The Cheapest Way To Buy An iPhone In The UK

Below this brief update is my original article from 2012. It’s slightly out of date, but this update explains all you need to know.

If you can, buy your iPhone directly from Apple, unlocked. Shop around all the carriers and choose the best SIM-only plan for you — on the shortest terms possible. I recommend nothing longer than a SIM-only 30 day rolling contract. This gives you the flexibility to switch carriers on a whim if a cheaper or better deal appears. I recommend 3’s SIM-only 30 day contracts (that’s what I use now), and Giffgaff’s various 30 day “Goodybags”. (The reason I use 3 is because their data coverage is better in my area, and the cost is only slightly higher than Giffgaff. The customer service and random added fees are worse with 3, though. Giffgaff are awesome.)

The Math

Let’s pretend you want an iPhone 6 Plus, 64GB, Space Grey. You want a good amount of data per month, too.

Buying iPhone from EE:

  • iPhone 6 Plus 64GB Space Grey (probably locked to EE): £149.99
  • 20GB data, unlimited minutes/texts, £58.99 for 24 months
  • Total = £1,565.75

Buying iPhone from Apple and using 3’s SIM only 200 plan:

  • iPhone 6 Plus 64GB Space Grey: £699.00
  • 3 UK’s SIM-only plan - Unlimited Data, unlimited texts, 200 minutes, £15 per month
  • Total = £1,059

That’s a saving of over £500.

Even though the upfront cost around £600-£700 for an iPhone seems crazy, factor in 24 monthly payments of only £15 or so and you get a much lower overall cost after 2 years.


I currently own an iPhone 5, off contract. I bought the phone outright from Apple shortly after release for £540. I use the cheapest carrier available to me in the UK. That happens to be giffgaff. I pay £12 a month for unlimited texts, unlimited data and 250 minutes. The coverage on giffgaff is great, because they run on O2's network. O2 have one of the best networks in the UK.

The reason I bought my iPhone outright is twofold. Firstly, it's cheaper. Sure, £540 upfront for a phone seems like a lot of cash to lay down — a regular contract would let me drop just £279 for the handset — but I'm given the luxury of £12 a month thereafter (with no lock-in), whereas contract users are tied to a specific company for at least 12 months, at a cost way above what I'm paying.

If you do the maths, over 12 months I pay £684 for my phone and data plan, whereas a similar 12 month contract on Vodafone would cost £771. That difference in price is a lot of apps. Or even a few of these.

There are additional benefits to buying an iPhone directly from Apple, which include the device being unlocked — if another mobile operator springs up who happens to offer a better deal than giffgaff, I can switch. I'm also not obligated to pay £12 every month. Because giffgaff have extremely fair pricing, sometimes it'd be cheaper for me to just top up a little and let it last me over a month1. This is especially true if I'm often using WiFi, and therefore little data. Because my iPhone is unlocked, it also holds a substantionally higher resale value.

The Device And Carrier Are Separate

The iPhone is a portable computer. It just happens to connect to the internet for most of the tasks it's used for. When you think of a traditional computer and the internet connection which accompanies it, they are clearly defined, separate entities.

All the power of mobile phones has ended up in the hands of the carriers. People buy their phones by walking into stores run by carriers. When compared to how people buy computers, it seems crazy. Imagine buying a desktop computer from a Vodafone store.

This coupling of mobile device and mobile carrier is coming to an end. The value in the device/carrier relationship is all in the device. The iPhone changed everything.

I believe we would be better off if we all treated mobile phones like computers and carriers like broadband providers. £540 for a portable computer isn't expensive. But £41 a month for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data is insane.

I look forward to a future where device manufacturers hold more power than carriers. The balance is shifting. It's only a matter of time before it topples completely.

If you would like to join giffgaff, please use my affiliate link. We will both receive £5 free credit. Thank you.


1: Even though it may be marginally cheaper for me to not always pay £12 every month, I tend to top up on a monthly schedule just for the convenience of knowing I have unlimited data if I need it.

Receiptmate for iPhone: My TidBITS Review

It’s a handy little app:

The ideal Receiptmate user would be an individual just starting out in the paperless world and looking to track expenditures for personal reasons — if your employer requires you to submit expense reports in specific formats or enter receipts into an invoice management system, Receiptmate may not meet your needs. However, for those of us who are just looking to do something with our receipts rather than throwing them out or letting them pile up, Receiptmate's simplicity and focus are compelling.

One Second on the Internet

My favourite part about this beautifully designed website/infographic is the timer at the top of the page, but the most impressive number here has to be the number of YouTube views per second to Google searches. I wouldn’t have expected that.

Then there’s this:

10 years ago Skype, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Dropbox, and Instagram didn't exist.

Quote of the Week: Bill Gates on Google Loon

From an interview by Brad Stone for Bloomberg Businessweek:

One of Google’s convictions is that bringing Internet connectivity to less-developed countries can lead to all sorts of secondary benefits. It has a project to float broadband transmitters on balloons. Can bringing Internet access to parts of the world that don’t have it help solve problems?

Gates:

When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.

Downcast for Mac Released

The iOS version of Downcast is one of my most-used iPhone apps. Now there’s a companion Mac app, I’ll be listening to even more podcasts.

Josh Centers has a great review of the app over at TidBITS, if you’d like to find out more.

My thoughts? If you’re starting with nothing and want to get into the world of podcasting apps, try Instacast. If you’re a Downcast user — like me — and don’t want to migrate between apps, the Mac app is a nice addition, although there are some bugs in the 1.0 release (iCloud playlist syncing isn’t working quite right for me).

EA Makes More Money through Apple’s App Store than Origin

Jeffrey Grubb reports for VentureBeat:

The mobile-based future is here, and publisher Electronic Arts is reaping the rewards. EA reported today that it made more money through Apple’s App Store than any other retail distributor. That includes its own Origin digital-download service.

When the consoles die, what comes next? Mobile. Some of the numbers are very impressive:

Real Racing 3 also continues to generate revenue for the publisher. The racing game reached 45 million downloads and averages around 2 million daily active users.

That’s a lot of racers. EA’s chief operating officer Peter Moore comments on the strength of Apple’s App Store:

“Apple was EA’s biggest retail partner as measured by sales. That is a first.”

A first indeed.

How Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Transportation System Might Actually Work

If it’s going to get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes, it’s going to be fast, that’s for sure.

If it wasn’t Elon Musk pitching this idea, I’d call foul — but when you look at Musk’s previous endeavours, Hyperloop starts to look less like a question of “Really?” and more like a question of “How much?” and “When?”.

Nokia Announces New Windows Phone With Ridiculous Camera, Not Much Else

Tom Warren reports for The Verge:

The Lumia 1020 is a big upgrade over Nokia's previous Windows Phone efforts for one reason alone: a 41-megapixel camera.

Okay, that’s cool. What else has changed, though?

Camera aside, the Lumia 1020 is largely unchanged from the specifications of Nokia's Lumia 920 and 925.

Huh.

I can’t help but feel Windows Phone is in for a tough time ahead. If the flagship hardware device for WP is seeing no CPU change this generation and there’s not going to be an update to the software until next year, it won’t be easy for Microsoft to claw back any market share.

PC Shipments Shrank 10.9% in Second Quarter 2013

“We are seeing the PC market reduction directly tied to the shrinking installed base of PCs,” Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in the statement. “In emerging markets, inexpensive tablets have become the first computing device for many people, who at best are deferring the purchase of a PC.”

This can’t be good news for Microsoft: they won the desktop PC market, but they’re not winning the smartphone or tablet market.