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 12 Pro/Max
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Last but not least, at $1,300 we feel the price is a bit too high, but Samsung often runs deals, and chances are that you will be able to get it for less. S Pen lovers won’t be disappointed, but those looking for the best value-for-money or for a more compact phone might want to look elsewhere.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro and Max
The $1,099 iPhone11 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.
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 more: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review
Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 Ultra
Equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 and support for a wide variety of bands, these devices will not disappoint not only on every major US carrier, but across the world as well.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review
Apple iPhone 12
Not only is this pretty boy the best value-for-money iPhone in the new 12 series, as it carries most of the Pro features without the price tag, but it is also the most future-proof 5G handset.
With the support of the new C-bands that are acquired or will be auctioned off to Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile, it is the one piece of hardware to get if you want to take advantage of the 5G buildouts that are yet to happen in the next year or two in the US.
Google Pixel 5 and Pixel 4/XL
In the great Google Pixel tradition, these come unlocked and are no hardware slouches, but come with bigger bezels than most new flagships and even midrangers. They used to have a rather high price for the hardware, but now that the Pixel 5 is out, it slots well among other $700 “value flagships”. The Pixels 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 Motion Sense radar-based gesture navigation on the 4 series. 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 4/5 from Verizon, AT&T, the Google Store, Project Fi or Best Buy, they all come unlocked and loaded for action.
Samsung Galaxy S10 series
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S10 series
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.
Read more: Apple iPhone 11 review
Google Pixel 4a
Read more: Google Pixel 4a review
Motorola Moto G Stylus
The Moto G Pro is one of the very few phones that come with a built-in stylus, but that’s not the only thing this new mid-range Moto has going for it. The phone delivers hiccup-free performance, good photos and videos, and even great audio quality. The Moto G Pro is a good option for people on a budget as it covers all the fundamentals well despite its low cost of $270.
Read more: Motorola Moto G Stylus review
Apple iPhone SE 2020
Read more: Apple iPhone SE 2020 review