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Best unlocked iPhones in 2021

Included in this guide:

best Unlocked IPhones
(Image credit: Future)

Choose one of the best unlocked iPhones, and you can pick up your favorite Apple device without making any commitment to a wireless carrier. Instead, you can just pick up the iPhone that's caught your eye, whether it's  an ultra powerful flagships or one of Apple's low-cost options.

This gives you more freedom around how much you'll pay for a phone, how long you sign up for wireless service, 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 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 the iPhone 13 is upon us.

Here are the best unlocked iPhones available, now that Apple has reshuffled its iPhone lineup and we've gotten to thoroughly test the iPhone 13 models.

The best unlocked iPhones right now

best unlocked iphones: iphone 13tom's guide top pick

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. iPhone 13

The best unlocked iPhone

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:33
Reasons to buy
+Brighter display+Great cameras+Very good battery
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks 120Hz display-Slower charging than rivals

We think the iPhone 13 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 13 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 bigger battery in the iPhone 13 helps it last longer than  the iPhone 12 did. A power efficient A15 Bionic chipset helps, too, and that processor offers a performance boost over the previous generation of iPhones. Photos are much better now that Apple boosted the camera sensor size for the main shooter.

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 13 review.

best unlocked iphones: iphone 13 pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. iPhone 13 Pro

Your best bet for an unlocked iPhone Pro

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.5), 12MP ultrawide (f/1.8), 12MP telephoto (f/2.8) with 3x
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:42
Reasons to buy
+Adaptive display that's really bright+Excellent cameras+Long-lasting battery
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive to buy unlocked-Fast charging limited to 20W

There’s little difference between the two iPhone 13 Pro models this year, and that’s great news for unlocked phone fans. That means you can get all the great additions to the Pro lineup with the $999 iPhone 13 Pro instead of paying up for the more expensive iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Those additions include a ProMotion display that can ramp up the refresh rate to 120Hz when you’d benefit from smoother scrolling and immersive game-playing. The cameras now feature bigger sensors than before for better low-light photography, and the telephoto lens offers an improved 3x optical zoom. A bigger battery helps makes the iPhone 13 Pro last a very long time.

Buying the iPhone 13 Pro 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 13 Pro review.

Best unlocked iphones: iPhone SE 2020

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. iPhone SE

The best cheap iPhone yet

Specifications
Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1334x750)
CPU: A13 Bionic
RAM: 3GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 5.22 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:18
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+Fast A13 processor+Compact design
Reasons to avoid
-No Night mode on camera-Big bezels

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.

best unlocked iphones: iphone 13 mini

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. iPhone 13 mini

The most compact unlocked iPhone

Specifications
Display: 5.4-inch OLED (2340 x 1080)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.48)
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 4.97 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:41
Reasons to buy
+Excellent cameras+128GB of storage in base model+Affordable starting price
Reasons to avoid
-Unlocked model costs a little extra-No 120Hz display

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.

Best unlocked iPhones: iPhone 11

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. iPhone 11

A great choice with an even lower price

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch LCD (1792x828)
CPU: A13 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4) / 12MP
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.84 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:20
Reasons to buy
+Ultra wide camera+Excellent Night Mode+A13 Bionic is fast
Reasons to avoid
-Skimpy storage in base model-First released in 2019

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 both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, 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 $499, 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.

best unlocked iphones: iPhone 13 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. iPhone 13 Pro Max

Apple's most powerful iPhone

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch OLED (2778 x 1284)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.5), 12MP ultrawide (f/1.8), 12MP telephoto (f/2.8) with 3x
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:16
Reasons to buy
+Best cameras in a phone+Superior performance+Cinematic video mode+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-A lot of money to pay upfront

You'll have to pay $1,099 up front for an unlocked iPhone 13 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 13 Pro, this model features a fast refreshing display that adjusts automatically to what you're doing, ramping up the speed when you'd benefit from smoother scrolling. The cameras are outstanding, too, and the A15 Bionic inside the phone powers the best performance of any handset.

Apple's largest phone isn't for everybody, but people who want the very best Apple has to offer should opt for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Read our full iPhone 13 Pro Max review.

Best unlocked iphones: iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

7. iPhone 12

Still a worthwhile iPhone

Specifications
Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532x1170)
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 5.78 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:25
Reasons to buy
+Apple's cut the price+Impressive dual cameras+Incredible performance
Reasons to avoid
-Only 64GB of base storage-No charger or headphones in box

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.

best unlocked iphones: iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. iPhone 12 mini

5G, small and very powerful

Specifications
Display: 5.4-inch LCD (1792x828)
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 4.76 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:25
Reasons to buy
+Perfectly sized for small phone fans+Super powerful A14 processor+Lower starting price
Reasons to avoid
-Shorter battery life than iPhone 12-No charger in box

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.

best unlocked iPhones: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

9. iPhone 12 Pro Max

Last year's best phone still impresses

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch OLED (2532x1170)
CPU: A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256, 512GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 8.03 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:53
Reasons to buy
+Best Apple camera available+Immersive 6.7-inch display+Powerful processor
Reasons to avoid
-No 120Hz refresh rate-Very expensive

It's no longer Apple's most powerful phone — that honor goes to the iPhone 13 Pro Max — but the iPhone 12 Pro Max is still one of better iPhones out there. You won't find it in Apple's current lineup, so if you want the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you'll need to find an unlocked version at a retailer. If you do, make sure it's less than the $1,099 Apple chargers for the newer iPhone 13 Pro Max. 

If you can swing its starting price, you'll still be thrilled with everything the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers. It has a stunning 6.7-inch display, a top camera 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, though its support is more extensive than a lot of phones.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max 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.

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.

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.

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.