The best unlocked phone right now is the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. It has the best display you can buy, offers fast performance with plenty of stamina, and boasts an incredibly versatile camera. But we do have some tempting alternatives if Samsung’s smartphone is not for you.
We live and breathe smartphones here at Digital Trends. With hundreds of phone reviews under our belts, we’re always ready to debate the merits and weaknesses of a new device, and we take our time in picking out the very best to recommend. Before you buy one of these phones from our list, be sure to double check that the phone you’re buying works on your carrier’s bands. Our smartphone bands guide explains how you can tell the difference.
Best unlocked phones at a glance:
- Best overall: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
- Best iPhone: Apple iPhone XS
- Best alternative Android phone: Google Pixel 3
- Best unlocked phone around $500: OnePlus 6T
- Best budget unlocked phone: Moto G7
Why should you buy this? It’s a beautiful, stylish phone with all the features you could want.
Who’s it for? Samsung fans after the best-looking global phone around.
Why we picked the Galaxy S10 Plus:
Samsung’s curved display design is gorgeous, and the Galaxy S10 Plus packs a spectacular 6.4-inch screen into a svelte body. The specs are not to be sniffed at either, with a fast processor, a long-lasting battery, and an excellent camera that boasts great low-light performance. Samsung also stirred water resistance, wireless charging, the Bixby voice assistant, and a few other extras into the mix.
An unlocked Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus will work on all four major U.S. carriers, and a bunch of smaller ones, too. It will also serve frequent travelers well, with support for countless carrier networks worldwide. However, there are a lot of different models of the S10 Plus, and you don’t want to buy the wrong one. Look for a model number that ends in AA, such as SM-G975UZKAXAA.
Why should you buy this? It’s the best iPhone on the market, thanks to that dual-lens camera and OLED screen.
Who’s it for? Apple fans who want an unlocked phone to work with any carrier.
Why we picked the iPhone XS:
The iPhone XS is the best iPhone that Apple has ever turned out. It’s the best choice for Apple fans because it’s powerful, secure, and sports a wonderful camera. Apple’s stylish design doesn’t hurt either. The complete package is slick and there are no major weaknesses (aside from the lack of a headphone jack).
Buy unlocked directly from Apple, and your iPhone X will work with all four major U.S. carriers and a long list of others besides. It will also work pretty much anywhere you care to wander, so globetrotters will be well covered. You can find the full list of supported carriers at Apple’s website.
It’s an obvious pick for anyone invested in Apple’s ecosystem, but it is expensive. If you want something cheaper, then check out the iPhone XR. For something bigger and more expensive, check out the iPhone XS Max.
Why should you buy this? For a pure and powerful Android experience, the Pixel 3 can’t be beat.
Who’s it for? Android fans seeking a slick, unlocked phone that will work on any carrier.
Why we picked the Google Pixel 3:
Google matches the iPhone on every front with its Pixel line and the Pixel 3 was our favorite phone of 2018. It has a stunning display, a powerful processor, and a truly great camera, but it’s the A.I. smarts inside that really make it compelling. It also ducks some of the usual Android problems, with regular security updates, and super slick software that shows off Google’s elegant software design.
Buy the Pixel 3 unlocked directly from Google, and you can use it on any U.S. carrier and on many, many other carriers worldwide. The full list of supported bands can be found on Google’s website.
The Pixel 3 is also quite small, so you might consider the Pixel 3 XL as an alternative that offers exactly the same fully unlocked credentials in a bigger, slightly more expensive package. There’s very little difference between the two, apart from the size and screen.
Why should you buy this? You’ll pay much less to get an amazing flagship phone.
Who’s it for? People who don’t care about the big brands.
Why we picked the OnePlus 6T:
After glancing at the spec list for the OnePlus 6T, you’d be forgiven for expecting a premium price tag, but you can actually snap it up for $550. It’s a very speedy performer with a massive, 6.41-inch display in a compact, all-glass body. It also features accessible software, great battery life, and very fast charging. In terms of features and design, the OnePlus 6T holds its own with the current flagship lineup.
The OnePlus 6T supports a wide range of bands so you’ll have no problems with it on AT&T and T-Mobile. OnePlus also added official Verizon support for the first time with the 6T. There’s only one version of the OnePlus 6T and it works internationally, so it’s a great choice for globe-trotters. You can check carrier connectivity by country on the specs page.
If you recoil at the idea of paying $700 or more for a smartphone, then the OnePlus 6T is well worth taking a chance on. It’s an excellent phone for the money.
Why should you buy this? It boasts an impressive range of features and a stylish design at a reasonable price.
Who’s it for? Bargain hunters looking for a decent phone to work on any carrier.
Why we picked the Moto G7:
When you dive into the budget end of the pool, you should be careful, because deal-breaking compromises are common. Thankfully, Motorola’s Moto G7 is largely free of them. This phone ticks all the boxes, with a big, bright display, good performance in terms of speed, a fast-charging battery, and a dual-lens camera that easily outshines the budget competition.
With support for a wide range of networks and bands — including the big four in the U.S. — you shouldn’t have any trouble using the Moto G7 wherever you like. Buy it unlocked direct from Motorola. If you prize battery life over design, then save yourself $50 and opt for the Moto G7 Power.
How we test
We are obsessed with smartphones here at Digital Trends and we test them to the limit. The phones we review serve as our main devices for at least a week, usually longer, and we use them for everything from messaging and calls, to photos and gaming. They go to work with us, they go to bed with us, and they even go to the toilet with us. We never recommend a device that we wouldn’t be happy using ourselves.
When it comes to unlocked phone testing, we make sure that the phones we recommend actually work on the majority of networks and warn you if there are caveats.
Will the phone work on your carrier?
You must be careful when buying an unlocked phone. Some retailers will advertise phones as unlocked, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will work with any carrier. Some carriers have stricter controls than others, and even if a phone could technically work on their network, they might not allow it.
Start by checking which bands your device supports and what carriers they correspond to. The vast majority of unlocked handsets will work with GSM networks (like AT&T and T-Mobile), but many won’t work with CDMA networks (like Verizon and Sprint).
Ideally, you’ll be able to find someone talking about using your chosen phone with your chosen carrier simply by searching in Google. For example, search “OnePlus 6T Verizon” and you’ll see a number of forum posts about the issues people have had. If in doubt, check with your carrier and do further research.
Manufacturers also sometimes produce different models of the same phone with different band support, so you must do your homework to ensure that your pick will work on your preferred carrier. The Will My Phone Work website is another good resource to help you.