Which is the best iPhone deal?

With 14 January officially named as Vodafone iPhone day, there's suddenly bags of choice for anyone looking to get that religious experience that only the Jesus phone can supply. The question on most lips though is "Where do I go to get the best deal?".

Naturally, the word "best" has a number of connotations and it'll mean something different for everyone reading this, so let's split it into some sections here.

What's the cheapest way to get an iPhone?


iPhone 3G 8GB - £462
Tesco Mobile offers the least damage to your wallet here with a pay monthly deal made up of £222 on the 8GB handset, and £20 a month for a year. That includes unlimited web access and £60 worth of calls and texts per month, which works out at as little as 300 minutes and zero texts and the real bonus that it's on a 12-month contract.

iPhone 3GS 16GB - £560
Tesco Mobile again with the same deal as above, but this time the handset is £320 on the identical short contract and minutes plan.

iPhone 3GS 32GB - £647
As above but £407 for the maximum storage version

What's the cheapest monthly payment?


Well, once again, it's Tesco that take the honours here with the other providers only offering £30 per month minimum on any of the handsets. The £20 a month deals above are the best you'll get for keeping the regular payments down.

What's the cheapest initial outlay?


iPhone 3G - Orange
Orange offers the cheapest best monthly cost of £30 for 2 years if you want a free iPhone 3G. That gives you 150 minutes and 250 texts to play with for a total of £720.

iPhone 3GS 16GB - O2
Orange and O2 offer a free phone if you sign up for their 1200 minutes, 500 texts package at £45/month for 2 years. That totals £1080. With Orange's data package set at 750MB compared to O2's slightly obscure "fair usage", you'd probably do best to opt with the latter.

iPhone 3GS 32GB - Vodafone

If you want the big one for free and at the best overall price, then head over to Vodafone and sign up for the £80 per month package over 1.5 years. You get 3000 minutes and unlimited texts and it totals at £1440

What's the best value offer?


This time it's really down to personal choice. The aim of the game, of course, is not to go outside your price plan while taking into account the total cost of the phone, the length of contract and getting enough calls, texts and data to last you the time. There are buckets to choose from but the ones for us are:

iPhone 3G - Tesco Mobile £20 per month £462
It's the cheapest and probably the best choice if you're going for the lowest spec of the three. As an owner of the oldest model, there's a good chance you'll develop 4th generation iPhone envy when the next version comes out in the summer. So, what's particularly good here is that it's a nice short contract and a very cheap deal. If you want to upgrade to the new one, then you won't have to wait too long. The downside is that you only get £60 of credit each month, but if your priority was power using, then you probably wouldn't be buying the old 3G.

iPhone 3GS - Vodafone £40 per month £809 or £899
If you're plumping for the 3GS, then, in a way, it's not such a bad time to buy. Go for an 18-month contract. First, it's cheaper and second, the 5th generation iPhone will be coming out just about the time your contract's up. Just hope that number four isn't the bee's knees. Vodafone offers a nice broad package. £40 per month may seem a little harder than the £35s from Orange and O2, but you get unlimited texts to back up the 600 minutes, plus it actually works out marginally cheaper. You're also likely to get better reception too.

Upgrades


There's not a lot of leverage on making deals with your network because of Apple controlling the prices, but we thought we'd try all the same. We got out of contract customers to call up O2, Vodafone and Orange to see if we could squeeze a better deal out of them on threatening to leave.

Vodafone
After claiming the Palm Pre was a better handset and we were going to switch to O2 to get it, the salesmen offered our customer a £5 discount on the £40 per month for 1.5-year tariff on the 16GB iPhone 3GS. On a second call, we were informed by another operator that this was a misquote and that £40 per month was the fixed price, but we'd suggest it's still worth a try for any Vodafone customers out of contract.

Orange
Orange said that there are no offers on the iPhone because the prices are controlled by Apple, so the cited monthly rates and deals stay the same, even for long term customers. The cost to upgrade would be £189 for the 16GB 3GS on an 18-month plan, or £89 for a 2-year plan.

The salesperson also said that changing handsets could only be done in the last 3 months of the contract. We pushed on whether there would be scope to change the handset and they did say that Orange would have to allow exchanges if there was a new piece of hardware released, but it depended on when it came out – she didn’t really know.

O2
Again, there was no luck for our O2 customer, despite all the threats in the book, but any out of contract iPhone customers already with O2 or unlocked iPhone owners are in luck and eligible for the company's Simplicity 20 for iPhone deal offering a 30-day rolling contract for just £20 per month - the perfect way to tread water until Apple WWDC this summer.

PAYG


We asked the mobile price plan experts at Recombu for a pick of the best iPhone PAYG deals out there. There's a host of special offers from most of the operators with various kinds of bonuses, but the ones that caught their attention were as follows:

Tesco Mobile
For the handset itself, the lowest Tesco will go is £342 for the iPhone 3G 8GB model. If you’re planning on topping up around £15 per month you can enjoy triple credit (pay £15, get £45 worth) and you’ll also get unlimited Web and Wi-Fi throughout.

For an iPhone 3GS 16GB, you’ll need to stump up £440, but you’ll get the same triple-credit deal and a better handset.

Orange
Orange offers all kinds of animal-themed deals for PAYG customers, so you can enjoy the benefits that suit you for low top-up costs. For example, on the Monkey £10 top-up deal you’ll get the 300 free texts, free music access and the £10 of credit that you’ve bought. Plus, of course, you’ll get two for one cinema tickets on Wednesdays.

The outlay for the handset itself on this deal is £343, and you have to top up when you buy – so you’re looking at a minimum initial cost of £353. For the iPhone 3GS 16GB model, you have to pay £440 for the hardware with the minimum initial top-up amount of £10. So to buy this iPhone, you’ll need £450 in your pocket.

O2
O2 will charge you £342.54 for the iPhone 3G 8GB handset, with a minimum top-up of £10. For the iPhone 3GS 16GB model, you’ll pay £440.40 for the handset and the lowest top-up of £10. There are some great deals on top-ups – for example if you top up £10, you’ll enjoy 500 free minutes to O2 mobiles and certain landline numbers.

Conclusions


First of all, don't go for any 24 month contracts. They leave you tied up for an age and they cost you more money as well. Vodafone certainly brings a slightly new twist to the dancefloor, but at time of writing, the Tesco deals are probably the most interesting because you'll have to wait for the shortest time before you can upgrade to the one out this summer.

Because there's so many deals out there, the best way to approach it is to work out how many minutes you normally use, just like the old days, and pick the deal closest to that. Vodafone might claim a better network or O2 more data but, at the end of the day, just choose the tariff that suits you best - even if that's just because you happen to get the bonus of Orange Wednesdays.



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