Whilst buying your smartphone directly from your mobile network has its advantages, purchasing a handset from a third-party retailer could be a lot cheaper.
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In the UK, you can purchase a handset directly from a mobile network or grab a phone deal from a third-party retailer like Carphone Warehouse, Amazon or Argos. You can also opt for a second hand smartphone, but we won’t dive into that topic in this article. If you’re asking yourself where the best place to buy a handset in the UK is, then we’ve got you covered.
Buying your handset directly from your carrier has some benefits, but network operators usually try to lock you in with a long term contract, which means you’ll end up paying a lot more for your device, and it won’t belong to you until your contract expires.. You can pay outright and get an unlocked phone, but generally this still works out more expensive than buying it from a third-party retailer.
Even if your budget is tight or you’re looking for the latest flagship handset, there is always a reliable online retailer offering handsets at a really competitive price point. You can also look for unlocked handsets in high street shops. Keep in mind though, you’ll likely find the more competitive deals online & also a wider range of handset options.
In this guide, we’ll take an extensive look at the third party handset retailers in the market, and also mention which mobile network operators sell mobile phones.
Carphone Warehouse used to have the largest high street presence for smartphones (besides the major network operators), but the retailer closed all standalone stores permanently on the 3rd April 2020. The company said they made the change due to the changing mobile market in the UK. The company is now focusing on online sales.
The retailer has a wide selection of handsets from budget friendly phones to high-end flagships and you have the option to bundle them with SIM plans from networks like iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile & Vodafone.
You can also trade in your old device and get money off your new handset, if you choose to buy your device directly from them.
The retailer has a long history & is trustworthy plus they also offer next day delivery for free. Carphone is also known for running promotional deals & you can find some great discounts all year round.
This retailer also belongs to Dixons Carphone group and they share the same inventory. You can get SIM-Free, unlocked phones from Currys, but they usually offer very similar deals to Carphone Warehouse. However, there’s always a chance to find a better deal, or a different bundle on Currys so make sure to have a look at their offers too.
On top of that, you can still find Currys PCWorld high street stores across the UK.
Amazon is the world’s largest online marketplace and the online retailers UK edition sells a wide range of handsets. Pretty much all the devices you can imagine can be found on Amazon, and if you have an Amazon Prime membership you’ll get your handset within a day of purchasing. Make sure to pick a trustworthy reseller and check their reviews thoroughly, before making a purchase.
Amazon is one of your best options if you’re looking for an unlocked smartphone with super competitive prices available at all times.
Mobiles.co.uk is part of Carphone Warehouse, which makes them a sister retailer to Currys & E2Save as well. You can find a wide variety of handsets on Mobiles.co.uk and they offer many online exclusives that aren’t available outside Dixons Carphone stores. The retailer has been about since the 90s, and is still going strong.
If you’re in the market for a new mobile phone, Mobiles.co.uk is definitely a website worth checking out.
Purchasing an unlocked smartphone from Argos can be hit or miss. It’s an outdated system, stock issues can give you a headache, and customer service is often problematic. Having said that, Argos occasionally has unbeatable prices on specific handsets and it’s click and collect option means you can pick up your new handset on the same day.
You can also spread the cost of the device between 3 to 12 months with their ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ service, but make sure you pay for the purchase by the end of the agreement period otherwise interest charges will be due.
John Lewis may not have the most wallet-friendly prices, but their online service is often praised by their customers and you can find some unique unlocked phone offers on their online store.
You can find hundreds of SIM-free mobile phone deals on Very’s online store, including the latest flagship Apple and Android devices. Very also offers a screen insurance service with the phones they sell priced at £55 for a year. They make regular discounts on all types of phone deals so we recommend checking out their site before purchasing your next handset.
This retailer has great prices with regular discounts on offer. Plus you can shop for SIM only deals here, or bundle an unlocked phone with a SIM contract as well. However, if you’re looking for a bundled deal we recommend going to a mobile network directly.
They also sell refurbished smartphones, which is a great wallet friendly option.
This retailer also belongs to Dixons Carphone. e2 Save has reasonable prices, but they usually stick to selling mid-range to entry-level smartphones. They also have SIM only, SIM free and refurbished phone deals.
Fonehouse is a legitimate retailer that offers great reasonably priced SIM-free handset & mobile contract deals. Recently a similarly named company called ‘Fone House Group’ has been attempting to scam individuals and this company should be avoided. Only use the official Fonehouse store for making purchases.
Nowadays, mobile network operators in the UK usually sell unlocked devices, or at least they let their customers unlock their mobile phones after they have fulfilled their applicable service contract, completed the phone plan or paid the penalty fee for early termination.
Having said that, this will all change soon. Regulator Ofcom said the UK’s mobile networks won’t be allowed to sell mobile phones locked to their services from December 2021. Ofcom stated that locking a handset was discouraging owners from switching providers and it created unnecessary complications.
All handsets bought from Three after 1 January 2014 are unlocked, and if your device is somehow still locked for whatever reason, you can just use this form and get your device unlocked without having to pay a fee. You can also sell your old device to Three when buying a new one from them.
You can get a pay monthly phone deal from Three, opt for a pay as you go device or just pay it outright and get a handset which is usable with any network. The network’s phone options aren’t as rich as most other retailers though.
Make sure to read our Three Review to discover more about Three. The carrier offers some of the best 5G SIM only plans in the UK and their prices are competitive considering all the perks on offer, regardless if you’re a pay as you go customer or a pay monthly customer. You can also benefit from Three’s Go Roam feature, which lets you roam freely in over 70 destinations across the world.
All pay monthly handsets sold by the network are locked to EE, meaning they won’t work with any other SIM cards but EE’s. EE lets you unlock your handset after a certain amount of time, but it depends on your price plan and the brand of your device.
Either way, you must have an activated device for at least six months before you can unlock it. iPhones & Google Pixel phones unlock automatically for free after some amount of time. iPhones unlock 18 months after they’re sold and Google Pixel handsets unlock themselves 721 days after activation.If you get a pay as you go phone deal from EE, you can unlock your device as soon as you get it.
EE will charge you £8.99, if you unlock your pay monthly phone before you’re free of your contract. You can unlock your pay as you go device for free, provided you bought it directly from EE.
Interested in learning more about EE, their deals & network coverage? Read our EE Review and discover all you need to know.
Since the summer of 2018 all phones bought from O2 come unlocked and even if your device is locked to O2, you can fill in a form to get your device unlocked for free. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pay as you go or pay monthly customer either.
O2 is a great choice for buying a handset thanks to their O2 Refresh feature. O2 Refresh splits your bill into two parts; you get a device bill and an airtime bill and pay them separately. This allows you to upgrade your device early on, and lets you switch between pay monthly plans for maximum flexibility. You can also customise your own phone plan when you buy your device from O2. However, it will be costlier than buying a handset and a contract-free SIM, but the deal offers great value thanks to perks like 5G at no extra cost, 4G Calling, Wi-Fi Calling and O2 Priority. Have a look at our O2 Review to discover more about their deals.
Vodafone customers can unlock their phones for free, it doesn’t matter if they’re a pay monthly customer or on pay as you go. However, PAYG customers must activate and use their Vodafone PAYG SIM with their Vodafone handset for at least 30 days.
Vodafone stands out with their international roaming features and VeryMe Rewards, as well as their great 4G coverage and data speeds. The network has a wide handset selection and they have a number of different SIM only plans to choose from. We recommend checking out Vodafone Basics Plans if you’re looking for a budget SIM deal. You can also read our Vodafone Review to discover all about the carrier.
iD Mobile is using the Three network to provide high quality network coverage and 4G data speeds, but the mobile network is owned by Dixons Carphone, which means they have a wide variety of handset offers to choose from. You can find flagship smartphones from Apple to Samsung, and also mid-tier to low-end handsets from manufacturers like Google, Huawei, Honor, Motorola, Oppo & Nokia.
All iD Mobile phones are unlocked (except iPhones made before 2018) and you can bundle them with a 24 month SIM contract. Make sure to read our iD Mobile Review before making your final decision.
Virgin Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator powered by EE, offering superfast 4G download speeds and all handsets bought from Virgin are unlocked. The network used to have a pay as you go service too, but their PAYG devices were locked to Virgin. However, since the service doesn’t exist anymore all new devices bought from their stores will be unlocked.
You can find a wide variety of handsets including the new Apple iPhone 12, Samsung Galaxy S20 as well as other popular Android devices on their store. You can discover more about their deals by reading our Virgin Mobile Review and see why we think they have one of the best free Wi-Fi hotspot services in the UK.
VOXI is an MVNO owned and powered by Vodafone, and all devices bought from their stores are locked to Vodafone, but you can unlock them after 30 days of use. All you have to do is get your Network Unlock Code (NUC) from VOXI and follow the instructions.
You won’t find a wide range of handsets on VOXI’s online store though. There are usually about 20 to 40 different phones available, and they usually sell high-end to mid tier devices.
VOXI has a £0 upfront cost, 0% interest policy, and you can grab a reasonably priced SIM only deal from them. Their SIM only offers work on a prepaid basis, so there are no credit checks to pass. However, all of their monthly phone deal prices are based on a 30 month agreement and you’ll have to pass PayPal’s phone credit check to purchase a device from them.
We rate VOXI highly, because the MVNO offers 5G coverage, Endless Social Media which allows you to use some of the most popular social media apps and websites without burning through your regular data allowance, and Endless Video, a perk that lets you watch YouTube, Netflix and other popular video apps without burning through your regular data allowance.
Like most other MVNOs, Sky Mobile’s selection is also quite limited, but they at least offer devices you can bundle with a SIM plan. On top of that, all Sky Mobile phones are unlocked from the day of purchase, meaning you can use your own SIM, or one from another mobile network provider.
Sky Mobile is powered by O2 and it has one of the best data rollover features in the UK, which automatically moves your leftover data to your Sky Piggybank at the end of each billing period. Leftover data can be stored for up to 3 years, and you can withdraw from it anytime you want. Have a look at our Sky Mobile Review to find out what other benefits you can get if you purchase your new phone & a SIM plan from them. There are also more benefits and discounts available, if you’re an existing Sky TV customer. We strongly recommend checking out our Sky Mobile Review to discover all you need to know about the network.
Tesco Mobile is also using O2 as its network provider and you can find pay monthly phone deals, as well as pay as you go phone offers on their website.
Tesco Mobile’s pay monthly phones should be unlocked but if you try a different SIM in your device and it doesn’t work, Tesco will unlock it for free. If you purchased a PAYG device, you’ll have to wait 12 months to get it unlocked for free, alternatively you can pay £10 to get it unlocked early. Read our Tesco Mobile Review to find out more about the network.
giffgaff is yet another network powered by O2 that sells handsets for reasonable prices. All giffgaff phones are unlocked from day one. There are no credit checks, if you want to join giffgaff as the network functions on a prepaid basis.
They are selling more phones than most other MVNOs, plus they also offer refurbished phone deals. You can learn more about the network by reading our giffgaff Review. We also expect the network to make the jump to 5G soon. giffgaff offers two commitment-free unlimited data plans, and if you want to discover the differences between these two plans, you can read our giffgaff Unlimited Data Review.
Lycamobile piggybacks on O2 and offers decent 4G coverage and data speeds in the UK. The carrier is ideal for making international calls and they have smartphone deals from top tier manufacturers such as Apple & Samsung. You can also find some good bargain options such as Oppo, Hammer, Alcatel, Rokit and Doro.
You can purchase a smartphone outright from Lycamobile by paying the full fee with a credit/debit card. The network also lets you spread the cost of the handset with a choice of monthly payments : 3, 6,12, 24 or 36 months. You can get a handset from Lycamobile and start paying a month after the date of purchase.
Read our Lycamobile Review, if you wish to learn more about their deals, coverage and international call perks.
BT Mobile uses EE’s network and offers both 4G and 5G Coverage to their customers. The network also sells mobile phones, but their deals are usually more expensive than other networks, but on the other hand the network also provides access to the BT Sport app and some other quality features to add value to their offers. Plus you can save a decent amount of money by adding new plans to your account, which is a great option if you’re looking for a family mobile plan, or a group plan with friends.
However, some high-end to mid-tier handsets are locked, so you might end up having to pay a to unlock your device to use another SIM on it. We strongly recommend having a look at our BT Mobile Review to understand the benefits of joining this network.
You can simply insert an active SIM card from a different network provider into your phone and see if it works. If it works just fine your phone is unlocked. If you know for sure that the SIM card is fine, but doesn’t work with your new device, then it’s locked to a network and needs to be unlocked.
Unlocking your phone is quite easy, but your network may charge you for the action. Find out which network your handset is locked to and follow their procedure. They’ll state how much they’ll charge you for unlocking your device (if they’re going to).
It depends on which network your phone is locked to. Some networks like EE won’t charge you but others will.
Because, you will be free to change networks as you see fit, provided you don’t have an active SIM only contract. It’s also great when you’re travelling abroad. You can just buy a contract-free local SIM and start using it.
Yes, it is a completely legal action. If your phone is locked, it will be your network’s job to unlock it anyway.