Dual-SIM smartphones let you use two SIMs in a single phone. Most people who use dual-SIM phones find the functionality useful for mixing work and pleasure, rather than carrying separate phones for their work- and personal contracts.
Dual-SIM phones are also useful for maintaining two personal contracts, however, whereby one might offer a good rate on calls and texts, and the other offers unlimited data. Or perhaps you frequently travel abroad, and would like to carry a UK SIM for when you’re at home and another that is local to the country you’re visiting.
Whatever your reason for requiring a dual-SIM phone, a problem in the UK is that most smartphones do not include the functionality as standard. Indeed, hardly any of the phones we are sent for review are dual-SIM models, and even where dual-SIM versions are available they are rarely intended to go on sale in the UK.
Dual-SIM phones are incredibly popular outside the UK and in the developing world, but for some reason us Brits are being left out of the dual-SIM party. And we want in.
This is one reason why the grey market has become a popular solution for picking up a dual-SIM phone, but there are risks involved – read our advice on buying grey-market dual-SIM phones.
Another way you can find a dual-SIM phone is to search a site such as Amazon or eBay for ‘dual-SIM phone’, ‘dual-SIM Samsung’ or ‘dual-SIM Sony’ and so on. Having seen the standard single-SIM versions that are intended for UK sale we have no doubt that many of these are great phones, but having not personally laid our hands on the dual-SIM variants we’re reluctant to recommend them here. They also tend to go off sale as soon as we add them to the round-up. Of course, you are more than welcome to recommend these phones in the comments below.
In this group test we recommend only phones that are sold in the UK with dual-SIM functionality as standard, and that we have personally reviewed. And in the future, we’re hoping that the increased demand for dual-SIM phones means we will begin to see more and more dual-SIM smartphones supplied to us for review. Also see: Best budget phones and best phones under £50.
If you already have a single-SIM phone but want the ability to add a second SIM jump straight to our advice on How to add a second SIM to iPhone or How to add a second SIM to a single-SIM phone.
How do dual-SIM phones work? Difference between dual-active and dual-standby. How to manage calls, texts and data
Something we’ve noticed when shopping for dual-SIM phones is that the manufacturer very rarely provides any information about the functionality other than it exists. It doesn’t tell you how the dual-SIM functionality works in practice, nor whether both SIMs support 3G, or even what size SIM cards they accept. As we’ve learned you can never assume: you’ll need to contact the manufacturer or check spec tables, reviews or forums to find out this information.
For that latter concern, as technology journalists who are always having to swap SIMs between the various phones we have in for review, we have found the best solution is to adopt a Nano-SIM for our personal smartphone, then pair it with an adaptor when we need to use it in a phone that supports Mini- or Micro-SIMs. SIM adaptors are very cheap, but some are better than others. We like the MediaDevil Simdevil, which comes with Nano- to Micro, Nano- to Mini and Micro- to Mini adaptors, plus a SIM tray ejector tool. It costs £3.97 from Amazon. If you’re planning to stick with the phone, however, you can always request a new SIM of the correct size for free from your network operator, then swap over your number. Also see: Best sounding phone 2016.
In all the dual-SIM phones we’ve tested both SIMs are on standby at all times (known as dual-standby phones), but you can actively use only one SIM at a time. This means that either SIM can accept a phone call or text at any time, without you having to actively swap between them or reboot the phone. However, if you get a call on one number while a call is active on the other, it won’t start ringing in your ear or give you the option to put the first caller on hold – the call will simply not be successful.
Dual-active SIM phones also exist, however, which use two modems and allow you to receive calls on both numbers at once. We’ve not tested any dual-active phones, but some more recent examples allegedly include the dual-SIM variants of the HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy S5 mini. (Always check before you buy, of course.)
If it’s you who wants to make a call or send a text, Android has a standard SIM Management menu that lets you specify which SIM should be used for voice calls, video calls, messages and mobile data. You can either specify a particular SIM for each of these tasks, or leave the setting at Always ask. If you choose the latter, the next time you want to make a call or send a text you will be asked which SIM you want to use.
Motorola improves on this with its dual-SIM Moto G, with its Automatic SIM selection able to track your SIM usage and then suggest or automatically use a particular SIM for a certain mode of contact.
The data connection is where there seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to dual-SIM phones. Whereas both SIM slots on some dual-SIM phones are capable of supporting 3G connections (for example the Moto G and the Elephone P5000), you can use 3G on only one SIM at a time. Unlike with calls and texts the data connection can’t be on standby for both SIMs: you must specify which SIM you want to use rather than select one when prompted.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, and the ZTE Blade S6 supports 3G/4G only on its first SIM slot, and you can’t change the data connection for browsing the web or making video calls. You can still specify which SIM should be used for calls and texts, although things look a bit different in Lollipop. (We haven’t finished our testing of the ZTE Blade S6 just yet, but we’ll be adding it to our best dual-SIM phones chart soon.)
By default, when you are using the data connection on one SIM and a phone call comes in to the other it will pause the data connection on the first. In the Moto G you’ll find a Connection priority menu, which lets you specify that calls should instead go to voicemail instead of interrupting your browsing. There is no such option on the other dual-SIM phones we’ve tested, but it’s not something we’d be likely to change in any case.
The Elephone P5000 momentarily threw us when we tried to switch the data connection from one SIM to the other. When we tried to change the data connection from O2 to Vodafone it popped up a message suggesting 3G wasn’t supported by the Vodafone SIM. We knew it was, which suggested that the second SIM slot it resided in was capable of only 2G. In fact, we found that if we first changed the Video call setting from O2 to Vodafone we could then change the data connection without issue. (Note that if your data connection is ‘Off’ this is because your Wi-Fi is switched on.) Also see: Best new phones coming in 2016.
Which SIM is configured to use the data connection is instantly evident from the navigation bar, with the SIM in slot 1 displayed in blue and the SIM in slot 2 displayed in green. One will be marked with G and the other 3G.
You can change these colours and whether or not the phone number is displayed within the SIM Management menu to make it more instantly obvious which is which. The Moto G and ZTE Blade S6 also lets you change the SIM card name.
Another issue when using dual-SIM phones is where your contacts are stored. We found that by default the contacts from both SIM cards are stored in the phonebook. If you’d rather see the contacts from only one SIM, tap the three dots icon at the bottom right of the screen (within the Contacts app) and choose ‘Contacts to display’. You can then select All contacts, Gmail contacts, phone contacts or one of your two SIMs.
Usually when you add a contact you get a pop-up menu asking whether you want to store the contact on your phone memory, your SIM or your Google account. Here you’ll now see two SIMs in the list rather than one. A quick way to turn this off and prevent you always having to choose is to open the SIM management menu, select Contact binding and then select a specific SIM. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2016.
How to add a second SIM to iPhone: Dual-SIM iPhone
The NeeCoo Magic Card is a £30.85 gadget available from Gear Best that lets you add another SIM to a standard iPhone. A gold credit-card-sized (85x54x4mm) device that slips easily into a pocket or wallet, the MeeCoo allows you to insert a Nano-SIM card and then connect it to your iPhone over Bluetooth 4.0 from up to 10m away.
You’ll need to download the free MoreCard app from the App Store to configure the NeeCoo Magic Card, which requires iOS 7.1 or later. This lets you manage contacts, calls and texts for the second SIM from your iPhone.
Network support includes GSM 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz, so you can use the NeeCoo to make and receive phone calls and texts from a second SIM, but you won’t be able to use its data allowance.
The NeeCoo Magic Card is a well-designed device with a lightweight magnesium-aluminium alloy body with tempered glass front and rear. A hole in one corner lets you add it to a keyring, while a small button on the side also allows the NeeCoo to act as a remote camera shutter.
The NeeCoo contains a small 380mAh battery that is recharged over Micro-USB. It should last 80 hours on standby or provide three hours of talktime.
How to add a second SIM to a single-SIM phone: How to get a second phone number
Physically inserting a second SIM into a single-SIM phone would be impossible without altering its design in some way, but it is possible to achieve the same feat by adding a second phone number.
OnOff is an app for iPhone and Android that lets you have multiple phone numbers on one phone. Right now it supports French and UK numbers, which work like any other number for receiving phone calls and text messages. More conveniently, though, you can turn off these numbers when it suits.
This means you could potentially give your work colleagues or clients one phone number that is switched off outside office hours. Or you could give your friends a number that is switched off during office hours.
Another bonus: should your phone battery die, you can log into the app on a friend’s phone and still get your calls and texts.
The app itself is free, and you get a free trial with limited functionality for one phone number. If you like it you can then ‘activate’ that number, which unlocks all the features of the app. You can set up multiple lines, though these must be paid for too.
OnOff pricing starts at 79p per month, with full details here.
20 best dual-SIM phone reviews
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1. OnePlus 3
The OnePlus 3 is another amazing smartphone from the Chinese company as easily its best effort yet. It’s a little bit more expensive than its predecessor but it’s still a ridiculous price considering the design, build and hardware on offer which matches rivals but also beats them in some areas. There’s very little to dislike here unless you really need things like expandable storage and waterproofing. You don’t even need an invite any longer, either.
2. Xiaomi Mi 5
A fantastic Android flagship that comes in at an outrageously low price, the Xiaomi Mi 5 has the braun and the beauty to match the greats. Perhaps not a wise choice for first time Android users, but those comfortable in customising the setup will love the excellent-value, gorgeously designed Xiaomi Mi 5.
3. Xiaomi Redmi Pro
The Xiaomi Redmi Pro offers unbeatable value for money at around £250, undercutting every flagship yet offering much the same performance and many comparable features. Due to the lack of Google Play and a number of Chinese preinstalled apps we’d recommend Xiaomi phones only to seasoned Android users, however.
4. Elephone P9000
We’re very impressed with the Elephone P9000, which is a great all-round Android phone at an unbelievable sub-£200 price. It’s fast, battery life is good, it’s feature-packed and it even runs Marshmallow. Wireless- and quick-charging-, NFC-, USB-C-, dual-SIM- and microSD support are the icing on the cake. Recommended.
5. OnePlus 2
The lack of NFC, a microSD card slot, a removable battery, and quick- and wireless charging means the OnePlus 2 is not a flagship killer. It does have some killer new features though, including USB Type-C, 4G dual-SIM support and some powerful hardware. At the reduced price of £249 (we don’t recommend the 16GB OP2), it’s an unrivalled deal.
6. OnePlus X
The OnePlus X was the best value smartphone of 2015. We love the premium design in a smaller form factor to the firm’s other phones. Software is a strong point and you get a gorgeous screen. However, cuts had to be made somewhere and the X is lacking features such as NFC, 11ac and Wi-Fi. It also is missing the fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C port found on the OnePlus 2. Battery life isn’t great and cameras aren’t best in class but this is a great phone for the price.
7. Xiaomi Redmi 3S
Right now the Redmi 3S Pro is available for just an extra £5 over the 3S, but ordinarily we would have said you will struggle to find better value for money than what is offered by Xiaomi’s new Redmi 3S. This budget Android phone is feature-packed and capable, and has a new fingerprint scanner. You can’t expect any more for £120, just remember that Google Play isn’t installed out of the box.
8. Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
The Redmi Note 4 isn’t a huge upgrade over the Redmi Note 3 in terms of core hardware, with simply a greater amount of storage and a faster processor, but the design changes are a huge improvement over its predecessor. If you don’t care about looks and can make do with less storage then the cheaper Redmi Note 3 may well meet your needs. The Redmi Note 4 remains a great buy, but the omission of Google Play support may put off some users. O2 and Giffgaff customers should also note the lack of support for 800MHz 4G.
9. Lenovo ZUK Z1
The Z1 is a good first attempt from ZUK. It’s not a super-cheap budget phone, but we think the price is about right given the hardware inside. Standout features include the 5.5in full-HD screen, large battery, 64GB of built-in storage and USB-C port. Although there’s no removable battery or microSD card support, you could argue that you need neither.
10. Motorola Moto G 2014 (second generation)
With a bigger screen, much better speakers and improved cameras, the new Moto G is a great budget smartphone. The lack of support for 4G will be a deal-breaker for some, though. It isn’t without its rivals, but if you’re specifically looking for a budget dual-SIM Android phone, it’s a good choice.
11. Xiaomi Redmi 3
The Xiaomi Redmi 3 is a very decent budget Android phone, but it isn’t intended for a UK audience and doesn’t come with Google Play installed out of the box, so we wouldn’t recommend it for those not familiar with Android. It has a plasticky but decent build, with good performance for the money.
12. Meizu M3 Note
The Meizu M3 Note is a great phone, with outstanding battery life and a nice metal unibody design, but it isn’t a patch on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, which is faster and comes with a better camera, more up-to-date software and, importantly, a cheaper price tag. That said, it’s difficult for us to recommend to UK users (particularly novice UK users) the Meizu M3 Note over other budget Chinese smartphones we’ve tested, given that Google Play is not preinstalled and so much of it has not been adapted from Chinese.
13. Bluboo X9
We never fail to be impressed by how much value you can get for your money if you’re prepared to buy a smartphone from China rather than the UK. Bluboo might not be well known over here, but its X9 is a stylish phone that packs in both a fingerprint scanner and a 5in full-HD screen for just £110. General performance is capable, and there’s plenty of space here for all your apps and media.
14. Xiaomi Mi 4C
On paper the Xiaomi Mi 4C is an excellent mid-range Android phone, with a fantastic spec for the money – it’s half the price of the Nexus 5X and can be just as fast. There’s a generous battery, a fairly good camera and some interesting new features such as USB-C. However, our benchmarking showed overheating to be a problem, and the issues we experienced with software out of the box make it difficult to recommend to less techie users.
15. Elephone Vowney
Elephone has focused so hard on the specs, it’s dropped the ball somewhat on the build quality. The Vowney has an awesome specification for the money, but at a glance you really wouldn’t know it.
16. Ulefone BeTouch
Ulefone’s BeTouch is an unrivalled deal at £147. It’s fast, it’s dual-SIM with 4G connectivity, it has a working fingerprint scanner for security, the screen is large and with an HD resolution plenty crisp enough for the money, and there is absolutely no bloatware. A few minor quibbles aside, it’s genuinely difficult to fault this phone at this price.
17. UMI eMax
UMI’s eMax offers superb value for money. It’s not as good-looking as other UMI phones we’ve reviewed, but the eMax has a big and bright full-HD screen for enjoying media and more, and showed very capable performance in the majority of our benchmarks. Photography is decent at this price, and enthusiasts will appreciate the Rootjoy support. At £115 you can’t go far wrong with the UMI eMax.
18. UMI Iron Pro
Aside from a new fingerprint scanner and USB-C, there’s not much new in the UMI Iron to justify the Pro moniker in this phone’s name, especially given that it’s no faster than the original. However, for the money it’s a decent mid-range Android phone, and the EyePrint ID eye scanner is pretty cool, if no more secure than your PIN. Given that you can buy it for around the same price as the original UMI Iron, it makes sense to plump for the Pro version.
19. UMI Iron
The UMI Iron is a good buy at £149.99, and the first we’ve seen to include eye-scanning security. This is a cool feature, if no more secure than the requirement for a four-digit PIN. Although the heart-rate scanner didn’t work in our tests and the Micro-USB charging port seemed oddly misshaped, the UMI Iron nevertheless offers a good set of hardware and more than acceptable performance for the money.
20. Doogee F1 Turbo Mini
We’re really very impressed by the Doogee F1 Turbo Mini. At £82 or £104 (depending on how you buy it) this is the cheapest 4G phone we’ve ever seen. It’s better-looking and more powerful than any budget phone has any right to be.
21. UMI eMax Mini
The UMI eMax Mini is a very decent attempt at a budget Android phone with mid-range specs, and a strong rival to the Vodafone Smart Prime 6 that tops our budget phones chart. It’s slower than the original UMI eMax in our benchmarks, but in real-world use it feels just as fast. The cameras have been improved and also the design, in our opinion, resulting in a cheap phone that offers strong value for money.