How to buy the best mobile phone
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.
Video: How to buy the best mobile phone
How much do I need to spend on a 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 .
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 .
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 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.
iOS or Android: which OS is best?
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 , and to growing brands like and . 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 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.
What size of phone should I buy?
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.
Which mobile phones have the best battery life?
You might be tempted to think that phones with larger batteries have a better battery life. While battery size is a good indicator, that's not always the case. There are multiple things that can drain a phone's battery, including screen size, resolution and refresh rate, and the type of processor.
We put all phones through a rigorous battery test to find out how long they last under real usage conditions – watching videos, browsing the internet, making calls, using the camera and more, and we factor in idle time as well, to give a realistic usage time, and attribute a star rating.
Should I buy a phone on contract or Sim-free?
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 .
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 and can survive submersion into 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes, while Samsung says that the 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 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 , aren't water-resistant at all.
Which mobile phone brand is most reliable?
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.
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 .
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 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 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 to find the perfect model.
Where to buy a mobile phone
When buying a mobile phone, make sure you're handing your money over to a reputable seller. Check the retailer's returns policy and pay attention to customer feedback and reviews. For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty products, see our .
Mobile Phones Direct, Argos and Carphone Warehouse are some of the most searched-for mobile phone retailers at the time of writing. We’ve included links to these retailers handpicked because of their stock availability, best value price or warranty options.
- – from Sim-free and Sim-only to pay monthly or refurbished, mobile phones direct (part of the AO family) stocks hundreds of phones that are delivered using free next day delivery direct from UK manufacturers. It offers deals with 18 different brands including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Google with one of three network options; Vodaphone, O2 and Three.
- – sells a mixture of Sim-free and Pay as you Go mobile phones. Prices start at less than £20 for basic models and go up to around £1,300. Argos offers same day in-store collection at selected Sainsbury's stores and you can even bump up your nectar points when you shop there.
- – specialist mobile phone retailer that stocks lots of different phones from a range of network providers. You can opt for Sim-only or a monthly contract and you can even trade in your old phone when you upgrade. Carphone Warehouse promises to price match if you find a cheaper deal elsewhere and they offer free home or in-store delivery.
- –part of Carphone Warehouse, it's always worth checking this site as well, especially if you're looking to buy on contract. They often have good deals on handsets, though make sure you've added up all extras – including upfront costs. Look for the total price paid, rather than getting seduced by price per month.