Unlocked cell phone deals in 2021
It's a great time to be a wireless customer! Cell phone plans are more competitive than ever, and with contracts solidly in the history books, your phone can probably be unlocked for use on any carrier you choose.
What is an unlocked phone? It's a device that is no longer locked to a specific carrier. This allows you to take it to another carrier if you find a cheaper plan.
There are some conditions though. In the following guide, you'll learn what an unlocked cell phone means, when you can and cannot take your device to another carrier, how to find the best unlocked cell phone deals and how to save 50% or more on your cell phone plan.
It's a lot of information to cover so let's get started!
Best Unlocked iPhone deals
Unlocked iPhone SE deals
Unlocked iPhone 12 deals
Unlocked iPhone 11 deals
Best Unlocked Galaxy deals
Unlocked Galaxy S20 5G deals
Unlocked Galaxy Note 20 deals
Unlocked Galaxy S10 deals
Unlocked refurbished phone deals
Unlocked phone benefits
When it comes to value the best unlocked smartphone deals are in the used and refurbished market.
Benefits of buying a refurbished smartphone:
- Save money: You can get a popular device just a model or two old for about half the retail price.
- Keep your freedom: Having an unlocked, paid-off phone means you can switch to a new carrier if you find a better deal.
- Plenty of reliable sellers: The used cell phone industry is booming, resulting in a variety of reputable sellers to choose from, stocking everything from Samsung unlocked phones to unlocked iPhones and more.
- Repairs are easy: With this market growth many affordable phone repair services are available.
- More bang for your buck: You could spend up to $1000 on a shiny new smartphone only to get a couple of small upgrades from the previous model. It's seldom worth the price hike.
Key considerations when buying an unlocked phone
Now that you know why buying a used or refurbished phone online is a budget-wise decision here are some things to keep in mind while shopping:
- Refurbished vs. used - used smartphones come as-is, while refurbs are devices which have been repaired and repackaged for sale.
- Returns - choose a seller with a solid return policy in case the item doesn't meet your expectations.
- Warranties - many sites offer a warranty on their products. These range from 30 days (from BuyBackWorld, for example) to a full year, like Decluttr offers.
- Device compatibility: As we discussed above, you may experience problems taking a CDMA phone to a GSM network and vice versa. Your best bet is to compare unlocked cell phones made for the specific network you want. For example, if you have T-Mobile, look for the best T-Mobile cell phone deals.
- Certification - some sellers offer certified iPhones and Android devices so you can be sure it's been put through rigorous testing.
- Condition - some sellers use "grades" to indicate the phones condition. A is the best, B may have some minor wear, C has visible defects. Other sites use "Excellent", "Good", and "Fair" to convey the same information.
- Payment plans - more and more sites are offering device payments. These typically come with high interest so think hard before taking advantage of the offer.
If you have the luxury of time, you'll find the cheapest unlocked phone prices when you buy right before a new model comes out. For example, when the Samsung Galaxy S9 came out, the price of used Samsung Galaxy S8 phones dropped considerably.
What is an unlocked phone?
An unlocked phone is a device that has been released from its tie to the original carrier. When you buy a phone through, say, T-Mobile, until that phone is unlocked you can't, for example, take that phone to AT&T.
In order for a phone to be unlocked from the carrier:
- The account must be in good standing.
- The phone must not have been reported stolen.
- The remaining balance on any device payments must be paid off.
The exception to the rule is Verizon Wireless - Verizon phones come unlocked. The carrier had announced plans to implement a locking period at the end of 2018 but at the time of this writing that hasn't happened yet.
Can you use an unlocked phone on any network?
Yes, and no. The two types of signals used in wireless technology are GSM and CDMA. AT&T and T Mobile operate on GSM networks, Sprint and Verizon on CDMA.
While you may be able to take a GSM phone to a CDMA network and vice versa, only your 4G signal will work. If your signal drops down to 3G your phone will become a paperweight.
If your phone is a universal (sometimes called global) unlocked phone, it is designed for full functionality on both technologies. There are only a few models of global unlocked versions. These devices are more expensive, but come in handy if you're a frequent international traveler because you can just pop in a new SIM card at your destination.
COMPARE NOW: Unlocked Cell Phone Prices
Cheap cell phone plans
If you're buying an unlocked phone in order to switch carriers you'll be happy to know you can save up to 50% off your cell phone bill by going with an MVNO.
Switch to a low cost carrier
Mobile Virtual Network Operators - MVNOs - are smaller carriers that buy or lease extra space on the big four networks. Lower overhead allows them to sell service to you at a lower cost than you'd pay a major wireless carrier.
- Cheap cell phone plans.
- Service on the same reliable 4G LTE networks you're used to.
- Freedom from contracts, credit checks, and overage fees - cancel any time.
- Custom plans so you only pay for what you need.
- Bring your own phone and number.
COMPARE NOW: Cheap Cell Phone Plans
Sell Your Old Phone for Cash
Don't leave that old device lying around - turn it into extra cold, hard cash in your wallet!
When you sell your phone instead of trading it in you'll get cash instead of credit, plus you'll get a higher offer for it, especially if it's in great condition.
Buying a used unlocked cell phone can save you more than 50% off retail. It's a great deal as long as you:
- Compare prices before buying.
- Choose a site or seller that meets your wants and needs (price, warranty, shipping, etc.)
- Compare cell phone plans from MVNOs to maximize your savings.
- Sell your old phone for cash.