Mobile Phone Buying Guide
Looking for a new phone? There’s a huge range to choose from, but it can be tough deciding on the right one. That’s why we’ve created this buying guide.
To help you understand all you need to know about choosing a new phone - including ways to buy, network advice, and the best features to look out for.
How to buy your new mobile phone
I want to buy a phone on its own.
Want to own your phone from the get-go? Then buy a SIM free phone. It’s sold without a SIM card, call plan, or data plan, so you’re only paying for the phone itself. At Currys, you can choose to pay upfront or spread the cost. You can then slot in your current SIM, or buy a separate SIM only deal with the minutes, texts and data you need.
SIM free phones are popular because they give you complete freedom. You're not tied to any network, and you're free to choose the SIM only deal that suits you best. Plus, all of our SIM free phones come unlocked, so you can choose any network you want. You can then choose from a wide range of phone accessories, including cases and screen protectors to keep it safe.
I want to buy a phone and SIM plan.
If you want to buy a phone and SIM plan together, you’ve got two options… a standard pay monthly mobile phone deal, or a transparent and flexible mobile phone deal from Currys.
With a standard pay monthly mobile phone deal, you sign up to a monthly contract that covers the cost of your phone - as well as your minutes, texts, and data. You pay a set amount by Direct Debit each month, and the contract can last one, two, or three years.
The second option is only available at currys.co.uk… simple and transparent deals with no hidden charges. You’ve got flexibility to build your perfect plan in three easy stages:
- Choose your phone and decide how you want to pay. In full, or in monthly instalments.
- Choose the right plan, on the right network, for the right length of time.
- Choose the best accessories for your phone. We’ve got great range, from cases and screen protectors to headphones. And if you prefer, you can add them to your plan using flexible credit to spread the cost.
I have a phone, so just need a SIM.
There are lots of good reasons to go for a SIM only deal. If you’re happy with your existing phone and have paid up your pay monthly contract, a new SIM card gives you a chance to switch to a great new deal - on a new network, if you fancy a change.
SIM only deals are usually cheaper than a pay monthly deal because you're not paying off the cost of the handset anymore. You're simply paying for network access and your minutes, texts, and data. And you can take advantage of different network benefits depending on your plan, such as content offers and data rollover. Plus, you don’t have to sign a long-term contract. You can choose the length of contract that suits you.
I want to buy a pay-as-you go phone with SIM.
Pay-as-you-go phones offer value and flexibility. Instead of a contract and monthly charges, you buy a pay-as-you-go phone and SIM card. The pay-as-you-go SIM card gives you credit to pay for the minutes, texts, and data you use. You then top up the credit when you run out.
Pay-as-you-go isn’t as popular as it used to be, as customers now have lots of other flexible budget options available to them. For example, Currys has a wide range of cheap SIM-free phones and flexible SIM only deals. See ‘I want to buy a phone and SIM plan’ above for details.
How to choose your mobile network
How to choose your mobile network
There are four main UK mobile network: Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three. There are also quite a few MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that use the infrastructure of one of the four main networks above. For example, iD Mobile is an MVNO that uses the Three network’s infrastructure.
When it comes to choosing the right one for you, the main things to consider are coverage, costs, and benefits:
Coverage. You’ll want to make sure your network gives you good coverage in the places you use your phone the most, like your home and work addresses. Most networks have coverage checkers on their website, where you can input a postcode or view a map to see if suitable coverage is available in your area for 3G, 4G and even 5G, if you’re thinking of getting a 5G-ready phone! It’s also worth noting that if you’re on an MVNO, you’ll get exactly the same coverage as the network it uses.
Costs. Think carefully about how much you can afford to pay each month. If you’re on a strict budget, MVNOs usually offer cheaper deals and rates than the main networks. Of course, you’ve also got added benefits to consider…
Benefits. Look out for freebies and extras that the main networks and MVNOs try and tempt you with. Some of them are well worth it, from subscriptions to your favourite streaming services to data rollover.
How easy is it to switch networks?
Switching (also known as porting) to a different network is quick and easy.
Simply ask your current network for a PAC code if you want to keep your existing mobile number, or a STAC code if you’re fine with getting a new number. You can call your existing network or text ‘PAC’ to the number 65075 or ‘STAC’ to 75075. Your network will immediately respond with your code and other important information including outstanding charges.
Then give the code to your new network, and you’ll be switched over to them pretty quickly – usually within the next working day.
What is a bill cap?
A bill cap lets you set a monthly spend limit to your bill, so you'll never accidentally spend more each month.
For example, if your monthly bill comes to £20 per month, and you add a £5 bill cap to cover any extra services you may use, you’ll be prevented from incurring additional charges more than £5 above the cost of your monthly bill. These extra charges could be for things like international calling, picture messaging or roaming abroad. You can usually buy add-ons if you need more of anything.
You don’t have to set a bill cap if you don’t want to. Networks also give you the option to opt out.
How to choose your mobile operating system
What’s the difference between iOS and Android?
A mobile phone’s operating system, or OS for short, is the software that it runs on. The most popular are iOS and Android.
iOS runs exclusively on Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch.
Android runs on most other phone brands including Samsung, Oppo & Google.
Designed by Google, Android is an easy-to-use operating system that gives you access to all of Google’s services and over 3 million apps in the Google Play store. It’s also very customisable, so you can change colours, themes, wallpapers and lots more.
Apple's iOS has built up a solid reputation for being simple, intuitive, attractive, and secure. It’s been designed to help you do everything quickly and easily. You’ll only find it on Apple devices, and it gives you access to loads of fantastic Apple programs like iCloud, Facetime and iMessage, plus around 2 million apps from the App Store.
Mobile phone features explained
What type of screens are there?
There are two main types of phone display: LCD and OLED. OLED is more commonly referred to as AMOLED when it’s on a phone.
AMOLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The name just means each pixel in the screen lights up independently, giving you bright colours and deep blacks. And because black is shown by turning off pixels, AMOLED displays actually use less battery power.
LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. They work by passing electricity through a liquid crystal panel and filtering light to create different colours and images. A big advantage of LCDs is that they can be very bright, which is good when you’re using your phone outside in bright light.
Both types of display look great, but you’ll usually find that OLED is better when it comes to contrast, colour, deeper blacks, and better viewing angles. There are lots of screen protectors available to keep your great displays looking great, from basic designs to advanced models that protect your eyes from blue light.
What screen resolution do I need?
Screen resolution is a measure of the pixels (tiny dots) the make up your phone screen. The better the resolution, the sharper your display is.
High Definition (HD) displays measure 1280 x 720 pixels, so it’s also often called 720p.
A step up from that is Full HD, measuring 1920 x 1080 pixels, and also called 1080p.
Quad HD takes things to another level. Measuring 2560 x 1440, it gives you an unbelievably sharp display. It’s also known as 4K.
Retina display is the brand name for Apple’s phone screens. It doesn’t have a fixed resolution but adapts to the size of the display instead. So, if you’ve got a larger iPhone, the resolution increases until there’s enough tiny pixels to fill the screen. And those pixels are so small that you can’t see any of them individually.
You should also check out the display refresh rate on any phone you’re interested in. If your phone display has a 60Hz refresh rate, the display will update 60 times a second. You won’t notice any juddering at 60Hz, but higher refresh rates make everything feel smoother and responsive. A lot of mobile phones now have refresh rates of 90Hz, 120Hz and more… the higher, the better.
What screen size do I need?
When you’re choosing the size of your phone, think about what you use it for, and how you use it.
A small display means you’ll have a small phone that’s easy to use with one hand and slip into your pocket or bag. But it might be too small to enjoy a movie or see all the details in your favourite game.
If you want to stay entertained with games and movies, or work on large documents when you’re on the go, a large display will suit you best. Plus, larger phones have larger on-screen keyboards, making it easier for you to type accurately. The potential drawback? Larger phones can be more difficult to use single-handedly or fit in your pocket.
What type of lens do I need?
Most phone cameras have multiple lenses on them, letting you shoot a huge range of subjects from super close-ups to epic landscapes. Here are three of the most commonly used to look out for:
- Wide-angle. Into taking epic landscape shots? Want to make sure you fit all the gang in the frame? Then you’ll need a wide-angle lens on your camera.
- Telephoto. This is the lens you need to take shots of far-off subjects and magnify distant objects.
- Macro. A macro lens lets you get close up to tiny objects and capture incredible amounts of detail. Everything from water drops on leaves to scary bug-eyed faces on, well, bugs.
How many megapixels do I need?
Megapixels relate to the resolution of a picture, and how large it can be reproduced without losing quality. 5-8 megapixels is usually enough to give you sharp pictures, but more megapixels don’t always mean better photos.
Lots of other factors affect the quality of your snaps, such as aperture and shutter speed. If you’re serious about taking photos on your phone, you’ll need to do some research beyond the megapixel number!
What camera features should I look out for?
Mobile camera tech is coming on leaps and bounds, and there are some exciting features to look out for:
Night Mode. Not only does this make low lit shots look bright and clear, but some versions are capable of lighting up completely dark rooms, letting you see things that you can’t with the naked eye.
AI scene recognition. This clever software identifies different types of scenes and subjects, from pets to food, and adjusts its settings to give you the best possible shot.
Facial recognition. Selfie fans should look out for front-cameras with facial recognition. They make sure all your features are lit perfectly and captured in exact detail. It’s like having your own personal photo studio!
How long does a phone battery last?
The typical battery life of a phone can vary quite a lot. So, if you’ve got your eye on a particular model, we suggest you check your phone’s instruction leaflet (or impartial online reviews) to find out its expected battery life.
Most good phones will have an all-day battery or more, so you can use it when you’re out and about and plug it in to charge it at the end of the day. Some of the fastest chargers give you the power to go from 0% to 50% in just 15 minutes. So, if you’re about to head out the door and notice you’re out of power, you’ll just need to plug it in for a few minutes to get a decent amount of battery life.
And to be on the extra safe side, you might even consider carrying a powerbank around with you for portable charging.
What is mAh?
mAh stands for milliampere-hour. The mAh number indicates the size of your phone battery. The bigger the number, the larger your battery capacity.
mAh size is quite a good guide to how long the battery life of your phone will be, but other factors like your phone’s internal hardware and software will also have an effect.
What is the difference between memory and storage?
Memory, or RAM (Random Access Memory) is what your phone uses to run its operating system and programs.
Storage is the space that’s available for you to save things like apps, files, videos, and photos
Basically, the larger your RAM, the faster your phone will be. The larger your memory, the more space you have to safe all your good stuff.
What is expandable memory?
Some phones let you add more memory by slotting in a memory card. This is known as expandable memory. You can then add a memory card up to that amount.
Anything above 64GB gives you a serious amount of storage space and means you won’t have to worry about deleting old apps to make room for new ones. Not for a while, anyway.
How do I free up storage?
The best way of freeing up storage is simple. Delete all those large apps you don’t use anymore.
Videos and music files can also take up a lot of space, so cull any you can live without.
And finally, even though texts and photo don’t take up too much space, they can pile up pretty quickly. So, every few weeks, get rid of the ones you don’t want.
What is 3G, 4G and 5G?
When you use a phone when you’re out and about, you’ll be on a 3G, 4G or 5G mobile network. 3G is the earliest and slowest, 5G is the latest. And it’s blazing fast!
3G is the third generation of mobile phone network. Launched in 2003, it gave phone users the power to do things like browsing web pages and making video calls on our phones. 3G is still used widely throughout the UK, but it can sometimes take a while to load.
4G is the fourth generation of mobile phone network. It came along in 2012 and is around five times faster than 3G. 4G is fine for watching videos, streaming music, and downloading apps. You can get 4G in most towns and cities.
5G is the fifth generation of mobile network, succeeding 3G and 4G in 2019. Transferring data and downloading movies is about 10x faster than 4G, and it also gives you a more reliable connection. Fancy downloading an entire movie in seconds? Well, with 5G you can!
5G is being rolled out to more places across the UK each day, so check your network coverage to see if you’re in a 5G area.
How do I know if my phone is compatible with 3G, 4G or 5G?
Can I get 5G on my phone?
You’ll need three things to receive 5G on your phone:
- A 5G-ready phone.
- A 5G network plan.
- 5G coverage in your area.
If you’ve got all the above, you should see the ‘5G’ icon at the top of your display when your mobile data is switched on. If you leave a 5G area, your phone will automatically connect to 4G, then reconnect to 5G when you’ve got coverage again.
Can I have a 5G phone with a 4G SIM?
What are the different sizes of SIM card?
SIM cards come in three sizes: Standard, Micro and Nano. Most networks will provide you with a combi SIM card, containing all three sizes.
You simply choose the size you need, snap it out from the perforated edges, and insert it into the SIM card tray of your phone. Make sure you're certain of the SIM card size before you do this, and check your instruction manual if you're not sure.
What is an E-Sim?
How much data do I need?
The amount of monthly data you need depends on what you use your phone for.
If you use your phone like most of us do - for fun, leisure, and timewasting on your daily commute, then 4GB data is probably the minimum amount you need a month. And even then, you’ll need to be careful with video streaming. Watch a Netflix film in HD and your 4GB will be gone in less than an hour.
If you go for a bigger amount of data like 15GB, it gives you a lot more freedom to do the things you want. For example, you could do these things each month (all of them, not just one!):
- Watch 5 hours of Netflix show on SD (standard definition).
- Spend more than 24 hours watching YouTube.
- Listen to 300 songs on Spotify.
Does my data roll over?
A lot of mobile networks now let you roll over unused data to the next month. This lets you plan ahead and save up data for when you really need it.
It’s a really great benefit - after all, why should you just lose your unused data? It’s worth checking if your network offers it, and if any special rules apply. For example, some networks only give you a month to use any rolled over data.
Can I use my data abroad?
The answer to this question depends on where you’re going, and which mobile network you’re on. Check with them before you head off on your travels, just so you can be sure of any extra costs involved. That way, you’ll avoid the nasty surprise of a large phone bill when you return to the UK.
From 2017, UK phone owners have been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone plans in another EU country. But since January 2021, UK mobile networks have been allowed to set roaming charges. So even if you’re travelling to an EU country, you should check your network’s rules around roaming before you go.
What is Wi-fi Calling?
Some mobile networks offer a service called Wi-Fi Calling. It lets you make and take calls using a Wi-Fi network. You can also send text messages through the same Wi-Fi network.
Indoor blackspots can stop you getting connected, but with Wi-Fi Calling, that's not a problem. It gives you clearer calls, in more places than ever before.
What are the different types of charging tech?
Your phone will come with its own charger. And these days, a lot of phone manufacturers are offering fast and superfast charging as standard. For added convenience, you can also charge some phones wirelessly.
Your phone’s instruction leaflet will tell you what type of charger that’s included in the box. Some of the fastest chargers give you the power to go from 0% to 50% in just 15 minutes. So, if you’re about to head out the door and notice you’re out of power, you’ll just need to plug it in for a few minutes to get a decent amount of battery life.
With a wireless charger, you simply place your phone on it to start charging. No more worries about fiddling with wires or plug, even in the dark.
Wireless chargers come in different shapes and sizes, and some phone-makers such as Samsung have their own wireless chargers. Not all wireless chargers will charge your phone as fast as a wired connection, but there’s no denying how convenient they are. The latest wireless chargers are also less bulky - which means they’re more likely to take up less space on your bedside table or desk.
MagSafe charging is available on the latest iPhones. It’s a charger that magnetically attaches to the back of the iPhone, for quick and safe wirelessly charging. In fact, it’s about twice as speedy as standard wireless charging.
What types of headphones can I use with my phone?
First of all, check if your phone has a headphone jack. Some of the newer models no longer have one, so you’ll need a pair of wireless headphones.
Then check out our list of things to consider when buying headphones. It’s got all the info you need to make the right choice, on everything from battery life to sound quality.
Do I need a screen protector?
A screen protector is an additional sheet of material—usually polyurethane or tempered glass—that can be attached to the screen of your phone to protect it from scrapes and scratches.
We have a range of screen protectors to suit all your needs, from those that protect your privacy and screen, to protectors that filter out toxic blue light to protect you and your device.
Do I need a phone case?
Yes! If you want to keep your new phone safe from everyday knocks and drops, we suggest you go for a compatible phone case.
Whatever type of design and protection you’re looking for, you’ll find the phone case you need at Currys. We’ve got everything from premium cases with the same impact absorbent material used in military body armour, to wallet cases that give your phone 360 degree protection. And if the case has been specially designed for your phone, you’ll have easy access to all of your buttons and charging ports.