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How to buy a new mobile phone

Buying a new mobile is becoming a more difficult and some may say more important decision, as choice is more varied, and contracts are becoming longer and more expensive. Before you buy, read this guide to get a better understanding of your options.

Contract phones, pay-as-you-go or SIM-only?

When searching for a new mobile phone, you have three main options: purchasing a contract, buying a pay-as-you-go phone or simply taking out a SIM-only deal. Each of these has their own benefits and costs vary.

Contract Phones

Good because...

  • You get the latest phones for free.
  • You receive generous minutes, texts and data allowances each month.

Not good because...

  • You're tied to a long contract.
  • You pay a fixed amount of money each month.

A contract phone essentially means that you take out a fixed-term contract with a mobile phone network and pay a fixed amount for it each month. You generally get a free handset, because you pay its cost back over the duration of the contract. Contracts most often last for 24 months, however 12- and 18-month deals are available.

When purchasing a contract phone, you receive a set number of free minutes, texts and in certain cases data so that you can access the internet from your handset. If you were to exceed this free allowance, you would pay for your usage on top of your monthly contract fee. Note that the majority of contracts don't allow you to use your free allowance abroad, which often catches people out. At the end of your term, you move on to a rolling one-month contract, which you can end at any time. At this point, your network will prompt you to upgrade and sign a new contract. But if you want to get the best mobile phone deal, it's always worth switching.

Pay-as-you-go

Good because...

  • You don't pay a fixed monthly fee because you're not signed to any contract.
  • You can manage your finances and usage easily.

Not good because...

  • You have to pay up-front for the phone.
  • Call costs are often higher.

Pay-as-you-go is generally a cheap and easy way to get yourself started with a mobile phone. As its name suggests, you only pay as you use the phone, whether that's making calls, sending texts or using the internet. You buy your credit up-front and then run this down as you go along. One drawback with pay-as-you-go, is that you have to buy your handset up-front. So if you want the latest and greatest smartphone, be prepared to pay a few hundred pounds for the privilege.

SIM-only

Good because...

  • You can get cheap contracts.
  • Contract lengths start at one month.

Not good because...

  • You don't get a phone as part of the deal.

A SIM-only deal is just that – you get the SIM and nothing else. Similar to a contract phone, you sign up to a fixed-term contract and receive a set allowance of minutes, texts and data. Despite this, there are a number of key differences between SIM-only and contract deals, the primary one being that the former presumes you've got your own handset. Another difference is that SIM-only contracts can be as short as one month and as long as 24 months.

Do you need a smartphone?

Although most handsets on the market are smartphones, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need one.

First you need to look at how you use your mobile phone: is it for just making calls and sending text messages? If so, you might find it cheaper and simpler to pick up a standard mobile phone which doesn’t come with all the fancy apps and features attached. Because non-smartphones are not connected to the web, you won't need a data allowance in your contract, which means you'll be paying a cheaper monthly rate.

However, if you’re keen to join the smartphone age by having the internet, social media and apps at your fingertips, then there are plenty of cheap smartphones on the market too.

With so many manufacturers offering up a number of smartphones to suit any budget, you’ll never be stuck for choice. Fancy a new iPhone? You can compare iPhone deals here. Alternatively, if you want to pick up the latest Samsung, HTC or Sony smartphones, you can compare mobile phones and mobile phone deals to ensure you get the perfect deal for you. 

Android, Apple, BlackBerry or Windows?

Before deciding on your handset, you can select between a number of different operating systems, or OS. This refers to the software that the phone uses to operate from. Apple's operating system, called iOS, and BlackBerry's are used only by the phones that those manufacturers make. In contrast, the Android OS, developed by Google, is open source, which means it can be modified and used by any phone manufacturer.

Therefore, when it comes to upgrading your Android handset, you can select from a number of different options, from HTC and Sony Mobile to Motorola and Samsung, and have a similar experience. One major difference between Android and Apple's iOS, is that you're not locked into a device or an application like iTunes. You can easily add and remove content and files from any computer to your phone without having to pre-register or lock your device.