The best unlocked iPhones allow you to invest in the Apple device of your choice, ranging from ultra powerful flagships to the budget handsets. And you can pick your iPhone without having to tie yourself to a carrier.
This gives you more freedom around how much you'll pay for a phone, how long you're signed up for, which carrier you end up choosing and more. Combine all these factors, and the best unlocked iPhones are the obvious route when you're in the market for a new handset, especially when you then pair one with one of the best cell phone plans.
Because Apple only releases a handful of phones each year, you don't have quite a much choice as you would see with unlocked Samsung phones — Apple's closest competitor. But there's still a good number of Apple devices to choose from.
The iPhone 12 range leads the pack as Apple's most advanced devices, offering 5G, the best mobile processors and cameras and of course, high price tags. Last year's iPhone 11 range follows close behind with similar designs and specs, but lower prices.
For those on a tight budget, both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR are excellent unlocked iPhones that both come considerably cheaper than Apple's current flagships.
Here are the best unlocked iPhones available.
The best unlocked iPhones right now
While Apple's iPhone 12 family features four devices, the overall best value option is the iPhone 12, which is not as expensive as the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max. But it gives you more screen space than the compact iPhone 12 mini.
So what are you actually getting with the iPhone 12? The most important feature is the phone's A14 Bionic chip — currently the leading processor on the phone market. 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.
While you will get a more powerful performance out of the Pro or Pro Max models, the iPhone 12 keeps all of the device's most important features and comes in at a much lower price.
Read our full iPhone 12 review.
Right now, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is not just Apple's most powerful handset but also one of the most powerful devices of all, battling with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for the top spot.
As Apple's most powerful handset, it will be no surprise that the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn't come cheap; its price tag tops $1,000. Because of that, the iPhone 12 Pro Max won't be for everyone.
But people who can swing a $1,099 starting price for the best unlocked iPhones will be thrilled with everything the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers. It has a stunning 6.7-inch display, the best Apple camera on the market with a triple lens set-up and a host of AI camera boosts.
Internally, the iPhone 12 Pro Max makes use of the same A14 Bionic chip as the iPhone 12 but uses a more powerful battery, getting you over a full day of usage. Like most other top handsets, the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with 5G compatibility.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review.
The iPhone SE is a unique Apple device — it is Apple's one and only budget handset. Where Samsung, OnePlus and Google all have a couple of lower-cost choices, Apple simply offers the iPhone SE. It's a good thing, then, that this phone packs in so much value for its $399 starting price.
It does take a few sacrifices to get the price down, using a similar body and design to the older iPhone 8. The battery is one of the smaller ones you'll find in an iPhone, and this phone features an LCD screen. (The iPhone 12 marked Apple's complete switch to OLED panels.) More significantly, you get only one rear camera, but at least the iPhone SE remains one of the best camera phones available, thanks to powerful software.
The biggest and best feature here is the processor. Where most affordable phones use midrange processors to get the price down, Apple opted for the A13 Bionic chip —the same as the iPhone 11. While that's no longer Apple's top-of-the-line chipset, the A13 still delivers impressive performance in gaming and photo processing, out-muscling more expensive Android models.
Read our full iPhone SE review.
It wasn't that long ago that the iPhone 11 was the leading choice for the best unlocked iPhone. And while it has faded into the background slightly with the arrival of the iPhone 12 models, the iPhone 11 remains a top choice for anyone considering a new iPhone.
That's mainly due to the drop in price. The iPhone 11 now starts at $599, making it a more affordable option with a still-powerful A13 Bionic chip. You also get a dual camera set-up with excellent night mode features and AI, a full day battery capacity and a pretty sleek design.=
While it does lack more recent iPhone features like 5G compatibility and a telephoto lens with optical zoom, the iPhone 11 does hold onto most of the key features we see with Apple.
Read our full iPhone 11 review.
The iPhone XR is now Apple's oldest device that remains available today. While it isn't anywhere near as powerful as the rest of Apple's handsets, the iPhone XR does come at a price tag well below the iPhone 11 and 12 series.
The iPhone XR sports a 6.1-inch LCD display and makes use of the A12 Bionic chip. While that falls behind what newer iPhones have, the A12 is still an excellent processor and will work perfectly for most people's needs from a smartphone.
One of the best features of the iPhone XR is its battery. When it first launched in 2018, this model had one of the best batteries of any iPhone yet; thanks to its lack of 5G or any intensive drains on battery, you should be able to get through the day on a single charge.
You will find yourself slightly limited when it comes to the camera with the iPhone XR sporting just one rear lens, but that's to be expected with a handset from a few years ago. And Apple does have some pretty powerful computational photography features to produce good photos, even with this older device.
Read our full iPhone XR review.
The iPhone 12 mini is another unique handset, offering a small-bodied smartphone with market-leading specs. In other words, this is the best small phone on the market right now.
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.
Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.
Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro sits comfortably in the middle of Apple's latest line-up. You'll pay a little bit more than you would with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, but you'll get a powerful phone with the best features that only come with Apple's Pro models.
That includes a triple camera set-up with a telephoto lens, even if the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers a slightly better zoom. The iPhone 12 Pro uses the same A14 processor as the rest of the range, works with 5G and features the same Dolby video technology found in the video camera of the Pro Max model.
However, while it is cheaper than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you'll still have to pay $999 for the iPhone 12. The phone is certainly worth it, but you find some of the best unlocked iPhones are available for much less.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review.
While the iPhone 11 is a powerful handset, the iPhone 11 Pro could be a worthwhile upgrade if you're looking for something a bit more powerful. It shares a lot of similarities with the newer iPhone 12 Pro but will cost a bit less.
The iPhone 11 Pro uses the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 while offering an OLED panel instead of an LCD screen. It's also a more compact phone without being as cramped as the iPhone 12 mini.
The other crucial upgrade over the iPhone 11 is the addition of an extra lens. That's particularly appealing if you like to zoom in, as the iPhone 11 Pro offers a telephoto lens.
The iPhone 11 Pro is no longer available through Apple, so to find an unlocked version, you'll need to look to another retailer. (Apple has started selling refurbished iPhone 11 Pro models at its site if you don't mind getting a used phone.)
Read our full iPhone 11 Pro review.
What actually 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.
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.
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.
Our testing includes benchmarking using Geekbench 5 and 3DMark's Wild Life benchmark, among other tests. We measure the accuracy of the colors on the display as well as how bright each screen can get. We run a customized battery test to see how long a phone can last continuously surfing the web, and then we time how long it takes for a phone to recharge.
To test the cameras, we compare the iPhones we're reviewing with other phones in the same price range, looking at various photos to see which device takes the best images. Finally, we consider cost, availability and design in our reviews.