Skip to main content

Best unlocked smartphones 2019

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 to one of the best phone carriers without having to pay off the remainder of the device or fork over hundreds for early termination fees.

If you’re looking for an unlocked phone, you’re likely hunting for a bargain. Fortunately, there are more than a few options out there, including the $249 Moto G7 Power and its impressive 15-hour plus battery life. We'd recommend paying up for Google's Pixel 3a, though, as this sub-$400 handset is one of the best Android phones out there and features a camera nearly on par with Google's more expensive Pixel 4. You can buy the Pixel 3a unlocked through Google's online store and use it with 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. For those still looking to save a bit more, the Asus ZenFone 6 offers innovative dual cameras and extra-long battery life, yet keeps its price tag below $500.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is an outstanding unlocked option if you don't mind paying a premium; on the iOS side, you've got a choice between the iPhone 11's low price, the iPhone 11 Pro's compact size, or the iPhone 11 Pro Max's giant screen. Since unlocked phones are about bargains, we think the iPhone 11's $699 price tag is most appealing, though Apple's also keeping last year's iPhone XR around for $599.

Alternatively, if getting something unlocked isn't as much of a priority for you, check out our list of the best smartphones overall.

The best unlocked phone

Google Pixel 3a

Google Pixel 3a

The best unlocked phone

Screen: 5.6-inch LCD (2280x1080) | Processor: Snapdragon 670 | Cameras: 12 MP (Rear);8 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 4 GB/64 GB

Powerful Camera
Sub-$400 Price
Long battery life
OLED display
No wireless charging
Display could be brighter
No water resistance

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. It 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 value from an unlocked phone, Google's proposition is hard to beat.

Read our full Pixel 3a review.
  

The best under $300

Moto G7 Power

Moto G7 Power

The best under $300

Screen: 6.2-inch LCD (1512x720) | Processor: Snapdragon 632 | Cameras: 12 MP (Rear);8 MP (Front) | RAM/Storage: 3 GB/32 GB

Incredible battery life
Solid performance
Quality software
Low price
Works on all networks
Bland design
Not great for gaming
Low-res display

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. Motorola's latest 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.
  

The best under $350

Samsung Galaxy A50

Samsung Galaxy A50

The best 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

Best display for the price
Design reminiscent of flagships
Low price
Solid performance
Camera falls short of Pixel 3a
Battery life is underwhelming
Verizon and Sprint exclusive
Feels a little cheap

With the Galaxy A50, Samsung has undercut 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.

The best under $500

Asus ZenFone 6

(Image credit: Future)

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

Epic battery life
Performance matches more expensive Android flagships
Innovative camera setup
Sub-$500 price tag
So-so display
Delay switching to selfie cam
Phone feels heavy
Frustrating button layout

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. It's 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.

The best unlocked value

OnePlus 7T

(Image credit: Future)

OnePlus 7T

The best unlocked 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

Phenomenal value
Great software
Blistering performance
Speedy charging
Excellent build quality
Macro mode works well
Camera bump is an eyesore
No wireless charging
Battery life is just average

Why spend four digits on an iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S10 Plus 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? 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've seen all year.

Read our full OnePlus 7T review.

The best unlocked premium phone

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

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

Immersive Infinity-O display
Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor works well
Excellent cameras
Very fast performance
Superb battery life
Headphone jack
Hole punch in display a bit distracting
Pricey
Confusing gesture controls

If money is no object, buy the $999 Galaxy S10 Plus, which is available unlocked from Samsung. 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. And 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.
  

The best unlocked iPhone

iPhone 11

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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

Ultra wide camera
Excellent new Night Mode
A13 Bionic is faster than ever
Strong battery life
Skimpy storage in base model
Fast charger not included
iPhone 11 Pro models have faster modem

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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.