There are three main ways to buy and run a mobile 'phone these days. You can sign up to a contract with a provider, typically two years. In most cases you promise to pay them every month and they promise to provide you with the airtime service (not service full stop; if the device breaks they'll aim to put it right but you may lose airtime whilst it's being repaired). The second way is to buy a handset from either the carrier or another store and use a SIM-free contract in it. Because you're not paying for the handset, you can save a lot of money every month. And the third way is to buy a device and use a prepaid service; depending on the market, prepaid service can work out a little dearer than SIM-free contracts but is even more flexible. If you're using option two or three, you need a handset and that means either buying one, often from a carrier or independent mobile retailer.
Unfortunately, for the demanding of us who want the latest in high end technology, this means paying a lot of money. Let's suppose you're interested in the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which is wearing a "coming soon" badge for most networks. Sadly, we have limited information about how much the device will cost off-contract, but before we look at the wallet-busting numbers, let me refresh our readers with the Note 4. It's available in two flavours: one version comes with the quad core 2.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and Cat 6 LTE, which will in theory be able to download at 300 MB/s. The second version comes with Samsung's own in-house Exynos 5433 processor, which combines a quad core 1.9 GHz high performance processor with a quad core 1.3 GHz high efficiency processor and Cat 4 LTE (that'll download at "only" 150 MB/s). Both variants come with 3 GB of RAM, a 5.7-inch, 1,440 by 2,560 pixel Super AMOLED screen, an optically stabilised 16 MP rear camera, 3,220 of replaceable rechargeable battery and more sensors than you can shake a fist at. The Note 4 sets something of a high water mark when it comes to Android device specification.
The bad news is that the Note 4 is expensive. Prices vary from $700 to almost $1,000 depending on source and country, but do bear in mind that there are only a very limited number of carriers providing the off-contract prices of the device. The cheapest place we found is Verizon Wireless, where the off-contract Note 4 will cost $699 (£425). GSM Nation have the unlocked international device at $729 (£445). Next is Sprint at $720 (£440), then T-Mobile at $750 (£460) and finally, AT&T at $825 (£500). Amazon.com have the international unlocked Note 4 at $899 (£550). The last two prices quoted are British, but sadly none of the Canadian, British or European networks we investigated were able to provide an off-contract price. Most weren't even willing to provide on-contract prices, still showing the Note 3 on their websites, although we did find Clove offering the unlocked Note 4 at £575 ($940) and Amazon UK at £600 ($985). Perhaps these are high because of a lack of transparency in the market as none of the networks are giving a price, or perhaps the Note 4 will be eye watering-ly expensive in the UK compared with the US? Whatever the reason, the Note 4 is an expensive piece of technology.