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SMARTY Mobile review 2018: is this new network just a one trick pony?

SMARTY logo with a mobile SIM card

SMARTY's well-priced SIM only plans pay you back for unused data. We investigate if their coverage, 4G speeds and other perks are any good too. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: July 17th 2018.

Overall rating

SMARTY Mobile

SIM Sherpa rates SMARTY as a good network to join, even if it lacks some of the more-premium touches ★★★☆☆ (3/5, good)

SMARTY have got the art of a no-frill low-cost mobile network down to a tee, with cheap and flexible SIM only plans, decent coverage and a killer unique selling point in buying back your unused data.

But with any cheap provider, there are sacrifices you make, compared to pricier operators. And SMARTY’s lack of WiFi calling, hotspots and telephone customer service could be too no-frills for some.

Our full article further down this page guides you through exactly what you do and don’t get with SMARTY.

The 3 best bits

1) Get money back for unused data
2) Free months for getting friends to join
3) Short deals with no credit checks

The 3 worst bits

1) No WiFi calling or free hotspots
2) No really big data plans
3) No phone-based customer service

In our SMARTY Mobile review

Overall rating

Our verdict

Overall rating

Network review

Network

4G and 3G coverage
Data speeds
Call quality
Tethering
Free WiFi hotspots
WiFi calling

Perks review

Benefits & features

Data buyback scheme
Spending caps
Inclusive EU roaming
Refer a friend rewards
Free entertainment content
Unlimited streaming options
Shared data / family plans

Deal review

Deals & plans

Special offers
SIM only plans
Phone contracts
Pay As You Go
Mobile broadband

Customer service review

Customer service

Online-only help

SMARTY's network

Coverage: SMARTY uses Three's masts for 4G/3G signal

Screenshot of SMARTY's coverage checker map

Enter your postcode and see if SMARTY covers itUse coverage checker

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Unlike some of the other low-cost virtual mobile networks, SMARTY is actually owned directly by Three, who run their own 3G and 4G network, independent of EE, O2 and Vodafone.

For SMARTY customers, that means you'll benefit from Three's ever-growing extensive 4G coverage for data (reaching 99% of the UK population) as well as their 3G coverage (98% of the UK population).

Joining SMARTY isn't a second class experience. If you've been on Three before, there's no reason you won't receive exactly the same mobile signal that you have before.

If you're new to using the Three network, we highly recommend checking their 4G and 3G signal in the places you'll be using your SMARTY SIM using the 'useful link' below.

It's the smallest network but it's doubled in size over the last 8 years. And if you're covered, you're covered.

Useful link: Check SMARTY coverage near you now using their official checker

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
4th place
(out of 4 network operators)

Not as good as:
EE, O2, Vodafone
(and providers that use them)

Same as:
Three, iD Mobile, TPO (The People's Operator)

Speeds: SMARTY customers benefit from Three's fast 4G

SMARTY 4G speeds powered by Three
20 Mbps
(Three's 4G downloads)
8 Mbps
(Three's 3G downloads)

As we say above, SMARTY are owned by Three and use their network for signal. That's not just good for coverage, you'll also get the decent 4G speeds that come with it too.

We expect Three customers to typically get downloads around the 20 Mbps over a 4G connection, which is very respectable.

And there's nothing in SMARTY's terms and conditions that point to any kind of caps on the speeds you'll receive compared to being on Three direct.

At speeds like 20 Mbps, you can stream HD videos comfortably and typically-sized web pages load in under a second (depedning on your phone).

Useful link: SMARTY's promise not to slow you down

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint second

Not as good as:
EE
(and providers that use them)

Better than:
Vodafone & O2
(and providers that use them)

Call quality: SMARTY’s hosts score well in tests

SMARTY call quality logo and phone symbol

Good quality audio and fast connecting callsRead full report

at p3-networkanalytics.com
(opens in new window)

All of SMARTY’s plans come with unlimited minutes, so they’re already a good network to join if you’re someone who makes lots of calls. But how about the quality of those calls?

We look at the reports of P3 network analytics who travel the country measuring each network’s performance when it comes to how quickly they connect calls and how good the audio quality is.

They don’t measure SMARTY direct (only their hosts Three) so we have to go on their data.

But it’s a positive result, with SMARTY’s host getting a ‘good’ score overall, beating O2 but only coming 3rd behind EE and Vodafone, due to longer call setup times (1.5 secs slower).

Useful link: Read full test report by P3 on each network's call quality

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Joint third
(out of 4 main networks)

Not as good as:
EE or Vodafone
(and other providers that use these)

Better than:
O2, Tesco Mobile, giffgaff

Free WiFi hotspots: currently no free access with SMARTY

Free WiFi hotspots coming to SMARTY?

SMARTY's website hints about free future WiFiRead the article

from SMARTY's own article
(opens in new window)

Another benefit you'll only really find you get when you join one of the major providers is a subscription to a network of free WiFi hotspots that you can tap into instead of using mobile data.

You'll find the best examples of this on BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile, or more-limited schemes on Sky Mobile, O2, Three and EE. These schemes save you data for when you're truly away from civilisation.

SMARTY don't offer this. And again, it's something you'll have to decide if you'd miss or not, given the overall cheapness of their mobile deals in the first place.

There are plenty of free WiFi services available now through The Cloud and O2 WiFI, as well as individual business' hotspots. So you might find this is something you can easily do without from SMARTY.

Useful link: Is free WiFi hotspot access coming to SMARTY?

Tethering: SMARTY say data is yours to use how you like

SMARTY logo and tethering symbol

Tethering's included with SMARTY's plansRead what's allowed

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

SMARTY say they've been set up to offer simple, honest mobile and this applies to their tethering policy:

They say it's your data to use how you like. And so they let you use anything up to your full allowance for tethering (creating a personal hotspot with your phone to connect other devices to).

This puts SMARTY up there with the best for tethering policy because there are very few restrictions.

Although, one thing to note is there's no roaming yet on SMARTY, so you won't be able to tether abroad at all.

It's also worth remembering that tethering can burn through your data quicker than just using your phone. SMARTY have a fair system where extra data costs the same per GB as in your basic plan (see latest pricing here).

Useful link: How tethering works on SMARTY

Our rating:
★★★★★ (joint best choice)

Rank:
Joint 1st

As good as:
EE, Vodafone, O2 & most others

Better than:
Three, iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile

WiFi calling: there's no WiFi or 4G calling on SMARTY yet

SMARTY don't have WiFi calling or 4G calling

SMARTY hope to offer WiFi calling in futureSee the latest updates

With every no-frills low-cost provider, there tends to be some added network features you don't get, that you would get if you joined one of the pricier 'main networks' (Three, Vodafone, EE or O2).

And that's the case with SMARTY, because you don't get access to WiFi calling. Even though, their parent network Three do offer it through their "InTouch" service.

WiFi calling is a handy benefit that lets you make and take calls and texts over a WiFi signal instead of a regular mobile one. So if you find yourself in a blackspot like underground, you can carry on using your phone.

It's something you have to decide if you'd value. If you know signal struggles to reach indoors where you live or work, maybe consider joining Three directly. If not, SMARTY could still be a good option for you.

Our guide to WiFi calling lists the best networks for it.

Useful link: SMARTY said they hope to add WiFi calling later

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
Three, iD Mobile, Vodafone, O2, EE, BT Mobile

Same as:
All others

SMARTY Mobile benefits

SMARTY's main unique benefit: discounts off next month's bill for data you've not used

SMARTY mobile pay you back for unused data

Get paid back for data you've not usedFull guide to discounts

from SMARTY's help section
(opens in new window)

With conventional mobile deals, you'll get a chunk of minutes, texts and data to use. And if you don't use them all up by the end of the month, that's too bad: they're gone.

Recently some providers have been offering a compromise that does away with this unfair situation through data rollover plans (read our guide here). These let you keep unused data for the next month.

After all, if you've bought data, why should you lose it. SMARTY can go one better than iD Mobile, Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile who offer data rollover:

Each month, SMARTY will work out how much data you've not used. Then they'll discount your next bill with the value of that data. So you'll effectively get your money back for unused data.

For us, this is an even better system than just keeping what you've already paid for (because even rolled-over data expires eventually). It ensures you're never paying for anything you won't use.

Useful link: SMARTY's guide to their data discount scheme

Our rating:
★★★★★ (best choice)

Rank:
1st place
(out of 14 providers)

Better than:
Sky Mobile, iD Mobile, Virgin

Way better than:
Every other provider

Spending caps: it's impossible to accidentally spend more than your basic plan's cost on SMARTY

SMARTY mobile capped contracts

SMARTY put you in control of how much you spendHere's how they do it

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

If you've had a pay monthly deal before, you'll know that your bill can vary each month if you've used extras like roaming, premium numbers or gone over one of your minutes, texts or data allowances.

For some this is ok, but others might want more predictability. And if you're taking a plan out for someone else like one of your kids, it's good to know they can't rack up unexpectedly large bills that you're on the hook for.

The solution is capped contracts. Ones that let you set an amount you're prepared to pay over your usual amount and will stop you doing anything on your phone that will cause you to overshoot this.

SMARTY effectively offer this service. You pay for your basic plan upfront. But to use anything else like premium numbers or extra data, you'll need to manually buy an add-on (here's how much they cost).

This system puts you in control of what you spend, and avoids nasty surprises at the end of the month.

Useful link: How SMARTY's add-on system avoids you overspending

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd
(out of 14 providers)

Not as good as:
Tesco Mobile

Same as:
iD Mobile, Plusnet, giffgaff

Roaming: SMARTY SIMs now work abroad, sometimes at no extra cost

SMARTY no roaming

Check costs per country before you travelHow roaming works

article at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Roaming used to be one of SMARTY's biggest weaknesses, because they didn't offer it at all (here's how we rate each network for roaming). But fortunately that's all changed now:

They offer the same inclusive EU roaming as every other network. That means you'll pay no extra to use your plan's regular mins, texts and data while you're in any of these countries.

If you want to go further afield, SMARTY operate a pay as you go system, where you'll pay per minute, text or MB data used. The rates depend on where you are. See a breakdown of SMARTY's costs per country here.

With low-cost plans, we'd say it's unrealistic to expect SMARTY to offer anything like Three's Feel At Home inclusive worldwide roaming. Overall, SMARTY's roaming is as good as it should be.

Useful link: SMARTY's guide to roaming on their network

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Joint middle
(out of 14 providers)

Worse than:
Three, EE, Vodafone, O2 & BT Mobile

Similar to:
All others

Customer rewards: a free month if you refer a friend

A free month for you and a friend of SMARTY

You and your friend get a month's plan cost freeHow to refer a friend

from SMARTY's official guide
(opens in new window)

It's not very well publicised on SMARTY's website but they have a pretty useful refer a friend scheme that you can really use to your advantage if you play your cards right.

Get a member of your family or a friend to join SMARTY too, and they'll credit your account with the cost of your regular monthly plan AND do the same for your friend (basically a free month for you and your friend).

As usual, there are some terms and conditions that you can read in full here. Your friend will need to follow a special tracked order link that you send them (so follow these referral instructions carefully).

You'll also need to be an existing SMARTY customer and your friend will need to have been with them for 14 days before either of you get the reward. And the rewards aren't applied immediately.

But all in all, it's a good scheme with real rewards that you don't have to jump through too many hoops to get.

Useful link: Read SMARTY's FAQs about their refer-a-friend scheme

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
4th place
(out of 14 providers)

As good as:
BT Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Vodafone, EE, Three, O2

Better than:
All others

Entertainment subscriptions: no extras on SMARTY

Other networks with free content

Free content on selected networks

As we've said, their cheap monthly plans means you're pretty much just getting some minutes, texts and data to use with SMARTY, there's none of the other bells and whistles that can make more-expensive providers appealing.

That's true for getting 'free' subscriptions to entertainment services you get elsewhere like free Apple Music and BT Sport app with EE, Vodafone's NOW TV, Sky Sports Mobile TV or Spotify Premium.

We say 'free', because it's again the case that the basic mobile deal will probably work out more expensive with this type of provider compared to SMARTY, so overall you're still paying a premium for those extras.

Use our SIM only deals comparison tool to see how SMARTY stack up against the competition in terms of price and the extra benefits you'll get with your SIM card.

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile, Vodafone

Same as:
All others

Free streaming or social media data: SMARTY aren't the answer

Three's Go Binge unlimited streaming scheme

Unlimited data for streaming selected appsHow Go Binge works

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

In each of our reviews, we look for networks that offer services that you can use without using up data. It's one of the more recent developments in the mobile world, so you might not knows who's offering it.

Our guide to free streaming data and social media tells you all the details but essentially some networks have stopped charging you for data you use on your phone for particular activities.

On Three and EE, it's data for selected streaming services like Netflix on Three or Apple Music on EE. Use them infinitely without using up your monthly allowance of mobile data.

On Virgin Mobile and VOXI, they've focussed on messaging apps (Virgin) or social media apps (VOXI).

SMARTY don't offer anything similar to this. If you're interested in more read our full guide under the link below.

Useful link: Free social media and streaming data schemes

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
Three, EE, VOXI, Virgin

Same as:
All others

Family plans and shared data: no discounts on SMARTY

BT Mobile's Family SIM promotional banner

We rate BT Mobile's Family SIMsSee BT Family SIMs

at BT.com
(opens in new window)

If you're a parent and you've got a few people in your family, who've now got separate mobile deals that you're paying, you might find the idea of a shared plan between everyone useful.

Before you get too excited, SMARTY don't offer any of these types of plans. But we have written a guide to the networks that do offer family plans.

Providers like BT Mobile give you a discount on every extra Family SIM you add to your main deal with them. And Tesco Mobile have some nice 'Family Perks' on extra contracts.

If you're just buying for yourself, this is no reason not to consider SMARTY. If you're tempted by the idea, you might want to consider some of the networks in our guide.

Useful link: Our guide to the best family and shared data plans

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
BT Mobile, Vodafone, EE, O2

Same as:
All others

SMARTY Mobile deals and plans

What type of deal are you interested in?

Choose an option to skip to the right section:

Special offers running on SMARTY

Here are the latest promotions available with SMARTY today.

Get a free month for you and a friend

A free month on SMARTY

See free month offer

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

As an already low-cost SIM only network, you're unlikely to ever see any huge discounts on SMARTY. Their plans are already very competitively priced (see our comparison further down the page).

The closest there is to a special offer currently is their Refer a Friend scheme that pays you back the cost of one month's plan if you get someone you know to join SMARTY too.

Your friend will also receive free credit once they've been with SMARTY for at least 14 days too.

Useful link: Full details on SMARTY's refer a friend promotion at SMARTY.co.uk

SIM only plans from SMARTY

Use our price comparison tool further below to find the right deal

Key facts about SMARTY's SIM only plans

Number of plans available:
Price range: £ - £ a month
Contract lengths:
SIM card sizes: Standard, Micro, Nano

Minutes allowances:
Texts allowances:
Data allowances:
Data speed: 4G on all plans

Find a SIM only plan

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You can change your plan or pause it completely

Changing plans on SMARTY mobile

Managing your plan

from SMARTY's help section
(opens in new window)

One of the nice things about SMARTY's SIM only plans is how flexible they are:

You pay for your plan up front. And you can choose whether to do this automatically or not.

If you know you'll just want the same plan each month, you set your plan to 'auto-renew' and it will just renew each month until you say stop. There's nothing extra to do.

But if your monthly usage changes regularly, you can choose not to auto-renew. This lets you manually buy your plan each month, giving you the flexibility to move up and down to find the right one.

Or if you want to take a break entirely because you know you don't need to use your phone, you can just opt not to buy a plan at all, and SMARTY will keep your SIM active for up to 6 months.

Useful link: How to manage your SMARTY plan from their help section

There's no credit check to pass on SMARTY

SMARTY mobile no credit check banner

How billing works

from SMARTY's help guide
(opens in new window)

Another thing we like about SMARTY's SIM only plans is that they're open to practically anyone.

Other pay monthly networks need you to set up a direct debit from your bank account. This pays for the monthly cost of your plan and any extra money you spend on other services or going over your limits

With SMARTY it's different:

Instead of setting a direct debit, you register a debit or credit card with SMARTY and pay for your plan up front. To use any extra services you'll need to buy credit or an add-on with the same card up front too.

Because they're not having to trust customers not to rack up huge bills and then cancel their direct debit, SMARTY can accept anyone with an active debit/card, whether or not you have bad credit history.

Useful link: How billing works on SMARTY from their help section

Phone contracts: SMARTY don't offer handset deals

Phone contracts

We can help you compare phone contractsUse phone deal finder

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Simply put, SMARTY have been set up as a provider offering exclusively SIM only plans. They don't offer smartphone contracts and we doubt they will any time soon.

If you're interested in a cheap handset deal with a provider that uses the Three network, we'd recommend taking a look at iD Mobile's range here as well as Three themselves.

We've also made a new phone contract comparison tool that you can use to find the best deals among multiple networks and handset models. Follow the link below:

Useful link: Use our phone contract comparison tool

Pay As You Go: it's not what SMARTY are set up for

Three's 321 PAYG plans

We still rate Three's 321 dealsSee Three's PAYG SIM

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Even though you do pay for your plan and usage up front with SMARTY, they're not strictly a Pay As You Go network in the old sense of the word:

By PAYG, we mean deals where you top up with credit, and then the minutes, texts and data that you use our charged at a set rate and come out of your credit.

This sort of deal benefits people who barely ever use their phones and don't need a monthly plan.

We'd argue the best value PAYG deals are still Three's 321 plan and iD Mobile's PAYG deal, which both cost just 3p per min, 2p per text and 1p per MB data.

Useful link: See Three's free PAYG SIM only offer

Mobile broadband: SMARTY let you use their SIMs in any 3G / 4G-enabled device

A mobile broadband device

No data-only products on SMARTY

We always include this section, even if the network we're reviewing don't specifically offer mobile broadband devices or data-only SIMs.

That's because some networks let you use their phone SIMs in tablets or dongles to use just the data part of your deal (this will often be more expensive paying for mins and texts you won't use though).

A chat with a SMARTY representative confirmed that you are allowed to use your SIM card in a 3G-enabled tablet or dongle but they don't guarantee compatibility.

Either way, it's useful to know that you can put your SMARTY SIM in this type of device if you're ever stuck for data on it.

Useful link: Compare SIM only deals

SMARTY Mobile customer service

Customer service: it's online-only with SMARTY

Screenshot of conversation with a SMARTY customer service representative

Use SMARTY's online customer service chatHow to get help

One point that's really worth noting is that you can only contact SMARTY online if you have a problem. There's no phone number to ring or stores to visit (you can't visit a Three store).

The point of this is to keep the costs of SMARTY's plans down by keeping their own admin costs down. But if you're someone who wants the comfort of having someone on the end of a phone line, SMARTY aren't for you.

Instead SMARTY offer an ever-growing collection of help articles and a chat facility on their website that, at our last check, was open 7 days a week from 8AM to 8PM.

We normally look at Ofcom complaints data as a measure of how good customer services are but as SMARTY are still new and have fewer than 500,000 customers, they do not yet appear in Ofcom's reports.

Useful link: See how Ofcom rate other networks

Compare SMARTY with other networks

Comparing giffgaff and SMARTY

SMARTY vs giffgaff

Read giffgaff vs SMARTY guide

Comparing Three and SMARTY

SMARTY vs Three

Differences between SMARTY and Three

Comparing Plusnet and SMARTY

SMARTY vs Plusnet

Read Plusnet vs SMARTY guide

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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