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Best unlocked phones in 2020

best unlocked phones
(Image credit: Future)

Buying one of the best unlocked phones gives you the freedom to choose the handset you want first and then bring it to the network that works for you.

Don’t worry if you want to switch carriers: It’s super easy to jump from one to another when you own an unlocked phone. And the best part is, you don’t have to pay any early termination fees.

While most unlocked phones support GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, it’s best to look for devices that support all the major U.S. providers, including Sprint and Verizon. That way, you can freely choose to take your device to any carrier. And if you don't like your current service provider or another happens to be offering a better deal, you can always leave. To learn more, see our what is an unlocked phone guide.

The downside of unlocked phones is that they rarely come with the sort of massive promotional discounts you often see carriers peddling, especially to new subscribers agreeing to long-term equipment installment plans. The upside, however, is that there are many inexpensive unlocked options out there that won't break the bank, yet provide flagship-caliber features and experiences for less. We've hand picked some of these devices across a range of prices in the list below to help you find the perfect fit.

What are the best unlocked phones?

The best unlocked phone based on our testing is the Google Pixel 4a. You get Google's best-in-class camera technology in a phone that costs hundreds of dollars less than a flagship phone. Even better, you'll get the Pixel 4a's camera along with a sleek design and bright display for $50 less than the iPhone SE 2020.

Not that you should write off Apple's cheapest iPhone — at $399, the iPhone SE is a great value in its own right, especially since it packs Apple's industry-leading A13 processor into a compact phone0. While every wireless carrier offers the iPhone SE, Apple also sells the device unlocked, giving you the freedom to take it to any carrier.

Those willing to spend more should look into the latest pair of phones from OnePlus. Although it's the more expensive option — and one of the priciest products OnePlus has ever made — the OnePlus 8 Pro is our pick of the two, as it includes premium features like quad cameras, wireless charging and a 120Hz display. The OnePlus 8 features the same top-of-the-line processor along with a 90Hz display, but it's $200 cheaper, so it's a better choice for especially budget-conscious shoppers.

And if both those OnePlus options are still too pricey, we'll remind you the phone maker has an even cheaper alternative out there — the OnePlus Nord. The Nord costs £379, though notably, it won't be offered in the U.S., at least initially. 

If you're primarily concerned about battery life, the inexpensive Moto G Power, which costs just $249, is our undisputed battery life king thanks to a massive 5,000-mAh battery and energy-sipping CPU.

Finally, iOS loyalists who prefer phones larger than the iPhone SE can also get the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro unlocked. Likewise, the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra can all be purchased unlocked, too. While you're less likely to save much by opting for Apple and Samsung's best models without a service agreement, you can at least reduce the price of your next device by trading in your old one.

The best unlocked phones you can buy today

best unlocked phones Pixel 4a

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Google Pixel 4a

The best unlocked phone you can buy

Display: 5.81-inch OLED (2340x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 730G | RAM: 6GB | 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

Best-in-class camera
Attractive design
Low price
Not as powerful as the iPhone SE
Subpar battery life

The Google Pixel 4a is available for $349 unlocked and works on both GSM-based as well as CDMA-based networks, meaning you can take it to pretty much any carrier you like. That’s a big deal, because handsets this cheap typically lack that universal connectivity.

Then you have to consider everything you get as part of the Pixel 4a experience — the bright 5.81-inch OLED display, quality design, solid performance (even if its not at the level of, say, the iPhone SE’s), excellent Google software and update support, and of course the Pixel’s trademark camera make for a phenomenally well-rounded midrange phone. 

The Pixel 4a’s lone downside is its battery life, which pales in comparison to the iPhone SE’s ever so slightly, as well as the longevity you would get in more expensive models. But in every other way, the Pixel 4a really is the most complete phone out there under the $350 mark.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review.

best unlocked phones: iPhone SE 2020

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2. iPhone SE 2020

The best unlocked phone for Apple fans

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

Affordable price
Top-of-the-line A13 processor
Compact design
No Night mode on camera
Big bezels

Apple has one-upped Google with the return of the iPhone SE. Just as Google did last year with the Pixel 3a, Apple has introduced a far less expensive version of its flagship handsets. However, in this device, Cupertino has still included the same processor you'll find in the iPhone 11 lineup — granting a lot of performance muscle in a modest $400 phone.

You'll make some trade-offs for that lower price. Unlike Apple's other phones, the iPhone SE features a single rear camera, though that 12-megapixel lens performed well in our tests. We wish that the iPhone SE supported a Night mode for low light photography, but other shots more than match what Google's camera-focused Pixels can produce.

The iPhone SE also sports other features that typically pass over cheaper phones, like wireless charging. And despite its low price, the new iPhone SE will be supported with new software updates for years to come — a privilege that usually misses comparable Android phones in this segment. That includes iOS 14, which will add a host of new capabilities to the iPhone SE's repertoire when it launches this fall

Read our full iPhone SE 2020 review.

best unlocked phones: Moto G Power

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3. Moto G Power

Epic battery life for under $300

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 64GB / Yes | Rear camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.0) | Weight: 7 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 16:10

The best battery life we've tested
Low price tag
Good performance and photos for the price
Screen isn’t very colorful
No optical zoom

The Moto G Power retains two of the best things about the Moto G7 Power that came before it — the battery and the price. The former helps the latest Motorola phone produce the best result we’ve ever seen on our battery test, while the latter makes the Moto G Power a terrific bargain.

When we ran our battery test on the Moto G Power — continuous web surfing over LTE until the phone runs out of juice — the phone held out for a record time of 16 hours and 10 minutes. That’s more than a half-hour better than the long-lasting Moto G7 Power. It's nearly four hours better than the Moto G Stylus, a phone with similar specs and a built-in stylus — but a smaller battery — that costs $50 more than the Moto G Power.

Meanwhile, that $249 price on the Moto G Power means you won’t have to pay big bucks to enjoy epic battery life. You’ll also get a Snapdragon 665 chipset and triple camera array that keep pace with other phones in this price range.

Read our full Moto G Power review.

Best unlocked phones: OnePlus 8 Pro

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4. OnePlus 8 Pro

The best unlocked flagship value

Display: 6.78-inch OLED (3168x1440) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No | Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.78); 48MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 8MP 3X telephoto (ƒ/2.4); 5MP color filter | Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.5) | Weight: 7 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:05

Bright and beautiful 120Hz display
Long battery life
Strong performance
Curved display causes accidental taps

You can only buy the OnePlus 8 Pro unlocked, either through the phone maker or Amazon. But if you want the best mixe of features and price, you won’t hesitate to bypass a wireless carrier to get your hands on this phone. It packs in premium features while still keeping the overall price out of the stratospheric range that many high-end smartphones command today.

The OnePlus 8 Pro features a gorgeous, colorful display that’s augmented by an optional 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling and move immersive video. While the feature can tax the OnePlus 8’s battery, at least OnePlus doesn’t make you choose between a faster refresh and scaled back resolution the way Samsung does with its latest flagships. 

You’ll get a couple of OnePlus firsts with this Pro model — wireless charging and an IP68 water resistance rating. It’s the wireless charging support that has us excited, particularly since the OnePlus 8 can double the speed of most other wireless chargers. Throw in a top-performing Snapdragon 865 processor and cameras that can keep up with (though not quite exceed) the best camera phones, and you’ve got one of the best unlocked phones around.

Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review.

Best unlocked phones: TCL 10 Pro

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5. TCL 10 Pro

A midrange phone with a premium design

Display: 6.47-inch OLED (2340x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 675 | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Rear camera: 64MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4); 5MP macro (ƒ/2.2); 2MP low-light (ƒ1.8) | Front camera: 24MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.6 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:47

Impressive OLED display
Premium design
Strong battery life
Cameras are hit-or-miss
Gaming performance not the best

TCL has been making smartphones for years under the Alcatel and BlackBerry brands, but the TCL 10 series marks its first global handset release under its own marque. The most powerful model, the $449 TCL 10 Pro, is our favorite of the trio, because it combines a high-quality glass-and-metal design with solid performance and amenities like 128GB of built-in storage, as well as a headphone jack.

The TCL 10 Pro's biggest concession concerns its quad-lens camera system. It comprises wide-angle, ultrawide and macro optics, but doesn't take photos appreciably better than those you get from the likes of the iPhone SE or Pixel 3a in most cases. Still, if you can see past that, this is a compelling option in the realm of midrange unlocked handsets — not to mention a strong debut for TCL as a phone maker in its own right. If you're interested in the TCL 10 Pro, it's also worth noting a 5G model is expected to debut this summer for roughly $500.

Read our full TCL 10 Pro review.

Best Unlocked Phones: OnePlus 8

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. OnePlus 8

Nearly as good as the OnePlus 8 Pro, for much less

Display: 6.55-inch OLED (2400x1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No | Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP macro | Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.0) | Weight: 6.3 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:04

Excellent display
Very good battery life
Powerful processor
No optical zoom
Curved screen is prone to accidental touches

The OnePlus 8 isn’t quite as feature-packed as its Pro sibling. The most significant trade-offs you’ll have to make are a screen that refreshes at 90Hz instead of 120Hz, no wireless charging and — most significantly — no telephoto lens. But you’ll also only pay $699 for an unlocked OnePlus 8, and that’s a really tempting value considering the features you do get in return.

For starters, a screen with a 90Hz refresh rate still offers smooth scrolling and an immersive experience. The 6.55-inch display on the OnePlus 8 also happens to be bright and colorful. And while you may have to plug in your phone to charge it, it won’t need to charge for long — after just 30 minutes, we got a fully drained OnePlus 8 up to 68% of its battery capacity. Not bad for a phone that lasted more than 11 hours on our battery test (albeit it with the less power-hungry 60Hz refresh rate turned on).

Read our full OnePlus 8 review.

Best unlocked phones: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

7. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Still a good premium phone

Display: 6.4-inch OLED (3040x1440) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 512GB, 1TB | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.5, 2.4); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 12MP 2X telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/1.9); 8MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.17 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:35

Immersive Infinity-O display
Excellent cameras
Superb battery life
Hole punch in display a bit distracting
Confusing gesture controls

If money is no object, buy the $999 Galaxy S10 Plus, which is one of the best unlocked phones available from multiple retailers. This 6.4-inch phone provides a top-class Android experience, thanks to a Snapdragon 855 processor that leaves most other Android devices in the dust. The triple camera setup on the back of the S10 Plus approaches Google's Pixel 4 for image quality, and offers more versatility thanks to its new ultrawide lens.

If that's not enough, Samsung's added other innovations, including an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the phone's display and a Wireless PowerShare feature that lets you charge other devices by placing them on the S10 Plus. If $999 is too much, consider the $899 Galaxy S10 or even the $749 S10e (which makes do with just two rear cameras).

Of course, with the Galaxy S20 lineup out now, the price of older Galaxy S10 phones is dropping. Thus, the S10 Plus is an even more appealing buy today, even if its features don't quite match the newer specs of the S20 phones that replace it.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review.
  

Best unlocked phones: iPhone 11

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. iPhone 11

Another unlocked iPhone option

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

Ultra wide camera
Excellent Night Mode
A13 Bionic is fast
Skimpy storage in base model
Fast charger not included

The iPhone SE 2020 may be one of the best unlocked phones you can get, but it's not the only unlocked phone available from Apple. If you're looking for something a little larger, the iPhone 11 is the way to go.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a bigger screen, and the iPhone 11 Pro models have more cameras. But the lower price tag on the iPhone 11 — it starts at $699, which is $300 less than the iPhone 11 Pro — is too attractive to ignore. Besides, you're not giving up that much for those savings. You still get two rear cameras that offer the same features found in the Pro series, like better photos in low light.

The powerful A13 Bionic processor is the same, too, and the iPhone 11 actually outlasts the iPhone 11 Pro in our battery test. The modem in the iPhone 11 isn't as fast, and while it supports fast charging, you'll have to buy your own charger, but these are small sacrifices to make for an otherwise top-notch phone. You can order an unlocked version of the iPhone 11 from Apple.

Read our full iPhone 11 review.

Best unlocked phones: Samsung Galaxy A51

(Image credit: Future)

9. Samsung Galaxy A51

An iPhone SE alternative with a bigger screen

Display: 6.5-inch OLED (2400x1080) | CPU: Exynos 9611 | RAM: 4GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/2.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 5MP depth (ƒ/2.2); 5MP macro (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.07 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:16

Excellent display
Sleek design
128GB of storage
Underwhelming performance
Camera struggles in low light

Between its 6.5-inch OLED display, 128GB of storage, quad-lens camera and 4,000-mAh battery, the Galaxy A51 offers almost everything you could want in a smartphone, but costs just $399. We love this budget Galaxy's design, which manages to be sturdy yet lightweight, with extremely slim bezels more befitting of premium handsets. And best of all, even though the A51 is available through most major carriers, you can also buy it unlocked.

However, it's not perfect. Unfortunately, paying iPhone SE money won't get you iPhone SE performance in the Galaxy A51, as Samsung's Exynos 9611 chipset can occasionally drag during routine tasks. And while it's nice to have all those camera perspectives, the quality of the A51's photography doesn't compare to what you'd get from the Pixel 3a. That said, this Galaxy offers a few perks those other midrange phones don't, and so it's worth a look for buyers with a rigid amount to spend who aren't tempted by Apple's or Google's propositions.

For a closer look at how the Galaxy A51 compares to Apple's new cheap iPhone, check out our Samsung Galaxy A51 vs. iPhone SE 2020 faceoff.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A51 review.

How to choose the best unlocked phone for you

  • Find a phone that works on your carrier: The vast majority of unlocked devices operate on GSM networks in the U.S. These include AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as discount carriers that run on those networks, such as Cricket Wireless, Metro by T-Mobile and Straight Talk. Some so-called multimode unlocked phones also work with CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon, such as all of Apple's iPhones, and the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a.
  • Make sure the coverage map fits your needs: In terms of coverage area, there's less discrepancy between networks than ever before, but there are still gaps, especially in less-populated areas. "Make sure [the phone you're buying] works on a carrier that offers good coverage in your area," advised Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices at market research firm Current Analysis.'
  • Shop around, and don't be afraid to go used: Because some unlocked phone makers skip the carriers to sell their devices, they can often pass those savings onto you. However, don't be afraid to entertain buying one of the best used smartphones, as you can often find very tempting offers on previous-generation flagships from sites like Swappa, Decluttr and even Amazon for refurbished examples.

How we test unlocked phones

Every smartphone Tom’s Guide evaluates is tested for days in real-world use cases and benchmarked with a gamut of performance-measuring apps. We use a light meter to ascertain display quality data, like brightness and color accuracy, and our proprietary battery test determines longevity on a charge by streaming webpages over a 4G or 5G network.

We explore the software, test gaming performance and conduct live camera comparisons with rival handsets. We also factor in network compatibility, so you can be certain whether a device will be operational on your carrier before you buy. Each of these factors plays a part in our comprehensive verdict.

  • mcamodell
    Best phone under $200 is by far and away a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 having better screen PPI and being more vibrant than your choice, the Honor 7x. Also the WiFi support for 802.11AC is a clear advantage as is the pen and IR blaster. Add in the removable battery and the speed tests going easily in favor of the Note4 and you have the obvious winner as the new Galaxy Note 4's are now the same $189
    Reply
  • Bob_Peticolas
    Well, I owned a Moto G5 Plus, and at about 1 year, the call volume dropped to the point I could not hear calls unless I put it on speaker phone and put it to my ear. Motorola says it's a hardware issue and they will replace the phone for $150. Unacceptable. I switched to Nokia 6.1.
    Reply
  • kyle13san
    21158058 said:
    Best phone under $200 is by far and away a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 having better screen PPI and being more vibrant than your choice, the Honor 7x. Also the WiFi support for 802.11AC is a clear advantage as is the pen and IR blaster. Add in the removable battery and the speed tests going easily in favor of the Note4 and you have the obvious winner as the new Galaxy Note 4's are now the same $189
    hey mcamodell, I agree with you on the Note 4 being the best "budget"/old flagship phone right now. Best amoled display, ir blaster, headphone jack, sd card, nfc, it has it all. Problem here is that I'm not sure where to buy a new one online. By new, I mean completely new, OEM in box with accessories. Where can I get a Note 4 for $189?
    Reply