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Best unlocked Android phones in 2021

best unlocked android phones
(Image credit: Future)

The best unlocked Android phones give you ultimate control over your smartphone buying experience, rather than buying your handset through a wireless carrier. When you buy 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.

That's quite a contrast from the best unlocked iPhones, where you're stuck with whatever Apple has to offer. The best unlocked Android phones, in contrast, include options from Samsung, Google, OnePlus, Motorola and many more. There's likely a device that fits your exact needs.

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. OnePlus and Motorola both offer compelling budget buys as well.

Generally, these 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 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: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best unlocked Android phone you can get

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: oneplus 9 pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. OnePlus 9

Another great unlocked Android phone

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 phones: google pixel 5a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Google Pixel 5a

Still the best value for an unlocked Android phone

Display: 6.43-inch OLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear camera: 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7), 16MP (f/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 6.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:45
Reasons to buy
+Spectacular cameras+Big, bright display+IP67 water resistance
Reasons to avoid
-Older chipset-Limited to US and Japan

At another time, the Google Pixel 5a 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. It bests its predecessor, the Pixel 4a, with a bigger display and battery, plus 5G and a second camera.

The Pixel 5a is no slouch — with Google's powerful photo software, the two cameras produce terrific shots. With a 6.43-inch display, this phone might be a bit large for some hands (and it's considerably larger than the 4a). You'll also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, a fleeting sight on smartphones these days.

For $449, the Pixel 5a is one of the best Android values right now. While it might have middling performance, its incredible cameras, big battery, and 5G make it a great phone to buy for budget-conscious buyers.

Read our full Google Pixel 5a review.

Best Unlocked android phones: Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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. And unlike the forthcoming Pixel 5a, the rumored Pixel 6 isn't due until the fall, so the Pixel 5 is still a very up-to-date phone.

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

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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.

OnePlus Nord N200 5G review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

9. OnePlus Nord N200 5G

The cheapest unlocked 5G phone

Display: 6.49-inch LCD (2400x1080; 90Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 480 5G
Storage / Expandable: 64GB / Yes
Rear camera: 13MP (f/2.2), 2MP (f/2.4) macro. 2MP (f/2.4) depth sensor
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.1)
Weight: 6.67 oz
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:28
Reasons to buy
+Excellent fast-refreshing 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 N200 5G.

While this is certainly a budget phone — the disappointing camera performance confirms that — you do get some premium features in the OnePlus Nord N200 5G, including a 90Hz refresh rate that produces smoother scrolling than what more expensive phones with 60Hz displays can yield. We also like the battery life, which outperformed the average smartphone even with the faster refresh rate enabled.

The OnePlus Nord N200 5G is available through T-Mobile, but OnePlus also sells its new budget phone unlocked, both at its own store and at various retailers. If you're looking to get a 5G phone without spending big bucks, the OnePlus Nord N200 5G certainly deserves some consideration.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N200 5G 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.

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.

Alex is an editor at Future with a focus on phones and broadband. With an eye on the best prices across both of these areas, Alex is bringing you the must-have bargains right now.