Best Unlocked Smartphones 2017

When it’s time to get a new smartphone, you don’t have to turn to a wireless carrier to buy your device. Instead, you can pick up an unlocked version of the phone. Here’s why you would want to go this route.

Unlocked Phone Benefits

  • Your choice of carrier: With an unlocked phone, you can get service from whatever carrier you want, more easily jumping to a new wireless provider if you’re dissatisfied with your service.
  • You own the phone: You’ll also own your unlocked phone outright — no two year’s worth of monthly payments to manage — and you’ll likely get a better return on your unlocked phone should you decide to resell it.
  • No carrier bloatware: Not a fan of apps you don’t need? With an unlocked Android phone, you don’t have to deal with bloatware, which can take up precious room on your phones
  • You can save a bundle: Because phone makers bypass the carriers for unlocked phones, they can often pass the savings onto you. In fact, there are several very good Android phones under $200.

MORE: Unlocked or Carrier? How You Should Buy Your Next Phone

Latest News

  • iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now available: The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are now on sale, and they’re the best phones Apple offers — at least until the iPhone X releases on October 27. Both devices earned high marks in our review of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. We were especially impressed with the performance of the powerful A11 Bionic processor, the inclusion of wireless charging, and the improved dual cameras found on the larger 8 Plus. You can buy either phone unlocked from Apple, starting at $699 for the iPhone 8, and $799 for the iPhone 8 Plus.
  • Sony Xperia XZ1 on sale: Sony’s latest smartphone, the Xperia XZ1, has just hit retailers. Priced at $699, the XZ1 features a 5.2-inch 1080p display and is powered by Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 835 chipset. Around the back, there’s a 19-megapixel camera capable of super slow motion video at 960 frames per second. The XZ1 is compatible with GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, and accepts dual SIM cards.
  • Moto G5S Plus introductory offer: Motorola’s already crowded mid-range family has gained another member — the G5S Plus. In the United States, the $279 G5S Plus will join the existing G5 Plus. (The smaller-sized G5 devices aren’t sold on our shores). However, for a limited time, Motorola has priced the 32GB G5S Plus at $229 — the same as the G5 Plus. The new model comes with a redesigned aluminum chassis, dual 13-megapixel cameras at the back, and replaces the G5 Plus’ 5.2-inch 1080p display with a larger 5.5-inch panel. It’s available unlocked for both CDMA and GSM networks, and can be preordered right now. If you want the 64GB version, you can preorder that G5S Plus for $299, a $50 discount off its regular $349 price. Shipping begins October 5.

Top Picks

You can find many of the best Android flagships available unlocked. As impressed as we are with the Note 8, we still give the nod to the Samsung Galaxy S8 as your best unlocked option since it's available for $125 less than the larger Note 8. However, if you prize a top-performing camera above all else, the dual rear lenses on the Note 8 make it our favorite camera phone.

You can buy an iPhone directly from Apple without having to commit to a carrier. Now that it's out, we think the $799 iPhone 8 Plus is the best choice for an unlocked iPhone, thanks to its industry-best dual rear cameras and longer battery life. (It lasted more than 11 hours on our battery test, versus a little less than 10 hours for the iPhone 8.

Our favorite option for people who want the best bang for their buck is the OnePlus 5. It has many features you’d find on either the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7 Plus, including a sharp AMOLED display, Snapdragon 835 processor and dual rear cameras. You won’t find a high-price tag, though: the OnePlus 5 starts at $479 for a model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

For even lower priced phones, one of our favorite unlocked devices from 2016 — Huawei’s Honor 8 — now runs the latest version of Android, and you can get it for less than $400. If you're on a tighter budget, the $229 Moto G5 Plus gets the nod as our favorite phone for less than $300.

What to Know Before You Go Unlocked

Most cheap unlocked phones can be purchased online, either through the phone makers themselves or via retailer such as Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg and others. Assuming you want 4G LTE speeds, the vast majority of these devices operate on GSM networks in the U.S. That means AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as discount carriers that run on those networks, such as Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS and Straight Talk. Some so-called multimode unlocked phones work with CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon, such as the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.

You can tell which networks an unlocked phone supports by looking at the bands on which it runs (e.g., 850 MHz; 900 MHz; 2,100 MHz; 1,900 MHz; 2100 MHz), but many online product descriptions will also tell you which providers are compatible. "Make sure it 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.

How We Test

We evaluate smartphones based on a wide range of criteria, including design, display, audio, features, performance, camera quality and battery life. Display evaluations include tests for brightness, color gamut and accuracy. For performance, we use a mix of real-world tests, as well as synthetic benchmarks. Our battery life test involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE with the display brightness set to 150 nits.

When considering which unlocked phones to recommend, we compare similarly priced models, with a particular emphasis on budget categories, as we look to recommend handsets that provide a lot of value for their specific price tag.

Smartphones DEALS

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  • Adam_234
    So, which would the author say is better: the OnePlus 3t or the Moto G5 Plus?
  • rgd1101
    Anonymous said:
    So, which would the author say is better: the OnePlus 3t or the Moto G5 Plus?

    They are at different price point
  • PhilipMichaels
    At this point, I would argue that the OnePlus 5 -- which replaces the OnePlus 3T -- provides the most bang for the buck. However, if you don't want to spend more than $300 on a phone, the Moto G5 Plus is the best option at that price range.