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Best unlocked Samsung phones in 2021

best unlocked samsung phones
(Image credit: Future)

The best unlocked Samsung phones let you pick up a new handset without the burden of having to tie your new phone to a phone carrier. That allows you to choose your perfect handset first and then pick exactly which of the best phone carriers is right for you later.

And if you've decided Samsung is the way you want to go but you're not sure which handset fits your needs, we're here to help. Samsung offers an overwhelming amount of devices ranging from powerful flagships through to budget handsets.

While our picks for the best unlocked phones from Samsung go to the powerful Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, budget hunters will be interested in the Galaxy A52 5G or the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G. Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is also a great pick if you enjoy big-screen phablets. 

Samsung just announced a new crop of foldables, and we're still testing both. You can read our initial impressions in our hands-on looks at the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 for now, but we would point out that the lower $999 starting price of the new Flip makes this foldable phone much more attractive as an unlocked option.

Whether it's a flagship you're after, something cheap and cheerful or something in the middle, we've picked out the best unlocked Samsung phones below for you to look through — all perfect to pair with the best cell phone plans. Here's a look at the best unlocked Samsung phones that are currently available.

The best unlocked Samsung phones right now

best unlocked Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best premium Android unlocked phone

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
+Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display+Dual telephoto lenses+S Pen support
Reasons to avoid
-No charger or microSD card

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is certainly not the least expensive option from Samsung. In fact, it is one of the most expensive devices you can get it you don't consider Samsung's foldable options. With that in mind, the S21 Ultra is most definitely not going to be for everyone but if you are after a powerful phone, it will be a great choice for you to go for.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate and Samsung's brightest display yet. That's paired with a super powerful Snapdragon 888 Plus processor and a battery capable of lasting 11 hours on a charge. The S21 Ultra is also the first phone outside of Samsung's Galaxy Note series to work with the powerful S Pen stylus (sold as a separate accessory).

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is near the top of our best Android phones guide and despite its massive size, this phablet is surprisingly comfortable to hold. With such a high level of camera quality and powerful specs, those who can afford the S21 Ultra won't find a better Samsung phone.

If you go directly to the Samsung website, you can also get exclusive colours.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

Best Unlocked Samsung Phones: Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21

One of Samsung’s best flagships for less

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
+Excellent dynamic 120Hz display+Powerful performance+Refined design
Reasons to avoid
-No charger or microSD card slot-Plastic back

The Galaxy S21 Ultra may be the best Samsung phone on the market, unlocked or otherwise, its price will be out of reach for a lot of people, especially since you have to pay that money upfront when buying an unlocked device. If you can't afford Samsung's flagship but like its design and features, the Samsung Galaxy S21 could be better suited to you.

To offer the phone at $799, Samsung went with a plastic design for the S21, but other flagship features remain. You're getting the same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which finishes just behind Apple's A14 Bionic chip as the most powerful around. Samsung also squeezes in a 4,000 mAh battery and 5G connectivity into the Galaxy S21.

As for the display, although it is a slight downgrade from last year's devices in resolution, the Galaxy S21 gets a dynamically refreshing screen, capable of ramping up to 120Hz when you need smooth scrolling and immersive gaming. The cameras on the back of the S21 also measure up well to the best camera phones.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.

Best unlocked samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

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3. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

The best Android flagship value

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): 9:03
Reasons to buy
+Big 120Hz display+Affordable price+Snapdragon 865 processor and 5G
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life disappoints-Faster charger doesn't ship with phone

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the only device from last year's Galaxy S series that is still on sale directly from Samsung. It provides a lot of the great features you'd get with a premium device but at a much lower price than Samsung's usual flagships. It's a phone that compares well to a lot of top flagships, as we found in our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. iPhone 12 face-off.

Despite the lower price, you're getting a Snapdragon 865 system-on-chip with 5G compatibility and a pretty high quality AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate.

However, due to the lower price tag, the Galaxy S20 FE does fall short of the more powerful Samsung devices in a few key areas. It uses a plastic casing instead of the glass or metal bodies of most of Samsung's devices. Its telephoto lens doesn't have as power a sensor as you'll find in other Samsung flagships. Overall, though, this is a great phone to have for less than $700; be aware that a Galaxy S21 FE is rumored to be in the works.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review.

Best Unlocked Samsung Phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung's best Note device so far

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 AMOLED 120HZ display+Smooth S pen experience+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult curve display

Although it launched a year ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra remains one of Samsung's most powerful devices; it's definitely the best version of the Note series yet.

The Note 20 Ultra offers a similar package to the S21 Ultra — the ability to use an S Pen, a large display with a dynamic refresh rate and a powerful processor. The chipset on the Note 20 Ultra is slightly older than the Snapdragon 888 silicon inside the S21, but can still hold its own against any Android phone.

The Note 20 Ultra remains an expensive phone, though you can lower the cost when buying your phone from Samsung by trading in your current phone. We'd expect the price to fall even further as we get deeper into 2021.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best unlocked Samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

The best unlocked Samsung phone on a budget

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
+5G enabled+Affordable price tag+120Hz refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-Other Samsung phones have more processing oomph

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G reflects Samsung's ongoing push to offer more compelling midrange phones that fit key high-end specs into a more affordable device. You'll make a few compromises — the design of the Galaxy A52 won't make you forget the Galaxy S series and the cameras aren't as powerful — but Samsung packed in some impressive features.

Chiefly, the Galaxy A52 5G has a display with a 120Hz refresh rate — not something you typically find in a phone that costs less than $500. While the cameras aren't exactly cutting edge, the 64MP main lens does produce some pretty impressive shots that measure up well against other budget phones.

Opt for the Galaxy A52 5G, and you'll get a 5G ready phone that lasts a while on a charge. And since it starts at $499, that's not a lot of money you'll need to pay upfront when buying the phone unlocked.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review.

best unlocked samsung phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Ice Universe)

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 20

A more affordable Note handset

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.77 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:38
Reasons to buy
+Great camera performance+Stylish design+Affordable price tag
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life isn't great-Only 60Hz refresh rate

While the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best Note device you can buy, it does cost a lot, which can be a big consideration when buying an unlocked phone. That's what makes the less expensive Samsung Galaxy Note 20 an appealing alternative.

You don't get the dynamic 120Hz refresh rate on the regular Note 20, and the main camera is a more straightforward 12MP instead of the Note 20 Ultra's garish 108MP sensor. But the Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset is the same, and you do get the S Pen and all its features.

The cameras may be scaled back from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but the Note 20 still produces excellent shots, and the 64MP telephoto lens helps you zoom in for more detailed shots. Don't expect outstanding battery life with this phone, but otherwise, this more affordable phablet is one of the best unlocked Samsung phones available right now.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review.

best unlocked samsung phones: galaxy s20 plus

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

7. Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

Excellent value from a year ago

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (1440x3200)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.56 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:31 (60Hz); 8:55 (120Hz)
Reasons to buy
+Falling price tag+AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate+Supports 5G
Reasons to avoid
-120Hz refresh rate can drain battery-Refresh rate isn't dynamic

Both the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy S21 flagships have come out more recently, but the Galaxy S20 Plus is still a great option for anyone looking for a stylish and high powered Android phone at a reduced price.

A year ago, the S20 Plus was among the best Samsung phones you could buy, and its specs still impress. From the 4,500 mAh battery, Snapdragon 865 chipset with 5G compatibility, and quad-lens camera, this is a great phone to own, especially if you can find it a discounted rate.

Samsung has stopped directly selling its S20 phones (save for the Galaxy S20 FE), so the Galaxy S20 Plus may prove harder to find. You can still find it from select retailers though if you're looking to buy the S20 Plus unlocked.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.

best unlocked samsung phones: galaxy a32 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

5G on the cheap

Display: 6.5-inch TFT LCD (1600x720)
CPU: Dimensity 720
Storage / Expandable: 64GB / Yes
Rear camera: 48MP (f/1.8) main, 8MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 5MP (f/2.4) macro, 2MP (f/2.34) depth
Front camera: 13MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7.23 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:39 (adaptive), 12:22 (60hz)
Reasons to buy
+Very low price+Four years of security patches+Great battery life+90Hz refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-Subpar HD+ display

Samsung isn't resting on its laurels with the affordable 5G smartphone market. Cue the Galaxy A32 5G, a sub-$300 5G-capable smartphone. It sports many things people love about Galaxy phones, but with some corners cut to keep the price down. The biggest downside is the underwhelming display. The size combined with the low resolution doesn't look great in person.

However, if you're strapped for cash and want a phone with decent cameras, the Galaxy A32 5G is one you should consider. With its big 6.5-inch screen, the A32 is not a small phone. But it packs a 5,000 mAh battery that lasts a really long time — almost 12 hours in our testing with its adaptive refresh rate enabled. You can also expect the Galaxy A32 to go for longer than many other budget options, with Samsung promising three years of Android updates and four years of security patches.

At $280, the Galaxy A32 5G won't win awards for its performance or camera quality, but for people who need a solid phone under $300, this is the phone to look at.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A32 5G review.

What is an unlocked Samsung phone?

An unlocked phone is simply one that isn't tied to any network yet. Generally, you can buy phones unlocked directly from the phone maker and from some retailers. In contrast, a phone bought from a wireless carrier is usually tied to that carrier's network.

If you buy one of the best unlocked Samsung phones, you'll have to buy the phone outright, as carriers are the only ones offering installment plans. (All the better to tie you to their wireless service for a couple years.) But if you can swing the upfront cost of an unlocked phone, you get the freedom to choose your own carrier and get a cheap cell phone plan.

If you're looking for a 5G phone, pay attention to the bands a handset supports. The Galaxy A52 5G, for example, works with sub 6Hz-based networks, but you'll have to look elsewhere for a device that's compatible with Verizon's high-speed mmWave-based 5G. (That would be the Galaxy A42 5G, which is tied to that particular phone carrier.)

Best unlocked Samsung phones: how we've ranked them

We put every smartphone through a rigorous test here at Toms Guide, spending a few days testing each handset in real-world conditions and benchmarking them with a number of performance-measuring apps.

We use benchmarks to measure a phone's processor and graphics performance. We also measure a display's color accuracy and brightness. Additional testing includes our custom battery test in which we have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power. We test the phone's camera by comparing its shots to another handset in the same price range.

We combine all this testing with the device's cost, availability, operating system and a number of other factors allows us to make a decision, coming up with a final rating and buying advice.

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.