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 Pixel 3a is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy in 2020, but it's not the only one we recommend checking out. Here's a list of our favorites!
- Best Overall: Pixel 3a
- Best Alternative: Moto G Power
- Best Value: TCL 10L
- Best Premium Choice: Samsung Galaxy S20
- Best Underdog: Samsung Galaxy A71
- Best Software: Nokia 7.2
- Best Compact Phone: Samsung Galaxy S10e
- Best Value Flagship: OnePlus 8
- Best Budget Pick: Samsung Galaxy A20
- Best Dirt Cheap: Moto E (2020)
Best Overall: Pixel 3a
Released in May 2019, the Pixel 3a is the first mid-range phone to be sold under Google's "Pixel" brand. And, you know what? It's pretty darn great.
What helps the 3a stand out the most is its impressive 12.2-megapixel single rear camera. That may not sound very impressive in a world with multi-camera phones reaching 40 megapixels and beyond, but the Pixel 3a captures some of the most consistently-great pictures of any handset you can buy in 2020 regardless of price. Photos taken with the 3a are crisp, colorful, and even look fantastic when taken at night. It's sort of impossible to take a bad picture with this phone, and that's about all you need to know.
The Pixel 3a also benefits from a fantastic software package. It's currently running Android 10, and being a Pixel device, is first-in-line for any new software updates and security patches that are released. It's also guaranteed to keep getting those updates through May 2022, meaning you can rest assured you'll continue to get the best of what Android has to offer for a while to come.
There are plenty of other strong suits for the Pixel 3a, such as a solid AMOLED display, durable polycarbonate design, a fast fingerprint sensor, and NFC for Google Pay. As for the 3a's carrier compatibility, you can use it on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon with full LTE access.
- It takes phenomenal photos
- Three years of guaranteed software updates
- Crisp AMOLED display
- Works on every major carrier
- Very affordable
- Boring design
- No wireless charging
The best of the best
The Pixel 3a is the best unlocked Android phone you can buy in 2020 — offering great camera performance and reliable software.
Best Alternative: Moto G Power
There's no denying the greatness of the Pixel 3a, but at the same time, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all smartphone. If you like the idea of the 3a 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 Pixel 3a isn't expensive 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, with the 16MP primary camera not delivering as good of images as you can capture with the Pixel 3a. That said, the Moto G Power also gives you ultra-wide and macro cameras to expand your shooting possibilities.
The pièce de résistance of the Moto G Power 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. You don't get NFC for contactless Google Pay payments, but the G Power retains excellent carrier compatibility with support for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
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.
- Large 1080p display
- Up to three-day battery life
- Motorola's excellent software
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Compatible with all U.S. carriers
- Doesn't have NFC for Google Pay
- Only promised one software update
- Cameras aren't the best
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 Value: TCL 10L
After offering Android phones through its Alcatel and BlackBerry sub-brands, TCL has finally ventured into the Android landscape with its own self-branded handsets. The TCL 10L is one of the first releases as part of this strategy, and it's one of the best values you can find in 2020.
Despite its low price tag, the TCL 10L is loaded with features and specs that you wouldn't expect for a phone so cheap. This is immediately apparent with the display, which is a 6.53-inch LCD panel with a Full HD+ resolution. It uses TCL's own NXTVISION screen technology, allowing for more vibrant images and accurate colors. There's a total of four cameras on the back, consisting of a 48MP primary camera, 8MP ultra-wide camera, 2MP macro camera, and 2MP depth camera. Image quality is far from the best we've ever seen, but in that same breath, getting four cameras at this price is outstanding.
Under the hood, the TCL 10L has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor and 6GB of RAM, along with 64GB of internal storage that can be expanded with a microSD card. Also offered are NFC for Google Pay, a customizable "Smart Key" that can do whatever you want, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Support for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon is here, but Sprint customers will need to look elsewhere.
- Full HD+ display paired with slim bezels
- Generous amounts of RAM and storage
- Has NFC for Google Pay
- Very good fingerprint sensor
- Customizable Smart Key
- Generic plastic body
- Lackluster cameras
Lots of phone, not much money
Looking to get a generous bundle of specs and features for a great price? The TCL 10L is well worth your consideration.
Best Premium Choice: Samsung Galaxy S20
The majority of this list is focused on Android phones that keep costs relatively low, but if price isn't a concern for you and you'd just like to purchase one of the best devices out there, you can't go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S20.
Samsung's Galaxy S phones are always among the best we see every year, and the S20 is one of the biggest year-over-year improvements in a while. Perhaps the most notable upgrade is its display, which now refreshes at 120Hz. This means everything on the S20's screen refreshes at twice the speed of most phones with a 60Hz rate, resulting in an incredible user experience. On top of that, you also get deep colors with Samsung's AMOLED tech and a crispy 3200x1440 resolution.
Speaking of big upgrades, the S20's cameras are also worth talking about. With 12MP wide, 64MP telephoto, and 12MP ultra-wide sensors, you have a ton of flexibility with the types of photos you can take. The telephoto lens is especially impressive, offering 3x hybrid optical zoom and 30x digital zoom.
Rounding out the list, the S20 continues to pack the punches with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 processor, 12GB of RAM, a 4,000 mAh battery, expandable storage, reverse wireless charging, and even support for 5G networks. When we say this phone has it all, we mean it.
- Phenomenal 120Hz AMOLED display
- Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 865 processor
- Triple rear cameras
- Huge 4,000 mAh battery
- Supports 5G networks
- No getting around that price tag
Best Premium Choice
Best of the best
Its high price may keep some buyers at bay, but if you can afford it, the Galaxy S20 is an outstanding Android handset.
Best Underdog: Samsung Galaxy A71
While the Galaxy S20 may be the 2020 Samsung phone that everyone is talking about, there's another one out there that isn't getting nearly as much attention but deserves it. It's the Samsung Galaxy A71, 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 A71 catches your attention with its design. It's technically made out of plastic, but there's a laminated finish that feels like glass. We're also digging the prism pattern on the back, which gives the A71 an instantly distinct aesthetic. On the front of the phone, you'll find a 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a crisp resolution of 2400x1080. Camera-wise, you have four sensors to choose from — a 64MP primary lens, 12MP ultra-wide lens, 5MP macro lens, and 5MP portrait lens.
Taking a look inside of the Galaxy A71, there's just as much to get excited about. You'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 processor, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of expandable storage, and a massive 4,500 mAh battery. Samsung also kept the 3.5mm headphone jack, not to mention this particular variant of the phone comes with a free 64GB microSD card.
The Galaxy A71 is an international phone, meaning it's not officially sold in the U.S. The biggest issue this brings up is the fact that it doesn't come with a U.S. warranty, but that's about it. The A71 has every band you need for reliable coverage on AT&T and T-Mobile, but it will not work on Sprint or Verizon.
- 6.7-inch AMOLED display
- Four cameras on the back
- Gorgeous design
- Headphone jack and expandable storage
- Ample performance
- Doesn't come with a U.S. warranty
- Not compatible with Sprint or Verizon
Don't overlook this excellent handset
You may not have previously heard about the Galaxy A71, but everything about the phone makes it well worth considering.
Best Software: Nokia 7.2
2018's Nokia 7.1 was one of the best mid-rangers of that year, and following it up is the aptly-named Nokia 7.2.
The Nokia 7.2 is a beautiful phone, with a striking glass back, aluminum frame, and a large 6.3-inch LCD display that supports native HDR content and converts non-HDR content for a more colorful and vibrant picture no matter what you're doing.
This is another phone that puts a big emphasis on its cameras, with the Nokia 7.2 touting a primary 48-megapixel camera and an 8-megapixel ultra-wide camera This allows for incredible flexibility with the types of pictures you can take, and while it's a different approach compared to the Pixel 3a's single camera, it'll likely be a preference for a lot of people.
Elsewhere, the Nokia 7.2 checks just about every box you could ask for. It has a dedicated Google Assistant button for quickly prompting the AI, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and is estimated to get two days of battery life on one charge. The phone also ships as part of Google's Android One program, meaning it has a clean user interface right out of the box and is guaranteed to get years of updates — specifically, it'll get major OS updates through September 2021 and monthly security patches through September 2022.
With that said, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind. The Snapdragon 660 processor and 4GB of RAM isn't the most powerful combo out there, but for daily use, it should be perfectly fine for most people. Lastly, the phone only works on AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S.
- Large HDR display
- Incredible design
- Expandable storage
- Clean software
- Years of guaranteed updates
- OK processor and RAM combo
- Doesn't work on Sprint or Verizon
Android as it should be
Want a lot of bang for your buck? The Nokia 7.2 looks great, has two rear cameras, and a gorgeous HDR display.
Best Compact Phone: Samsung Galaxy S10e
Whether you regularly or occasionally keep up with the smartphone market, you'll likely have noticed a trend over the last few years in which companies have been on an endless mission to make phones as big as possible. This is great for media consumption and content creation, but if you enjoy using your phone with one hand, it can be a pain in the butt. That's where the Galaxy S10e comes to the rescue.
The S10e offers a very similar experience compared to its siblings, the S10 and S10+, but does so in a much smaller form factor with a similarly-sized price tag.
This is a flagship phone through and through, meaning everything about the S10e is as about as good as it gets. The 5.8-inch AMOLED display is bright, colorful, and easy to use one-handed, the Snapdragon 855 processor paired with 6 or 8GB of RAM is tremendously powerful, and you can expand the 128GB of internal storage if you find yourself needing more room.
Other highlights include a nearly bezel-less screen, wireless charging, and Samsung Pay which allows you to use the S10e to pay for things at virtually any store using a combination of NFC and MST. You also don't have to worry about which carrier you're on, as the S10e works with every major wireless provider in the U.S.
- Wonderfully compact
- The AMOLED display looks incredible
- Blazing fast performance
- 3.5mm headphone jack and expandable storage
- Samsung Pay
- Works on every major wireless provider
- The screen is only 1080p
Best Compact Phone
Compact is cool
Compact phones are a rarity in 2020, but the S10e is one of the very best — offering flagship specs in a small footprint.
Best Value Flagship: OnePlus 8
Ever since the original OnePlus One debuted in 2014, OnePlus has become synonymous with high-end Android phones sold at competitive prices. That's an ideology OnePlus has continued with year after year, with its latest offering being the OnePlus 8. The OnePlus 8 isn't quite as cheap as its predecessors, and it misses out on some higher-end features like wireless charging, but there's still no denying that you're getting a top-notch Android phone at a good price.
On the hardware front, the OnePlus 8 delivers in big ways. The 90Hz AMOLED display is a joy to look at, showcasing vibrant colors, deep blacks, and buttery smooth animations. We also really dig the general design of the phone, with the Glacial Green and Interstellar Glow colors being immediately eye-catching. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 processor allows for blistering performance, battery life is reliable, and the three cameras on the back are very capable.
Our praise for the OnePlus 8 continues with its software, as OxygenOS based on Android 10 is one of our favorite Android interfaces on the market. It's uncluttered, extremely responsive, and the custom features OnePlus has created all add value to Android's strong foundation.
- Clean design
- That 90Hz display
- Performance is top-notch
- Warp Charge is stupidly fast
- OxygenOS is clean and filled with features
- Works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon
- No wireless charging
- Doesn't have a headphone jack
- No expandable storage
Best Value Flagship
High-end doesn't have to be expensive
Between its 90Hz display and OxygenOS, the OnePlus 8 is one of the best unlocked Android phones out there.
Best Budget Pick: Samsung Galaxy A20
Next, we have the Galaxy A20. This is the phone we recommend if you want a thoroughly enjoyable Android device, but at the same time, need to shop on a tight budget.
Right off the bat, the Galaxy A20 grabs your attention with its 6.4-inch AMOLED display. Samsung makes the best AMOLED screens in the business, meaning the display on the A20 is one of the best you'll find in this price range. Also noteworthy is the 4,000 mAh, which should be more than big enough for most people.
The 32GB of internal storage is on the small side of things, but you can expand it up to a whopping 512GB. There are also dual rear cameras, a snappy fingerprint sensor, and Samsung's own Exynos 7904 processor.
Samsung notes that the A20 works with "most major U.S. GSM and CDMA networks," meaning you shouldn't have a problem using the phone no matter which wireless provider you rely on.
- AMOLED display
- Small bezels
- Dual rear cameras
- 4,000 mAh battery
- Expandable storage up to 512GB
- Boring, plastic design
- Small internal storage
Best Budget Pick
Save some coin
The Galaxy A20 is a compelling phone for anyone that's on a budget. You get an AMOLED display and dual rear cameras.
Best Dirt Cheap: Moto E (2020)
There are a lot of affordable phones on this list, but what if you're really trying to keep costs low? That's when you turn to the Moto E (2020). This is the most affordable phone we're featuring here, and it's impressive just how much Motorola is able to offer at such a minimal price.
We'll be upfront, some corners had to be cut in order to get the Moto E to this price. The performance of the Snapdragon 632 processor and 2GB won't blow you away, you get just 32GB of storage, the HD+ display isn't the best we've ever seen, and Motorola isn't promising any software updates for the phone. That's a lot to take in, and while it makes the Moto E the least technically-impressive device on this list, that doesn't really matter.
The Moto E was created to be a barebones smartphone that can run the apps you need it to while keeping the price as low as possible, and in those regards, it succeeds. You can use the phone to call, text, check Twitter, watch YouTube, etc. It may not be the fastest or prettiest at doing those things, but it gets the job done. If that's the kind of phone you're in the market for, the Moto E delivers.
- Insanely low price
- Two rear cameras
- Rear fingerprint sensor
- Large, modern display
- Android 10 software is excellent
- Micro-USB charging
- Performance is so-so
- Won't get any OS updates
Best Dirt Cheap
Expensive phones are so overrated
Spending this little on a new phone typically doesn't buy you much, but with the Moto E, you get a well-rounded handset.
There you have it — the best unlocked Android phones you can buy in 2020. We're confident you'll be happy with any of the choices on this list, but if we could only pick one, we'd have to go with the Pixel 3a.
Google did an amazing job with the 3a and basically redefined what to expect from mid-range smartphone cameras. The Pixel 3a takes photos that look just as good — if not better — than devices that cost hundreds of dollars more. That's something that did not go unnoticed by anyone, and it'll be exciting to see how the market responds to what Google was able to pull off here.
What's even crazier is that Google didn't just stop with the camera. The rest of the Pixel 3a is equally impressive. The AMOLED display is a joy to look at, performance is more than adequate for general use, and the software is among the best you'll find.
Even if you can afford something more expensive than the Pixel 3a, it's still the unlocked Android phone we'd recommend looking at first. Once you do, we think you'll have a hard time saying no to it.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joe Maring is Android Central's Senior Editor and has had a love for anything with a screen and CPU since he can remember. He's been talking/writing about Android in one form or another since 2012, and often does so while camping out at the nearest coffee shop. Have a tip? Send an email to email@example.com!
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