Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Plus vs S21 Ultra 3 unlocked

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

If you don’t like buying phones on contracts, unlocked Android phones are for you. They are available from various retailers and can be used with a carrier of choice. Unlocked smartphones also allow you to switch between carriers with ease.

Before we jump into our top picks, note that this post only includes devices that have officially been released in the US and are backed by a warranty. It’s also focused on high-end handsets aimed at demanding users. If you’re looking for something more affordable, check out our roundup of the best cheap Android phones you can get. You’ll also find a few great budget-friendly and mid-range options in our best pre-paid phones post.

The best unlocked Android phones:

  1. Samsung Galaxy S21 series
  2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series
  3. Asus ROG Phone 3
  4. Sony Xperia 1 II
  5. OnePlus 8 Pro
  6. Google Pixel 5

Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list of the best unlocked phones regularly as new devices launch.


1. Samsung Galaxy S21 series

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs S21 Plus vs S21 Ultra 1 1 unlocked

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series includes the standard S21, the S21 Plus, and the S21 Ultra. All of them have the new Snapdragon 888 processor, so you should have no issues with pure performance.

The Galaxy S21 is the cheapest and the smallest of the lot, but apart from the display size, it is quite similar to the S21 Plus. Both have 8GB of RAM and come with either 128GB or 256GB of storage. Both also have the same camera setups, with a 12MP wide-angle sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and a 64MP telephoto lens.

The S21 Ultra, on the other hand, is an absolute beast. It handily beats the other two across a variety of features. To start with, it comes with a massive 6.8-inch AMOLED display. It has the most cameras, including a 108MP main sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and not one but two 10MP  telephoto sensors. There’s also a laser autofocus sensor in the back and a 40MP front camera.

Given its larger footprint, it’s no surprise that the S21 Ultra also comes with the biggest battery of the lot. You can the phone with 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. It supports Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which is the first phone outside of the Note series to do so.

If you are looking for one of the many unlocked Android smartphones that also have microSD card slots for expanding your onboard storage, you might want to look elsewhere. None of the phones in the Galaxy S21 series has a microSD card slot.


Samsung Galaxy S21 specs:

  • Display: 6.2-inch, FHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 64, and 12MP
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, FHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 64, and 12MP
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,800mAh
  • Software: Android 11

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs:

  • Display: 6.8-inch, WQHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 12/16GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
  • Cameras: 108, 10, 10, and 12MP + Laser AF sensor
  • Front camera: 40MP
  • Battery: 5,000mAh
  • Software: Android 11

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra rear panels

The Galaxy Note 20 and 20 Ultra are both powerhouses in their own right. But if you want your smartphone to do anything and everything, the Ultra model is the one to go for. It has a larger display with a higher resolution, more RAM, a larger battery, and a 108MP main camera sensor. The display on the Ultra is also the first one that’s protected with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 7.

The standard Note 20 is made of “glasstic” and the display is flat and of a lower resolution, compared to the Ultra’s metal and glass build and curved Quad HD screen. Many of the other specs and features stay the same though. Powering both phones is the Snapdragon 865 Plus, both can be charged wirelessly, and they also feature an IP68 rating. Of course, the improved S Pen is the big selling point regardless of which iteration you get.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are undoubtedly two of the best Android smartphones you can get. Something to keep in mind though is that they are also really expensive, especially if you plan to get them unlocked.


Samsung Galaxy Note 20 specs:

  • Display: 6.7-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 865 Plus
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Cameras: 12, 64, and 12MP
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,300mAh
  • Software: Android 10

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra specs:

  • Display: 6.9-inch, QHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 865 Plus
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Storage: 128GB/512GB
  • Cameras: 108, 12, and 12MP + ToF
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Software: Android 10

3. Asus ROG Phone 3

Asus ROG Phone 3 against Steel

Mobile gamers are always looking for the best hardware, but features intended solely to enhance the gaming experience are a big positive as well. Luckily, the Asus ROG Phone 3 delivers on both counts. It’s one of the best Android gaming phones you can get, and it’s also available unlocked!

The ROG series is designed with gamers in mind, and Asus brought that sensibility over to its gaming phones as well. The spec list certainly impresses, with the Snapdragon 865 Plus processor, a 144Hz refresh rate screen, 512GB of storage, and up to a whopping 16GB of RAM available to you. Keeping everything running is a massive 6,000mAh battery.

Read also: Asus ROG Phone 3 battery tested: Is it the new battery life champion?

Power isn’t the only thing that the ROG Phone 3 brings to the table. It comes with air triggers that work like shoulder buttons. In non-gaming features, the phone’s camera setup also gets a decent upgrade over its predecessor. Now that the Asus ROG Phone 3 is officially available in the US, it’s certainly one of the best unlocked phones you can buy.


ROG Phone 3 specs:

  • Display: 6.59-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 865 Plus
  • RAM: 12/16GB
  • Storage: 512GB
  • Cameras: 64, 13, and 5MP
  • Front camera: 24MP
  • Battery: 6,000mAh
  • Software: Android 10

4. Sony Xperia 1 II

Sony Xperia 1 II front display unlocked android phones

Its name is weird and confusing, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Sony Xperia 1 II is one of the best unlocked phones you can buy. It’s a flagship phone through and through, with its  6.5-inch HDR OLED QHD+ display, Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Sony sticks with the 21:9 aspect ratio to make for a thin, but a long, device. It’s also one of the few high-end devices to come with a headphone jack.

While the cameras onboard the phone are not quite up to other expensive flagship phones, the Xperia 1 II makes up for it somewhat with some nice features. The big one is the ability to use its 20fps autofocus-capable burst mode, similar to Sony’s A9 series of stand-alone cameras. It’s expensive, but Sony finally has a solid contender on its hands after quite a while.


Sony Xperia 1 II specs:

  • Display: 6.5-inch, 4K
  • SoC: Snapdragon 865
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 64/128/256GB
  • Cameras: 12, 12, and 12MP + ToF
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,00mAh
  • Software: Android 10

5. OnePlus 8 Pro

OnePlus 8 Pro screen in hand unlocked android phones

OnePlus continues its foray into true flagship territory with the OnePlus 8 Pro. Like other 2020 flagships, the 8 Pro is powered by the Snapdragon 865 and you get up to 12GB of RAM to back that up. It also features an in-display fingerprint sensor, a beautiful 120Hz display, and four cameras in the back, including two 48MP sensors.

The phone offers a great software experience thanks to OxygenOS, which is one of the best ones out there in our opinion. The OnePlus 8 Pro also has features that other OnePlus phones have lacked in the past. This phone actually has a proper IP rating (IP68) this time around, instead of vague assurances of water resistances. The phone also supports wireless charging, and its fast charging capabilities go to another level with Warp Charge 30T.

The OnePlus 8 Pro might be the most expensive smartphone from the company yet, but its starting price is still a couple of hundred dollars lower than its competition. If you’re looking for one of the best unlocked Android phones around, this is definitely worth considering.


OnePlus 8 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6.78-inch, QHD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 865
  • RAM: 8/12GB
  • Storage: 128/256GB
  • Cameras: 48, 8, and 48MP + 5MP
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • Battery: 4,510mAh
  • Software: Android 10

6. Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5 holding in hand against sunset unlocked android phones

Unlocked Android phones can get really expensive without the benefit of long-term contracts. If you don’t want to spend more than a thousand dollars on a phone but still want something that can meet your needs, the Google Pixel 5 is the phone to get. The latest Pixel isn’t the high-end flagship everyone expected, but the Pixel 5 is more than up to the task in many ways.

The most impressive thing about it is the fact that it is one of the best camera phones you can get. The handsets pack the Snapdragon 765G chipset under the hood along with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The design is a huge improvement over its predecessor and looks a lot more modern. However, Google re-introduces some old school features, such as the physical rear fingerprint scanner.

It has some flagship features, like wireless charging an IP rating for dust and water resistance. The Pixel 5 falls in the middle of mid-rangers and high-end devices, but its $699 price tag will make it an attractive option for many. The guarantee of timely software updates is an excellent bonus as well.


Google Pixel 5 specs:

  • Display: 6-inch, Full HD+
  • SoC: Snapdragon 765G
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Camera: 12.2MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,080mAh
  • Software: Android 11

These are our picks for the best unlocked Android phones you can get in the US, although there are plenty of other great options out there as well. We’ll make sure to update this post with new models once they are released.