Best unlocked cellphone

Cell Phones & Accessories

When smartphone models are first released, you typically can only get an unlocked version by purchasing directly from manufacturers. Starting about a year after, you can find unlocked copies without any contracts attached.

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Which unlocked cellphone is best?

Unlocked phones have an immense advantage over cellphones that lock you into contracted service with a specific provider. Suppose users are unhappy with their current cellular service plan. In that case, an unlocked phone provides the freedom to switch to a new provider while keeping the device that is already familiar.

If you want top-of-the-line quality in your smartphone and a device that will work with any service provider, the top choice is the Samsung Galaxy S10. Although expensive, it is easily one of the best unlocked smartphones on the market.

What to know before you buy an unlocked cellphone

Do you have a cellphone contract?

Providers usually provide smartphones for special deals with the caveat that users must agree to use their services for a certain period. Even if you already have such a contract but want to leave, you can get an unlocked phone to use with your current plan and then keep it whenever you switch carriers. An unlocked phone allows you to use the device with any provider to not get locked into a contract.

What services do you access for cell service?

Some phones use global system for mobile communications and others use code division multiple access for cellular service. Genuinely universal phones can access both networks and you can then use them with any phone service carrier. For some more information about GSM and CDMA, take a look through the BestReviews Buying Guide before picking out a new phone.

Are you planning to travel?

If you travel internationally or plan to, many carriers have extra fees for using phones abroad. However, unlocked phones can allow you to put any SIM card inside and access local signals for any foreign country you visit. All you have to do is bring your unlocked phone because there are no extra fees if you own the hardware.

What to look for in a quality unlocked cellphone

Compatibility

The best unlocked cellphones are truly universal and access both GSM and CDMA signals. In many cases, a GSM compatible phone can also use your old SIM card if you have one, so you might not need to purchase a new card. Before you purchase a phone, check that it can function with any carriers you may use.

Durability and protection

Quality unlocked phones will have a degree of water resistance and protection against damage, but you can also obtain warranties to protect the hardware. This is a safe choice for unlocked devices because you will usually pay more for an unlocked device directly from a manufacturer. That is the cost of having no contract.

Security

Some unlocked cellphones have better security features than others, but more importantly, you should not jailbreak an unlocked phone. A jailbroken device means someone has altered the hardware to use applications not approved by the original manufacturer. Doing so can open up your phone to serious security risks, so find a universally compatible phone that is unlocked to use with all providers and still secure for the manufacturer’s standards.

How much you can expect to spend on unlocked cellphones

You can find a device with no contract for an unlocked cellphone with basic modern functionality for less than $500. If you need higher quality screens and cameras, you can expect to pay $500-$800. Top-quality smartphones can cost up to $1,000 if you are looking for the device without any contracts.

Unlocked cellphone FAQ

Can you trade in old smartphones for discounted unlocked devices?

A. That depends on your wireless carrier. Some service providers have trade-in programs, but these usually come with contractual obligations. To get discounts on smartphone hardware, you typically need to sign up for up to two years of contractual service. If you sell a phone privately to a secondhand buyer and purchase an unlocked device not bound by contracts, you might be able to avoid paying the generally higher prices for the hardware.

Can you get a warranty with an unlocked phone?

A. When you purchase locked phones from service providers, you can obtain warranties from them. Most unlocked cellphones come with warranties from the actual manufacturer. If you need more coverage on an unlocked device, you can get insurance policies that bundle coverage of your unlocked phone, potentially at a helpful discount.

What’s the best unlocked cellphone to buy?

Top unlocked cellphone

Samsung Galaxy S10

Samsung Galaxy S10

What you need to know: These Samsung models demonstrate the power of Android devices and work with any service provider, putting control into the user’s hands.

What you’ll love: It has high-quality camera lenses that make the smartphone a creative studio in the palm of your hand. It is a sleek and slim frame that packs a battery lasting all day. There is an ultrasonic fingerprint detector built into the screen for added security. It has 128 GB of storage space.

What you should consider: This is a costly investment in a smartphone, so consider the price tag.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top unlocked cellphone for the money

Motorola Moto G7 Power

Motorola Moto G7 Power

What you need to know: This affordable unlocked model delivers excellent battery life conservation and the basic features you need in a smartphone.

What you’ll love: The cameras take decent photos, and the device is compatible with GSM and CDMA signals. The battery lasts for a long time. It survives up to three days on a full charge with no need to be plugged back in, which is helpful if you have a busy or active lifestyle and travel often.

What you should consider: It only has 32 GB of storage space, which can fill up quickly. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

What you need to know: For Apple fans in need of an unlocked device, you cannot go wrong with this sleek and compact iPhone design.

What you’ll love: These phones are waterproof and have a long battery life to hold up under stressful conditions. It has stereo speakers if you want to listen to your iTunes library of music without the need for additional speakers or headphones.

What you should consider: For extra chargers and accessories, you will be restricted to Apple’s proprietary hardware and software.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Elliott Rivette writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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