The best unlocked phones are all about freedom. With an unlocked device, you’re not beholden to a certain carrier. If you want to jump ship, you’re free to go the network of your choosing without having to pay off the remainder of the device or fork over hundreds for early termination fees.
Based on our testing, the Google Pixel 3a is the best unlocked phone for most people; this sub-$400 handset is one of the best Android phones out there and features a camera nearly on par with Google's pricier Pixel 4. You can buy the Pixel 3a unlocked through Google's online store and use it on any carrier.
OnePlus has made a habit of offering premium features for hundreds of dollars less than high-end flagships, and the OnePlus 7T continues that lineage while preserving most of the 7 Pro's headline features in a cheaper package.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is an outstanding unlocked option if you don't mind paying a premium; on the iOS side, the iPhone 11's $699 price tag is most appealing among newer iPhones. See all of the best unlocked phones below.
The best unlocked phones to buy now
1. Google Pixel 3a
The best unlocked phone overall
Screen: 5.6-inch LCD (2280x1080) | Processor: Snapdragon 670 | Cameras: 12 MP (Rear);8 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 4 GB/64 GB
Google's least-expensive Pixel ever is available directly through Verizon and T-Mobile, but you can still buy the Pixel 3a unlocked from Google's online store, and take it to any network you like. That's a good thing, because this $399 phone is a bargain-hunter's dream. It's got the same great camera as the flagship Pixel 3, but the 3a costs $400 less.
The Pixel 3a also delivers the best battery life ever from a Google phone, lasting nearly 12 hours on our test. Even the newer Pixel 4, which costs twice as much, doesn't get anywhere near that longevity. Of course, you'll make some compromises on processor speed and the quality of the OLED display with the 3a, but if you want the best unlocked phone, Google's value proposition is hard to beat.
Read our full Pixel 3a review.
2. Moto G7 Power
Epic battery life for under $300
Screen: 6.2-inch LCD (1512x720) | Processor: Snapdragon 632 | Cameras: 12 MP (Rear);8 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 3 GB/32 GB
Unlike some unlocked smartphones, the Moto G7 Power boasts the capability to work on any network in the U.S. — whether GSM-based carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, or CDMA ones like Verizon and Sprint. And that's a fortunate thing, because the G7 Power has the sort of epic battery life that everyone can appreciate, no matter what network you subscribe to. Because of its endurance, this is the best unlocked phone under $300.
Motorola's bargain topped 15-and-a-half hours of endless website streaming over T-Mobile's LTE towers in our testing. Most handsets are lucky if they reach 10 hours. And on top of that, the G7 Power boasts serviceable performance from a Snapdragon 632 chipset, pure Android software that rivals Google's Pixels and a super-bright 6.2-inch screen, all for the low, low price of $249.
Read our full Moto G7 Power review.
3. Samsung Galaxy A50
A great unlocked phone under $350
Screen: 6.4-inch AMOLED (2340x1080) | Processor: Exynos 9610 | Cameras: 25 MP main, 8 MP wide and 5 MP depth (Rear);25 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 4 GB/64 GB
Samsung's best unlocked phone for on a budget, the Galaxy A50 undercuts the Pixel 3a by $50. And while the A50 doesn't have Google's trademark camera, it does have a trio of lenses that help it achieve ultrawide and shallow depth-of-field shots. It also happens to have the finest display we've ever seen on a phone this inexpensive: a 6.4-inch Full HD+ AMOLED panel with slim bezels and an Infinity-U notch.
The A50 looks like a flagship and runs nearly as well, thanks to Samsung's sturdy Exynos 9610 silicon and 4 GB of RAM. And unlike the Pixel 3a, Samsung thoughtfully includes a microSD slot inside the A50, meaning you should never run out of space. Whereas the A50 was initially only available through Verizon and Sprint, today you can order the phone unlocked and bring it to any carrier.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy A50 review.
4. Asus ZenFone 6
The best under $500
Screen: 6.4-inch LCD (2340x1080) | Processor: Snapdragon 855 | Cameras: 48 MP and 13 MP (Rear/Front) | RAM/Storage: 6 GB/64 GB
There's nothing out there quite like Asus' ZenFone 6. On the back, you'll find two cameras: one main 48-megapixel sensor mated to a 13-MP ultra-wide shooter for landscapes. That's not particularly special in and of itself, but what makes the ZenFone 6 unique is that these are the very same cameras the phone uses for selfies as well, thanks to a hinged design that allows the entire photography stack to swivel up to 180 degrees.
This best unlocked phone takes a novel approach with an immediate benefit, in that you're getting the same quality in front-facing photos as you would out the back of the device. Bundle in a speedy Snapdragon 855 chipset, massive 6.4-inch LCD panel with very scant bezels and astonishing 15-hour battery life (thanks to a 5,000-mAh power pack), and you could certainly make the argument the $499 ZenFone 6 is the best handset Asus has ever made.
Read our full Asus ZenFone 6 review.
5. OnePlus 7T
The best unlocked flagship value
Screen Size: 6.55 inches | Android Version: 10 with Oxygen OS | Processor: Snapdragon 855+ | Cameras: 48 MP, 16 MP and 12 MP (Rear); 16 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 8 GB/128 GB
Why spend four digits when you can get OnePlus' excellent 7T — packed with top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855 Plus power, a 90Hz display and 128GB of built-in storage — for nearly half the price? One of the best unlocked phones with flagship-level performance, the OnePlus 7T provides a trio of serviceable cameras, including telephoto and ultrawide-angle lenses, phenomenal build quality, a beefy 3,800-mAh battery and OnePlus' Warp Charge 30T, which gets the device to upwards of 60 percent juice after just 30 minutes using the stock adapter.
Buyers also receive Android 10 out of the box, bolstered by OnePlus' fantastic OxygenOS front end that adds tons of useful features, like improved gesture navigation and Zen Mode — a digital wellness feature that forces you to disconnect for moments out of your day. While we wish the 7T lasted a bit longer on a charge, it's hard to find fault with the overall package. It's certainly the greatest bargain in flagship handsets we saw in 2019.
Read our full OnePlus 7T review.
6. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
The best unlocked premium phone
Screen: 6.4-inch OLED (3040x1440) | Processor: Snapdragon 855 (NA)/Exynos 9820 (WW) | Cameras: 16 MP, 12 MP and 12 MP (Rear);10 MP and 8 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 8, 12 GB/128 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB
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).
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review.
7. iPhone 11
The best unlocked iPhone
Screen: 6.1-inch OLED (1,792 x 828) | Processor: A13 Bionic | Cameras: Dual 12 MP (Rear);12 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: Unknown/64, 256, 512 GB
The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the 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.
The benefits of buying an unlocked phone
- Your choice of carrier: Unlike some phone sold by carriers, unlocked phones aren't exclusively limited to one network. Some, like the Moto G7, are compatible with all of the Big Four carriers, though most are limited to GSM networks only like AT&T and T-Mobile. This means you may not have to change your phone if you want to change your service provider.
- 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. Because unlocked phones can be used on any carrier, they typically sell for more secondhand.
- No carrier bloatware: Not a fan of apps you don’t need? With an unlocked Android phone, you don’t have to deal with carrier bloatware, which can take up precious room on your phone's storage. (And if you do run out storage space, you can always move apps to an SD card, assuming your unlocked device has a microSD card slot.) However, bloatware provided by the manufacturer or seller, in the case of Amazon's Prime Exclusive phones, may still be present.
- You can save a bundle: Because phone makers skip the carriers for unlocked phones, they can often sell devices at a reduced cost. In fact, there are several very good Android phones under $300.
What you should know before you go unlocked
- Where to buy: Most cheap unlocked phones can be purchased online, either through the phone makers themselves or via retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg and others.
- Which carriers are supported: 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, Metro by T-Mobile and Straight Talk. Some so-called multimode unlocked phones work with CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon, such as the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.
- Your carrier's coverage map: 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.
How we test unlocked phones
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.