Mobile phones will be top of many Christmas lists this year. If you are doing the shopping on Santa's behalf, make sure you get the best deal possible by following the 10 tips below:
1. Find out what the recipient actually wants from their phone. Is it just for calls and texts or to surf the internet and send email? If you are buying for a teenager you will no doubt need to look for a decent camera and music player, plus a contract that with unlimited texts. If you are buying for an older person, a simpler phone with a generous number of call minutes might be more appropriate.
2. Shop around. Compare deals suitable for your usage at the Ofcom recommended billmonitor website, or if you are pretty sure what you need look at comparison sites such as omio or moneysupermarket.com.
3. Do the sums. Add up the total cost of a contract and the hardware. It could be cheaper overall (although more expensive in the short term) to buy the phone outright and get a cheap monthly pay as you go sim (although beware any unlocking costs).
4. Check the network coverage on providers' websites to see whether the phone will actually work in the recipient's area.
5. Haggle. Mobile phone shops are usually willing to offer a cheaper deal than the one advertised, or an upgrade on the phone attached to a contract. If you are renewing a contract, see what is on offer with other providers and ask your network to match it. If it doesn't, don't be afraid to switch provider for a better deal – it is easy to switch and keep your existing number. One journalist on our Consumer team recently managed to lop £10 a month from his monthly tariff and get £100 off the price of an iPhone 4 simply by threatening to leave O2.
6. Wherever you buy your phone the provider will try to sell you insurance. Although most articles will say this is an uneccessary extra, I think this is a very personal decision. I always buy cover for my daughter's phones, for example, as she has a nasty habit of leaving them in her pocket so they end up going through the wash (amazingly her current Samsung is still just about working despite going though a full cycle at 30 degrees).
Your mobile may be covered by your home insurance (or you can add it to your home contents cover, often at a cheaper rate than you get from a mobile company's insurance cover), but bear in mind that if you make a claim it will push up your premiums.
7. Watch out for special deals. Tesco Phone Shop, for example, is offering a gift card worth up to £250 with every new mobile phone contract bought between now and 31 December. The gift cards can be used in store or online, and provided the contract is set up before 10 December will be sent out before Christmas. Deals include a £250 gift card for customers who sign up for a Sony Ericsson Cedar and Samsung S3100, a £200 gift card with a contract for the Samsung Europa and Samsung Wave Scotia mobiles, a £150 gift card with a Nokia 6303i, and a £100 gift card with a BlackBerry 8520.
8. Don't forget your basic consumer rights. Consumer Focus says the phone you buy must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. Remember, when buying over the phone or online you have a seven day cooling off period. If your phone develops a fault within six months it is assumed the problem was there when you bought it so you are entitled to a refund, repair or replacement
9. Offset the cost of buying a new phone by recycling your old ones. Sell them on eBay or cash in through a specialist website such as Fonebank or Mazuma.
10. Persuade whoever you're buying for that the retro look is back, then pick up a "classic" handset for peanuts on eBay.