Best unlocked Android phones (February 2016)

Now that an increasing amount of smartphone manufacturers are selling their phones at cheaper price points, it’s much easier for consumers to afford an off-contract device rather than purchasing one with a two-year contract. At least in the United States, the way smartphones are priced has changed dramatically, and that’s a good thing.

So, what are the best smartphones out there for those who’d like to forgo the standard contract and buy unlocked? We’re here to take you through the best unlocked Android smartphones for under $250, under $500 and over $500. As always, if you have anything you’d like to suggest, be sure to speak up in the comment section at the bottom of the post.

Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list regularly as new devices launch. It’s also worth noting that this article is written for a U.S.-centric point of view, though (since they are unlocked) pretty much all of these devices are available outside of the U.S., at least in some capacity. 

Update, February 2016: This month we removed the ASUS ZenFone 2 from our list.

Best phones under $250

OnePlus X

The OnePlus X is one of the best budget devices you can purchase right now. It’s compact, extremely fast, and boasts many of the same software features that come with its older brother, the OnePlus 2. It has an impressive 5.0-inch AMOLED display, a perfectly capable Snapdragon 801 processor, 3 gigabytes of RAM, microSD card expansion up to 128GB and two SIM card slots.

There are a few things to watch out for, though. If you want to activate the device on AT&T or T-Mobile’s networks, you may not have great 4G LTE coverage, as the device is missing the appropriate bands. It also comes with no NFC on board, so you won’t be able to use mobile payment methods like Android Pay. Oh, and OnePlus has just axed the invite system for the OnePlus X, so you can now buy it from the company whenever you’d like, without waiting in line for an invite!

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly smartphone and don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, get the OnePlus X. You can purchase it from OnePlus’ website for $249.99.

Specs

  • 5.0-inch AMOLED display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, 441ppi
  • 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
  • Non-removable 2525mAh battery
  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • 140 x 69 x 6.9mm, 138g

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Buy now from OnePlus


Motorola Moto G (2015)

The Moto G, one of the most beloved budget phones on the market, is now in its third iteration. This time around, the handset offers up a 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor and either 8GB storage and 1GB RAM, or 16GB storage and 2GB RAM. bother models include microSD support, a 13MP rear cam, a 5MP front cam, a 5-inch 720p LCD display, and a hefty 2470mAh non-removable battery. While the Moto G has never been about flashy extras, this year’s model does introduce waterproofing and LTE to the mix.

For those that lust for customization, the Moto G also includes limited Moto Maker support. While this feature isn’t as robust as you’d find with the Moto X Style (Pure Edition), it’s still a great step in the right direction. As for software? The phone runs Lollipop out of the box, and it is likely only a matter of time before a Marshmallow upgrade makes its way into the hands of consumers.

It should be noted that only the model with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of on-board storage reaches the under-$200 price point. To get the higher end variant, you’ll need to pay around $219 in most regions.

Specs

  • 5.0-inch LCD display with 720 x 1280 resolution, 294ppi
  • 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor
  • 1/2GB of RAM
  • 8/16GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 32GB
  • 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 2470mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 142.1 x 72.4 x 11.6mm, 155g

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Buy now from Amazon


honor 5X

Huawei has finally announced its plans to break into the US market with the honor 5X. The honor 5X was announced a number of months ago, but it was just recently revealed that the dual-SIM budget handset would be coming to the United States for only $200.

Featuring an all-metal build and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, the 5X absolutely comes to market with a few features that we don’t normally see on sub-$200 smartphones. It comes with a big 5.5-inch Full HD display, snapdragon 616 processor, 16GB of storage and microSD expansion up to 128GB. It also comes with a 13MP rear camera, a pretty sizable 3000mAh battery, and runs Huawei’s EMUI atop Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box. Huawei says the device will receive its update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow sometime soon, as well.

You can pre-order the honor 5X from Amazon in Dark Grey, Daybreak Silver or Sunset Gold color options for only $199.99.

Specs

  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, 401ppi
  • 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 3000mAh battery
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 151.3 x 76.3 x 8.2mm, 158g

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Buy now from Amazon


Best phones under $500

Nexus 6P

As the successor to last year’s Motorola Nexus 6, Google recently unveiled the Huawei-made Nexus 6P. This device is the higher-end of the two Nexus phones announced at Google’s event, and that’s incredibly apparent when looking at the spec sheet.

It comes with a big 5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, super fast Snapdragon 810 processor, a giant 3450mAh battery and an impressive 12MP rear-facing camera. Want to get your hands on one? The Nexus 6P is pretty cheap, considering the specs and build quality. You can purchase it from the Google Store starting at just $499!

We’ve just published our full review of this handset, and come to the conclusion that it’s up there with the best of the best. If you aren’t a fan of Samsung’s Galaxy S6 for any reason, you should get the Nexus 6P.

Specs

  • 5.7-inch AMOLED display with 1440 x 2560 resolution, 518ppi
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32/64/128GB of on-board storage, no microSD card slot
  • 12MP rear-facing camera, 8MP front-facing camera
  • Non-removable 3450mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3mm, 178g

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Buy now from the Google StoreBuy now from Amazon


Motorola Moto X Style (aka Pure Edition)

With the original Moto X, Motorola proved you don’t need to have the latest specs to get a great user experience. With the second generation, the Lenovo-owned company took no chances and double-downed on the spec side as well, packing the new Moto X (2014) with a dense 5.2-inch AMOLED screen, a beefy processor, and a capable 13MP camera. But with the Moto X Style, Motorola reaches the perfect balance between performance, simplicity, price and… well, style.

By Style we are mostly referring customization capabilities, a factor which has been an integral part of the Moto X experience since day one. Customers can use Moto Maker to manipulate their devices’ aesthetics to their will. You can change the color of the metal areas, engrave the back and even choose from a plethora of back options, including materials leather, wood, rubber and other materials.

The device is not a bad contender in terms of hardware, either. The larger screen puts the phone up with contenders like the OnePlus 2, Nexus 6, LG G4 and the Galaxy Note series. It may not sport the “best” processor in the market, but the Snapdragon 808 is pretty close to the 810, and Motorola has proven time and again they can make a super fast phone without the greatest chipset. The best part? This phone’s price will start at only $399!

It’s worth noting that the phone will be sold in most markets under the Style branding, though in the United States it will be sold as the Moto X Pure Edition, an unlocked model that will play nice with all U.S. carriers.

Specs

  • 5.7-inch IPS LCD display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, 520ppi
  • 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16/32/64GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • 21MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 3000mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 153.9 x 76.2 x 11.06mm, 179g

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Buy now from MotorolaBuy now from Amazon


LG G4

With every phone on this list bringing something different to the table, LG attempts to offer the most with their latest flagship. While maintaining the design language and the unique elements of its predecessors, LG’s attempt to standout on the design front involved adding a subtle curve to the display, and the availability of different back cover options in a hard plastic or leather variants.

Speaking of back covers, the LG G4 is one of the very few flagships to come with a removable back cover, which makes possible an even rarer feature: a replaceable battery. A gorgeous Quad HD display, a great camera experience, and a smooth and fluid software iteration make for a fantastic device. If what is missing in other flagships kept you from buying them, the G4 just might be the phone that you’re looking for.

It should be noted that while LG recently released the V10 (found below), we found that the G4 still offers up some great features for the price.

Specs

  • 5.5-inch LCD Quantum Dot display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution, 534ppi
  • 1.82 GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • 16MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
  • Removable 3,000mAh  battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 148.9 x 76.1 x 6.3 – 9.8 mm, 155 grams

Read more

Buy now from Amazon


Nexus 5X

Google chose to release two Nexus smartphones in 2015 – the higher-end Nexus 6P made by Huawei and the LG-made Nexus 5X, which is the true sequel to LG’s beloved Nexus 5 from 2013. Both of these devices feature similar specifications, but they still manage to stand out drastically from one another. The Nexus 5X has one of the best processors on the market (the Snapdragon 808), a decent 2700mAh battery and a really great 12.3 megapixel rear-facing camera. It also boasts a fingerprint scanner on the back Google is calling Nexus Imprint, a front-facing speaker that provides decent audio quality and of course, this phone runs the latest version of Android.

In our full review, we had just a few gripes. While the Snapdragon 808 processor is very capable of performing just about everything you throw at it, the fact that the 5X comes with just 2GB of RAM makes us nervous for the future. It also only comes with 16 or 32GB of on-board storage with no microSD card expansion, so folks who are used to 32 or 64GB variants will need to rely on cloud storage when it comes to keeping media on the phone.

Considering that the Nexus 6P costed only $120 more than the 5X at launch, it was a tad difficult to recommend this smartphone at the start. Now that it’s dropped in price, though, we really think this is one of the better phones you can buy at this price range. You can now purchase the Nexus 5X starting at only $329.

Specs

  • 5.2-inch IPS LCD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, 423ppi
  • 1.8GHz hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16/32GB of on-board storage, no microSD card expansion
  • 12.3MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 2700mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm, 136g

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Buy now from AmazonBuy now from the Google Store


Best phones above $500

Samsung Galaxy Note 5

It’s hard denying that Samsung has always been the king of large-screened smartphones, and that still holds true today. With its crystal clear 5.7-inch display, powerful Exynos 7420 CPU and killer 16MP rear-facing camera, the Galaxy Note 5 is one of the best Android phones available on the market right now.

It’s an all-around solid device, boasting an all-glass chassis that’s similar to that of the Galaxy S6. It comes with an improved S Pen and some great multitasking features that will make it easy to get work done. The software is much more clean and simple than we’ve seen from the company in the past, too.

With all of that said, though, this device doesn’t come without its caveats. Samsung’s decision to omit the microSD card slot and removable battery has been a controversial one over the past few weeks, especially among Samsung die-hards. Even with these notable omissions, the Note 5 can still be considered one of the best out there.

If you’re looking for a big smartphone and money is no object, you should definitely consider picking up the Galaxy Note 5.

Specs

  • 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with 1440 x 2560 resolution, 518ppi
  • Samsung Exynos 7420 processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 32/64GB of on-board storage, no microSD card expansion
  • 16MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 3000mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm, 171g

Read more

Buy now from Amazon


Samsung Galaxy S6

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of the best smartphones on the market. It features the powerful Exynos 7420 processor, an impressive 16MP rear-facing camera and a crystal clear 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display.

Although Samsung decided to forgo the removable battery and microSD card slot this time around, we’d wager to say that the much-improved build quality with the S6 is a pretty decent trade off. Basically, if you can get past these two caveats and don’t mind Samsung’s Touchwiz software overlay, the Galaxy S6 is one of the best phones you can buy.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 was definitely one of the best smartphones in 2015, though it can be a little pricey depending on which model you choose.

Specs

  • 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, 577ppi
  • Samsung Exynos 7420 processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 32/64/128GB storage options, no microSD card expansion
  • 16MP rear camera, 5MP front camera
  • Non-removable 2550mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm, 138g

Read more

Buy now from Amazon


LG V10

If you aren’t completely satisfied with the LG G4, perhaps the V10 will suit your needs. It has the same powerful Snapdragon 808 processor and 16MP rear-facing camera as the G4, but with a few extra features included. Most notably, the V10 sports a secondary “ticker” display LG calls the Second Screen. This extra display aims to provide its users useful information without the need to turn on the main screen. It will display app shortcuts, notifications, and even weather and battery percentage information. Although the placement is a bit wonky, we’re sure you’ll be pretty happy with the added benefit of having a secondary display.

The V10 also has two front-facing cameras for wide-angle selfies, a fingerprint scanner that’s actually really reliable, a MIL-STD-810G Transit Drop Compliant rating for shock absorption, and a 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC electronic processor with support for Qualcomm’s QFE2550 closed-loop antenna tuning solution. It’s also the first smartphone ever to come with a manual mode for taking video.

Both the V10 and the G4 are great smartphones. If you aren’t concerned with spending a bit more money, though, you should buy the V10.

Specs

  • Main display: 5.7-inch IPS Quantum Display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, 513ppi
    • Secondary display: 2.1-inch IPS Quantum Display with 160 x 1040 resolution, 513ppi
  • Hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 64GB of on-board storage, microSD expansion up to 2TB
  • 16MP rear-facing camera, 5MP Dual Lens front-facing camera
  • Removable 3000mAh battery
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 159.6 x 79.3 x 8.6mm, 192g

Read more

Buy now from Amazon


There you have it – our picks of the best unlocked Android phones you can buy right now. Missed anything? Tell us in the comments!

Check out our related best lists:

By | 2016-02-29T17:00:07+00:00 February 29th, 2016|Android Related, Just the Tablets|0 Comments

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