The best unlocked iPhones let you enjoy the full Apple phone experience without being tied to a carrier or some sort of payment plan. Simply pick up the iPhone that suits your taste and budget, whether it's the flagship iPhone 14 or an older model that's had its price cut.
This way you get a lot more freedom with monthly payments and which wireless service you sign up for. Combined, all these factors mean the best unlocked iPhones have a heck of a lot to offer. And, if you're in the market for a new phone it's also worth checking out the best cell phone plans to get the best all-round experience.
Because Apple only releases a handful of phones each year, you don't have quite a much choice as you would see with the best unlocked Android phones. But there's still a good number of Apple devices to choose from if you don't want to commit to a carrier, especially now that Apple has an iPhone SE that brings 5G connectivity to the company's least expensive handset.
The best unlocked iPhones right now
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We think the iPhone 14 is the best unlocked iPhone to buy because it packs in a lot of features while keeping its price around $800. That’s important when buying an unlocked phone, as you’ll likely have to buy the device outright to enjoy the freedom of taking it to a carrier of your choosing. While the iPhone 14 starts at $799, be aware Apple charges $30 extra over the carrier-tied versions for an unlocked model.
Still, think of what you get for that price. The main and selfie cameras are even better than before, thanks to new sensors and Apple's Photonic Engine, the A15 chipset (although unchanged from last year) has better performance, and there are fun new features to try like Action Mode video.
Compared to the iPhone 13, the year-on-year upgrade isn't as large as it's been previously. But all told, the iPhone 13 is a vast improvement over its predecessor, even if it lacks some of the more advanced features found in the iPhone 13 Pro models.
Read our full iPhone 14 review.
There’s little difference between the two iPhone 14 Pro models, which is great news for unlocked phone fans. That means you can get all the great additions to the Pro lineup with the $999 iPhone 14 Pro instead of paying up for the more expensive iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Those additions include the Dynamic Island cutout which adds new notification and update abilities to the top of the display, a brighter screen, a 48MP main camera, and a new A16 Bionic chip for unmatched performance.
Buying the iPhone 14Pro unlocked means having to pay the full $999 upfront, which is a tall order. But the device you get in exchange is well worth the money.
Read our full iPhone 14 Pro review.
Apple really put some effort into improving the iPhone 13 mini over last year's effort, boosting the battery size and using larger sensors for the camera. Battery life is longer than what the iPhone 12 mini offered, though it's still below average for a smartphone. The camera improvement is more successful, as the iPhone 13 mini takes better pictures in low light.
You won't get the advanced features of the iPhone 13 Pro series, like a fast-refreshing display, though Apple did increase the brightness of the mini's 5.4-inch panel. Just be aware that there's an additional $30 tacked on to the iPhone mini's relatively low $699 starting price for unlocked versions of this compact phone.
Read our full iPhone 13 mini review.
Apple revived its old Plus model with the iPhone 14, giving users a way to get its largest 6.7-inch display size but without spending all that money on the Pro Max and its advanced features.
You don't get a 120Hz refresh rate or a telephoto camera, but that's par for the course with non-Pro iPhones. Fortunately you do instead get an excellent battery life, plenty of power from the A15 Bionic chipset, and great photos from the main, ultrawide and selfie cameras. The iPhone 14 Plus makes a great unlocked iPhone for those who don't want to splash out on the iPhone 14 Pro Max but find the 6.1-inch basic iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro too small for their liking.
Read our full iPhone 14 Plus review.
You'll have to pay $1,099 up front for an unlocked iPhone 14 Pro Max, but you'll find that it's well worth the money. This is Apple's best phone by some measure.
Like the iPhone 14 Pro, you get a new display with a Dynamic Island instead of a notch, increased brightness, a 48MP main camera sensor and a new Action mode video setting. Even better, the iPhone 14 Pro Max has incredible battery life, lasting much longer than any rivals.
Apple's largest phone isn't for everybody, but people who want the very best Apple has to offer should opt for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Read our full iPhone 14 Pro Max review.
Even with the iPhone 14 available, the lack of major changes to Apple's $799 phone means the iPhone 13 remains a viable choice for many people, especially now that Apple's older phone costs less. By skipping more recent iPhones, you won't get a slightly improved A15 Bionic chipset in the iPhone 14 or the camera improvements in the new models. But the iPhone 13 is a worthy upgrade from older phones, and now it costs less than before at $699.
One of the best things about this model is its storage — Apple includes 128GB with the base model after years of forcing people to upgrade from the skimpy 64GB if they wanted a higher capacity.
As with any iPhone 13 model, the real story here is the cameras. The iPhone 13 still features two rear lenses, but they have bigger sensors than the iPhone 12's, leading to improved low-light photography. The iPhone 13 also supports Cinematic mode for shifting the focus in videos.
Read our full iPhone 13 review.
If budget is a concern when you’re looking for your next unlocked iPhone, then look no further than the iPhone SE (2022). This is the little phone that could, providing a mostly premium experience in the compact iPhone 8 body. It has some drawbacks and compromises, but all told, it’s a great device.
It has the same A15 Bionic processor as the regular iPhone 13 models, though it lacks some staple features like Night mode. You also won’t get support for Verizon’s mmWave 5G network with the new SE, but at $429, you can’t have everything. For that, the iPhone 13 mini or iPhone 12 mini is a better bet. If money is still a concern, but you want more modern features like Night mode or an ultrawide camera, the iPhone 11 is the next best choice.
Still, the iPhone SE (2022) is a great entry on this list and it will make a lot of people happy. If you want a 5G iPhone under $500, this is it.
Read our full iPhone SE (2022) review.
With the iPhone 13 now available, the iPhone 12 sticks around, but at a lower price. Apple has dropped the phone down to $100, though you'll still pay an extra $30 for the unlocked iPhone 12. (Buy the iPhone 12 through a carrier, and you'll pay $699; it's $729 unlocked.)
The phone is powered by Apple's A14 Bionic chip — not as powerful as the A15 inside the iPhone 13 models, but still a top performer. The A14 inside the iPhone 12 delivers high-end gaming, the full potential of the phone's camera AI, 5G connectivity and more.
Past the processor, you're getting a dual camera with 12MP wide and ultrawide lenses, 5G capabilities, a 6.1-inch display and a battery life that will easily get you through a day.
Read our full iPhone 12 review.
The iPhone 12 mini is another unique handset, offering a small-bodied smartphone with market-leading specs. The iPhone 13 mini surpasses it, but you can now get the iPhone 12 mini for a lower price, making it an attractive option if you want the best unlocked iPhone.
In essence, the only noticeable differences between this model and the iPhone 12 are its size and price. The iPhone mini is the most affordable iPhone 12 handset and comes in at a size of 5.4-inches.
While that screen is going to be far too small for some, it is a great size for using your phone with a single hand. You also get 5G connectivity and a powerful A14 Bionic process — the same chip in the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup. Like the iPhone 12, an unlocked iPhone 12 mini costs $30 extra over the reduced $599 price Apple now charges.
Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.
What is an unlocked iPhone?
You might be thinking to yourself, what we actually mean by "unlocked" iPhones. This simply means that your handset isn't connected to any carrier yet, giving you the option of picking the carrier you prefer.
This could be a carrier you are already with or one you think would work well with the phone you have selected. Whether that is Verizon, Mint Mobile, T-Mobile or something else.
The benefits of this are the fact that you can completely choose who you end up with. And while you can in most cases simply go directly to a carrier and get a phone, choosing an unlocked model is often cheaper and gives you more choice. One exception to that rule — the unlocked iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 cost $30 more than the carrier-tied versions when you buy those phones through Apple. Apple is also charging that $30 premium for unlocked versions of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. There's no extra charge on the unlocked iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Apple is as good a place as any to buy the best unlocked iPhones, as it has a trade-in program that lets you save on your phone purchase. Trade in an iPhone 8 or newer and you can save between $100 to $700 on any of the new iPhone 13 models. Newer phones are eligible for the bigger discounts.
How we test the best unlocked iPhones
With all of the iPhones on this list, we have made sure they have been put through multiple tests so we know where they rank. This not only involves us using each Apple phone for a set period of time but also running tests.
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)||3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)|
|iPhone 14||1727 / 4553||69|
|iPhone 14 Pro||1891 / 5469||74|
|iPhone 13 mini||1733 / 4643||61|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||1882/ 5333||74|
|iPhone SE (2022)||1718 / 4482||50|
|iPhone 12||1593 / 3859||51|
|iPhone 12 mini||1602 / 4123||54|
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||sRGB (%)||DCI-P3 (%)||Delta-E|
|iPhone 14 Pro||120||85||0.25|
|iPhone 13 mini||117||83||0.27|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||117||83||0.26|
|iPhone SE (2022)||115||81||0.21|
|iPhone 12 mini||118||83||N/A|
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Battery life (Hrs:Mins)|
|iPhone 14 Pro||10:13|
|iPhone 13 mini||8:54|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||14:42|
|iPhone SE (2022)||7:39|
|iPhone 12 mini||7:28|
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.