Best unlocked Samsung phones in 2021 | Tom’s Guide May 24, 2021 – Posted in: Smartphone news
Opting for the best unlocked Samsung phones let you pick up a new handset without the burden of having to tie your new phone to a phone carrier. That allows you to can choose your perfect handset first and then pick exactly which phone carrier is right for you later.
And if you’ve decided Samsung is the way you want to go but you’re not sure which handset fits your needs, we’re here to help. Samsung offers an overwhelming amount of devices ranging from powerful flagships through to budget handsets.
While our picks for the best unlocked phones from Samsung go to the powerful Samsung Galaxy S21 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, budget hunters will be interested in the Galaxy A52 5G or the Samsung Galaxy S10 (if you don’t mind getting an older device). Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is also a great pick if you enjoy big-screen phablets.
Whether it’s a flagship you’re after, something cheap and cheerful or something in the middle, we’ve picked out the best unlocked Samsung phones below for you to look through — all perfect to pair with the best cell phone plans. Here’s a look at the best unlocked Samsung phones that are currently available.
The best unlocked Samsung phones right now
1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The best premium Android unlocked phone
Display Size: 6.8-inch AMOLED (3200 x 1400); 10 to 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12GB, 16GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No | Rear camera: 108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor | Front camera: 40MP (f/2.2) | Weight: 8.08 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:25 (60Hz), 10:07 (adaptive)
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is certainly not the least expensive option from Samsung. In fact, it is one of the most expensive devices you can get it you don’t consider Samsung’s foldable options. With that in mind, the S21 Ultra is most definitely not going to be for everyone but if you are after a powerful phone, it will be a great choice for you to go for.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate and Samsung’s brightest display yet. That’s paired with a super powerful Snapdragon 888 Plus processor and a battery capable of lasting 11 hours on a charge. The S21 Ultra is also the first phone outside of Samsung’s Galaxy Note series to work with the powerful S Pen stylus (sold as a separate accessory).
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is near the top of our best Android phones guide and despite its massive size, this phablet is surprisingly comfortable to hold. With such a high level of camera quality and powerful specs, those who can afford the S21 Ultra won’t find a better Samsung phone.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
2. Samsung Galaxy S21
One of Samsung’s best flagships for less
Display: 6.2-inch OLED (2400×1080; 48-120Hz) | CPU: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No | Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8) wide; 12MP (ƒ/2.2) ultrawide; 64MP (ƒ/2.0) telephoto with 3x optical zoom | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.07 oz | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:53 (60Hz); 6:31 (adaptive)
The Galaxy S21 Ultra may be the best Samsung phone on the market, unlocked or otherwise, its price will be out of reach for a lot of people, especially since you have to pay that money upfront when buying an unlocked device. If you can’t afford Samsung’s flagship but like its design and features, the Samsung Galaxy S21 could be better suited to you.
To offer the phone at $799, Samsung went with a plastic design for the S21, but other flagship features remain. You’re getting the same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which finishes just behind Apple’s A14 Bionic chip as the most powerful around. Samsung also squeezes in a 4,000 mAh battery and 5G connectivity into the Galaxy S21.
As for the display, although it is a slight downgrade from last year’s devices in resolution, the Galaxy S21 gets a dynamically refreshing screen, capable of ramping up to 120Hz when you need smooth scrolling and immersive gaming. The cameras on the back of the S21 also measure up well to the best camera phones.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review.
3. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The best Android flagship value
Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.7 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:03
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the only device from last year’s Galaxy S series that is still on sale directly from Samsung. It provides a lot of the great features you’d get with a premium device but at a much lower price than Samsung’s usual flagships.
Despite the lower price, you’re getting a Snapdragon 865 system-on-chip with 5G compatibility and a pretty high quality AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate.
However, due to the lower price tag, the Galaxy S20 FE does fall short of the more powerful Samsung devices in a few key areas. It uses a plastic casing instead of the glass or metal bodies of most of Samsung’s devices. Its telephoto lens doesn’t have as power a sensor as you’ll find in other Samsung flagships. Overall, though, this is a great phone to have for less than $700; be aware that a Galaxy S21 FE is rumored to be in the works.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review.
4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Samsung’s best Note device so far
Display: 6.9-inch AMOLED (1440×3200) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128/256/512GB / Yes | Rear camera: 108MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 7.34 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:26
Although it launched a year ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra remains one of Samsung’s most powerful devices; it’s definitely the best version of the Note series yet.
The Note 20 Ultra offers a similar package to the S21 Ultra — the ability to use an S Pen, a large display with a dynamic refresh rate and a powerful processor. The chipset on the Note 20 Ultra is slightly older than the Snapdragon 888 silicon inside the S21, but can still hold its own against any Android phone.
The Note 20 Ultra remains an expensive phone, though you can lower the cost when buying your phone from Samsung by trading in your current phone. We’d expect the price to fall even further as we get deeper into 2021.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.
5. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
The best unlocked Samsung phone on a budget
Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 750G | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 128/256GB / Yes | Rear camera: 64MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.4), 5MP depth (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.67 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:19 (60Hz), 10:19 (120Hz)
The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G reflects Samsung’s ongoing push to offer more compelling midrange phones that fit key high-end specs into a more affordable device. You’ll make a few compromises — the design of the Galaxy A52 won’t make you forget the Galaxy S series and the cameras aren’t as powerful — but Samsung packed in some impressive features.
Chiefly, the Galaxy A52 5G has a display with a 120Hz refresh rate — not something you typically find in a phone that costs less than $500. While the cameras aren’t exactly cutting edge, the 64MP main lens does produce some pretty impressive shots that measure up well against other budget phones.
Opt for the Galaxy A52 5G, and you’ll get a 5G ready phone that lasts a while on a charge. And since it starts at $499, that’s not a lot of money you’ll need to pay upfront when buying the phone unlocked.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review.
6. Samsung Galaxy Note 20
A more affordable Note handset
Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 6GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.77 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:38
While the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best Note device you can buy, it does cost a lot, which can be a big consideration when buying an unlocked phone. That’s what makes the less expensive Samsung Galaxy Note 20 an appealing alternative.
You don’t get the dynamic 120Hz refresh rate on the regular Note 20, and the main camera is a more straightforward 12MP instead of the Note 20 Ultra’s garish 108MP sensor. But the Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset is the same, and you do get the S Pen and all its features.
The cameras may be scaled back from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but the Note 20 still produces excellent shots, and the 64MP telephoto lens helps you zoom in for more detailed shots. Don’t expect outstanding battery life with this phone, but otherwise, this more affordable phablet is one of the best unlocked Samsung phones available right now.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review.
Excellent value from a year ago
Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (1440×3200) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 6.56 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:31 (60Hz); 8:55 (120Hz)
Both the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy S21 flagships have come out more recently, but the Galaxy S20 Plus is still a great option for anyone looking for a stylish and high powered Android phone at a reduced price.
A year ago, the S20 Plus was among the best Samsung phones you could buy, and its specs still impress. From the 4,500 mAh battery, Snapdragon 865 chipset with 5G compatibility, and quad-lens camera, this is a great phone to own, especially if you can find it a discounted rate.
Samsung has stopped directly selling its S20 phones (save for the Galaxy S20 FE), so the Galaxy S20 Plus may prove harder to find. You can still find it from select retailers though if you’re looking to buy the S20 Plus unlocked.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.
8. Samsung Galaxy S10
An older device with something to offer
Display: 6.1-inch AMOLED (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 8GB | Storage / Expandable: 128/512GB / Yes | Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 16MP telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/1.9) | Weight: 5.54 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:03
Released way back in March 2019, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is quickly fading from view. But if you’re not chasing the latest and greatest hardware, this older phone could be an excellent solution especially if you can find it for a low price
Back when it launched, the Samsung Galaxy S10 introduced a complete redesign for Samsung, highlighted by cutouts in the display to house the front camera and a near bezel-free design.
Even with aging specs, the Galaxy S10 still has something to offer in the form of triple cameras, a long-lasting battery and a pretty compact design. If you want a 5G phone, though, look elsewhere.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10 review.
What is an unlocked Samsung phone?
An unlocked phone is simply one that isn’t tied to any network yet. Generally, you can buy phones unlocked directly from the phone maker and from some retailers. In contrast, a phone bought from a wireless carrier is usually tied to that carrier’s network.
If you buy one of the best unlocked Samsung phones, you’ll have to buy the phone outright, as carriers are the only ones offering installment plans. (All the better to tie you to their wireless service for a couple years.) But if you can swing the upfront cost of an unlocked phone, you get the freedom to choose your own carrier and get a cheap cell phone plan.
If you’re looking for a 5G phone, pay attention to the bands a handset supports. The Galaxy A52 5G, for example, works with sub 6Hz-based networks, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for a device that’s compatible with Verizon’s high-speed mmWave-based 5G. (That would be the Galaxy A42 5G, which is tied to that particular phone carrier.)
Best unlocked Samsung phones: how we’ve ranked them
We put every smartphone through a rigorous test here at Toms Guide, spending a few days testing each handset in real-world conditions and benchmarking them with a number of performance-measuring apps.
We use benchmarks to measure a phone’s processor and graphics performance. We also measure a display’s color accuracy and brightness. Additional testing includes our custom battery test in which we have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power. We test the phone’s camera by comparing its shots to another handset in the same price range.
We combine all this testing with the device’s cost, availability, operating system and a number of other factors allows us to make a decision, coming up with a final rating and buying advice.