Slash your smartphone bill

Buying a top-end smartphone on a two-year contract can cost upwards of £1,500 – enough to pay for a highly specified Ultrabook or a holiday somewhere sunny. Do you really need to spend that much? The answer is a definitive no.

Mobile contracts are confusing, and operators take advantage of consumers’ failure to shop around, or keep track of when their contracts expire, to charge more. But with the right information to hand, you can get a high-quality device without breaking the bank. In this feature, we help you save on your next smartphone by revealing exactly what to look for in a contract.

Contract overspending

Research from comparison sites suggests consumers overspend by more than £170 a year, but it’s difficult to estimate how much people could be saving on smartphone contracts.

“It’s a bit like saying, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ – I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true,” says CCS Insight founder Shaun Collins.

“You use your device very differently to how I use mine, and it’s difficult to make an assumption across ‘normal’ users – I’ve got no idea what a normal user looks like in terms of usage.”

Billmonitor is one service that looks to quantify the problem. It analyses users’ mobile bills to decide if they should switch. Last year, it analysed almost 70,000 bills, and showed that 74% of consumers were overspending by an average of £171 per year.

Billmonitor

That includes people who were paying for contracts they didn’t make full use of, plus those charged for going over their caps. In fact, most of those overpaying were in the former camp: they were paying more than they needed to for a contract, and using fewer minutes and texts and less data than they allowed for, by as much as a third.

The right plan

Before signing a phone contract, it’s essential to work out how many minutes and texts and how much data you’re likely to use. “Make sure you work out what you need from your mobile, then find a deal to suit,” says Ernest Doku, tech and mobile expert at uSwitch. “With a huge range of mobile phone contracts available to suit almost every need, there’s no excuse for regularly exceeding your call and text allowances.”

You can keep track of your calling and texting habits by checking past bills, and every smartphone platform has a host of apps to help track mobile data use. For most of us at PC Pro, internet usage is key – find us someone who goes over their huge monthly SMS limit and we’ll show you someone well on the road to destroying their thumbs.

While apps such as Spotify and iPlayer chomp through a huge amount of data, you may use less than you’d think. Last year, 100 PC Pro readers tracked their data consumption, and the results were surprising: 25 used less than 100MB a month, 46 would have been okay with a 250MB cap, and only 22 would have exceeded 1GB.

If you’re anticipating that a new smartphone or faster mobile network might lead you to download more on the go, don’t worry: operators are more than happy to upgrade your package should you realise part-way through your contract that you need more data or minutes. It’s more cost-effective to take this approach than to pay for a premium tariff you don’t need.

“Media reports have focused on ‘data bill shock’, that awful moment when you realise you’ve wildly exceeded your data allowance and incurred hefty out-of-bundle charges,” said billmonitor’s smartphone data usage report, published in April 2012. However, “out-of-bundle” spending on mobile data is actually decreasing, despite data use increasing.

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