In this modern age centered on technology and the internet, smartphones are very essential. Everyone has a smartphone nowadays because it’s an all-in-one gadget. There are many ways to get these gadgets, and many mobile carriers offer smartphone plans at a discount. However, the problem with such offers is that the phones you get are usually locked. That means they can only work for the mobile provider you got them from. If you ever need to change your SIM card for a trip abroad or emergency, you can’t use a locked smartphone.
That is why getting an unlocked phone is your best alternative, especially if you don’t want to be restricted to a cellphone carrier’s lock-in contract. In this article, we’ll be talking about the best unlocked phones around. Unlocked phones can accommodate most if not all kinds of networks. Keep on reading to find out more.
What Are Unlocked Phones?
There are many phone carriers out there today. But as we already know, they only provide phones that work with a specific network provider. If you’re using the same carrier as the locked phone you’re eyeing on, then you’re in luck. But locked phones are very restrictive. If you want to travel overseas and you need to use a different SIM card, then you won’t be able to use a locked phone.
As opposed to locked phones, an unlocked phone can work with any network carrier without restrictions. With this type of phone, you can change the SIM card easily without having to worry if your phone would work. Also, if you move to a different area and your current network provider has signal problems, you may have to change to a different network. Unlocked phones are versatile and won’t hassle you in having to stick to a network provider and its lock-in period.
Phones should be useful at all times, and when you need to change the SIM card for whatever reason, you should be able to do so. Thankfully, you can do this all with unlocked phones. You can also avail cheaper and more practical prepaid plans from any network provider to work with these devices.
Best Unlocked Phones
We’ve curated the best-selling phones from Amazon with top ratings so you can choose which phone to get. Depending on your budget or features that you’re looking for, we’ve included them all in our top picks. You’ll be able to switch from one network provider to another without having to worry about your phone not working or getting any reception.
Google Pixel 3A
The Google Pixel 3A is the most recommended by Wired and rated at 9/10. You can get yours for less than $400 and can even compete with phones over $800. It gives such an amazing performance that even the Pixel 4 could be beaten. The camera of the Pixel 3A is just outstanding! With a 12.2-megapixel rear camera, you may not think it’s that great, but it captures consistently good quality photos and videos. You can compare its photo and video quality with a lot of phones that are marketed to have the best AI cameras. It has a Google Night Sight, which takes the best dark mode or night shots without looking grainy.
You will definitely feel quality in your hands with the Pixel 3A. This phone is made from polycarbonate. They now make most phones from glass, but polycarbonate is actually more durable and is much cheaper. Running on a mid-range Snapdragon processor, you get very smooth and speedy performance. The processor will give you access to regular Google feature updates and monthly security.
Unfortunately, it’s not water-resistant or waterproof. So you will still need a waterproof case to keep it safe during your extreme adventures. You’ll also find that the screen quality isn’t the best around. Even if it’s a full notch-less screen, graphics may not look very good.
- Works on almost all major network providers
- Guaranteed to have three years of software updates
- Takes great quality photos
- Doesn’t support wireless charging
- Doesn’t have a very attractive design
We know OnePlus as one of the best mobile phones at competitive prices. Since its debut in 2014, OnePlus has made a name for itself in the Android game. Compared to its predecessors, the OnePlus 8 isn’t as affordable. Unfortunately, this phone doesn’t support wireless charging, unlike the previous models. But you’re still definitely getting the best features with this phone at such a reasonable price. The display of the OnePlus 8 is amazing with 90Hz AMOLED. The colors are vibrant and the animation looks smooth.
The design of this phone is also aesthetically pleasing. You’ll get eye-catching colors in “Interstellar Glow” and “Glacial Green.” The two colors look beautiful and are something you can definitely be proud of when you take it out of your pocket. It has three rear cameras that capture good quality photos and videos, plus a battery that can last you a day with one charge. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 864 processor. This allows you to use heavy apps and still have a smooth and speedy experience. It runs on Android 10 with Oxygen OS, so the interface is tidy, clean, and responsive.
- Has Warp Charging that lets you rapidly charge the phone
- Works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon
- Clutter-free design
- Beautiful 90Hz display
- Smooth and speedy performance
- No headphone jack
- Storage not expandable
- Does not support wireless charging
Samsung Galaxy S20
If you’re looking for the best unlocked premium phone, then the Samsung Galaxy S20 is just right for you! The Samsung Galaxy S20 is one of the best phones of this year. The screen has one of the best displays you can get that refreshes speedily. Users have commended how beautiful the screen looks and how well it performs. With three rear cameras, you will take the best photos! It has a 12-megapixel wide lens, a 6-megapixel telephoto lens, and 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensors. You can get up to 3x optical zoom and 30x digital zoom with its outstanding cameras.
It runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor and has a RAM of 123 GB. This gives you the best smooth and speedy performance, even with heavy app use. The battery life on this phone is also phenomenal at 4,000 mAh! You can get an entire day of use with it and it even has reverse wireless charging! Lastly, it also supports 5G networks, so your internet connection is also fast!
- Runs on the latest Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 864 processor
- Exceptional photo quality from triple rear cameras
- High capacity 4,000 mAh battery
- Reverse wireless charging
- Beautiful 120Hz AMOLED display
- Can support 5G networks
- Inferior zoom on the camera
- The fingerprint sensor, not the fastest around
- Has a tendency to heat with heavy app use
Motorola One Action
The Motorola One Action’s highlight is its stunning wide-angle camera. Considered as among the best camera phones, it’s targeted towards users who want action photography for their adventures. But even those who are just into taking photos and videos at wide angles can surely enjoy this smartphone. The rear and front cameras take high-quality 4k videos so you will get the best footage of anything. You’ll be happy to know that this phone performs well, even with heavy gaming or app use. It doesn’t have many lags, so you’ll have quite an enjoyable experience with it. The phone has tiny bezels and has branding on the front. But the selfie camera hole is a little big, which may turn off some people.
- Has an ultra-wide 21:9 screen
- Great quality ultra-wide camera
- Good overall performance
- Captures high-quality images and videos
- Runs on Vanilla Android OS
- Has an average battery life
- Not so aesthetically-pleasing selfie camera hole
- Doesn’t support rapid charging
Redmi Note 8
Looking for a large and bright screen for a mid-range phone may not be the easiest to do. But the Redmi Note 8 makes it possible. The notch on top of the screen for the front camera is small and won’t really take up much of your screen space. It’s the first of Xiaomi’s line to run on MIUI 11. It’s been commended for its clean and clutter-free software. While most other Android phones have a cluttered software, the Redmi Note 8 is easy on the eyes. Running on the Snapdragon 665 chipset, your app usage and gaming won’t be compromised. You can also get decent photos with its quadruple rear cameras.
The 18W charger gives you fast-charging, and it even has a USB Type-C port! You won’t be disappointed with the design either, because it looks luxurious and the build is very good, too. Speaking of build, you’ll be happy to know that it has Gorilla Glass 5 for the screen. No need to worry about your screen getting shattered easily. However, the LED light for notifications is a bit small to be noticed. Also, the rear cameras are mounted on the phone, which may turn off some people. But for a mid-range phone, it can definitely meet your daily demands and more!
- Runs on Snapdragon 665
- Uses USB Type-C
- Has a 3.5mm headphone jack
- Has a MicroSD card slot
- Exemplary battery life
- Mounted rear cameras
- Cameras needing improvement
- Has bezels with branding on the front
Sony Xperia 1
Sony has made a comeback with the Sony Xperia 1! This phone can capture brilliant photos, just like what the old Xperia phones have been known for. Videos are also stabilized, so you’ll be able to take the best videos as well. As expected from Xperia, this phone has a very simple and clean UI, which a lot of Android users will surely enjoy. The HDR OLED screen will make watching videos and gaming pleasures to do. And with a Snapdragon 855 chipset, you won’t experience lags or being slowed down by heavy app-use.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. But with very good-quality speakers, you can still enjoy listening to music while charging your phone. This phone also has bezels on the top and bottom parts of the screen, which might not be preferred by some.
- Beautiful HDR OLED screen
- Snapdragon 855 chipset
- Great quality speakers
- Good cameras that can capture high-quality photos and videos
- Simplistic and clean UI
- No night mode
- Battery life not the best
- No wireless charging
- No headphone jack
Huawei Y9 Prime
The Huawei Y9 Prime offers a pop-up selfie camera at a mid-range price. This phone has a full screen and doesn’t have any bezels or notches. The front camera packs a punch at 16-megapixels. On the back, it has three cameras. You’ll get a 16-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide lens, and a 2-megapixel depth lens. You can record high definition videos at 1080p at ten frames per second. One charge will last you a whole day with its hefty 4,000 mAh battery. Running on 4 GB of RAM, you’re sure to enjoy a decent response from this phone. It also looks stunning with colors like “Sapphire Blue” and “Emerald Green.” These colors are very eye-catching. However, this phone may not be the best for gamers since it experiences lags.
- Good battery life
- Decent cameras
- Full-screen display
- Motorized pop-up selfie camera
- Quite bulky design
- Experiences lags when gaming
Samsung Galaxy A71
We’ve featured a few Samsung models in this article, and we’re also including another as this one does not lag behind the best Samsung phones. The Samsung Galaxy A71 has a beautiful design without bezels. The camera on the top is placed seamlessly as well. Although the body is made from plastic, it has a laminated finish that looks and feels just like glass. It’s a very aesthetically-pleasing phone! You also get a large 6.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, which displays vibrant colors. There are four rear cameras. You get a 65-megapixel primary lens, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 5-megapixel portrait lens, and a 5-megapixel macro lens. You’ll be sure to capture great photos and videos with this phone.
You’re in for a treat with performance with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor and 5 GB of RAM. Keeping files is a breeze with 128 GB of storage, which is expandable. And you’ll get more than a full day of use with it because of the 4,500 mAh battery capacity. An added perk to this phone is that it includes a 64 GB microSD.
- Large 6.7-inch AMOLED screen display
- Four rear cameras
- Aesthetically-pleasing design
- Has a 3.5mm headphone jack and expandable storage
- Great performance
- No U.S. warranty
- Doesn’t have very good speakers
- Doesn’t take excellent photos in low light
- Has many preloaded apps that aren’t all useful
Samsung Galaxy S10e
Looking for an unlocked phone that you can easily lug around or put in your pocket? The Samsung Galaxy S10e is a great choice! With most phones nowadays getting bigger and bigger, it’s somewhat hard to find a good compact phone. With a bigger phone, you need to use both hands to hold it properly. The Galaxy S10e is compact enough for you to hold with just one hand. This makes it easier for you to text or play games without having to worry about not holding it properly. Bigger phones tend to slip with just one hand.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e has the same capabilities as the other S10 and S10+ models. With a bright 5.8-inch AMOLED screen display, you’re in for an enjoyable experience. You can watch your favorite movies or videos, as well as playing your favorite games. It runs on a Snapdragon 855 processor and has a good RAM of either 6 GB or 8 GB. (This would depend on which model you get.) So, you’re sure to have a smooth and speedy experience as you run heavy apps. You’ll also get a 128 GB internal storage, which is good enough to store all your favorite apps and files. But its memory is also expandable, so in case you need some extra space, then you won’t have to worry.
It also supports wireless charging and doesn’t have bezels. It’s beautiful for such a tiny phone. You’ll be able to pay through Samsung Pay, so making online payments is quick and easy.
- Great camera that captures high-quality photos and videos
- Nice compact design
- Great build quality
- Beautiful bright display
- Good battery life
- Ultra-wide camera is lacking an autofocus
- Oddly high-positioned fingerprint sensor
- Not the best Night Mode feature
- Slow charging
Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL
Are you looking to buy an unlocked phone with a good quality camera? Then Google’s new flagship phone might be right up your alley. We all know the iPhone 11 targets its consumers with the best camera. But the Google Pixel 4 (or 4 XL) can definitely give you a run for your money. The dual-camera on the back gives you a Portrait Mode to capture photos with a blurred background. It also has a 2x zoom telephone lens that you can use for close-ups or macro shots. Capturing photos in Night Sight mode gives you great photos. Even under low light, your photos won’t end up being grainy or blurry.
The screen gives you great graphics with a 90Hz quality. You can unlock the phone with Face Unlock, similar to iPhone models. Unfortunately, the battery doesn’t pack a punch. You won’t get a day of use from it if you like to use heavy apps. If you need a longer-lasting battery, then you can choose the Pixel 4 XL variant, which has a bigger battery.
- Beautiful display with rich colors
- Great camera quality
- Has a unique design with texture
- Has Face Unlock
- No ultra-wide lens camera
- No fingerprint sensor
- Face Unlock doesn’t work with eyes closed
Honor is a company owned by Huawei. Now, given that Huawei is a trusted brand, it’s also safe to say that Honor can keep up with its reputation. The Honor 9X is worthy to be on our list because it has great features at an affordable price. While Huawei releases high-end flagship phones, Honor gives the same feel and quality at a much affordable price range.
Right off the bat, the phone is attractive. It feels nice on the hand and it should because of its glass body and aluminum frame. With colors like “Sapphire Blue” and “Midnight Black,” you’ll get a very aesthetically-pleasing phone. You get a full-screen notch-less display. And for selfies, there’s a motorized pop-up camera. It takes very good photos, but there can be some noise or grains under low light. The battery is 4,000 mAh, which is long-lasting and can make it through the day. However, this phone may not be for gamers. It runs on a HiSilicon Kirin 710F processor, which experiences lags in gaming. But it will definitely keep up with you on your usual day-to-day activities.
- Expandable memory (up to 512 GB)
- Great battery life
- Motorized pop-up camera
- Notch-less screen
- Experiences lag in gaming
- Doesn’t support rapid charging
- Audio quality not very good
Moto G Stylus
The Moto G Stylus looks so good for a phone that just costs $300. It even has a stylus that is useful for people who like to take down notes or doodle. This phone doesn’t have notches or bezels, which something you’d definitely enjoy when watching videos or playing games on. The front camera is just a little hole on the screen which won’t make much difference for your viewing pleasure. It has a 4,000 mAh battery that can last you the whole day with just one charge.
You’ll be happy to know that it can withstand occasional splashes as well. With a Snapdragon 665 processor, you can enjoy heavy app use and gaming without experiencing lags. For photography enthusiasts, this phone can take very good photos. It has three rear cameras. The 48-megapixel main wide-angle camera is able to combine light information or four pixels into one pixel. According to CNET, this technology is called “pixel binning.” For what it costs, it packs a punch. We highly recommend this for jotting and drawing.
- Minimum bezels or notches
- Smooth performance
- Good quality speakers
- Stylus can have more features
- No wireless charging
- Not completely waterproof
Samsung Galaxy A20s
Samsung takes a lot of places in our top picks of the best unlocked phones. And all for the right reasons, because Samsung caters to all needs and budgets! Another addition to our list is the Galaxy A20s from good ol’ Samsung. It offers a great battery life at 4,000 mAh, which can last you the whole day with a single charge. The notch is placed nicely on the top of the screen. Bezels are slim and that makes this phone look very classy and fancy. It feels solid and great to hold. But it’s still made from plastic, so it will collect fingerprints and make scratches obvious.
Considering that this phone is affordable, the 6.4-inch AMOLED screen at 1,650 x 720 resolution isn’t very sharp. It’s not the best for people who want to enjoy movies and videos in high definition. The two rear cameras and selfie camera can produce very decent photos, especially under good lighting. The biggest drawback of this phone is the performance. It’s not for gaming and heavy app use. But for an everyday phone, the Galaxy A20S can definitely suffice.
- Excellent form factor
- Decent camera quality
- Excellent battery life
- Performance can sometimes be laggy
- Plastic body
- Poor sound quality
Doogee S95 2020
The Doogee S95 is the most unique phone we’re featuring on our list. That’s because this phone is fully-rugged. This means that it’s virtually indestructible! The body is made from hard-wearing rubber and metal. It’s completely scratch-proof, waterproof, and shockproof. This phone is aimed at adventure-goers and people who are just not good at babying their phones. You won’t have to worry about dropping your phone or spilling drinks on it because it’s made to withstand any impact or splash.
It also features three rear cameras, which is good for taking photos of your adventures and outdoor activities. With a 48-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide lens, and an 8-megapixel depth sensor, you will get good and clear photos. It supports MiraVision tuning, which lets its users customize their photo quality, depending on their preference.
Running on Snapdragon 710 and an 8 GB RAM, you can get excellent app use and gaming experience on it. With a battery of 5,150 mAh and an extra attachable battery pack with 3,850 mAh, you’ll be able to get more than a day’s use with one charge. Most rugged phones usually compensate for performance, but the S95 Pro performs well with a few lags here and there. This isn’t just a rugged phone, because it packs a punch with its many features.
- Supports wireless charging
- Virtually indestructible
- Powerful battery
- Smooth performance
- Average audio quality
- Single speaker
- No other colors available
Another unique addition to our list of best unlocked phones is the BlackBerry Priv. BlackBerry mellowed down in the past few years with the boom of touchscreen phones. But it still deserves a place on our list. The BB Priv is a touchscreen phone, but is also versatile and has a slide-down keyboard. This is great for people who like to type a lot because a physical keyboard just feels better. The keyboard doesn’t need to be pressed too hard to input your character. The screen is 5.4 inches big with a curved AMOLED display. You’ll enjoy viewing photos and videos with it as well as playing games on it. Running on Snapdragon 808 with 3 GB of RAM will give you decent app use and gaming experience. The 18-megapixel camera takes very good photos. It takes sharp-looking photos even on low light. We can say that the Priv has the best camera of all the previous BlackBerry phones.
However, it does heat up after some time. Although it has a 3,410 mAh battery, it doesn’t give you a full day of use, so make sure to take the charger with you. We also mentioned that gaming on this device is decent, but it still experiences some lags every now and then.
- Stunning design
- Good screen display
- Great quality camera
- Responsive physical slide-down keyboard
- Tends to heat up
- Battery drains easily
- Experiences lags in gaming
Types of Unlocked Phones
When choosing an unlocked phone, you’ll also get to choose from either a GSM network or a CDMA network in the US. You may have heard about these two networks but aren’t really sure as to what they really are. Depending on which one you get, you can only use specific networks to be compatible with your SIM. We want to give you a briefing on the two. This will help you know more about them and you can make a choice when picking out your next smartphone. In case you might want to know more about these two networks, then you can check out our in-depth article on the differences between CDMA and GSM.
What Is a GSM Network?
GSM phones are basically unlocked phones right off the bat. GSM stands for Global Systems for Mobile Communication. Globally, it is considered the standard for communication. This is particularly in Asia and Europe. You’ll find that it’s available in over 210 countries worldwide.
There are four bands that it can function on. In European and Asian countries, it functions on 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz. In North and South America, it functions on 850 MHz and 1,900 MHz. It uses a variant of TVMA or Time Division Multiple Access. This enables it to divide frequency bands into many different channels. When making calls, the voice will be transformed into digital data. This digital data is given a channel and a time slot. For the end of the receiver, he or she will be able to listen on to the assigned time slot when the call is being made. This is why you will hear the person that you call immediately. You don’t notice a “break” or division in time during an on-going phone call.
GSM uses removable SIM cards to be able to store data from its subscribers. You can use almost all major networks with GSM and not just with AT&T and T-Mobile.
What Is a CDMA Network?
You might wonder, what is CDMA?. Well, it stands for “Code Division Multiple Access.” It’s a standard that’s designed and patented by Qualcomm. Subsequently, CDMA was used as the basis for the CDMA2000 and WCDMA standards for 3G network. The propriety nature of CDMA hasn’t allowed it to be adopted globally, unlike GSM. Only about 18% of networks worldwide use CDMA. It’s primarily found in the US and can only work with carriers like Sprint, Verizon, and US Cellular. South Korea and Russia also use CDMA.
Unlike GSM networks, CDMA networks don’t use SIM cards. There are no unlocked phones for CDMA networks. Your number will be linked to the CDMA phone. In order for you to switch to a different device, you will have to contact your network carrier. The network carrier will deactivate your current device. Then they will activate a new one with the same number.
What Are Locked Phones Anyway?
We wanted to include information on locked phones, so that you’ll learn more about what they are and why they’re locked. If you’re planning on getting an unlocked phone in the future, then you should also be able to compare them with locked phones.
When phones are manufactured, they’re not automatically locked to a specific carrier. All phones that have just been released are actually unlocked. But network providers or companies need to earn too, so they would have to make their phones locked. If you purchase a phone from a particular network provider or company, you might also have to get a cellular plan from them as well. Even if you pay full price for a locked phone, it will still remain locked. It will only work with the network provider that it’s affiliated with.
In a different and much simpler sense, a locked phone may also simply refer to a phone requiring a password or fingerprint to unlock—which is an entirely different matter from what we are discussing in this guide. It’s also one that’s easier to address. Just enter your passcode or scan your fingerprint to unlock and start using your phone!
Can You Unlock a Locked Smartphone?
It’s actually possible to unlock a carrier-locked smartphone. You won’t have to pay anything to have your phone unlocked. But you have to make sure that the phone has already been fully paid. You may contact the network provider with which your plan has already ended. The network provider will be able to unlock your phone for you free of charge.
Another option is going to an independent phone repair shop. They can have your phone unlocked, but this option is not recommended because it’s illegal.
There’s definitely a lot more freedom and flexibility with unlocked phones. You’ll be able to make the most use out of your unlocked phone when it comes to calling or texting. This is especially useful if you need to change SIM cards. We hope our top picks of the best unlocked phones can help you with your next purchase. We listed down our favorites for the latest unlocked phones in 2020.
With unlocked phones, you may need to pay the full price for the gadget. But with more freedom and flexibility, we think it’s worth the extra cash. You don’t have to be tied to a network carrier when its service becomes unacceptable.