Usually, if you want to get a better phone at a cheaper price, you have to buy a subsidised handset from a mobile carrier and put up with a fairly long contract to cover the discount. When you get to the end of the contract, the offer of a free or cheap upgrade will often keep you locked to that carrier for another year.
Now Wileyfox is offering between £50 and £70 off the price of four of its phones (wherever you buy them) in exchange for putting ads and offers on the lockscreen -- which many people look at 60 or more times a day. That's about 40 percent off the usual price: the £120 Spark+ costs just £70, the £140 Spark X is £80, the £160 Swift 2 is £100, and the Swift 2 Plus goes from £190 to £120. New Wileyfox handsets will have similar discounts.
When it came out last year, the Swift 2 Plus was a sleek and stylish metal handset that competed with more expensive phones (especially in the rose gold option). It has 32GB of storage, a five-inch screen with good brightness, a decent camera, NFC, a fingerprint sensor (unobtrusively positioned just below the camera), dual SIM (micro SIM, nano SIM, or one of each), USB-C fast charging, and a battery that should last all day with reasonable (but not heavy) usage. The only real drawbacks are the 720p screen resolution and the fact that the MicroSD slot is only available if you use a micro SIM -- if you have a nano SIM and you want extra storage, you have to use a SIM adapter.
With the Add-X discount, you're getting a much better bargain: in general, the Add-X discounts bring the price of 4G phones down to the budget 3G level, so you can get a lot more phone for your money.
It's worth noting that even with its full-price handsets, Wileyfox keeps the price down by just including a USB cable. Neither headphones nor charger are supplied, but most people have those already.
In action, the Add-X lockscreen ads and offers are unobtrusive and even interesting. We got a mix of stories from The Guardian, The Independent, Buzzfeed, Daily Express, Reuters, E!, and National Geographic, plus ads for Android apps like Yahoo Mail and APUS Browser, along with offers from brands like Odeon, Amazon, Ministry of Sound, and Dominos. Wileyfox estimates the ads will take no more than 20MB of your bandwidth a month.
Swipe right and you dismiss the ad and unlock your phone -- keep your finger on the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone and it's fairly seamless, although the PIN unlock screen appears briefly. Swipe left and you can unlock your phone to load the article or offer page in the browser. Swipe down and you can see more ads and offers, one at a time -- which is handy if you missed one that looked interesting.
Wileyfox doesn't hand over your demographic information to the advertisers, although it does use your age and gender (which it asks for during setup) for machine learning, along with which ads you swipe into, to offer more relevant links. The ads don't get in the way of the usual lockscreen notifications and widgets, you can still install tools like the Microsoft Launcher to customise Android. And if you don't like having the ads there, you can pay the extra online to get rid of Add-X.
Sadly, although Wileyfox has made a point of promising to curate adverts carefully (no cigarettes, gambling, adult content, or loan companies, for example), we were disappointed to find that if you swipe down to the bottom of the ad stack you'll find the usual tacky wrinkle breakthroughs and 'ladies! one weird tip for a flat tummy' ads -- even after telling setup the user was a middle-aged man.
Not only do they look cheap, these are the kind of ads that are notoriously associated with fake reviews and 'free sample' scams. When we asked Wileyfox about these particular ads, CEO Mike Coombes replied that "All of the content appearing on the Add-X platform is carefully screened and we are investigating how this managed to get through the systems in place."
The list of ads and offers seems to be powered by a third party and we'd like to see Wileyfox police things much better to remove these reminders of the less appealing side of online ads, because otherwise this is a clever way of bringing down the price of handsets without locking you into a contract.
Without the less salubrious ads we saw, the Add-X lock screen wouldn't be annoying, and glancing down at your phone screen to see a voucher for a free cup of coffee or a story you're actually interested in could even prove useful from time to time. With them, however, you get the occasional reminder of the tackier side of the web.