back to article Phone fatigue takes hold: SIM-onlys now top UK market

SIM-only contracts are now the most popular kind of mobile deal in the UK, as punters step off the tedious upgrade treadmill. Retail watcher GfK estimates that SIM-only contracts now account for 29 per cent of the UK phone market. Almost half, or 44 per cent, stayed with their network, but moved from another deal to SIM Only ( …


  1. m0rt

    "GfK floats another reason for flagship fatigue: vendors aren't giving consumers the features they really value. GfK's consumer panel cited "good battery life" as the most important feature of a phone – but batteries have got smaller this year. Meanwhile, the company notes, "water resistance has become a feature of many devices over the last 12-18 months, but this doesn't even make the top 10 of most important features when buying a new device"."

    All of that. And...suprisingly, regular updates/patches would be a good pull. The new branded Nokia phones are making a big thing of this, and Blackberry.

    1. Tigra 07 Silver badge


      Don't forget the crapware and holding up of updates.

      Option 1: Buy the phone outright and get a Sim only deal, with faster updates, less/no craware, and it's cheaper.

      Option 2: Go on contract and spend far more overall, get slower OS updates, plus crapware that can't always be uninstalled.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: RE:m0rt

        I doubt most users are aware of the lack of updates. Or security. There is smartphone malware out there, but there's not been any big outbreaks that hit the news yet. Personally I suspect that's only a matter of time, and I'm amazed Google have got away with being half-arsed about security for so long - though obviously controlling the app store helps a lot.

        In fact a lot of users don't even want feature updates. Once they've learnt how to operate it, they get grumpy when the software and UI changes.

        I think being network unlocked is much more important. As well as price, obviously. But then the two are related. You don't have to sign up to long contracts, you can switch to a cheaper deal and not have to pay £20 to unlock the thing. Which is also really good even if you like to upgrade every year, as many people won't take a second-hand phone off your hands if it's locked to a different network to them.

        1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

          Re: RE:m0rt

          There's been quite a few outbreaks reported, they're just pretty much always in China. Google Play has been largely unaffected.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Yup my 18month old Moto has not been updated in a year. No sign of the October security update or the last OS version either. Looks like I'm already legacy.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Also, if you buy your handset outright then you are protected by the Sales of Goods Act - if it proves to be unfit for the purpose for which it was sold, such as malfunctioning through no fault of your own - you have the right to refund or replacement. This is not the case if you get your phone from your network operator, who might insist on sending your phone off for repair for a few weeks.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Also also, if you are on a SIM-only Pay Monthly, you have the upper hand over your network operator if they mess you around, or if you want a discount. "Oi. EE. Give me another GB per month or I'll leave you for Vodaphone."

    3. ArrZarr Silver badge


      You say Blackberry, but I hear that my Priv will soon stop getting patches.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: @m0rt

        You say Blackberry, but I hear that my Priv will soon stop getting patches.

        Maybe, but it is 2 years old now. To be talking about a cessation of patches on a 2 year old Android is nigh on unprecedented.

        Most other Android phones seemingly drop off the manufacturer's radar after 6 months...

        IPhone is different of course. BlackBerry is still sporadically updating BB10.

        Hopefully the situation with Android will improve, with Project Treble in Oreo. For those manufacturers who don't put a thick skin on top of Stock Android, staying patched through Google's channels should become easier...

    4. TheVogon Silver badge

      Nice pussy!

      1. MrNed

        Thanks. I just had it stuffed.

    5. Dave K Silver badge

      What it doesn't consider however is existing features that are being removed. For example, I didn't buy a Samsung Galaxy S6 a few years ago when I needed a new phone because they did away with the SD Card slot (albeit they brought it back on the S7). Similarly, these days more and more companies are dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack. Again, if I wanted a new phone today, I absolutely would refuse any handset without the jack.

      Hence I do feel that a report showing the importance of existing features would also be interesting.

      Saying that, the story is correct from a performance perspective. 3 years ago, I had a Samsung Galaxy S3. Towards the end, it felt stuttery and sluggish - even after I tried a custom ROM. It needed replacing, so I got an LG G4. Fast forward 2 1/2 years, my G4 is on a SIM-free contract, and is still performing absolutely fine. No slowdown, no stuttering, no performance issues at all. Why therefore would I replace it - especially since I may lose functionality if I did?

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Yes, battery life is important, also being able to survive a drop on to concrete from head height.

        I'd also like good screen readability in sunlight, and good connectivity in fringe coverage areas.

        I'd rate all those ahead of screen size, slimness etc. I've not missed replaceable battery or SD card slots at all.

        The biggest problem is choice in the market. If you wan't to avoid Apple then your only practical option is Android. Not a happy situation.

        1. Tigra 07 Silver badge


          Sounds like you want an old Nokia...

          1. Bill_Sticker

            Re: RE:werdsmith

            I've gone retro with a 15 year old 6310i. Still gives me 12 days standby and three hours talk time.

        2. teknopaul Silver badge

          Not missed replaceable battery? I have my eye on the battery level all the time. You get used to having one leg. :)

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Very rarely, I plug a little powerbank into it.

          2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


            It's a shame Windows Phone is basically dead. Yesterday I played some games on my phone when I got up, used it for a full day of work, including probably an hour of calls. Then broke my leg. Then sat around in hospital until 3am, during which time I read some El Reg, sent many texts, made another few calls to people, took so huge swollen leg photos and arsed around online looking at the Ashes scoreline and some medical websites.

            Interestingly one site about leg fractures was full of adverts for laxatives. Do I look like I'm in a fit state to run for the toilet right now? The other was all of ads for injury lawyers...

            Anyway, when I finally fell into bed at 4am (having got up before 7) my battery was still on 50%.

            Lumia 720. Cost £140. 3 years old.

            The app store is shit, and that's one reason for using less power. But it's a good OS. Shame MS seemed to actively hate it.

      2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        I'm using an LG G3, and it works brilliantly. The display is still right up there with the best.

        I even got a dedicated Brodit charging holder for the car. the sort of thing we used to get back in the days when a phone was used for 3-5 years at a time. £7.50 a month with Giffgaff for 1GB data, and £10 for 3GB when I'm away. (I wish they increased the silly 100MB for the £5 goodybag, as it's poor value and insufficient for when you actually need data -which I almost never do.)

  2. James 51

    I'd love a note 8 but the battery is sealed and both samsung and google are spying on people who buy them with bixby and android. Not to mention that it costs stupid £££. I'll be sticking with my Q10 and S6 for a while yet.

    1. Tascam Holiday
      Thumb Down

      Same here, I've got a Note 3 which is pushing four years old. The Note 8 is the only valid replacement but it's stupidly expensive and the sealed battery means it's unlikely to last as long. I'll soldier on until my Note 3 breaks then consider my options.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Note 3...

        When mine finally gives up... I'm hoping to find a mint/sealed Note 4. ;)

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Note 3...

          Was contemplating finally upgrading my Z3. I can still buy them new where I am. note 4 is about £200, Note 5 is about £250, do they still hold up? Was contemplating a note FE or 8.

        2. djstardust

          Re: Note 3...

          Exactly. I'm a Note 4 user and I have a new spare one in the cupboard just in case!

          1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            Re: Note 3...

            You should probably pop it onto your WiFi to get some updates while they are available, then put it back in safety.

    2. ro55mo

      Same here

      I will be holding onto my LG G4 until the handset itself dies seeing as I can still change out the battery.

      1. AdamWill

        Re: Same here

        Yeah, I have a G3, and have compared it to every significant phone that's come out since and gone 'meh'. The first that actually looks like an unarguable upgrade (aside from the non-replaceable battery, but that seems like a thing that's never coming back :/) is the Oneplus 5T, but even then all I'd really be getting is a bunch more LTE frequencies (which *would* be handy) and a fingerprint sensor. Technically it's "faster", but phones hit that point around the time of the G3 that PCs hit a bit earlier: for most typical usage, you don't actually notice any practical impact from "faster" hardware any more. Still a bit hard to justify dropping $500 on those two things as opposed to $20 on a new battery.

  3. JimmyPage

    Who gets paid for stating the bleedin' obvious ????

    My phone is 2 years old. What does the latest phone have mine doesn't ? Oh, a different colour cover.

    Battery life and accessibility features are the next challenges. To cater for the "phone is my life" situation we are moving towards, coupled with "I need to be able to read/use it now I'm 70" demographic.

    You can have those for free. My moneys already invested.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Who gets paid for stating the bleedin' obvious ????

      To answer your question, new phones have a quite a lot, unless you bought a high end phone. Even the budget phones are amazing these days.

      1. Dominion

        Re: Who gets paid for stating the bleedin' obvious ????

        In what way are they "amazing"?

        I honestly think I need to stockpile a few iPhone SEs for when my 5S finally dies (3 years old and no reason to replace it)

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Who gets paid for stating the bleedin' obvious ????

          I honestly think I need to stockpile a few iPhone SEs for when my 5S finally dies (3 years old and no reason to replace it)

          I see a lot of SEs around here. Lots of pluses - cheap, they work, they're not burdened with pointless frippery, small, battery life is ok. I have one at the moment. The OS / UI sucks, but I don't really care any more.

          Probably getting a BB Motion - monster battery life. It's Android of course so that's another horrid UI...

    2. Tigra 07 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: JimmyPage

      Better hardware, build quality, battery life (probably) and security?

      Buy what makes you happy. I'm still rocking a Pebble Time Steel.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My S4 personal phone and S3 work phone are both running cyanogenmod, the S3 is not connected to the internet and runs for a week between charges, the S4 is charged overnight. They both have microSD cards and spare batteries. What more could I want or need?

    I will not be upgrading and when one of them dies I will replace with a similar handset.

    If a phone manufacturer used their noggin and created a decent handset (swapable battery, microsd, current mid-range specs) with long term support and a yearly cost of say £20 they would take the market.

    1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      Why do you need a MicroSD? They're unreliable and FAR slower than the flash built into handsets. These days, with cloud storage, there's no need for that much storage anyway. And a swappable battery - Why? I used to have a handset with a swappable battery, and indeed a spare battery (a galaxy s3) and I never bothered - too much hassle - too long a boot time and I charged the thing every night anyway. I ended up getting a large battery for that which lasted two or three days of heavy use actually.

      But I have to agree it's the long term support with android that annoys me. Any android phone seems to need to wait for not only manufacturer, but also carrier updates. Which is why if I ever end up getting an android phone it'll be a google one.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Why do you need a MicroSD? They're unreliable and FAR slower than the flash built into handsets. These days, with cloud storage, there's no need for that much storage anyway

        Strong enough case for MicroSD in my view...easy to load up a card with content (my entire MP3 collection in my case, other use cases exist) and take it from one device to another with minimal hassle.

        Cloud storage is only as good as your network connectivity, and accessing it eats into your data allowance, whereas a MicroSD is available and free at point of use. Yes, MicroSD cards do fail, but you I'm sure you'd find yourself without network coverage more often than you;d find yourself with a knackered SD card.

      2. tiggity Silver badge

        @ anthonyhegedus

        Micro SD - for music storage etc. music in cloud is no use in middle of nowhere on camping / walking holiday with FA signal.

        Plenty of bad signal scenic areas in Scotland, Wales & England I have visited where cloud use is just fantasy.

        Ditto swappable batteries when out in the wilds (as far as reception goes!) for a long time and no way to recharge (in UK solar charging not the fastest option!)

        Everyone's usage differs

      3. goldcd

        You don't *need* it

        but cheaper to add a micro-sd card, than teh standard $100 extra for bump in on-board.

        Can be much slower, but then depends on spec of card. Wouldn't want to use it for apps, but very handy to store 'media' (films, podcasts etc). For that, it's more than good enough.

      4. Brangdon Bronze badge

        Re: swappable battery - Why?

        1. So you can reboot the phone in hardware by removing the battery and replacing it.

        2. So you can switch the phone off, with high confidence, by removing the battery.

        3. So the phone lifetime doesn't end when the battery lifetime ends.

        4. So you can replace a flat battery with a fully-charged one in the field.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: swappable battery - Why?

          I was a "swappable battery diehard" for a long while, eking out an ageing S3. But having admitted defeat, and bought a new phone with a "sealed" battery, I find that the improved power management, and a 4000 mAh battery give me the better part of a week of light use, even with all capabilities enabled. And, if I do need to replace the battery because that fails (that could be a long wait on a weekly charging regime), it is a ten minute job using cheaply available tools.

          Moreover, the phone cost £160. I accept it will only get at most a couple of years of updates - it will owe me very little if I did need to replace it then, although early indications are good, and the build quality is as good as any flagship phone I've handled.

          For a few users, replacement batteries are genuinely important. But realistically, I'm guessing that's about 1% of the market.

        2. Ken 16 Silver badge

          Re: swappable battery - Why?

          and the feature I miss from the old days of Nokia, unclip the battery and leave it in the middle of the table in meetings to ensure everyone is giving their full attention, won't be interrupted or recorded.

      5. David Nash

        Unreliable and slower?

        Does it make the media stored on it play slower? Of course not.

        OK if a phone has sufficient built-in storage to compete, maybe you have a point. But so-called cloud storage is never a viable alternative. What was that you were saying about slower?

      6. AdamWill


        The main point of replaceable batteries isn't being able to carry extras around (though that's nice too). It's being able to replace the battery when it inevitably dies. The battery technologies in current phone batteries are only good for 3-5 years before their capacity drops to unusable levels. If your phone's battery is replaceable, when this happens, you can...replace it. If it isn't, when this happens, it's time to buy a new phone.

        Of course, us horrible cynics can't quite shake the notion that the manufacturers see this as a feature, not a bug.

      7. Dave K Silver badge

        My reasons are as follows:

        * SD cards are a *LOT* cheaper than additional built in memory.

        * SD cards can be removed and connected to my PC for file synching with whatever software I choose.

        * SD cards can be moved between handsets (my current SD card is from a previous phone originally, I swapped it over when I bought a newer phone and BAM - 60GB of music instantly available).

        * SD cards survive if the phone dies - my LG G4 inherited the infamous boot-loop fault. Everything on internal storage was toast, SD card was fine.

        * SD cards work when data isn't available, ie camping, poor signal areas, and especially when flying.

        * SD cards also allow for a cheaper contract with less data required than if you try to stream everything from cloud services.

        I could go on. Internal storage is inflexible and troublesome, streaming from the cloud is costly and not always available. SD cards are cheap, flexible and always available. What's not to like?

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Never been inclined to do any of that SD card stuff, like most of the phone buying market. Most phone buyers use their phones a lot but not for things you need to store many GBs of locally.

          There is no incentive for for phone makers to compromise their strategy just to please a few geeks.

      8. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        Why do you need a MicroSD?

        Because I'm not an urban couch potato, and go places where there aren't phone masts. So I have the UK mapping data for Here maps saved to the SD card in my phone, so I can find places.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: cyanogenmod

      er, not lineage ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "er, not lineage"

        Not till it goes stable.

    3. veti Silver badge

      If a phone manufacturer used their noggin and created a decent handset (swapable battery, microsd, current mid-range specs) with long term support and a yearly cost of say £20 they would take the market.

      Yeah, and if they throw in a pony they could corner the market of girls aged 4-14.

      But before a commercial company is going to do something, there needs to be a way they (think they) can actually make money doing it. Just "taking the market" isn't much of a benefit, if you're losing money on every sale.

      Long term support of phones is difficult. Difficult means expensive. "£20 per year" wouldn't begin to cover it; and who would be willing to pay £200, which is probably closer to the real cost?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Sometimes I do wonder about how some people follow logic.

        £20 per year

        Did you think I am going to be the only user? Lets say you sell a million phones which is not an unrealistic number for such a phone then that would be 20 million pound a year just to keep it up to date, plus you will be making money separately off batteries and screens.

        Unrelated but on the SD card comments I use a program called which allows me to use satnav offline, very useful.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Did you think I am going to be the only user? Lets say you sell a million phones which is not an unrealistic number for such a phone then that would be 20 million pound a year j

          Only if everybody paid. Which most won't. They'll either use the phone "out of support" and not pay, like most users of older Android devices already do, or they'll buy a new phone either outright or on contract. And any lost or broken devices exit the pool of prospective customers. With very decent devices around the £150 mark, you're suggesting that people would pay 14% of the price of a brand new, warrantied phone, just for the software updates? And then a new battery, say £15 every two years. That takes you up to 20% of the price new every year, for a device that's a minimum of two years behind the curve, has had two years active use, two years wear on the ports etc.

          I'd suggest less than one in thirty people would actually pay that. So lets say the phones are £350 devices retail, the manufacturer gets £200, by selling a million they make £200m of sales. After two years, they've got (on my guess) a remaining unlost, unbroken pool of 900,000 phones in circulation, a and around 30,000 customers will pay up the £20. Which gives the maker only £600,000 in year one, and probably declining rapidly after that. Allowing for sales and administration costs on the support package, that's what, £400k for development and testing, on an out of production phone, using many third party components and chipsets that will likewise be out of production and out of support. So there's many elements they still can't rely on to support in newer OS variants. And out of that £400k, what gross margin do you think they'd make? £400k buys you diddly squat in terms of legacy software development and proper testing, so I struggle to see any profit unless you've got far more "support" customers. What promises is the handset maker going to have to make to justify that price? If they're going to say "we can't support Android O because Sony own the IP of the camera driver, and they aren't supporting it now", then people will be demanding their money back, and far from a profit opportunity, the "support" package becomes an expensive customer relations disaster.

          Why would a handset maker bother taking on those support risks and problems for a negligible profit when they aren't even any good at software in the first place?


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