If you're planning to hit the shops over the next few weeks to track down the best iPhone deal, be prepared to be bamboozled.
Some mobile-phone companies will offer you an iPhone handset for free -- but only if you sign a two-year contract. By the time that contract comes to an end, you could easily have paid €2,000 or more in phone bills -- a fraction of what you might have paid to another operator who charged a few hundred euro for the handset but who had lower monthly bills. Similarly, some of the cheapest iPhone contracts cost about €25 a month -- but to get those contracts, you might have to pay almost €400 for an iPhone handset.
When buying an iPhone, you must usually sign a contract for either 18 months or two years, so it's important to bear the overall cost of that contract in mind when choosing your smart phone. Sometimes, a longer contract will give you better value than a shorter one.
"A two-year contract may be suitable if you don't change your phone that often," said Micheal Sadler, branch manager with Carphone Warehouse's Wireless World in Cork.
"But if you're the kind of person who likes to get the latest iPhone when it comes out, a shorter contract might be better."
The length and monthly cost of a mobile phone contract aren't the only things to consider. The iPhone packages offered by some mobile phone companies will work out more expensive if you're making phone calls to a rival operator -- instead of the operator who sold you the iPhone.
There may also be discounts available on an iPhone deal -- but only if you meet certain conditions. If you use your iPhone a lot, for example, eMobile could work out cheaper than other operators -- but only if you're an Eircom customer.
Otherwise, you could pay up to 14 per cent more for an eMobile iPhone than you would if you were an Eircom customer.
"If you're making the jump to an iPhone, make sure to buy one that matches how you plan to use it," said Sadler. "You might be using it purely to check work email, you could be using it to watch videos online -- or you might simply want it for Facebook."
To hunt down the cheapest iPhones for you, the Sunday Independent examined the offers available from eMobile, Meteor, O2, Three and Vodafone. We totted up the average annual cost of the phones -- taking into account the cost of the iPhone handset and the monthly bills for the contract required.
Cheapest iPhone deals for light user
Let's say you send 50 text messages and make 60 minutes of calls a month. You are unlikely to spend more than four or five hours surfing a month so you don't need more than 100MB (megabyte) of data.
Vodafone -- My Way Plus with iPhone 4S 16GB: €444.50 a year (but only if calling Vodafone customers).
The iPhone 4S 16GB (gigabyte) handset costs €169 and the monthly bill is €30 -- but only if you're calling and texting Vodafone customers. Otherwise, you'll need to buy add-ons to call and text customers on other networks and this will bring your bill up to €42.
As the contract is for two years, the total cost of the handset and bills will be either €889 if you're only calling and texting Vodafone customers -- but €1,177 if you're calling and texting other networks.
So while this can work out as one of the cheaper iPhone deals for a light user, this is only the case if you communicate solely with Vodafone customers. Otherwise, it costs about €588.50 a year, making it one of the more expensive offers.
Three -- Classic Flex Max with iPhone4 16GB: €480 a year.
Three says you'll need 160 flexi units (which is how the operator measures your mobile-phone usage) to cover the texts, calls and internet surfing outlined above. Three's Classic Flex Max plan, which costs €40 a month, includes 350 flexi units. If you sign a two-year contract, you'll get an iPhone 4 16GB handset for free with this plan.
After two years, you'll have paid €960 in bills -- but you won't have coughed up for your iPhone handset. So you'll have paid about €480 a year for this deal.
If you want a cheaper monthly bill and a shorter 18-month contract, you might be tempted to go for Three's FlexiFix 25. This plan includes 200 flexi units. At €25 a month, the bills work out cheaper -- but you'll have to pay €379 for your iPhone 4 16GB handset (it is free with Classic Flex Max).
So you'll pay €829 in total for this offer -- about €130 less than the Classic Flex Max. At €552 a year, the annual cost of FlexiFix 25 works out higher than the Classic Flex Max deal, though.
O2 -- All in 250 with iPhone 3GS: €480 a year
The All in 250 plan costs €40 a month and has an 18-month contract. It includes 250 minutes of calls, 250 texts and 150MB of data. If you're happy enough to settle for an iPhone 3GS instead of an iPhone 4, you'll get a free handset with this plan. This brings the total cost of this deal to €720 after 18 months -- or an average of €480 a year.
CHEAPEST iPHONE DEALS FOR MEDIUM USER
You send 200 text messages and make 300 minutes of calls a month. You also use up 400MB of data a month when surfing the internet.
eMobile -- Select 300: €667 a year (but only for Eircom customers). If you're an Eircom customer, this plan costs €39 a month and you'll pay at least €299 for a handset. You can sign a contract for a year or 18 months -- but the longer one works out better value.
Under the 18-month contract, you'll pay about €1,001 overall for your bills and handset -- or about €667 a year. If you're not an Eircom customer, however, this deal works out more expensive -- at about €727 a year.
Meteor -- Smartplus with iPhone 4S 16 GB: €720 a year. A two-year contract, which costs €60 a month. You get an iPhone 4S 16GB handset for free under this offer.
O2 -- All in 400 with iPhone 3GS: €720 a year. An 18-month contract that costs €60 a month. The iPhone 3GS handset is free.
Three -- Super Flex Max with iPhone 4 16GB: €720 a year. The monthly bill is €60 -- and you get a free iPhone 4 16GB handset on a two-year contract.
CHEAPEST iPHONE DEALS FOR A HEAVY USER
You send 600 texts messages and make 800 minutes of calls a month. You use 700MB of data a month.
eMobile -- Select Unlimited: €867 a year (but only for Eircom customers). If you're an Eircom customer, this plan costs €64 a month and you'll pay at least €149 for your handset. If you sign an 18-month contract, the deal works out at €867 a year -- but it costs €987 a year if you're not an Eircom customer.
Meteor -- Smartplus with iPhone 4S 16GB: €960 a year. With this plan, your bills are €80 a month -- and the contract is for two years. The iPhone 4S 16GB handset is free.