How to choose a mobile phone

With so many good handsets to pick from, choosing a mobile phone can be a tricky thing. There’s a lot to consider but don’t panic: here’s a quick rundown of all you need to look for in your next phone deal.

Person choosing mobile phone in shop

What phone do I have?

While you may know the brand of your phone, if you’ve forgotten the precise model of phone you have it is worth finding out so you can better compare what you currently have with your potential new purchase. It’s easy enough to forget what sort of phone you have, given many have odd naming conventions. Here’s what to do if you just cannot recall your mobile model.

What iPhone model do I have?

To check what model iPhone you have:

  • Go Settings

  • Go to General

  • Find your model under “Model Name”

What Android phone do I have?

The majority of phones that aren’t iPhones will run on Android, this includes brands like Google, Huawei, Samsung and OnePlus. 

To check what Android phone you have:

  • Go to Settings

  • Go to About Phone

  • Go to System

  • Find your model under “About Phone”

Alternatively, if you purchased your phone online, you can check your purchase confirmation email, or if you are on pay monthly, you can log into your account and find the information there. You may also be able to call your UK mobile network directly and ask for clarification, though if you bought your phone outright many years ago and you’re not on contract, they may not have this information to hand. 

Get a full rundown of your phone specs by running a quick internet search, the manufacturer will list them on the official site.

Which mobile phone is best for me?

The mobile phone best for you is dependent on a number of things. It is worth bearing in mind that the best phone for you isn’t the same as the best phone for your friend, sister, or boss, so it’s absolutely vital you do your research. A new mobile can quickly prove to be a total waste of money if you find it’s not sufficient for your needs, or if you have bought something that’s way beyond what you would normally use a phone for.

Below, we give a general summary of the best phones around for different needs, but remember to look hard at your own mobile habits and then conduct your own research too.

Pay monthly or pay as you go?

The type of mobile phone contract you want is important to get right. Think about what you can pay before you start looking for a new phone, both what you can afford right now and what you can afford per month. For example, if you’ve got the money, you can buy a phone outright on pay as you go and never have to worry about paying off a monthly bill. You can just grab a great value no-contract SIM from the likes of VOXI, SMARTY or giffgaff. 

On the other hand, if you know you can’t part with hundreds right off the bat, but could comfortably afford £30-50 a month then you can still get the latest and greatest phone but on a monthly contract, potentially with no upfront cost. Many UK networks don’t actually make their priciest phones available on anything but a monthly contract. If you’re looking for the best pay monthly deal, be sure to read our guide to mobile phone contracts first, so you know how to spot the best value. Many pay monthly contracts last for 24 months, so you don’t want to get stuck.

What are the best all-round phones?

Before we get into detailed features, let’s start with phones that are great all-rounders. While that means there are a lot of big brand names, you definitely shouldn’t assume that more affordable phones can’t deliver.

High budget

The premium phone market is bristling right now with flagship handsets sporting the best specs on offer. A flagship phone from a big brand would be at the top end of anyone’s budget. Handset like the Samsung S21 Ultra 5G and the iPhone 12 Pro Max are the most premium you can buy, with their price going over £1,000. If you were to look at getting a foldable phone then this price would be even higher. 

At this price point, though, you can expect the best of the best and there are always (still premium) variants of these ranges to go for. iPhones continue to lead the way in camera performance, while Samsung smashes through boundaries when it comes to the high-end tech you can fit into the palm of your hand. Interestingly, the likes of OnePlus are trying a different tactic, offering premium specs but at a cost that’s more geared towards the mid range.

Mid budget

As mentioned, brands like OnePlus tend to dominate the mid-range market. The OnePlus Nord range offers premium specs when it comes to camera technology and the screen used, but at a price that is much more affordable that the premium phones of Apple and Samsung. 

Google is also working well in the mid-range space. Its Pixel range of phones is definitely in the affordable bracket and both the Google Pixel 5 and the Google Pixel 4a 5G offer 5G connectivity. With these phones, there is a reduction in things like build quality and some higher-end features are missing, but this shouldn’t bother the average person looking for a new handset.

Low budget

The cheap phone market is a brilliant one right now. The good news is: low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality. We’re not talking total bargains here (those are further down) but phones that sit around the £100 to £300 mark. Of course, you need to have sensible expectations. For that money, you won’t be getting the best camera, or the best of anything, but just because it doesn’t boast 100MP on its triple cameras, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a perfectly good phone. This area of the market is usually filled with decent handsets made from phone companies in China. The Redmi Note 9 Pro is one highlight, costing under £300 and having a 64MP camera and a huge 5,020mAh battery. 

We are also fans of Samsung Galaxy A51 and the Moto G 5G Plus - the latter offering 5G functionality in a phone that’s priced under £300. As of March 2021, these are some of the best low-budget phones you can get right now.

Best for phone for creatives

If you’re the creative sort, then camera and storage are what you want to pay attention to, so all your creative projects can be captured and stored in top quality and stress-free. Here’s our pick of the phones with the best cameras right now and those that have plentiful storage.

Which mobile has the best camera?

iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • 12MP/12MP/12MP triple rear camera

  • 12MP selfie camera

Is the iPhone one of the most loved camera phones around? Has the camera phone shot full-length music videos and movies? Will the iPhone deliver crystal-clear professional-looking photos? Yes, yes and yes. However – is it also eye-wateringly expensive? Yes, very much so. The iPhone, in terms of numbers on a page, can be out-done (in megapixels) by a lot of phones. But in practice, the iPhone’s sensors, colour capture, image stability and endless other features have kept it firmly at the top for a very long time, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max ensures it isn’t going anywhere, thanks to the use of RAW files, 5x optical zoom and myriad pro camera features.

Huawei P40 Pro+ 5G

  • 50MP Wide/40MP Ultra-wide/8MP (3x) Telephoto/8MP (10x) Telephoto

  • 32MP selfie camera

The Huawei P40 Pro+ 5G offers an extremely impressive camera that most professionals would be chuffed to have in their back pocket. Able to perfect your framing and to provide rich depth, this camera can handle even the worst of lighting to capture sharp imagery. 100x SuperZoom and high-quality portrait mode let you beautifully capture any subject.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

  • 108MP (wide)/10MP (periscope telephoto)/10MP (telephoto) / 12MP (ultrawide)

  • 40MP selfie camera

With an excellent zoom function and four rear cameras, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G creates photos that are full of detail. You can also record at a massive 8K resolution, enough to fill a cinema screen, and the cameras can hold up to even the most challenging of lighting conditions. The issue here, as with all these tip-top-spec phones, is that it is certainly not cheap. 

Which phone has the best storage?

Unfortunately, it’s not an Apple model. The iPhone 11 Pro offers some generous storage, but it’s still a meagre offering compared to much, much cheaper phones, and the reason is as small and simple as an SD card. While even Samsung has done away with this valuable asset in some of its latest phones, you’ll find that if storage is important to you, then an SD slot is imperative. Consider one of the following:

ModelInternal storageSD card capacity
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus512GB+1TB
LG V60128GB+1TB
Samsung Galaxy A71 5G128GB+1TB
Sony Xperia 1 II128GB+2TB

Where multiple storage options are available for the same model, we have listed the larger option in the table above. 

Which mobile phone is best for gamers?

It can seem like all the attention is given to cameras nowadays, but what if you’re more into gaming? Then check out these phones:

OnePlus 8 Pro

  • Amazing screen

  • Cooling system

The OnePlus 8 Pro has an 120Hz screen which makes it perfect for gaming. Combine this with a whole load of RAM and what you have is a gaming phone with serious heft that also happens to be one of the best flagships too. 

ASUS ROG Phone II

  • Gaming buttons

  • Cooling system

Take a phone, add a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, amp up the RAM to 12GB, add in some trigger sensors for superior game control, and you’ve got the ASUS ROG. This is one of the best gaming phones around.

Sony Xperia 1

  • Sharp display

  • High-quality audio

Well, you’re not going to argue with the makers of the PlayStation when it comes to gaming, are you? A 4K screen and Dolby Atmos audio, as well as a Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM will power you through your next quest.

Which phone is best for travellers?

Undoubtedly, the best thing for travellers is a dual-SIM phone so keep an eye out for those. Plus, with eSIMs becoming more and more common, you can enjoy the benefits of two SIMs without having to hunt down your second card. Here are some of the best dual-SIM phones:

ModelSecond SIM type
OnePlus 8 ProNano SIM
Samsung Galaxy S20 ProeSIM
Oppo Find X2 ProNano SIM
iPhone 12eSIM

What are the best cheap phones?

And when we say cheap mobiles, we mean cheap. Here are phones you can get your hands on for less than £100 while still getting some perfectly good specs in terms of camera and storage:

ModelRAMCameraStorage
Xiaomi Redmi 9AT2GB13MP rear; 5MP front32GB + 128GB via SD
Honor 8S2GB13MP rear; 5MP front32GB + 256GB via SD
Alcatel 11GB8MP rear; 5MP front8GB + 32GB via SD
Moto E6s2GB13MP/2MP rear; 5MP front32GB + 128GB via SD
Nokia 1.31GB8MP rear; 5MP front 16GB + 512GB via SD

As you can see, a small price doesn’t mean you get an absolute pittance when it comes to specs, and some very big names are dabbling in the bargain phone arena. All of the above have expandable storage and the Moto E6s even comes with dual cameras. So, whether you’re looking for a spare phone or a very first smartphone for a teen, these make for great options. 

Best specialist phones

What are the best non-smart phones?

What if you’re not fussed about cameras and storage, you just want a reliable, long-lasting, hard-working phone? Then try one of these ‘dumb’ phones – perfect for batteries that last and no worries about apps or streaming. Being so simple, the price is usually tiny, too, think under £30:

ModelConnectivityCameraOther info
Nokia 53102G/3GVGA32GB storage via SD
Nokia 2720 Flip4G2MPFM Radio
Nokia 1052GN/AUp to 780 hours talk time per charge
Nokia 3310 3G3G2MPGreat retro look

What are the best phones for an older person?

If you are looking for an easy-to-use phone for an older friend or relative, there is one brand to consider: Doro. Doro phones come in simple, large-buttoned flip phones that can call and text, or in slightly more capable smartphones. 

ModelConnectivityOther info
Doro 66202G/3GLarge, easy to read display; Visually impaired mode
Doro 80802G/3G/4GVocal navigation; Doro alarm button;16MP rear camera
Doro 13702GLoud and clear call audio; Ability to hide unwanted functions; Wide keys

What mobile phone should I buy?

As you can see, the choice is endless. Take a good look at our UK network guides and phone reviews so you can really find the best device for you and the best deal for your data. As with any tech, you may feel like it’s worth spending a little more, though you will have to accept that you may be limited to pay monthly only if you want the latest and best phones. 

On the other hand, if you’re happy with a cheaper phone and pay as you go deals, you still shouldn’t rule out at least looking into pay monthly options, as you can get some great added-value services this way, including free entertainment apps.