Buying a new phone in lockdown

Can anyone give me advice on buying and setting up a new phone in lockdown? I am tech-challenged, and have previously always bought in a shop, and got them to set it up for me.

My phone is clearly dying, and I am complete dependant on it for Internet use, having no land-line. I am on a sim only deal with Virgin, but my signal is atrocious, and I don’t know if that’s the phone, or the company. Has anybody got any recommendations for lower Sydenham, Fairlawn Park area?

I need advice on how to go about upgrading without help, and whether a tablet is a better idea, given the number of zoom meetings coming up.

All advice (in simple idiot’s language) really welcome!

So there are only really 4 mobile networks in the UK - EE, Vodafone, 3UK and O2, so you need to figure out which one works best for your exact location.

All the other networks (e.g. Tesco Mobile, Giff Gaff, Lebara etc…) actually use the mobile signal from one of these 4 operators so coverage won’t be much different. Virgin uses EE base-stations for example, so rule that one out if it’s already not working for you!

Next I would recommend looking at the online coverage checkers, though they are part marketing tools, so buy a pay-as-you go SIM and see if it works for you before deciding if you want to buy either a new phone or get a contract. While you can buy phones outright, that can be expensive up front and so deals to get a phone a part of a contract may be a better option. If you do enter into a new contract, be mindful of the cooling-off period so you can cancel if you find coverage isn’t what you need.

Voda and O2 both claim good coverage for 2/3/4G across Sydenham:

3UK looks a bit more patchy:

You can buy Pay As You Go SIM cards from newsagents, usually for something like £1 or £2, but you will have to add credit (usually £5 or £10 minimum) which can either be done at the newsagent (if it is a paypoint), via the phone or even at cash machines. You can also buy SIMs on Amazon, with or without credit.

Tablet vs phone is something of a personal preference. Some phones are quite large these days and almost like mini-tablets. Probably best to look in a shop at some of them and see what you think.


Which shops though? Bell Green Currys /PC World is collection only, and Sainsburys has closed that section. Are other phone shops open?

Most newsagents have some SIM cards behind the counter if you ask. Or you can buy SIM cards on Amazon, or Argos for click & collect at Bell Green.

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What make/model is your current phone? If you can’t remember or have lost the box then Settings/About Phone may help if it’s an Android phone.
(this will indicate whether you need to change the sim)

What is your budget?

Why do think it is dying? - battery performance?


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I’ve got a spy special - Huawei P20 lite.

I think it’s dying because it starts sulking - one day I had incredible fluorescent pixellation effect while I was watching Holby, and thought it was special effects symbolising coronavirus transmission! It keeps refusing to load emails for hours, and loads of weird things. I suspect my extreme problem getting a mobile phone signal in the house may be a phone problem rather than a network one; if it was a general issue, absolutely nobody would use Virgin. Maybe someone could sort it, but that isn’t an option in lockdown.

The battery has deteriorated from brilliant to rubbish. I’m hoping to get a sim free model under £200; I’m looking at Samsungs in particular, and would NEVER have another Huawei.

Do you have 4G enabled on your phone? EE have a good chunk of 4G coverage in the 800MHz band which would be better for indoors, but their 3G and 2G is up at 2100 and 1800MHz respectively which may not be so good indoors.

Setting up a new phone is usually pretty easy on Android. When you start it, you will get a series of questions stepping through connecting to WiFi, signing into your Google account and copying any data across from your old phone and installing your apps. Going from Huawei to Samsung may lose a few cosmetic settings, but generally nothing really of use.

If you do have any thing of value on your Huawei and it is going weird, now might be a good time to make sure anything you value is backed up (to Google Drive or a PC for example).


Thank you so much for your advice. I am pretty sure the phone does 4G, so I’ll try a pay as you go sim, as you suggest, before writing off the phone. Good advice about backing up, I think I have everything on the cloud, but will check.

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I am being incredibly thick, but just realised I don’t understand how sim cards work. Can I try a sim of a rival operator before I cancel my Virgin account? Do they use the phone’s number, or do they have an individual number? So confused, so please explain as if to a very, very stupid thing.

I can’t advise on networks - other than to say Vodafone is variable on the top of Sydenham Hill. But just a word of warning about phones. I chose a Fairphone 3 and had two really unreliable ones before I reluctantly gave up and switched back to Samsung. Plus they were supposed to be the degoogled version, but weren’t. I then ordered the Samsung S10 4G (I really didn’t want the 5G version). Vodafone sent me the 5G anyway By then I was giving up the will to live, so kept the 5G one. It’s ok but annoyingly too big to fit in my pockets.

Thanks, Mary. That’s good advice, and I can’t wait to go back to a Samsung after the Huawei experience.

Your phone number is tied to your SIM card, but you can port the phone number if you want to - there is a guide here:

Basically you ask the old provider for a PAC code (they normally SMS it to you), which you then give to the new operator and the ‘phone number’ will port across. Beware though - at that point the old SIM card basically stops working, so make sure you are ready for that.

Some mobile phones can be locked to a specific network operator, but this is less common these days and is being banned from December 2021 ( If you bought your old phone outright (i.e. not as part of a contract), it is unlikely to be SIM locked. If it is SIM locked, you can ask your network provider to unlock it, advice here: