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Is it cheaper to buy a smartphone outright?

We look at the pros and cons of buying a high-end iPhone or Samsung outright, and on a plan.

woman comparing phones plans lead
Last updated: 09 April 2020

Buying a smartphone outright is almost always cheaper in the long run, compared to locking yourself into a two year contract. But you may find that new, popular models from Apple and Samsung, wind up costing less on a plan.

  • Buying outright means you pay in full, own the phone and are free to select your preferred carrier. While flexible, selecting a carrier takes extra research, but can save you money in the long run.
  • Buying on a plan makes it easy to put that new phone in your pocket with no money down, because it spreads the phone's cost over 24 months. The downside of this is that you're stuck with that carrier, and terms, for the life of the contract.

In this article, we compare the cost of the big two brands - Apple and Samsung.

Is it cheaper to buy outright or on a plan?

The amount you spend depends on brand popularity:

  • If you want the latest premium phone from one of the major brands (Apple and Samsung), then a plan will be normally be cheaper. These brands are so popular, they don't tend to shift from the RRP.
  • Other options including less popular brands and older phones from Apple and Samsung are cheaper if you buy a phone outright, then pair it with a bring your own (BYO) SIM. This process works well with companies such as LG, Oppo and Huawei.

What are the best Apple plans

Apple iPhone 8 plans (Previous generation mobile)

Cheapest
The most affordable plan over 24 months is a Vodafone mid range plan that will cost you over $1,500 over 24 months; but this isn't particularly good when you can buy the phone outright for under $1,000.
Best value

The Vodafone plan for $50 per month currently has includes a $5 per month discount and extra data credit.

See Apple iPhone 8 (128GB) plans

Apple iPhone 11 Pro plans (Latest premium mobile)

Cheapest
The most affordable plans over 24 months includes a Vodafone plan at around $2232 over 24 months but they only include 10GB of data.
Best value
The Vodafone $50 Red plan costs more then $2500 over the 24 month period, due to the extra monthly cost of the handset. However, you get a much better data allowance of 30GB per month.
See Apple iPhone 11 Pro (256GB) plans

What are the best Samsung plans?

Samsung Galaxy S10 (128GB) plans (Previous generation mobile)

Cheapest

The most affordable plan over 24 months, looks like a great deal from Vodafone. This does have the fairly low 10GB data allowance but does include a 12 month Amazon Prime subscription which is a good option for staying in and watching movies.

Best value

Vodafone also has a $50 plan that costs $200 more than the cheapest plan over 24 months but does have a very good 60GB data plan.

See Samsung Galaxy S10 (128GB) plans

Samsung Galaxy S20 (128GB) Plans (Latest premium mobile)

Cheapest

The most affordable plan over 24 months is from Woolworths Mobile. But they claim to only use part of the Telstra 4G and 3G network but they do have a a 20GB plan and its $100 cheaper than some attractive plans from Vodafone and Optus.

Best value

While there are some good plans from Vodafone, Optus and Telstra, they only provide 10GB on their standard plan so you may still want to consider the Woolworths Mobile option.

See Samsung Galaxy S20 (128GB) plans

What are the best BYOD (SIM-only) plans?

If you already own a phone you'd like to keep, or you're eyeballing one that isn't available on a plan, you can shop around for a SIM-only plan (often called bring your own device or BYOD). These can drive the price down over 12 to 24 months.

  • Sim-only plans typically offer the same data, talk and text as phone contracts for far less.
  • They generally come in two flavours; monthly "no lock-in" payments, and 12 month contracts. The latter is typically the cheapest option.
  • You're free to compare prices, data limits and so on across different carriers.
  • Carriers regularly have sim sales online. These deals often stay intact for as long as you stay with the provider, even after the contract has ended.
  • If you find a plan you like, you can use it with other unlocked phones in the future.

We've sorted SIM-only plans to show the total cost for a 24 month period, with the cheapest plan shown first. The best plan is available for under $500.

See SIM-only plans with unlimited talk and text and 10GB of data

Should I lease a phone?

When you lease, you can simply give the phone back when your contract is over and continue with a new model and you may also be able to claim the cost off your tax.

If you become attached to the phone and want to keep it, most service providers and retailers will give you the option to buy the mobile when your contract is over. All you need to do is pay the difference between a lease contract, and an own contract.

Why we've partnered with WhistleOut

We've partnered with search engine WhistleOut to help you find and buy the right plan for you. The links above send you to a selection of SIM-only or contract phone plans for you to consider. While we make money if you buy through WhistleOut, this doesn't influence our rankings and 100% of the money we make goes straight back into our nonprofit mission.

How can I save money on a new phone?

If you want to purchase on a plan, sales are you friend:

  • Telcos can offer surprisingly good deals, if you're prepared to lock in for 24 months.
  • This can actually results in a cheaper outcome over two years, compared to an outright purchase with a BYOD plan. So keep an eye out.
  • They can also entice you with bonus features such as extra data, unmetered Netflix, damage insurance and so on.
  • You can even get discounts for bundling other services such as internet or home phone.
  • Shop around and compare sales across different service providers.

So while you'll still wind up paying a lot, sales can increase the overall value of a plan package.

Over to you

We invite you to share you experiences in the comments to help others who are weighing up their options.

  • What have you chosen?
  • Have you found a good deal?
  • How did you make the choice?
  • What are you looking for with your next phone or plan?

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