Unlocked phones are arguably the most affordable and best value way to buy a new handset, offering low costs and flexibility across a wide range of both budget and flagship devices.
Here, we've tracked down all of the best unlocked phones and listed them in our order of what we think are the best choices. We'll give you the run down on not only the premium phones like the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S20 Plus, but also the best prices for some of the budget favorites like the cheap and powerful OnePlus Nord and the affordable iPhone SE.
Unlocked phones have become increasingly popular in the last few years. When flagship phones go on sale, it's usually very expensive to get them through a carrier.
It can be a lot cheaper to buy the phone unlocked instead. But the RRPs of phones direct from the manufacturer are very rarely the cheapest way to get hold of your shiny new smartphone. And that's where TechRadar comes in...
So take a look through our top 15 unlocked phones, with an excerpt from our full reviews in case you're still umm-ing and ah-ing. And for a quickfire rundown, you can scroll to the bottom of this page and use our bespoke price comparison chart to find the perfect option for you.
Best unlocked smartphones:
Due to the year it has under its belt, prices have fallen drastically. And despite it no longer being Samsung's newest, it still has a super powerful screen, battery, processor and more keeping it going strong.
Ever since the iPhone 12 came out, we've seen the price of the iPhone 11 come way down. Now, it is a good $100+ cheaper making it the perfect iPhone for most people.
While it doesn't offer Apple's latest specs anymore, it really isn't far off, offering a similar camera performance to the 12, a still very high powered processor and a bunch more top notch features.
The Google Pixel 5 a number of factors Google has always been good at with a few areas it usually struggles at. Like normal, it has a truly excellent camera performance, the UI is intuitive and the leading option in Android thanks to its leading position as the first to get updates and unique features and even the price tag is Google's usual trend of affordable.
Where Google normally struggles in RAM and battery, improvements have clearly been made to make it a top-tier option.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the latest release from the Samsung brand. While a lot has changed in it compared to last year's S20, the biggest difference is the price. The S21 is a much cheaper alternative to the S20 before and in line with the cost of Apple's iPhone 12.
Samsung Galaxy S21 deals, despite their lower price, upgrade you to the latest processor from Samsung - the Snapdragon 888. This branches out into improvements in the camera, battery life and more.
The OnePlus 8 is a phone many likely don't consider and yet it is the perfect option to compete with Samsung and Apple flagships. It offers similar designs, specs and features to the Samsung S20, while dropping the price down a decent amount.
You're getting 5G specs, an impressive battery cap and even a powerful processor.
The iPhone 12 is a bit of a double edged sword. While it provides Apple's best specs with the introduction of 5G and the A14 Bionic chip, it gets there by driving the price up a fair way.
While the iPhone 12 range is now Apple's best, a recent price drop on the iPhone 11 has made it the better device for the large majority of people right now.
Budget SIM-free and unlocked phones:
The iPhone SE is an odd Apple release in 2020. It's extremely cheap by Apple's standards at just $419 but it looks nothing like most recent launches. In fact, it has the exact same body as the older iPhone 8.
So why is it worth buying? Apple has decked it out with a few high-end specs, most important of which is the A13 Bionic chip - the same processor found in the iPhone 11.
That means you can now get a cheap iPhone without having to go a few years back on specs.
Yes, it is by no means the newest device from Samsung but the S9 provides an exceptionally affordable price for those who don't care about being on the most up to date device.
You fall back to 2018 but luckily Samsung was ahead of its time! You're getting a high-end display, a 3000mAh battery and a surprisingly competent camera array. All-in-all, if you're looking for Samsung on a budget, this is a good way to go.
When it comes to 2020 budget phones, the OnePlus Nord looks like one of the best choices out there. It costs roughly half of what you are going to be paying for most flagship devices but still delivers on a lot of the specs.
It has a stylish design, an impressive camera array and even goes big on its processor. While it doesn't have the biggest battery, an official IP rating or wireless charging, this is still one of the best budget Android devices around.
The iPhone 8 might seem like a strange list compared to some of the other smartphones on this list and yet, with such a low price tag now, it will be the perfect choice for a lot of Apple users.
However, it is worth pointing out that due to its age, the iPhone 8 is no longer a very powerful iPhone. If you like a smaller form factor and lower price but with some better specs, the iPhone SE above could be the better choice.
The Google Pixel 4a is the latest option from the brand, offering an exceptionally low price point for one of the best camera phones around. The Google Pixel 4a, while not the fastest or most powerful phone around, manages to provide a lot of impressive specs for the price.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus and Note 10 above aren't exactly affordable. If you're looking for Samsung at an affordable price tag, this could well be the way to go. The Samsung Galaxy A71 is one of Samsung's many affordable 'A' series devices but despite this, it is still pretty specced-out.
A giant 4500 mAh battery, a surprisingly powerful processor, 6.7-inch AMOLED display and a number of other higher-tier features can be found on board the Galaxy A71.
The iPhone XR is one of Apple's older handsets now and despite the fact it was the most popular phone of 2019, it has fallen behind the times now. Luckily, with that age, it has now received two separate price cuts making it more affordable than ever.
It now sits at a price point not far off the iPhone SE but features a much larger display and form factor which many will prefer.
The second iteration of this device (yes, that explains the date in the name), the Huawei P Smart has had time to mature and grow. Now, it comes with an impressive battery, ample storage, a pretty decent camera and most importantly, a price tag you really can't grumble at.
Welcome back, old friend! Pure nostalgia may be the primary jet-fuel that makes this revamped classic fly off the shelves, but for such a low price the Nokia 3310 may genuinely suit you as a second device to take to festivals or keep in your bag for emergencies. It's some way off the capabilities of actual smartphones, but...well, did we mention Snake?
- Looking for contract plans? Head to our best mobile phone deals page
Unlocked phones: FAQ
What does unlocked mean?
In its simplest terms, an unlocked phone is a device that isn't tied to any carrier yet. That means it won't be connected to Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or any other provider.
Overall, going unlocked is going to be the best option for a lot of people, giving you the most control over pricing, contract lengths, providers and data caps.
Of course, it isn't the only option and there any plenty of other cell phone plans to consider.
- We've also featured the best global SIM.