Make the right call on mobile phone 'freebies'

Customers are offered anything from laptops to games consoles with their contracts, but they're not always a good deal. Chiara Cavaglieri reports

These days, a mobile phone is a necessity rather than a luxury, and with fierce competition there are great deals to be had. But the networks are constantly finding ways to lock us into long contracts.

Getting a free laptop or computer console with your phone may be enticing and we all like something for nothing, but do these offers really save you money?

"Mobile companies have always enticed new customers with so-called 'freebies' such as laptops, flat-screen TVs or even iPads and iPods – but of course there is always a catch!" says Dominic Baliszewski from

First of all, the vast majority of free gift deals are offered by online retailers, not the actual networks themselves. Many of these are reserved for older phones or less generous contracts, so you must always compare the cost of buying the free gift and mobile contract separately.

Take the BlackBerry Bold 9900, for example; you can pocket a free Hewlett Packard laptop with O2, a Nintendo Wii with Orange, an Apple iPod Shuffle from 3 Mobile and a Nintendo 3DS from Vodafone, according to All enticing freebies no doubt, but with a closer look they aren't quite as exciting as they seem.

Firstly, all of these deals require you to sign up for two years. They also charge over the odds each month so that the cost of the "freebies" is priced into the monthly tariff. With O2 you could bag a free Hewlett Packard Pavilion G6 laptop with unlimited texts and minutes at £57 per month, totalling £684 for the total first-year cost. However, Mobilechoices says you could get the same deal for £51 per month, with seven months' free line rental, bringing the first-year cost to £255. Even with the cost of the laptop taken into account, which is upwards of £350, it is cheaper to steer clear of the freebie and buy it separately.

"To gauge value for money, look at the whole package carefully and compare the minutes, texts and data allowance on the contract to a similar deal without a free gift," says Ernest Doku, a tech expert at

Cashback offers can be just as tempting as freebies, but tread carefully as there may be strict terms and conditions. You are usually asked to send in various bills (such as your first, fourth and sixth bill) within a tight time frame in order to claim your cash. If you miss one deadline they may not only refuse to pay that month's cash but could also cancel payments for the rest of the contract, leaving you out of pocket.

Despite this, don't immediately dismiss all free gifts – there are good deals to be had from time to time. For example, if you're with Orange and eligible for an upgrade, it is giving away Xbox 360 consoles with preorders for the soon-to-be released Nokia Lumia 800 smartphone before 16 November.

You are still likely to be stuck with a long contract, however, which usually means being locked into an uncompetitive tariff when new and improved deals come along. For complete flexibility a SIM-only tariff is the way forward, offering one-month rolling contracts so you can cancel as and when you want to. You do need to pay for the handset yourself, but if you're not too bothered about having the latest phone, or you have tech-geek friends willing to pass on their rejects, these offer great value.

Virgin and O2 are particularly competitive in this area, with prices starting at £8.99 for 75 minutes and 2,500 texts, up to £25.99 for 800 minutes and 2,500 texts at Virgin and from £10.50 for 100 minutes and unlimited texts, up to £46 for unlimited texts and calls with O2 Simplicity deals.

"Remember, the power is in your hands. Think about what you want from your deal – whether it's the most texts for your money or the greatest flexibility and look for that first," says Jasmine Birtles, the editor of "The freebies and extras shouldn't come into the equation."

But, no matter whether you opt for a monthly contract, pay-as-you-go or SIM-only deal, always start by getting an idea of your usage. Look at old bills and use sites such as to see if your current tariff is too expensive for the amount of minutes and texts you use. If you do find a deal that you like the look of, simply calling up your provider and negotiating a new deal can bring results. Ask to be put through to the customer retentions department where they have leeway to offer top discounts to stop you from leaving the network and don't be afraid to say goodbye if they don't match it.

"If you find a better deal with another provider, be prepared to switch," says Mr Baliszewski. "These days it is easy to switch and keep your number and, if another network is cheaper, well worth it to make a saving."

Expert View

Ernest Doku,

"Mobile phone retailers are responding to our penchant for a freebie by offering everything from laptops to hair straighteners with monthly contracts. Everyone loves a freebie, but it's likely you'll end up absorbing some of the cost of that 'free' TV or games console in your monthly contract."

Compare with the Independent: See how much you could save by switching credit cards. Compare now

Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Data Analyst - Financial services, Client data, LEI

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: A leading, Cit...

    Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

    Corporate Actions Consultant - Market data, ISO15022, presales

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Corporate Acti...

    Prudential Risk/Operational Risk Associate - London

    £350 - £400 per day: Harrington Starr: An opportunity has arisen at a FCA regu...

    Day In a Page

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?