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Best unlocked phones in 2022

iPhone 14
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best unlocked phones keep you free of carrier payment plans, even though you have to pay for them all upfront. Not only do you get to pick the device you want, you can then bring that unlocked handset to the best phone carrier for your needs. Of course, the downside is that you have to front your phone's cost upfront in most cases.

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.


Best unlocked phones value in 2022

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Best unlocked phone overall: iPhone 14 (opens in new tab)
Apple's flagship phone is the best device to buy unlocked (though you will pay an extra $30 at Apple to get an unlocked iPhone 14 instead of one tied to a specific carrier.) It's got great cameras, the best performing processor we've tested and a stylish design. Plus, the software experience is second-to-none, with plenty of apps to make your phone even more useful.

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Best overall value: Google Pixel 6 (opens in new tab)
The Google Pixel 6 offers the best value of any unlocked phone, with flagship features in a device that costs $200 less than comparable premium handsets. With the Pixel 6, you get powerful cameras that are backed up by Google's excellent computational photography for photos that stand up well against the images produced by any other phone. A Tensor processor also delivers unique features like real-time dictation and call screening. Be aware that the cheaper Pixel 6a is coming in July.

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Best Android value: Google Pixel 6a (opens in new tab)
If you don't want to spend more than $500 on a phone, turn to the Pixel 6a. For $449, you get a flagship class processor that has incredible AI smarts. The Pixel 6a features the best cameras at this price point. This is the best phone under $500 hands down.


What are the best unlocked phones?

The best unlocked phone is the iPhone 14, since it's among the best iPhones Apple has to offer, even though it costs a lot unlocked. The iPhone SE (2022) might be a better option now that it has 5G connectivity. 

Up until recently, our pick for best unlocked phone based on testing has been the Google Pixel 5a. With the Pixel 6a available, it's hard to recommend that older model, especially with the 6a promising improved performance over its predecessor. And the 6a is a huge upgrade in most ways. However, its battery life gives us pause.

Android fans may also prefer the more premium Pixel 6 experience, while those willing to spend more should look into any of the three Galaxy S22 models from Samsung. All of these devices rank among the best unlocked Android phones

The Galaxy A53 and Galaxy S21 FE are lower-cost options for Samsung fans, though the best price we've found is the sub-$300 cost of the now-unlocked OnePlus Nord N20 5G.

The best unlocked phones you can buy today

iPhone 14Top Pick

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best unlocked phone overall

Specifications

Display size: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No
Rear cameras: 12MP (f/1.5) main, 12MP (f/2.4) ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP (f/1.9)
Weight: 6 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:41

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent cameras
+
Vibrant display
+
Fast A15 Bionic performance
+
Impressive Action mode video

Reasons to avoid

-
Still 20W charging

The iPhone 14 is the latest entry in Apple’s staple smartphone lineup. Not a whole lot has changed since the iPhone 13, but you do get a few upgrades worth noting, especially in the camera department. 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 A15 Bionic that the iPhone 13 Pro had, which means a 5-core GPU for extra gaming performance. While it’s unfortunate that Apple kept the A16 Bionic reserved for the iPhone 14 Pro, the A15 Bionic remains a powerful chip. And for $799, the iPhone 14 is a great deal. 

Read our full iPhone 14 review.

Google Pixel 6 camera module

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

Specifications

Display: 6.4-inch OLED (2400 x 1080; 90Hz)
CPU: Tensor
RAM: 8GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP main (ƒ/1.85), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 7.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:13

Reasons to buy

+
Tensor chip adds smarts to the phone
+
Excellent photo-editing features
+
Android 12 is a welcome update
+
Great price

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life can be short over 5G

If you’re looking for a slightly upgraded experience over the Pixel 5a, then be sure to check out the Pixel 6. The latest phone from Google ticks all of the boxes with powerful hardware, superb cameras, and an affordable price starting at $599. 

If there’s one problem with the Pixel 6, it’s the lackluster battery life. We saw it last several hours shorter than other flagship phones, but we suspect it might have something to do with the older 5G modem — we saw much better battery life on LTE.

Even with the disappointing battery life, the Pixel 6 is an impressive device thanks to its cameras and Tensor-powered smarts. This phone can do a lot, some of which no other phone can do thanks to enhancements in AI and Google Assistant.

Read our full Google Pixel 6 review.

Google Pixel 6a review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best cheap Android phone you can buy

Specifications

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Tensor
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear cameras: 12.2MP (f/1.7) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)
Weight: 6.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 6:29

Reasons to buy

+
Fantastic cameras
+
Fresh design for the Pixel A series
+
Great performance for the price

Reasons to avoid

-
Subpar battery life in our testing
-
Feels a bit cheap

Even though the Pixel 6a costs hundreds of dollars less than the Pixel 6 Pro, it’s still a formidable alternative, particularly if you’re looking to get a great camera phone on the cheap. You even get the same Tensor chip, just like the flagships. Google took a page out of Apple’s book this year.

Tensor means things like Magic Eraser, the photo-editing tool that lets you erase extraneous people and objects from images with a tap. A revamp of the Pixel 6a lets you tone down distracting objects as well.

Battery life could certainly be a lot better on this handset, but for a low-cost camera phone, there’s no better option than the Pixel 6a.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
A great unlocked option for Galaxy fans

Specifications

Screen size: 6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2340 x 1080)
Android version: 12, OneUI 4.1
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Cameras: 50MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto; 10MP front
RAM / Storage: 8GB / 128GB, 256GB

Reasons to buy

+
Most affordable Galaxy S22 model
+
Bright, colorful display
+
Improved zoom and low-light photos
+
Solid performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Below-average battery life

Samsung’s Galaxy S flagships come packed with premium features, but that also means high prices — and that’s a lot to pay in one go when you buy an unlocked phone. The Galaxy S22 takes some of the sting out of that cost with a relatively affordable price tag. It only costs $799, a $200 discount from the Galaxy S22 Plus and $400 cheaper than the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

You’re not making may sacrifices to lower the cost of your Samsung phone. The Galaxy S22 comes with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset in the U.S., the best silicon available for an Android phone. The S22’s screen is very bright, and camera improvements make this one of the better camera options out there, especially for low-light photos and zoom shots. 

Other phones boast better battery life, but few can match the amount of high-end capabilities the Galaxy S22 offers for less than $800. And fans of compact phones will appreciate how easy it is to use this 6.1-inch device with just one hand.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S22 review.

best unlocked phone OnePlus Nord N20 5G

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

Specifications

Display: 6.43-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 695
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB /Yes
Rear cameras: 64MP (f/1.8) main, 2MP (f/2.4) monochrome, 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:20

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful design
+
Good performance for the price
+
Outstanding battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Very underwhelming cameras
-
Software updates won't go past Android 12

Despite a sub-$300 price, you still get a lot of features in the OnePlus Nord N20 5G. The budget phone has a polished design that hides its bargain price, and the Snapdragon 695 delivers solid performance. Long battery life contributes to the overall value of the phone, as the Nord N20 5G held out for more than 11 hours on our test — an excellent result.

Though it's been out for a while, the Nord N20 is a newcomer to our best unlocked phone list, as the phone had been tied to T-Mobile. That's no longer the case, as you can buy the N20 5G unlocked, though you will need to take it to a wireless carrier that uses T-Mobile's coverage if you want to enjoy 5G speeds. Still, the low price of the Nord N20 5G makes this phone awfully hard to pass up, especially at a time of rising costs.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N20 5G review.

best unlocked phones Samsung Galaxy A53 display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Samsung’s best budget phone

Specifications

Display: 6.5-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Exynos 1280
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 64MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 5MP macro (f/2.4), 5MP depth (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:49 (120Hz), 10:38 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
120Hz refresh rate on display
+
Capable midrange phone with lower price
+
Expandable storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Pointless macro and depth sensors
-
Other Samsung phones are more fully featured

Pending the Pixel 6a's arrival, the Galaxy A53 is a great choice if you’re shopping for an unlocked phone because of its low price tag — $449. That’s $50 cheaper than its predecessor, but more importantly, it means the Galaxy A53 costs hundreds of dollars less than the latest Galaxy S phones. And it hits that price with only a few compromises.

The Exynos 1280 chipset powering the Galaxy A53 doesn’t have the oomph of the leading Android silicon inside the Galaxy S22 models, but it will handle most taks for most smartphone users. The Galaxy A53 also has features you wouldn’t expect in a midrange phone like a 120Hz refresh rate. Battery life is solid and the phone’s design is better than what you’ll see from cheaper phones.

There are fancier options than the Galaxy A53, but few phones can deliver all the features this handset does offer for less than $500.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A53 review.

a photo of the OnePlus 10 Pro

(Image credit: Future)
The best Android phone for the money

Specifications

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (3216 x 1440)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.8) main, 50MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 8MP (f/2.4) 3.3x telephoto
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Weight: 7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:52 (120Hz), 12:39 (60Hz)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent battery life
+
Beautiful new design
+
Best OnePlus cameras to date
+
Lower price than last year

Reasons to avoid

-
Telephoto is just 8MP

The OnePlus 10 Pro proves how far OnePlus has come. The Chinese phone maker has given us its best device yet, one with beauty, brawn, and camera prowess that keeps pace with other great phones like the Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra.

With stellar battery life and peak performance, the OnePlus 10 Pro handles any task you could want. Thanks to the new cooling system, the phone is also a powerful gaming device. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor doesn’t get as hot, so it doesn’t need to throttle as much as some other Android phones.

In our battery life testing, the OnePlus 10 Pro went for nearly 12 hours in its adaptive 120Hz refresh rate mode. That easily beats the Galaxy S22 Ultra and comes close to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. And with 65W charging, you can nearly recharge the phone from empty to 100% in 30 minutes. The best part is that you get all of this for $899.

Read our full OnePlus 10 Pro review.

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.

Back view of Asus Zenfone 9

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

Specifications

Display: 5.9-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1
RAM: 8GB, 16GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.9) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.45)
Weight: 6 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 13:13

Reasons to buy

+
Great battery life
+
Excellent performance
+
Good cameras overall
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Photos can be a bit warm

When looking at the best unlocked phones, we like to see things that make a handset standout. In the case of the Zenfone 9, it’s the diminutive size and horsepower. This little guy is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, which is the most powerful processor you can get in an Android phone right now.

Starting at $799 for the base model, the Zenfone 9 does a lot of what you could want from a smartphone, minus a telephoto lens. Its cameras are pretty good all things considered, even with the slightly warm tones that add a yellowish tinge to some photos. 

The Zenfone 9 hits hard, especially since it’s such a little phone. 

Read our full Asus Zenfone 9 review.

A blue iPhone 13 held in front of green foliage

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

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

+
Improved cameras
+
Better battery life
+
Excellent performance
+
Base model has 128GB of storage

Reasons to avoid

-
20W charging

While the iPhone 14 is the new kid on the block, we still think the iPhone 13 is a good phone for $699. It offers a compelling camera experience, much improved battery life, and all the things that made the iPhone 12 before it good.

Thanks to the A15 Bionic chip powering it, the iPhone 13 can crush through any task you set before it. And with the Neural Engine upgrades, the iPhone 13 can pull off some impressive photography and video recording feats, notably Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode which rely heavily on the iPhone 13’s AI strengths.

This is the best iPhone for most people with its affordable price (and 128GB of storage on the base model). It’ll take some amazing pictures and videos, go for years to come, and offer you a top-tier 5G experience on whatever carrier you choose.

Read our full iPhone 13 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 (opens in new tab) 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.)

Performance benchmarks
Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)
iPhone 131668 / 443656
Pixel 61029 / 269634
Galaxy S221222 / 334160
Pixel 5a581 / 134510
Galaxy A53745 / 188814
OnePlus 10 Pro995 / 348261
Pixel 6 Pro1027 / 276040
iPhone SE (2022)1718 / 448250
Zenfone 91190 / 406958
iPhone 13 mini1733 / 464361

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.

Display benchmarks
sRGB (%)DCI-P3 (%)Delta-E
iPhone 13110780.26
Pixel 6101720.28
Galaxy S22213 (Vivid) / 112 (Natural)151 (Vivid) / 80 (Natural)0.33 (Vivid) / 0.24 (Natural)
Pixel 5a120850.32
Galaxy A53204 (Vivid) / 123 (Natural)145 (Vivid) / 87 (Natural)0.32 (Vivid) / 0.31 (Natural)
OnePlus 10 Pro174 (Vivid) / 119 (Natural)123 (Vivid) / 84 (Natural)0.32 (Vivid) / 0.23 (Natural)
Pixel 6 Pro104740.3
iPhone SE (2022)115810.21
Zenfone 9157 (Optimal) / 184 (Natural)111 (Optimal) / 130 (Natural)0.28 (Optimal) / 0.3 (Natural)
iPhone 13 mini117830.27

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.

Battery life benchmark
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)
iPhone 1310:33
Pixel 68:13 (Adaptive) / 8:01 (60Hz)
Galaxy S227:54 (Adaptive) / 8:20 (60Hz)
Pixel 5a9:45
Galaxy A539:48 (120Hz) / 10:38 (60Hz)
OnePlus 10 Pro11:52 (Adaptive) / 12:40 (60Hz)
Pixel 6 Pro7:43 (Adaptive) / 7:55 (60Hz)
iPhone SE (2022)7:38
Zenfone 913:13 (adaptive), 12:52 (120Hz), 13:20 (60Hz)
iPhone 13 mini8:54

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. 

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.

  • 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