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How to buy a mobile phone

Most people who upgrade their phones tend to stick with the brands and network providers they already know. 

But over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of changes within the mobile market, with the appearance of distinct price points, and feature sets within those price points. There are a plethora of options available.

We’ve compiled lists of the Best phones you can buy, based on these considerations, but before you jump into those, here’s our advice on how to choose the right phone for you.

How much do you need to spend?

We have seen two major changes recently – the rise of so-called ‘flagship phones’ at the top end, which have the best features and the highest prices, and budget phones at the bottom, largely provided by new Chinese brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus and more traditional brands like Motorola. We have built a mobile phone price comparison tool you can use to check the prices of each phone.

Premium: typically a new flagship phone will include the latest camera improvements, and the most powerful configurations, although arguably it’s more than most people generally need. That tech can cost you upwards of £60/month over the course of a two or three year contract. 

– Read our guide to the best mobile phones

Mid-range: at the mid-range, you’ll be picking up ex-flagship phones, or phones that have been created specifically to hit the mid-range price point, usually around half the price of a flagship. These still offer up to date technology and good performance for most people and is probably where the best value is to be found.

– Read  our guide to the best mid-range phones

Budget: at the budget phone end, you’ll be seeing handsets priced at around £100-£350. Compared to the mid-range, these will often utilise older processors and camera tech, and hence be lower performing. However, if your needs are relatively straightforward, these can offer significant savings.

– Read our guide to the best budget phones

What features do you most value?

When you buy a phone, you are really choosing the best package of features for a particular price. However, you may will have specific requirements that influence your decision:

Apple vs Android

Most people don’t really switch between Apple and Android, and that’s partly down to brand loyalty and familiarity, and partly down to ecosystem considerations like apps, services and data. Given that, we’ve compiled guides to help you choose within each ecosystem, as follows:

– Read our guide to the best iPhone

– Read our guide to the best Android phones

– Read our guide to the best Samsung Phones

How important is the camera?

Camera performance is now one of the key selling points when a manufacturer launches a new phone, and makers are able to keep improving here because more powerful processors enable more of photographic heavy lifting to be done in the phone’s software rather than via optics, as per traditional photography.

– Read our guide to the best camera phones

What about 5G?

5G is the incoming network technology that promises much faster internet connectivity. The UK is only at the start of upgrading its networks to 5G with some, albeit limited availability. Newer flagship phones are being launched with 5G options (at a higher price), but we don’t think 5G is ready enough for most people to jump in just yet.

– Read our guide to the best 5G phones

– Read our guide to 5G in the UK

What about size?

What’s the right phone size for most people is really a matter of personal preference. In general, the more you use your phone for media consumption the more likely you’ll value a larger screen. However, there are options for those who like their phones especially big (“phablets”) and those who like them especially small.

– Read our guide to the best small phone

– Read our guide to the best phablets

How waterproof does it need to be?

The nightmare for many people is dropping the phone down the loo, or into the bath, so some degree of water resistance is important. Most of the leading flagship phones claim an IP68 rating, which means a phone can survive being in water up to a depth of 1.5 metres for 30 minutes.

– Find out more about IP ratings.

How good does the screen need to be?

Some of the newer feature phones make great play on the contrast and refresh rates of their displays with HDR badging and 90/120Hz refresh rates becoming more common. HDR – or high dynamic range means you can see more details in the darkest and lightest parts of an image, and is particularly important for colour and contrast. While a high refresh rate means a smoother, higher quality image especially noticeable when playing games (although there can be an impact on battery life).

– Find out more about HDR

What about specific uses, like games?

Some phones have been built with games performance in mind, so that includes battery life, processors and sometimes screen refresh rates. You’ll only really want one of these if playing games is crucially important to you:

– Read our guide to the best games phones

What about Huawei?

The US government has blocked Huawei from using Google services on their new handsets, which means new Huawei phones lack the standard Google and Android applications. We think this is a significant downgrade on their phones’ capabilities and it is hard to recommend new Huawei phones released from the Autumn of 2019 until it manages to build out its own app offerings. 

– Read more about the Huawei Google ban