In America, you mostly buy phones from a carrier at a discounted price in exchange for a monthly bill, which usually comes out at about $70 a month or even more if you want extra features or added data on the plan.
What many Americans don’t realize however, is that most of the world elsewhere buys phones at a full outright cost and then pays a much smaller monthly amount.
There is still the option to buy unlocked SIM-free phones however. Google has been pushing this idea recently, with the ridiculously low priced Nexus 4 and the Google Play editions of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and HTC’s One. Other companies such as Sony and Oppo have also decided to sell their devices unlocked in the US, instead of through carriers, and, with T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” move, unlocked phones are increasingly becoming commonplace.
Worldwide however, unlocked phones are the norm. Let’s take a look at the best unlocked phones available across the globe.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung got a lead on the smartphone market when it introduced the original Galaxy S three years ago. Since then, the Galaxy line has dramatically increased in popularity, becoming the number one smartphone brand in the world, selling even better than the iPhone in many countries.
When Samsung introduced the fourth iteration of its bestselling line, it wasn’t met with a particularly strong amount of positivity. Many people saw the phone and immediately crossed it off as a no because it features mostly the same plastic build as last year’s Galaxy S3. It is still a sturdy phone however and the plastic won’t affect the end experience.
On the software side, the Galaxy S4 is, by far, the most feature-packed phone available on the market. In fact, the handset is so full of features, that it actually might actually confuse some less savvy users. There are features such as “Air View” and “Smart Scroll” which, in theory, should make the device easier to use, but in reality, you don’t really need. However, many Galaxy S4 users will be delighted with the variety of software features, and even if you don’t care about them and decide to turn them off, you’ll still be left with an amazing phone.
HTC is in a bad situation, and there’s no denying that. Their smartphone line got polluted and people basically left them in the dark for Samsung. There is still a glimmer of hope though, as their profits increase over previous quarters.
HTC’s 2013 flagship, the HTC One is a device that caused a lot of tension in the smartphone industry, being one of the first non-iPhone devices to have a beautiful, aluminum body. Although that statement is exaggerated, it is true that the HTC One is a gorgeous device and one of the best built phones ever made. HTC is almost managing to outmanoeuvre Samsung and its plastic builds with this device.
HTC also redid things on the software side, presenting a much cleaner and welcoming interface than before. There are also features such as “BlinkFeed” and “HTC Zoe” which add a little extra to the handset. However, there have been complaints about too many steps involved with each action, such as having to go to the settings menu to change the wallpaper instead of just long pressing the screen. The sales of the One are reportedly strong and should hopefully pull HTC out of the water.
In previous years, Google has sold its Nexus devices with various carriers in the US. However, the recent mess of the Verizon Galaxy Nexus seems to have put them off carriers and given them a new idea on how to sell their phones. Together with LG, they developed the Nexus 4, the latest addition to the Nexus line, which runs pure stock Android, and is particularly appealing to Android enthusiasts.
The Nexus 4 doesn’t have the latest specs by any means, but it is still an extremely worthy contender, sporting a 720p display, 8 megapixel camera and quad-core processor. The most exciting feature of the Nexus 4 though, is the unlocked price. Google has found some way of selling the Nexus 4 at a mere $299, which is an unbelievably low price compared to most high-end unlocked phones. The lack of LTE and the glass back can be concerning though.
Sony Xperia Z/ZL
Sony is perhaps not the first manufacturer that comes to mind when you think of smartphones. They never successfully made a device which had any significant impact on the market. This is mainly due to the fact that their devices don’t include the latest specs or software, thus not receiving acclaim from critics or the media.
The Sony Xperia Z though is supposed to be their turnaround, being a high tech waterproof phone with a quad core processor and full HD display. The water resistant casing allows for submersion of up to three feet, which is an incredible feat for a smartphone with such a high quality glass build and thin profile. Sony also perfected its software with the Xperia Z, adding features and updating the interface to be smoother and more responsive.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Samsung’s most popular oversized device, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is another great handset available right now. Samsung’s Galaxy Note was a sleeper hit in the phone world, selling in high amounts even though it was a bit unusual at the time. Now however, phablets are becoming more and more normal to consumers.
The Galaxy Note 2 by no means has the latest specs by 2013’s standards but still remains a strong option, due to the rich amount of features and responsive interface. The biggest feature of the Note 2 is the S Pen, a stylus which can be used to take notes and perform tasks around the device.
The large 5.5 inch screen of the Galaxy Note 2 is something that won’t appeal to everyone, but can be extremely useful if you want a compromise between a phone and a tablet.
Oppo Find 5
Most people would immediately dismiss Oppo as just another of those cheap Chinese manufacturers who produce unreliable and badly built products. However, it has produced something worthy with the Find 5, a 5 inch device with an astounding build quality, gorgeous full HD display, and a blazing fast quad core CPU.
Perhaps more interestingly, Oppo has customized the Android software quite a bit, adding its own layer to it. They have taken the rounded icon look of the iPhone and removed the app drawer, which may take some getting used too if you’ve used an Android device before. However, like most devices, the Find 5 can be rooted and have a custom ROM placed on it, giving it a new look and feel. All in all, the Oppo Find 5 is a great start for the growing Chinese manufacturer, and definitely deserves your attention if you’re looking into fairly cheap unlocked phones.
What is the best unlocked Android smartphone in your opinion?