There are so many ways to get your hands on a mobile phone and airtime contract.  You can even buy a pay-as-you-go phone off the shelf while you do the weekly grocery shop at your local supermarket!  For most people though, buying a mobile phone will involve popping into the local mobile operator’s shop, signing up to a 12 or 24 month mobile contract with a free phone or maybe pay a little bit extra on top to have the latest and greatest mobile phone available.

Another option is to sign up to a “SIM only” plan from your mobile operator which can come in 30 days or 12 month contracts and then buy a phone outright known as buying a mobile phone “SIM free”.

…you could potentially save money compared to what you would normally spend over the term of a normal phone contract

There are a good number of reasons to do this.  Firstly, if you have the spare cash to buy it outright, you could potentially save money compared to what you would normally spend over the term of a normal phone contract.  For example, if I wanted to go out today and buy a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ 32GB on contract with unlimited calls/texts and 4GB data, it would cost £1128 over 2 years.  If I was to buy SIM free and get a SIM only contract, it would cost £919 over the same period of time.  Secondly, if your monthly outgoing budget needs to be kept to a minimum, the monthly cost of a airtime contract is much cheaper than usual as you are only paying for the calls, texts and data you are using rather than also paying towards the cost of the phone on a normal contract.  Last but not least, you have the flexibility to change mobile operator sooner if you feel you would be better served with another provider.

If you decide to go down this route, you need to decide how much you are going to spend on a phone and you also need to weigh up what features you need.  There are lots of features on mobile phones today so you have to ask yourself, would you use all the features on a high-end phone?  This could mean the difference between getting a high-end phone when a mid-range phone will do exactly what you need and this will save you money.  Needs vary from person to person but if all you are going to do is send the odd email, use social networking and take the odd picture, then you probably don’t need a high-end £500 phone and a mid-range phone like the Motorola Moto X Play will do the trick for £250 less.  If you are keen on gaming, love watching movies on your phone and want to take high quality photos, then one of the current flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, iPhone 6S or Huawei Nexus 6P etc will be better suited due to the higher processing power, screen size, sound options and high end cameras.

Here are a few picks so you can see where certain phones fit on the scale in terms of spec.  The more you move across the scale the better the components are e.g. screen resolution starts getting higher and sharper, the processors are faster and can cope with more demand.

Comparison

It is worth noting that budget phones can have similar features to the higher end phones but be aware that they will be considerably slower and have some lag in comparison.

By this point, you should know if you are going to buy SIM free or not.  Whatever route you go down, there are some general tips you should keep in mind.  The best thing you can do before going into a mobile phone shop is to have a think about the features that are important to you.  You should then make a list of these features so you know exactly what you want from a phone before you speak to someone in-store.

Considering which mobile operating system the phone uses can also be as important as the hardware

It is also important to know which Operating System you want too.  Android and Apple iOS are the most popular systems at present.  Microsoft have their Windows Phone platform but this hasn’t really been able to compete with the two major players and it lacks in the app availability department.  That said, Microsoft hopes to change all that with the release of Windows 10 on its new phones and on some of the existing Lumia devices.  This means Windows 10 apps on your PC will also be available on your Windows 10 phone.  You should also think about all the apps and music you may have purchased on your old phone.  If you move from one OS to another, you will be able to transfer your music and will likely be able to get the same free apps, but you won’t be able to transfer the paid for apps.  Also consider other devices in your home.  If you have Apple TV and you regularly stream music, pictures, movies to it, staying with Apple might be better for you.  Whatever, system your choose, look at the different phones within your budget and test out the features there and then in-store to ensure they meet your needs.

If you are thinking of buying a phone now, keep your eyes peeled as most of the manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC and LG launch the latest iterations of their flagship phones during February and March.  This is a good time to get the latest phone but it is also a great time to get a cheaper deal on the current flagship phones if you really like them.

Nexus 6 and 6P - Back view

Consider buying last year’s model and get a great deal – Latest Nexus 6P & last year’s Nexus 6