This guide is part of a special report on Mobile Phones, Networks and Broadband with articles on conflict minerals, workers' rights, the environmental and health impacts and more.
See also the product guides to:
Mobile phones for dummies
- A basic mobile phone makes calls and texts. They are not-smartphones and are sometimes called ‘dumb’ phones in the industry.
- A ‘feature’ phone is a low-end smartphone or not-so-smartphone. There is often not a great deal of difference from a smartphone except they are usually cheaper and have less apps (software applications).
- A smartphone is a phone which usually has a music player, camera, GPS navigation, web browsers, a touch-screen and lots of apps.
The are two main ways of buying a mobile phone:
- A pay-as-you-go deal where you buy your own phone and pay for each call, text or time you spend on the internet.
- A monthly contract where you pay a set amount each month, usually by direct debit, and either get a phone ‘free’ or a SIM Only deal which you can use with any phone.
Within these two options there are literally hundreds of different deals available (Orange alone has 28 different monthly contract plans). You could liken it to the energy market, where different providers blind you with complicated alternatives and try to lock you into deals for anything up to 24 months.
The Which? website, used in conjunction with our own ethical information, is a useful guide.
For mobile handsets we’ve picked best buys that cover a range of prices. The Fairphone, which you can pre-order now before its release in December, is £280. You can get a Nokia feature phone for as little as £16. A new iPhone will cost upwards of £400.
If you choose a contract on our best buy network O2, you can get an older iPhone model for around £17 per month with 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data for surfing the net.
You can get a SIM Only contract with Green Mobile for £10 per month with 50 minutes talk time and 50 texts. You can get 500MB of data for an extra £7.50 per month.
TPO does a SIM Only deal for just £5 per month for 50 minutes of talk time, 50 texts and 50MB of data.
The Co-operative do a SIM Only deal for £15 per month this includes 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data.
O2’s cheapest SIM Only deal is £8 per month for 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data.
Mobile phones tackle Indonesian tin problems
Samsung, Philips, Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola and LG Electronics have all publicly accepted that their phones are likely to contain tin from Bangka island, Indonesia. According to Friends of the Earth, mining of tin there is destroying tropical forests, killing coral and wrecking the lives of communities.
This now leaves Apple, alone among the best-known brands, failing to give a straight answer to more than 27,000 customers who have asked if it sources tin from Bangka island. This is surprising given that Apple is one of the most progressive mobile phone company on its sourcing of conflict minerals from the Congo.
The moves were prompted by Friends of the Earth’s investigation into the devastation caused by mining for tin on Bangka. Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.
The FoE report ‘Mining for Smartphones: the True Cost of Tin’ revealed:
- Dangerous and unregulated tin mining on Bangka – police figures show that in 2011 an average of one miner a week died in an accident.
- Coral and sea life threatened – silt from tin mining is killing seagrass eaten by turtles, killing coral reefs, driving away fish and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods.
- Farmers struggling to grow crops – soil has become acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.
Email Apple from the FoE website.