Contract vs. SIM Only Calculator

If you're shopping for a new smartphone, then you might be a little overwhelmed by all your options. Obviously, you want to save money wherever possible, since most of us are on a budget these days. But with the choice of buying a handset outright and then buying a SIM only contract, or getting a phone contract that includes a handset, which is likely to be cheaper?

Our SIM only vs. contract calculator is here to help you out. All you need to do is decide what kind of phone you're looking for and the upfront / pay monthly prices to compare. Input them below and our handy calculator will give you all the options so that you can figure out what's best for you!


SIM Only

SIM Only vs. Contract: What’s the Difference?

When you’re looking for a pay monthly contract you have two basic options. A SIM only contract gives you service, that is it gives you a SIM card and a monthly allotment of calling minutes, texts, and mobile data. A pay monthly phone contract, on the other hand, gives you the same service (with a monthly limit for minutes, texts, and data), but also includes a phone in the deal.

So I Get a Free Phone?!

Not so fast there. Pay monthly phone contracts don’t give you a free phone. If you check out prices you’ll find that these contracts are more expensive, this is because you cover the cost of your phone in your monthly phone bill. It’s a little like paying in instalments. Often, there’s an upfront charge for the phone as well, especially if you’re looking for a top end, flagship phone like the iPhone XS Max.

What Are the Pros and Cons Here?

The good side of going with a pay monthly phone contract is that you get that phone that you want and that you don’t need to pay hundreds of pounds up front. This is ideal if you really want the newest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy but can’t really afford to buy one for full price right now. Whether that’s a smart financial move, however, is up for debate.  Our own opinion is that if you can’t afford to buy the device outright, then you shouldn’t take it out on contract either. The advantage of going SIM only contract is that your monthly bills are going to be a lot cheaper!

On the negative side, a pay monthly phone contract is going to be more expensive each month. And you will need to pay that monthly fee even if for some reason you no longer have the phone (perhaps it gets broken or stolen). The negative side of a SIM only contract is that unless you already have a phone to use with your new SIM card, then you’ll need to find the cash to buy one for full price upfront.

Which One Should I Choose?!

Going for either SIM only or a pay monthly phone contract is really a personal decision and depends a lot on your needs. There are some things that you should consider when making your decision though:

  • Do I already have a phone that I like and that I can use with my SIM only contract?
  • Can I afford to pay upfront for an expensive new phone, or is it more viable to pay monthly with a phone contract?
  • Do I really need that expensive flagship phone, or could I go for a phone that’s a little more affordable? (this could cut your costs and mean that buying a phone upfront is more feasible).
  • Do I want to commit to a long-term phone contract? (a pay monthly phone contract will generally be a 24-month contract, whilst SIM only plans are often also available for just 30 days at a time, meaning a lower commitment).
  • Are there any special offers, sales, or discounts on the phone that I’m interested in? (some retailers will give lower prices, meaning that buying a phone upfront could be cheaper than buying it monthly through a contract).

But for many of us, there’s going to be a further issue to think about: cost. Is it going to be cheaper to get a pay monthly phone contract or a SIM only one?

Which is Cheaper?

Now here’s a tough question. It used to be that buying a phone upfront and then getting a SIM only contract was always the cheapest way to do things. But with more competition in the mobile market, this is no longer true. The truth here is that which option is cheapest will really depend on a lot of things, such as which operator you choose, which phone you want, and what kind of phone plan you’re looking for.

Our SIM Only vs. Contract calculator will help you out here, and we can’t give you a definitive answer. But we can show you a couple of examples to give you an idea of what you’re looking at. Sometimes choosing the right option can mean saving a fair amount of money!

Example One

Let’s say you want a new iPhone 8 and you’re looking at using Vodafone as your operator. Vodafone offers a handy 24-month contract that includes unlimited texts and calling plus 8 GB of mobile data for just £17 a month SIM only. You can add the iPhone 8 into that plan by paying £30 up front and then increasing your monthly payments to £54 a month. Keep in mind though, that if you go for the SIM only plan, you’re going to need to buy the iPhone 8 upfront for an impressive £699 for the 64 GB version. So how does that math work out?

SIM Only:

Going SIM only will mean paying £17 a month for 24 months, which works out to be £408, plus you’ll need to pay £699 for the phone itself, giving you a grand total cost of £1107.

Pay Monthly Phone Contract:

Choosing the pay monthly contract you’ll pay £54 a month for 24 months, which works out to be £1296, plus that £30 upfront cost for the iPhone, giving you a grand total cost of £1326.

In this scenario, choosing the SIM only plan ends up saving you over £200! But that’s only in this particular scenario. Things can end up working out differently depending on the choices you make.

Example Two

Perhaps you’re looking at the Huawei P10, a great phone choice, and O2 is your preferred operator. O2 have some great data deals on at the moment, and you can get a SIM only plan with unlimited minutes and calling plus a massive 15 GB of data for just £35 a month. Make that a pay monthly phone contract and add in the Huawei P10 and you’re looking at £40 a month plus a £29.99 upfront fee. How does that math look?

SIM Only:

SIM only you’re looking at £35 a month for 24 months, so that’s £840, plus the upfront cost for the whole phone. The Huawei P10 is usually about £599, but there are current offers as low as £499, so we’ll take that lower price, which when added to the SIM only contract gives you a total of £1339.

Pay Monthly Phone Contract:

On the other hand, go pay monthly and you’ll pay £40 a month for 24 months, so that’s £960, plus that one off £29.99 upfront payment, giving you a grand total of £989.99.

In this scenario, going with the pay monthly phone contract ends up saving you well over £300!

SIM Only vs. Contract: The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that which kind of contract can end up saving you money really depends on several factors, and there’s no definite answer. The best way to find out the cheapest method of getting both the service and the phone you want is to do the maths. Maths, not your strong point? That’s why you need to check out our handy calculator!