Best free phone on a contract April 2017

Alex Kidman 11 April 2017

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It's still possible to get a really good phone on a cheap contract with no handset repayments, and you've even got choices to make.

Telstra recently added a very inexpensive flip phone, the Telstra Flip 2 into its contract phone ranges. With no handset repayments on any contract tier, it’s the simplest phone you can get on a contract from the major carriers by a very big margin. That’s fine if a flip phone is your heart's desire, but for most of us, we want a little more out of what are typically called "smartphones". There’s no doubting that the Flip 2 serves a particular market niche, but what can you do if you want the best phone on the cheapest plan?

There’s always a balancing act if you want a premium phone on a cheap contract, because often the handset repayments will push the total price up to a point where it can be cheaper to opt for a higher-priced plan anyway. However, every carrier has a few phones on its books that it offers on a 24-month contract terms on its cheapest plan with no extra handset repayments. If money is tight but you want the extras that come with a full contract rather than going down the prepaid or month-to-month SIM-only route, what are your best options right now? We’ll break it down carrier by carrier.

Telstra

TelstraSignaturePremium4_450

Best phone option: Telstra Signature Premium

QUICK SPECSScreen size: 5.0in | Storage: 32GB | Weight: 143g | Processor: Qualcomm MSM8952 Octa-Core | Rear cam: 13MP | Front cam: Ultrapixel | Battery: 2150mAh | Screen res: 1920x1080 | Display density: 440ppi

Telstra currently has three phones on its books for the lowest level S $55 plan, and there’s a very clear winner if you want the best possible phone. That’s the Telstra Signature Premium, which itself is essentially a rebadged HTC A9 smartphone. It’s a solid mid-range phone that impressed us with its premium feel, integrated fingerprint sensor and good camera when we reviewed it.

Your other options in this space are also both Telstra-branded, with the aforementioned Flip 2 or slightly lower-spec Telstra Signature Enhanced, which is a rebadged LG X Screen whose key selling point is an always-on second screen, similar to that found on the LG V20 or HTC’s U Ultra phones.

Optus

iPhoneSE_450Best phone option: Apple iPhone SE 16GB

QUICK SPECSScreen size: 4.7in | Storage: 8GB | Weight: 129g | Processor: Exynos 3475 Quad | Rear cam: 5MP | Front cam: 2MP | Battery: 2,000mAh | Screen res: 960x540 | Display density: 234ppi

Optus offers up three different handsets with no additional repayments on its $40 My Plan Plus. There’s the older Samsung Galaxy S5, or Microsoft’s entry-level Lumia 640 if Windows 10 phones are more your thing. The S5 has waterproofing and the Lumia 640 is one of only a tiny quantity of Windows phone still on the market in Australia.

Despite that, it’s hard to overlook a "free" iPhone, even if it is the smaller 16GB-only model of the iPhone SE. As long as you can live with that much storage, Apple’s ecosystem and the quality of the integrated camera put it above the competition, although as we noted in our review, battery life isn't great.

Vodafone

XperiaXA_RoseGold_450Best phone option: Sony Xperia XA
QUICK SPECSScreen size: 5.0in | Storage: 16GB | Weight: 137.4g | Processor: Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 | Rear cam: 13MP | Front cam: 8MP | Battery: 2,300mAh | Screen res: 1280x720 | Display density: 294ppi

Like Optus, Vodafone has a "free" iPhone amongst its low-cost contract options, but it’s the much older iPhone 5s instead of the iPhone SE. That’s not as compelling a choice, simply because the 5s is now several generations behind the cutting edge of iPhone design, and as such it’s quite likely to be left behind in the next iOS upgrade.

Your only other option is Sony’s Xperia XA, an Android phone that we’ve also called out before as a good mid-range outright buy option. It’s a comfortable phone with a semi-premium style and quality camera onboard, although as we noted in our review battery life isn't stellar.

Virgin Mobile

XperiaXA_handsBest phone option: Sony Xperia XA

QUICK SPECSScreen size: 5.0in | Storage: 16GB | Weight: 137.4g | Processor: Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 | Rear cam: 13MP | Front cam: 8MP | Battery: 2,300mAh | Screen res: 1280x720 | Display density: 294ppi

Virgin Mobile has the distinction of having the lowest-cost 24-month plan amongst the major carriers with its $30 per month tier. That plan doesn’t come with much data and a cap on calls rather than an unlimited offering, but it is cheap.

There’s only one phone to choose from at this price level, and it’s the same Xperia XA as on Vodafone. For $30 a month, which is as much as many folks spend just on their phone service, it’s a very solid choice.

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