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Best unlocked phones 2022

Long exposure on a Google Pixel 6 in a city
(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Although 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. 

For our money, the Google Pixel 6 is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy in 2022, thanks to excellent band support for sub-6 5G, superb software, and one of the best cameras ever put in a phone. But if Google's phone doesn't quite fit your tastes (or budget) there are plenty of other options.

Don't get stuck with a carrier with an unlocked phone

Google Pixel 6 with Smart Launcher 5 and Material You

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)
Best overall unlocked phone

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

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. In our Pixel 6 review, we found that Google got nearly everything right, like 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 2400x1080 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.

S22 Ultra sitting on a log

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)
Best premium unlocked phone

Reasons to buy

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Huge 6.8-inch 120Hz display
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Top-of-the-line cameras
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S-Pen with in-device storage
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Fast CPU with great 5G support

Reasons to avoid

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No getting around that price tag
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Cheaper model has less RAM

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is one of the most powerful Android phones you can get, with top-of-the-line hardware from the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU package to the 108MP camera on the back. This is paired with one of the most recognizable versions of Android around, One UI 4.1, running atop Android 12. This setup gives you all of the latest Android features with Samsung's full suite of apps. This also includes Samsung's excellent security solution Samsung Knox, which features hardware isolated storage and processing.

To many, the Galaxy S22 Ultra will look more like a Galaxy continuation of the Galaxy Note line, and that's not far off. With an S-pen stored securely inside the phone, you can use it like a Note. Our S22 Ultra review confirmed that the low-latency input possible with this S-pen and the S22 Ultra's massive 6.8-inch 120Hz display makes writing feel as natural as pen on paper.

Around the back, you get four cameras with the main shooter coming in at a massive 108MP. There's also a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 10MP 3X telephoto camera, and a 10MP 10X camera. This all means that this phone has all the resources it needs to get the best shot possible in just about any scenario. You can also take photos to your heart's content with the large 5,000mAh battery getting you through to the end of the day comfortably.

Hands holding Google Pixel 6 Pro

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)
Best unlocked phone camera

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

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 upgraded from 8GB to 12GB. The screen is a bit larger at 6.7 inches, with a resolution bump to 3120x1440 to match. The larger screen also supports a 120Hz refresh rate for even smoother touch interactions. The battery only gets a slight increase to 5,003mAh, 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. Our Pixel 6 Pro review found that even the telephoto camera performed exceptionally compared to other top phones. 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 supports it.

Oneplus Nord N200 5g Lifestyle 5

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)
Best unlocked phone battery life

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

Make no mistake, the OnePlus Nord N200 is a budget-oriented phone, but not everyone needs to go all out on the latest tech to get a reasonably quick phone with solid network support. When we tested the Nord N200 5G, we found that this phone keeps things in perspective with a Snapdragon 480, 4GB of RAM, and 5G support including T-Mobile's mid-band 5G. Pairing this rather pedestrian CPU with a massive 5,000mAh battery means you can easily make it to the end of the day on a single charge.

This phone runs Android 11 Oxygen OS 11 on top. This software sticks pretty close to Google's design so it shouldn't be too much work to learn how to use this phone if you're coming from another Android brand. While it hasn't been completed just yet, OnePlus has committed to updating this phone to Android 12 at some point in the future.

The cameras are nothing to write home about. The main 13MP shooter turns in solid results in good lighting but things get muddy in darker areas. The front camera is solid, so if your most important photos are selfies, you're in luck.

Green Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)
Best unlocked value flagship

Reasons to buy

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Gorgeous flat 120Hz display
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Fantastic all-day battery life
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Launched with Android 12 and four OS updates
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Great S21-like camera performance
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Several exciting color options

Reasons to avoid

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Haptics quality isn't great

The Galaxy S21 FE continues Samsung's trend of offering a more affordable version of its yearly flagships with sensible cuts to achieve a lower price. One such example is a plastic back but as our Galaxy S21 FE review found, the finish still feels nice and you'll never notice it when you're using a case. Besides that, you get a beautiful 6.4-inch AMOLED display at 120Hz that runs right out to the edge of the phone. It also has up to 240Hz touch input in game mode to make the phone feel even more fluid and reactive.

The S21 FE has a Snapdragon 888 with 6GB or 8GB of RAM under the hood. This CPU is still plenty powerful for any modern apps including games and also brings good connectivity with Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and 5G. You get a 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, and 8MP telephoto cameras on the back so you can get the shot no matter the conditions. If you prefer Samsung's HDR and colors, it's all here and stands toe to toe with the full S21 phones.

Software is another strength of the phone with Android 12 out of the box and Samsung's promise of four OS updates meaning you'll get the latest versions of Android for years to come. While some will prefer the design of the Pixel 6's home screen, Samsung's OneUI looks good and works well. It's also familiar to many Android users accustomed to Samsung's software.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)
Best unlocked phone underdog

Reasons to buy

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6.5-inch AMOLED display at 120Hz
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Four solid rear cameras
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Gorgeous design
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Expandable storage
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Ample performance

Reasons to avoid

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Exynos 1280 CPU can stumble in demanding games
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No Wi-Fi 6

The Galaxy A series has been working to earn Samsung a place in the low- to mid-range Android market, and the A53 may be its greatest hit yet. As we found in our Galaxy A53 review, this phone absolutely nails the basics with a large 6.5-inch AMOLED display running at 120Hz, a large 5,000mAh battery, and support for 5G. Samsung has also promised four OS updates for this phone starting with Android 12 out of the box.

The cameras are good with the main 64MP sensor delivering rich and clear shots. Even low-light photos are solid and a strong update over the previous A52. There's also a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 5MP portrait camera, and a 5MP macro camera. The best shots will come from the main sensor, but Samsung gives you plenty of options to get the best shot possible.

It's not all perfect with the Exynos 1280 CPU struggling with more demanding tasks such as gaming and no Wi-Fi 6 compatibility. It's also worth noting that while the phone supports fast 25-watt charging, there's no charger in the box so you'll be stuck with your old one or you'll need to buy a 25-watt charger. Even so, when we compared the Galaxy A53 to the S21 FE, it's impossible to ignore the value you get with the cheaper phone.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
Best value unlocked phone

Reasons to buy

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Incredible price for the performance
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Snapdragon 695 CPU keeps up with most apps
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Sub-6 5G support
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33-watt fast charging
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Charger in the box

Reasons to avoid

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Only one software update planned
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Display could be brighter

The OnePlus Nord N20 is a welcome return to form for OnePlus. As its phones began to adopt the price tags of the high-end and the compromises of the low-end, OnePlus has been a bit harder to recommend in the last couple of years. But as we found in our testing of the Nord N20, OnePlus has made all of the right cuts to build one of the best value phones you can get. Initially only available at T-Mobile, this phone is now available unlocked at retailers.

The Snapdragon 695 under the hood isn't as strong a flagship phone, but it has plenty of grunt to deal with most apps with ease including some gaming. Compared to other phones in this price range, the Nord N20 is one of the most powerful. This is good because the 6.43-inch AMOLED panel looks great even if it's only 60Hz and doesn't get quite as bright as we'd like.

The 64MP camera on the back is another strong point and will produce some of the best photos are this price point and will even give more expensive phones a run for their money. You get 5G support and while Wi-Fi 6 isn't here, that's not a surprise for the price. Perhaps most impressive of all is that OnePlus has included a 33-watt charger in the box, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and microSD expansion.

Don't get stuck with 36 months of payments with a carrier

There you have it — the best unlocked Android phones you can buy in 2022. 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, our testing confirms that 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.

Why should you buy an unlocked phone?

Carriers have all but eliminated contracts but in their places, they've come up with something that can be even worse if you're not sure what you're signing up for. AT&T, Verizon, and even UScellular have moved to 36-month payment plans for their phones with T-Mobile offering some 24-month and some 36-month plans. These carriers will pull in customers with the promise of free phones, but these customers end up stuck with the carrier or need to pay off the full amount.

This is even worse if you've signed up for a buy one, get one free program as the free phone is made so with monthly payments for 36 months. That means if you want to switch carriers, you could be on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get your phones unlocked. Buying these phones on a payment plan can make them seem cheaper than they are. The truth of the matter is that most people don't need a $1,500 phone with so many solid budget options available.

If you buy your phone unlocked, you can bring it with you to a new carrier with a simple SIM swap or eSIM download. That means you can take advantage of new customer promotions with some of the best prepaid carriers for example. That also means if you sign up on a carrier that isn't giving you the coverage you need, you can switch when your month is up instead of waiting for 36 months of payment credits.

Another thing to consider is that you don't have to give up payment plans entirely to buy unlocked. Phones are expensive and not everyone can reasonably cut a multi-hundred dollar check when they need a new phone. If you buy from Samsung's web store, for example, you can choose between a one-time payment, four bi-weekly payments, a 24-month payment plan, or a 36-month payment plan. And with this option, you can take your phone to any carrier you want without paying it off.