Do I have to pay for the phone?
The question isn't so much whether we pay for the phone, but how we pay for it. Some mobile phone contracts come with a high upfront cost, which covers either the full price of the handset, or a significant proportion of it. Other deals spread the cost of the handset over the length of the contract – which is why so many are now 24 months long rather than 12 or 18, and why the cheapest phones appear to be almost free.
If what matters is simply having a phone, take a look at the mobile contract deals above filtered according to total monthly price, which will bring the cheaper handsets and basic allowances to the top of the list. If the newest handset is an absolute must-have, find out how much it would cost to buy separately, divide that by 24, and subtract that answer from the quoted monthly price of the different packages – which will make comparing allowances that little bit easier.
Do I have to sign up to a two year contract?
Mobile phone contracts mean never running out of credit in the middle of a call or browsing session, and they're often more generous in terms of allowances and how much we pay should we go over them. There's also the chance to upgrade our phone every couple of years. But the traditional pay monthly mobile deal with a contract of up to two years long isn't right for everyone.
Those happy with their existing handset might want to consider a SIM-only contract, which can offer greater flexibility. With a rolling 30-day deal, we can adjust the tariff up or down each month until we find the right balance of price and allowance for us, or as and when we need to. Longer contracts of 12 months are also available, which can sometimes be cheaper than their 30 day equivalents.
Split bills are fairly new but they're simple enough in principle. The monthly bill is split into two parts: one for the actual tariff, and one that relates to the cost of the phone. Once that's been covered, the bill drops significantly – although it will often take the length of the initial contract before this happens. If we decide to upgrade before then, it's simply a case of paying whatever we still owe for that phone.
What sort of allowance do I need?
The way someone uses their mobile phone will have a big impact on the best contract for them. Got something to say? Are you more likely to call, text, or send a Tweet? Before signing up to a new mobile phone contract, it's worth analysing our usage – either by looking at past bills, or checking our top up history – then comparing deals that match up or allow for a little extra.
Allowing for a little more can be particularly useful if we're thinking of significantly upgrading our handset, as we find we can do so much more with it. It can be tempting to go for a mobile phone deal offering some sort of unlimited allowance – but even an unlimited tariff will have out of allowance costs, for things like MMS and calls to non-inclusive numbers. Also check for "soft limits" and fair use policies – such as limits on free calls to other phones on the same network, or speed restrictions once we've used a certain amount of data.
What about coverage and customer service?
There's no point going for the cheapest available deal if that means ending up with poor coverage at home or work. It's usually possible to check the coverage for any vital areas on the network's website – but also consider asking friends and family which providers they're with. For one thing this'll give some idea of how good the coverage is where it matters, including indoors.
It's also the case that some providers give their customers additional allowances for contacting other people on the same network, which could help keep costs down. And, of course, asking among our friends can give us a good idea of the kind of service we can expect. If we're going to sign up to a mobile phone contract for two years, it's worth spending a bit of time getting a feel for how well the network will be able to help if and when we have a problem.
Go back up to the mobile phone deals