What are the Best Mobile Phone Deals in 2021?

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Looking for a new mobile phone? Finding the best mobile phone deals isn’t as easy as you may think. With so many networks and handsets to choose from, the sheer level of choice on the market can be bewildering. And that’s before you even get into the myriad different tariffs and plans.
Last update: October 2021

Don’t worry, the SwitchBox team are here to help! We’re here to demystify the world of mobile phone plans, handsets and SIM only tariffs so you can choose the best mobile phone deals for your needs and budget.

What are the best mobile phone deals in the UK?

So, what are the best mobile phone deals on the market right now? Everybody’s looking for something different in their mobile phone deals. Some people have their hearts set on a particular handset and will pay whatever it takes in their monthly tariff to get it. Others are happy to compromise when it comes to their handset as long as they get a generous allocation of minutes, texts and data as part of their monthly mobile deal. Then there are some who are simply looking for something with a low monthly cost that will fit well into their carefully calculated monthly budget. On the other hand, some are happy to pay a little more month-by-month if it means they pay less upfront.
Here we’ll look at some of the best deals on some of the world’s favourite handsets. We’ll look at deals with no upfront costs, deals with shorter contracts, deals with unlimited data and deals with 5G-ready handsets.

Best no-upfront-cost deals

A new mobile phone deal includes the cost of financing your handset alongside the cost of your call and data tariff. By rule of thumb, the more you pay upfront, the less you spend overall. The more of the cost of your handset you finance, the more you’re likely to pay in interest. This usually means longer contracts and higher monthly costs.
With that caveat, however, a deal with no upfront costs can get you the handset you want as quickly as possible without having to worry about putting a sizeable dent in your bank balance.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the UK’s best no-upfront-cost deals on a range of handsets:


Handset Network Upfront Costs Monthly Costs Data Allowance Minutes & texts Contract Length Retailer
Google Pixel 4a (128 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £19.99 20 Gb (4G) Unlimited 24 months Carphone Warehouse
Samsung Galaxy A71 (128 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £19.99 10 Gb (4G) Unlimited 24 months Mobiles.co.uk
Apple iPhone SE (64 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £22.99 50 Gb (4G) Unlimited 24 months Mobiles.co.uk
Apple iPhone XR (64Gb) EE £0 £26 25 Gb (4G) Unlimited 24 months Affordable Mobiles
Samsung Galaxy S10 (128 Gb) EE £0 £32 50 Gb (4G) Unlimited 24 months Fonehouse
Apple iPhone 12 Mini(64 Gb) Three £0 £34 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct
Samsung Galaxy S20 5G (128 Gb) Three £0 £36 30 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Fonehouse
Apple iPhone 12 (64 Gb) Three £0 £39 Unlimited (5G) Unlimited 24 months Fonehouse
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (128 Gb) Three £0 £40 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Metrofone
Apple iPhone Pro (128 Gb) Vodafone £0 £55 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Metrofone


Best 5G handset deals

If you want the fastest data connection on the go, you’ll want to consider a 5G-ready handset. All of the major networks have grown their presences significantly over the past 2 years. Now, most major towns and cities are covered by at least one of the 4 major networks and the virtual networks that use them (more on that later).
5G can (at least theoretically) reach speeds 100 times faster than 4G. In real terms, 4G networks have an average speed of around 40 Mbps. 5G networks, on the other hand, are capable of achieving speeds of around 200 Mbps. That’s more than fast enough to stream high-quality video or make video calls while you’re on the go.
It’s important to note that not every area of the UK will be able to connect to the 5G network. To make sure you get your money’s worth use Ofcom’s mobile coverage checker tool. Alternatively, all of the 4 major networks (EE, Three, O2, Vodafone) have their own 5G coverage checkers. Just input the postcode where you live and work and you’ll be able to see how good the 5G connectivity is in your area.
Some of the best deals on 5G handsets are as follows:


Handset Network Upfront Costs Monthly Costs Data Allowance Minutes & texts Contract Length Retailer
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (128 Gb) Three £144 £21 30 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Fonehouse
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (128 Gb) O2 £249.99 £23 30 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus 5G (128 Gb) Three £275 £25 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Metrofone
Apple iPhone SE (64Gb) Virgin Mobile £0 £28.50 5 Gb (5G) Unlimited minutes 0 texts 24 months Virgin Mobile
Apple iPhone XR (64Gb) Virgin Mobile £0 £35.50 8 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Virgin Mobile
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (128 Gb) Virgin Mobile £0 £37 8 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Virgin Mobile
Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (128 Gb) Three £0 £40 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Metrofone
Apple iPhone 11 (64 Gb) Virgin Mobile £0 £40.50 5 Gb (5G) Unlimited minutes 0 texts 24 months Virgin Mobile
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (128 Gb) Three £189.99 £41 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Samsung
iPhone 12 Pro Max (128 Gb) Vodafone £269.99 £43 100 Gb (5G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct


Best Unlimited data deals

Aside from the thrill that comes with a shiny new handset, one of the main incentives to get a new contract mobile phone is to take advantage of the generous allowances of data, texts and minutes. However, if you’re highly reliant on mobile data, you should consider choosing an unlimited data package. Paying less for a smaller data allocation could be a false economy as you will be subject to surcharges whenever you exceed your monthly data allowance.
With these unlimited data deals, you’ll be able to browse, stream and video chat to your heart’s content without needing to worry about exceeding your data allocation. Here are 10 of the best unlimited 4G and 5G data deals…


Handset Network Upfront Costs Monthly Costs Data Allowance Minutes & texts Contract Length Retailer
Apple iPhone XR (64 Gb) Three £249 £21.99 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct
Google Pixel 4a (128 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £21.99 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months iD Mobile
Samsung Galaxy A71 (128 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £24.99 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months Carphone Warehouse
Apple iPhone SE (64Gb) iD Mobile £9.99 £24.99 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months iD Mobile
Apple iPhone 11 (64Gb) Three £149 £24 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (128 Gb) iD Mobile £9.99 £29.99 Unlimited (4G) Unlimited 24 months iD Mobile
Apple iPhone 12 (64 Gb) Three £129 £31 Unlimited (5G) Unlimited 24 months Affordable Mobiles
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (128 Gb) iD Mobile £0 £34.99 Unlimited (5G) Unlimited 24 months iD Mobile
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (128 Gb) Three £199.99 £43 Unlimited (5G) Unlimited 24 months Mobile Phones Direct
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (128 Gb) iD Mobile £99 £49.99 Unlimited (5G) Unlimited 24 months iD Mobile


Elderly couple shopping for a new phone at a tech store.

Best short contract deals

Many mobile phone deals today have fairly long contracts. Most last for 24 months while some even extend to 36 months. These long deals may seem like a blessing because they allow you to pay a lower monthly fee. However, you will inevitably end up paying more on these deals. Prolonging your contract means that you will pay more interest. If your monthly budget will allow, it’s better to get a shorter 12 month contract. Therefore, you will pay off your phone faster. Once you actually own your handset, you have more options. You can either jump back on the upgrade wagon or switch to a SIM only deal (more on those later), or even take more control of your monthly spend by getting a Pay As You Go SIM.
In the table below, we’ve cherry-picked some of the best 12 month contract deals on the market on a great range of handsets.


Handset Network Upfront Costs Monthly Costs Data Allowance Minutes & texts Contract Length Retailer
Apple iPhone 7 (64 Gb) O2 £30 £29.67 5Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Google Pixel 4a (128 Gb) O2 £30 £37.98 5Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Apple iPhone SE 2020 (64 Gb) O2 £30 £46.84 5Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Samsung Galaxy A71 (128 Gb) O2 £30 £49.84 20 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Apple iPhone 12 Mini (64Gb) O2 £30 £69.84 5 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Samsung Galaxy S21 (128 Gb) O2 £30 £72.97 5 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Apple iPhone 11 (64 Gb) O2 £30 £73.84 20 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Apple iPhone 11 Pro (256 Gb) O2 £30 £77.09 5 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2
Apple iPhone 12 O2 £30 £82.09 20 Gb (4G) Unlimited 12 months O2


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What providers offer the best mobile phone deals?

What kind of phone you get matters. But who you get it from matters even more. That goes for both the retailer who sells your phone and the mobile network you choose. Your choice in network will have a lasting impact on your network coverage, while your choice in retailer could affect your flexibility of deals and value for money.
In this section, we’ll look at which providers offer the best mobile phone deals.

high street or online: Where do you get the best mobile phone deals?

Walk down your local high street and you’re likely to find lavish shops where you can buy the latest handsets. These shops may belong to manufacturers or they may belong to the 4 major UK networks. These are a good place to ask questions about different handsets, compare prices and tariffs and get the information you need to make an informed decision.
But they’re not always the best option when choosing the best mobile phone deals. Online retailers often have access to better deals. Why? Because they don’t need to cover the overheads that come with maintaining a high street presence. Sometimes, even getting online deals directly from the network operators is cheaper than buying on the high street.

Mobile Network Operators and Virtual Mobile Network Operators: What’s the difference?

You may assume that there are dozens of Networks in the UK, since everyone from Sky to Tesco offers their own mobile phone deals. But the reality is that there are only 4 Mobile Network Operators in the UK. These are the companies that own, maintain and manage the cellular networks of base stations that broadcast the frequencies on which your calls, texts and data are carried.
These are (in descending order of size):

  • EE (formerly Orange)
  • Three
  • O2
  • Vodafone

There are also dozens of other companies that “piggyback” on these 4 networks to provide their own services to customers. These are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs. At Switchbox, we can search for the best deal for you from a wide range of networks both large and small. So you can get the perfect combination of the right handset, the right tariff and the right network coverage for your needs.
In the table below you can see some of the different MVNOs whose offerings are powered by the main mobile networks.


Vodafone EE O2 Three
Voxi Virgin Mobile Asda Mobile Talk Mobile Lebara BT Mobile Plusnet Mobile Utility Warehouse 1p Mobile The Phone Co-op Giffgaff Tesco Mobile Sky Mobile LycaMobile iD Mobile SMARTY FreedomPop


The 4 larger networks typically offer a better selection of handsets, while smaller virtual networks tend to offer more affordable tariffs or more generous data allowances even though their selections of handsets can be limited.
If you’re prepared to be flexible, however, you can find a winning combination of handset, network and tariff.

EE’s network

BT owned EE, formerly known as Orange, is currently the largest network in the UK, accessible to over 99% of the UK population in 85% of its geography. It has a very sizeable 5G network with average speeds of 135 Mbps.
EE also offers:

  • Free data roaming in 48 countries
  • 6 months of free Apple Music with selected plans
  • 24 months of free BT Sport with selected plans
  • Data usage can be capped to help you avoid additional charges

Three’s network

Three is the UK’s fastest growing network and currently has the fastest 5G network in the UK with average speeds of around 200 Mbps. Three’s 4G network is currently available to around 91% of the UK population.
Other incentives include:

  • “Go Binge” allows customers on certain contracts to stream Netflix over 4G or 3G without using their data allowance.
  • “Go Roam” offers free roaming data in 71 countries.

O2’s network

O2’s network is a little smaller than EE’s or Three’s. Nonetheless, it is still available to just under 99% of the UK population. It also features access to its 5G network at no extra cost.
O2 also has a range of other attractive incentives including:

  • Free Wi-Fi in 16,000 hotspot locations
  • O2 Priority offers exclusive discounts and first-refusal on tickets at O2 music venues
  • 6 months of free Disney Plus
  • Inclusive roaming in 49 EU locations

Vodafone’s network

Vodafone is the UK’s smallest network. Nonetheless, it’s still accessible to the vast majority of UK consumers with around 97% of the population covered. Its 5G network is on the rise, available in around 50 towns and cities. Other reasons to consider Vodafone include:

  • Free data roaming in 110 locations around the world
  • Unlimited data plans with tiered speeds
  • 6 months of free Spotify or Sky Sports on selected plans
  • Add a Vodafone Pass for a small monthly charge and you can stream video and music without eating into your data allowance.

What are the best SIM only phone deals?

So far we’ve looked at deals on handsets. But what if you already have a handset that you’re perfectly happy with? Well, as long as you’ve paid off your contract, completing your finance agreement, your handset is yours to do whatever you want with.
Sure, you could jump back on the upgrade bandwagon. Or you could save money and get a more generous allocation of minutes, texts and data with a SIM only phone deal.

What’s the difference between a contract plan and a SIM only plan?

A SIM only plan is still a contract plan. However, as you no longer need to finance a handset, they’re generally much cheaper. This also affords you much more flexibility in terms of contract length. Lengthy contracts peak at 24 months and usually include unlimited minutes and texts as well as generous data allowances at low prices. However, if you’re prepared to pay a little more, there are plenty of 12 month and even 30 day rolling contracts.
Here we’ll look at some of the best SIM only plans for those who are already happy with their handsets.

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Cheapest SIM only deals

If you want to drastically reduce your monthly spend on your mobile phone but still want unlimited texts and a whole lot of minutes, the table below shows some great deals for chatterboxes. While data allocations are a little leaner for these deals, they’re a great option for those who regularly use Wi-Fi instead of mobile data and who want to be able to text and call their friends without restraint. They also feature flexible 30 day contacts.


Network Data allowance Minutes and texts Contract length Monthly cost
Lebara 1GB (4G) Unlimited texts & 250 mins 1 month £3.99
Talk Mobile 2GB (4G) Unlimited 1 month £4.95
Smarty 5GB (4G) Unlimited 1 month £5
ID Mobile 1GB (4G) Unlimited 1 month £5
Virgin Mobile 5GB (4G) Unlimited 1 month £6


Best unlimited data SIM only deals

If you want to be able to scroll, tweet, stream and shop without restraint, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn how cheap it can be with a SIM only deal. All of the following deals feature unlimited streaming over 4G or 5G as well as unlimited calls and texts with manageable contract lengths.


Network Minutes Texts Contract length Cost
Smarty (via Three) Unlimited Unlimited No contract £16
Three Unlimited Unlimited 12 months £16
ID Mobile (via Three) Unlimited Unlimited 12 months (first 3 months half price) £10
Virgin Mobile (via EE) Unlimited Unlimited 12 months £28
Vodafone Unlimited Unlimited 12 months £28


Best all-round SIM only deals

Looking for a SIM only deal that offers you a little bit of everything? The following combine reasonable prices with generous data allowances and unlimited calls and texts with a range of different contract lengths.


Network Data allowance Minutes and texts Contract length Monthly cost
O2 250GB (5G) Unlimited 12 months £28
EE 200GB (5G) Unlimited 24 months £23
Vodafone 100GB (5G) Unlimited 12 months £16
3 100GB (4G) Unlimited 12 month £16
GiffGaff 80GB (4G) Unlimited 1 month £20


How do you compare mobile phone deals?

We’ve looked at a wide range of contract and SIM only deals. But if you’re still not sure which is the best mobile phone deal for you, don’t worry. The SwitchBox team are always on hand to help you choose the best deal for your needs and budget.
However, when you’re browsing deals it’s a good idea to keep the “Three Cs” in mind. These are among the most significant factors when choosing a mobile phone deal. They are…

Cost

Needless to say, the cost of your mobile phone deal will need to be carefully factored into your budget. Be wary of getting the very latest iPhone if you know you have a tight monthly budget. Making a small sacrifice in terms of your handset, your data allowance or your contract length may bring down your monthly costs.
You should also consider your upfront costs. The more you can afford to pay upfront, the less you’ll pay in the long run.

Coverage

Network coverage is hugely important, especially if you’re getting a 5G deal. What’s the point of paying extra for 5G if you won’t be able to access the network where you spend most of your time?
Take a look at the MNO’s network presence in your area. If you choose a deal with an MVNO, find out what network they use and check their coverage where you are.

Contract

Mobile phone deals are binding contracts, and they should not be entered into lightly. If you have to miss payments you could be liable for a fine, and it may have an adverse effect on your credit rating.
In many cases you will also need to pass a credit check to get a new mobile phone deal, especially if you have your heart set on the latest handset.

What phone contract is best for me?

Let the SwitchBox team search the market high and low to find the best mobile phone contract for your unique needs. We take the time to get to know your needs before trawling the market to find the perfect deals for you.
Call us today on 0330 054 0020 to find out more!

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FAQ

Do I have to pay upfront costs for a contract phone?

Sometimes. But certainly not always. By rule of thumb, the more of your handset’s costs you can pay of upfront the better, as this means you will have to finance less and pay less interest. However, there are lots of contacts that feature no upfront costs as long as you don’t mind a longer contract and / or slightly higher monthly payments.

Do I own my phone after I’ve paid off my contract?

Yes, absolutely! However, when you hop back on the upgrade merry-go-round you go right back to financing a new handset again. This is why you should think carefully about your options when you pay off your contract. If you’re happy with your handset it may be much cheaper to choose a SIM only deal.

Is it better to pay upfront or monthly for a new phone?

If possible, it’s always better to pay for your new phone upfront. This means that you pay less as there are no interest payments driving up your monthly tariff. However, if you don’t have the funds free to buy your new phone outright, paying off more upfront can save you more money on interest.

Can I get a phone contract with bad credit?

If your credit rating is less than stellar, don’t worry. There are a number of phone contracts, especially SIM only deals that do not require a credit check. MVNOs like GiffGaff, Lebara and VOXI are a good place to start looking for these. 

What happens if I’m rejected for a phone contract?

It’s always a knock when you’re rejected for a phone contract. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll never get your hands on the phone of your dreams. It may, however, be worth switching to a Pay As You Go or SIM only deal for a little while as you try to build up your credit. 

Updated on 20 Jul, 2021

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Alex

Consumer Broadband Expert