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The Best Unlocked Phones of 2017

Wireless Freedom

In many ways, nothing beats the freedom of unlocked phones. They work with any AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card, even with no data plan. You can pop in a local, pay-as-you-go card overseas and never pay horrendous international roaming charges. And you don't have to deal with carrier-installed bloatware. If you're looking for an unlocked handset, look no further than our top-rated choices here. But first, consider why you may want to go the unlocked route in the first place.

One note about this list: We're updating it right before Apple's September 12 iPhone announcement, so neither the new phones nor the iPhone 7 models they replace are on the list. Two other upcoming devices you should keep an eye out for are the LG V30 and the Google Pixel 2 models, both probably coming out in October. We'll update this list again once we've had a chance to test them all.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Tired of your handset, or want to own a few and switch between them? With an unlocked device, you can trade up or sell your phone whenever you want, without waiting for the end of a leasing or equipment installment plan—because you're not in one. You can own multiple handsets and swap your SIM card between them. You can also take advantage of super-cheap prepaid plans from virtual operators piggybacking on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

At the same time, there are a few downsides to going the unlocked route. If you change SIM cards overseas, you won't have your US phone number while you're there. And unlocked handsets often work only on GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile), although there are a growing number of exceptions. The Apple iPhone 6s/SE/7 (factory unlocked and Verizon Wireless models), the Google Nexus and Pixel phones, the Moto G4 and G5 lines, the LG G6, and the Samsung Galaxy "7" and "8" generations work on all US carriers, although with Verizon, you may have to use an existing, already-activated SIM (say, from an older phone.)

Google Pixel XL

Where and What to Buy

Shopping for an unlocked handset can be a bit tricky, since carrier stores don't stock them. If you're looking for one, the Apple Store, Amazon, Best Buy Mobile, and manufacturers' online stores are good bets. In some cases, you can even unlock the phone you already own, although the particulars depend on the handset and carrier.

Related Story See How We Test Cell Phones

Our most recent Editors' Choice winners for unlocked devices in each major price category include the Samsung Galaxy S8 at the high end; the Motorola Moto G5 Plus in the midrange; and the Motorola Moto E4 for an inexpensive option.

The S8 is the cream of the crop all around right now, with a terrific camera, an amazing screen, a one-handed form factor, and excellent radio reception. The G5 Plus is a $300 phone that feels like a $500 phone, thanks to its sleek metal build and smooth performance. The E4 brings plenty of current features, such as a fingerprint scanner, dual-band Wi-Fi, and a recent version of Android, for a low price—under $100, if you have Amazon Prime. All three work on all the major US carriers.

Ready to break free? Pick up one of these handsets and don't feel tied to your carrier any longer. If you're deciding on a carrier, see which one came out on top in our Fastest Mobile Networks tests.

  • Google Pixel Review

    $649.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: If you lust after the latest Android software and cool new features in the Google Pixel XL, but are turned off by large phones, the 5-inch Pixel is a superb alternative.

    Read Full Review

  • Google Pixel XL Review

    $769.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: The Pixel XL has top-notch hardware, the latest Android software, and guaranteed support from Google, making it one of the best big-screen Android phones you can buy.

    Read Full Review

  • Samsung Galaxy S8 Review

    $750.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy S8 is a gorgeous big-screen phone with a comfortable single-handed feel, and it's packed with top-notch components and promising new software.

    Read Full Review

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

    $930.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: Representing the current pinnacle of smartphone technology, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone has everything that's great about the Galaxy S8, plus dual cameras and an S Pen stylus.

    Read Full Review

  • Apple iPhone SE Review

    $399.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The Apple iPhone SE is the best choice if you're looking for a small, but powerful smartphone.

    Read Full Review

  • Motorola Moto E4 Review

    MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The Android-powered Motorola Moto E4 offers smooth performance and lots of features for a bargain price.

    Read Full Review

  • Motorola Moto G5 Plus Review

    $299.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The Moto G5 Plus sets a new standard for affordable unlocked phones with a premium build, solid specs, smooth performance, and bloatware-free Android software.

    Read Full Review

  • HTC U11 Review

    $696.00 MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The HTC U11 for Sprint is the best music phone around, and its unusual squeeze sensor is a fun new way to interact with a mobile device.

    Read Full Review

  • LG G6 Review

    MSRP
    at

    Bottom Line: The 5.7-inch LG G6 packs the biggest screen it can in a body narrow enough to hold comfortably, but otherwise falls short on innovation.

    Read Full Review

  • OnePlus 5 Review

    $479.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: The OnePlus 5 is an attractive unlocked phone with fast performance, solid camera capabilities, and excellent battery life, but it's not as strong a value as previous models.

    Read Full Review

Read more

Check Also

Google Play Movies & TV becomes a one-stop shop for everything that streams

With the explosion of streaming services now available, it’s becoming more difficult to figure out not just what movie or TV show to watch next, but where you can actually watch it. Google today is rolling out its solution to this problem with a significant revamp of its Google Play Movies & TV app and an update to the Google Play Store itself that will show you which streaming services have the content available, in addition to whether it’s available for rent or purchase, as before. The end result is something that’s similar to Apple’s own TV app, which combines users’ own library of movies and TV with the ability to seek out what’s trending and available in the world of online video. In the updated Google Play Movies & TV app, you’ll now find three tabs in the new bottom navigation bar which will direct you to your Home, Library or your Watchlist. The watchlist is a feature the app recently gained as well, but now it has a much more prominent position. As you browse through the app, you can click on titles to read more about them, as before, but now you’re also able to see where the item can be streamed. At launch, Google is working with 28 streaming services whose content libraries are now integrated in Google Play Movies & TV. That’s fewer than Apple’s TV app supports, which is currently over 60. But it will find content even if it’s an exclusive to the streaming provider, and not necessarily something Google has for rent or sale. That means you can find original programming – like Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” – and then start watching it on the streaming service that hosts it. “We deeplink right into playback for that [third-party streaming] app,” explains Ben Serridge, the product manager for the Movies & TV app at Google. “So if I wanted to start watching ‘The Good Doctor’ pilot, I press the play button and it goes into the ABC app and start playback.” Beyond the big names, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the app also pulls in content from ABC, CBS, FOX NOW, NBC, HBO NOW, HBO Go, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Max Go, Starz, Disney Now, HGTV, BET Now, Comedy Central, A&E, Cooking Channel, Crackle, DIY Network, Food Network, History, Lifetime, MTV, The CW, Travel Channel, Tubi TV and VH1. Notably missing is Netflix, whose content is searchable in Apple’s TV app. Serridge didn’t explain why it’s missing, saying only that “we would very much like to have all the apps that distribute this kind of content on Play participating” – effectively tossing the ball back to Netflix’s court. Even without Netflix, the feature is useful if not comprehensive. It will show you the services hosting the content, whether it’s freely available to stream, if you need a subscription (as with HBO Now), the associated costs, or if you need to login with pay TV credentials to watch. This is especially helpful because some of the network TV apps offer a teaser of a show with a few free episodes, but not complete seasons. The Google Play Movies & TV app will help you track down the rest elsewhere, if need be. The app will also now help you narrow down searches thanks to a robust filtering system that lets you click on tags by genre, mood, decade, and more. For example, you could click on “Family,” “Drama,” Award winning,” Highly rated,” Comedy,” and other filters. In addition to helping you find content, stream it, or add it to your Watchlist, the app includes personalized recommendations. These will be partly based on items you’ve previously watched, but you can also explicitly signal your interest or distste as well, by clicking on the thumbs up or thumbs down button. The thumbs down will remove the item from your suggestions entirely. Outside the app itself, the Play Store is being updated to show you the same information about content availability. Solutions like the new Google Play Movies & TV app and Apple’s TV app are handy in the cord cutting era where content is spread out across networks, services, and other over-the-top offerings. But even these apps aren’t enough. Not only is Netflix missing from Google’s app, so is its own YouTube original content – and that’s the same company! Also not addressed by either Apple or Google’s app are which shows may be available to stream or record via live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. (Although, to be fair, that’s not only a different set of services, it’s also a much larger challenge given that broadcast network availability varies by market. A dedicated solution like Suppose.tv or Fomopop’s live TV finder may work better.) Meanwhile, there are other tools for finding and tracking favorite shows, like Reelgood or TV Time (or a jailbroken Fire TV stick we should admit), but they don’t have the the benefit of matching content from a rent-and-buy marketplace like Google Play, or being available across phone, tablet, and desktop web, like Google Play. Google says the new features will roll out to Android phones and tablets in the U.S. over the next few days.

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