SIM-free phones are an excellent way to get a phone that is both affordable and doesn't tie you into a lengthy contract. But with a huge amount of SIM-free devices out there, which is the best option?
Once you've picked the handset that works for you, you can then invest in some cheap SIM only deals and beat out the more expensive contract prices currently on the market.
So take a look through our top 15 SIM-free 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 mobile phone for you.
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Best SIM-free smartphones:
Yes, it is no longer Apple's newest device considering the iPhone 12 range has been on the market for a little while and yet, the iPhone 11 remains an excellent choice thanks to the large price drop it recently received.
While it originally cost £729, it came all the way down to just £599 making it an excellent iPhone device on more of a budget. And despite its slightly older age and lowered price tag, the iPhone 11 remains an excellent phone.
Yes, it doesn't have 5G but it does use Apple's A13 Bionic chip - not Apple's newest but still one of the most powerful processors on the market. Apple follows that up with a 3110mAh battery and a 6-1-inch Liquid Retina display.
While it's not as powerful as the iPhone 12 (listed below) the camera performance is still excellent, offering a dual lens set-up with a 12MP wide angle and 12MP ultrawide, plus a 12MP selfie camera.
The latest flagship device from the Google brand, the Pixel 5 combines everything that is good about Google into a neat package.
Not only is it a 5G device, future-proofing your phone for the slow rollout of 5G, it is also easily one of the best camera phones on the market right now - mostly thanks to Google's camera AI software.
On paper, the dual camera set-up doesn't seem all that impressive, offering a 12.2MP wide lens and a 16MP ultrawide but with Google, it's all happening behind the scenes.
Google takes great shots letting in lots of colour and while it can't keep up with Samsung or Apple for zoom and video, it has editing software to beat both brands.
Looking past the camera, Google has crammed in a 4080mAh battery, a powerful Snapdragon 765G processor, a 6.0-inch OLED display with 90Hz refresh rates and of course, Google's native Android operating system.
No longer the newest device from Samsung but just like the iPhone 11 above, this is still an excellent option. This is especially true because while the Samsung S21 Plus was an upgrade in most areas...the S20 Plus is actually better in some areas.
The most obvious factor to boost the Galaxy S20 Plus above its newer replacement is its new found price. As an older handset no longer stocked directly on the Samsung website, the S20 Plus has come way down in price.
Despite that fallen price, you're getting 5G, a very competent 4500mAh battery and the use of Samsung's Exynos 990 processor. Pair that with the 120Hz refresh rate 6.7-inch AMOLED 2X display and its age doesn't hold you back from a great device.
While the newer Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus has the bigger battery and the better processor and camera, the S20 Plus has a better screen and still has expandable storage (a feature that it looks like Samsung is now abandoning) - plus you get a charger and headphones in the box!
As the latest flagship series from Samsung, the Galaxy S21 is going to be a popular choice for a lot of people. It launched with a lower RRP than the S20 before it and frequently sees big cuts in its price.
While there is a lot of upgrades in place on this device, the biggest one is the jump up to the Exynos 2100 processor. This is one of the most powerful on the market rivalling Apple's A14 Bionic chip.
This also means upgrades to other areas, giving the S21's camera a boost in power and AI functionality, allowing you to make the most of the device's 12MP wide and ultrawide lenses and the 64MP telephoto lens.
While it no longer has expandable storage and the screen isn't the best quality out there, this is certainly one of the best Android experiences around for a slightly lower price point.
The new OnePlus 9 is now here but considering it is still in its pre-order stage, we're going to focus on the more affordable OnePlus 8.
Despite no longer being the newest option from the brand, this is an excellent device to get your hands on. It makes use of a massive 4300mAh battery, has 5G without a huge price tag and offers a Snapdragon 865 and 12GB RAM combination for lots of power.
Yes, there is no wireless charging and no telephoto camera but these are small loses for an overall impressive device. It packs in a 6.55-inch AMOLED display with an FHD+ resolution which, while not the highest resolution, is a great display.
Apple's latest range of devices are some of the best handsets on the market right now. And yes, the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max are the brand's most powerful options but they are also incredibly expensive - that's where the regular iPhone 12 comes in.
Offering a much lower price tag with most of the key specs, the iPhone 12 feels like an overall better value option. It uses the same A14 Bionic chip, it has a capable 2815mAh battery and uses a Super Retina XDR OLED display for a great resolution display.
As for the camera, you are limited to just two lenses - a 12MP wide and ultrawide lens. Those two are more than capable though offering some of the best quality shots on the market plus the use of 4K Dolby Vision HDR video - a feature limited to Apple's iPhone 12 range.
Budget SIM-free phones:
Apple's one and only true budget handset, the iPhone SE is going to be a device that appeals to a lot of people. For such an expensive brand, the iPhone SE stands out with its near-£400 price tag.
Despite that low cost, you're getting Apple's A13 Bionic chip - the same featured in the iPhone 11 series. This makes this a pretty high-powered device, especially considering most device's of a similar price use much weaker processors.
This processor upgrade also means a boost to the camera which, despite only having one lens, allows you to take some pretty fantastic shots on a budget.
However, it's not all spec boosts and good camera shots - there are downgrades too to achieve this price. Design-wise, the iPhone SE holds a major resemblance to the much older iPhone 8.
The iPhone SE also features a pretty small 1821mAh battery and a screen of just 4.7-inches. It is also no surprise to hear that this isn't a 5G handset.
Now officially three years old, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is quickly falling behind the times. And yet, despite this age it is still an excellent choice - mainly due to the massive fall in price we've seen.
You can frequently find the Samsung Galaxy S9 below £300 and although the big names retailers like John Lewis and Currys don't stock it, the likes of Amazon still have plenty of offers.
In terms of specs, you're getting a 3000mAh battery, a 5.8-inch AMOLED display and the Exynos 9810 processor. It does only use one lens wit the camera but this will be enough for people just looking for a cheaper device.
Obviously, this isn't going to come close to any of Samsung's newer releases in the S10, S20 or S21 devices but for those just looking for Samsung on a budget, it could be a great way to go.
The OnePlus Nord is a device performing way above its price bracket, offering a budget cost with specs that compete with the best mid-range phones on the market.
Yes, it falls short of matching the more powerful OnePlus devices like the 8 Pro or 9 but for the £379 price we're not surprised. For that price, OnePlus crams in some impressive features.
A 4115mAh battery, a 6.44-inch Fluid AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rates, a 6-12GB RAM processor and a highly premium design.
However, what really stands out is the number of camera features for the price. The OnePlus Nord uses four camera lenses - a 48MP wide, 8MP ultrawide, 5MP depth and 2MP macro lens - all allowing you to score some impressive shots and that's before we address the 4K at 30fps video feature.
Back in the day, the iPhone 8 was a really impressive iPhone. Yes, it has quickly fallen behind and now the iPhone SE is effectively a more powerful version of it but thanks to its age, the iPhone 8 has come way down in price.
That allows you to frequently get the iPhone 8 for under £300 - almost £200 less than its original RRP. Of course, the specs on-board aren't anything to shout about but for those looking for Apple on a budget, they'll do perfectly.
It features a great point-and-shoot camera (limited to a single 12MP wide angle), wireless charging and a satisfying glass back. It uses a 4.7-inch display making it a great one handed device and although the battery capacity sits at just 1821mAh, the device itself doesn't drain battery as much as some of the newer handsets around.
The Google Pixel 4a stands out as being one of the best budget handsets for anyone looking for a top camera experience. Yes, it isn't the most powerful device on the market but for the price, it is certainly a top spot.
As we said above, the most obvious feature here that makes the Google Pixel 4a stand out is the camera. There's a single 12.2MP wide lens which, while not impressive in specs, is made up for with an increased AI performance.
This means that for the price, you'll be getting some pretty impressive point-and-shoot shots, especially with Google's editing software. Alongside the camera, Google is offering an 3140mAh battery,
The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G is a recent launch from the brand, offering some surprisingly high-end specs for a low cost. In fact, considering the 5G inclusion on this device, this is one of Samsung's best budget options.
It launched with an RRP of £399 and yet, the device includes an 120Hz refresh rate display, sitting at a comfortable 6.5-inches. The device also packs in a Snapdragon 750G for a strong performance.
For the price, one of the most impressive features of the Samsung Galaxy A52 is the camera. Packing in a quad camera set-up, you're getting a 64MP wide angle, a 12MP Ultrawide, and 5MP Macro and depth lenses.
All of that provides a phone that performs above its price tag - similar to the OnePlus Nord.
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?
SIM-free phones FAQ
What are SIM-free phones?
As the name implies, these are simply devices that come without a SIM card. That means that you can go out and buy your own SIM only deal, allowing you to find the cheapest prices, 1-month contracts or affordable options for big data. This can often end up leading to the cheapest overall price, as long as you don't mind paying upfront for the phone.
Can I put any SIM in a SIM-free phone?
Yes, any SIM will work in a SIM-free phone. You simply need to choose which SIM works for you and then slot it into the phone. The only real exception comes from the new range of 5G SIMs. To use a 5G SIM you will need to also invest in a 5G phone deal.
Can I get a SIM-free phone refurbished?
If you want to try and save a bit more money then you can always go refurbished instead. With a refurbished phone, most retailers now offer guarantees, pristine editions and the option to repair the phone if there is a problem.
Refurbished is likely the cheapest way you'll find to get a SIM-free phone.
Is it cheaper to go SIM-free or for a contract?
When you get a new smartphone, these really are your only two choices...but which is the better way to go. If you calculate the two year cost of a contract, going SIM-free will almost always be cheaper.
Yes, there is a much higher cost to pay at the start as you have to buy the handset out right. But after that, once paired with a cheap SIM plan, you'll end up with a far better cost.
Saying that, a contract is both a lot simpler and means you don't have to worry about that high upfront cost. If a contract sounds like your preferred route, use our mobile phone deals guide to find out more.
Are all phones available SIM-free?
In theory, yes. You should be able to buy any smartphone SIM-free. If you can't find a device available at the usual retailers - Amazon, John Lewis, Argos etc, it is worth consulting the brand's own website.
Many lesser-known devices won't be available from retailers and will instead require a bit of searching around. Think cheaper devices from Huawei, Xiaomi or Oppo - mostly the devices that are popular in other regions of the world.
- We've also featured the best global SIM.