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Finding the right phone contract can be a minefield these days, but there are certain things to look out for and some tricks that will get you the best deal available, sometimes even better!
The first thing you need to decide is which phone you'd actually like to use. You will know right away if you prefer Android or iOS, this will partially dictate your hardware choice. If you have been using either for a significant amount of time changing now can be daunting.
Visit a shop; I know it's 2017 and we mostly shop online now but go to your local high street or mall and visit the phone shops. You will be able to try the handsets and get a feel for what suits you best. Sometimes in hand comfort can win out over the OS or battery life.
Whilst in the shop they will be trying to sell you the phone, you don't want to purchase it just yet but take a mental note of the offers coming your way as you will need them later.
Outwith Samsung, Android phones will be cheaper to purchase outright. One thing to remember however is that Samsung and Apple hardware will hold it's value better than other brands, assuming you keep it in good condition.
What do you want from your mobile contract? there are many more options available than what you see online or in store. Contact these networks, most have online chat so ask them about building or altering an existing offer.
Be wary of "unlimited" data, usually, data is capped at a certain amount and will incur charges beyond that point. If it lists unlimited data then check the small print as you could be in for a slow throttled connection should you go over a set limit.
If you currently have a phone contract, log in to that service and view your recent statistics. Most networks make this available in your online account, this is valuable info and will allow you to see exactly how many minutes and texts you use monthly as well as how much data.
If you spend a lot of time on wifi or stay at home you can save a huge amount by selecting a contract with lower data allowances, unlimited calls and texts are almost industry standard now so most savings will come from the amount of data you need to use.
Make sure that the contract suits you, this is important as you are going to be tied to it for 12-24 months so make sure it's what you want. Adding bolt-ons is expensive and will quickly increase your monthly bill beyond what you can afford.
A full contract will include all of your minutes, texts, data and the phone hardware. It is possible to find contract deals that are better without having phone hardware included. These can be ideal if you are hanging on to your old phone or you find a great deal for a new handset elsewhere.
If you are looking to buy the phone outright and shop around for a separate contract then you have a few good options. Brand new hardware is always most expensive but there are lots of deals on nearly new phones available. Every major phone retailer has their own re-sale and recycling scheme and they will sell you a nearly new phone for a large discount over RRP. Even the manufacturers offer a refurbished service, scroll right to the bottom of the Apple store page and you will find a link to their refurb store, these phones are mostly ex-display models or ones that were faulty but have now been repaired. They carry the same warranty as a brand new phone too.
There are other services similar to these refurb stores, sites like music magpie and mazuma mobile. Of course, you also have the option of using ebay or other auction sites. If you go down this route make sure that the phone is listed as "unlocked" or it's on the network you will be joining as there is usually a fee involved to have this done once the phone is yours.
If you have decided on purchasing a handset outright, you have slightly more room for negotiating with networks for your contract. Because they can't lock you down with a shiny new hardware purchase they will have more room to offer you a better deal on your contract in order to keep you as a customer. Play them off each other, when you get a good deal from one, take some time to think about it and contact another network and ask if they can offer a better deal. You are in the driving seat here and they want your custom so make the most of this position.
The same principles apply if you are looking for an all-inclusive contract with network and hardware, you will just have slightly less room to negotiate depending on the hardware you choose.