We really love our smartphones in the UK. Ownership increased from just over half (52%) of the UK population in 2012 to a staggering eight in 10 (85%) people in 2017, according to Deloitte’s Global Mobile Survey – UK 2017.
The study also reveals that over a third (34%) of us check our phones within five minutes of waking up each morning, and another more than a third (38%) interrupt our sleep to check them during the night.
As they are clearly an important part of our modern life, it’s not surprising that we are prepared to spend a considerable amount of our hard-earned cash on securing the latest and greatest models. In November 2017, Apple celebrated a decade of the iPhone by releasing the iPhone X. The new phone was the first handset to break through the £1,000 price bracket, with the most expensive version selling for £1,149 in the UK.
This increase in price is not confined to Apple. Many top-of-the-line Android devices are also approaching the four-figure mark. Google’s Pixel 2XL 256GB flagship model was priced at £899 at launch, while Samsung’s popular Galaxy S8 Plus sells for £779 on Carphone Warehouse’s website. The S8 is soon to be replaced by the S9, and it is widely believed that Samsung will follow Apple’s pricing when it launches the new phone at the end of March.
The trend for bigger and brighter screens, faster processors, faster charging and security measures such as face detection and fingerprint sensors has driven up the prices of the most fashionable devices. But what can you do to get the top tech at less eye-watering costs?
How to cut the cost of handsets
Most of us buy our new handsets from our service suppliers. We typically pay off most of the cost of the phone alongside our monthly call tariff, plus a smaller less wallet-busting upfront fee.
But while this might initially feel like a less expensive way to upgrade, you are paying a considerable premium by being locked into an expensive deal for two years. My colleague Helen Knapman, discovered she was paying a high price for not knowing the end date of her costly contract.
Most mobile networks offer SIM-only deals that offer customers the cheapest packages of talk time and mobile data in the UK. For example, Three currently offers unlimited talk minutes, unlimited texts and a whopping 12GB of data for £14 a month on a 12-month contract.
But if you want to get the best value network deals but can’t run to paying out a grand for the handset all in one go, you will need a different method to spread the cost.
One way could be to purchase the phone using an interest free credit card. Sainsbury’s Bank offers a 31-month interest-free Nectar credit card that would allow you to spread the £1,149 cost of the iPhone X into monthly chunks of £37.06 – assuming you’re approved a credit limit of £1,149 or more. You’d also get the bonus of a 1,000 free Nectar points.
Plus, do you really need to shell out so much money to Apple or Samsung to secure a device with all the bells and whistles? Maybe not. While there’s an obvious cachet in being able to whip out the latest “must have” smartphone on your bus or train ride home, why not break with the crowd and seek out high-spec phones from less well-known manufacturers?
Huawei, One-Plus, and Xiaomi are just three of the many Chinese phone manufacturers looking to grow their brands in the UK and Europe. Already giants in the Asian market, they are keen to sell to UK customers by offering devices that match the quality of Apple or Samsung but at a much lower cost. One-Plus’s 5T model follows the trend of a large screen with smaller bezels (the border between the phone’s frame and screen) and supports fast charging. Even the top 128GB model will only cost you £499.
Huawei is the second largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, just behind Samsung. It has launched a new phone into the UK called the P smart. It too has the on trend large 18:9 aspect ratio screen with minimal bezels. It also has a fingerprint sensor on its back like the Google Pixel. The build quality feels the same as the premium cost big brands with a mostly aluminium body. For its very affordable £229 price tag, what you don’t get is the faster processors of the S8, iPhone X or even the 5T. The camera tries to match some of the photography tricks of the top sellers with a background blur mode for portraits. But the overall quality, while acceptable, is a way short of the best in class. But if you can accept those minus points you will get a lot of tech for a little spend. The phone is exclusive to Vodafone but should be available from other networks and retailers on 1 March.
Looking a lot like Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus, the Xiaomi Mi A1 is the firm’s first phone that runs the standard Android operating system. Its previous versions were great phones but optimised for the Chinese market. So good were the handsets, technically gifted smartphone fans would import them directly and convert them to full Android phones themselves. Now you can get the Mi A1 ready for use in the UK at around £170.
Seeking out better value phones might mean looking beyond the high street. Neither the One-Plus or Xiaomi brands are available through major UK mobile networks or Carphone Warehouse. The One-Plus 5T and other models can be bought directly from One-Plus’s website www.oneplus.net/uk/ or via Amazon. Xiaomi phones are harder to find but can be purchased on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. They can also be imported into the UK via Gearbest.com but be aware that you may be liable for UK import duties.
As new brands enter the UK marketplace, hopefully increased competition will cause prices of handsets to fall once more. However, there will always be some people prepared to pay for the newest and latest smartphones. You may have to ask yourself whether you can really afford to keep paying for the brand rather than the product.