Deciding on the right phone contract can be a minefield of confusing tariffs, lengthy contracts and hidden charges.
Which is why more and more of us are opting for Pay As You Go.
PAYG phone deals let you top up your call credit when you want, so you only pay for the calls and texts you make and data you use with no nasty surprises creeping into your bills.
There are no contracts, so you can change network at any time or simply stop using it if you want. They’re also a great option for under-18s, parents looking to kit out their kids, and anyone with a poor credit history – there’s no credit check carried out as with a pay monthly contract.
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It’s not all roses though. Using PAYG means you’ll have to pay for your phone in full up front, rather than get the big discounts typical of a monthly contract. If you’re a sucker for the latest tech, that could be costly – the new iPhone5 64GB, for example, will set you back a whopping £699.
Any new phone you buy will likely be locked too, so if you swap network you’ll need to get it unlocked and that can invalidate your warranty.
The good news is that in these austerity-engulfed times, more and more manufacturers and network providers are vying for our PAYG business. And with technology moving apace, better phones are becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous – search around and you’ll find fully-featured smartphones with all the bells and whistles at surprisingly affordable prices.
Here we’ve assembled some PAYG picks that offer different features at different prices – and there really is something for everyone.
For those who like to call, text and snap the odd photo but don’t browse the web, a basic PAYG phone represents the best value.
PAYG price: from £4.95 (plus £10 top up)
The catchily-named E2121B comes in at the very budget end of the market, currently available for just under a fiver on PAYG for the handset, with an obligatory £10 credit top up.
Slim, super lightweight and reasonably stylish, it offers all the basics including FM radio, simple camera, Bluetooth, GPRS and EDGE but no 3G or WiFi so it’s not great for getting online. A ten-hour talk time and SD card memory slot for up to 2GB round out the feature set.
Nokia Asha 201
PAYG price: £40 (plus £10 top up)
The Asha steps the price up a little, but is solidly built and comes with a full QWERTY keyboard, lending it a BlackBerry-esque look and feel.
Features include a 2Mp camera, MP3 player, microSD card memory slot up to 32GB and compatibility with MSN messenger and Whatsapp (popular, free chat services). But with no 3G on board, surfing the web is one thing to avoid.
[Related: Find the best prices for mobile deals]
Alcatel OneTouch 916
PAYG price: £60 (including £10 credit)
The Android Gingerbread OneTouch 916 is a great looking, well-featured phone with a large, responsive QWERTY keyboard and 2.6-inch touchscreen.
Housing a 3.2Mp camera with zoom and flash, 2GB memory card, radio, and MP3 player, it also offers 3G and WiFi for getting online, a dedicated Facebook button for social networkers and compatibility with thousands of apps.
BlackBerry Curve 9320
PAYG price: £108 (plus £10 top up)
This BlackBerry smartphone with its full QWERTY keyboard, built-in BlackBerry Messenger and dedicated social apps is a great texting phone.
Just breaking the £100 mark, it’s laden with top-end features including BlackBerry’s dedicated features like BBM Music and email, 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth, microSD slot up to 32GB, 3.2Mp camera and A-GPS.
Fully featured touchscreens and features galore, these multi-taskers offer serious functionality at pocket-friendly prices.
PAYG price: £60 (including £10 credit)
The solid but simple KIS screams value with its low price but full smartphone spec.
Smart and stylish if not exactly glamorous, it houses a 3.5-inch touchscreen and runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and an 800MHz processor, which means access to nearly half a million apps on the Google Play store. Granted, the screen isn’t the best and the UI is a little cluttered, but at this price that really is splitting hairs.
Huawei Ascend G300
PAYG price: £100
With a 1GHz processor and four-inch WVGA touchscreen, the G300 represents extraordinary value for money.
Running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it’s not the latest interface, but Huawei has added some nifty additions like a more intuitive dialler and 3D transitions. Couple this with reliable and fast web browsing, a great 5Mp camera with LED flash and a solid, stylish build, and it’s the best value smartphone on the market.