The best unlocked phones in the US are a lot easier to choose from now that mobile carriers stopped locking everyone down to contracts, and it's made it more common for manufacturers to release their phones unlocked. Of course, since you've got so many good options, it's now harder to pick out which is the best buy.
If you want to go with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or any number of smaller carriers operating on those networks, there's no shortage of premium handsets for you to choose. These unlocked phones will give you an easy way to pick whichever carrier you want to go with, switch whenever you feel like it, and travel abroad with the freedom to easily use carriers in other countries.
The only real downside to going with an unlocked phone is that it won't be easy to get the kind of major discounts that mobile carriers offer to customers. But even if you pick up a phone under contract from a carrier, you'll often be able to get the phone unlocked once you've been a customer long enough and paid off the phone.
Even if you have to just buy a phone outright, high up-front costs can be worth it. Freely swapping 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.
If you're ready, here are the best options available to you.
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.
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
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.
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
The iPhone XR is Apple’s newest iPhone, coming out shortly after the iPhone XS and XS Max. Of the three new models, this is the budget one, even if it still has a high price. While it doesn’t have the dual-rear cameras, lacks an OLED screen, and falls just short of Full HD resolution on the display, it’s not a miss. The powerful internals match the other iPhones, the main camera is still a powerful shooter, and the whole package is made all the better thanks to the best battery performance we’ve seen in an iPhone.
Will it work for me? Apple says the unlocked iPhone XR 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.
Read more: iPhone XR review
Google’s new Pixel 3 once again sets the bar for what a smartphone camera can do. The Pixel 3 has the updated specs you’d expect from an Android smartphone released in 2018, even if the design hasn’t quite followed the bezel-free design others are going for. Still, the screen is a usable 5.5 OLED with dual front-facing speakers that are nice to have. The battery is enough to get the job done each day, and Google’s ongoing software updates make this a phone that won’t become irrelevant too quickly.
Will it work for me? Google advertises the Pixel 3 as working on all major carriers, so you’ll have no trouble activating on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. Smaller carriers should usually work unless they have their own restrictions, and the Pixel 3 also offers access to Google’s Project Fi network.
Read more: Google Pixel 3 review
The OnePlus 6T is one of the company’s most compelling mid-cycle updates yet. While this is the first OnePlus phone to dump the 3.5mm headphone jack, it’s also the most stunning design to date. OnePlus has stretched the screen real estate and shrunk down the notch to just a tiny nib. The internals are powerful, the battery sizable, the screen massive and beautiful even if it’s not as sharp as Samsung’s, and the cameras are even highly competitive. And, let’s not forget the new phone features a fingerprint scanner built underneath the display. All that, and the OnePlus 6T launched with a price well below all the other new flagship phones.
Will it work for me? Unless you’re on Sprint, you should be able to use the OnePlus 6T just fine. It supports numerous bands on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. With a dual-SIM tray, you can even connect to multiple networks at the same time, making it extra handy for frequent international travelers.
Read more: OnePlus 6T review
Google also has the larger Pixel 3 XL which offers a design more in line with 2018. It features an extra large OLED display that stretches up into the top corners of the phone, with a sharp 1440 x 2960 resolution and HDR support. It has one of the biggest display notches we’ve seen, but that houses one of the dual front-facing speakers and both of the two front-facing cameras for versatile selfie shooting. Plus, this has the same main camera as the Pixel 3, giving it the same rank as best camera phone.
Will it work for me? Google advertises the Pixel 3 XL as working on all major carriers, so you’ll have no trouble activating on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. Smaller carriers should usually work unless they have their own restrictions, and the Pixel 3 XL also offers access to Google’s Project Fi network.
Read more: Google Pixel 3 XL review
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 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.
Read more: iPhone XS review
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