to pay upfront or monthly for a phone?
Buying a cheaper phone and a SIM-only deal might cost less. But if you want the latest model, a pay monthly phone contract is an affordable option.
Do I own my phone after the contract is done?
Yes. Once the contract’s up, it’s all yours.
Do you have to turn in your old phone when you get an upgrade?
No, you don’t have to give the old phone back – it’s up to you whether you want to keep it or not. It may be handy to have as a back-up phone, or you could recycle it for cash.
Do phone contracts impact your credit score?
Paying on time could help improve your credit score. Likewise, late and missed payments will damage your score.
What our expert says...
“The mobile phone market is very competitive, especially when the latest phones get released. Make sure you shop around and compare deals to avoid paying more than you need to, because your loyalty could cost you. If you’re looking for a SIM-only deal, make sure you have a phone that's unlocked, because you'll have access to deals from every network, opening you up to far more options.”
- Holly Cox, Digital expert
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