/Best unlocked phone in the US: 10 smartphones to give you carrier freedom

Best unlocked phone in the US: 10 smartphones to give you carrier freedom

The best unlocked phones in the US offer total no-contract freedom if you’re willing to accept a deceptively high full price. Because unlocked phones aren’t tied down to any specific carrier, you get to choose which mobile carrier you want to use and can freely switch between plans. 

As mobile carriers have moved further and further away from locked-down contracts, many more phones are available with no strings attached, including unlocked iPhones. This can make it trickier to decide which one you want. 

And, while many of the best unlocked phones will work on the networks of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and most MVNOs (minor carriers that operate on bigger carrier’s networks), some GSM-only phones have limited support for certain networks. This makes it even trickier to be sure you’re getting a phone that’ll work for you.

We’re here to help, though. We’ve reviewed all of the best phones, and have the details you’ll need about which carriers you can use them on. We’ve taken all that information to rank the best unlocked phones for you, so you can get a phone that’ll work with the carriers you want and let you save money by only getting the data plan you need, not the one stipulated by an installment agreement.

If you’re ready, here are the best unlocked phone options available to you.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

1. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

Release date: March 2019 | Weight: 175g/198g (ceramic) | Dimensions: 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3040 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9820 | RAM: 8GB/12GB | Storage: 128GB/512GB/1TB | Battery: 4,100mAh | Rear camera: 12MP wide + 12MP 2x telephoto + 16MP ultrawide | Front camera: 10MP + 8MP

Five amazing cameras

Big screen backed by a big battery

In-screen fingerprint sensor

Expensive

If you to just get the best phone out there without worry about its hefty cost, then the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is it. This powerful Android phones runs on the latest Snapdragon 855 chipset backed by 8GB to 12GB of RAM, so it can blast through productivity and gaming alike.

The 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display is incredibly sharp and features a hole-punch design for the twin front-facing cameras, allowing the screen to stretch extra high up on the front of the phone. And, the three rear cameras on the back of the Galaxy S10 Plus are among the best we’ve ever seen.

Will it work for me? Samsung’s phones support a wide range of carriers, including the big four here in the US. Expect full support at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. (Note: Make sure you’re buying the US-version with a Snapdragon chipset for full carrier support.)

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review

iPhone XS Max

2. iPhone XS Max

Want the best, big iPhone? This is it

Release date: September 2018 | Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1242 x 2688 | CPU: A12 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 3,174mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP

Fantastic camera

Incredibly fast

Incredibly expensive

Big size isn’t for everyone

Apple’s iPhone XS Max offers a heaping dose of performance and screen space. With its nearly bezel-less display measuring a full 6.5 inches, it’s stunning to look at. Surgical steel around the edge and a glass front and back make it the phone itself quite the looker as well. While the price is certainly high, there is no better Apple phone.

Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XS Max can be activated with any carrier, which means you’ll have no issue with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, and many smaller carriers will likely work as well. Unlike last year’s new iPhone, you won’t have to choose between Intel GSM-only and Qualcomm GSM+CDMA modems – Apple went with an Intel GSM+CDMA modem from the start. 

Read More: iPhone XS Max review

Google Pixel 3

3. Google Pixel 3

The best camera on a phone

Release date: October 2018 | Weight: 148g | Dimensions: 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9mm | OS: Android Pie | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2160 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128/256GB | Battery: 2,915mAh | Rear camera: 12.2MP | Front camera: Dual 8MP

Strong internals

Best-in-class cameras

Lackluster design for 2018

Google’s Pixel 3 once again sets the bar for what a smartphone camera can do. The Pixel 3 has the updated specs you’d expect from an Android smartphone released in 2018, even if the design hasn’t quite followed the bezel-free design others are going for. Still, the screen is a usable 5.5-inch OLED with dual front-facing speakers that are nice to have. The battery is enough to get the job done each day, and Google’s ongoing software updates make this a phone that won’t become irrelevant too quickly.

Will it work for me? Google advertises the Pixel 3 as working on all major carriers, so you’ll have no trouble activating on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. Smaller carriers should usually work unless they have their own restrictions, and the Pixel 3 also offers access to Google’s Project Fi network.

Read more: Google Pixel 3 review

Samsung Galaxy S10e

(Image: © TechRadar)

4. Samsung Galaxy S10e

The budget version of the Galaxy S10

Release date: March 2019 | Weight: 150g | Dimensions: 142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2280 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9820 | RAM: 6GB/8GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Battery: 3,100mAh | Rear camera: 12MP wide + 16MP ultrawide | Front camera: 10MP

High power, lower price

S10 qualities for less

Easier one-handed use

No in-screen fingerprint scanner

Smaller screen size worse for gaming/media

As new flagship smartphone prices have started to creep up, Samsung did fans of the Galaxy family a favor by releasing the Galaxy S10e. This phone still has much of what makes its biggest siblings great, but it skips a few features, keeps down the size, and thereby keeps down the price. 

Thanks to its added affordability, the Galaxy S10e even outranks the Galaxy S10 in our opinion. It still has a stunning 5.8-inch screen that’s easy to wield in one hand, though the side-mounted fingerprint scanner may favor right-handed users.  The Snapdragon 855 chipset inside is wonderfully powerful, and the phone comes with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM to keep apps snappy when switching between them.

Will it work for me? Samsung’s phones support a wide range of carriers, including the big four here in the US. Expect full support at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. (Note: Make sure you’re buying the US-version with a Snapdragon chipset for full carrier support.) 

Read More: Samsung Galaxy S10e review

OnePlus 6T

5. OnePlus 6T

The affordable flagship, renewed

Release date: October 2018 | Weight: 185g | Dimensions: 157.5 x 74.8 x 8.2mm | OS: Android Pie | Screen size: 6.41-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 6/8GB | Storage: 128/256GB | Battery: 3,700mAh | Rear camera: 16MP + 20MP | Front camera: 16MP

Killer performance

Great design

Priced lower than competition

No more headphone jack

No water resistance

The OnePlus 6T is one of the company’s most compelling mid-cycle updates yet. While this is the first OnePlus phone to dump the 3.5mm headphone jack, it’s also the most stunning design to date. OnePlus has stretched the screen real estate and shrunk down the notch to just a tiny nib. The internals are powerful, the battery sizable, the screen massive and beautiful even if it’s not as sharp as Samsung’s, and the cameras are even highly competitive. And, let’s not forget the new phone features a fingerprint scanner built underneath the display. All that, and the OnePlus 6T launched with a price well below all the other new flagship phones.

Will it work for me? Unless you’re on Sprint or a Sprint-based MNVO like Boost Mobile, you should be able to use the OnePlus 6T just fine. It supports numerous bands on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. With a dual-SIM tray, you can even connect to multiple networks at the same time, making it extra handy for frequent international travelers.

Read more: OnePlus 6T review

Huawei P30 Pro

6. Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei’s answer to Samsung’s best efforts

Release date: April 2019 | Weight: 192g | Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.4 mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.47-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Kirin 980 | RAM: 6GB/8GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Battery: 4,200mAh | Rear camera: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP + TOF | Front camera: 32MP

Four incredibly capable rear cameras

Premium specs and design

Huge battery

Limited US carrier support

Only Full HD display

The US government might not like Huawei very much, but we sure like it’s new P30 Pro smartphone. This is one of the best Android phones out right now, just falling shy of the Galaxy S10 Plus, and it’s a fair bit cheaper. The P30 Pro offers a snappy experience with its Kirin 980 chipset and up to 8GB of RAM. It also comes with a base storage of 128GB but that can be affordably expanded via microSD card.

The cameras are where the Huawei P30 Pro really shines. It has five of them. The front camera has a high 32MP resolution, and the rear system combines a 40MP, 20MP, 8MP, and time-of-flight sensor to some incredible results. A powerful Night Mode take seemingly impossible photos, and it features 5x optical zoom that boosts up to 50x with surprising, though not perfect, clarity. The big issue here is US availability and carrier support, which sees it drop down in the ranks a bit.

Will it work for me? This will depend on the variant you buy, so make sure to compare the supported network bands with the carriers you want to use it with. The Latin American variant has some US compatibility, with full support for T-Mobile and 3G/4G LTE support for AT&T. Don’t expect support for Sprint, Verizon, or MVNOs running on their networks.

Read more: Huawei P30 Pro review

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

7. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The best if you enjoy big phones

Release date: August 2018 | Weight: 205g | Dimensions: 162 x 76.4 x 9mm | OS: Android Oreo | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 2960×1440 | CPU: Exynos 9810 | RAM: 6/8GB | Storage: 128/512GB (up to 1TB with card) | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Much better battery

Improved S Pen

Hefty device to hold

Mostly iterative upgrades

Samsung put together a truly dazzling phone with the Galaxy Note 9. It fits a huge, 6.4-inch display into a handset that manages to avoid being unwieldy. Smaller hands may struggle with it, but the upside is a great display for watching TV and movies on the go.

With a 4,000mAh battery, you can use the Note 9 all day. And, the Snapdragon 845 paired with 6 or 8 GB of RAM (depending on the storage size you choose), will offer plenty of performance. Let’s not forget this phone has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.

Will it work for me? Samsung’s phones support a wide range of carriers, including the big four here in the US. Expect full support at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

iPhone XR

8. iPhone XR

The most affordable of the new iPhones

Release date: October 2018 | Weight: 194g | Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 6.1-inch | Resolution: 1792×828 | CPU: A12 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64/128/256GB | Battery: 2,942mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 7MP

Great battery life for an iPhone

Colorful options

Most affordable this year

Lower resolution screen

Still expensive

The iPhone XR is Apple’s newest iPhone, coming out shortly after the iPhone XS and XS Max. Of the three new models, this is the budget one, even if it still has a high price. While it doesn’t have the dual-rear cameras, lacks an OLED screen, and falls just short of Full HD resolution on the display, it’s not a miss. The powerful internals match the other iPhones, the main camera is still a powerful shooter, and the whole package is made all the better thanks to the best battery performance we’ve seen in an iPhone.

Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XR can be activated with any carrier, which means you’ll have no issue with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, and many smaller carriers will likely work as well.

Read more: iPhone XR review

Samsung Galaxy S10

9. Samsung Galaxy S10

Premium specs and design at a price

Release date: March 2019 | Weight: 157g | Dimensions: 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8 mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.1-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 3040 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 / Exynos 9820 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB/512GB | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP 2x telephoto + 16MP ultrawide | Front camera: 10MP

Big and powerful

Great cameras

In-screen fingerprint sensor

Odd fit in S10 family

Too expensive next to S10e

The Galaxy S10 has an odd fit among its more capable sibling, the S10 Plus, and its more affordable sibling, the S10e. It has a big, 6.1-inch display with a single hole-punch camera, and a fingerprint scanner built beneath the display glass. It also has the ability to serve as a wireless charger for other phones and electronics.

It also has a three camera system on the back that includes both ultra-wide and zoom lenses for some great versatility. It’s not quite as capable as the Galaxy S10 Plus, but it’s a bit cheaper. If the extra screen is something you want, and the high-tech fingerprint and wireless powershare interest you, it may be a worthwhile upgrade over the Galaxy S10e. It’s definitely an excellent phone, it’s just tricky to choose over one of the other two S10 models.

Will it work for me? Samsung’s phones support a wide range of carriers, including the big four here in the US. Expect full support at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. (Note: Make sure you’re buying the US-version with a Snapdragon chipset for full carrier support.) 

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 review

iPhone XS

(Image: © TechRadar)

10. iPhone XS

The best new iPhone for smaller hands

Release date: September 2018 | Weight: 177g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1125×2436 | CPU: A12 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 2,658mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP

Fantastic camera

Fast internal specs

Still really expensive

Not the best battery life

The biggest isn’t always the best if you have small hands or small pockets. In the case of the latest iPhones, a tight wallet can also make the iPhone XS a better pick than its bigger sibling. It offers the same performance, has the same cameras and software, but it comes in at a more compact size, with a smaller battery and display.

Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XS can be activated with any carrier, which means you’ll have no issue with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, and many smaller carriers will likely work as well.

Read more: iPhone XS review