Best unlocked phones that work on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint
The vast majority of the US still gets their phones directly from the carriers, be it online or in their stores, but there is an increasing trend to source them in a different way - by paying for the full price of the device, and then bringing it to whichever carrier you'd like to use it with. Until recently, that was only possible with GSM carriers, but even that has started to change, with an increasing number of devices capable of running on all major US networks.
Nowadays, Qualcomm and other cellular modem makers have gotten so good in stuffing tens of LTE or 5G bands and filtering them without interference in a single chip, that more and more phone makers are offering unlocked phones that can work with any US carrier out of the box, Verizon and Sprint included. We won't bore you with CDMA support details here, as Verizon is phasing this out, but will instead list the best of those unlocked phones you can get right now, pop a SIM card in, and just start enjoying your network of choice in all of its glory.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro and Max
Smooth performance, great camera, pricey
Given that iPhones currently represent 45% of all smart handsets that Americans carry, we'd be remiss not to start with them as one of the most popular unlocked devices out there, with the widest LTE band support. While buying iPhones straight from Apple is not as popular of a pastime as buying them from carriers, there is a benefit to going the full-price Apple Store way, if you demand maximum flexibility.
11 Pro Max is the flagship with the longest battery ever on an iPhone, while the $999 Pro Max is for the lovers of compact. The two new iPhones have absolutely identical triple cameras, with the addition of "tele" and "ultrawide" lens that allows you to get clearer zoom and capture wider backgrounds.The $1,099 iPhone
Why should you get the new iPhones? They stand out with buttery smooth performance and a rich ecosystem of apps and games. Also, you can be assured that an iPhone will be supported for years with updates and those updates will not come a year after they are released, but on day one. You should buy them if you value the performance and want a good camera. And of course, if you don't mind those super high prices.
- Read our iPhone 11 Pro and Max review here
Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL
Best Android performance, timely guaranteed updates, awesome camera, pricey
In the great Pixel tradition, these come unlocked and are no hardware slouches, but come with bigger bezels than most new flagships and even midrangers and a rather high price for the hardware. They do have the smoothest Android performance, though, and amazing cameras with great dynamic range and beautiful colors. The other big selling point is, of course, stock Android and fast updates, plus the new Motion Sense radar-based gesture navigation. The Pixels offer the tightest integration with Google's services you can currently get, including Google's artificially intelligent Assistant bot. No matter if you get the Pixel 4 or XL version from Verizon, AT&T, the Google Store, Project Fi or Best Buy, they all come unlocked and loaded for action.
Samsung Galaxy S10 and Note 10+
Great camera, slick design, loaded interface
The Galaxy S10 and Note 10 series are some of the best pocket cameras you can always carry with you, as they offer awesome photo buff features like a variable aperture or 4K 60fps video recording. Samsung also equipped them with ultrafast chipsets, stereo speakers with wonderful sound, and added great looks and ergonomics to the mix. The experience of setting up Samsung's top phones to work on any US carrier is a piece of cake as they come packing a wide variety of bands.
Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL
Smooth Android, fast updates, great cameras
Yep, those two comes fully unlocked, and can be used on any carrier. The phones are no slouches, either - The Pixel 3 XL has an edge-to-edge screen (with bigger bezels than most) and the bigger battery. These two phones offer very smooth Android performance despite last year's chipsets, and one of the best cameras ever put on a phone with great dynamic range and beautiful colors.
The other big selling point is, of course, stock Android and fast updates, plus the tightest integration with Google's services you can currently get, including Google's artificially intelligent Assistant bot. Again, no matter if you get the Pixel 3 from Verizon, the Google Store, Project Fi or Best Buy, they all come unlocked and loaded for action.
- Read our Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL review here
Get them from Apple
Apple iPhone 8 to 11
The iPhones 8 (for the nostalgia-driven) to 11 are currently sitting in Apple's midrange and are very carrier-friendly, with more than 20 supported LTE bands. It's important to have the right model if you intend on switching carriers. The Unlocked models, available at Apple.com, can work with any carrier in the US. The only "trap" is if you purchase an AT&T model - those can't work with Verizon or Sprint, but that doesn't go for T-Mobile's unlocked 11, for instance.
Apple started this trend by providing a record number of LTE band support with each and every iPhone iteration since the 5s, and we are now at the 26-band mark with the unlocked iPhone XR models, which the globetrotter or carrier hopper in you will surely appreciate. We don't need to extol the iPhone 11 virtues to you - great camera and battery life plus ultrafast A13 chipset, with the display resolution being the only ho-hum aspect.
Samsung Galaxy S10e
The Galaxy S10e model numbers denoted with "U" at the end, for unlocked, would work on all US carriers, and are prime for the taking over at Samsung's USA store. It's currently discounted at that - the S10e goes for $700, but can be had for cheaper at many promos.
Don't take our word for it, though, it's Samsung which tips that "wireless voice, data and messaging services compatible with GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile and CDMA networks such as Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular." The phone is made with a premium glass and metal chassis, sports cameras with ultrafast Dual Pixel focusing technology, and is one of the most compact out there to boot.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy S10e review here
Google Pixel 3a
You don't get much more budget than sub-$300, and that's where Google's Pixel 3a often stands. While not the coolest looking phone, its unapologetically plastic design is a rare durable sight these days, and the camera takes the best pictures in its class. Add a good battery life and fast software updates, and the budget Pixel wears its specs and price with pride.
- Read our Google Pixel 3a review here
Motorola Moto G7
Oodles of value for the money and universal carrier compatibility
Leave it to the pioneers from Motorola to offer a great affordable handset that can be hooked up to any carrier out of the box. Priced to move at sub-$300, the Moto G7 is one the best unlocked phone for the money you can currently get in the US, as it would work on all major carriers, including Verizon and Sprint, and our review didn't find any major reasons not to get it at this price tag.
- Read our Moto G7 review here