Choosing the best mobile phone
How to buy the best mobile phone
By Louise Muyanja
Article 1 of 4
Apple or Android? Cheap or premium? Find out how to choose right phone, get the best deal, and which brands are most reliable.
A great mobile phone will take the place of your camera, keep you informed and entertained on the move and still leave you with enough battery when you get home.
But it's not easy to find a model that can succeed on all counts. With prices rising and more than ever to choose from, it's important to spend your money wisely on a phone that will last.
Read our in-depth guide for advice on choosing the right operating system, brand and additional features that you'll really use.
Or head straight to the best mobile phones we've found in our tough tests.
In this article
- How much do I need to spend on a good phone?
- iOS or Android?
- What size of phone should I buy?
- Should I buy a phone on contract or Sim-free?
- Which mobile phone brand is most reliable?
- Samsung vs Apple mobile phones
Video: How to buy the best mobile phone
You can spend anything from around £15 to over £1,000 on a smartphone. Working our what features are most important is one of the key decisions that will determine how much you should look to spend.
If you want a premium top-of-the-range model from the likes of Apple, Samsung or Huawei, expect a dent of at least £700 in your bank account. Phones in this range typically come with a large screens, premium builds, and all the latest features – such as face recognition, fast charging, wireless charging and waterproofing.
A key benefit of premium phones often lies with the camera. With many models now featuring multiple lenses - including telephoto and ultra-wide, you can take some seriously impressive photos with these high-end models. Read more about top-rated mobile phones.
If smartphone photography isn't a priority and you can live without the very latest designs, a step down to the mid range market could save you a packet. You can still find extremely capable phones here with good screens, battery life, and a nice range of useful features - in fact some outscore far more expensive models in our tests. Expect to spend between £200 and £400 on a good mid-range mobile phone.
Shopping at the cheaper end of the mobile phone market is more difficult - there are a range of duds at the sub £200 price point that are best to avoid, but fortunately some good models too. You can expect cheaper construction and more basic designs in this price range, but battery life can still be very good and we've seen some decent cameras too. Read our guide to the best cheap mobile phones for more.
Ultimately there are no guarantees at any price point - we’ve found a Best Buys that cost around £300 and expensive handsets that flatter to deceive, so read plenty of reviews before you buy to avoid disappointment.
Check out our mobile phone reviews to get the best value for your money.
The operating system (OS) is the software that powers your phone. It shapes what the phone interface looks like and what apps it can run, and plays a large part in how easy it is to use. There are two main players to choose from: iOS (Apple iPhones) and Android.
Android is designed by Google and is used by a range of manufacturers, from bigger brands such as Samsung, Huawei and Motorola to growing brands like OnePlus and Honor. Android looks and behaves slightly differently depending on who manufactures the smartphone handset, but the basics are essentially the same.
- Pros It’s generally easy to use, extremely customisable and provides access to the wide variety of apps, games and entertainment available from the Google Play store. There are also plenty of Android phones to choose from whatever your budget.
- Cons In the past, Android has been slightly more vulnerable to attack than Apple handsets. That's beginning to change now, though - Google is putting more emphasis on vetting apps in the app store and patching security holes before they're released. Sometimes manufacturers and network providers can be slow to release Android updates to users.
All iPhones use iOS and, unlike Android, the experience of using the operating system is broadly similar whichever iPhone you buy. New updates to iOS are released each year, but some older iPhones may be able to run only older versions – for instance, only iPhones from and including the iPhone 5s can run iOS 11.
If your iPhone isn’t compatible, you’ll miss out on some of the latest apps, features and security patches introduced by Apple.
- Pros It’s easy to use and quick to learn, even if you haven’t used a smartphone before. It provides access to the well-stocked Apple app store – where apps are vetted before being released, so you can rest assured they’re safe to use.
- Cons Apple iPhones are expensive. If you're not obsessed with having the latest tech, you can find cheaper deals on older handsets, though. Apple iPhones also do not come with a micro-SD card slot, so you’ll need to choose the memory capacity carefully to avoid running out of space for your app, music and photo collection.
Smartphones are getting bigger, with the latest high-end models measuring between 5.5 and 6 inches or more. While bigger phones are great for watching films and browsing the web, they won’t suit everyone. Some people find them too large and awkward to hold, and would prefer a model they can comfortably use with one hand.
The best way to find out which handset size is right for you is to try holding a few in a shop. If you do want something that will slip more easily into your pocket or bag, pick a 4-5-inch phone.
Also pay attention to the physical dimensions of the phone. Screen sizes are available at different aspect ratios, and different phones have different sized bezels. A phone with a 6-inch screen may ultimately be smaller than one with a 5.5-inch screen.
This is a key buying decision. It can be tempting to opt for a lower monthly fee rather than pay a lot outright for a new phone, but this could cost more in the long term. Use our phone contract calculator to find the best way to buy.
Should I buy a second hand phone?
Possibly not. One way to get a good discount on a phone is to buy second-hand, or a refurbished model - which is usually a phone that has been used but restored to 'as new' condition, or graded to a certain level of quality. The second hand phone market is a popular one, but you do need to be careful what you buy. Read more in our guide to buying a second-hand or refurbished mobile phone.
Where can I find the best mobile phone deals?
You'll often find mobile phones reduced in price both Sim-free (when you buy a phone outright and purchase a Sim separately) and on contract once they've been out for a while. This is particularly the case if a successor to this model of phone has already been released.
Usually you'll find the best deals online - stores like Amazon, Currys PC World and John Lewis regularly offer discounts on older handsets, and you might want to check reputable businesses on eBay as well. Unless you're open to buying a second hand or refurbished phone, make sure the model you are purchasing is brand new, ideally in an original, unopened box.
You can browse some of the best discounts on new mobile phones in our guide to the best Sim-free mobile phone deals.
Do I need a waterproof phone?
For many people this is an absolute must. You might be tempted by a water-resistant smartphone if you have nightmares about the time you dropped your phone into the sink, immediately immersed it into a bag of rice, and spent the next 48 hours desperately hoping all would be fine. More and more phones are claiming to be waterproof, but it is more common in more expensive models.
Bear in mind that some phones claim a higher waterproof level than others. For instance, Apple says the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus can survive submersion into 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes, while Samsung says that the Galaxy S8 and S9 still work after being plunged in 1.5 metres of water for the same amount of time.
Interestingly, we're seeing some more mid-range phones with waterproofing. The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) has IP68 ratings, making it as water resistant as the more expensive S-series line-up. This rating also makes them more waterproof than the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus - and some pricier phones, like the OnePlus 7T, aren't water-resistant at all.
The biggest fault people have with mobile phones is related to battery, with almost one in five reporting issues with phones refusing to charge, or quickly losing charge.
We collect reliability data on all the big brand smartphones so you have all the very best advice before you buy. Read our guide to the most reliable smartphone brands for more.
We've seen plenty of exciting new brands arrive into the mobile market over the last few years, but there's no doubt Samsung and Apple still rule the roost. Their most popular mobile phones aren't always the latest models, either.
Samsung Galaxy S10, £799
- Screen size: 6.1-inches
- Cameras: 12Mp wide, 12Mp telephoto, 16Mp ultrawide (back), 10Mp wide (front)
- Storage: from 128GB
The central model from Samsung's newest flagship range attempts to offer the best of the larger Galaxy S10+ in a smaller size. There are three cameras on the back, designed to cope with a wide range of settings and environments, plenty of storage, plus Samsung's holepunch display means the screen is bigger, but the footprint isn't. It also retains the popular Edge display, unlike the cheaper Galaxy S10e.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S10 review to see if it's worth the high cost.
Samsung Galaxy S8, £400
- Screen size: 5.8-inches
- Cameras: 12Mp wide (back), 8Mp wide (front)
- Storage: from 64GB
The Galaxy S8 may be old, but since it's now available for almost half the original price, it's no surprise to see that it's still very popular. The S8 series saw the introduction of a new design, with the now familiar Edge display and thin bezels top and bottom making this one attractive mobile. It doesn't have the array of cameras you'll find in newer phones, but considering the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ were fairly iterative upgrades, it could be one of the best bargains out there right now.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S8 review to see if it can still stand proud in today's market.
Apple iPhone XS, £999
- Screen size: 5.8-inches
- Cameras: 12Mp wide, 12Mp telephoto (back), 7Mp (front)
- Storage: from 64GB
Apple introduced three models in its most recent series of phones - the XS accompanies the cheaper iPhone XR, and the big-screen iPhone XS Max. Interestingly, the series hasn't captured hearts and minds as quickly as Apple would have hoped. Perhaps it's because the iPhone X is now available at a good discount, and the XS is largely an iterative upgrade.
Read our review of the iPhone XS to see if it's worth paying more.
Apple iPhone 7, £449
- Screen size: 4.7-inches
- Cameras: 12Mp wide (back), 7Mp (front)
- Storage: from 32GB
If you're unwilling or unable to splash out on newer Apple phones, you're not alone. There's a reason why the iPhone 7 remains such a popular handset - there are some big savings to be had here. Consider that it looks so similar to its direct successor, the iPhone 8, and it's not hard to see why so many are opting for the value proposition.
Our review of the iPhone 7 reveals how well it stacks up to the competition.
Other mobile phone brands: Huawei, Motorola, Google and more
There's plenty of choice in the smartphones market outside Samsung and Apple, and plenty of quality too - we've found over a dozen Best Buys from rival brands.
Now firmly established in the UK, Huawei has a range of mobile phones at different price points, from the high-end P30 Pro down to the more wallet-friendly Y6. Shop carefully though, there's a big difference between its best and worst phones in our tests. Browse the range with our Huawei mobile phone reviews.
A popular 'budget' brand, Motorola has a range of very competitively priced models, and are a favourite among users who don't want to spend a fortune on a phone. Our tests have shown that it's capable of both Best Buys and Don't Buys, so check our Motorola mobile phone reviews to make sure your money's spent wisely.
Google aims for quality over quantity - it has a limited range but the phones are popular with budding smartphone photographers, and those who appreciate timely operating system updates - Google does own Android, after all. Browse our Google smartphone reviews to see if they tick the boxes elsewhere.
Other mobile phone brands
We've tested well over a hundred mobile phones to bring you a definitive verdict on your next phone - from old-hands Sony, HTC and Nokia to new kids on the block Oppo, Xiaomi and OnePlus. Browse all our mobile phone reviews to find the perfect model.