About pay monthly contract phones
In this guide
- What is a pay monthly mobile deal?
- What other types of deal are there?
- Why choose a pay monthly deal?
- Thing to consider with a new phone
- Pay monthly mobile providers
- Frequently asked questions
There are two types of pay monthly mobile deal: Pay monthly deals that include a handset, and pay monthly SIM only deals. If you're after SIM only, you're in the wrong place, as this page concerns deals that include a handset.
Pay monthly handset deals are an excellent way to own some of the best mobile phones on the market without stumping up the painful amount they cost. But what to choose, and how? There are over 100,000 mobile deals (yes, really) to choose from out there at any one time. So where do you even start? That's where we come in.
What is a pay monthly mobile deal?
Unlike a broadband deal or energy deal, a pay monthly mobile contract is a formal credit agreement, where your provider extends you an amount of credit covering the cost of the handset. You will pay this off over the course of the contract in monthly instalment, with your allowances in minutes, texts and data combined with that monthly payment. This is why all pay-monthly handset deals come with compulsory credit checks, just as they would a loan or consumer credit agreement.
There are two types of pay monthly mobile deal.
- Pay monthly with a handset – Very useful for breaking down the frankly insane cost of a good smartphone into manageable chunks
- Pay monthly SIM only deal – Ideal for people who are happy with their handset and want to pay less each month
What other types of mobile deal are there?
Before you go rocketing ahead, it's worth knowing there are a whole bunch of other types of mobile deal beyond the classic pay monthly with handset type we're focusing on on this page. Taking a look at what else is out there before making a final decision could be well worth your while. The only thing that concerns us is that you find the type of deal that's right for you.
- 30-day SIM only – Did you know you can get a SIM only 'contract' that only lasts 30 days? These are great if you only need a SIM to fill in for a short time and need more long-term flexibility. The catch is you generally pay more for a 30-day SIM than you will for a 12 month one
- PAYG SIM only – If you barely ever use your phone for calling out and you use most or all of your data only over wifi, a PAYG SIM can make good sense. Pay as you go SIMs allow you to top up an amount to a sort of piggybank, and only use what's in the piggybank when you call out, text, or download something
- Data SIM only – If you've got a tablet or a SIM-slot equipped laptop, you can get data-only SIMs from most of the larger providers. These will allow you to access the internet on those devices when you're out and about, although naturally they will not allow you to make any calls
- Contract tablets – If you don't have a tablet and want one, you can get one with a SIM in it from a number of different providers. These work exactly the same as contract phone deals in the sense you pay off the value of the tablet over the lifetime of the contract
- Buy new phone outright – Yes, unsurprisingly, if you've got the money just lying about you can buy any handset on its own without a contract, and then put your own SIM in it. You may even get it cheaper this way, but of course stumping up £1,000 or more for the latest, greatest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy isn't as easy as paying fifty quid a month for a couple of years. Not for most people, anyhow
- Buy refurbished phone outright – Refurbished phones are faulty phones or second hand phones that have been sent back to the factory, completely overhauled and repackaged like new. They are every bit as good as the same new phone and come with the same warranties. And you can save yourself a fair chunk of change by buying one
Why choose a pay monthly mobile deal?
In our opinion, a pay monthly deal that comes with a handset of your choice is simply the best way to buy that handset. It covers both bases – the handset itself without forking out a fortune, and an allowance of minutes, data and texts on your chosen network. Here are the advantages.
- Handset affordability – The hire-purchase arrangement you get with a handset deal, while requiring a thorough credit check, makes just about any handset affordable. Buying outright on many of the top-end phones is a financial punch likely to leave lasting bruises for many
- Upgrades – With two-year contracts on most phones, by the time you reach the end of your contract you'll own your existing phone, and be able to upgrade to the latest one for what seems like nothing, since you will likely carry on paying the same amount each month
- Better value data – When you essentially bundle your phone and SIM into one package, you're going to get better value than you would if you went SIM only, generally speaking. Providers want you onboard the expensive handset train and so are often more generous with your allowances on pay monthly handset deals
- Extra benefits – Some providers offer additional benefits on handset deals, but not on SIM only deals. This might be unlimited data on Three, say, if you buy the latest Samsung flagship phone, or cashback, of some sort of free gift included to sweeten the deal
- Second-hand value – When you get to the end of your contract, depending on the phone you choose, upgrading will leave you with your previous phone owned outright. If it's a sought-after brand such as Apple or Samsung, it's still going to be worth a decent chunk of money should you choose to sell it. Or you can hand it down to a friend or family member of course
Things to consider when choosing a new mobile phone
There are a vast array of handsets out there from a wide variety of manufacturers. If you're a total mobile phone newbie, it can be rather dazzling. So where's the best place to start? Consider the following factors.
- Operating system – There are only two, really. Android and iOS. Android for every phone except those made by Apple, iOS for Apple phones. Generally speaking, iOS is easier to use, but Android is more flexible
- Price – How much are you willing to pay? Few truly consider the erosive effect a very expensive contract phone can have on your working capital. Take a moment to think about it before diving in for the biggest and best thing out there
- Screen size – There is a wide range os screen sizes available. The bigger the screen the more you can generally do with it and the easier those things are to do. However, the larger the phone the more cumbersome it is going to be to carry around with you. Pockets are only so big
- Screen quality and resolution – If you like eye-candy, there are some incredibly bright and eye-popping screens out there. iPhone X and its variants and Samsung Galaxy and its variants are of particular note here. But again, think about what you actually need
- Quality of camera – How often do you use your phone for photos? If it's only once in a while for a group shot of the kids, don't worry about it. Any phone with a camera will suffice. If you're an Instagram snap-artist, though? Think about getting a phone with a good camera
- Processor – This matters less than it once did. Most modern phones have enough under the hood to do what is required, with flagship phones arguably going far beyond that
- Battery life – Anything less than ten hours and you should steer clear. Enough charge to last a whole day is vital to most people
- Storage – Again, this matters less than it once did. 32GB should be considered a minimum
- Available providers – Not all phones are available on all providers. If you have your hearts set on a particular handsets, then, you may find the list of available providers narrows
What providers offer pay monthly mobile deals?
Not all providers will furnish you with a handset. Some are SIM only, and even within that category there is at least one (ASDA Mobile) who only does pay as you go. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of providers to choose from.
One aspect you should definitely make yourself aware of is that there are only four actual networks in the UK, despite many more providers. They are Three, O2, Vodafone and EE. Other providers lease network capacity (known sometimes as piggybacking) from one of those four providers.
- BT Mobile – Offers a plethora of SIMs as well as contract handsets from Apple, Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Huawei and Motorola. BT Mobile is on the EE network. BT owns EE, so that sort of makes sense
- EE – As one of the four main network providers, EE has just about everything you could possibly think of. Handsets from Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei, Nokia, Motorola OnePlus, Sony and Land Rover, and a wealth of SIM only and PAYG SIMs. EE operates on its own network, naturally
- giffgaff – Has a unique approach to customer service, offloading it onto its own customers, or community. Amazingly, this works incredibly well, with giffgaff customers among the happiest in the business. As well as SIM only, giffgaff offers handsets from Alcatel, Apple, Google, Honor, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus, Samsung and Sony. It operates on the O2 network
- iD Mobile – Is the in-house brand for Carphone Warehouse. Being a bricks and mortar operation it has a lot of handsets from Alcatel, Apple, Doro, Google, Honor, Huawei, Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus, Oppo, Samsung and Sony. iD Mobile operates on the Three network
- O2 – Is one of the UK's four network providers, and as such has everything you could possibly want. Phones from Alcatel, Apple, Doro, Google, Honor, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Oneplus, Samsung and Sony, as well as SIM-only, data-only, you name it. O2 operates on its own network
- Tesco Mobile – Of supermarket fame, has everything you need from SIM only to handset deals including Apple, Samsung, Alcatel, Doro, Honor, Huawei, IMO, Motorola, Nokia and Sony. Tesco Mobile is on the O2 network
- Three – Is another of the UK's four network providers. It offers contract handsets from Alcatel, Apple, Google, Honor, Huawei, Razer, Samsung, Xiaomi and ZTE. It's also notable as the only network to currently offer unlimited data deals with no conditions, though they do cost more. Three operates on its own network
- Sky Mobile – Offers SIMs and phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, Sony and Huawei. We don't currently believe Sky offers particularly great value for money. However, this situation is improved via double data when you are a Sky broadband and/or TV customer. Sky Mobile operates on the O2 network
- Virgin Mobile – Is older than Virgin Media would you believe? It offers phones from Apple, Samsung, Sony and Huawei, as well as SIM-only deals. You can get unlimited data from Virgin Mobile, but only if you are a Virgin Media broadband and/or TV customer. Virgin Mobile operates on the EE network
- Vodafone – Is one of the UK's four mobile network providers. It offers contract phones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Google, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Sony, Nokia, Motorola, Palm, Vodafone (own-brand) and Doro, as well as SIM only and whatever else you can think of. It operates on its own network
Frequently asked questions
Can I pay monthly for a SIM-free phone?
Not with a mobile provider. They will always want you to have a SIM. What you can do, though, is purchase your phone outright from a retailer on hire-purchase consumer credit. It is pretty much the same thing.
How do pay monthly phones work?
A pay monthly mobile deal combines the cost of the handset and the cost of your monthly allowances of minutes data and texts and spreads it over the length of your contract. It is similar to a hire-purchase arrangement in that you will own the handset by the end. As pay monthly mobile contracts involve extending you credit, there will always be credit checks.
What is a pay monthly phone?
A pay monthly phone is a mobile phone on a contract, which you pay for in instalments that are combines with the monthly cost of your mobile services.
What pay monthly mobile deal is the best?
The answer is going to be different for different people, depending on what you consider 'best'. Cheapest? Highest-spec handset? Best free gift or offer? Best value for money. There is no 'best' – there is only what is best for you. And that this something only you can decide, using the tools we provide you at the top of this page.
What's the cheapest mobile phone deal?
If is has to be as cheap as possible, you should consider a pay as you go deal where you pay a small sum to own the handset outright up front. You won't get a great phone, but your costs will be at an absolute minimum.