HomeTechThe Best Unlocked Phones for 2024

The Best Unlocked Phones for 2024

[ad_1]

The Best Phone Deals This Week*

*Deals are selected by our commerce team

In the US, many carriers turn to software locks to prevent you from using a phone you buy from them on a competing network. Otherwise, they might try to force you into a payment plan that doesn’t permit you to leave that carrier or enable hardware frequency restrictions. Unlocked phones—those you pay for in total upfront (and often from the manufacturer or third-party sellers)—are different. You can often use an unlocked phone on any carrier the phone’s bands support and, importantly, switch carriers at will. You might even be able to use an unlocked phone on an international carrier when traveling.

These are our choices for the best unlocked phones available in the US, followed by what to consider when you buy an unlocked device.


Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. See how we test.

Deeper Dive: Our Top Tested Picks

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

Best iPhone for Creators

Why We Picked It

The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a lot going for it, including a large battery that lasts for over 20 hours of streaming HD video at full brightness. It also has the best camera system in an iPhone and a large screen that’s terrific for creative types. Other highlights include a fast USB-C Gen 2 port, a powerful A17 Pro processor, a sturdy titanium frame, and a versatile Action button. Buying unlocked from an Apple Store is easy and you shouldn’t face compatibility issues with any US carriers.

Who It’s For

Photographers and videographers are the main audience for the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but it’s also ideal for anyone who just wants the best, longest-lasting iPhone they can buy.

PROS

  • Fast, smooth performance
  • Excellent cameras
  • Long battery life
  • Useful Action button
  • USB-C connectivity opens up new features
  • Lighter than previous Pro Max

SPECS

Operating System iOS 17
CPU Apple A17 Pro
Dimensions 6.29 by 3.02 by 0.32 inches
Screen Size 6.7 inches
Screen Resolution 2,796 by 1,290 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 48MP/12MP/12MP;12MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 20 hours, 15 minutes

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Best for Artists and Note-Takers

Why We Picked It

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn’t make any compromises. It’s large and powerful, features one of the best camera systems, includes an S Pen stylus, and offers all the latest Galaxy AI features. If you buy the unlocked model from Samsung’s website, it will work with all US carriers and you get to pick from some online-exclusive colors.

Who It’s For

The S Pen stylus, along with Samsung’s powerful multitasking software, make the Galaxy S24 Ultra a great phone for artists and mobile professionals who like to be productive on the go.

PROS

  • Speedy performance
  • Beautiful screen
  • Terrific cameras
  • Useful AI features
  • Comes with S Pen stylus
  • Long support commitment

SPECS

Operating System Android 14
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy
Dimensions 6.40 by 3.11 by 0.34 Inches
Screen Size 6.8 inches
Screen Resolution 3,120 by 1,440 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 200MP, 12MP, 10MP, 50MP; 12MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 14 hours, 10 minutes

Google Pixel 7a

Most Affordable Pixel Phone

Why We Picked It

The Pixel 7a isn’t as powerful as the Pixel 8, but it still features many of Google’s amazing photography software tricks like Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, and Face Unblur. Smooth performance from the Tensor G2 chip, delightful AI-assisted tools, and support for wireless charging are also strong points.

Who It’s For

If you like Google’s version of Android, the Pixel 7a offers that experience for less money than its current flagship devices.

PROS

  • Solid performance
  • Above-average cameras
  • Unique design
  • Wireless charging

CONS

  • Wi-Fi disconnection issue in testing

SPECS

Operating System Android 13
CPU Google Tensor G2
Dimensions 5.98 by 2.87 by 0.35 inches
Screen Size 6.1 inches
Screen Resolution 2,400 by 1,080 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 64MP, 13MP; 13MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 13 hours, 25 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Best Folding Phone

Why We Picked It

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is Samsung’s best folding phone yet. It’s thinner and lighter than previous iterations and even closes without a gap. Both screens look beautiful, the performance is excellent, and the cameras take great pictures. The software experience continues to be top-notch as well, particularly for those who like to multitask.

Who It’s For

If you value versatility, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is an excellent pick because it can serve as both your phone and tablet. We’re also fans of the Dex feature for big-screen productivity tasks.

PROS

  • Incredibly versatile
  • Excellent productivity software
  • Beautiful screens
  • Slimmer, lighter design than previous generation

CONS

  • Pricey
  • Odd speaker placement

SPECS

Operating System Android 13
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Dimensions 6.10 by 5.11 by 0.24 inches
Screen Size 7.6 inches
Screen Resolution 2,176 by 1,812 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 50MP, 12MP, 10MP; 10MP; 4MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 11 hours, 20 minutes

Google Pixel 8

Best Android Phone for Most People

Why We Picked It

Google’s Pixel 8 is among the most future-proof Android handsets available. It also offers smooth software, good battery life, and excellent cameras with AI-enhanced editing tools. Available unlocked from Google’s store, it works on all three US carriers and supports both eSIM and physical SIM cards.

Who It’s For

If you want an Android phone with a great camera that will get updates for a long time, look no further.

PROS

  • Competitively priced
  • Advanced AI features
  • Terrific cameras
  • Compact
  • Excellent build quality

CONS

  • Unimpressive battery life
  • No telephoto camera
  • Storage capped at 256GB

SPECS

Operating System Android 14
CPU Google Tensor G3
Dimensions 5.93 by 2.79 by 0.35 inches
Screen Size 6.2 inches
Screen Resolution 2,400 by 1,080 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 50MP / 12MP / 10.5MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 10 hours, 20 minutes

Samsung Galaxy A15 5G

Best Affordable Android Phone

Why We Picked It

A 5G phone with a high-resolution screen and a triple-camera setup for a quarter of the price of a Galaxy S24? That’s the Galaxy A15 5G. Samsung also promises four OS upgrades, meaning you can keep it for years without worry.

Who It’s For

If you want to get on a 5G network for not a lot of money, the Samsung A15 5G is an excellent and affordable pick that more than meets expectations.

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Long battery life
  • Competent cameras
  • Excellent software upgrade policy

CONS

  • No IP rating
  • Plastic build

SPECS

Operating System Android 14
CPU Mediatek 6835
Dimensions 6.30 by 3.02 by 0.33 inches
Screen Size 6.5 inches
Screen Resolution 2,340 by 1,080 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 50MP, 5MP, 2MP; 13MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 14 hours, 3 minutes

Apple iPhone 15

Best iPhone for Most People

Why We Picked It

iPhones are the most easily available, universally unlocked line of phones in the US because of Apple’s nationwide network of brick-and-mortar stores. Unlocked iPhones support every US carrier’s frequency bands and you can easily switch them from carrier to carrier. Just remember, most iPhones sold in the US now use eSIMs.

Who It’s For

The average consumer in the market for an unlocked phone should be comfortable with the mainstream iPhone 15. It’s easy to use, powerful, and switches carriers easily.

PROS

  • Good size and weight
  • Solid performance
  • Capable cameras
  • USB-C port
  • Dynamic Island

CONS

  • No always-on display
  • No telephoto camera
  • Shorter battery life than other iPhones

SPECS

Operating System iOS 17
CPU Apple A16 Bionic
Dimensions 5.81 by 2.81 by 0.31 inches
Screen Size 6.1 inches
Screen Resolution 2,556 by 1,179 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 48MP / 12MP / 12MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 16 hours, 15 minutes

Motorola Razr+

Best Flip Phone

Why We Picked It

The Motorola Razr+ is appealing thanks to its bright, pixel-rich display, solid everyday performance, and capable set of cameras, but we picked it because it’s a fun folding phone that changes things up. This device bends in half at the waist and flips down into a small, pocketable square that’s easy to use even when closed.

Who It’s For

This flip is for people tired of the same old slab-style smartphones looking for something different. It may not be as powerful as a Galaxy or a Pixel flagship, but it’s got far more personality.

PROS

  • Excellent display quality
  • Highly functional external screen
  • Portable, stylish design

CONS

  • Unimpressive IP rating
  • Dated processor

SPECS

Operating System Android 13
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1
Dimensions 6.73 by 2.91 by 0.28 inches
Screen Size 6.9 inches
Screen Resolution 2,640 by 1,080 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 12MP, 13MP; 32MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 14 hours

OnePlus 12

Best Alternative to Google and Samsung

Why We Picked It

The OnePlus 12 is an off-the-beaten-path flagship that goes spec for spec against its top rivals. Moreover, its 5,000mAh battery charges faster than most: It goes from 0% to 100% in just 38 minutes with the included 80W charger.

Who It’s For

A top-tier processor, super-fast charging, and a reasonable price make the OnePlus 12 an ideal Android phone for power users who don’t want to spend too much.

PROS

  • Bright, crisp display
  • Excellent battery life
  • Rapid wired and wireless charging
  • Powerful processor

CONS

  • Lacks mmWave 5G
  • Not as waterproof as competing phones
  • No special AI features

SPECS

Operating System Android 14
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Dimensions 6.47 by 2.98 by .36 inches
Screen Size 6.82 inches
Screen Resolution 3,168 by 1,440 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 64MP, 50MP, 48MP; 32MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 18 hours, 10 minutes

Learn More

OnePlus 12 Review

Nokia 2780 Flip

Best Voice Phone

Why We Picked It

The Nokia 2780 Flip phone is affordable, pocketable, and durable. It sounds good on calls and even has a camera for the occasional snapshot.

Who It’s For

If you want your friends and family members to be able to reach you, but don’t want to deal with any distractions, the Nokia 2780 Flip should suit your needs.

PROS

  • Good call quality
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • FM radio
  • Affordable

CONS

  • Operating system is a bit clunky
  • Group texting could be better
  • Several key apps are missing
  • Middling battery life

SPECS

Operating System KaiOS
CPU Qualcomm 215 Mobile Platform
Dimensions 4.33 by 2.28 by 0.77 inches
Screen Size 2.7 inches
Screen Resolution 320 by 240 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 5MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 3 hours, 24 minutes (LTE talk time)

Buying Guide: The Best Unlocked Phones for 2024

PCMag Logo The Best Phones of the Year

What Is the Best Unlocked Phone to Buy?

With an unlocked device, you can trade up or sell your phone whenever you want without waiting for the end of a leasing or installment plan. You can also own multiple handsets and swap your SIM card between them. If you travel internationally, you can pop in a local, pay-as-you-go card overseas and never pay horrendous international roaming charges. You can also take advantage of super-cheap prepaid plans from virtual operators in the US that piggyback on compatible networks.

If you go with a prepaid carrier, ensure it supports the phone you want; we’ve heard several stories of MVNOs not supporting phones that theoretically work on their networks.

PCMag Logo What Is 5G?

Can You Put Any SIM Card Into an Unlocked Phone?

There are a few downsides to going the unlocked route. If you change SIM cards overseas, you won’t have your US phone number while you travel. Most of the phones on our list work on all three major US carriers, but you should check out our reviews before you buy because a few might not connect to all the carriers’ 5G networks—or overseas networks.

Samsung Galaxy S24+

Samsung Galaxy S24+ (Credit: Eric Zeman)

On the plus side, with the growing number of phones with electronic SIMs (eSIMs), changing carriers is easier than ever. Simply select your carrier from a menu on your phone or by scanning an online QR code, and you won’t need to wait for a physical SIM to arrive in the mail.

On this list, the Pixel 8 series, the Samsung Galaxy S24 series, and Apple’s iPhones support eSIM or dual SIM, which lets you attach two lines to one phone. Dual SIM is great for maintaining a work line and a personal line, or lines for two different countries, that ring a single device.

Google Pixel 8

Google Pixel 8 (Credit: Eric Zeman)


Where Can You Buy a New Unlocked Phone?

Shopping for an unlocked handset can be tricky because carrier stores don’t stock them. If you’re looking for one, Amazon, the Apple Store, Best Buy Mobile, and manufacturers’ online stores (Google, OnePlus, Samsung) are all good bets. Sometimes, you can even unlock the phone you already have, though the particulars depend on the handset and carrier.

If that large upfront payment is a concern, some retailers including Apple, Best Buy, Google, and Samsung will allow you to finance devices over two or three years to break down the cost.

Recommended by Our Editors

Ready to break free? Pick up one of these handsets, and don’t feel tied to your carrier any longer. 

And if you’re looking for the best deal, check out our tips for getting the best price on a new phone and our picks for the best cheap phones.

Dave LeClair and Sascha Segan contributed to this story.



[ad_2]

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments