iPhone X: Contract or outright?

Alex Kidman 27 October 2017

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Does it make more sense to buy an iPhone X outright or go on contract?

Now that all Australian carriers have announced plan pricing for Apple's brand new iPhone X, we can properly compare to work out if it makes more sense to buy an iPhone X outright and throw it on a prepaid or month-to-month SIM-only plan, or opt for a contract on what is Australia's most expensive handset.

This isn't a simple comparison, however, and not just because everyone's phone plan needs differ. We've outlined several scenarios to offer you the widest range of comparative choices. That way, you can make the best decision for your particular needs:

Cheapest iPhone X options

If all you actually wanted was the handset, then fairly obviously directly buying from Apple is going to be the way to go. The iPhone X will cost you $1579 for the 64GB version or with 256GB of onboard storage a hefty $1829. Apple's pre-sales are open now, but it's predicted that it will sell out relatively rapidly.

If Apple does sell out and you still just wanted the handset, the next cheapest way to score one could be to get one via Vodafone. You could line up a 12 month contract on Vodafone's $30 Red plan, then cancel immediately. You'd then pay $1578.96 for the handset plus the $30 already spent on the plan.

Vodafone's approach to phones and contracts makes them unusual in comparison terms because other carriers don't offer 12 or 24 month terms. For the purposes of comparison, we'll use Vodafone's 24 month plans, and assume you'd stay with the carrier for that whole 2 years.

Presuming you want a phone and contract service over 24 months, your lowest cost option is via Virgin Mobile's $40 plan. Over 24 months, a 64GB iPhone X would cost you a minimum of $2,208, not including any excess charges.

That plan would cost you $92 per month with unlimited standard national calls and texts and only 2GB of data, so it's worth comparing what you can get on plans around that price point:

Plan and DeviceCapacityTotal monthly priceMonthly plan priceHandset repaymentCalls/textsDataMinimum 24-month cost
Virgin Mobile $40 iPhone X 64GB64GB$92$40$52Unlimited2GB$2,208
Vodafone Red $30 iPhone X 64GB 24 Months64GB$95.79$30.00$65.79Unlimited2GB$2,298.96
Virgin Mobile $55 iPhone X 64GB64GB$99$55$44Unlimited5GB$2,376
Optus My Plan Plus $45 iPhone X 64GB64GB$100$45$55Unlimited2GB$2,400

If you're going to opt for a phone plan at this price point, then Virgin's $55 would be the one to go for, with 5GB of data compared to the 2GB with other competing plans. So we'll use that as our baseline. Could you buy a 64GB iPhone, split out that cost over time and get as good a deal?

An iPhone X 64GB costs $1579 outright, and if we cut that price into 24 equal parts, you're spending an effective $65.79 per month on the handset. Taking the $99 price of the Virgin Plan into account, that leaves you $33.21 per month to spend on a SIM-only plan.

If you like postpaid plans, you could, for example, grab Moose Mobile's 29 plan, which costs $29 per month with unlimited standard national calls and texts, plus the same 5GB of data on the Optus 4G network. Over the 24 month period, you'd only be spending an effective $94.79 per month, saving $4.21 per month, or $101.40 over the two years.

If you're happier in prepaid land, you could opt for Kogan Mobile's 30-day Medium plan, which gives you 6GB of data to use. You could actually save a little more with Kogan's 90 or 365 day plans, because the price dips, but the really smart play in prepaid land would be if you were willing to switch carriers over your two year period to take advantage of periodical new customer special offers.

Even on the regular pricing, though, you'd pay an effective $95.69 per month, saving $79.44 over the two year span and getting an extra GB of data each month too.

Good value mid-range iPhone X contract options

The issue with low-cost iPhone X plans is that you're buying the equivalent of a sportscar and then only giving it half a tank of fuel. If you're happy spending a little more on the plan, you can get a lot more data in return. At the $110-$120 price point, here's how plans compare:

Plan and DeviceCapacityTotal monthly priceMonthly plan priceHandset repaymentCalls/textsDataMinimum 24-month cost
Virgin Mobile $70 iPhone X 64GB64GB$109$70$39Unlimited9GB$2,616
Virgin Mobile $55 iPhone X 256GB256GB$109$55$54Unlimited5GB$2,616
Optus My Plan Plus $45 iPhone X 256GB256GB$110$40$70Unlimited2GB$2,640
Telstra Go Mobile Plus S iPhone X 64GB64GB$112$59$53Unlimited2GB$2,688
Optus My Plan Plus $65 iPhone X 64GB64GB$112$65$47Unlimited7GB$2,688
Virgin Mobile $80 iPhone X 64GB64GB$113$80$33Unlimited16GB$2,712
Vodafone Red $50 iPhone X 64GB 24 Months64GB$115.79$50.00$65.79Unlimited14GB/16GB$2,778.96
Vodafone Red $40 iPhone X 256GB 24 Months256GB$116.20$40.00$76.20Unlimited6GB$2,788.80
Optus My Plan Plus $85 iPhone X 64GB64GB$117$45$72Unlimited14GB$2,808
Virgin Mobile $70 iPhone X 256GB256GB$119$70$49Unlimited9GB$2,856

Virgin Mobile again carries the value argument in a straight line, although Vodafone also offers a 16GB data option for just a little more. If we again take Virgin's plan (in this case, an iPhone X 64GB on the $80 plan), you're paying $113 per month. You do have the option at these price points to score an iPhone X 256GB if you prefer, via Virgin Mobile, Optus or Vodafone, but we'll go with the 64GB model for the sake of comparison.

Again, the iPhone 64GB outright price split over 24 months means you're paying an effective $65.79 per month for your handset, albeit all at once and upfront. Taking that $113 price point, that leaves you with $47.21 to spend on a plan with at least 16GB of data.

There is a SIM-only month to month option that fits the bill, but with a catch. Spintel's $45.95 BYO 3G Mobile SIM-only plan will give you a hefty 30GB of data to use each month. Which might seem like a slam dunk, but the critical detail there is that Spintel's plan is for 3G frequencies only, so you'll get that data at a slower rate. If you're OK with that, the price differential over 24 months ends up being $1.08 per month, or $25.92 over that two-year span.

In the prepaid space, though, there's not much that can match that data point, excluding special offers. You may be able to surf around providers for some time to very nearly match it, and over the two years you might come out ahead, but it's far from guaranteed.

Top iPhone X premium contract options

What if price isn't a key component of your buying decision? At the top end of all carrier plans, the pricing gets quite interesting in terms of overall value:

Plan and DeviceCapacityTotal monthly priceMonthly plan priceHandset repaymentCalls/textsDataMinimum 24-month cost
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XL iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$129$20Unlimited30GB$3,576
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XXL iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$149$0Unlimited60GB$3,576
Telstra Go Mobile Plus L iPhone X 256GB256GB$149$99$50Unlimited20GB$3,576
Optus My Plan Plus $149 iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$149$0Unlimited200GB$3,576
Optus My Plan Plus $149 iPhone X 256GB256GB$149$149$0Unlimited200GB$3,576
Vodafone Red $80 iPhone X 256GB 24 Months256GB$154.20$80.00$74.20Unlimited40GB/42GB$3,700.80
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XXL iPhone X 256GB256GB$159$149$10Unlimited60GB$3,816
Vodafone Red $100 iPhone X 64GB 24 Months64GB$163.79$100.00$63.79Unlimited50GB$3,930.96
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XL iPhone X 256GB256GB$164$129$35Unlimited30GB$3,936
Vodafone Red $100 iPhone X 256GB 24 Months256GB$174.20$100.00$74.20Unlimited50GB$4,180.80
Telstra Go Mobile Plus Premium iPhone X 64GB64GB$179$199($20)Unlimited100GB$4,296
Telstra Go Mobile Plus Premium iPhone X 256GB256GB$179$199($20)Unlimited100GB$4,296

It's worth considering that these tables only show calls and data, but many top-tier plans also come with other inclusions, including healthy quantities of international calling credit or minutes, some roaming inclusions or included entertainment bundles.

Those are harder to quantify at a pure value level, because clearly if (for example) you're never going to touch Optus Sport it might be worthless to you, while an English Football fanatic might view it quite differently. Telstra bundles Foxtel Now subscriptions for 12 months with its higher value plans, and that could save you significant cash if you like what Foxtel has to offer.

At this kind of price tier, however, it's well worth considering the personal value of the additional extras that telcos love to bundle in with their iPhone X plans.

Plan and DeviceCapacityTotal monthly priceMonthly plan priceHandset repaymentCalls/textsDataMinimum 24-month cost
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XL iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$129$20Unlimited30GB$3,576
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XXL iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$149$0Unlimited60GB$3,576
Telstra Go Mobile Plus L iPhone X 256GB256GB$149$99$50Unlimited20GB$3,576
Optus My Plan Plus $149 iPhone X 64GB64GB$149$149$0Unlimited200GB$3,576
Optus My Plan Plus $149 iPhone X 256GB256GB$149$149$0Unlimited200GB$3,576
Vodafone Red $80 iPhone X 256GB 24 Months256GB$154.20$80.00$74.20Unlimited40GB/42GB$3,700.80
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XXL iPhone X 256GB256GB$159$149$10Unlimited60GB$3,816
Vodafone Red $100 iPhone X 64GB 24 Months64GB$163.79$100.00$63.79Unlimited50GB$3,930.96
Telstra Go Mobile Plus XL iPhone X 256GB256GB$164$129$35Unlimited30GB$3,936
Vodafone Red $100 iPhone X 256GB 24 Months256GB$174.20$100.00$74.20Unlimited50GB$4,180.80
Telstra Go Mobile Plus Premium iPhone X 64GB64GB$179$199($20)Unlimited100GB$4,296
Telstra Go Mobile Plus Premium iPhone X 256GB256GB$179$199($20)Unlimited100GB$4,296

Extras aside, if you're not fussing about financing but data value, Optus' limited-time 200GB plan is hard to overlook. If you're spending big, we'll presume the 256GB, $1829 iPhone X 256GB is the model you'd go for. Splitting that equally over 24 months, you'd be spending an effective $76.21 per month on the handset. Optus' plan costs $149 per month, leaving you just $72.79 per month to spend on a plan.

I don't even need to go to the numbers, however, because nobody in the prepaid or SIM-only space is offering anywhere near 200GB per month. The closest you'd get would be Moose Mobile's 3G 78 plan, which comes with 90GB of data, but is once again only working at 3G speeds.

So are you better off going on contract or outright for the iPhone X?

As always, it depends very much on your planned usage of the handset. At lower price tiers, you could save overall by paying upfront for your device and pairing it with a prepaid or month-to-month SIM-only contract. However, if your data needs are higher, contract plans start to make a lot more sense over the life of the phone.

What about lease plans?

Both Telstra and Optus offer the iPhone X on lease terms, typically with a saving of around $10 per month on plan terms.

We've noted before that lease plans can save you money but that you must be careful with the handset because you never actually own it. At the lower level plan tiers you may save some money, but once you bounce up to higher plan tiers, there's no effective saving in any case, so you may as well opt for the full plan and own the iPhone X at the end of your contract term.

Want more details on iPhone X plans? Here's every carrier's plan for you to compare:

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