Best overall

Google Pixel 2

Google Pixel 2

See at Best Buy See at Google Store

Google's new Pixel 2 gives you sleek and solid hardware, all of the requisite specs inside and runs simple and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. The hardware surely isn't flashy, but it's beautiful and efficient — and it's now IP67 water-resistant like we expect.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future.

The Pixel 2 has once again set the standard for Android cameras as well, with Google's "HDR+" processing buoyed by new camera hardware and even better processing. Photos are accurate with just a little extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, a new "Pixel Visual Core" chipset will be enabled to give you even better photos, which is tantalizing.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2. Great hardware and amazing software support an amazing camera that's only getting better.

One more thing: Though Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

Why the Google Pixel 2 is the best

If you want the best possible Android experience, you go straight to the source: Google. The company has gotten serious about user experience and interface design, and it really shows with Android 8.0 Oreo on the Pixel 2. Everything is blazing fast, smooth, consistent and intuitive throughout the interface. It's a core competency that separates the Pixel 2 from the competition, and it's something that any smartphone user can appreciate.

Google has gotten really good at user experience and interface design.

And it's not just software customization that makes it happen — Google has included a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB (optionally, 128GB) of storage to make sure your phone has plenty of room to run. A 2700mAh battery seems small (well, normally, it is), but it manages to get you a full day of use without worry. The little body also packs front-facing stereo speakers, which are a rarity in 2017.

Further to that point, Google has sourced a quality 5-inch 1080p panel that looks good at the $649 price point. Oh, yes, it's just 5 inches. Despite its big top and bottom bezels, the Pixel 2 is quite comfortable to hold and reach to all four corners of the screen without the help of a second hand.

The Pixel 2 doesn't focus on the number of features; it focuses on the impact of each one.

If there's one knock on the Pixel 2, it's that it doesn't have the sheer volume of features in its hardware or software that some of the competition does. It doesn't have a headphone jack, wireless charging, or an SD card slot; and if you're used to having a bunch of specialized software features on your Samsung, LG or Huawei phone you won't find them here.

But for most people, those are relatively small prices to pay to get a daily experience of using a phone that's fast, intuitive, smart and filled with a core set of features that can actually wow you. That's what you get from the Pixel 2.

Best for features

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8

See at Best Buy See at Amazon See at Samsung

The Galaxy S8 has slick hardware with tiny bezels that let it have a big screen in a small body, but inside it still offers everything you want: a high-end processor, lots of storage, an SD card slot, full waterproofing and a top-end camera.

Though its software can be a little overwhelming, you can't argue that Samsung continues to pack in hundreds of features to a single phone, making sure there's something in here for everyone's needs. Samsung continues to take this approach of offering more more more with just a few compromises — and it continues to work.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S8 gives you piles of features in a beautiful body, and is a great choice for a wide range of potential buyers.

One more thing: You should consider the option of paying a little extra and get the larger Galaxy S8+ for a bit more screen and battery life.

Best with a huge screen

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

See at Best Buy See at Amazon See at Samsung

Take everything that makes the Galaxy S8 great, and scale it up — that's what also makes the Galaxy Note 8 compelling. A very familiar glass-and-metal body is wrapped around a larger 6.3-inch display, but a panel that's even better in terms of brightness and colors.

For this top-dollar phone you'll find top-end specs, great performance and super-capable software. Plus a new dual camera setup that offers you 2X zooming without losing resolution and a new "Live Focus" mode that mimics the background blur of a professional camera. None of the camera changes come at a cost of reduced primary camera quality, either.

Then you get the S Pen, of course, offering fine input, drawing abilities and new productivity tricks you simply can't get from any other phone out there. The stylus isn't for everyone, but you'll find plenty of people who swear by its capabilities.

Bottom line: For the biggest, most powerful and most capable phone Samsung makes, look no further.

One more thing: Be ready to spend the big bucks — the Note 8 is far and away Samsung's most expensive phone ever at about $930.

Best for less

Moto X4

Moto X4

See at Motorola See at Amazon

Sometimes people go the route of an unlocked phone because they want to save money — that's where the Moto X4 comes in. Motorola does a wonderful job with this kind of "inexpensive but great value" device, and the Moto X4 sits a notch above the likes of the G5 Plus.

It has a great metal and glass body, with a really good 5.2-inch 1080p display — and the combination of a Snapdragon 630, 3GB of RAM and a 3000mAh battery is enough to keep you happy even though it's a full step below the flagships on this list.

Motorola's software experience is still top-notch, and runs great on this platform. The Moto X4 also has much-desired features like water-resistance, dual rear cameras, a fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack — you just don't expect to get this much for $399.

Bottom-line: A great unlocked phone doesn't have to be expensive — the Moto X4 gives you a great experience for at least $200 less than your typical flagship phone.

One more thing: The unlocked Moto X4 does not carry the "Android One" designation offered to the model on sale from Project Fi.

Conclusion

When you want an unlocked phone, our recommendation remains unchanged from our general "Best Android Phones" list: it's the Google Pixel 2. It offers an amazing software experience, a top-notch camera, great hardware and guaranteed software updates.

Best overall

Google Pixel 2

Google Pixel 2

See at Best Buy See at Google Store

Google's new Pixel 2 gives you sleek and solid hardware, all of the requisite specs inside and runs simple and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. The hardware surely isn't flashy, but it's beautiful and efficient — and it's now IP67 water-resistant like we expect.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future.

The Pixel 2 has once again set the standard for Android cameras as well, with Google's "HDR+" processing buoyed by new camera hardware and even better processing. Photos are accurate with just a little extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, a new "Pixel Visual Core" chipset will be enabled to give you even better photos, which is tantalizing.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2. Great hardware and amazing software support an amazing camera that's only getting better.

One more thing: Though Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

Updated October 2017: The list has been completely overhauled with the release of the Pixel 2, which takes our top spot. The Note 8 also joins the list, next to the Galaxy S8, which remains. The LG G6, OnePlus 5, and Moto G5 Plus make way, leaving room to add the Moto X4 as an affordable unlocked option.