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Best unlocked phones 2022

Google Pixel 6 Pro Long Exposure City
Google Pixel 6 Pro Long Exposure 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.

Google Pixel 6 with Smart Launcher 5 and Material You

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Best overall unlocked phone: Google Pixel 6

The best of the best

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. With the Pixel 6, 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.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Best premium unlocked phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Best of the best

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. 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.

Pixel 6 Pro

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Best unlocked phone camera: Google Pixel 6 Pro

The best with a bit more

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. 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.

Oneplus Nord N200 5g Lifestyle 5

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Best unlocked phone battery life: OnePlus Nord N200

It also has solid 5G support

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. The OnePlus Nord 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 with. 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.

Galaxy S20 FE in Cloud Mint

(Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Best unlocked value flagship: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Spend less with flagship quality

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

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!

Samsung Galaxy A52 review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Best unlocked phone underdog: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Don't overlook this excellent handset

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

While the tech community can't stop talking about the Galaxy S22, 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 2400x1080 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 4,500mAh battery. Samsung also kept the 3.5mm headphone jack.

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

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

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

Compact is cool

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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

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 1080x2400 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 4,680mAh 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.

Bottom line

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, 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.

Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.