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What is a dual-SIM phone?

Dual-SIM phones allow you to use two phone SIMs in a single device, but that’s an approach that has both upsides and definite downsides.

At the most basic level, a dual-SIM phone is one that has two SIM card slots. This means that you could drop SIM cards from different telecommunications providers into a single phone and have them both active on your phone simultaneously.

Why would you want a dual-SIM phone?

The classic problem that the first dual-SIM phones tackled was one of phone call costs, especially for businesses. If your work supplies you with a phone (or just a SIM card) and you’ve got your own private number, it’s fiddly to keep two phones on you plus nearly impossible to handle them if they’re both ringing at the same time!

The advantages of a dual-SIM phone relate to managing both your communications and your costs. If you’ve got one SIM with unlimited calls and another that’s your direct contact number that perhaps has better international calling rates, a dual-SIM phone would allow you to pick and choose which provider you use for each service type.

Frequent travellers would also benefit from a dual-SIM device, with the ability to keep your own Australian SIM in one slot and use a prepaid SIM from your destination country in the second. This will allow you to avoid hefty international data roaming fees, but still keep your phone number accessible while overseas.

Dual-SIM phones were never massive in Australia as a direct category and they’re still somewhat rare at the full retail level, although many popular phone models are actually produced in dual-SIM variants to offer to markets where it is more popular.

The carrier trap

The biggest issue for Australians wanting to source dual-SIM phones locally is that none of the local carriers who offer contract phones like the dual-SIM concept, and it's not hard to see why. They don't want you even thinking about switching providers, so why introduce the concept in the first place?

What this means is that while many popular phones are actually manufactured with dual-SIM variants for the international market, they're never available locally on contract in a dual-SIM model. That doesn't mean that you can't get the dual-SIM version here, but it does mean you need to buy them outright so be careful to ensure that you're getting the model you want.

Which phones support dual SIM?

With the carrier trap out of the way, the good news is that it's quite easy to get a dual-SIM version of many popular Android phones, especially from international resellers or some local models sold outright in the budget or mid-range space. As an example, while not every handset sold in Australia or to Australians features dual SIM capability, the following phones are produced for some markets with dual SIM:

It's also possible to get third-party SIM adapters that allow you to "add" a second SIM to a single-SIM Android device, but their utility can vary and you can run the risk of damaging the SIM card if you're not careful.

Can I get a dual-SIM iPhone?

No, you can’t.

Apple does produce some variant models of its very popular iPhone series for different international markets, most notably a few China-specific models as well as "SIM-free" models that operate (to date) on US networks only, but it’s never produced a dual-SIM iPhone.

If you’re offered one through a retailer or online auction site, it’s certainly a fake – probably Android running an iOS-like launcher.

Why wouldn’t you want a dual SIM phone?

Running multiple SIMs and having them connected to two networks at once means that there’s more of a power draw to keep that kind of service running on the phone. Comparatively, a single-SIM version of a phone that also has a dual-SIM variant will offer longer battery life.

They are also arguably a little less compelling in the current Australian market simply because so many plans offer unlimited standard national calls and texts. If your outgoing calls are infinite while bearing in mind no Australian carrier charges for incoming calls, the financial impetus for dual-SIM phones is greatly reduced.

The other limiting factor to recognise for dual-SIM phones is that often the two SIM slots are not equal in network terms.

Typically one SIM will be designated as a full 4G LTE slot while the secondary slot will operate only as a 3G, or in some cases 2G GSM slot. 2G is essentially dead here in Australia, so any dual-SIM phone with a secondary 2G-only SIM card slot is in essence only going to work as a single-SIM phone locally.

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Alex Kidman

Alex Kidman is a multi-award-winning consumer technology journalist and the Tech & Telco Editor at finder.com.au. He's been writing about consumer technology topics for more than two decades, and enjoys breaking down complex topics into their component parts. He has written for just about every major Australian technology publication, and is a former editor of Gizmodo Australia, PC Mag Australia, and CNET.com.au.

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