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.
With Black Friday deals likely to bring lower prices to some of the top phones on our list, here are the best unlocked phones you can buy right now.
Best unlocked phones value in 2022
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.
For a value pick, try the Google Pixel 6a, which uses the same Tensor silicon found in last year’s Pixel 6 phones to deliver premium AI-powered experiences for a sub-$500 price. If you prefer the higher-end Pixels, though, Google just announced the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro; our reviews should be coming soon.
If you’re willing to spend more for your Android phone consider 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
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.)
|Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)||3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)|
|iPhone 14||1727 / 4553||69|
|Galaxy S22||1222 / 3341||60|
|Pixel 5a||581 / 1345||10|
|Galaxy A53||745 / 1888||14|
|OnePlus 10 Pro||995 / 3482||61|
|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.
|sRGB (%)||DCI-P3 (%)||Delta-E|
|Galaxy S22||213 (Vivid) / 112 (Natural)||151 (Vivid) / 80 (Natural)||0.33 (Vivid) / 0.24 (Natural)|
|Galaxy A53||204 (Vivid) / 123 (Natural)||145 (Vivid) / 87 (Natural)||0.32 (Vivid) / 0.31 (Natural)|
|OnePlus 10 Pro||174 (Vivid) / 119 (Natural)||123 (Vivid) / 84 (Natural)||0.32 (Vivid) / 0.23 (Natural)|
|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.
|Battery life (Hrs:Mins)|
|Galaxy S22||7:54 (Adaptive) / 8:20 (60Hz)|
|Galaxy A53||9:48 (120Hz) / 10:38 (60Hz)|
|OnePlus 10 Pro||11:52 (Adaptive) / 12:40 (60Hz)|
|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.