Is it cheaper to buy a smartphone outright?


Should I buy my new iPhone or Samsung smartphone outright or as an add-on cost to a two-year phone plan?

Pay now or pay (more) later


It's hard to resist the shiny lure of the latest high-tech smartphone. But do you pay upfront now or pay as you go on a contract? 

  • Buying outright can put a sizeable dent in your wallet, but at least you own the phone – it means you can switch to any carrier that has the cheapest phone plan and feel free to swap later on: SIM-only plans.
  • 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 for the life of the contract: Contract phone plans.

The mobile networks want to keep you in a constant state of confusion. But if you know the pros and cons of each approach, you can pick the pathway that suits you best.

In this article:

Our smartphone reviews test models from Apple, Samsung, Google and more to find out which smartphones have the best sound quality, displays and cameras.

Reasons to buy a phone outright

  • Can re-sell the phone and upgrade after 12 months.
  • Freedom to shop around for a SIM-only plan with the amount of data to suit your usage.
  • Not locked to one provider so can swap SIMs for travel.
  • Freedom to change providers.
  • Greater opportunity to take advantage of handset and sim sales, especially if you're not interested in the latest models.
  • But: You need to find the money for upfront cost.

Reasons to buy a phone on a contract (plan)

  • No need to pay for the phone upfront.
  • Get discounts for bundling other services such as internet or home phone.
  • Bonus offers such as free streaming deals.
  • Can include damage insurance from the provider (extra cost).
  • But: Locked to that network for 24 months.

Cost of new iPhone and Samsung smartphones

First check out the cost of buying a phone outright – here are a few of the more popular smartphones.

  • iPhone XS 256GB: $1879
  • iPhone XS Max 256GB: $2049
  • iPhone 8 64GB: $1079
  • iPhone X 64GB: $1579 (officially discontinued by Apple)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note9 128GB: $1499
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 64GB: $1199

Next, decide on a SIM-only plan that will suit the way you want to use your smartphone.

SIM-only plans

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.

Contract phone plans

We've provided a sample of mid-range contract plans for an Apple iPhone 8, Apple iPhone X as well as the latest iPhone XS Max and XS. For the Samsung models we looked a the Galaxy S9 and the latest Samsung Galaxy Note9 with 128GB of onboard memory. All plans include the phone, internet, calls and SMS allowance. You can select another phone by clicking on 'change phone' in the 'phone actions' drop-down menu just below the selected phone.

Go for the 256GB version for the iPhone models if you want to store lots of photos and video on your phone as you can't add removable storage. That said, some mobile carriers only supply the lowest storage option as part of their plan. 

Apple iPhone XS plans

This is the 5.8 inch display version (the iPhone XS Max has a 6.5 inch display).

  • Cheapest It will cost you around $2500 over 24 months if you get the mobile as part of a lease arrangement. At the end of your contract you just give the phone back and start a new lease. If you want to own the phone outright, it will cost you just under $3000.
  • Best value The best option if you want to own the phone outright is with Vodafone. The Vodafone $45 Red plan at just under $3000 with 20GB of data gives you unlimited talk and text.

Apple iPhone XS Max plans

  • Cheapest This is an extremely expensive smartphone so the expected pricing for a 24-month contract isn't going to be under $3000 unless you get the mobile as part of a lease arrangement. In that case, the most affordable plan is the $65 My Plan Flex from Optus that will cost you around $2800 over 24 months. At the end of your contract you have the option to buy it out or simply continue with a new phone and another contract.
  • Best value The best option if you want to own the phone outright is with Vodafone. The Vodafone $45 Red plan at just over $3100 with 20GB of data gives you unlimited talk and text.

Apple iPhone 8 plans

  • Cheapest At first glance, the most affordable 24-month plan is a great deal from Optus that's $500 cheaper than the next best contract. But: this is a lease contract, which means at the end of the contract you don't own the phone but you do have the option to buy it out or simply continue with a new phone and another contract.
  • Best value The best option if you want to own the phone outright is with Vodafone.

Apple iPhone X plans (smartphone discontinued by Apple)

  • Cheapest While the iPhone X will only be available for a little while longer, the most affordable 24-month plans include options from Optus and Vodafone at around $2400, which deliver between 20 and 50GB of data on lease agreements (where you don't own the phone outright).
  • Best value The Optus MyPlan $105 isn't cheap, but with 200GB data you could nearly use it as a home network solution (unless you watch a lot of online videos).

Samsung Galaxy S9 plans

  • Cheapest At first glance, the most affordable 24-month plan is a great deal from Optus that's $350 cheaper than the next best contract. But: this is a lease contract, which means at the end of the contract you don't own the phone, but you do have the option to buy it out or simply continue with a new phone and another contract.
  • Best value If you don't want to go with one of the big three carriers, Southern Phone have a good value plan for the S9 with options to have a shorter 12-month plan or pay month to month.

Samsung Galaxy Note9 plans

  • Cheapest At first glance, the most affordable 24-month plan is a great deal from Optus that's $300 cheaper than the next best contract. But: this is a lease contract, which means at the end of the contract you don't own the phone, but you do have the option to buy it out or simply continue with a new phone and another contract. However, you do get a large 30GB data allowance that you should factor into your decision.
  • Best value If you don't want to go with a lease but do want a large amount of data, consider the Vodafone $45 Red plan for around $2600 over the life of the 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.

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?

Looking for a power bank to keep your phone's battery charged all day? Our mobile power bank reviews compare models from TP-Link, CyberPower and more.


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