Best SIM-only mobile phone deals
3rd Sep 2012 | 13:53
For those who don't like to be tied down
Let's be honest, 24 month phone contracts suck. And so do the bloatware-ladened, network-branded handsets that come with them.
We don't want to wait two years until we can upgrade, especially since every top brand now seems to be on yearly product cycles.
And ultimately we'd like our smartphone to come the way the manufacturer intended, without all the additional apps, skins and start up animations that are no use to anyone.
Luckily help is at hand: SIM-only deals are a great way to avoid lengthy contracts and a load of bubbles appearing on the screen every time they switch on and power down.
TechRadar has done the leg work here (aren't we kind?), so you can easily pick out the best contract-free smartphone deal for you.
Not sure which handset to pair with your newly found SIM-only deal? Then check out our special mobile phone features:
- 20 best mobile phones in the world today
- Best Android phones
- Best cheap phones 2012
- Best SIM-free handsets deals
So without further ado, let's take a gander at what all those lovely UK networks are offering in their SIM-only plans.
Best for… SIM-only specialists
giffgaff is owned by O2, so no surprise when we tell you that's the network it uses. But because it specialises in SIM-only deals (that's all it offers) you should feel right at SIM-only home here.
It offers a range of plans - or "goodybags", as it likes to call them - which work on a rolling 30-day contract system.
It's worth noting that if you have a BlackBerry then you'll need to add an additional £3 on to the tariff you select to get access to the various BlackBerry services.
If you're eyeing up one of those swanky smartphones that require a microSIM, then don't fear, since giffgaff can cater for your needs.
Clocking in at a tidy £10, giffgaff's cheapest "goodybag" offers up a very reasonable 250 minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited data and free giffgaff to giffgaff calls per month.
If you don't want data included in your "goodybag" (although that's unlikely in today's smartphone world), then you can pick up a deal for just £5 per month, which gives you 60 minutes, 300 texts and free giffgaff to giffgaff calls.
Middle of the road
For those of you who spend a bit more time nattering on the blower, then giffgaff's £15 goodybag may be more suited to your needs.
It gives you the same as the £10 deal, but bumps the minutes up to 400 a month.
If you're a bit more flash with cash, and are rarely off the phone, then you may want to plump for giffgaff's top-end £25 goodbag – once again offering all the same perks as the previous two we've mentioned, but with a bumper 1,500 minutes for you to chat with away each month.
Best for… going "On & On"
As well as owning the SIM-only specialist giffgaff, O2 also offers its own range of SIM-only deals.
O2 has named its SIM-only deals "Simplicity", and you've got the choice of a rolling 30-day contract or 12 month contract, which obviously keeps you locked in for longer, but provides slightly better value for money.
Kicking off with the rolling 30-day contract, the cheapest option available here is £13.50 per month, giving you 100 minutes, plus 100 additional O2 to O2 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data.
If you're able to stomach the 12 month contracts of old (we have fond memories of our Nokia 3310's one year deal) then you can get all of the above for just £10.50.
Middle of the road
O2's special "On & On" SIM-only deal is a good'un, offering up unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data for just £20 per month on a 12 month contract.
Unfortunately the On & On simplicity offer isn't available on a 30-day contract, meaning you'll need to lay out £21.50 in return for a far less enticing 300 minutes (plus 500 O2 to O2 mins), unlimited texts and 250MB of data.
If you're dead set against signing on the dotted line for 12 months, but want all the minutes, texts and data you can sink your teeth into, then you'll need to fork out a huge £56 per month. This provides you with unlimited calls and texts, but a miserly 1GB of data.
On the 12 month deal side of things, bolt on an extra 1GB of data to the On & On tariff (totalling 2GB per month) and it will set you back £25 per month, and include unlimited minutes and texts.
Best for… animal instincts
Orange likes to mix things up a little, so it's had the bright idea to name its deals after a variety of animals – isn't that just swell?
There's a range of one month and 12 month contracts on offer, each boasting delightful names such as Dolphin, Panther and Racoon.
If you're of the iPhone persuasion then Orange have a special range of tariffs just for you, but there's no animal names on offer... so there.
For the BlackBerry users among you, some of those lovely animal tariffs also have an option for you guys, at no extra cost (mostly).
Kicking us off is the Orange Dolphin 7 tariff (12-month contract) which will, yep you've guessed it, set you back just £7 per month, giving you 150 minutes, 500 texts and 250MB of data.
If you're on minimum wage that's just over one hour's work, or if you're a student that's about two pints (give or take your northern/southerly location).
If you'd prefer a rolling 30-day contract, then take a peek at the Dolphin £10.50 deal, giving you 50 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data each month.
And for those of you who don't want/need data, then take a gander at the Canary deals – with the cheapest 30-day tariff available at £10.50 per month for 100 minutes and unlimited texts.
The cheapest iPhone deal rocks up at £10.50 per month for a 12 month contract, giving you 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 250MB of data.
Middle of the road
As far as the rolling 30-day deal is concerned, you'll want to look at the Panther £20.50 (or iPhone £20.50) – which offers up 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data each month.
If you're after slightly better value, check out the 12 month options on the above deals, which will set you back £15.50 per month and give you 600 minutes on top of the texts and 500MB data allowance.
For those of you rolling in money and willing to splurge on your tariff, you can pay Orange £36 per month on a rolling one month contract for 1,200 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data. This is available on the Panther and iPhone tariffs.
The monthly outlay is reduced to £31 if you opt for the 12-month contract – although better deals are to be had elsewhere, so if you're high volume user, make sure you shop around.
Best for… "The Full Monty" experience
Away from silly names and back to SIM-only reality, T-Mobile - sister network of Orange under the "Everything Everywhere" banner - offers a slightly reduced and easier-to-digest range of tariffs than its partner.
The T-Mobile site gives you a clear option between SIM and microSIM – although all the deals stay the same, and if you want the extra BlackBerry services (BBM, email and so on), you just need to make sure you include internet in your bundle.
T-Mobile's cheapest SIM-only deal will set you back £10.50 on a 12-month contract, and for that you'll get 300 minutes, 5,000 texts and 250MB of data, plus 500 additional minutes to call other people on T-Mobile.
The lowest 30-day rolling contract clocks in at £12.50 and gives you an average of 100 minutes (plus 250 T-Mobile minutes), 5,000 texts and 250MB of data.
If you don't want data in your deal then the 12 month option starts from £8 per month and the 30-day option is £10.50.
Middle of the road
T-Mobile's "Full Monty" tariff sits nicely in the middle price bracket, offering up unlimited minutes, texts and data (not including tethering) for the tidy sum of £21 per month – although you will be locked into a 12 month contract.
If you want a 30-day deal then unfortunately you can't get your mitts on the full-blown Full Monty. Instead you'll have to settle for the slightly less appealing 2,000 minutes (plus unlimited T-Mobile minutes), 5,000 texts and unlimited data for £26 per month deal - although that's still pretty good.
Normally the "Full Monty" 12 month deal is £31 per month, but T-Mobile currently has it on offer at the price shown above. This means there's little in the way of an expensive option at the moment.
It's unclear how long this offer will last, so you might want to get in quick if you like the sound of getting your own Full Monty (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Best for… those looking for "The One"
Three (or 3... clever, huh?) prides itself on "bringing the benefits of the internet to mobile", and being the first carrier in the UK to offer all-you-can-eat data plans.
Its "One Plan" is your one-stop-shop for the aforementioned all-you-can-eat data, something which is becoming increasingly popular in the world of smartphones and internet on the go.
Kicking off Three's SIM-only offering is the £6.90 per month plans, with the 12-month option furnishing you with 200 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500MB of data.
For those commit-o-phobes out there, the 30-day rolling contract will give you the same amount of minutes, texts and data at the £10 a month price point.
Middle of the road
If you've got a little more squilla in your wallet then you're straight into Three's all-you-can-eat data territory, with £15 seeing you through 12 months and providing 600 minutes, 5,000 texts and unlimited data.
The 30-day alternative will set you back the same amount monthly, but you only get 1GB of data allowance rather than unlimited.
Coming in top of the class is Three's "The One Plan", which offers you the full shebang for £25 per month on a rolling 30-day contract.
You'll get 2,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and yep, that's right, all-you-can-eat data - om nom nom.
Best for… free Wi-Fi hotspot access
The big red, as we assume Vodafone likes to be referred to, may be last in our roundup, but this doesn't mean it offers the poorest choice when it comes to SIM-only deals.
There's still a decent array of offers available here, with a clear definition between featurephone, smartphone and BlackBerry deals on its site - with the BlackBerry offers matching the price of the smartphone tariffs.
Vodafone not only offers 30-day, and 12 month contacts, with an additional 90-day option available as well, plus 750MB of free BT Openzone Wi-Fi access on all SIM-only plans.
Starting at the bottom of the price range, Vodafone's first tariff will set you back £10.50 per month and is available on 30- and 90-day rolling contacts, as well as the one year option.
You will get a slightly different set of allowances depending on the contract length you select. So 30 days will see you net 50 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data, while 90 days will give you 100 minutes and the same texts and data.
Opt for 12 months and you'll get a more inviting 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data.
Middle of the road
If you want a bit more bang for your buck then check out the £20.50 deals, which once again vary in terms of allowance, depending on the contract length.
A 30-day rolling contract will get you 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data, while if you plump for the 3 month contract you'll get 400 minutes plus the texts and data of the 30-day option.
Finally, if you are able to hold out for a full year, your £20.50 will provide you with 900 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data.
In the top bracket of Vodafone's offering sit a 30- and 90-day deal, both of which will set you back £31 per month.
Opt for 30 days and you'll receive 900 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data, while the 90 day contract will see the minutes bumped up to 1,000.
If 1,000 minutes is still not enough for you, then check out the £26 per month, one year contract which will furnish you with 3,000 minutes as well as unlimited texts and 1GB of data.