The Insider: Mobile phones

You’re spoilt for choice when buying a mobile

Mobile phone technology has come a long way over the past 10 years. While they were once heavy, cumbersome and not much use for anything other than making phone calls, today’s newest models are lightweight, sleekly designed, and can do everything from taking pictures to giving you directions.

“Modern mobiles can be used for far more than just making calls,” says Martyn Hocking, the editor of Which? Magazine. “Most now come with a built-in camera and some have music players, internet access and GPS software. But a good handset should get the basics right, too – it should be easy to use, and have decent sound quality, reception levels and battery life.”

With so much choice available, choosing a phone can be quite daunting these days. However, it’s worth doing some research and not just taking the first model that you’re offered in the shop. Although there’s a good chance that you’ll be offered a free phone if you sign up to a contract, you can normally specify which model you’d like. Even if it’s much more expensive, you may not have to pay much, or any, more to get the phone of your choice.

“The amount you pay will depend on whether you opt for a contract or pay-as-you-go tariff,” explains Hocking. “If you take out a contract, your phone will be heavily subsidised by the service provider or may even be free, but you’ll be tied in for 12 to 24 months. If you choose pay as you go, it’s likely to cost at £50 for a mid-range handset, although you can buy a very basic one for around £10.

“Don’t just chuck out your old handset when you get a new one. Most mobile phone networks and shops will recycle your old phone, you can sell it to companies like Mopay and Envirophone, or there are loads of charities that will gladly take it off your hands.”

The first step, when choosing a phone is to consider what functions you want and need. Some phones double up as MP3 players or have built in GPS features – but if you don’t really need these features, then you’re more likely to be able to pick up a cheaper deal.

Remember that if you want a phone that allows you to browse the internet, it’s important to sign up to a package where the data charges are not too steep. If you’re going to be accessing the web on a regular basis from your phone, it’s best to go for a package that includes unlimited browsing.

Once you’ve narrowed down the field by considering what functionality you need, the next factor to consider is battery life. Some phones will last you for no longer than a day without a top-up, while others can keep going for more than 100 hours.

When the consumer group Which? carried out its most recent tests of mobile phones, it ranked the Sony Ericcson W890i Walkman phone as the best on the market. At £230, it’s quite expensive. But Which?’s tests found that it had a great battery life, was easy to use, and produced great sounding music. It also has fast internet access as well as a high quality camera.

For those looking for a slightly cheaper model, however, it’s worth considering the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, which came second in Which?’s tests, and costs just £80.

You should give the Sony Ericcson T303 a wide berth, however. Although it costs just £40, it’s camera is poor quality, there's not much memory for storing music, and it’s not particularly easy to text with.

Where to buy

Brokers such as phones4u and the Carphone Warehouse often have good deals in store – and may offer free gifts if you sign up to a contract. It’s worth checking their websites too – as they sometimes have web exclusives.

Websites such as onecompare.com and mobilephonecentral.co.uk can also help you compare current offers on contracts and standalone handsets. If you know which network you want to sign up with, it’s also well worth going to them direct – via one of their stores, or via their website.

Five questions to ask...

How long is the battery life? Some phones can keep going for more than 100 hours, while others can barely stay on for a day.

Does it have enough memory? If you want your phone to double up as a music player, you’ll need one that has enough memory to store all of your favourite albums.

Is it 3G? If you want to use video messaging and have fast access to the internet on the move, you’ll need to choose a phone that is 3G compatible.

What kind of pictures does it take? It’s now possible to get phones that take perfect quality pictures. If that’s a priority, you’ll want to go for a phone that has a camera with at least three megapixels.

How big is it? If you’ve got to carry it around with you all day, it’s worth getting a phone that is not too big and not too heavy. But make sure you don’t make too much of a compromise on battery life.

The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information visit www.which.co.uk/mobiles or get a guide to the best handsets under £100 in Which? Money, on sale at Sainsbury’s for £2.99. To get three issues of Which? magazine for £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE

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