Not always the fastest or cheapest network, but a strong, competitive option if you value flexibility

Pros
Rolling monthly contract
Get more data/minutes when you need them
Non-EU roaming isn’t extortionate
Cons
4G coverage and speeds behind the best

Giffgaff is a little different to most mobile providers. Think of it as a halfway house between traditional pay monthly contracts and a PAYG service with monthly deals. If you’re looking to avoid 12– or 24-month contracts, then it could be just what you’re looking for.

For example, while you can buy a phone through Giffgaff, the cost isn’t rolled into your monthly tariff. Instead, you pay upfront or in separate monthly instalments, then splash out between £5 and £20 a month on a ‘goody bag’ of minutes, texts and data. Alternatively, you can skip the phone and have the goody bag as a SIM-only deal. The key benefit? There’s no ongoing contract and you’re free to cancel or change your service every month.

Giffgaff review: What do you get?

If you’re looking for a subsidised phone then Giffgaff isn’t your best option. The prices for an iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9 are broadly similar to those you’d pay at Amazon or another large online store, and the credit deals over 24 months aren’t particularly competitive. Factor in the cost of, say, a £10 goody bag and you could spend less on a comparable monthly deal elsewhere.

As a SIM-only plan, however, Giffgaff makes more sense. Prices start at just £5 for 100MB, 150 minutes and 500 texts then rise to £20 for an always on data connection (subject to peak-time speed restrictions once you’ve burst through a 9GB barrier).

However, Giffgaff is frequently cheaper than O2 despite running on O2’s network. For instance, while O2 gives you 10GB of data for the same £18 price as Giffgaff’s 9GB goody bag, the price leaps up after the first twelve months to £25 – with the threat of additional price rises linked to the retail price index (RPI) on top.

Giffgaff tariffs compared

Monthly charge Data Texts Minutes
£5 Goody Bag £5 100MB 500 150
£7.50 Goody Bag £8 1GB 250 Unlimited
£10 Goody Bag £10 3GB Unlimited Unlimited
£12 Goody Bag £12 4GB Unlimited Unlimited
£15 Goody Bag £15 6GB Unlimited Unlimited
£18 Goody Bag £18 9GB Unlimited Unlimited
£20 Goody Bag £20 Always on Unlimited Unlimited

Beyond the pricing, the real advantage lies in Giffgaff’s flexibility. Where other networks lock you into the same plan for 12 to 24 months, Giffgaff lets you switch goody bags from month to month. Need more data while you’re going on a trip or working away from home? Just move to a more expensive bundle then move back once your requirements shrink.

There’s also something to be said for Giffgaff’s straightforward approach. There are no hidden price rises lurking and while there are some fair-usage restrictions on the higher data plans, Giffgaff tells you what these are upfront, not in tiny type on page five of the terms and conditions.

You also only have eight tariffs to choose from and these scale upwards with the data allowance and price. It all makes sense. On the downside, Giffgaff doesn’t go big on extras like free Wi-Fi hotspot access, so if that’s something you want to factor in, look elsewhere.

Giffgaff review: Coverage and Connection Speeds

Giffgaff is a virtual network running on top of O2’s network. According to RootMetrics scores for the second half of 2017, O2 struggles behind EE and Three for performance across the UK, coming fourth out of the big four networks for data speeds, though performance has improved over the last six months. However, the network is particularly strong in Northern Ireland, matching EE for overall performance, reliability, call performance and text speeds, making Giffgaff a good option if you live there.

RootMetrics also reports that O2 has improved its 4G coverage. While there are some coastal and rural areas where you’re stuck with a 2G/3G signal or 3G instead of 4G/LTE, particularly in the North and Scotland, most of the UK now has 4G access. EE is a safer bet in remote or rural areas, but with 97% outdoor 4G coverage, there’s no reason for most UK residents to avoid Giffgaff.

Giffgaff review: Roaming

Like all UK networks, virtual or not, Giffgaff no longer charges you to use your calls, text and data allowance within the EU.

The good news is that charges don’t rise to jaw-dropping levels in many countries outside the EU. In the US and Australia, for example, calls come in at £1 a minute to make or receive, texts are 30p to send and free to receive, while data costs a very reasonable 20p per MB. Given that some other networks charge £5 per MB, that makes Giffgaff a good option if you’re travelling outside the EU, though you will need to top up your account with credit either before you go or while you’re out there.

Because Giffgaff doesn’t work like a normal monthly service, there’s no option to set a spending cap as such. Instead, you can set up a plan to recur automatically, and should you run through your goody bag allowance you have the option of starting your next plan early. This will mean losing any remaining calls or texts if, say, you need more data, but the alternative is a charge of 2p per MB of data or paying standard rates for any texts and calls. If your plan isn’t set to recur, PAYG rates apply and you’ll need to top-up. This is a good option if you want to cap usage and avoid additional spending, but the downside is that, should you run out of anything, you’re effectively working with a PAYG phone.

Like most UK networks, Giffgaff now accepts tethering as acceptable use. You’re free to connect your laptop or tablet to your phone as a mobile hotspot and surf until your data allowance runs dry.

Giffgaff review: Verdict

Giffgaff isn’t the fastest or cheapest network, but it’s an interesting option if you value flexibility more than performance – and particularly if you’re not interested in getting a normal monthly contract. It’s particularly good if you don’t usually need a lot of call time or data but want the option to switch to a more expensive, higher usage plan as and when you need to.

Giffgaff is also straightforward on its pricing and doesn’t charge you through the nose while roaming outside the EU. In fact, it might work out cheaper for frequent travellers than the international roaming add-ons of some rivals. That’s emblematic of a service where you get exactly what you pay for, no more but – more importantly – no less.

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