Buying a smartphone is a tricky and confusing thing, so we've taken a look in depth at your options for the best place to buy a smartphone.

One of the keys to coming out with the best, and right, deal for you is spending time researching and comparing your options. This guide will help you decide which the right method is for you. Our advice is to decide what you want, then go and find the best place to get it. See alsoGroup test: what's the best smartphone?

If you can, buying a smartphone on a SIM-free basis is preferable. You can get cheap SIM-only deals which you can change regularly to keep up with the latest tariffs. Then you can sell your phone when it gets out of date and use the money to upgrade to the latest handset.

Alternatively you can avoid having to pay out a large sum in one go by getting a contract. Your phone and tariff are rolled into one monthly payment but you are tied down for typically two years.
Once you've worked out what is the best way for you, it's time to go out there and find it. We've assessed the pros and cons of the various ways in which you can buy a smartphone.

See also: How to get the best price on tech.

Best place to buy a smartphone: Direct

You can, in some cases, go straight to the smartphone manufacturer to buy a smartphone. It's the unconventional way to get a smartphone but shouldn't be immediately overlooked. Not all vendors sell direct through their website, if they don't it's likely they will point you towards where you can buy though.

For starters, there's much less faffing around. You can simply find the phone you want and, well, buy it. Going to the vendor is arguably the most trustworthy way of buying a product. You'll be able to compare the devices, get access to support and other things like a 14 day returns policy, although what's on offer might vary from vendor to vendor.

So for those looking for a hassle free and trustworthy way of getting a smartphone, going to the vendor is a great option. There is, of course, a downside. And this is that you are unlikely to get the best price.

Let's take the HTC One X for example. It's the only smartphone HTC sells on a SIM-free basis on its website and it's priced at £569. A quick search around the web reveals you can get the phone for around £400 with twice the amount of storage – a huge saving.

•    Pros: Trustworthy, straightforward shopping, support and returns.
•    Cons: Prices are typically higher than alternative sources.

Best place to buy a smartphone: Online retailer

If you prefer shopping online and don't like the sound of going straight to a vendor then you can always buy from third-party retailer. There are plenty out there to choose from and some helpful benefits. Smartphones can be purchased from big names like Amazon, John Lewis and Play but also smaller, technology focused sources like Clove, Expansys and Handtec.

The main draw is cheap prices on the phone you're after. In comparison to vendors the price can be anything from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds cheaper. Prices are driven down by competition between these retailers – there's never one which is always the cheapest for every handset which comes out so be prepared to spend some time shopping around and comparing prices.

If you don't have bags of time to trawl the internet, price comparison sites can be a good way of comparing different sellers, quickly and easily. Google has a shopping section as part of its search engine which includes seller ratings, and don't forget PC Advisor's own smartphone price comparison engine.

One benefit of online retailers is there tends to be a wide range of payment options. You can pay with credit or debit cards plus some accept payments with PayPal.

If you haven't decided what phone you want then it's easy to browse smartphones from different vendors and with various operating systems. Some sites have comparison facilities. If you want accessories then you can easily buy cheaper non-official ones at the same time.

Don't simply go straight for the cheapest price you can find. Make sure you do your research on where you're buying from and the total price you will pay. Some retailers will try and catch you out with tricks. These can include showing the price excluding VAT, touting free delivery which requires a high spend total and imported models.

Make sure the retailer has a UK street address and contact number and if you want to be thorough, check out some reviews. You can go even further and check the company is legitimate with Companies House.

•    Pros: Cheaper prices, browse devices, huge amount of choice.
•    Cons: Not always trustworthy, beware of ploys.

Best place to buy a smartphone: Mobile operator

The previous two options only really apply if you want a SIM-free handset. However, getting a smartphone on a contract from a mobile operator has its advantages.

Getting a smartphone on a contract avoids the large one off payment of buying one SIM-free.  You'll also get all the minutes, calls and mobile data you will be using on the device. This keeps things nice a nice simple package.

You'll most likely be able to get a handset for free, or for a small fee, and just pay a monthly amount for a tariff. Operators don't automatically stock every smartphone so the amount on offer is less than buying SIM-free.

The downside is that you're locked into a lengthy contract – most operators will try and get you into a two year deal. Once you're in the contract it can be difficult to get a new phone or change your tariff. Across the length of the contract you can end up easily paying more than the phone with a SIM-only deal will cost.

Mobile operators have physical high street shops which you can visit. A big advantage if you want to check out the smartphones on offer. You can also get advice but be aware that the advice will likely be biased towards you making purchase.

While the store helps you see phones in the flesh before buying, you'll almost definitely get a better deal online.

There are a lot of mobile operators to choose from, each with their advantages and disadvantages. We suggest you research the phones, tariffs and extras on offer from each to see what suits you best before making a decision.

Another thing to consider is the network coverage where you live – a shiny new smartphone isn't much good with no reception.

•    Pros: Free or cheap phone, try before you buy, staggered payments.
•    Cons: Length contract, choice of phone can be limited, total cost across contract can be high.

Best place to buy a smartphone: Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4U

A combination of going to a third-party retailer and the mobile operator is Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4U.

These retailers have the advantage of both physical high street stores and websites. A big lure is that you have the choice of pretty much any smartphone on a contract with the mobile operator and tariff of your choice, or SIM-free devices.

You can also get deals such as a free gift (like a games console, laptop or TV) or a combined smartphone and tablet contract.

Deals aren't always as good as they sound so be sure to compare what you're getting with the other options we've listed. If you walk into one of the stores you could have the same problem as the mobile operator, sales staff who are incentivised to upsell or sell you a certain handset, for example.

Our advice is to do your research and know the market before you walk in to a shop. If you sound clueless then you're more likely to be taken advantage of.

•    Pros: Massive amount of choice, some excellent deals, try before you buy.
•    Cons: Not necessarily the best prices, biased sales staff in store.

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