How to compare mobile phone deals in the UK

Edward
Munn
12 Oct 2018

Everyone wants the best deal when buying a new phone, but sometimes finding one is easier said than done. Choosing between pay monthly and SIM-only contracts, picking the right network provider and knowing how much data you need can all be confusing, but that needn’t be the case.

On this page, we take you through the important things to consider when comparing mobile phone deals – because the cheapest deal isn’t always the best one. Armed with this info, you can then use our comparison tool below to find the right deal for you. For more details about what to look for when buying a new phone deal, read on.

How to compare mobile phone deals in the UK

SIM-only or pay monthly?

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when picking a new phone deal is whether you want a pay monthly or SIM-only contract. Often, buying a phone outright and opting for a SIM-only deal is the cheapest way in the long-term to get everything you need. If you can’t afford to fork out hundreds of pounds on a new phone, then a pay-monthly contract is likely the best way to spread the cost.

To work out which is right for you, it’s a good idea to calculate the total cost of the best SIM-only and pay-monthly deals you can find. In the case of a SIM-only deal, this means adding the monthly cost for the entire contract term to the outright cost of a new phone. With pay monthly, on the other hand, you need to add the monthly cost to any upfront fees.

Once you know the total cost for both options over the full term, you can then make an informed decision about how you’d like to pay for the phone and your data, minutes and text allowances.

Check network coverage and perks

Don’t be tempted by a network that has patchy service in your area, or you won’t be able to use your new phone at all. To check the coverage provided by a network, enter a postcode in the Ofcom coverage checker and follow the instructions on screen.

Clicking “View map of available services” offers a more detailed insight into whether you’re likely to have good service both indoors and outdoors in specific spots. If you can’t find a network listed on the Ofcom tool, that’s because it’s a ‘virtual’ network that ‘piggybacks’ on one of the main four UK networks. GiffGaff, for example, uses O2’s masts, while BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile piggyback on EE.

There can be other perks to signing up with specific networks that are worth factoring in, too. With EE, you can claim subscriptions to BT Sport and Apple Music, for example, while Three lets you roam in up to 71 countries for free. If you find two deals that are identically priced from networks that offer similar coverage, these perks could clinch it. Just check the retailers page to see what you’re entitled to.

Don't be too frugal

As people increasingly consume more media on their smartphones, mobile data has become a precious commodity. It’s one of the biggest determining factors in how much a contract costs – much more so than minutes and texts.

A contract with 12GB of data might be much cheaper than one with 100GB, but if you opt for less data in the hope of saving money, you might incur additional charges and end up paying more in the long run.

If you’re not sure how much mobile data you need, the best advice is to ask your current network provider for a breakdown of how much you use on average. Alternatively, to find your recent data usage on an Android phone, open Settings, Network & Internet and ‘Data usage’, and then tap ‘Mobile data usage’. You can do the same on iOS by opening Settings, then Mobile Data.

As a general rule, it makes sense to pick a deal that offers slightly more (rather than less) mobile data than you usually use. This way, you can avoid the additional charges incurred by adding data bolt-ons.

Spot a deal that's too good to be true

If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. That is to say, it might not be as cheap as the monthly payments make it appear. Things to keep an eye out for are the upfront cost, data allowance and whether a phone is refurbished, all of which can have a significant impact on the monthly cost of a phone deal.

For example, if you’re comparing a deal that requires you to pay £200 upfront, with a deal that has no upfront cost, you may understandably be drawn to the latter. But what if the total monthly cost of that deal is actually £200 more expensive than that of the first deal? Remember to take the total cost into consideration.

Some online sellers also offer ‘cashback’ - money you can claim back from the monthly cost of the mobile plan in exchange for committing to a contract. This can mean that the effective monthly cost is lower than your actual monthly payments, but be careful to check the small print as these plans might only let you claim your rebate during certain periods. Don’t be automatically drawn in by the top-line figure you’re offered.

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