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Cheap Mobile Phones Compare, switch & use cashback

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Whether your phone's super-glued to your ear or just used for the odd call, the chances are you're massively over-paying for the minutes, texts and data you use.

With 1,000s up for grabs, picking the best mobile phone deal may seem like a lottery. This guide shows you how to quickly find the cheapest contract tariff, then check for added discounts.

Looking for the latest smartphone? Use our Cheap iPhone Tool and Cheap Samsung Galaxy Tool to find the best deal for your usage.

Quick tips before you start

Haggle down contract costs without changing network

Do I need mobile phone insurance?

Smartphones aren't MoneySaving - do you really need one?

Beware - voicemail can cost big

Recycle your old handset for £100s

How to escape your contract early

Text the UK and overseas for nowt

Beware being seduced by 'free' handsets

Free directory enquiries from mobiles

Use free wi-fi hotspots to save on data costs

Call abroad for free or cheap to cut costs

Cheapest way to call from abroad

Would pay-as-you-go be cheaper?

The days where PAYG tariffs were only cheaper for lower users are long gone. PAYG phones are now far more competitive, with contract-style bundles available when you top up by a minimum amount.

The main reason for choosing a contract is wanting a new handset, as they're heavily subsidised on contracts. But be careful you're not paying for it with a higher monthly premium.

Contract

Pay a monthly fee and get an inclusive bundle varying in minutes, texts and data.

  • Smartphones cheaper with a contract
  • Often better for heavy texters/callers
  • More likely to get free mobile data
  • No risk of running out of credit

Decided a contract is better? Read on

Pay as-you-go

No fixed contract, pay for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone.

  • No credit check
  • Can be cheaper for light users
  • No contract commitment
  • Easier to budget

Prefer pay-as-you-go? Jump to deals

How to get the cheapest contract

First work out what you need, then get the cheapest tariff. Only after that should you find the deals. It's a simple three-step plan:

How to get the cheapest contract

Step 1. Pinpoint your exact usage

Knowing how much you use your phone and what you do with it the most is crucial to getting the best plan.

Match free mins/texts closely to your usage. If you don't, go over and you'll overpay for calls. Go under and you'll overpay on the package.

The easiest way to check usage is to simply dust off your last 3-6 months' bills, jot down what you use every month and then work out the average. Or if you ring your provider, it'll usually tell you - you may also be able to check online. Once you've got the info, check the following:

How many minutes or texts do you use?

How much do you use the web?

Do you make peak or off-peak calls?

Do you mainly call one person?

Step 2. Find the perfect tariff

Once you know your usage, you need to find the cheapest and best mobile phone tariff to match it.

Give yourself some leeway, as a slightly higher monthly fee will be cheaper than paying extra call costs.

Are you happy with your existing handset?

If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you opt for Sim-only. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, and no handset.

If you want a new handset, first think about what features you want and will use. A useful site that allows you to compare handsets is GSM Arena. It lists full specifications for each model so you can see at-a-glance if it has what you need.

last Audited:
08 aug 2014

The top comparisons

Click the button which best suits your needs:

Best for finding Sim-only deals

Billmonitor* Offers most accurate results

For accurate results, Billmonitor* finds the best tariff by accessing your online bills (it doesn't include Virgin Mobile).

Give it login details for your online account and it calculates your average usage over the past three months to find the best contract.

It assumes your habits won't change, but to make sure you don't go over your tariff minutes (which is costly), it'll pick a tariff very slightly above your needs.

Is it safe to give your login details?

Billmonitor says it follows a robust data security policy which it's outlined to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, and encrypts all users' passwords.

CompareMobileDeals.com For extra coverage

CompareMobileDeals.com includes some smaller retailers and networks, so sometimes trumps Billmonitor on price. However, the site's slightly clunky and we have no user feedback on it.

It's also worth noting that MobilePhoneChecker*, MoneySupermarket* and Omio* also let you compare Sim-only deals, so they're well worth a try too.

Best for any decent handset

Billmonitor* Offers most accurate results

For accurate results, Billmonitor* finds the best tariff by accessing your online bills (it doesn't include Virgin Mobile).

Give it the login details for your online account and it calculates your average usage over the past three months to find the best contract.

It assumes your habits won't change, but to ensure you don't go over your tariff minutes (which is costly), it'll pick a tariff very slightly above your needs.

Once you get its analysis you can narrow your search to a particular handset.

Is it safe to give your login details?

Billmonitor says it follows a robust data security policy which it's outlined to Ofcom, and encrypts all users' passwords.

MobilePhoneChecker* For extra coverage

MobilePhoneChecker* covers some smaller networks and retailers that the others don't, so it's worth checking too.

It also has an excellent filtering system so you can clearly pick and choose what you want.

It was built by a site user who later went onto join the MSE team. It's still operated independently by him in his spare time.

MoneySupermarket* For belt and braces

For ease of use and if you want a quick hit, MoneySupermarket* and Omio* come top. Simply pick monthly cost, minutes and texts for the cheapest tariffs.

Crucially, you can tell both sites which handset you want and they'll find cheap deals for it.

MoneySupermarket just pips Omio to the post as it lets you filter deals including data. Also, Omio doesn't automatically sort by cheapest price, so make sure you change the dropdown.

But Omio lets you sort tariffs further, by phone features and operating system (eg, Android, iPhone or Symbian). You can also sort by network (useful if your coverage is hit and miss), brands and style of phone.

Best if you know exactly what you want

MoneySupermarket* For ease and speed

For ease of use and if you want a quick hit, MoneySupermarket* comes top. Simply pick monthly cost, minutes and texts for the cheapest tariffs.

Crucially, you can tell it which handset you want and it'll find cheap deals for it.

MoneySupermarket just pips Omio* to the post as it lets you filter deals including data. Also, Omio doesn't automatically sort by cheapest price so make sure you change the dropdown.

But Omio lets you sort tariffs further, by phone features and operating system (eg, Android, iPhone or Symbian). You can also sort by network (useful if your coverage is hit and miss), brands and style of phone.

MobilePhoneChecker* For extra coverage

MobilePhoneChecker* covers some smaller networks and retailers that the others don't, so it's worth checking too.

It also has an excellent filtering system so you can clearly pick and choose what you want.

It was built by a site user who later joined the MSE team. It's still operated independently by him, in his spare time.

CompareMobileDeals.com is also worth checking as it includes some smaller retailers and networks, so sometimes trumps Billmonitor on price.

However the site's slightly clunky and we have no user feedback on it.

Before you sign up - check coverage

Before committing, check signal strength in the place you use your phone most. Having no coverage isn't sufficient grounds to return your phone (outside normal consumer rights), so it's your responsibility to check.

Providers all have maps to indicate what 3G and 4G coverage is, although providers tend to be generous and over-estimate signals. Ofcom also has a PDF map detailing 3G coverage.

If you're looking for 4G, most providers have their own coverage checkers online so double-check before you sign up.

4G - do you need it?

Most providers now offer 4G but before signing up, remember you'll need to have a 4G-ready handset and live in an area with 4G coverage.

4G offers a lightning-quick internet connection for mobile devices. You’ll be able to browse the web, download music and movies, and play games on your phone at speeds up to five times faster than 3G.

However, it’s still a relatively new technology, and therefore a bit more expensive than 3G.

If speed isn't important to you, it's not essential. Also keep in mind if you travel around a lot, you'll need coverage in each area you visit.

Can you return a phone if you can't get coverage?

Samsung phones and iPhones

The sites above will help you find the cheapest tariff for most mobiles. But if you're after a swanky smartphone, it's worth checking out the Cheap iPhone Tool and Cheap Samsung Galaxy Tool to view our top picks and find the best deal for your usage.

Step 3: Get the right discount

Now you know the best mobile phone tariff for you, use the comparison services again. This time, find out which will give you the biggest discount on your chosen tariff. Don't be tempted to switch to a different tariff to get a freebie - let the tariff rule.

Always pick the right tariff first. Then even if your promo falls through, as many have, you're still on the cheapest package.

Omio & MobilePhoneChecker win

Omio* and MobilePhoneChecker* both allow you to find the right tariff and then search for specific deals for that tariff.

On Omio, to find deals, click on the tariff for more details and then "see all deals for this tariff".

On MobilePhoneChecker, simply click on the "view offers" dropdown. It'll show you which retailer offers cashback or gifts with that specific tariff.

The mobile market is rife with a variety of discount packages, meaning the same tariff on the same network can cost vastly different amounts. Discounts include free gifts, but it's most important to understand the difference between these:

  • Redemption cashback. The big discounts come in the form of a "cashback redemption" that has to be claimed from the retailer, yet they're notoriously unreliable.
  • Automatic cashback. These are cashback deals where you're sent a cheque automatically without claiming. They usually don't offer as big a discount as manual cashback.

    Some deals can also be part manual, part automatic cashback; if that's the case, only count on receiving the automatic amount.
  • Cashback via cashback sites. It's possible to sometimes beat the deals above with some powerhouse cashback offers, most commonly for Sim-only deals. However, don't think of this type of cashback as guaranteed, there can be and are problems. Read the full Top Cashback Sites guide for info.

Beat the cashback trap

Cheap Sim-only deals

If you're happy with your mobile handset, it's well worth looking at Sim-only deals as a cheaper alternative. Here are our top picks:

Virgin Mobile - good for heavy users*Sim-only deal gets unlimited minutes, texts and 2GB data for £15/mth

Three mobileIf you're practically glued to your phone, Virgin Mobile's* £15/mth Unlimited VIP Sim-only tariff gives you unlimited minutes, texts and 2GB data/mth. Plus it's on a 30-day rolling contract, so you won't be locked in for a year.

It's available for everyone but if you're not already a Virgin customer, you'll need to select "No I don't" when asked "Do you already have Virgin Broadband, TV or home phone?" in the sign-up process.

If you're a current Virgin customer, you can get unlimited data instead of 2GB for £18/mth.

It's available on standard, micro and nano Sims - there's a 99p delivery charge for the Sim, though this is free if you've got Virgin Media cable. If you want monthly bills by post, it's an extra £1.50/mth.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's already on Virgin's network, or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide for full help if your phone needs unlocking.

Tesco Mobile - good all-rounder*Sim-only deal gets hearty 750 mins, 5,000 texts and 500MB data for £10/mth

Tesco mobileIf you want a cheaper deal than the Virgin Mobile tariff above, this is a good all-rounder. On a 12-month contract, Tesco Mobile* is offering 750 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500MB of data for £10/mth. Plus, if your phone is 4G ready, it's free with this offer.

It doesn't matter if you've a flash or ancient phone; handily, it's available in standard, micro and nano Sim sizes. If you manage to eat your way through its inclusive allowance, it's 10p/MB for data, 25p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines, and 10p per text.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's on Tesco Mobile's network or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide for full help if your phone needs unlocking.

Giffgaff - good for average/heavy users*Giffgaff Goodybags start from £5/mth for 60 mins, 300 texts and 20MB

Three 321Sim-only provider Giffgaff* offers top-up bundles which are as good value - if not better - as some contracts.

The bundles, called Goodybags, start from £5/mth and go all the way up to £20/mth. Here's a breakdown of what each bundle will get you. The cheapest bundles have very low allowances, so check what's included before you buy.

  • £5/mth Goodybag. 60 mins (plus a free extra min for every min you get called by a non-Giffgaff number), 300 texts, 20MB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls/texts.
  • £7.50/mth Goodybag. 200 mins, unlimited texts, 250MB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £10/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 1GB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £12/mth Goodybag. 250 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £15/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £20/mth Goodybag. 2,000 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.

Is it any good? The standard rates for Giffgaff aren't quite as cheap as the Three deal below. But if you're an average or heavy user, getting a Goodybag is good value for money.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's on the O2 network or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide if your phone needs unlocking.

Cheap PAYG tariffs

Looking for a bargain-basement PAYG deal? Here's the cheapest deal we found:

Three 321 - good for low users/emergency phone*Call for 3p/min, text for 2p/text and browse the web for 1p/MB

Three 321The 321 tariff from Three* does just what it says on the tin - it's a simple and cheap tariff, charging on a pure pay-as-you-go basis.

It's a Sim-only deal, so you'll need an unlocked or Three handset to put the Sim in. It'll only work in 3G-compatible handsets.

How much is it? Top up with £10 and you it costs 3p/min for calls, 2p/text and 1p/MB for mobile data (though the first 150MB after each top-up is free).

The credit will stay on your phone for six months if unused, so use your phone occasionally and it'll stay on permanently.

Who is it right for? This is a cracking deal for occasional mobile users, as it's by far the cheapest PAYG rate on the market.

Typical £10 PAYG rates compared
Three 321 Vodafone Freedom Orange Dolphin T-Mobile Smart Packs O2 Giffgaff
Calls 3p/min 150 mins 30p/min 100 mins 100 mins 500 mins
Texts 2p/text Unlimited 400 texts 400 texts 1000 texts Unlimited
Data 1p/MB 250MB 1GB 1GB 500MB 1GB

For someone using their phone a decent amount, a Giffgaff* Goodybag bundle is cheaper. These are monthly add-ons, so for £7.50/mth you get unlimited texts, 200 minutes and 250MB.

Can I add extras on? If you want extras, such as "all you can eat" data, you can add these whenever you need (see the Three website for info).

Granny in a glovebox - grab a cheap emergency phone

A ‘granny in a glovebox’ phone is great to stash in your car as an emergency second mobile, to give to your kids or if you only need to use a phone very occasionally.

The cheapest we've found, which doesn't need to be topped up often, is the unlocked Samsung E1200 from Phones4U for £5.95. You'll have to buy a Sim card and you can choose from a range of providers. The cheapest from Orange requires a £10 top-up - calls are 30p/min and texts are 12p.

After that you only have to use the Sim once every six months - one quick call will do - to make sure the credit doesn't expire.

If you're after a phone with web access, the cheapest smartphone on a pay-as-you-go contract is the Samsung Galaxy Y* at £39.95 with Orange. You'll need to top it up with £10 for 30p/min, 400 texts and 1GB data. Again, you have to make one call in six months, otherwise the credit expires.

Free or cheap texts from your mobile

If you're a textaholic without inclusive texts - or if you're travelling abroad - then it's worth knowing about the hidden ways to send texts for less.

1) First use your tariff's text allowance

These days many mobile phone tariffs include unlimited texts, or at least very generous allowances that should be enough to cater for all but the most dedicated texters. If you've got inclusive texts in your monthly allowance, use these first - but make sure you don't exceed your allowance as extra texts can be costly.

2) Send messages using your data allowance

If you're using a smartphone in the UK - or if you're on wi-fi abroad - there's really no excuse for ever paying to text. Instead, you can send messages for free or next to nothing using dedicated instant messenger (IM) apps.

If you're out and about you'll be using your data, but the amount used is tiny (WhatsApp, for instance, uses 1MB to send 4,000 'push notifications' or texts). If you're using wi-fi, either at home or at a free hotspot, there's nothing extra to pay.

Here's our selection of three of the best:

BlackBerry Messenger

WhatsApp Messenger

Facebook Chat

If you don't have a smartphone, you can use Fishtext to send messages for free. It works by downloading data by GPRS, and supports Java. It's free to other FishText mobiles, otherwise 2p/text (doesn't include data) in the UK.

3) Sending texts from your computer

You can also send free texts from your computer.

The website CBFSMS.com gives you unlimited free texts. For international texts, try SendSMSNow. They allow you to send free unlimited international texts to some countries including the USA, Canada, Poland and India; plus replies can be received to your own online inbox.

Remember, text via the internet and the message won't appear to be from your phone, so always sign your name to let people know who sent it. Include your phone number too, to make it easier for them to reply.

Quick Q&As

What are my rights if my phone breaks?

How do I keep my number?

Can I cancel my contract if my provider increases the price?

Join in the Forum Discussion:
Cheap Mobile Phones
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