SIM-free mobile phones

Buying a mobile phone without a SIM card gives you the freedom of not having to sign a contract or committing to a particular network. Here’s what you need to know…

Buying a mobile phone without a SIM card gives you the freedom of not having to sign a contract or committing to a particular network. Here’s what you need to know…

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
24 NOVEMBER 2020
6 min read
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What is a SIM-free mobile phone?

A SIM-free or handset-only deal means you can buy the mobile phone of your choice without a SIM card in the package – so there’s no contract or commitment to a specific network.   

SIM-free phones come unlocked, so you can decide what SIM card to use in them.    

Most contract and Pay As You Go (PAYG) SIMs will work in SIM-free handsets.

Please note that you can’t compare SIM-free mobile phones with Compare the Market.

Why would I want a SIM free mobile phone?

It would be crazy to stump up money for a mobile phone when mobile networks give you one for free with a contract, right?

But, in reality, the handsets aren’t free. The networks need to recoup their ‘gift’ of the handset by committing users to lengthy contracts, which can be expensive. 

Can I put any SIM in a SIM-free mobile phone?

Generally, yes. As long as it’s the right size, you should be able to put any SIM in a SIM-free mobile phone. The only exception is a 5G SIM. You’ll only be able to use this type of SIM in a 5G-compatible phone.

What are the other benefits of a SIM-free deal?

The main benefit of a SIM-free (handset-only) deal is that you’re not tied into a contract, so you have the freedom to decide:

  • how you pay for your service
  • who you pay for your service

Having the option of PAYG or SIM-only will mean that your monthly payments could be cheaper than with a phone contract
Many SIM-only deals are for just one month, which makes it quick and easy to change network providers. So, if you’re going abroad, simply choose a SIM-only deal that offers international roaming.

Can I switch phones with a SIM-free deal?

Yes. With SIM-free mobile phones, you can buy yourself a new phone whenever you want, with no buy-out fee or remaining contract payments. 

You can even sell, recycle or trade in your old one to recoup some cash.

This can be handy if you like having the latest phone and find it frustrating when you want a new release, but you’re only halfway through your current contract.

How could a SIM-free mobile phone be good if I’m in a contract?

If you’re in a phone contract and you break or lose your phone, you could buy a cheap SIM-free mobile phone and put your contract SIM in it. 

It might save you a replacement fee if you’re not insured, and there are plenty of unlocked SIM-free mobile phones out there. 

It shouldn't be a problem to find a deal that’s right for you. You can bide your time until the end of your contract and decide on your next mobile phone deal then.

Is SIM-free a good option if I have a bad credit score?

Yes. If you've had difficulty with credit in the past, you may have trouble getting a phone contract, but this doesn't mean you can't have a mobile. You could choose one of the cheap SIM-free mobile phones and use a PAYG SIM, until you’ve improved your credit score enough to be considered for a contract.

Whatever the reason, if you’re interested in owning your phone outright and not being tied to a network, there are plenty of phones to choose from.

What are the best SIM-free phones?

The best SIM-free phone for you depends on your personal preferences and budget. Are you a loyal iPhone fan, or do you prefer Android? How much do you want to spend?

Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular SIM-free phones on the market right now:

iPhone SE
One of the cheapest iPhones available, the SE comes with some impressive high-spec features such as an A13 Bionic chip, which is the same powerful processor as the iPhone 11.

iPhone 11
Not as cheap as the SE, but a reasonable price for a high-spec iPhone. The dual-system 12MP camera system is similar to the iPhone 12’s at a lower price, while the A13 Bionic chip offers a super powerful performance to keep even the heaviest users happy.

Samsung Galaxy S20
The new Samsung Galaxy S20 is 5G-capable and offers some great high-spec features. Running on the Android V10 operating system, the S20 is equipped with a long-lasting battery, impressive camera system and features a stunning 6.2inch Infinity-O display.

Google Pixel 5
The latest offering from Google has an excellent camera performance featuring Night Sight and ultrawide lens to get more in your shot whatever time of day. The Pixel 5 is 5G ready and offers more storage and battery life than earlier Pixel models.

Huawei P Smart
The 2019 P Smart comes with Google services and offers some great features like the long-lasting battery, loads of storage and a more-than-decent camera. If you want a good-value, smartly designed phone without breaking the bank, last year’s P Smart offers great value for money.

Can I pay for a SIM-free phone in instalments?

Some high street suppliers offer flexible payment plans that let you spread the cost of your new mobile phone over a certain length of time.

Some plans may even be interest-free for a set period. Just make sure you understand how much interest you’ll be charged once the 0% period has finished.

Another option would be to buy your SIM-free phone on a credit card. A 0% purchase credit card would enable you to buy a SIM-free phone upfront, then pay it off over several months without interest. Just make sure you manage to pay off the full cost of your phone before the 0% period ends or you could be hit with high interest charges.

If you do buy a SIM-free phone on a credit card, you must make sure to pay at least the minimum owed each month or you could be charged a late payment fee.

Can I get a refurbished SIM-free phone?

If you’re looking to save money or your budget can’t quite stretch to the latest iPhone, you might want to think about getting a refurbished SIM-free phone.

Buying a refurbished phone doesn’t mean you’re buying something dirty, scratched or damaged. Most refurbished phones are in near-new condition and you can’t tell the difference between them and a brand-spanking-new phone.

What’s more, a refurbished phone will be tested and fixed (if needed) before it’s sent out to you. Most resellers also offer a guarantee with an option to repair your phone if there’s a problem.

It could be a cheaper way of getting your hands on a top-spec model.

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