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.
Best unlocked phones value in 2023
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Best unlocked phone overall: iPhone 14
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.
Best unlocked Android phone: OnePlus 11
The OnePlus 11 is one of the unlocked Android devices out there, thanks to a low starting price that doesn't reflect its premium features. That includes the best cameras OnePlus has included on a phone, plus an outstanding Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that delivers great performance and battery life.
Best Android value: Google Pixel 7a
If you're not willing to spend more than $500 on a new phone, check out the Google Pixel 7a. While this phone has added some premium features, it won't cost you more than $499. In exchange you'll get a Tensor G2 processor that enables AI-powered features exclusive to Google's phones, plus great cameras for a budget device.
The best unlocked phones you can buy today
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 raised the stakes with this year's Pixel A series phone, giving the Pixel 7a the kind of features you'd expect to see in a flagship. The 6.1-inch display now features a 90Hz adaptive refresh rate, while the phone can charge wirelessly. Best of all, the Pixel 7a features the same Tensor G2 silicon that powers Pixel 7 flagships.
All these extra features do mean a price hike from the Pixel 6a, but the new phone just costs $50 more than its predecessor, keeping the overall price tag under $500. And if you do yearn for a cheaper Pixel, the Pixel 6a is sticking around with a reduced $349 price tag.
The Pixel 7a turned in better-than-average battery life in our testing, reversing a long-time problem for recent Google phones. And the cameras on the Pixel 7a are as good as ever, making this a great unlocked phone to buy when you don't want to pay flagship prices.
Read our full Google Pixel 7a review.
After the Pixel 7a, the Samsung Galaxy A54 is a strong value among unlocked phones in its own right. Unlike the Pixel 7a, the Galaxy A54 kept its very attractive $449 price tag of its predecessor. However, Samsung improved the phone in other ways, adding a 50MP main camera that helps the Galaxy A54 take very good photos even if the Pixel 7a is just a little bit better. (See our Google Pixel 7a vs. Galaxy A54 camera face-off for more.) We also like that the bright 6.4-inch display offers a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate that doesn't put too much of a hit on battery life. The Galaxy A54 beats the average smartphone on our battery test, and it can last even longer should you set the refresh rate to 60Hz.
You have to make some compromises to get the price under $500, as there's no wireless charging and the Exynos 1380 chipset can't match the performance of either Google's Tensor G2 chip or the A15 Bionic inside the iPhone SE. But otherwise, this is an outstanding choice for phone buyers on a budget, with a generous update policy that extends the life of the Galaxy A54 for years to come.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy A54 review.
When it comes to an unlocked phone, you want the best bang for your buck since you’re more than likely paying for it upfront. Sure, you could drop $1,000 or more on the latest flagship from Samsung or Apple, but what if you could save some cash and get an excellent top-tier phone?
That’s the OnePlus 11, a handset that starts at $699 that offers the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, a beautiful 6.7-inch AMOLED 120Hz display, and battery life that beats most devices on this list. It also rocks some powerful cameras that challenge many of the top phone cameras.
Sure, it doesn’t have the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s ridiculous zoom powers, nor the Pixel 7 Pro’s AI smarts, but it stands as a testament to the OnePlus flagship killers of old. Except this time, it arguably earns that title.
Read our full OnePlus 11 review.
As the most affordable of Samsung's latest flagships, the Galaxy S23 is the best to buy unlocked. After all, it's only $799 unlocked, which is $400 cheaper than the more premium Galaxy S23 Ultra. While the standard S23 lacks that phone's 200MP main camera, you still get a a very good camera setup that includes a telephoto lens — a feature not always available at this price range.
The true star of the Galaxy S23 is the phone's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, an optimized version of Qualcomm's best-in-class silicon. Not only does the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 deliver stellar performance — it even beats the iPhone 14 Pro models on some graphic tests — it also manages power more efficiently, helping the Galaxy S23 last all day on a charge.
A bright display and polished design complete the picture for Samsung's flagship device. If you can swing the $799, this is a great phone to get.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S23 review.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the iPhone 14 is the new kid on the block, we 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.
While no longer the best iPhone, it's still a compelling value and the fact that the iPhone 14 only includes modest improvements will make this the right choice for some shoppers. After all, the iPhone 13 still takes some amazing pictures and Apple's software support will keep it running for years to come.
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 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.)
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)||3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)|
|iPhone 14||1727 / 4553||69|
|Samsung Galaxy A54||781/2664||16.9|
|OnePlus 11||1166 / 4962||84|
|Samsung Galaxy S23||1582/4876||87|
|Motorola Edge Plus 2023||1484 / 4941||84.5|
|OnePlus Nord N20 5G||696 / 1995||7|
|iPhone SE (2022)||1718 / 4482||50|
|Zenfone 9||1190 / 4069||58|
|iPhone 13||1668 / 4436||56|
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||sRGB (%)||DCI-P3 (%)||Delta-E|
|Pixel 7a||129.8 (Adaptive), 111.7 (Natural)||91.9 (Adaptive), 79.1 (Natural)||0.05 (Adaptive), 0.11 (Natural)|
|Samsung Galaxy A54||127.1 (Natural)||90% (Natural)||0.06 (Natural)|
|OnePlus 11||171 (Vivid) / 117 (Natural)||121 (Vivid) / 83 (Natural)||0.31 (Vivid) / 0.24 (Natural)|
|Samsung Galaxy S23||212.1 (Vivid); 128.6 (Natural)||150.2% (Vivid); 91.1% (Natural)||0.34 (Vivid); 0.24 (Natural)|
|Motorola Edge Plus 2023||193.8 (Saturated) / 105.3 (Natural)||137.3 (Saturated) / 74.6 (Natural)||0.39 (Saturated) / 0.18 (Natural)|
|OnePlus Nord N20 5G||178.5 (Vivid) / 103.1 (Gentle)||126.5 (Vivid) / 73 (Gentle)||0.34 (Vivid) / 0.3 (Gentle)|
|iPhone SE (2022)||115||81||0.21|
|Zenfone 9||157 (Optimal) / 184 (Natural)||111 (Optimal) / 130 (Natural)||0.28 (Optimal) / 0.3 (Natural)|
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Battery life (Hrs:Mins)|
|Pixel 7a||10:05 (60Hz)|
|Samsung Galaxy A54||10:20 (adaptive); 11:46 (60Hz)|
|OnePlus 11||13:10 (Adaptive) / 12:48 (60Hz)|
|Samsung Galaxy S234||10:27 (adaptive)|
|Motorola Edge Plus||15:47 (Auto); 13:18 (165Hz)|
|OnePlus Nord N20 5G||11:20|
|iPhone SE (2022)||7:38|
|Zenfone 9||13:13 (Adaptive) / 12:52 (120Hz) / 13:20 (60Hz)|
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.