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Real-life SMARTY mobile review: we test them as a customer

SMARTY logo with a mobile SIM card

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

We've joined SMARTY as a real-life customer to test out their 4G coverage, data speeds and benefits as a genuine user. Here's what we found. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: April 14th 2020.

Overall rating

SIM Sherpa rates SMARTY's overall package as good ★★★☆☆ (3/5, good)

"There's no pretending that joining SMARTY isn't mainly just about getting an ultra cheap deal with big allowances for the money. The list of things you don't get is longer than what you do get.

You get none of the network extras like WiFi calling or free hotspots that keep you connected, their coverage is beatable and their online customer service leaves a fair amount to be desired.

But none of that is baked into the price either, so it's not an unfair trade. Plus you're getting decent 4G speeds, a data moneyback scheme on some plans and family discounts - all with no contracts or commitments.

If you know all this up front, we can see lots of people being perfectly happy on SMARTY."

The 3 best bits

1) Discounted family plans
2) Money back for unused data
3) Short deals with no credit checks

The 3 worst bits

1) Patchy rural coverage
2) No WiFi calling or 4G calling
3) No phone-based customer service

Information symbol We're a professional reviews website but we bought our SMARTY SIM card as a regular consumer, to test what it's actually like for real life paying customers. The contents of this review are a combination of our expert industry knowledge and what we experienced during our test.

In our SMARTY review

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

(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.

Three is the smallest UK network. They've got less of the country's physical landmass covered with 4G data and 3G calls than their rivals. But they do much better in the places people actually live.

We couldn't take our SMARTY SIM card everywhere across the country but we could spot check a couple of things: how accurate is their coverage checker? And is the signal the same as being on Three directly?

We took two identical test phones out, one with a Three SIM and the other with a SMARTY SIM.

We couldn't ever find a consistent difference. Both had 4G or 3G at the same time. And the same number of bars, with a bit of fluctuation.

In terms of the coverage checker, we found it to be accurate. Where there's only 3G and no 4G matches up. And they're honest about where the total blackspots are.

If you're mainly in and around big towns and cities, SMARTY will usually be as good a choice as any network for reception. If you're more rural, or travel a lot between places, there's less of a guarantee.

Our tests found SMARTY's coverage checker is accurate about where they've got 4G or 3G, so use it to your advantage and check everywhere you'll regularly use your phone. If you're covered, you're covered.

Joining SMARTY vs Three directly isn't a second class experience in terms of signal. If you've been on Three before, you'll find coverage to be exactly the same on SMARTY (although 4G calling will be different).

Useful link: Check SMARTY coverage near you now

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

4th place
(out of 4 network operators)

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

Same as:
Three, iD Mobile

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

5G is coming banner

SMARTY will be getting 5G dataRead 5G updates

(opens in new window)

If you look at the measurements made by independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla, you'll see that Three come in third place out of the four main mobile networks, narrowly behind Vodafone.

They put typical 4G downloads at 18.2 Mbps (Opensignal) and 20.39 Mbps (Speedtest). That's about the same as a basic fibre home broadband connection, so will support things like HD videos comfortably.

As with our coverage tests, we can't literally travel the entire length and breadth of the country to test. But we're able to do some spot checks in different locations and compare SMARTY with Three direct.

We've not been able to find any built-in differences with Three. We never got identical results when we speed tested them side-by-side but there was no overall advantage to one or the other either.

We took our SMARTY SIM out into the country, in suburbs and a large city centre. And got results varying between about 9 Mbps in suburbs and up to 40 Mbps over rural 4G (where there's fewer people using it).

We also found SMARTY's 3G could be really fast too, sometimes reaching 12 Mbps, which is similar to what 4G often achieves. More often though, it hung around 4 Mbps.

We'd actually expect downloads to top out around 45 Mbps on SMARTY but also go as low as 10 Mbps, depending on where you currently are. There's no speed cap on SMARTY vs being on Three directly.

For what is essentially a cheap and cheerful no-frills SIM only plan, we find the speeds on SMARTY to be totally satisfactory. We doubt their customers are looking for all guns blazing speeds like EE provide.

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

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)


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

Better than:
(and providers that use them)

WiFi calling: we missed having it on SMARTY

SMARTY call quality logo and phone symbol

iD use Three and have WiFi callingCheck phone support

(opens in new window)

On SMARTY, you definitely need to make sure you've got good indoor 3G coverage at home and work/school/uni, to ensure you're able to use your mobile for calls and texts (their coverage checker tells you).

That's because SMARTY don't have either WiFi calling or 4G calling enabled, despite the fact their parent network Three have both. These are both useful for preventing indoor blackspots.

They let your phone make/take calls and send/receive SMS over WiFi or 4G, in addition to the regular way on 3G. So not having them means fewer ways to stay connected if signal struggles to get indoors.

For us, having WiFi calling is becoming a staple for good networks, so it's a bit of a poor show SMARTY not having it (especially when low-cost rivals iD do).

Useful link: Our full iD Mobile vs SMARTY guide

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Same as:
All others

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

(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 even includes SMARTY's unlimited data plan.

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

It's also worth remembering that tethering can burn through 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)

Joint 1st

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

Better than:
Three, iD Mobile, Virgin Mobile

SMARTY Mobile benefits

SMARTY's unique benefit is their data payback scheme

SMARTY mobile pay you back for unused data

Get paid back for data you've not usedHow it works

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

Some SMARTY plans are designated "data discount" ones, which means they'll pay you back for any data you haven't managed to use each month, as a discount off next month. And at the same price you bought it for.

We've written a whole guide to the ins and outs of the scheme. But the upshot is, getting money back is even better than other networks' data rollover schemes, which let you accumulate data you've not used for later.

These all pay you back £1 per unused GB data as a discount off next month:

We found the system quite handy in real life. It all happens automatically, you don't have to claim it or anything like that. And the discount is calculated to the MB (1024th of a GB) so you get back every possible penny!

Our main criticism would be that it's not available on every plan and that there's no way to get your money back out if you leave SMARTY altogether. Otherwise it's a nice touch we think people will appreciate.

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

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (best choice)

1st place
(out of 14 providers)

Way better than:
Every other provider

Family plans: save 10% on extra SIMs with SMARTY

SMARTY Group plans banner

Up to eight plans can form a groupSee Group Plans

(opens in new window)

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

SMARTY now offer Group Plans which give a discount of 10% on every active SIM in the group. Up to eight plans in total can be included and they can all have different data allowances.

The group owner manages all the plans and payments from one central account but members can still see their own usage and call history.

Overall we rate the SMARTY Group Plans pretty highly. It's a straightforward discount off their already well‑priced deals which we think would suit a parent juggling multiple SIM plans.

Useful link: Full details on SMARTY's Group Plans

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)


Not as good as:

Same as:

Spending caps: SMARTY's plans are naturally capped

SMARTY mobile capped contracts

You can only spend extra by topping upRead why

(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)

Joint 2nd
(out of 14 providers)

Not as good as:
Tesco Mobile

Same as:
iD Mobile, Plusnet, giffgaff

Roaming: use your regular plan in EU countries

SMARTY no roaming

Roaming doesn't work automaticallyHow to activate it

(opens in new window)

SMARTY 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.

We took a SMARTY SIM on a trip within the EU and were disappointed to see that roaming isn't set up as standard to just work out of the box. Instead you have to follow these instructions to get it going.

If you haven't realised this before you've left, you could get in some real problems, because the only way to find out how to sort it is by going online, which you can't do (without finding free WiFi or using someone else's phone).

Once it's up and running, roaming is fine. You only connect to 3G services, so no 4G like at home. But for checking maps, online reviews and keeping in touch on social media while you're away, it's completely adequate.

You can use your whole data allowance while you're there too, except if you take SMARTY's unlimited data plan, which has a limit of 19GB usage while you're abroad (that's a lot for trip).

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 Go Roam 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)

Joint middle
(out of 14 providers)

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

Similar to:
All others

What you don't get on SMARTY

Three Go Binge banner

Free streaming data for Netflix and moreSee full details

(opens in new window)

If you're deciding which mobile network to join, it's worth knowing what you do and don't get. Being a no-frills provider, there's a fair amount of more-premium benefits you won't get on SMARTY:

There's no unlimited streaming or social media data scheme, where certain internet usage on your phone does not come out of your data allowance. This is one of a few differences between SMARTY and Three.

There's no free entertainment subscriptions more-premium providers include. And as we've mentioned above, inclusive roaming is more basic, there's no WiFi calling, hotspots or telephone customer service.

Useful link: Compare SMARTY's deals

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.

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

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Choose which networks you'd consider:

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BT Mobile logo
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ID logo
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Sky logo
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Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

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

(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. But this blog post suggests phone contracts are coming down the line.

If you're interested in a cheap handset deal today 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: you can't do it the old way on SMARTY

1pMobile logo1p Mobile tariff banner

1p Mobile have the cheapest ratesGet a SIM card

at 1pMobile
(opens in new window)

There's no such thing as traditional pay as you go on SMARTY. You can't just top up with credit and pay for what you use out of that. You always have to have a bundle active to use your phone.

So if you barely ever use your phone SMARTY aren't really for you. The cheapest network for this type of pay as you go is 1pMobile, with rates of 1p per minute, text or MB data (take a look at them here).

We used to say, look at Three directly if you want that type of deal. But they've bumped up their prices recently from their former 3p 2p 1p plan. O2 have also withdrawn their similar tariff.

Read our guide to the cheapest basic pay as you go rates here for all your options.

Useful link: Read our 1p Mobile review

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

A mobile broadband device

No mobile broadband devices

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 and this page here confirm that you are allowed to use your SIM card in a 3G/4G-enabled tablet or dongle but they don't guarantee compatibility.

This could be particularly useful if you take SMARTY's unlimited data plan here. It's extremely rare to get data SIMs that don't have a fixed cap.

Useful link: SMARTY's tablet SIM page

SMARTY Mobile customer service

Customer service: it's definitely a weak point for SMARTY

Screenshot of conversation with a SMARTY customer service representative

Use SMARTY's online customer service chatHow to get help

It's important to know up front that SMARTY only offer online customer service. There's no phone number you can ring if you need help. This could be fine if they were ultra-responsive and you're online savvy.

Unfortunately, our experience with SMARTY is that it takes a long time for your online queries to get picked up by an agent, sometimes not even the same day. And that could land you in some problems.

We set about trying to start a conversation with a SMARTY agent online and it really can take ages to get an answer. We asked mid afternoon and didn't get an actual non-automated response until the next morning.

Even once you get through, the agents are clearly dealing with multiple conversations, because the back and forth of questions and answers takes a couple of minutes each time. It gets a bit painful.

There's no app on SMARTY either. You'll need to be good at self-serving, using your online account and their self-help resources here to get to the bottom of any issues you have.

It's definitely the trade off with joining SMARTY. They've cut their costs by offering a paper thin level of human customer service, meaning you get a cheap plan. Don't join expecting big network service at no frills prices.

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

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