Strapped for cash, I was unable to buy a new SIM-free mobile phone in 2012, and got one on a 24 month contract instead. Strictly speaking, that contract expires on 9 August 2014. But, of course, Vodafone will let me upgrade from 26 May, which isn't so far ahead. It's time to think about what I will do.
Some will say: For goodness sake, this isn't worth powder and shot. If you've got a working phone, just go for the cheapest possible option, whatever that is, and then focus on Other Much More Important Things instead.
But I think that mobile phones (which are little computers) have become an essential part of modern life, and, like it or not, an awful lot of modern life is based on the assumption that one owns an up-to-date model with comprehensive capability. Indeed, if you don't own one, and know how to use it, you are severely restricting your options for being connected to other people and services of all kinds. Even if I were a self-sufficient recluse, I'd still want news and information: and a modern mobile phone is beautiful for providing a window on the world, and therefore for self-education and widening one's outlook. It's an indispensable companion, but also a tool. And you should always use the best tools, and keep them sharp.
So, what will I do in May? Certain choices are no-brainers.
First, I am happy with my phone company, which is Vodafone. Their coverage is fine, their website works, and their phone app works. They may not be the very cheapest, but they give me what I want with no hassle.
Second, I like my phone number, and I want to keep it. This rules out going for special 'new customer' deals which entail having a new number. I don't think I would have to change my phone number if I switched to a SIM-only contract instead of a phone-and-SIM contract, provided I stayed with Vodafone.
My next phone of choice - if I am sensible about what I am prepared to pay - would be the Samsung Galaxy S4. I'm using a Galaxy S2 at the moment, and I'm very happy with it, subject to one important reservation: the screen is not quite large enough. My tired eyesight and fat fingers need something slightly bigger. Having held one, the Galaxy S4 seems ideal. And no doubt the Galaxy S5, due shortly, will be ideal too, with knobs on - but I won't be able to afford it. Similarly Samsung's Note 3 will also be too expensive, but with the additional snag that it's too large for my hands. I don't want to change brands because (a) I want another of Samsung's bright and colourful screens (and the S4 offers a Super AMOLED HD screen, no less); and (b) I've come to like Samsung's implementation of Android very much. So for me the choice of 'next phone' is easy.
Given all this, where do I go?
The cheapest option is to keep my Galaxy S2 and switch to a 12-month SIM-only contract. That brings my monthly mobile phone cost down from £21 to £14, saving £7 a month. Vodafone offer cheaper SIM-only deals, but if I want 750MB of Mobile Internet data usage per month - which I well might - £14 it must be.
Upgrading to a Galaxy S4 will currently cost me a minimum of £29 a month. But once the Galaxy S5 is launched, the cost of an S4 might well come down to £25. Which is £4 more than I pay now. It would be affordable, and I'd fix the small-screen problem. And it might be that I could negotiate something off the monthly cost, or get something extra thrown in (such as a larger data allowance).
What about buying my own SIM-free phone, and popping a £14 per month Vodafone SIM card into it? Just now Amazon will sell me a white SIM-free Galaxy S4 for £390. But by May the purchase price could fall to around £300. The monthly cost would still be only £14, but I'd have to stump up £300 in cash. But hold on - Fiona is having her annual service and MOT in May, and there's my Welsh Tour to fund in June... No, £300 for a phone on top of all that would break the bank! It can't be done.
It can't be done even if another factor is brought in. Yesterday evening it was brought to my attention that whether I upgrade to a fresh contract, or buy a new phone outright, I would still be able to sell my Galaxy S2 to one of those online companies who specialise in buying used phones. Envirofone was mentioned. Feeding in my phone's IMEI number on their website brought forth an offer of £46. That's not to be sniffed at. Yes, it's a deal I would take. But it isn't enough to make a big difference.
It'll have to be the £25 monthly contract, I'm thinking. At least eyes and fingers will feel pampered!