The best unlocked phones in the US just keep getting better. As mobile carriers have moved away from contracts and exclusive handsets, smartphone manufacturers are offering their very best products without locking them to a single carrier.
So, whether you want to use your phone on AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint, you’ll be able to pick a premium handset from Apple, Samsung, LG, Google, or just about any other company. If you travel abroad a lot, you’ll be able to benefit from these unlocked smartphones even more, as you’ll often be able to pop in a local SIM card in other countries and save on service and data.
The best no-contract phones do come with some drawbacks, though. First, they’re usually more expensive since you can’t sign up for a two-year contract to subsidize the cost. You’re no longer paying for the phone over time, so that initial cost is going to be huge.
High up-front costs can be worth it, though. Freely switching between carriers means you can always get the right mobile plan at the right price for you. Want unlimited data one month but won’t need it the next month? With an unlocked phone, you can switch as needed without worrying about breaking some agreement you have with an American carrier.
1. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The best if you enjoy big phones
Release date: August 2018 | Weight: 205g | Dimensions: 162 x 76.4 x 9mm | OS: Android Oreo | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 2960×1440 | CPU: Exynos 9810 | RAM: 6/8GB | Storage: 128/512GB (up to 1TB with card) | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
Much better battery
Improved S Pen
Hefty device to hold
Mostly iterative upgrades
Samsung has put together a truly dazzling phone with the Galaxy Note 9. It fits a huge, 6.4-inch display into a handset that manages to avoid being unwieldy. Smaller hands may struggle with it, but the upside is a great display for watching TV and movies on the go.
With a 4,000mAh battery, you can use the Note 9 all day. And, the Snapdragon 845 paired with 6 or 8 GB of RAM (depending on the storage size you choose), will offer plenty of performance. Let’s not forget this phone has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
Will it work for me? Samsung’s phones support a wide range of carriers, including the big four here in the US. Expect full support at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
2. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
The best Android phone around
Release date: March 2018 | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 8 Oreo | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,500mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
Super premium build
Excellent low-light cameras
Battery not amazing
Samsung’s big, powerful Galaxy S9 Plus stands out for its brilliant design and performance. it has a stunning 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display that isn’t flanked by ugly bezels or an over-hyped notch. Its dual-lens, dual-aperture camera is also one of the best on the market, according to our best camera phones list. Let’s not forget it also has a big, fast-charging battery, Face Unlock and a commendable 3.5mm headphone jack. AR Emoji we could do without.
Will it work for me? The Galaxy S9 Plus supports a wide range of connections, with GSM and CDMA support. It’ll work on all major US mobile carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint T-Mobile and US Cellular, and even on many smaller carriers, like Boost Mobile and Cricket. And Samsung always has good unlocked phone deals going on, which we’ve highlighted in the widgets.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus review
3. iPhone XS Max
Want the best, big iPhone? This is it
Release date: September 2018 | Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1242 x 2688 | CPU: A12 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 3,174mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP
Big size isn’t for everyone
Apple’s iPhone XS Max offers a heaping dose of performance and screen space. With its nearly bezel-less display measuring a full 6.5 inches, it’s stunning to look at. Surgical steel around the edge and a glass front and back make it the phone itself quite the looker as well. While the price is certainly high, there is no better Apple phone.
Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XS Max can be activated with any carrier, which means you’ll have no issue with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, and many smaller carriers will likely work as well. Unlike last year’s new iPhone, you won’t have to choose between Intel GSM-only and Qualcomm GSM+CDMA modems – Apple went with an Intel GSM+CDMA modem from the start.
4. Samsung Galaxy S9
A great phone for the smaller-handed
Release date: March 2018 | Weight: 163g | Dimensions: 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 8 Oreo | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
Battery life not great
Single sensor on the rear
Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is a great unlocked option for someone with a slightly smaller budget and hand. In most ways, it lives up to the reputation established by the Galaxy S9 Plus. It has the same powerful Snapdragon 845 chipset, a brilliant Super AMOLED display, but 5.8 inches in this case. Casual photographers will get a lot of mileage out of the new camera, which can capture superb low-light photos. Stereo speakers make streaming movies and TV shows that much better. And, Hi-Fi audio fans can breathe easy knowing the Galaxy S9 also has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Will it work for me? The Galaxy S9 supports a wide range of connections, with GSM and CDMA support. It should work on all major US mobile carriers and even on many smaller carriers.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S9 review
5. iPhone XS
The best new iPhone for smaller hands
Release date: September 2018 | Weight: 177g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1125×2436 | CPU: A12 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 2,658mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP
Fast internal specs
Still really expensive
Not the best battery life
The biggest isn’t always the best if you have small hands or small pockets. In the case of the latest iPhones, a tight wallet can also make the iPhone XS a better pick than its bigger sibling. It offers the same performance, has the same cameras and software, but it comes in at a more compact size, with a smaller battery and display.
Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XS Max can be activated with any carrier, which means you’ll have no issue with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, and many smaller carriers will likely work as well.
6. Google Pixel 2 XL
A great cameraphone with a neat design
Release date: October 2017 | Weight: 175g | Dimensions: 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9mm | OS: Android 8 Oreo | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2880 | CPU: Snapdragon 835 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,520mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
No 3.5mm headphone port
Screen has poor viewing angles
For a clean Android experience and fast updates to the latest software, the Pixel 2 XL is the right choice. It’s the biggest and latest from Google, and has an edge on the smaller Pixel 2, as it has reduced bezels around a crisp Quad HD+ OLED display. That screen is 6 inches and flanked by front-facing stereo speakers for a superior experience watching content. The Pixel 2 XL camera also ranks among the best on a smartphone. Pair all that with a good battery life, and you’ve got a great unlocked phone.
Will it work for me? The Pixel 2 XL boasts world-wide network compatibility, supporting both GSM and CDMA networks. It should work on all GSM-based mobile carriers in the US as well as Sprint, Verizon, smaller MVNOs and Google’s Project Fi network.
Read more: Google Pixel 2 XL review
7. Samsung Galaxy Note 8
A brilliant phone for camera and stylus fans alike
Release date: September 2017 | Weight: 195g | Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm | OS: Android 7.1.1 Nougat | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2630 | CPU: Exynos 8895 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Battery: 3,300mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
The Galaxy Note 8 may not be Samsung’s latest phone anymore, but it’s still a massive contender, and that’s handy for folks that want as much screen real estate as possible. It comes with a dazzling 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display that goes right to the edges of the phone. There’s still plenty of performance coming from the Snapdragon 835 chipset as well. The dual-camera setup doesn’t fall far behind the competition either. Samsung’s S Pen for the Note 8 opens the door to special features that make this phablet a great pick for customers with mobile productivity in mind.
Will it work for me? The Galaxy Note 8 supports a wide range of connections, with GSM and CDMA support. It should work on all major US mobile carriers and even on many smaller carriers.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review
8. Samsung Galaxy S8
Last year’s top phone is still a cracking buy
Release date: April 2017 | Weight: 155g | Dimensions: 148.9 x 68.1 x 8mm | OS: Android 7 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Exynos 8895 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
Last year’s best Android smartphone makes for a great choice as an unlocked smartphone. The Galaxy S8 design still looks phenomenal with its bezel-reduced 5.8-inch Infinity Display, and the high resolution isn’t going to stop looking insanely crisp any time soon. The Snapdragon 835 powering the Galaxy S8 still has life in it, and the cameras won’t disappoint casual photographers. Best of all, since this isn’t the newest Samsung phone on the market, it’ll be easy to find great deals on the Galaxy S8, so you can save money on the phone and save money with your pick of mobile networks.
Will it work for me? Samsung says the unlocked Galaxy S8 as working on all four major US carriers, so you’ll have no trouble using it on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon. Other GSM and CDMA networks may have varying support, but most major networks should be supported. You can learn more here.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S8 review
9. iPhone 8 Plus
The best ‘normal’ iPhone available right now
Release date: September 2017 | Weight: 202g | Dimensions: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm | OS: iOS 11 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: A11 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64/256GB | Battery: 2691mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 7MP
Longer battery life
If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of the iPhone X, then the iPhone 8 Plus is a wonderful choice with a more palatable price tag. It has the same powerful processor as the iPhone X and boasts a big 5.5-inch display that presents extra appealing imagery thanks to Apple’s True Tone technology. The dual-camera setup on the back also snaps the high-quality still photos Apple has a reputation for delivering.
Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone 8 Plus as working with any carrier. Expect no issues getting connected with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon as well as smaller regional carriers.
Read more: iPhone 8 Plus review
10. Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
A great big-screen phone for less money
Release date: April 2017 | Weight: 173g | Dimensions: 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm | OS: Android 7 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Exynos 8895 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3,500mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
For excellent design, a big screen and a discounted price, the Galaxy S8 Plus is solid pick. It’s no longer the newest phone, but like the smaller Galaxy S8, the Plus still has decent life ahead of it with it’s superb 6.2-inch display and Snapdragon 835 chipset. The 3,500mAh battery also helps the Galaxy S8 Plus go the extra mile. Since the Galaxy S9 Plus is already available, you can get great deals on the Galaxy S8 Plus.
Will it work for me? Samsung says the unlocked Galaxy S8 Plus as working on all four major US carriers, so you’ll have no trouble using it on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon. Other GSM and CDMA networks may have varying support, but most major networks should be supported. You can learn more here.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review
10. iPhone 8
The best new iPhone for those wanting to spend less
Release date: September 2017 | Weight: 148g | Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm | OS: iOS 11 | Screen size: 4.7-inch | Resolution: 750 x 1334 | CPU: A11 Bionic | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 64GB/256GB | Battery: 1,821mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 7MP
Wireless charging is useful
Camera is great at point-and-shoot
Limited upgrade over iPhone 7
Bezel-heavy design looks dated
The iPhone 8 offers up a lot of the same things as the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X while being more portable and more affordable. It may only have one rear camera, but it’s still a great shooter. Inside, it’s powered by the same processor as its larger siblings. And, like the others, it supports wireless charging. For a new unlocked iPhone at the best price possible, the iPhone 8 is a great choice.
Will it work for me? The unlocked iPhone 8 works with any carrier, according to Apple. You won’t see any issues getting connected with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon or smaller US carriers.
Read more: iPhone 8 review