BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details

Best Unlocked Cell Phones

Updated September 2023
Bottom line
Best of the Best
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, 1TB
Galaxy S23 Ultra, 1TB
Check Price
Impressive Camera
Bottom Line

Take incredible photos and videos with the latest Galaxy model.


Get the best shot every time with wide, ultra-wide, and optical zoom telephone camera functions. Never run out of space with 1TB of internal storage. Lightening fast browsing, streaming, and gaming capabilities. Incredible battery life of 49 hours of talk time on a single charge.


This model is quite large, and may be less comfortable to use for folks with smaller hands.

Best Bang for the Buck
Motorola Moto G Stylus
Moto G Stylus
Check Price
Bargain Pick
Bottom Line

This smartphone is a terrific choice for those who want something basic with a decent camera.


This Android phone has a 128GB storage capacity, a 48MP camera system, and a built-in stylus for retouching photos, taking notes, gaming, and more. The 6.8-inch Max Vision Full HD display delivers rich colors, and the battery can last up to 2 days on a full charge.


It doesn't support wireless charging, and the maximum speaker volume output is too low.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Galaxy S22 Ultra
Check Price
Premium Performance
Bottom Line

The 8K camera and 5G connectivity are great for pixel-perfect photos and mobile gaming.


It has 5 cameras and impressive photography options, including crystal-clear night photo mode. It captures immersive 8K video, and its 5G connection is perfect for streaming and gaming. The battery life is excellent, and it's the first Galaxy phone with a built-in S Pen.


It can easily slip out of your hands if it doesn't have a case.

Google Pixel 7 5G
Pixel 7 5G
Check Price
Bottom Line

The Pixel 7 has a sleek build, works fast, and is loaded with premium Google features.


It has a Google Tensor G2 processor for ultra-fast performance, a crisp 6.3-inch Full HD smooth display with a 90-Hz refresh rate, and 8GB of RAM. It supports wireless charging and has a 12MP ultrawide lens camera with up to 8 times Super Res zoom.


Storage cannot be expanded with an SD card and the fingerprint reader isn't reliable.

Samsung Galaxy S22
Galaxy S22
Check Price
Best for Everyday Use
Bottom Line

The S22 brings a premium build, long battery life, and enhanced camera to the main Galaxy line.


An aluminum and glass body and a bright 6.1-inch FHD+ AMOLED display with adaptive contrast. It offers a smooth refresh rate of 48-120Hz and a 3-lens rear camera setup. It has an IP68 protection rating and is available in 128GB and 256GB storage capacities.


It's not compatible with an S Pen.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

Category cover

Buying guide for Best unlocked cell phones

Nowadays, it’s not hard to find a good deal on a new cell phone, but every bargain you encounter is bound to come with the same catch: you have to sign up for a two-year agreement in order to realize any savings. In fact, many “deals” don’t offer any discounts at all. Instead, you’re simply placed on a monthly plan to pay off the phone over time – and in some cases, you end up paying more than the phone was worth in the first place.

So what’s a savvy consumer to do? A highly economical option for the long term is to get an unlocked cell phone. You get this device upfront and remain free of any contractual obligations to a wireless carrier. An unlocked cell phone is not as expensive as it sounds – or at least, it doesn’t have to be.

White hands hold a slim, black smartphone.
Typically, when a new smartphone is released, the only way to get an unlocked version is directly from the manufacturer; all other vendors require a contract with your phone. However, that changes six months to a year later, when third-party vendors start selling the newest models off contract.

The perks of owning an unlocked cell phone

Having an unlocked cell phone isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about flexibility. Here are some common reasons why consumers opt to own their smartphones outright.

  • No contract is required. This is the single biggest reason most people cite for choosing an unlocked cell phone. If you choose, you can switch carriers to a different network without incurring any fees or contract buyouts. Users who are tied to a specific carrier with a contract usually have to pay exorbitant fees if they want to switch.

  • They’re ideal for international travel. Most U.S. wireless carriers require you to add additional international service fees if you want to use your phone abroad. When you have an unlocked cell phone that supports GSM networks, you can drop just about any SIM card in it. If you’re a frequent international traveler, that means you can use a local SIM card in any foreign country you visit and save on roaming fees from an American carrier.

  • Your credit score does not affect the price you pay. Many wireless carriers advertise payment plans that don’t increase the cost of the device over time. Essentially, they’re offering you a zero-interest loan on your phone. That can be an attractive offer, but the best terms are only available to those with excellent credit. It is, after all, a loan. Users with less-than-pristine credit typically have to pay interest, which ratchets up the overall cost of the new phone.

  • Cell phone bills stay low. Most cell phone bills are confusing and hard to decipher. That only gets more challenging when you’re paying for a phone along with your cell phone service. But if you have an unlocked, off-contract cell phone, you only have to pay your carrier for cellular service. As a result, your bill stays much lower.

  • You can upgrade your phone on your own schedule. When you have an unlocked, off-contract cell phone, you don’t have to worry about waiting to upgrade. If a new model comes out that you want, upgrading is simply a matter of transplanting your data, and in some cases a SIM card, from one phone to the next.

GSM phones, CMA phones, and universal phones

There are three different types of unlocked cell phones, and depending on which wireless provider you want to use, you’ll need to pick the right one to get everything working. Here’s the information you need to know about the different kinds of unlocked cell phones.

GSM phones

GSM phones are based on the “Global System for Mobile communications” standard and typically rely on a SIM card – a small plastic card that’s tied to your phone number and account and inserts into your phone. In the U.S., Verizon and Sprint both operate GSM networks and require GSM phones for service. Most international cell phone networks use GSM.

CDMA phones

CDMA phones are built on the “Code Division Multiple Access” standard and don’t use SIM cards, instead opting to keep your unique account data on the phone itself. In the U.S., AT&T, and T-Mobile use CDMA networks to deliver service to customers.

Universal phones

Universal phones support both GSM and CDMA networks and can be used with any carrier. Universal phones can be more expensive, but the benefit of being carrier-agnostic is worth it to many users.

Content Image
Expert Tip
Migrating your data and settings from your old phone to a new one is easier than it used to be. In most cases, you will find backup and restoring options in your phone’s settings app. By syncing your content with the cloud, you can move everything to your new phone with just a few taps.

Unlocked cell phone prices

Between $300 and $499

You’ll find some of last year’s top-of-the-line phones here. Phones in this price range offer strong utility and all of the modern amenities: current versions of Android or iOS, full compatibility with current apps, and powerful cameras. If you’re looking for a practical phone but don’t need the latest and greatest tech, you’ll find solid options in this price range.

Between $500 and $749

You can expect to see the entry-level models of many current-generation phones in this price range. These unlocked cell phones typically have cutting-edge features and screens that are between four and five inches. If you love having the most modern phone available but don’t need a ton of storage or a larger screen, you needn’t spend more than this.

Between $750 and $1,000

Here, you’ll encounter the latest models with the largest screens and the biggest storage options. Cell phones in this price range don’t leave anything out – features, screen size, and capacities are all top-notch. If you absolutely must have the most modern cell phone available, expect to pay for the privilege.


  • If you’re interested in an insurance plan for your unlocked cell phone, shop around before signing up for your carrier’s protection plan. Most wireless carriers offer device insurance for a monthly fee, but carrier-backed insurance plans often include expensive “gotchas.” These range from higher copayments in the event of a claim to circumstances that aren’t covered, like water damage. Many third-party smartphone protection plans feature better benefits at a lower cost, so do some side-by-side comparisons before signing up for one.
  • If you’re getting a GSM phone, try the SIM card from your old phone before getting a new one. Most wireless carriers will tell you it’s necessary to get a new SIM card if you’re using an unlocked GSM phone, but in many cases, that’s simply not true. If you’re moving to a different GSM carrier (or staying with your current GSM carrier), the SIM card from your prior phone can be inserted into your new one.
  • If you’re getting a refurbished unlocked cell phone, only get one directly from a manufacturer or carrier. Not all refurbishers are equal. Some will go through painstaking efforts to restore a used phone to its brand-new glory, while others will make cosmetic changes and repackage the phone for a quick sale. Refurbished phones are a great way to save a few dollars on pricey hardware – just make sure to only get them from manufacturers or carriers themselves. That way, you can work with your carrier or the manufacturer in the event of a problem.
Slender white hands hold a slim, black smartphone. In the background, sunlight dapples a brick walkway and a park bench is painted white with the silhouette of a person in a meditation position painted in black.
A jailbroken phone is one that has been modified to work with apps not approved by the manufacturer. It’s not the same thing as an unlocked phone, and it can make you vulnerable to security risks. Avoid selecting a jailbroken phone.


Q. Do unlocked cell phones receive carrier updates?

A. It depends on the phone. If you choose an unlocked Android phone from a specific wireless carrier, they will send updates to your phone, but only after they’ve published updates to their customers with locked phones. That said, if you have an unlocked Android phone, you can download and install updates directly from Google without having to wait for your carrier to send them to you. If you own an iPhone, you’ll receive updates directly from Apple and won’t have to worry about carrier updates.

Q. Can I trade in my old smartphone for a discount on an unlocked cell phone?

A. It depends. Most wireless carriers offer trade-in programs to help consumers defray the cost of a new phone. However, trade-in programs are often linked to contract requirements, so while you may get a discount on a new phone from your trade-in, you’ll be obligated to stay with the carrier for up to two years. Selling an old phone to pay for a new one is usually a good idea, but if you want to maximize the money you receive, sell your phone privately. Carriers rarely offer top dollar for used phones.

Our Top Picks