Best unlocked Android phones 2022

Google Pixel 6a review
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The best unlocked Android phones don't ask you to commit to a carrier payment plan. When you purchase a phone unlocked, you can pick a device without having to commit to a specific carrier and wireless plan. And many of the best Android phones are available unlocked, given you ample choice.

Generally, these Android phones are sold directly by the phone makers themselves or through online retailers like Amazon and Best Buy. And once you've made your choice, you can start searching for the best cell phone plan from the phone carrier of your choosing. While you'll have to pay more upfront to buy a phone unlocked, it gives you complete control over your carrier, contract length, cost and more.

So what are the best unlocked Android phones? And which one will best suit your current budget? Here are our current picks.

The best unlocked Android phones right now

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Google Pixel 6a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best unlocked Android phone right now

Specifications

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Tensor
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear cameras: 12.2MP (f/1.7) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Weight: 6.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 6:29

Reasons to buy

+
The best cameras on a budget phone
+
Bright display
+
Tensor chip powers new experiences

Reasons to avoid

-
Poor result on our battery test
-
Noticeably cheap materials

The Google Pixel 6a is so close to a perfect budget phone. It runs on the same Tensor processor that powers the Pixel 6. That means the same AI-driven features on that more premium phone are available on this sub-$500 model. And Google even ups the ante by introducing new capabilities to its stellar Magic Erase photo editing feature.

Speaking of photos, the Pixel 6a carries on the tradition of Google’s budget phones offering superior photo-taking skills. The camera hardware on the Pixel 6a doesn’t necessarily impress, since it’s not really all that new, but Google’s flair for computational photography means the photos you take with this phone will top images by similarly priced camera phones. You may even get photos that rival what a more premium handset can produce.

We wish the battery life on the Pixel 6a was better, but sometimes for a cheaper price, you make trade-offs. The great thing about the Pixel 6a is that those sacrifices are few and far between.

Read our full Google Pixel 6a review.

Back view of OnePlus Nord N20 5G

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The cheapest unlocked 5G phone

Specifications

Display: 6.43-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 695
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 64MP (f/1.8) main, 2MP (f/2.4) monochrome, 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Battery life: 11:20

Reasons to buy

+
Great display
+
The lowest-price for a 5G phone we've yet seen
+
Good battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Subpar cameras
-
Limited software updates

Phones that work with 5G networks no longer need to flirt with $1,000 prices. Device makers have rolled out cheaper 5G phones, and OnePlus lowers the threshold even further with the OnePlus Nord N20 5G.

While this is certainly a budget phone — the disappointing camera performance confirms that — you do get some premium features in the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, including a professional look, in-display fingerprint sensor, and good performance. We also like the battery life, which outperformed the average smartphone even with the faster refresh rate enabled.

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is now available unlocked at Amazon, Best Buy and OnePlus's online store. You'll need to use it with a carrier that works with T-Mobile's 5G network to enjoy faster speeds, but there are plenty of T-Mobile MVNOs out there, including Mint Mobile and Google Fi.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N20 5G review.

Google Pixel 7 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
An affordable Android flagship from Google

Specifications

Display: 6.3-inch OLED (2400 x 1080; 90Hz)
CPU: Tensor G2
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.85) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 10.8MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:03

Reasons to buy

+
Great value at $599
+
Excellent cameras
+
Tensor G2 powers new experiences

Reasons to avoid

-
Subpar battery life
-
Performs lags behind other flagships

Being on a tight budget doesn’t mean flagship phones are out of reach. With a starting price of $599, the Google Pixel 7 gives fans of unlocked phones a way to get a leading Android flagship handset without busting their budget.

You don’t make many compromises for the Pixel 7’s lower price — there’s no telephoto lens and the screen refreshes at 90Hz instead of a faster 120Hz rate. And you still get outstanding cameras that benefit from Google’s know-how with computational photography. The new Tensor G2 chipset powering the Pixel 7 enables a number of experiences like call management and on-device dictation that other Android phones can’t match.

Read our full Google Pixel 7 review.

Samsung Galaxy A53 display

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The best value for an unlocked Android phone

Specifications

Display: 6.5-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Exynos 1280
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 64MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 5MP macro (f/2.4), 5MP depth (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:49 (120Hz), 10:38 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
Good display with 120Hz refresh rate
+
Expandable storage up to 1TB
+
Nice design and build quality
+
Excellent software support

Reasons to avoid

-
Mediocre performance

If your idea of the best unlocked Android phone begins and ends with a device from Samsung, turn to the Galaxy A53. It’s got a low price at $449 that’s easy for unlocked phone fans to swing. But it also includes some high-end features you might not expect from a midrange handset.

The Galaxy A53 features a 6.5-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling and more immersive experiences. While that can take a toll on battery life, the A53 matched the average smartphone on our battery test with its 120Hz enabled; with the faster refresh rate turned off, the phone lasted even longer on a charge.

You won’t get flagship-level performance from the Galaxy A53, but there is enough under the hood to handle common smartphone tasks and apps. And you’ll appreciate the polished design and IP67 water resistance rating that hides the Galaxy A53’s budget roots.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A53 review.

Google Pixel 7 Pro back view

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The best flagship value

Specifications

Display: 6.7-inch OLED (3120 x 1440; 10-120Hz)
CPU: Tensor G2
RAM: 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.85) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 48MP (f/3.5) with 5x optical zoom
Front camera: 10.8MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 6:31

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible cameras
+
Brighter display
+
More powerful chipset
+
Awesome Tensor features

Reasons to avoid

-
Bad battery life

The Pixel 7 Pro is a refinement over the excellent Pixel 6 Pro from last year. It sports an upgraded Tensor G2 processor, a brighter display, and 5x optical zoom. It’s a great phone with plenty of smarts and useful features.

Where it lags behind the Galaxy S22 Ultra, however, is battery life. The Pixel 7 Pro performed horribly in our in-house battery life test, over three hours less than the 10-hour average we want to see from smartphones. But the cameras make up for it, with the Pixel 7 Pro offering the best pictures on an Android phone.

And for $899, it’s hard to beat the Pixel 7 Pro, especially since the Galaxy S22 Ultra is $300 more. That S Pen and impressive optical zoom better be worth it, otherwise, Google has the upper hand on value.

Read our full Pixel 7 Pro review.

Back view of OnePlus 10 Pro, one of the best unlocked Android phones

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Premium features for less than $1,000 unlocked

Specifications

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (3216 x 1440)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.8) main, 50MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 8MP (f/2.4) 3.3x telephoto
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:52 (120Hz), 12:39 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
Lower price than the OnePlus 9 Pro
+
Beautiful new design
+
Excellent battery life
+
Improved cameras

Reasons to avoid

-
Telephoto lens is only 8MP

The OnePlus 10 Pro can hold its own against phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but without that latter device’s large price tag. At $899, the OnePlus 10 Pro should be more palatable if you’re looking to buy a great unlocked Android phone.

The excellent battery life on the OnePlus 10 Pro makes this phone stand out from the crowd — it lasted just under 12 hours on our battery test with its 120Hz refresh rate enabled. OnePlus also equipped its latest flagship with the best cameras on a OnePlus handset to date, thanks to the phone maker’s ongoing partnership with lens specialist Hasselblad. 

Read our full OnePlus 10 Pro review.

Asus Zenfone 9 display

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The best small Android phone

Specifications

Display: 5.9-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1
RAM: 8GB, 16GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.9) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.45)
Weight: 6 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 13:13

Reasons to buy

+
Great battery life
+
Excellent performance
+
Good cameras overall
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Photos can be a bit warm

When looking at the best unlocked Android phones, we like to see things that make a handset standout. In the case of the Zenfone 9, it’s the diminutive size and horsepower. This little guy is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, which is the most powerful processor you can get in an Android phone right now.

Starting at $799 for the base model, the Zenfone 9 does a lot of what you could want from a smartphone, minus a telephoto lens. Its cameras are pretty good all things considered, even with the slightly warm tones that add a yellowish tinge to some photos. 

The Zenfone 9 hits hard, especially since it’s such a little phone. 

Read our full Asus Zenfone 9 review.

Samsung galaxy s21 fe best unlocked android phone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Flagship features for less

Specifications

Display: 6.4-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 6GB, 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP (f/1.8) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 8MP telephoto (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.2 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:46

Reasons to buy

+
Low cost compared to other S21 models
+
Snapdragon 888 chipset
+
Takes great photos

Reasons to avoid

-
Subpar battery life
-
120Hz refresh rate isn't dynamic

If you're looking for an unlocked Samsung flagship phone that won't take too big a bite out of your wallet, the Galaxy S21 FE is currently your best bet. You make some trade-offs from the rest of the Galaxy S21 lineup — there's not as much RAM and the display refresh rate must be adjusted manually — but in exchange, you pay $699. That's $100 less than the standard S21 and $500 less than the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Other than memory, refresh rate and the MP rating on the telephoto lens, the Galaxy S21 FE is essentially a member of the S21 family. You get the same Snapdragon 888 chipset, and a triple camera array capable of producing photos that can hold their own against any camera phone. (We're particularly impressed by the Night mode on the S21 FE, which Samsung took pains to improve.) The display is nice and bright, too.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 FE review.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review

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A powerful option for less than other flagships

Specifications

Screen size: 6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2340 x 1080)
Android version: 12, OneUI 4.1
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Cameras: 50MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto; 10MP front
RAM / Storage: 8GB / 128GB, 256GB

Reasons to buy

+
Most affordable Galaxy S22 model
+
Bright, colorful display
+
Improved zoom and low-light photos
+
Solid performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Below-average battery life

Samsung’s flagships usually top our Android phone rankings, but they’re also quite expensive, making them tough to buy unlocked. The Samsung Galaxy S22 gives you an option for getting one of the best unlocked Android phones without having to put a big dent in your wallet, as it costs $799 — $200 cheaper than the Galaxy S22 Plus.

You’re still getting plenty of top features with the Galaxy S22, from a powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset to a triple camera array that includes improvements to the main sensor and telephoto lens. Samsung has also beefed up low-light photo capabilities in the Galaxy S22 lineup, and this model benefits from those changes.

Add a very bright display and a compact form factor that’s easy to use with one hand, and the Galaxy S22 becomes a very compelling option, even if it’s a little pricey than more affordable unlocked phones.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S22 review.

galaxy z flip 4 cover display

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The best unlocked Android phone with a foldable screen

Specifications

Display: 6.7-inch FHD AMOLED (2640 x 1080) inner, 1.9-inch AMOLED (260 x 512) cover
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP (f/1.8) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 10MP (f/2.4)
Weight: 6.5 ounces
Battery life: 8:33 (Adaptive), 8:57 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
Much better battery life
+
Great performance
+
Same $999 price

Reasons to avoid

-
Minimal camera upgrades
-
Display crease still prominent

We came away from our Galaxy Z Flip 4 review mostly impressed. Not only is the new foldable’s design ever so slightly sleeker, the battery life has vastly improved over the Galaxy Z Flip 3 last year. In our custom battery life test, the Flip 4 went for considerably longer than its predecessor.

The folding 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display is beautiful, even though the display crease remains very noticeable. The Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 allows the Galaxy Z Flip 4 to chew through any task, even intensive gaming. And its increased power efficiency is likely helping the handset’s better battery life.

The cameras are a mixed bag. On the one hand, the new night mode is fantastic; but on the other, the daytime photos are less than exciting with Samsung’s characteristic oversaturated look. If the Galaxy Z Flip 4 put out the same photos as the Galaxy S22, we’d be a lot happier. 

Even so, the $999 Galaxy Z Flip 4 is certainly worth your while if you want to jump into the world of foldables. You’ll make some compromises over similarly-priced phones, but the novelty might be worth it to you.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 review.

What is an unlocked Android phone?

When it comes to buying a new phone, you have two options — an unlocked device or one that's tied to a phone carrier. In a nutshell, unlocked simply means you are getting a phone with no connections to a carrier yet.

This allows you to hand pick one of the best cell phone plans for your phone. While unlocked phones are nearly always the cheaper option overall, you do have to pay for the phone up front. (Carriers let you pay off your phone in installments to keep you tied to their service.)

But with one of the best unlocked Android phones, you're free to choose a cheap plan from somewhere like Mint Mobile or opt for service with more of the bells and whistles from AT&T or Verizon.

How we test the best unlocked Android phones

In order for a smartphone to make our best phone list, it needs to excel on several tests that we run on every handset. We perform some of these tests in our labs and some in the real world.

When it comes to performance, we rely on such synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and 3DMark to measure graphics performance. These tests allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result. (We unfortunately have to skip this test on some phones due to app compatibility issues, but we attempt this benchmark with each device we get in to review.)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Performance benchmarks
Row 0 - Cell 0 Geekbench 5 (single-core / muiticore)3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)
Pixel 6a1029 / 269634
Nord N20696 / 19957
Pixel 71054 / 3021N/A
Galaxy A53745 / 188814
Pixel 7 Pro1060 / 3046N/A
OnePlus 10 Pro995 / 348261
Zenfone 91190 / 406958
Galaxy S21 FE1101 / 319934
Galaxy S221222 / 334160
Galaxy Z Flip 41291 / 401567

To measure the quality of a phone's display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Display benchmarks
Row 0 - Cell 0 sRGB (%)DCI-P3 (%)Delta-E
Pixel 6a131.3 (Adaptive) / 111.1 (Natural)93 (Adaptive) / 78.7 (Natural)0.25 (Adaptive) / 0.2 (Natural)
Nord N20179 (Vivid) / 103 (Gentle)127 (Vivid) / 73 (Gentle)0.34 (Vivid) / 0.3 (Gentle)
Pixel 7109.377.40.28
Galaxy A53204 (Vivid) / 123 (Natural)145 (Vivid) / 87 (Natural)0.32 (Vivid) / 0.31 (Natural)
Pixel 7 Pro104.974.30.28
OnePlus 10 Pro173.6 (Vivid) / 119 (Natural)123 (Vivid) / 84.3 (Natural)0.32 (Vivid) / 0.23 (Natural)
Zenfone 9157.3 (Optimal) / 184 (Natural)111.4 (Optimal) / 130.3 (Natural)0.28 (Optimal) / 0.3 (Natural)
Galaxy S21 FE207.4 (Vivid) / 119.8 (Natural)146.9 (Vivid) / 78.5 (Natural)0.32 (Vivid) / 0.29 (Natural)
Galaxy S22213.3 (Vivid) / 112.1 (Natural)151.1 (Vivid) / 79.4 (Natural)0.33 (Vivid) / 0.24 (Natural)
Galaxy Z Flip 4186.7 (Vivid) / 110.1 (Natural)132.2 (Vivid) / 78 (Natural)0.36 (Vivid) / 0.24 (Natural)

One of the most important tests we run is the Tom's Guide battery test. We run a web surfing test over 5G (or 4G if the phone doesn't have 5G support) at 150 nits of screen brightness until the battery gives out. In general, a phone that lasts 10 hours or more is good, and anything above 11 hours makes our list of the best phone battery life.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Battery life benchmark
Row 0 - Cell 0 Battery life (Hrs:Mins)
Pixel 6a6:29
Nord N2011:20
Pixel 77:03
Galaxy A539:48 (120Hz) / 10:38 (60Hz)
Pixel 7 Pro6:31
OnePlus 10 Pro11:52 (120Hz) / 12:36 (60Hz)
Zenfone 913:13 (Adapative) / 12:52 (120Hz) / 13:20 (60Hz)
Galaxy S21 FE7:40 (120Hz) / 9:15 (60Hz)
Galaxy S227:54 (Adaptive) / 8:20 (60Hz)
Galaxy Z Flip 48:33 (Adaptive) / 8:57 (60Hz)

Last but not least, we take the best phones out in the field to take photos outdoors, indoors and at night in low light to see how they perform versus their closest competitors. We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews. 

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.