Best unlocked phones in 2024

Apple iPhone 15 held in the hand.
(Image credit: Future)

The best unlocked phones let you get whatever device you want while remaining free from carrier payment plans. Although you have to buy them upfront, you can then bring that unlocked handset to the best phone carrier for your needs. 

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 the best unlocked phones almost certainly support GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, it’s best to look for devices that work with all the major U.S. providers, including Verizon. That way, you can freely choose to take your device to any carrier. Although, you can still technically unlock a carrier phone after it's been paid off, or after a period of time.

The quick list

Here's a summary of the best unlocked phones you can buy right now based on our head-to-head testing of each phone. You can keep on scrolling to get more detail about their strengths and weaknesses, including snippets from our reviews.

The best unlocked phones you can buy today

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Best unlocked phone overall

Apple iPhone 15 review.Top Pick

(Image credit: Future)
The best unlocked phone overall

Specifications

Display size: 6.1-inch OLED (2556 x 1179)
CPU: A16 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.6) main, 12MP (f/2.4) ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP (f/1.9)
Weight: 6.02 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:05

Reasons to buy

+
Outstanding battery life for its size
+
Excellent main camera performance
+
Powerful A16 Bionic chip
+
Brighter Super Retina XDR display

Reasons to avoid

-
Still 20W charging
-
60Hz display refresh rate

The iPhone 15 is the latest entry in Apple’s staple smartphone lineup. This is one of those generational upgrades,  especially in the camera and processor department because it some ways it's similar to the iPhone 14 Pro. The main sensor now has a faster aperture, allowing for better-lit photos. The front-facing camera also has autofocus now, which is great.

You also get the same A16 Bionic that the iPhone 14 Pro had, which means a 5-core GPU for extra gaming performance. The iPhone 15 also makes a substantial improvement to its battery, easily beating out its predecessor by reaching over 11 hours on our battery test. And for $799, the iPhone 15 is a great deal. 

Read our full iPhone 15 review.

Best unlocked Android flagship

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

(Image credit: Future)
The best unlocked Android flagship

Specifications

Display size: 6.82-inch AMOLED (3168 x 1440)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
RAM: 12GB/16GB
Storage / Expandable: 256GB/512GB/1TB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP main (f/1.6), 48MP ultrawide (f/2.2.), 64MP telephoto (f/2.6) with 3x zoom
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.4)
Weight: 7.8 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): Testing not complete

Reasons to buy

+
Wireless charging returns
+
Sharper 3x periscope camera
+
Bright, high-contrast display

Reasons to avoid

-
No AI features at launch
-
Underexposed low light photos

The OnePlus 12 continues to cement OnePlus' reputation as a worthy alternative to Samsung or Google if you're looking for an Android phone. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 inside the phone delivers strong performance, while the 6.82-inch display is so bright that it's viewable in even the harshest conditions.

It's the cameras where OnePlus continues to improve, with the OnePlus 12's telephoto lens improving the zoom capabilities from past years. The entire camera setup produces excellent results, though OnePlus misses out on some of the AI-powered photo processing tools that highlight competing camera phones.

While we're sad to see the OnePlus 12 price go up from the OnePlus 11, at least OnePlus offers a generous trade-in program where you can knock $100 off the cost of an unlocked hone, bringing the OnePlus 12 down to a more attractive $699.

Read our full OnePlus 12 review.

Best unlocked mid-range phone

Google Pixel 8a held in the hand showing off it back casing.

(Image credit: Future)
Best unlocked mid-range phone

Specifications

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Tensor G3
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB/ No
Rear cameras: 64MP (f/1.89) main; 13MP (f/2.2)
Front camera: 13MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 6.8 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:21

Reasons to buy

+
Same price as before
+
Helpful AI features
+
7 years of software support

Reasons to avoid

-
Minor camera improvements
-
Slow charging speed

All eyes are on the Google Pixel 8a, which sets the bar for all other mid-range phones. There were rumors that Google was going to increase its price, but it remained unchanged. That's fantastic news because it means even more value given what comes with the Pixel 8a's package.

Not only does it last longer on a single charge and has a much brighter Actua display, but the most compelling part about the Pixel 8a is that it adopts some of the AI features that were first introduced on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. They help save you time by streamlining tasks, all powered by its Tensor G3 chip. Furthermore, it offers the best software support in a mid-range phone because it's getting 7 years of major Android and security updates. And again, it's offering at the same price as last year's model.

Read our full Google Pixel 8a review.

Best unlocked Samsung flagship

Samsung galaxy s24 review

(Image credit: Future)
Best unlocked Samsung phone

Specifications

Display: 6.2-inch OLED (2340 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB/ No
Rear cameras: 50MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (f/2.4) with 3x optical zoom
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 5.9 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 13:28 (adaptive)

Reasons to buy

+
Same Galaxy AI features as S24 Plus, S24 Ultra
+
Excellent battery life in a compact phone
+
Brighter display than before

Reasons to avoid

-
Snapdragon chipset only in North American models
-
No big camera improvements

At $799, the Galaxy S24 is the most affordable of Samsung's latest flagships. But even though you sacrifice some features for a lower price — the telephoto lens on the S24 isn't as powerful as the one on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, for example — AI features aren't one of them. The same Galaxy AI capabilities that work on Samsung's more expensive models are also available to the Galaxy S24, so you're not being short-changed on the marquee addition to this phone.

There are other improvements, courtesy of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 powering the Galaxy S24. (At least for models that ship in North America — elsewhere, the Galaxy S24 runs on an Exynos 2400 system-on-chip.) Performance tops some iPhone models, and battery life improves by 3 hours over what we measured with the Galaxy S23. The cameras on the Galaxy S24 continue to be top performers, and you'll enjoy its bright, colorful display.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S24 review.

Best alternative Android flagship

Motorola Edge Plus 2023 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Best alternative Android flagship

Specifications

Display: 6.7-inch pOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.8) main; 50MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 12MP (f/1.6) portrait
Front camera: 60MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7.1 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 15:47 (auto), 13:18 (165Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
Costs less than other premium big-screen phones
+
Outstanding multi-day battery life
+
Top performing Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor

Reasons to avoid

-
Inconsistent cameras
-
Curved edges of screen prone to accidental touches

You may not think about Motorola when you think premium phones, but the 2023 edition of the Motorola Edge Plus is going to change that. Equipped with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, the Motorola Edge Plus (2023) delivers the kind of performance that matches any high-end Android handset currently available. That silicon's superior power management coupled with a massive 5,100 mAh battery means the Motorola Edge Plus (2022) lasts a long time on a charge — its 15-hour, 47-minute result on our battery test was around 6 hours longer than the average smartphone.

Best of all, the Motorola Edge Plus doesn't demand a king's ransom. The $799 starting price matches what you'd pay for an iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23. And with a 6.7-inch display capable of refreshing at 165Hz, the Motorola Edge Plus is a whole lot cheaper than other super-sized phones. 

Read our full Motorola Edge Plus (2023) review.

The best unlocked phone under $300

OnePlus Nord N30 5G review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best unlocked phone under $300

Specifications

Display size: 6.72-inch LCD (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 695 5G
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 108MP (f/1.7) main; 2MP (f/2.4) depth; 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Weight: 6.9 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:30 (120Hz); 12:42 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
xtensive battery life
+
Fast wired charging
+
120Hz refresh rate

Reasons to avoid

-
nconsistent photos
-
No ultrawide lens

The OnePlus Nord N30 5G is proof that you don't need big bucks for a functional smartphone that goes above and beyond in several key areas. The best thing about this OnePlus budget phone is its multiday battery, as it lasted 12.5 hours on our battery test, even with its refresh rate at 120Hz. (And yes, this is a budget phone with a fasst-refreshing display.) 50W wired charging means you can top off the battery quickly.

Cameras are the biggest area of compromise starting with the lack of an ultrawide lens. We found the pictures that the OnePlus Nord N30 snapped to be inconsistent in quality so if having a good camera phone is a priority, consider some of the other unlocked options on our list. But that $299 starting price makes it very easy to grab the OnePlus Nord N30 5G with just one upfront payment.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N30 5G review.

The least expensive unlocked iPhone

best unlocked phones iPhone SE 2022 home screen front

(Image credit: Future)
The least expensive unlocked iPhone

Specifications

Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1344 x 750)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP main (f/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:05

Reasons to buy

+
Fastest performance for the money
+
Very good photo quality
+
More durable design

Reasons to avoid

-
Small display with big bezels
-
No Night mode for camera

With the iPhone SE (2022), you can get a brand new Apple phone without having to pay top dollar. Even better, this updated iPhone SE comes with the A15 Bionic chip — the same silicon that powers the iPhone 13 lineup. That means you’re getting best-in-class performance and 5G connectivity from a phone that starts at $429.

There are some trade-offs for that price. Apple hasn’t updated the iPhone SE’s dated look, and there’s still just one camera on the back of the phone. (It also lacks a Night mode, which is our biggest complaint about the iPhone SE.) Still, it’s hard to beat that price for an unlocked phone that can hold its own against the performance of any handset on the market.

Read our full iPhone SE (2022) review.

Best phone under $200

Moto G 5G 2024 review font of phone

(Image credit: Future)
Best unlocked phone under $200

Specifications

Display: 6.6-inch LCD (1612 x 720)
CPU: Snapdragon 4 Gen 1
RAM: 4GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.8) main; 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Weight: 6.8 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 14:36 (automatic)

Reasons to buy

+
Long-lasting battery
+
Super-low price
+
Vegan leather materials

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one guaranteed software update
-
Dim screen

It's hard to beat the Moto G 5G (2024) if you're on a tight budget. For less than $200, you get a phone with credible cameras and good-enough performance (though you will notice some hiccups if you try to play demanding games). The true star of the show is the phone's battery life, which reached 14.5 hours on our test, even with the display refresh rate ramping up to 120Hz.

With a vegan leather back, the Moto G doesn't look like a budget phone, though its screen is on the dim side. We wish Motorola provided more than one Android software update, but at this price, the Moto G 5G packs in a lot of value.

Read our full Moto G 5G (2024) review.

The best small Android phone

Asus Zenfone 10 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best small Android phone

Specifications

Display size: 5.9-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
RAM: 8GB/12GB/16GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB/256GB/512GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP main (f/1.9), 13MP ultrawide (f/2.2)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.5)
Weight: 6 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:34

Reasons to buy

+
Compact frame stands out
+
Powerful performance
+
Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Only two years of software updates
-
Limited cameras for a premium phone

Fans of small phones have few places to turn, but at least the Zenfone 10 is still around, with a snug fit in your hand. One of the few phones around with a screen that's smaller than 6 inches, the Zenfone 10 slips easily into a pocket and seems to remember that mobile devices should be, well, mobile.

There's more than just a small size to recommend the ZenFone 10. A Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor keeps things humming along, and ZenTouch shortcuts proved handy when we took the phone out for a test drive.

You could argue that the cameras should perform better, especially for a phone in this price range, and two years of Android software updates is pretty stingy. Still, those are minor concessions to make if you want a small phone that delivers some big features.

Read our full Asus Zenfone 10 review.

Still a great unlocked phone

iPhone 14

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Still a great unlocked phone

Specifications

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP main (f/1.5), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (f/1.9)
Weight: 6.07 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:28

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent cameras
+
Vibrant display
+
Fast A15 Bionic performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Still just 60Hz refresh rate

While the iPhone 15 is the new kid on the block, we think the iPhone 14 is a good phone for $699. It offers a compelling camera experience, much improved battery life, and all the things that made the iPhone 13 before it good.

Thanks to the A15 Bionic chip powering it, the iPhone 14 can crush through any task you set before it. And with the Neural Engine upgrades, the iPhone 14 can pull off some impressive photography and video recording feats, notably Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode.

While no longer the best iPhone, it's still a compelling value and the fact that the iPhone 15 costs more will make this the right choice for some shoppers. After all, the iPhone 14 still takes some amazing pictures and Apple's software support will keep it running for years to come.

Read our full iPhone 14 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 4a.
  • 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

In order for a smartphone to make our best phone list, it needs to excel on several tests that we run on every handset. We perform some of these tests in our labs and some in the real world.

When it comes to performance, we rely on such synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and 3DMark to measure graphics performance. These tests allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result. (We unfortunately have to skip this test on some phones due to app compatibility issues, but we attempt this benchmark with each device we get in to review.)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Performance benchmarks
Row 0 - Cell 0 Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)
iPhone 156179 / 2518 72.07
OnePlus 12943 / 4,859117.2
Google Pixel 8a1,581 / 4,09353.7
Samsung Galaxy S242235 / 6922120.4
Motorola Edge Plus 20231484 / 494184.5
OnePlus Nord N39 5G904 / 20777.2
iPhone SE (2022)1718 / 448250
Moto G 5G (2024)841 / 1,7916.2
Zenfone 101,451 / 5,02721.9
iPhone 141727 / 455369

To measure the quality of a phone's display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Display benchmarks
Row 0 - Cell 0 sRGB (%)DCI-P3 (%)Delta-E
iPhone 15114.481.10.18
OnePlus 12111.378.90.20
Google Pixel 8a126.5% (Adaptive), 108.9& (Natural)89.6% (Adaptive), 77.2% (Natural)0.24 (Adaptive), 0.29 (Natural)
Samsung Galaxy S24137.5 (Vivid), 120.8 (Natural)97.4 (Vivid), 85.5 (Natural)0.22 (Vivid), 0.24 (Natural)
Motorola Edge Plus 2023193.8 (Saturated) / 105.3 (Natural)137.3 (Saturated) / 74.6 (Natural)0.39 (Saturated) / 0.18 (Natural)
OnePlus Nord N30 5G152.7108.20.09
iPhone SE (2022)115810.25
Moto G 5G (2024)103.2 (Saturated) / 108.5 (Natural)73.1 (Saturated) / 76.8 (Natural)0.23 (Saturated) / 0.23 (Natural)
Zenfone 10148.8 (Optimal) / 175.4 (Natural)105.4 (Optimal) / 124.2 (Natural)0.35 (Optimal / 0.39 (Natural)
iPhone 14117830.26

One of the most important tests we run is the Tom's Guide battery test. We run a web surfing test over 5G (or 4G if the phone doesn't have 5G support) at 150 nits of screen brightness until the battery gives out. In general, a phone that lasts 10 hours or more is good, and anything above 11 hours makes our list of the best phone battery life.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Battery life benchmark
Row 0 - Cell 0 Battery life (Hrs:Mins)
iPhone 1511:05
OnePlus 12Testing not yet complete
Google Pixel 8a11:21
Samsung Galaxy S2413:28 (adaptive)
Motorola Edge Plus15:47 (Auto); 13:18 (165Hz)
OnePlus Nord N30 5G12:30 (120Hz); 12:42 (60Hz)
iPhone SE (2022)7:38
Moto G 5G (2024)14:36 (automatic)
Zenfone 9=1012:34 (adaptive); 12:37 (60hz)
iPhone 149:29

Last but not least, we take the best phones out in the field to take photos outdoors, indoors and at night in low light to see how they perform versus their closest competitors. We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews. 

John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.