Sunday, May 1

Review: Unlocked/Off-Contract Smartphone + giffgaff = Mobile Heaven

Does your phone company advertise with a gimp?
I regularly travel back and forth between the U.S. and the U.K., with extended stays (approximately a month) during each trip. Every time I make the transatlantic jaunt I receive a stark reminder of how much better Brits have it when it comes to mobile providers. Before I explain, a little further background:

Last year after owning all of the first three iPhones, each locked and on multi-year contract to AT&T, I made the smartphone switcheroo. Crucially, I decided to purchase my new device outright to avoid any multi-year contracts or being locked to a single carrier. In exchange for paying a relatively hefty ($500+) up front for an unsubsidized smartphone, my total cost of ownership should come in around or under $1K, or 1/2 to 1/3 of the $2-$3K cost for something like the iPhone 4 on two-year contract.

How are the above savings possible? Part of the answer is the wonderful U.K. mobile provider with the quirky name called giffgaff.

Still think the name 'giffgaff' is weird? It gets weirder: my mobile plan name is called the Hokey Cokey. Funny name alright, but this plan is anything but hokey: for only £5 a month (about $8) I get 60 UK anytime minutes, 300 UK texts, 100MB/day data, a free extra minute for every minute I get called, plus free giffgaff to giffgaff calls and texts on top of that.

Another nice feature that giffgaff offers is that I don't have to pay when I'm not in the U.K., and when I don't pay I don't lose my phone number. I'd be more excited about this if I was getting charged the $80 or so I pay in the U.S. for a comparable plan, but it's nice all the same.

$8 for all that? Yep. There must be a catch? Yes, but it's pretty minor.

First, the Hokey Cokey is a giffgaff 'labs' plan, meaning it's experimental and may not be around after June. Also, the 100MB/day data* (see comments for further discussion) portion of the plan is not normally a part of the Hokey Cokey, but is being offered to all giffgaff customers through at least the end of May June.

Bottom line: there is no guarantee that I'll have the same, exact plan come June. What then? If the Hokey Cokey goes bye-bye for jusst £10 a month (about $17) I can sign up to to next plan, which has 250 UK anytime minutes, unlimited UK texts, and unlimited mobile Internet (plus the same free giffgaff to giffgaff calls and texts as the Hokey plan).

So the plans and pricing sound incredible, but what about the network coverage? Giffgaff runs on O2's network, which is the second largest in the U.K. So far as I can tell I receive the same service quality and coverage as a regular O2 customer. In London, for example, call quality is excellent and I have no problems streaming music while on the move at the highest bitrate (320 kbps) offered by Spotify (which is another great thing the U.K. has going over the U.S., and perhaps the subject of a future review).


  1. I am a very happy giff gaff member and I have to say it is the best network in the uk, as far as I am concerned.

  2. Giffgaff in a brilliant concept and the service is fantastic. People interested in the UK can get a SIM with £5 free credit from:

  3. Andreww you sly dog ;)

    This is a fantastic review and I enjoyed reading it (it's made some good publicity on the giffgaff forum).

    It is worth mentioning that the data on the 'Hokey Cokey' package is not unlimited but is actually 100MB per day, which is still quite generous.

    It is only the £10 and above plans which contain unlimited data.

  4. Hi Jamesdn,

    On your comment: "It is worth mentioning that the data on the 'Hokey Cokey' package is not unlimited but is actually 100MB per day, which is still quite generous."

    I have gone well over 100MB per day without any issues. I've heard that giffgaff won't crack down on this if it doesn't become a regular issues, but I've done it enough that it seems for all intensive purposes to be 'unlimited'.

  5. Hi, you may be interested in reading this, 'Some more information on our data Fair Usage Policy'

    It states if on the odd occasion you exceed 100MB they will turn a blind eye, however warnings and even disconnections will occur if you exceed 100MB several times within a week or month.

    Therefore I do believe it to be unwise to state this as being 'unlimited' as in fact you stand to be issued warnings and have your service disconnected if you frequently break this FUP.