When I first got my hands on a mobile phone, the contract you chose wasn’t of much consequence. At the time, phones were not only less advanced, but took much longer to ‘die’, and would require the force of a medium-sized tank to cause them to break.
But with great advancements comes great irresponsibility, and the need to change phones would soon become more prevalent, and the question of choosing the best phone deal would loom all the larger. Over time, this has become a more difficult conundrum, until the past few days, when the concept of a phone contract went into new and troubling territory.
With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S24, S24 Plus, and S24 Ultra, it was always likely that we would see something to cause us to turn our nose up at it, whether that be the price, the stiflingly few design changes, or simply the never-ending Android vs Apple wars, but, in the UK at least, a new problem has reared its ugly head.
O2, one of the UK’s big four phone networks, has, alongside the launch of Samsung Galaxy S24 preorders, also announced the launch of new 48-month (or four-year) O2 Custom Plan contracts, in an attempt to provide long-term value for its customers in an admittedly changing market. But, from where I’m sitting, it’s not as great an idea as it might at first appear, and that’s not just for us in the UK, this could set a precedent that even impacts markets such as the US in the not so distant future.
Why so long?
The reasoning behind the move is – almost – understandable when you purely look at the data that exists. See, in recent years, smartphones have begun reversing the trend we saw throughout the late 2000s and 2010s, of smartphones sacrificing lifespan for the sake of innovation. These days, phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S24 range or the new Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are nearing boastful about how long they can last, with both being able to offer seven years of Android updates and offer specs that make you genuinely believe the phone could last that long (even if not as a flagship).
This has led to many people keeping their phones for longer, with many now keeping their phones for more than three years before upgrading; so a move to four-year contracts could make sense, right?
Four years might not seem that long to many, but when you put it into certain perspectives it can suddenly seem like an eternity. If you were to buy your new phone when your child was born, in the UK, your child would be entering reception year at school by the time you could change it (or in the US, they would be one year off preschool).
One of the key dilemmas many will face, however, is the general maintenance of devices. Four years is a long time to keep a screen unscratched, a battery in good condition, and storage available, issues which are normally fixed by a simple upgrade, or by waiting a few months till your upgrade is due. Plus, if these contract lengths were to be extended to beyond the more premium flagship devices, it’s more than likely that your phone could become problematic long before your contract is finished.
Is it actually saving me money?
In short, not really. The premise advanced by O2 is that due to the current financial squeeze, the four-year option enables people to pay less over a longer period of time; however, when you compare the plans offered compared to three-year alternatives from competitors, it simply doesn’t add up.
Take, for example, O2’s 48-month 30GB Plus plan on the Samsung Galaxy S24, which comes in at £45.82 / $58.25 per month. This plan, were you to take it, would set you back just under £2,230 / $2834.90; in comparison, a two-year unlimited data plan from Three on the Samsung Galaxy S24 would set you back only £1,320 / $1,678.06. Were you to then change your plan to a SIM-only after these two years, you would only add a maximum of around £600/$759.90 to your costs (before RPI/CPI increases) leaving you still approximately £300 better off than if you chose a four-year plan, with the added benefit of having already paid off the phone aspect of your plan a whole two years earlier.
For those thinking that a longer, cheaper contract might help their chances of being able to get a premium phone on a contract, you’re also in for a disappointment. See, since the contract is in place for longer, you are needing to make more payments, which in the eyes of credit providers can put you at a higher risk of missing payments. This could mean that for many, it’s actually detrimental to target longer contracts as it will further limit the choice of phones you can go for.
What does this all mean going forward?
One shining light from amongst this decision by O2 is that the offer is not permanent, with the contracts ending on the March 6, but that doesn’t mean this is the last we will see of these kinds of deals.
With phone prices steadily, and continually, rising, it is more than likely that four-year contracts will soon become the norm, but right now, it’s just not quite the right call. Taking into consideration the long-term impacts of extending the lengths of phone contracts, for many it is likely that these style of contract may only provide elongated stress, rather than the minor financial relief they were inteded to.
Whilst O2’s new offer does have certain upsides, especially should you choose to upgrade to a 48-month Plus plan, it also demonstrates the value that can come from in-depth research and consideration when it comes to choosing the best phone deal for you, and unfortunately it’s the available alternatives which make this offering something which is difficult to recommend.
For those keen to be up to date with the latest advancements in mobile, these kinds of deals will also be potentially detrimental, with advancements in AI being frequent and improved with every release, many will be left behind, while new and improved features and hardware are added to devices until we reach the next lull in phone development.
What do we recommend you do
If you’re looking to get your hands on a new Samsung Galaxy S24, Galaxy S24 Plus, or Galaxy S24 Ultra, there are a number of better alternatives depending on your circumstances.
Firstly, consider your provider. Choosing a network can be difficult however with the right deal you will be left in a much more comfortable financial scenario with your contract. Variations on three-year contracts such as three-year device and two-year airtime contracts give you adequate freedom to choose the best ways to save for you, and advancements in the 5G network, as well as ever-improving benefits, make it all the more complex, but beneficial, a decision.
If your financial circumstances are limiting your capability to be accepted onto higher tier contracts or more premium phones in general, consider splitting your contract in two. Take out a one-month-rolling SIM-only deal from an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) and partner it with the device of your choosing on a finance plan from elsewhere. By splitting your contract into smaller payments, despite being equally (or more) expensive, you can find it easier to be accepted onto the contracts you need. If you have a manufacturer you prefer in the long term, it could also be worth investigating manufacturer specific finance deals, such as Samsung Flex, which offer competitive rates, with the opportunity to upgrade your device when the next model releases.
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