Best Unlocked Phones (November 2021)


Google Pixel 6 Pro Long Exposure CitySource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Best
unlocked phones
Android Central
2021

In a world where most people in the United States buy smartphones through carriers like Verizon and AT&T, it’s important to highlight the market of unlocked phones. When you buy a phone unlocked, you have the freedom to use it on any carrier you want (so long as it’s supported) and often save money in the long haul compared to purchasing it on a contract or installment plan. The Google Pixel 6 is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy in 2021 thanks to excellent band support for sub-6 5G, superb software, and one of the best cameras ever put in a phone.

Best overall unlocked phone: Google Pixel 6

Google Pixel 6 with Smart Launcher 5 and Material You

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

The Pixel 6 is the clear choice if you’re looking for a pure Android experience with great hardware to back it up. When it comes to design, it’s clear this phone represents a new beginning for the pixel line with a dramatic redesign and Google’s own CPU under the glass. With the Pixel 6, Google got nearly everything right, including great carrier support including some pickier carriers like Visible. So naturally, it’s the perfect match for Google fi with full network support, including 5G.

The Pixel 6 is powered by Google’s Tensor CPU, which gives this device all of the headroom it needs to power through everyday tasks, as well as some of the industry’s best HDR photo and video processing. It has a 6.4-inch OLED display with a 2400×1080 display running at 90Hz. It also comes with IP68 water resistance and fast wired and wireless charging.

As is typical of the Pixel line, the most impressive feature is the cameras. For years, Google has been making the most of solid but unimpressive sensors with software, but the Pixel 6 comes with a massive hardware upgrade. The main camera is a 50MP shooter with a 12MP ultra-wide on standby. Paired with Google’s software, this is one of the best choices for someone looking for perfect social media photos.

One place the Pixel 6 falls short is in its confusing model selection. The unlocked Google Store version of the phone only supports sub-6 5G, representing the majority of 5G coverage, including mid-band. If you want support for the limited but ultra-fast mmWave 5G, you’ll need to get your phone from a carrier. For most people, sub-6 5G is more than enough for many years to come.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous flat 90Hz OLED display
  • Fantastic all-day battery life
  • First in line for Android updates
  • Great cameras
  • Three color choices

Cons:

  • Camera bar is very large
  • Larger than older pixels
  • Can be hard to find in stock

Best overall unlocked phone


Google Pixel 6 Kinda Coral Render

Google Pixel 6 – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

The best of the best

The Google Pixel 6 is one of the best phones you can get, thanks to excellent software support without a carrier and the right price.

Best premium unlocked phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central

The Galaxy S21 Ultra makes subtle refinements to the S20 Ultra’s design, but they make such a difference. The matte texture of the finishes (um, hello Phantom Black!) and the camera housing integrated into the frame are nice touches. But the real improvements are under the hood.

With the S21 Ultra, Samsung improved the size and speed of the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, which had been a complaint about the past several S generations. Of course, we got upgrades to the processor and ultra-wideband 5G connectivity, but we can now set the screen at Quad HD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate! Samsung looks to have corrected the autofocusing issues of the S20 Ultra and has beefed up the S21 Ultra’s zoom capabilities with both 10X and 3X optical zoom cameras.

Finally, the S21 Ultra is the first phone not named Note that has S Pen support. Unfortunately, the S Pen is not built into the phone’s casing, though some of the best Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra phone cases will be able to accommodate it.

Pros

  • Best-in-class Quad HD+ display that supports 120Hz
  • Improved cameras and fingerprint sensor
  • S Pen support
  • Fast chip and support for sub-6 and mmWave 5G

Cons

  • No getting around that price tag
  • No expandable storage
  • This phone is significant

Best premium unlocked phone


Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Render Phantom Silver Back Official

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

Best of the best

Its high price may keep some buyers at bay, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra is an outstanding Android handset if you can afford it.

Best unlocked phone camera: Google Pixel 6 Pro

Pixel 6 Pro

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

The Google Pixel 6 Pro has quite a lot in common with the smaller and more affordable Pixel 6, including the highly performant Google Tensor CPU though RAM has been from 8GB to 12GB. The screen is a bit larger at 6.7 inches, with a resolution bump to 1440 x 3120 to match. The larger screen also supports a 120Hz refresh rate for even smoother touch interactions. The battery only gets a slight increase to 5003mAh, which should still last all day with ease.

This Pixel has the same 50MP wide and 12.2MP ultra-wide camera as its little brother but also comes with a 48MP telephoto camera. These three cameras mean you’ll have the right lens for any situation, and with Google’s excellent photo processing, you can get sharp and colorful photos in nearly any lighting. The telephoto lens gives you a 4x optical zoom without compromising resolution.

Of course, you get the same great Android updates with timely feature updates and frequent security updates. Google’s newest version of Android feels great and looks vibrant on this phone’s large and fast display. This phone also comes with mmWave support no matter where you buy it, so if you’re looking for gigabit downloads on the go, this phone support it.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous 120Hz OLED display
  • Fantastic all-day battery life
  • First in line for Android updates
  • Great cameras
  • Three color choices

Cons:

  • Camera bar is very large
  • Can be hard to find in stock

Best overall phone camera


Google Pixel 6 Pro Cloudy White Render

Google Pixel 6 Pro – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

The best with a bit more

The Google Pixel 6 Pro takes the Pixel 6 formula further with more camera options, a sharper screen, and better 5G support.

Best unlocked phone battery life: Moto G Power (2020)

Moto G Power

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central

There’s no denying the greatness of the Galaxy S20 FE, but at the same time, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all smartphone. So if you like the idea of the S20 FE, but it’s just not clicking for you, check out the Moto G Power.

Right off the bat, the G Power is more appealing from a price perspective. The Galaxy S20 FE isn’t the most expensive device by any means, but the G Power does help keep a few extra dollars in your wallet. The biggest sacrifice between the two phones is the G Power’s camera quality. The 16MP primary camera does not deliver as good of images as you can capture with the Galaxy S20 FE. That said, the Moto G Power also gives you ultra-wide and macro cameras to expand your shooting possibilities.

The Moto G Power’s pièce de résistance is its 5,000 mAh battery, which should easily get you between two and three days of continuous use before needing to charge up. Also on board is a solid 1080p display with slim bezels, good performance, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Unfortunately, you don’t get NFC for contactless Google Pay payments, but the G Power retains excellent carrier compatibility with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon support.

On the software front, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. The Android 10 user interface that’s offered out-of-the-box is wonderful, with Motorola giving you a Pixel-esque experience with a few smart additions here and there. Unfortunately, only one update to Android 11 is promised for the phone. Beyond that, you’re limited to security patches and nothing more. There is a newer Moto G Power (2021), but after our review, we were left preferring the older model.

Pros

  • Large 1080p display
  • Up to three-day battery life
  • Motorola’s excellent software
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Compatible with all U.S. carriers

Cons

  • Doesn’t have NFC for Google Pay
  • Only promised one software update
  • Cameras aren’t the best

Best unlocked phone battery


Moto G Power

Moto G Power (2020)

Another great option in the unlocked space

Whether you’re interested in its unmatched battery life, good display, or headphone jack, the Moto G Power is a great choice.

Best unlocked value flagship: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Galaxy S20 FE in Cloud Mint

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central

By now, you’ve probably seen quite a bit of positive praise for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE thanks to its balance of great hardware and software at the right price.

Released approximately six months after 2020’s flagship S20 lineup, the S20 FE brought just about every premium feature from those flagship phones for hundreds less. With the FE, you get a flat 120Hz 6.5-inch display, a high-performance Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of memory, and expandable storage. Not only that, but the S20 FE has outstanding battery life, fantastic cameras, IP68 water resistance, and high speed and wireless charging. What’s not to love?

Aside from a few minor (and hardly noticeable) downgrades to its camera, the biggest initial knock on the S20 FE was the plastic — err — glasstic back panel. But after using the device for several months, we can confidently say that the material not only feels and looks great, but it’s more durable than the glass on the regular S20 line. Samsung even introduced this material in the standard Galaxy Note 20 and the entry model Galaxy S21. We also love the color options, particularly the Cloud Mint, Cloud Orange, and Cloud Lavender. More of this, please!

Best of all, you can purchase this device unlocked for at least a hundred dollars off the retail price, which means that you can use it to access 5G and LTE networks on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Pretty great!

Pros:

  • Gorgeous flat 120Hz display
  • Fantastic all-day battery life
  • Three years of software updates
  • Great durability
  • Several exciting color options

Cons:

  • Camera app can launch slowly
  • Some may not like the plastic back at this price

Best unlocked value flagship


Galaxy S20 FE Cloud Orange

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

Spend less with flagship quality

The Galaxy S20 FE is an unbelievable value in the smartphone space, offering just about everything you’d want at a fair price.

Best unlocked phone underdog: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

While the Galaxy S21 series may be the 2021 Samsung phone that everyone is talking about, there’s another one out there that isn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves. It’s the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, and when you look at everything it’s packing, you might be tempted to go out and buy one this very second.

Right off the bat, the Galaxy A52 5G catches your attention with its design. It’s technically made out of plastic, but there’s a matte finish that feels like glass. In the U.S., we only get a matte black version, but other markets can choose from beautiful options like Awesome Blue, Awesome Violet, and Awesome White. On the front of the phone, you’ll find a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with a crisp resolution of 2400×1080 and a 120Hz refresh rate. Camera-wise, you have four sensors to choose from — a 64MP primary lens, 12MP ultra-wide lens, 5MP macro lens, and 5MP portrait lens.

Looking inside the Galaxy A52 5G, there’s just as much to get excited about. You’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, 6/8GB of RAM, 128/256GB of expandable storage, and a massive 4,500 mAh battery. Samsung also kept the 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Galaxy A52 5G is available unlocked in the U.S. and many other markets.

Pros

  • 6.5-inch AMOLED display
  • Four cameras on the back
  • Gorgeous design
  • Headphone jack and expandable storage
  • Ample performance

Cons

  • Screen doesn’t get bright enough outdoors for our liking
  • No mmWave 5G

Best unlocked phone underdog


Galaxy A52 Awesome Black

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

Don’t overlook this excellent handset

You may not have previously heard about the Galaxy A52, but everything about the phone makes it well worth considering.

Best compact unlocked phone: Google Pixel 5a with 5G

Google Pixel 5a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

You can find smaller phones than the Google Pixel 5a, but you won’t find any that match the features packed in. This phone is just 6.1 inches tall, but its screen manages an impressive 6.34 inches thanks to running to the very edge of the device. That OLED display is also great to look at with a sharp 1080×2400 resolution and vibrant colors.

It’s powered by the sensible Snapdragon 765G, which isn’t topping any benchmark leaderboards but has plenty of grunt with its 6GB of RAM to deliver a consistently smooth experience. You also get a 4680mAh battery which is suitable for a day or two of usage. Finally, this phone supports sub-6 5G so that you can experience the majority of 5G coverage, including mid-band.

The Pixel 5a comes to life thanks to Google’s great software keeping the phone up to date with the latest version of Android and security updates. This optimized software also helps the Pixel 5a make the most of its 12.2MP primary camera with pictures that outclass anything at this price.

Pros:

  • Great for one-handed use
  • Frequent Android updates from Google
  • Best in class camera
  • Sub-6 5G support
  • IP67 water resistance

Cons:

  • No ultra-wide or optical zoom lenses
  • No wireless charging

Best compact unlocked phone


Google Pixel 5a 5g Product Render

Google Pixel 5a with 5G – Unlocked Android Cell Phone

Compact is cool

The Pixel 5a with 5G is a great phone that makes the most of its compact housing with 5G support and a large 4680mAh battery.

Best budget unlocked phone: Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

Samsung Galaxy A32 review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

If you’re on a tight budget but still want a phone with a solid Android experience, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is a great choice. This 5G variant of the Galaxy A32 has enough power for a smooth Android experience with great carrier support. There’s also a 48MP camera for surprisingly good pictures considering the price.

Right off the bat, the Galaxy A32 5G grabs your attention with its 6.5-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. Samsung makes the best AMOLED screens in the business, meaning the display on the A32 is one of the best you’ll find in this price range. Also noteworthy is the whopping 5,000 mAh battery, which should be more than big enough for most people.

The 128GB internal storage is just right for most, but you can also expand it up to a whopping 1TB if you need to via a microSD card. There are also four rear cameras, a snappy fingerprint sensor, and a MediaTek Dimensity 720 chipset.

Pros:

  • 6.5-inch AMOLED display
  • Small bezels
  • Quad rear cameras
  • 5,000 mAh battery
  • Expandable storage up to 1TB

Cons:

  • Boring, plastic design
  • Might be a bit laggy compared to rivals

Best budget unlocked phone


Samsung Galaxy A32 Cropped

Samsung Galaxy A32

Save some coin

The Galaxy A32 is a compelling phone for anyone that’s on a budget. You get an AMOLED display and four rear cameras.

Bottom line

There you have it — the best unlocked Android phones you can buy in 2021. There’s a wide range of great unlocked Android phones available, depending on your needs. In fact, the vast majority of the best Android phones can be purchased unlocked.

When it comes to picking just one, the Google Pixel 6 ticks every box. Its price is lower than many of its rivals, and its performance is up there with the fastest Android phones you can buy. Besides that, you’ll be on the latest release of Android with prompt updates directly from Google. Its cameras are some of the best you can get on any smartphone.

While the lack of mmWave 5G support on the Google Store unlocked version is a bit of a disappointment, the fact of the matter is that most of us will rarely, if ever, use mmWave on our 5G phones for years to come. The majority of fast 5G will come with mid-band 5G, including the upcoming c-band, which the Pixel 6 supports. If you really care about mmWave, you’ll need a carrier version or an upgrade to the Pixel 6 Pro.

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