Mobile deals: how to buy a smartphone for less

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Shop around

Prices for the same model regularly fluctuate between retailers. While manufacturers typically only sell their phones at the recommended retail price, third-party retailers can discount them depending on stock levels and age, so shop around and check multiple price comparison tools such as Google Shopping, Kelkoo, PriceRunner or Price Spy.

Beware of deals that look particularly cheap as they may not be UK models or not sold from the UK, which can have an impact on the warranty or after-sales support.

Compare contract or outright deals

Paying for a phone upfront usually works out the cheapest way of owning it over the long term, but not always. Just-released models may be cheaper if bought on a contract with a phone operator, particularly if it is running a deal or if it includes other services, such as Spotify or Netflix, at a discount.

It is worth doing the calculations based on the total cost over the length of the plan versus the cost of the phone outright plus that of an equivalent, cheaper sim-only deal. Bear in mind that if you break the phone you will still be paying for it every month until your contract ends.

Time it right

View image in fullscreenYou can often grab a bargain on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the many other yearly sales, but compare prices to make sure a ‘sale’ is really a deal. Photograph: Jonathan Cherry/Reuters

Buying a phone at the right time of the year can mean big savings. Bargains can usually be had in the traditional sales such as Black Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day, around Easter and during the back to school period in the run-up to September.

But individual manufacturers also discount their smartphones at different times depending on their yearly release cycles of new devices. Some manufacturers, including Samsung and Google, offer discounts and free gifts with very early preorders for their new phones before release, which can be worthwhile.

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Samsung typically releases its top-of-the-range S-series smartphones in January, which are then discounted in summer sales. Apple’s iPhones are rarely deeply discounted but tend to be cheapest in August in the run-up to the release of a new version in September, with savings of up to £150 depending on the model, according to data from the price-tracking site CamelCamelCamel.

Trade in or sell your old one

Trading in your old phone is an excellent way of recouping some of its value or getting a discount on a new model. Apple and Samsung offer up to £470 off their new phones and Google up to £676 depending on the model, brand and condition of the phone you trade in.

Alternatively, you can sell your phone to a refurbisher for cash. There are a number of retailers that buy old tech including phones on the high street and online, including CeX, MusicMagpie, Envirofone and many others. Mobile operators including EE, Giffgaff, O2, Three, Vodafone and others also buy used phones, as do Carphone Warehouse and other phone retailers.

Comparison sites can help you find the best price. They include SellMyMobile, Compare and Recycle and Compare My Mobile. And as with buying a new phone, timing matters for trade-in if you want to maximise your return.

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“We are predicting that across the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 range the price will depreciate by about 22% between now and the launch of a new model in October 2022,” says Denise Timmis, the brand manager for Envirofone. “That means trade-in values up to £157 less for the iPhone 13 Pro Max and up to £125 for iPhone 12 Pro.”

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If your phone is in good condition and you are prepared to do a bit of work, you could get more money selling it privately on eBay or other marketplaces. Check recently sold prices on the sites to see how much similar phones are going for.

Buy refurbished

This isn’t just better for the planet, it can be great for your wallet, too. Recent data from Giffgaff showed that you can save about 50kg of carbon and £200 on average by buying refurbished compared with new. While the biggest bargains can be had on older devices, top recent models can frequently be found refurbished from both manufacturers and third parties after about six months from release. They typically cost £50-100 less than RRP.

At a time when lots of people are really feeling the rising cost of living, refurbished devices can be a great optionGiffgaff’s Ash Schofield

“At a time when lots of people are really feeling the rising cost of living, refurbished devices can be a great option,” says Ash Schofield, the Giffgaff chief executive. “You still get that new phone feeling, without breaking the bank. Our research shows that while a number of people see refurb tech as a viable option, quite a few are still missing out on the savings.”

There are plenty of places to buy refurbished models. Those straight from the manufacturer are often the best being fully reconditioned to as-new standards, but most phone or tech shops, mobile operators and specialist refurbishers sell models in varying conditions and prices from nearly new to worn but still functional.

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Pick up older models with long software support

The newest models are the most expensive, so buying a phone a year or two old, either new or refurbished can save your a packet – but only if you choose the right model.

Unfortunately, not all manufacturers provide lasting software support for their smartphones. Many provide as little as two or three years of updates from a handset’s release date. Regular security updates are crucial to the safe usage of a smartphone, so once a model is no longer supported you should not use it.

Only Apple and Samsung provide as much as five or more years of software support for their recent smartphones, making their older models such as the iPhone 11 or Galaxy S20 still worth buying. Google recently committed to supporting its Pixel phones for five years, but only from this year’s Pixel 6 onwards.

View image in fullscreenApple’s iPhone SE (2022) is particularly good value, offering the firm’s top chip, 5G and more than six years of software support. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

While top-end phones are the most exciting, mid-range smartphones have improved dramatically in recent years and can be had for significantly less. Not all mid-tier phones are made equally, however, with many lacking long-term software support.

Highlights include Apple’s iPhone SE (£470) and Samsung’s Galaxy A series (from £129), which receive four to seven years of software support depending on the model.

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