Buying an unlocked smartphone in the US can be a smart move, whether you want to travel the globe or simply don’t want to be tied to a single carrier like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint. You’ll be able to swap in SIM cards between various carriers and use the phone anywhere in the world. Say goodbye to expensive roaming charges.
However, there are a few drawbacks with these no contract, unlocked phones. They’re typically expensive since you don’t sign up for a normal two-year contract. You're no longer subsidizing the full price of the phone (no, it doesn't really cost $199), so the upfront cost will be much higher.
There's a second caveat: most SIM-free unlocked phones support only GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile. There are only a few CDMA-capable unlocked phones that can also connect to Verizon and Sprint, and we’ll cover those notable exceptions in our comprehensive list.
If you want the freedom of buying a new phone without a contract that binds you to one carrier and one country, these are the best unlocked smartphones you can buy in the US today.
13. HTC 10
Not 10/10, but the best phone for music by far
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, other GSM networks | Weight: 161g | Dimensions: 145.9 x 71.9 x 9 mm | OS: Android Nougat | Screen size: 5.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 820 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB/64GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
If you’re a music lover, you’re going to love the HTC 10. This Android smartphone is capable of playing back Hi-Res audio with its 24-bit DAC. This means the HTC 10 is capable of playing back music like it was supposed to sound in the recording studio.
HTC didn’t skimp on video and image quality either. The HTC 10’s 5.2-inch 2K display features gorgeous colors and is high enough resolution to enjoy VR on the go. Combined with the powerful Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, the HTC 10 should fly through any task you throw at it.
The HTC 10 is also extremely well built with an all aluminum unibody design. HTC nails the look and feel of the device as the phone features a subtle curve to make comfortable in the hand.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the HTC 10 supports GSM networks like AT&T, T-Mobile and MetroPCS. There are two separate CDMA-capable versions for Verizon and Sprint, but they’re locked to their respective networks even if you buy them at full price through Best Buy or their respective carrier stores. Check out the full list of before buying.
12. OnePlus 3T
A genuine flagship killer
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, other GSM networks | Weight: 158g | Dimensions: 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4 mm | OS: Android Nougat | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Snapdragon 821 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 16MP | Front camera: 16MP
A flagship killer for $440? The OnePlus 3T offers tremendous value for the money when comparing performance to flagship phones that cost twice as much. OnePlus may be a burgeoning company but it’s already disrupted the market with the OnePlus 3T.
Performance is impressive and on par with flagship phones. That shouldn’t be a surprise as the 3T takes advantage of the new Snapdragon 821 chip and a ridiculous 6GB of RAM.
OnePlus didn't skimp on design or materials either. Some may think it looks too similar to an iPhone or HTC, but its aluminum unibody feels great in the hand. Just don’t dunk the OnePlus 3T in water, as the phone isn’t water resistant like some of the competition.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the OnePlus 3T supports AT&T and T-Mobile as well as MVNOs that use their infrastructure. There’s an unofficial worldwide in the OnePlus forums so check that out before buying.
If you’re on a budget but want flagship performance, the OnePlus 3T should be at the top of your list.
11. ZTE Axon 7
A cheap Android phone that doesn't cheap out on specs
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile (Sprint & Verizon pending) **Weight:** 175g | Dimensions: 151.7 x 75 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 820 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3,250mAh | Rear camera: 20MP | Front camera: 8MP
Continuing with budget flagship killers, the ZTE Axon 7 rivals the best phones on the market today, and even outdoes the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T when it comes to features. The Axon 7 packs the same Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM like many other phones on this list, but its 1440 x 2560 pixel screen one-ups the OnePlus 3T, which has a 1920 x 1080 display. This phone is ready for Google Daydream View VR.
The ZTE Axon 7 also features front facing speakers and 64GB of on-board storage with the ability to add more via microSD. The all-metal body is also beautifully constructed, though it is slippery in the hand so be careful.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the ZTE Axon 7 has all of the necessary radios to support AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, but Sprint and Verizon are not officially supported. ZTE could one day release a software update to enable support on all four major US carriers, but it’s really up to Verizon and Sprint to certify the patch. Unofficially, users have gotten the phone to work on Verizon, but there are .
10. Huawei Honor 8
An extraordinarily shiny Android phone that’s extra ordinary
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers | Weight: 153g | Dimensions: 145.5 x 71 x 7.5 mm | OS: Android Nougat | Screen size: 5.2-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: Kirin 950 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32 or 64GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12 MP | Front camera: 8MP
Another top contender for best budget unlocked smartphone is the Huawei Honor 8. This all glass and metal phone looks and feels premium, and features dual cameras and takes better pictures than the mid-range competition.
Where the Honor 8 lets us down is in its software. Huawei chose to load up the Honor 8 with its own Android skin, creating a confusing mess with few benefits. For example, Huawei decided to get rid of the iconic Android app drawer, replacing it with an iOS-like approach of dumping all of your apps onto the home screen. However, we did enjoy the fingerprint reader gestures.
Although the phone uses Huawei’s own Kirin 950 chip, its performance is comparable to that of the Snapdragon 820 found in other Android flagship phones. We found the graphics chip to be weaker than the competition, so mobile gamers and VR enthusiast should look elsewhere.
Will it work for me? Currently, the Honor 8 only supports GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile and other GSM-based carriers. It’s another phone that misses Verizon and Sprint compatibility.
9. Huawei Honor 6X
Honor updates one of its best
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers | Weight: 162g | Dimensions: 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2 mm | OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: Kirin 655 | RAM: 3 or 4GB | Storage: 32 or 64GB | Battery: 3,340mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12 MP | Front camera: 8MP
If $400 is still too much to pay for a “budget” flagship killer, then the Huawei Honor 6X should appeal to you. This $250 phone packs great value for the money as it still packs a fingerprint sensor, dual cameras and a 5.5-inch full HD display.
Where Huawei compromises is in screen quality, lack of USB-C and slower hardware than the flagship Honor 8. Huawei’s awkward to use and clunky software still remains on the Honor 6X, so Android purist would be happier with the lightly skinned .
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the Honor 6X, like its non-identical sibling, the Honor 8, only supports GSM networks in the US like AT&T and T-Mobile. Sorry, Verizon and Sprint customers.
8. Moto Z
An ultra-thin modular phone from Motorola
Carrier support: AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM networks | Weight: 136g | Dimensions: Height: 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.19 mm | OS: Android Nougat | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 820 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 2,600mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP
The Motorola Moto Z is an incredibly thin smartphone that also happens to have the best ecosystem of modular phone accessories. Whether you want to attach the Moto Z to a pair of extremely loud JBL speakers or a projector to share your videos with, the Moto Z’s Moto Mods have you covered.
As with other flagship smartphones, performance is excellent from the Snapdragon 820 chip and 4GB of RAM. The Moto Z flies through any task you throw at it. Motorola has also brought the latest version of Android, 7.0 Nougat, to the Moto Z which brings increased battery life, split-screen multitasking and more.
It’s not a perfect phone, as its slim body means the phone houses a smaller battery than the competition. This means mediocre battery life which can thankfully be solved with a Moto Mod battery pack. The Moto Z also ditches the 3.5mm headphone jack, but does include an adapter in the box. However, don’t expect to listen to wired headphones while charging.
7. Moto G4 Plus
It's a Plus, but not in the way you think
Carrier support: AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM networks | Weight: 155g | Dimensions: Height: 153 x 76.6 x 9.8 mm | OS: Android Nougat | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: Snapdragon 617 | RAM: 2, 3 or 4GB (larger storage options get more RAM) | Storage: 16, 32 or 64GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP | Front camera: 5MP
In addition to its pricey Moto Z flagship, Motorola released the Moto G4 Plus as an affordable mid-range phone. The Moto G4 Plus may not have the latest or greatest processor, but the Snapdragon 617 is still plenty capable for everyday tasks.
There are three variations of the phone that include different amounts of storage and RAM. The 16GB model gets 2GB of RAM, the 32GB model gets 3GB or RAM and the top of the line 64GB model gets a whopping 4GB of a RAM. Not bad for a budget smartphone.
At $250, the Moto G4 Plus is an incredible value and shows that the performance gap between flagship and budget phones is continuing to shrink.
6. Google Pixel XL
The iPhone 7 killer made by Google
Carriers: All major US networks | Weight: 168g | Dimensions: Height: 154.7 x 75.7 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 7.1 Nougat | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 821 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32/128GB | Battery: 3,450mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
The Pixel and Pixel XL are smartphones that are designed entirely by Google. The search giant has finally taken the reigns with the Pixel phones to take on Apple’s iPhone. As a result, the Pixel phones are some of the best smartphones you can buy period.
The Pixel XL features one of the best smartphone cameras on the market today, taking images in low light without problem. The Pixel is powerful thanks to the Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM. And since Google has tight control over the software on the Pixel, the phone avoids that nasty slowdown you may experience with other Android phones.
The Pixel XL is the model you should choose if you want a bigger screen and better battery life. And if you intend to buy the Google Daydream View VR headset, the XL's higher resolution screen automatically makes it the better choice – the screen is much less when it's two inches from your face. If none of that matters to you, save your money by getting the smaller version.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the Google Pixel XL works on all four of the major US carriers. It contains radios for both GSM and CDMA networks, despite the fact that it's marketed with Verizon-branded commercials.
5. Google Pixel
The perfect phone for Android aficionados
Carriers: All major US networks | Weight: 143g | Dimensions: 143.8 x 69.5 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 7.1 Nougat | Screen size: 5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Snapdragon 821 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32/128GB | Battery: 2,770mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
If you want a smaller phone than the plus-sized models in this list but don’t want to compromise on features, the Google Pixel is for you. The Pixel is Google’s answer to the Apple iPhone and it's one of the most polished smartphones you can buy right now.
Google’s control over the hardware and software means the phone simply flies. The Pixel features the latest Snapdragon 821 chip with 4GB that make split-screen multitasking is a reality. It also has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market today.
The only major downsides the smaller Pixel are slightly shorter battery life and less pixel-packed display. The 2,770 mAh battery will get you comfortably through most days, but you’ll want to bring a charger if you’re using the phone heavily. The 1080p Full HD screen won’t impress you as much as the XL’s Quad HD display when trying out Google Daydream View VR content. But the price is why we have it one space ahead. Most people won't need extras like a VR-ready display when, at most, they're just flirt with Google's budding virtual reality platform. Save yourself $100.
Will it work for me? Yes. While the Google Pixel only sold on contract in Verizon stores, you can buy an unlocked version from Google’s site that works with all major US carriers.
4. iPhone 7
Apple's one-handed masterpiece
Carriers: All major US networks | Weight: 138g | Dimensions: 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1mm | OS: iOS 10 | Screen size: 4.7-inch | Resolution: 750 x 1334 | CPU: Apple A10 Fusion | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32/128/256GB | Battery: 1,960mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 7MP
While the iPhone 7 series has gotten flack for being iterative, it’s still the best iPhone you can buy today. Apple’s legendary build quality remains with the iPhone 7, and does one better by making it all waterproof. You won’t have to worry about spilling a drink on your iPhone, but you shouldn’t swim with it.
Camera performance has always been impressive on the iPhone and that remains true with the iPhone 7. While its bigger brother, the iPhone 7 Plus, gets a fancy dual-lens camera setup, the single lens iPhone 7 still manages to take excellent shots, especially in low light. If you want fancy zoom functionality, you’ll have to step up to the iPhone 7 Plus.
If you’re upgrading from an older iPhone, you’ll love the iPhone 7. Just remember to bring your wireless headphones or wired headphone adapter, as Apple got rid of the 3.5 mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7.
Will it work for me? You can buy the iPhone 7 unlocked from the Apple Store, or at least get the Verizon version. The reason? The Verizon version contains Qualcomm’s modem that supports both CDMA and GSM networks. You can cross over anytime with the any SIM card. Sprint's iPhone 7, also a CDMA-based network, has the same modem and antenna advantage, but the carrier's unlocking rules can trap you into a temporary, 50-day contract, even when it’s bought at full price.
Unlocked iPhone 7 models from AT&T and T-Mobile feature Intel’s modem, which only supports GSM networks, making them more limited if you ever decide to switch to a new carrier, or give it to a friend or family member when the iPhone 8 comes out. It’s also less valuable when it comes time to sell.
iPhone 7 Plus
The best iPhone available right now
Carriers: All major US networks | Weight: 188g | Dimensions: 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3mm | OS: iOS 10 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: A10 Fusion | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/128/256GB | Battery: 2,900mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP
The iPhone 7 Plus is the best iPhone you can buy right now. The larger brother of the iPhone 7 has an advantage in the battery life and camera departments since there’s physically more space in the phone. The iPhone 7 Plus features a 2,900 mAh battery versus the 1,960 mAh battery you get in the smaller iPhone 7. The Plus also gets a dual-lens camera system that allows you to seamless zoom in on subjects.
The iPhone 7 Plus is an excellent performer thanks to Apple’s latest A10 Fusion chip and seamless iOS 10 software. Combined with slick hardware, water resistance and an excellent camera, the iPhone 7 Plus is the phone to beat.
There are a few downsides with the iPhone 7 Plus though. First of all, it’s very expensive. Secondly, it removed the 3.5mm headphone jack so you’ll be forced to buy wireless headphones or use the included headphone adapter that prevents you from charging at the same time.
Will it work for me? You can buy the iPhone 7 Plus unlocked and SIM-free from Apple, but if you have to lean toward one carrier, get the Verizon version. That’s because the phones from Verizon (and Sprint) contain Qualcomm’s modem that supports both CDMA and GSM networks, and Verizon has a less stringent contract (Sprint has a 50-day activation period before it can be unlocked). The unlocked iPhone 7 from AT&T and T-Mobile contains Intel’s modem, which only supports GSM networks, making them more limited and less valuable when it comes time to resell your no contract smartphone.
2. Samsung Galaxy S7
One of two five star phones from Samsung
Carriers: All major US carriers | Weight: 152g | Dimensions: 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 5.1-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Exynos 8890 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB/64GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
Sure, the Samsung Galaxy S7 may look nearly identical to the Galaxy S6 but it’s the subtle tweaks that make the Galaxy S7 an improved experience. The Galaxy S7 still features a glass back but is now curved, making the phone feel extremely comfortable in the hand. Samsung even made the Galaxy S7 slightly thicker to accommodate a larger battery.
But the biggest change from the Galaxy S6 is waterproofing. The Galaxy S7 can survive a dunk in a pool or spilled drink without problems. Not happy with 32 or 64GB of internal storage? Samsung brought back microSD card support to the Galaxy S7, meaning you can add up to an additional 200GB of storage.
Performance is excellent, even with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin on top of Android. The company has worked to make TouchWiz less intrusive but you’ll still be waiting months for the latest Android version. The good news is that the phone flies and its camera is excellent, even when compared to newer phones like the Google Pixel.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the Samsung Galaxy S7 (SM-G930U) supports all major US carriers. The advantage of buying an unlocked Galaxy S7 is that you won’t get any carrier branding or bloatware installed. Plus, Samsung Pay will work, unlike unlocked international variants.
1. Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
The best smartphone in the world - it's a work of art
Carrier support: All major US carriers | Weight: 157g | Dimensions: 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm | OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Exynos 8890 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB/64GB | Battery: 3,600mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge features the same curved screen as the Galaxy S6 Edge, but there are subtle changes beneath the sloped glass that help refine the experience. The hardware feels better in the hand thanks to a curved back and slim bezels. This means the Galaxy S7 Edge feels smaller than its screen size would suggest.
Samsung packed the Galaxy S7 Edge with the same excellent camera found in the smaller Galaxy S7, which focuses quickly and captures lots of lights in dim environments. It doesn’t have the fancy dual lens systems of other phones on this list but the image quality speaks for itself.
On the software front, Samsung still offers its TouchWiz skin on top of Android, but the company has worked to scale back the intimidating amount of options and customizations. You’ll still be waiting months to get the latest version of Android, but the tweaks and features Samsung offers over stock Android may be worth it to some.
Will it work for me? Unlocked, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (SM-G935U) supports all major US carriers, including Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. The other advantage of buying an unlocked Galaxy S7 Edge is that you won’t get any gaundy carrier branding or bloatware installed and Samsung Pay works without a hitch.
- Locked and unlocked list: Best phones in the US 2017