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


      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

          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

      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

      Nice pussy!

      1. MrNed

        Thanks. I just had it stuffed.

    5. Dave K

      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


          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
      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

        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 Silver badge

        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

        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?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Good points but you are buying the phone for the fact it has LTS and if you don't pay you don't get the updates.

            Clearly from the article many people are no longer updating phones therefore there is a market for people who want an up to date phone but not pay for a new handset.

  5. Sampler

    same same

    Same happened with desktops, where this years chip offered no tangible difference to the OS usage feel and only high end processes were aided, motherboard upgrades the same, where much of a muchness with new connectors, throughput or bus options, memory improvements marginal, ssd's, so a new PC every year became two, became three, current build is getting on for four and I could replace it, but wouldn't notice anything but a hole in my wallet (and it's only a $500 AUD build to start with).

    Then we moved to laptops, smaller, lighter, better battery, better graphics, higher res screen, now they two are much of a muchness.

    So too with phones, the annual upgrades not delivering anything new in terms of battery life, camera, cpu/memory, my note 4 still does me well, it's thin enough, fast enough to do everything I need (plus I can still replace the battery and add an SD card). Yeah, a note 8 looks nice, but no, I don't feel compelled to upgrade as what I have will do, even with the built in obsolescence of turning off updates, when that happens (as I'm still getting them, but when) I'll just switch to one of the many open source, I know as I'm more technical then most others won't, but a wedge will sit without updates or noticing/caring, so only a small percentage will upgrade then.

    We've reached peak phone, without something radically new (strapping to your face for poor mans VR or this year's hype wagon of AR don't count) they've progressed themselves into a corner.

  6. Mephistro

    A bit of common sense ...

    ... at long last! There's still hope for mankind!

    1. Teiwaz

      Re: A bit of common sense ...

      Among Minbari, one individual leads, but we move as one. We are at our best when we move together, and we are at our worst when we move together. When our leader was killed by your people, we went mad together. We stayed mad for a very long time, a madness that almost consumed your world, until finally, before it was too late, we woke up together.

      - Delenn - Ceremonies of light and Dark (Babylon 5)

      Perhaps we've finally woken up too.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I only replace mine when I break it, and then I get it from fleaBay - normally the same one.

    I'm on giffgaff's PAYG (but it's more like a "capped pay monthly")

    1. Mephistro

      @ AC

      "...and then I get it from fleaBay - normally the same one."

      I tell you, this refurbishing thing is going too far!!!

      Yes, yes, I am leaving already.

  8. Cosmo


    This is good news - It's about time that customers realise that they're getting fleeced by the 2 year upgrade bandwagon. Buy your phone outright from wherever you want (with no network lock-downs), go SIM only and keep it for as long as you want.

    You can see why Vodafone have branched into flogging broadband...

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Good

      I'm honestly surprised it's taken so long. It's as if people have heard of competition, but it's never occurred to them that they, as consumers, can use it to their advantage.

  9. Warm Braw

    Only 29%?

    The last survey, back in April suggested it was already 27% and heading for 33% by the end of 2017 and would be 54% by 2021.

    Seems not to be the best time for Apple to be raising the cost of entry to its walled garden - but I suppose people continued to rent their phones from BT for years after you could buy one cheaper from Argos...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only 29%?

      Perhaps the best time? There are only whales left in the sea, because they (phone manufacturers) ate all the fish already?

  10. johnnyblaze

    My Moto G5Plus has an 8 core CPU, 3GB RAM, 32GB flash (plus a 64GB MicroSD I added). It can go 2-3 days on one charge, has a great screen, is blazing fast for everything I need, and will get Android 8 early next year. I paid just over £200. I have unlimited texts/calls and 3GB data p/m. Why do I need a phone costing £1000 and pay £60 or more a month? I wouldn't use it any differently, and would just be paying for the privilege (iPhone owners are very familiar with this!).

    The phone upgrade cycle has gone mad. Phone prices have gone mad. People don't *need* them, they're just told they must have them because 'it will make your life better'. It won't, ever, because next years handset will, ofcourse, be even better, and you must have that one too!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      The weird thing is your Moto handset is getting an Android upgrade. But when I just looked at Lenovo Android tablets, they all seem to be 2 or even 3 Android releases behind the latest. I don't really care about getting upgrades in my phone, I just want the security patches. Many people just want a phone for communications, though with bigger ones many use them instead of tablets. But yet they don't upgrade their tablets, which are mostly used for the computer-y things.

      Which I guess means I'm getting an iPad. I only renew phones when needed, but with harder use, they tend not to last much more than 3 years. Whereas my current iPad is 4-5 years old, so I expect more effort in updates.

      1. James 51

        Blackberry have been good about getting security patches out (at least for as long as the component manufactures play ball but that affects everyone).

    2. Miss Lincolnshire


      ....only I have a 4Gb SIM.

      Absolutely nothing wrong with the G5 Plus. Cracking bit of kit

  11. ecofeco Silver badge

    Overpriced phones might be a cause

    I upgraded this year. Had my last phone roughly 2 years. Had no intention of upgrading, yet I was able to get a 5.3 inch, dual low light camera that sees better in the dark than I do, 32gb x 2gb RAM, quad core, with high res screen, no cost tethering, unlimited everything all for the price of one month's, no contract payment.

    In other words the phone was free.

    What was once a high end, then mid-range and now budget phone is a giant leap forward compared to my last phone from just 3 years ago.

    Hell no I'm not paying $200 plus for a damn phone.

  12. Microchip

    The most annoying thing about having a non-contract phone...

    is that without the carrier bloatware, you often don't get access to the better features (e.g. VoLTE, VoWiFi (wifi calling) without seperate apps that may or may not work, access to certain LTE bands (Band 20 800MHz, I'm looking at you Three). And worse, if you've got a phone they don't officially support, you're not going to get them either. I've got a OnePlus 3 that I'm still really happy with, but I'm basically told I'm SOL when it comes to VoLTE. It's supposed to work via their app, but naturally doesn't.

    Course, you take the carrier crap, and you end up with lagging updates, apps and services you don't want ("value added"), if it's an option for your phone.

    IIRC Three were using "4G Super Voice" as a marketing tool/gimmick that they were using to sell more handsets. I'm hoping the shift towards SIM only will push towards having some sort of standard operating setup with VoLTE/VoWiFi. And maybe all the networks could try testing the generic firmware models on their network and enable the features if they're supported. In their defense, apparently EE do support VoLTE and VoWiFi on the OP3, but I'm not willing to pay a 50-100% premium on my SIM only contract in order to access them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The most annoying thing about having a non-contract phone...

      I didn't downvote, but isn't VoLTE or VoWifi is just voice call? Other than not optimized, you could do that with a skype app, discord app, whatsapp, hangout or whatever internet-voice app and it could do that already without the carrier's app.

      1. Microchip

        Re: The most annoying thing about having a non-contract phone...

        It is just a voice call, but routing it over 4G or wifi, then via the network's own call handling setup. It's what phones normally do when we call/get called over 3G or 2G at the moment. To be honest, it's mainly for receiving calls that I use it, as outbound I often use said whatsapp/hangout/telegram etc myself, but unfortunately most non-techs people out there in the real world seem to want to call me on my actual phone number. Yeah, I could mess about with SIP and all that jazz, but my point was that it comes as standard being able to call over 4G and wifi with carrier based phones (or phones with the carrier ROM), but not if you get them independently (or are running the global ROM).

  13. Spanners Silver badge

    Nice to see I'm fashionable for a change!

    I replaced my Note4 with a OnePlus5 a few months ago. I had intended on staying withe the Note until next year but My Wifes iPhone died and she got it. She seems to get less annoyed with my old phone than she did with her iThing. Now we both have decent cameras and phones that are not designed on the premise that users are stupid.

    Why didn't I get a Note8? Vodafone were offering me one. Bixby played a major part in this. Samsung has been getting less and less standard over the years. Their stuff integrates with other Samsung stuff I suppose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Nice to see I'm fashionable for a change!

      The strange thing is, the Bixby usage cases is one thing I would get a Note8 for. I'd (for a time) ignore the security/privacy for being able to add *custom voice activated macros*. While a on a PC, voice attack was a fun toy, and I stopped using it. But on a phone, it has a real utility case. Just imagine (hand stuck inside a car engine) "Bixby, load up Youtube, play "how to remove bolt" and then TURN ON THE FLASHLIGHT!" ;)

      The other things (no removable battery, price, no physcial home unless you hack in the bixby button... etc).

  14. ratfox


    With a bit of luck, it means that the telcos will lose some of the power they had to force crapware on users. Maybe now they'll work harder to provide upgrades... Though to be honest, I haven't bought a telco-controlled phone in ten years, and I doubt I'll ever do it again.

  15. Andytug

    Peak phone has been reached, that's why...

    And probably peak tablet, laptop and PC as well.

    Except for a minority who really need the extra grunt for what they do (video editors, high end gamers etc) the stuff out now is good enough. There aren't even any new deal-breaking apps or games, really. I think manufacturers are going to be pushing the forced obsolescence model more and more as time goes on, it's the only way they'll be able to carry on making a profit.

    1. DownTheAnalysisMines

      Re: Peak phone has been reached, that's why...

      Absolutely. Two years ago I got a Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. Massive 4k(!!) screen, 4k/23MP video camera, 128Gb MicroSD, amazing audio, now on latest Android 7.1.1, water resistant, I could go on and on...

      Not only will I not be changing it any time soon, I'm not even sure they make 'em like this any more!

      1. jaduncan

        Re: Peak phone has been reached, that's why...

        The latest is 8.0, though (and very soon to be 8.1).

  16. BigAndos

    "If this de-coupling continues to gather momentum over here, many will have to re-evaluate their go-to market strategies." I read that as "Make sim only contracts a shed load more expensive".

    Aside from what is mentioned in the article, I think people are wising up to the fact that:

    1) Smart phones are largely a mature technology. A lot of the new features being trumpeted like Bixby or Face ID are features created out of a need to have a something for marketing to shout about.

    2) Now they are mature, unless you obsessively need something new and shiny a one to two year old refurbished former flagship gives you pretty damn good bang for your buck. I currently have an S7 edge and will likely replace it with a second hand one when I eventually break it as it is a good phone and does what I need. My only issues are non removable battery and expensive screen repairs!

    3) Mobile operators generally provide poor customer service. At least if you buy sim free or second they can't screw up your handset by failing to deliver it/filling it full of crapware etc

    1. Mephistro

      @ BigAndos

      'I read that as "Make SIM only contracts a shed load more expensive".'

      True, that's what will happen, knowing the telcos managerial ethos. But it'll be a huge error, as it will open the doors for small, inexpensive, SIM only telcos. Nowadays, the phone "renting" model is a huge barrier for small new telcos to enter the market, as it forces on them a ton of personnel, bureaucracy, service centres, CSR facilities and 'shops' where the punters can "purchase" the phones.

      I expect this to evolve into another situation where big companies greed -big telcos greed in this case- cause them to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Mephistro

        Which side of the pond(s) are you? We already have tons of sim only companies here. I'm with one, get great options (limits to spending/use or bonus add ons etc), and pay half what most the other companies charge.

        1. BigAndos

          In the UK we have a number of Sim only networks but the issue is they are all MVNOs (virtual networks) who have to rent network capacity from the big players. If the big players lose money on handset sales, they'll likely pass on the costs to their MVNO partners who in turn will have to raise prices.

        2. Mephistro

          Re: @ Mephistro (@ Technical Ben)

          I'm in Spain, and we have a few sim-free telcos with nice offers as well, although their market share is not too big yet. Regarding the costs of renting the big telcos' networks, there is a legal cap on what said networks can charge, based -if I remember it correctly- in a percentage of what big telcos charge to customers -for the use of the network alone, without including other products or services.

          IMHO the SIM-free telcos can earn some serious €€€ with the remainder of that percentage, due to their lack of overheads.

          On a side note, I was under the impression that most Western countries had similar laws regarding landline and mobile telephony, so if any fellow commentards can confirm or deny this assumption of mine, I'll be grateful.

  17. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    People have worked out it's cheaper

    Real incomes have declined significantly over the last 10 years. Experience shows that people will spend (sometimes money don't have) on things that give them immediate pleasure, if they're required. A new phone doesn't do that anything like as much as it did, hence the money gets spent on something else: music and tv subscriptions spring to mind as worthy replacements.

  18. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Hello? Is this a tech publication?

    The hardware industry raced to compensate for Android's inefficiencies (as you'd expect from an interpeted Java-based OS)

    As is the custom, the OS has been compiled to the CPU instruction set and is not written in Java.

    There is used to be Dalvik VM in the software stack, yes (i.e. it runs "dex" bytecode which is unlike the one of the Sun/Oracle JVM). Now replaced by something imaginatively called ART, the "Android Runtime", another VM (they really missed the occasion to call it Dalghren)

    Android (Operating System) - Software Stack


  19. ravenviz Silver badge

    For me it's definitely storage. Why I don't upgrade more often is because of the cost of accessories, mainly various battery and bumper cases.

  20. Wyrdness

    Water Resistance

    "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"

    It very quickly becomes the number one most important feature when they drop their phones in the loo or the bath.

    Not that I've ever done this, but I know plenty of people who have.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Water Resistance

      I'm sure you could waterproof a book.

      I'm not at all sure that people would pay for a waterproof book.

      Even though I've dropped any number of books into the bath.

      Sure, it's more expensive, but the scale of risk vs stupidity vs expense vs replacement isn't on the side of modern phones. To be honest, even when they say they're "resistant" that doesn't mean they'll do anything about replacing it. And you'd be better off with a non-waterproof phone and an insurance policy, most likely.

      The cost-benefit isn't there. But I'd gladly buy a new phone if, for £10 extra, I could get a removable battery and headphone socket. And I'd gladly take off anything from £5 up for having it not-waterproof.

      The problem manufacturers have is the stuff that makes most money and is easily do-able isn't the stuff that sells the phone. I wouldn't pay much for a waterproof phone, unless I was a sailor, and then you'll find it's probably not covered any time it does happen (and LOSING the phone in the water is much more likely).

      I'd gladly pay a premium for:

      headphone socket

      - removeable/replaceable battery

      - side microSD slot (not these under-the-battery things)

      - HDMI-out (often missing on low-range phones)

      - latest android version and a promise of upgrade to at least one more major version after that

      - real physical buttons

      - none of the tut pre-loaded on it and no forced-app-installs later

      - standard microUSB charger

      - a big magnet built into the back to attach to things (alright, it'd screw up the compass, I accept that)

      - IR blaster (reason I stuck with S4 Mini / S5 Mini because the full version's don't have it!)

      What I would gladly sacrifice in their stead / for a cheaper device:

      - Fingerprint reader

      - Face scanner

      - VR-level 3D graphics chip

      - Multiple / stupendous resolution cameras.

      - Waterproofing

      Modular phones really need to become a thing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Water Resistance

      "Not that I've ever done this, but I know plenty of people who have."

      I dropped one in the River Avon. I was attached to it at the time. Resolved never to have happen again.

      Old style Blackberries could be operated through a waterproof bag (real buttons). Good enough.

      Replaced with Sony. Replaced with another Sony.

      I also have a spare phone with a replaceable battery in case of emergency, but it lives indoors or in the car.

      OK, atypical user.

    3. Tim Seventh

      Re: Water Resistance

      Maybe it's just me, but common sense (aka elementary school science class material) is you don't put electronic into water. It's because it'll short circuit when touched by water, and you'll get electrocuted if you touch it too.

      So, it's common sense that you shouldn't expect electronic to be waterproof even if it says waterproof and you should avoid using electronic near water. So same goes for a regular phone and a smartphone. The exception is electronic that is designed from the start to be on water like a boat. This reminded me of this Darwin award.

      Also water resistance is just resistance to getting a little wet like a spill, which is completely different from dropping into a pool.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Water Resistance

        You can't get electrocuted by a device that's not connected to anything. Especially not a mobile phone...

        However, if you are charging you phone, do not use it in the bath at the same time. Someone did, and died doing it.

  21. Paul 195

    Phone fatigue

    "manufacturers aren't offering users the features they want"

    I can believe this. The drive to make phones ever thinner means we have lost features users do want. Like being able to replace the battery when it starts to perform poorly, as it inevitably will. It's deliberately built-in obsolescence. It's good to see that we are all starting to push back against it.

    I can't actually find any android phone that has all the features I valued in the Lumia 820 I bought four years ago: removable battery, wireless charging, Micro SD slot. Samsung have one or two phones with wireless charging, but only for rather more than I'm ready to spend on a phone.

  22. Lee D Silver badge

    I have a phone. It's fine.

    I do not want to rent a phone.

    I do not want to have a phone tied to one network.

    I will happily go out and buy a phone (even on finance) just to be able to change networks at the drop of a hat.

    Consequently, a SIM-only deal has to exist for me. And given how much cheaper people like giffgaff can be than the major-players, I'm saving money.

    I just bought a 4G Wifi router (don't ask about landline broadband... it's basically non-existent despite being in a major city). I bought an Huawei one that *I* like the look of and looks and works how I want it to. On any of the major carriers that sell the same box, they want to rent it to me for about £10-15 a month on a 24 month contract. The box cost £60. Why on earth would I do so?

    Instead I bought it outright (hell, I could spread the payment via PayPal Credit if I really wanted to, and it would still be cheaper). Then I picked up a SIM-only deal. Because it's SIM-only, the "deal" is the same data package. But it's cheaper. Though, because I want only a monthly contract, the numbers are fiddled to make it a tiny bit more than it should be but still a lot cheaper than the very same package with a router/phone included.

    So... why would I buy via them?

    It's about reducing unnecessary middle-men. No provider I've ever used has had such good service that I want to throw money at them just because. None. I don't mind "spending more to get good service". But I'm not going to give them a 2-year credit agreement on a little box I could just buy (and get an unlocked version) just for the sake of it. I'd actually rather buy the box from anyone, then buy the SIM from the company I like, and then knock it up a notch in terms of data/calls if that's what I wanted to do.

    Telecoms carriers "leasing" their phone to me died with the dissolution of the BT-phones-only network, as-was. I see no reason to jump back 40 years in that regard just because I carry my phone with me rather than tie it to the wall at home.

    And certainly not when the premium attached (24 month contract, vastly more than the device cost, huge cancellation charges, etc.) is sometimes 5 or more times the cost of the device.

    Also, when they annoy me - which every company manages to do at some point - I just go with someone else next month and take my number with me. I will happily pay slightly more for that kind of freedom of choice of provider / device without the telecoms provider getting to have a say in it.

  23. David Gosnell

    Unshackled for years

    I unshackled myself just over six years ago (after lacklustre upgrade offers from Orange, then O2) and have never looked back. Never paid more than about £150 for a phone, or £10 a month for more minutes and data than I can use. I know a few people still on contracts, but I guess if you must have the latest £900 iShiny it's either that or BrightHouse. Not much to choose between the two, essentially. The idea of spending out more than the leccy bill just to be able to show off seems frankly obscene.

  24. thondwe

    Hand Me Downs

    Got a be lot of SIM only deals with older phones being passed to offspring and others. One daughters has a passed on iPhone 5c, the other I got a refurb for, which have only just fallen off the OS upgrade wagon - 4 years - not bad compared most other marks.

    Still not as good as some of our x86 kit - 10 year old HP laptop running Windwos 10 with finger print "Hello"...

  25. abedarts

    No wonder we are bored, nothing much has changed in 11 years

    When Apple launched the first iPhone in Jan 2007 we suddenly had an exciting new thing that had never existed before.

    But since then its just been incremental development - better cameras, bigger screens, longer runtime, but essentially the same thing nearly eleven years down the road.

    Its no wonder we are a bit jaded.

  26. fred base

    We’ve been writing about "flagship fatigue" for three years now.

    ♫ "Boredom, boredom, boredom, b'dum b'dum" ♫

  27. D Moss Esq

    ... plus c'est la même

    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".

    Nothing changes, not even idiotic marketing ideas:

    In the United States, the first successful, commercially produced ballpoint pen to replace the then-common fountain pen was introduced by Milton Reynolds in 1945. It used a tiny ball that rolled heavy, gelatin-consistency ink onto the paper. The Reynolds Pen was a primitive writing instrument marketed as 'The first pen to write underwater' ..."

  28. d3vy

    My trusty HTC one M8 finally packed up last month after an unplanned escape from my pocket as I got ofut of the car... I had it replaced for £50 excess on my insurance with a like new refurbed HTC one M8.

    I hope to get another 5 years from this one!

  29. Steve Knox

    Write about it long enough and maybe it'll come true?

    We’ve been writing about "flagship fatigue" for three years now.

    ...and boy are our fingers tired!

    Thank you! I'll not be here all night!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm quite sure this is a global phenomenon, not unique to the UK

    People are all about getting into non-committal relationships, and I guess that extends to a non-contractual relationship with a telco. Combined with number portability, there's no point to sticking with a telco or sign a long-term contract with it.

    Most telcos also do not go all out to retain existing customers.

    It's not really about 'phone fatigue'. Most people still change their phones fairly often, preferably when the resale value is still high. If it were really 'phone fatigue', the first sign would be the shrinking of the phone accessories and case market. Doesn't seem to be so.

    1. foo_bar_baz

      Re: I'm quite sure this is a global phenomenon, not unique to the UK

      In countries where the tele authorities had the interest of the consumer in mind SIM and phones HAD to be sold separately and switching operators was made easy: you got to keep your number and only had to deal with the new operator. Result: cheaper and better service. So yeah, welcome to the 1990s Brexit Britain.

  31. foo_bar_baz

    Fatigue schmatigue

    May I suggest that buying handsets and SIMs separately was always better for the consumer, and people are finally catching on? It helps drive competition, lower prices, push innovation and get better service. There is a reason why, despite high population density UK mobile is slow and expensive: locked SIMs and long contracts.

  32. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    So, hopefully someone from the phone manufacturing companies reads the Reg,...

    If I upgrade my Note4, I want:

    a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

    An SD card slot.

    A removable battery.

    Ideally a stylus.

    I do not want a glass back, or edge to edge screen / bezel less, or anything sacrificed to make it 0.1mm thinner. I'm not bothered about facial recognition, a PIN is fine. In fact, if the cameras on 7" tabs weren't so dire, I'd happily carry a 7" tab around, and talk into a BT watch. Although a compact camera with WiFi or BT to xfer files so I can easily share them on social media would work. I dont wear skinny jeans anymore, I don't need everything in one slim package any more.

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Downvoting snowflake,.....

      .. downvoting a shopping list of features I want in my next phone is pretty weak.

      You understand it's a list of things _I_ want, and downvoting doesn't change that?

  33. unwarranted triumphalism

    Still Apple's fault

    The Iphone is everything that's wrong with mobile technology.

  34. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I knew I'd get heavily voted down for my earlier comments, but I stand by what I said. These cloud services ARE accessible by the majority of users, and the do work. Google do it with their Pixel and Apple with iOS. And millions of people are buying phones without replaceable batteries, and they can't all be wrong. Any phone user I've met who doesn't use cloud storage and isn't 'tech-savvy' has at some point lost their photos, because they're stuck on some old phone somewhere and not backed up, or on a crappy SD card which died.

    So instead of voting this down, look at where people are heading: It's cloud this, and cloud that so we might as well embrace it - it works!

    The only way forward is to progress and if that means binning your ten year old piece of crap, then so be it.

    1. Tim Seventh

      "So instead of voting this down, look at where people are heading: It's cloud this, and cloud that so we might as well embrace it - it works!"

      Until they travel, then we all laugh at their very expensive data roaming bill or their now not so smart smartphone with nothing to stream from cloud.

      "The only way forward is to progress and if that means binning your ten year old piece of crap, then so be it."

      But you are ten+ years old, right?

      Ba dum tss

  35. Piro Silver badge

    Not hugely surprised

    Any mid to high end phone from the last 3 or 4 years, as long as it doesn't have an actual problem, is pretty much indistinguisable from the newest devices, bar say, camera quality.

    Designs have stagnated hard, too. No landscape keyboard sliders, very few high end smaller devices, phones are dropping basic features people actually want (SD card slots, headphone jacks, removable batteries).. and so on. You can't even buy phones in the same line and expect features you used to have (Qi charging being dropped in the Nexus line).. etc, etc.

    At least the obsession with absolute reduction in thickness has waned - that was just stupid, made devices harder to hold, and killed off battery life.

    Now the obsession seems to be getting bezel size down to the point where any minor drop is guaranteed to break the phone. I guess that's a way to get people to buy new devices with features they were indfferent about.

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