Let’s demand clearer smartphone and mobile deals

a mobile phoneThe mobile phone market is – and always was – a nightmare for consumers.

Here’s what I mean.

I type ‘cheapest smartphone in the UK’ into Google and I get more than 5 million search results.

So far, so good.

But the first page of results is full of cheap smartphone deals, not cheap smartphones. In fact no matter how deeply I go into the search results, the story is the same. There is no information about the cheapest smartphone, or the cheapest contract.

Because the industry marries up phone prices with contract deals rather than keeping them separate, there’s no way to identify the best overall deal across all suppliers. Which is rubbish.

This is what I want to know. I only have two simple questions: one, what is the cheapest smartphone? And two, what is the cheapest smartphone contract? It’s that simple. Or it should be.

Under some circumstances I can have a really cool smartphone for free as long as I accept a certain kind of contract. But is it the best value on the market? Who knows, because prices and tariffs aren’t presented on a like-for-like basis.

As a result millions of us hang onto needlessly expensive contracts when renewal comes up. Even if you switch regularly, which is a pain in the ass, there’s no way to know whether or not you’re paying more than other people. The whole system is a mess, totally consumer-unfriendly. And it’s about time it changed.

Right now we’re stuck with a crappy system which means it’s more or less impossible to make a rational, informed decision about what phone to choose and what contract to sign up for. So is there any way to reliably track down the cheapest smartphone deal when, as the This Is Money website says, the options are ‘endless’?

As they say on their site, “Don’t just stick with 02, Orange or Vodafone just because they already happen to be your provider – you may ending up paying £100s more. If you do stick, make sure you use this to your advantage by negotiating a better deal for your loyalty.” 

So it’s up to us to delve as deep as we can into the muddy waters of phone contracts. And they are very muddy indeed. Luckily there are a few simple tips for deciding which phone and what contract to choose:

  • novelty value and big brands costs money. As a general rule if you’re not bothered about appearances and don’t see your mobile as an ego booster, just a useful tool, there are better deals available than if you’re seduced by brands. If you want the latest i-thingy, you’ll pay through the teeth for it. If you go for an older model or a lesser known brand, you’ll pay less
  • thankfully there are online tools to help you identify the best deals. The one from Money Supermarket lets you compare more than 400,000 deals in one place. On the other hand, the fact that there are not far short of half a million deals to choose from illustrates just how dysfunctional the mobile phone market is. And that’s just a proportion of the deals available. On top of that there are contract deals from high street outlets like Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4 u. Mental!
  • If you want to opt out of the whole stupid business, you can choose pay as you go. It can be a pain if you use your phone a lot but if you’d rather keep Big Brother at arm’s length it’s also a great way to stay under the radar, with no credit checks or contract. The only thing is, you have to buy the phone up front. In a sense they’ve got you by the goolies there, too – unless you take a contract you’ll pay full price for your phone. And pay as you go isn’t necessarily cheap. If you go this route, a SIM only deal might be best, with the cheapest texts and data package.

Let’s hope the system changes soon. In my view government regulation is badly needed since the industry can’t seem to put their own house in order. If there’s one place the consumer is left floundering, this is it. And it just isn’t good enough. We deserve better.