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Contract phones are mobile phone handsets that are sold by networks as part of a deal that also includes a monthly allowance of data, calls and minutes.
When you buy a contract phone you're effectively paying for the phone in instalments, usually over a period of 24 months.
Depending on the contract phone you choose, you may have to pay something upfront too, to help cover the cost of the handset. If you want to do this, you'll usually benefit from lower monthly premiums and will pay less in total over the course of the contract term.
Nowadays, more and more Britons have shunned traditional phone-and-tariff contracts and are instead buying a phone SIM-free and then signing up for a SIM only deal.
While this can save money, it means having to stump up hundreds of pounds upfront for the phone. That's the kind of money that not everyone has to hand.
For that reason, phone-and-tariff contracts that spread the cost of the phone over a longer period are still the way that the majority of people choose to buy a handset.
When you take out a pay monthly phone plan, you'll have to sign a mobile contract, tying you to that provider for a certain amount of time.
You'll pay a fixed amount each month for a designated amount of inclusive minutes, data and texts, which will also allow you to pay for the phone in instalments.
Anything you use outside your pay monthly allowance will be added to your next bill.
As we mentioned in the above section, there are some very good things about pay monthly mobile contracts.
For one, they allow you to spread the cost of your phone, so there's no need to find a lump sum of hundreds of pounds. Or more than £1,000 if you want a top-of-the-range iPhone.
On certain pay monthly contracts, you'll also benefit from early-upgrade schemes, such as O2 Refresh or Sky Swap.
These allow you to swap or trade-in your existing phone for the latest model mid-way through your contract. So you won't be stuck with last-year's phone when it's superseded by a new version.
But pay monthly phone-and-tariff contract phones aren't all good. When you do the maths, it's pretty much always cheaper to buy a phone SIM-free and then sign up for a keenly priced SIM only deal than it is to buy the same phone bundled with a contract.
And it's not just a bit cheaper either. Uswitch research found that you can save hundreds of pounds by following the SIM-free and SIM-only deal route.
Finally, buying a phone on a contract also means you're tying yourself in for up to two years.
If you find that your pay monthly tariff doesn't suit you, you should be able to switch to a more appropriate pay monthly contract without much bother. But you'll still have to stay with your provider until your pay monthly contract has expired.
Conversely, if you've bought a phone with a one-month SIM-only deal, you'd be free to switch to a new, better deal with just 30 days' notice.
Looking for a heap deal on a new phone? Here's our pick of the best pay monthly smartphone contracts.
There are a few things you need to bear in mind before you sign up for a new mobile contract:
Some rural areas don't have the best mobile phone coverage, so check how your chosen provider fares before signing up for a pay monthly contract that could tie you in for as much as two years. For example, mobile phone statistics obtained by us, show that people in urban areas are more likely to connect to a 4G network than in rural areas (83% vs 77%).
The most important thing to consider when picking a pay monthly tariff is how you use your phone.
If you make a lot of calls, of course you'll want a tariff with a generous calls allowance. By the same token, if you enjoy watching videos on YouTube or Netflix while you're on the move, a large data allowance would be useful.
The good news is these days even most contracts give allow for unlimited calls and texts allowances. But arguably the most important thing to consider is how much you think you'll use your phone for online apps, such as streaming video and music, social media, email and browsing websites.
Networks are much less generous with data allowances and unlimited data contracts are harder to come by. If you want a large data allowance, you'll have to pay quite a bit more to get one.
How much data do you need? We take a close look at data allowances for our guide.
Generally contracts last 24 months or 12 months. But the overwhelming majority of people choose a 24-month contract. And with good reason.
When you sign up for a 24-month contract you're spreading the cost over a longer term, so you won't have to find as much money every month to pay for your phone.
The downside is that if you do choose a 24-month contract over a 12-month term, you'll pay more in the long run.
It's also worth noting that on 12-month contracts, you'll usually have to pay quite a bit upfront to help cover the cost of the phone.
There are a huge range of mobile phone deals to choose from. Whether you're after the latest iPhone 14 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S22 or even a refurbished smartphone, you can find deals to suit all budgets and needs here at Uswitch.
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