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Best unlocked Android phones in 2021

best unlocked android phones
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best unlocked Android phones are a fantastic option if you're looking to get a new handset. Buy your phone unlocked and you get plenty of choice without having to commit yourself to a specific wireless carrier and a lengthy data plan.

Unlike the best unlocked iPhones, you've got plenty of choice on the Android side of the aisle.With a massive range of brands including Samsung, Google, OnePlus, Moto and plenty more, you'll be able to find a device that works for you.

When it comes to unlocked Android phones, most of the best choices are either brand's flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and OnePlus 9, or something more affordable like the Google Pixel 4a. You can generally buy these from the phone makers directly or through retailers.

Once you find a handset that works for you, you can then pair it with your choice of 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 then 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

best unlocked android phones: oneplus 9 pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. OnePlus 9

The best unlocked Android phone you can get

Display: 6.65-inch OLED (2400x1080; 120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 48MP main (f/1.8); 50MP ultrawide (f/2.2); 2MP monochrome
Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.4)
Weight: 6.77 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:51 (120Hz); 10:53 (60Hz)
Reasons to buy
+Super fast charging+Powerful processor+120Hz refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-No IP rating for water resistance

The OnePlus 9 has only been out for a little while, but it's rocketed to the top of the list for best unlocked Android phones. And for good reason: The OnePlus 9 is an all-round fantastic handset that's not too expensive while also offering some truly impressive specs.

You'll get incredibly fast charging at 65W thanks to OnePlus' proprietary technology. We were able to nearly fill the phone's drained 4,500 mAh battery after half-an-hour of charging. That battery lasts nearly 11 hours on a charge, even when we had enabled the OnePlus 9 Pro's adaptive display feature, which changes the screen's refresh rate depending on your activity.

It's not all perfect here with no official IP water resistance rating given to the OnePlus 9 Pro as well as some color inconsistencies in photos shot by the 9 Pro's four rear cameras. However, these are minor concerns in an otherwise excellent Android phone.

Read our full OnePlus 9 review

best unlocked android phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Best unlocked Android phone from Samsung

Display Size: 6.8-inch AMOLED (3200 x 1400); 10 to 120Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB, 16GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear camera: 108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor
Front camera: 40MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 8.08 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:25 (60Hz), 10:07 (adaptive)
Reasons to buy
+Impressive 6.8-inch AMOLED display+Top-of-the-line camera+S pen support
Reasons to avoid
-Quite bulky-Very expensive

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is an all-round powerful handset. It's currently Samsung's top-tier handset, and it matches up well against the OnePlus 9 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. (Samsung's phone is more expensive than both of those handsets, though.)

Paying up for the Galaxy S21 Ultra does get you a lot of features. With a 6.8-inch AMOLED display offering a dynamically refreshing 120Hz refresh rate and one of the highest levels of brightness for a smartphone, you're going to love the S21 Ultra's screen. A 5,000 mAh battery keeps the phone powered up, though that 120Hz refresh rate does slightly decrease battery life.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 888 processor, the closest competitor to Apple's A14 Bionic chip and one of the most powerful available. This impacts everything from gaming through to your camera's ability and how fluid the phone feels.

The S21 Ultra then throws in a few extra features like the ability to use a Samsung S pen stylus with your phone. (The accessory is sold separately.) As expensive as the Galaxy S21 Ultra is, you can't overlook all those first-rate features. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

best unlocked Android phones: Google Pixel 4a

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3. Google Pixel 4a

The best value for an unlocked Android phone

Display: 5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 730G
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear camera: 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7)
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 5.04 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:55
Reasons to buy
+Excellent camera+Affordable price tag+Attractive design
Reasons to avoid
-Could be more powerful

At another time, the Google Pixel 4a might be at the top of the list for best unlocked Android phones. While not the most powerful device, it's got a great camera and a low price tag that makes it the best midrange phone you can buy. However, Google's about to release a new version, the Pixel 5a, and if you can hold off another month or so, you may be able to purchase a phone with better specs.

Not that the Pixel 4a is a slouch — it may just have a lone camera lens on the back, but with Google's powerful photo software, that camera produces terrific shots. With a 5.81-inch display, this phone is comfortable to use with one hand. You'll also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, a fleeting sight on smartphones these days.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review.

Best Unlocked android phones: Samsung Galaxy S21

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4. Samsung Galaxy S21

A cheaper alternative to the S21 Ultra

Display: 6.2-inch OLED (2400x1080; 48-120Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 888
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8) wide; 12MP (ƒ/2.2) ultrawide; 64MP (ƒ/2.0) telephoto with 3x optical zoom
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.07 oz
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:53 (60Hz); 6:31 (adaptive)
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic 120Hz refresh rate+Lowest price S21 model+Impressive camera array
Reasons to avoid
-No MicroSD card slot-High refresh rate drains battery

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a more affordable version of Samsung's impressive flagship device. It has many of the top features you'll find in the Ultra — the top-of-the-line processor and the adaptive refresh rate for the display — but the S21 is available for $400 less.

In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is more affordable than last year's Galaxy S20, with a $799 starting price. And most of its features are better than ever.

The most obvious improvement comes in the processor. Using the same Snapdragon 888 that's seen in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, this is one of the most powerful phones out there.

This effects the camera which, while almost identical to last year's in specs, makes use of the more powerful processor and new AI for a vast improvement. However, you do lost expandable storage with this handset and Samsung has also slightly downgraded the screen's resolution. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Best unlocked Android phones: Google Pixel 5

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5. Google Pixel 5

The best unlocked Android phone for taking photos

Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:29 (90Hz)
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous compact design+Excellent camera+Fast-refreshing display
Reasons to avoid
-Underwhelming processing power-No higher storage option

If you want a more powerful camera phone than the Pixel 4a, turn to the Google Pixel 5. Google's flagship from last fall features a pair of rear cameras that produce some of the best shots you'll see from a smartphone.

The 12.2MP main lens and 16MP ultrawide shooter don't sound impressive when compared to other phones that pack in multiple cameras. But Google's AI does what extra lenses cannot, creating great shots now matter what the conditions.

The Pixel 5 is affordable compared to other flagships, but there's a reason for that. Google opted for a less powerful Snapdragon 765G processor that can't measure up to the Snapdragon 8 series chipsets in other top Android phones. Still, at least the 765G supports 5G connectivity.

Read our full Google Pixel 5 review

best unlocked android phones: moto g power 2021

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6. Moto G Power (2021)

Affordable and packed with a giant battery

Display: 6.6-inch LCD (1600 x 720)
CPU: Snapdragon 662
Storage / Expandable: 32GB, 64GB / Yes
Rear camera: 48MP (ƒ/1.7) main; 2MP (ƒ/2.4) macro; 2MP (ƒ/2.4) depth
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 14:04
Reasons to buy
+Big battery+Low price tag+Attractive design for a budget phone
Reasons to avoid
-Not a very powerful screen-Ho-hum performance

Stepping away from the most popular brands of Samsung, Google and OnePlus, the Moto G Power is a surprising standout choice for budget hunters, offering an impressive performance for a low price.

The standout feature here is the handset's battery. Offering a massive 5000 mAh battery, this is more powerful than... well, any other handset on this list including the Note 20 Ultra and S21 Ultra. In fact, only the previous Moto G Power tops the 2021 version on our best phone battery life list.

While the Moto G Power (2021) doesn't use the most powerful processor around, the Snapdragon 662 inside the phone will be good enough for most users. The cameras are also surprisingly solid, given the low price. 

Outside of the battery, the price is the most appealing feature to the Moto G Power (2021), which is available starting at $199 if you don't opt for more RAM and storage.

Read our full Moto G Power (2021) review. 

best unlocked android phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

7. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The best phablet Android device around

Display: 6.9-inch AMOLED (1440x3200)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage / Expandable: 128/256/512GB / Yes
Rear camera: 108MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 7.34 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:26
Reasons to buy
+6.9-inch 120Hz refresh rate screen+Smooth S pen performance+Powerful camera
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Curved display can be annoying

The Samsung Galaxy Note series includes a unique set of devices, and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best one you can get. This is a big device in every way, with a 6.9-inch AMOLED display and an added S pen stylus. That makes the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra a brilliant device for those who use their phone for drawing, writing or as an entertainment tool.

The phone works on 5G networks, and it's powered by a Snapdragon 865 processor — no longer the top Qualcomm system-on-chip, but still plenty powerful. The phone gets a full day of battery life via a 4,500 mAh power pack.

All of that combined with the high-end camera display mean it is no surprise that the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the best unlocked Android phones, though at a starting price of $1,299, it's one of Samsung's more expensive options.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best unlocked android phones: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

A super affordable Samsung handset

Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 750G
Storage / Expandable: 128/256GB / Yes
Rear camera: 64MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.4), 5MP depth (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.67 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:19 (60Hz), 10:19 (120Hz)
Reasons to buy
+120Hz refresh rate+Affordable 5G device+Long-lasting battery
Reasons to avoid
-More powerful Samsung phones available

Like the Google Pixel 4a, the Samsung Galaxy A52 is a brilliant Android phone for those on a tighter budget. Despite being the cheapest Samsung handset on our list of the best unlocked Android phones, the A52 still offers some impressive features for a midrange handset.

Not only does the Galaxy A52 work on 5G networks, but its 4,500 mAh lasts a long time on a charge — more than 12 hours when you use the phone with its display set to a 60Hz refresh rate. Unlike a lot of other midrange phones, though, you can ramp up that refresh rate to 120Hz. That puts a hit on battery life, but you will get a smoother scrolling screen as part of the tradeoff. 

The main rear lens takes some good photos, though the other three rear cameras don't add much to the party. Still, for less than $500, you can get a very capable device that delivers on some of the most important things smartphone shoppers are looking for. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review.

What is an unlocked Android phone?

When it comes to buying a new handset, 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 then 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.

Unlocked Android phones: How we've tested them

We review every phone we feature in these guides, putting them through rigorous testing. That includes benchmark testing to measure the processor and graphics performance, as well as a battery test in which we see how long a fully charged phone can last when it surfs the web continuously. Additional tests include measuring the color accuracy and brightness of displays.

We also consider how much a phone costs, and how available it is. A consideration specific to the best unlocked Android phones is whether they work on all networks — some unlocked phones don't have the necessary bands to work with certain carriers.

To assemble our guide, we consider different price ranges, features and capabilities. This means you'll see a good mix of more affordable handsets and flagship phones.