Best Unlocked Phone

Update February 2017: Google’s Pixel still remains our top unlocked choice, and we’ve added a caveat to our Galaxy S7 recommendation denoting its age.

Best overall

Google Pixel

See at Google
See at Verizon

When you’re buying an unlocked phone, our recommendation is unchanged from our overall best Android phone pick: it’s the Google Pixel. Google’s first own-branded phone is absolutely hit in just about every way, from its understated hardware design to its lightning fast performance, full-day battery life and of course its top-of-the-line camera.

The Pixel does everything simply faster than the competition, and does so while integrating with all of Google’s excellent services. It’s also going to be the most up-to-date in terms of software, getting monthly security updates and also being at the front of the line for big platform jumps.

You’ll pay for the privilege, but if you want the slickest and cleanest Android phone that you can buy unlocked and pick your carrier(s) later, the Pixel is the way to go.

Bottom line: For the fastest, simplest and best-supported experience, you can’t go wrong with Google’s own phone.

One more thing: You can opt for the 5.5-inch Pixel XL if you want more screen to work with and longer battery life.

Why the Google Pixel is best

After years of Nexus phones that didn’t quite hit the mark of being high-end phones, Google’s Pixel finally does things right. It all starts with the sleek and understated hardware (manufactured by HTC) that doesn’t have tons of flair but feels great and is extremely sleek. Underneath that skin is all of the top-end specs you want, from a Snapdragon 821 processor to available 128GB of storage.

The Pixel’s display is the best we’ve seen from a Google-backed device, and even gives the likes of Samsung a run for their money in overall quality. The camera is also leading the industry in terms of speed, photo quality and stabilized video.

This is what Alex Dobie had to say in our complete Pixel review:

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL deliver what we’ve always wanted from a Google Android experience: an attractive design, lightning-fast performance and unique Google features you won’t find on any other phone. Meanwhile the Pixel nails the essentials, with good “all-day” battery life, cameras that go toe-to-toe with the high-end competition, and update support unrivaled in the Android space.

The Pixel (or, if you need a big screen, Pixel XL) really is the complete package from Google, and if you’re going to be buying unlocked it’s the best available option today. The pricing doesn’t quite align with previous Nexus phones, but you’re getting a whole lot for the hefty price tag.

Best for features

Samsung Galaxy S7

See at Amazon

The Galaxy S7 is a complete package. All of the hardware features you could ask for, inside a beautifully designed metal-and-glass frame with a wonderful screen. There’s something refreshing about the compact body on a 5.1-inch phone, and Samsung has executed it perfectly here, while also filling it with top-end internals.

Samsung’s software is improving with every iteration, and when you buy unlocked it isn’t burdened by carrier bloatware or customization — it still falls behind on updates when compared to the Pixel, though. The 12MP camera is simple and consistent, and is easily one of the best available.

Though the GS7 is still great, you may consider waiting just a bit to see what comes of the Galaxy S8 launch, which is expected in early April.

Bottom line: The unlocked Galaxy S7 is expensive, but it’s worth having over a carrier-bought version.

One more thing: Even though it’s unlocked, this Galaxy S7 does work on the U.S. carriers — yes, even Verizon.

Best value around

OnePlus 3T

See at OnePlus
See at Amazon

It was hard to find a better value than in the $399 OnePlus 3, and now just six months on the company has refreshed the phone as the OnePlus 3T to keep it relevant for new buyers. The OnePlus 3T still has a fantastic metal build, a great one-touch fingerprint sensor, a solid 5.5-inch display and flagship-level 16MP f/2.0 camera, and with the latest update continues to have top-end specs.

For just $439 you’re getting a Snapdragon 821 processor, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage (128GB optional), dual SIM slots, USB-C, Dash Charge fast charging and a 16MP front-facing camera. The software is slick and fast with subtle but useful customizations and absolutely zero extra bloatware. Perhaps the only downside you can find here is that it’s not waterproof — but at $200 or more less than the competition, you may be willing to overlook that.

Bottom-line: The OnePlus 3T offers an amazing value, but is also one of the best phones available today.

One more thing: The Dash Charge fast-charging solution is incompatible with other fast-charging standards like Quick Charge 3.0.

Best for less

Moto G4 Plus

See at Amazon

The Moto G4 Plus won’t blow you away with striking design or materials, but it’s all about value. Starting at $249 you get a 5.5-inch 1080p display, solid 16MP camera, good battery life and a fingerprint sensor. Moto’s software is always a fan favorite, and performance is solid though unspectacular from the older Snapdragon 617 processor.

The phone is very capable in its default configuration with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, but if you want something more approximating what you get from the next tier up in phones consider buying the higher-end G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Just be aware that the Moto G5 is on its way very soon!

Bottom-line: For an inexpensive unlocked phone that doesn’t feel cheap, the Moto G4 Plus is an awesome choice.

One more thing: Make sure you don’t accidentally buy the standard Moto G4 or Moto G4 Play — the listings are all very similar.

Conclusion

Google’s first own-branded phone isn’t perfect, but it absolutely offers the best overall Android phone experiences available today. There’s something to love about it for everyone, from power users to Google fans to average no-frills consumers.

Best overall

Google Pixel

See at Google
See at Verizon

When you’re buying an unlocked phone, our recommendation is unchanged from our overall best Android phone pick: it’s the Google Pixel. Google’s first own-branded phone is absolutely hit in just about every way, from its understated hardware design to its lightning fast performance, full-day battery life and of course its top-of-the-line camera.

The Pixel does everything simply faster than the competition, and does so while integrating with all of Google’s excellent services. It’s also going to be the most up-to-date in terms of software, getting monthly security updates and also being at the front of the line for big platform jumps.

You’ll pay for the privilege, but if you want the slickest and cleanest Android phone that you can buy unlocked and pick your carrier(s) later, the Pixel is the way to go.

Bottom line: For the fastest, simplest and best-supported experience, you can’t go wrong with Google’s own phone.

One more thing: You can opt for the 5.5-inch Pixel XL if you want more screen to work with and longer battery life.


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