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How do I find the perfect phone tariff?

Committing to a two-year phone contract can be more than a little daunting, especially when you consider how some people meet the love of their lives, get hitched and pop out their first sprog in less time.

So, how can you make sure you’re getting the best deal? And perhaps a SIM-only contract might be better for you than a full two-year pay monthly deal? Here’s our complete guide to finding the best mobile tariff to fit your needs, and not get ripped off.

Step One: Realise that it’s time to get a better deal

Has your current contract just come to an end? If so, you’ll almost certainly save some cash by switching tariff (or perhaps even provider). Many tariffs include the cost of the phone your received when you signed up, but some providers don’t actually reduce the amount you pay once your term is up, which means you’re basically giving them cash for nothing. Nice, huh?

Thankfully, providers are starting to help customers out by making things a little clearer. For instance, O2’s Refresh initiative splits your bill in two, with one half (the Airtime Plan) paying for your minutes, data, etc. and the other half covering the cost of your handset. The device plan disappears when your term is over and can be adapted midway through your contract if you fancy a crafty upgrade.

Step Two: Do you really need a new phone?

A large slice of the cost of a contract pays for the phone itself, so first of all you should decide if you really need a new handset. Is your current phone still functioning fine? Or is it a buggy, clunky slab of fail with a cracked screen and crap battery life?

Oooh, shiny! But do you really need it?

If you’re perfectly happy with your mobile, then a SIM-only deal may be the best bet. These contracts don’t include a new phone, so you’re only paying for the minutes, texts, data and so on that you use. They’re also beautifully flexible. For instance, you can get a one-month rolling contract from the likes of Three, which means that your contract will keep on going for as long as you like but you can cancel with just a month’s notice if you want to jump onto a new tariff or switch providers.

Step Three: If you do need a new phone, choose the best option for you

If all you need is a phone to check your emails a few times a day and maybe listen to music, there’s no point in choosing the most expensive Billy-Big-Bollocks handset in the shop. You’ll just end up paying over the odds each month for hardware you don’t need.

Likewise, if you want to stream HD video from Netflix and play the latest games, you can’t make do with a bog-standard 4-inch 3G mobile.

Check out the reviews section of Recombu, where we’ve comprehensively covered all of the latest UK handsets and said in a clear, easy-to-understand fashion what each device is best for. And don’t forget our features section too, where we’ve rounded up the best handsets in each category. For instance, we’ve found the best affordable 4G phones for web and media fans and also taken a look at which Nokia phone is best for your needs. 

Could be that all you need is a basic handset, that’s perfect for checking emails and browsing the web…

And of course we always recommend visiting a store to play with your selected handset before you buy, to make sure it’s a good fit for your hand and you like the interface.

Step Four: Work out your phone usage

To make sure you don’t end up paying over the odds for minutes, texts and data that you’ll never use, you should ideally track how much you actually use for at least a couple of months before you think about swapping tariffs. Here’s how to track your phone usage.

Step Five: Pick a provider

Should I stay or should I go now? Staying with your provider avoids all kinds of hassle, but you could be missing out on great deals elsewhere. So it’s best to stay flexible, if money is a priority.

Even if you’re thinking of saying sod it and staying with your provider, it’s worth at least calling up or visiting a branch and mentioning how you’ve been looking around. Chances are you’ll be offered a ‘special’ deal that isn’t advertised anywhere, just so they can keep your business.

Visiting the high street provider stores can often reveal deals you won’t find online

When you’re choosing a provider, don’t just go on price alone. Here’s some other important considerations:

  • How good is the signal in your area? Visit each provider’s website and type in your postcode in the signal checker. You should be given an idea of how strong the mobile reception is, based on your proximity to masts and other data.
  • Is the customer service decent? The likes of O2 and GiffGaff have a strong reputation for excellent customer service, while providers like Orange are rated lower by customers.
  • Which other services does the provider offer? To further complicate matters, providers offer additional incentives to consumers to get them to join up. For instance, EE offers families shared contracts to slim down the overall household bill, while Vodafone offers free Sky Sports or Spotify access.

Step Six: Select your tariff

When you know what hardware you want (if any), which provider to go for and how much data etc. you need, then it’s time to pick a tariff. Just remember, sometimes you can get special hidden deals online or in-store which you won’t find advertised, so make sure you do your research.

If you want to see how much you could be saving each month, then good news. We’ve teamed up with CTRLio to make comparing your tariff against the competition ridiculously easy. Just head to our deals page and choose a phone that you fancy, then click ‘Find My Deal’. By entering your details, your recent phone bills will be automatically analysed and you can see the best deals around compared with your current tariff.

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