Oct 23 AT 12:01 PM Taylor Wimberly 66 Comments

Best unlocked Android phone for any budget, October 2012

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Earlier this year I started writing buyers’ guides for every carrier, and I intended to update them each month. Then I got fed up with the locked phones and service contracts that the carriers offered, so I ported my number to Google Voice, paid Verizon my $300 ETF, signed up for a pre-paid plan, and went back to using unlocked devices.

For consumers on a tight budget, switcing to the pre-paid world can be challenging at first. The cost of leaving your carrier during the middle of a contract and the cost of buying an unlocked phone could force you to spend 3-6x times your monthly carrier bill.

Once you get past the initial expenses, your savings could quickly add up. I switched from Verizon to Straight Talk (AT&T), which instantly saved me around $50 per month, or roughly $600 per year. That same $600 is about the cost of most high-end Android phones that are unlocked and sold without a service contract. This means your potential first-year savings could absorb the entire cost of any new Android phone you want.

After making the switch to using an unlocked Android phone on Straight Talk, I see no real reason to return to the land of locked phones and post-paid service plans. I have the freedom to choose the device I want, I can choose what network it operates on, I can decide what software it runs, and I can switch from device to device, and carrier to carrier, without signing another contract.

There are many places to purchase unlocked phones, and I have found that Amazon Wireless offers the largest selection, lowest prices, and fastest service. I’m a member of Amazon Prime so I get free 2-day shipping on most items, but it’s still a good deal even with shipping added in.

If you are considering making the switch to an unlocked phone, here is some advice from someone that just made the journey.

What is an unlocked phone?

Unlocked devices are phones that recognize SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) cards from any carrier. A locked phone will only recognize a SIM card from a particular carrier. The “lock” is a software setting that keeps the cell phone “loyal” to one carrier.

Why should I buy an unlocked phone?

We have already touched on some reasons to shred your wireless contract, but I’ll recap some of the highlights.

  • Unlocked phones cost less in the long run. Do the math.
  • Unlocked phones are not altered by a carrier. No need to worry about crap apps or gimped hardware.
  • Unlocked phones receive Android updates faster directly from the manufacturer vs carrier locked phones.
  • Unlocked phones give consumers more control of plans and pricing. No contracts, no commitments, no hidden fees.
  • Unlocked phones have a higher resale value.

Check out 7 Things you should know about pre-paid smartphone service before you switch for more info.

Why should I not buy an unlocked phone?

Unlocked phones are not for everyone. Some reasons you might want to pass on unlocked phones include:

  • No 4G LTE access. In the future we might see pre-paid service plans with 4G LTE, but right now you are limited to HSPA+.
  • Large families might be better off with a post-paid plan. Rates vary from carrier to carrier, but a family plan with shared minutes and data might be cheaper than a bunch of individual pre-paid plans.
  • No in-store support. If you enjoy walking into your local carrier store to get support with your phone, then you might pass on an unlocked device. Most carriers will not provide support for a device they did not sell, so you will have to turn to the manufacturer for help and warranty claims.

What US networks support unlocked phones?

AT&T and T-Mobile both use the GSM standard and support unlocked phones. Verizon and Sprint rely on the CDMA (Code division multiple access) standard and they will not work with unlocked GSM phones.

Most unlocked phones that were designed for the international market will have no problems running on AT&T’s network. T-Mobile USA uses different HSPA+ bands (1700/2100 MHz), which most international phones do not support.

Most unlocked phones will still operate on T-Mobile’s 2G Edge network, but they will not have access to the faster HSPA+ speeds. However, T-Mobile does plan to launch HSPA+ service on the 1900 MHz band by the end of 2012, so they will eventually support many unlocked devices at faster data speeds.

Some devices like the Galaxy Nexus support up to five bands (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz) and will operate on both AT&T and T-Mobile. Check the bands on an unlocked phone before you make your purchase.

What are the best service plans for unlocked phones?

This topic deserves a separate post (coming soon), but here is a quick summary. Unlocked phones can be used on most of AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s service plans, but using those won’t net you any extra savings. The best option is to go prepaid with services such as Straight Talk SIM, Simple Mobile, Solavei, or T-Mobile Monthly 4G. Check out our post Top Pre-paid Plans for Android Phones for more info.

I chose Straight Talk SIM because they let you choose between AT&T’s or T-Mobile’s network. I’m also currently testing Solavei and Simple Mobile on T-Mobile’s network.

Tips for Buying from Amazon

Check who is selling and fulfilling the product: Amazon uses a number of sellers throughout their site. Each product listing will have a featured merchant, but click through the list of sellers to review all your buying options. Some products are shipped by the seller and others are fulfilled through Amazon’s own warehouses. Amazon provides reviews for each seller, so read up on the recent comments if you have any concerns.

Prices will fluctuate daily: You might notice prices jumping up and down before you buy, because of the number of merchants that Amazon uses. One seller might offer a product for $30 cheaper than the competition and then they will sell out and the price will jump back up.

Amazon guarantee: You can buy with confidence because Amazon offers A-to-z Guarantee Protection. The condition of the item you buy and its timely delivery are guaranteed.

Read the reviews: We are providing our picks for the best unlocked Android phone at every price point, but don’t take us as the final word. I encourage you to read the user reviews to see what people are saying about the product.

Best unlocked phone for $600-699: Samsung Galaxy Note II

The Good: Large 5.5-inch HD display, S Pen stylus, fast 1.6 GHz Exynos 4 Quad processor, 2 GB RAM, Android 4.1, great camera experience, NFC, massive 3100 mAh battery, microSD slot.

The Not-so-good: Size might be too big for some.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Last Amazon price: $680 (White) or $682 (Gray)

Final Words: The Galaxy Note II is the best super-sized phone you can buy. It features the largest display, fastest processor, and it ships with the latest version of Android. The Galaxy Note II is also the only unlocked phone on this list with 2 GB RAM, which bodes well for future Android updates.

Best unlocked phone for $500-599: Samsung Galaxy S III

The Good: Large HD display, fast Exynos 4 Quad processor, 1 GB RAM, Android 4.1 rolling out now, great camera experience, NFC, hacker friendly, removable battery, microSD slot.

The Not-so-good: After extended use, I prefer the camera experience on the HTC One X.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Full Review: Check out Anthony’s review of the Galaxy S III.

Last Amazon price$555 (Pebble Blue) or $569 (Ceramic White), prices are down around $20 from last month

Final Words: The Galaxy S III is one of the best unlocked phones that money can buy, in terms of hardware. However, you can get a pretty similar experience from the HTC One X for around $50 less.

Best unlocked phone for $400-499: HTC One X

The Good: Amazing camera experience, beautiful design, Beats audio, large vibrant display, quad-core Tegra 3 processor, best version of Sense UI yet, hacker friendly, NFC, Android 4.0 (Android 4.1 coming later).

The not-so-good: No microSD card, battery is non-removable.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Full Review: Check out Taylor’s review of the HTC One X.

Last Amazon Price: $498, price hasn’t move much since last month.

Final Words: The HTC One X offers a premium Android experience  with a price that beats the top competitors. Design stands out above the rest. HTC enables you to unlock the bootloader, and there is a growing development community that supports the device. The Tegra 3 chip gives you access to tons of exclusive games from Tegra Zone.

Best unlocked phone for $300-399: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Good: Only smartphone shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, usually one of the first devices to receive new versions of Android, hacker friendly, large 4.65-inch display, NFC with Google Wallet, replaceable battery.

The not-so-good: Camera experience is now lacking compared to newer phones like the One X and Galaxy S III, no expandable storage, OMAP4 processor lags behind Snapdragon S4 and Tegra 3, we expect a new Nexus device to go on sale in Q4.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+

Last Google Price: $349, same price as last month

Final Words: The Samsung Galaxy Nexus delivers the most bang for the buck. The software experience is so good that you sometimes forget this phone is about to be a year old. This is still a good purchase if you don’t mind the camera and no expandable storage, but a the next Nexus is coming soon.

Best unlocked phone for $200-299: Sony Xperia Sola

The Good: Just upgraded to Android 4.0, 3.7-inch Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine (854×480), 5 megapixel Fast Capture Exmor R camera, “Floating Touch” search the web without touching the screen, NFC,  available in multiple colors (black, white, red).

The not-so-good: Resolution is only 854×480, but that is pretty standard for this price range, battery capacity is only 1320 mAh.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Last Amazon Price: $250, down $15 from last month

Final Words: Last time we chose the HTC One V, but it only supports HSPA+ on the 850 MHz band (no 1900 MHz). The Xperia Sola works on 850/1900, offers twice the internal storage of the HTC One V (8 GB vs 4 GB), and it runs about $25 cheaper.

Best unlocked phone for $100-199: Sony Xperia tipo

The Good: Android 4.0, 3.2-inch display, 800 MHz Snapdragon S1 processor, microSD slot, FM radio, available in multiple colors (black, white, red, blue).

The not-so-good: Low-resolution 480 x 320 display, only 3 megapixel camera, only 2.5 GB internal storage.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Last Amazon Price: $160, down $30 from last month

Final Words: Last time we suggested the Xperia Mini Pro, but that phone is starting to age. The new Xperia tipo offers more internal storage, longer battery life, and a better overall experience.

Best unlocked phone for $0-99: LG Optimus One

The Good: Solid build quality, decent 3.2-inch display, microSD slot, removable battery.

The not-so-good: Phone was introduced two years ago, stuck with the outdated Android 2.3, low-resolution camera.

Networks supported: AT&T 4G HSPA+, T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ (in select cities)

Final Words: This phone isn’t technically below $100, but it’s the best thing available around this price point. I was really impressed with the Optimus One when it debuted a couple years ago, but I’d save up some more money and get a better phone.

Last Amazon Price: $119

Wrapping Things Up

This might not be the best time to purchase an unlocked phone, since we expect Google to unveil several new Nexus devices on October 29th. It is almost certain we will see them unveil the Nexus 4, maybe as low as $399, and we could see the older Galaxy Nexus get another price drop. Wait and see what happens, then make your decision.

Anyone looking for a high-end device will be happy with the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III, or Samsung Galaxy Note II. I have been switching between these devices and you can really tell they are a step ahead of phones from last year.

Even the Samsung Galaxy Nexus offers a premium Android experience at an affordable price of $349. The camera is lacking and the OMAP4 CPU is a year old, but the pure Android 4.1 Jelly bean experience is unmatched.

Looking down the list, it is pretty impressive that you can get an Android 4.0 device for under $200. Once you dip below $100 you start to see the choices drop off, but that should improve as we reach the holiday season. Amazon doesn’t sell many phones from the Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE, but those companies are also helping drive down prices of the low-end phones.

Let us know if you spot any unlocked devices that might be a better pick at any of the price points. We plan to regularly update this as we search out the best deals for unlocked Android phones.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • cj100570

    No 4G = No Sale! HSPA and HSPA+ just aren’t as fast in the majority of places that have 4G coverage. I’ll gladly pay Verizon the extra money to have the coverage and speed that I get from them.

    • Thomas Biard

      I agree, however when it comes to comparing money and speed, I’d be ok with slower speeds (reasonably speaking) as long as its less money.

      But on the coverage front, there is no question for me, I’ll pay a premium for ‘uninterrupted’ coverage.

      One thing I do wish I had was the HUGE variety of phones to choose from. I wanna try a Sony Xperia, and I want to try an unlocked Nexus of some sort.

    • cozzy

      I didn’t know you needed more than 15-20 mbs. To be honest thats plenty fast. My home internet is rated at 20mbs and the fastest my computer can download is like 3mbs on sites like microsoft, steam, and nvidia.

      At a certain point you don’t need more speed because the websites themselves that are serving you, limit how fast you can actually go.

      • Sean

        You might want to get that checked out. If that is your home internet speed, and on sites like those, particularly from steam, you are only getting 3mbs down, that is horrific. On steam in particular, you should be getting your full 20 mbs down, if not 22-23. If you are connecting wirelessly, it should be more like 8-10. When I had Comcast 50mbs, on steam servers, I was getting 64 mb down for some reason, pretty much 6.4 megabyte download per second. You might want to have your provider make sure everything is in order.

        • NamelessTed

          My guess is there is a confusion between mb and MB. a 20mb connection could very likely result in 3MB/s download speeds on Steam and other services.

    • Linda

      WOW ipad mini is spectacular. I love it!!!!
      Announcement was today!!!!

    • SGB101

      4g doesbt bother me as price plans was announced today in the uk, and they are stupid expensive and are capped.

      Plus- hspda is now averaging at 3.5meg in my main use areas, so I’ll be sticking with my Unlimited 3.5g thanks.

    • AndroJY

      I believe you are mistaken, some prepaid carriers do offer 4g LTE. Metro pcs offers the Samsung Galaxy S3 with 4g beginning at $30/mth, yes they have been bought out by T Mobile but they are continuing with their pre paid service. I know before they were Wimax but I believe its changed now. In fact Metro Pcs has the cheapest 4g for non contract service, the quality has jumped from years past.

    • thel0nerang3r

      Can we please stop saying “4G”, LTE isn’t (check the ITU site). Please don’t let marketing run amok.

      • SGB101

        i tend to agree, acourding to the rest of the world is about 100meg (give or take) but i did read the other day that who ever runs the ‘naming police’ in the US, they said

        “4g can be used as long as it offers a significant speed improvement over 3g”

        so this is very ambiguous and open to interpretation over in the USofA, however you are not alone, 4g LTE launches in 6 days over here in the UK, and we will not be getting 100meg.

    • Richard Yarrell

      Another poor misguided Verizon soul. Hspa Plus is fast enough Verizon LTE service is underrated and overpriced. Tmobile and At&t have millions upon millions of people using Hspa plus it’s no way possible it’s not as good as Verizon. I left Verizon for T-mobile so I know what Hspa plus.

      • squiddy20

        “I left Verizon for T-mobile so I know what Hspa plus.” And that qualifies you as an “expert” of some kind? Just because I buy a car, TV, or even a child’s toy does not mean I automatically know all that went into that product and how exactly it works/functions. You’re a delusional idiot if you think otherwise. Heck, you’ve been on Verizon and you claimed not even a week ago that its *low* frequency LTE doesn’t penetrate buildings well, when in fact it’s the high frequency signals that are like that, such as Sprint’s failed Wimax, which you’ve also experienced.

        “Hspa Plus is fast enough Verizon LTE service is underrated and overpriced.” So because it’s “underrated”, it’s better than HSPA+. Hey, you said it yourself. Protip: might want to check what you post BEFORE you post it. Also, your “overpriced” is another person’s perfect price.

        “Tmobile and At&t have millions upon millions of people using Hspa plus it’s no way possible it’s not as good as Verizon.” And yet, Verizon has roughly 111 million customers to AT&T’s 105 million, and T-Mobile’s 33 million. Surely 111 million people wouldn’t be on a network that is supposedly “not as good as” AT&T or T-Mobile. -_- Source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57505803-94/competitive-wireless-carriers-take-on-at-t-and-verizon/

        • 5n4r35

          Number of customers is not an adequate measure of network speeds. In places like Nebraska or Kansas Verizon really is the only game in town. Sure you have small regional carriers but those smaller companies don’t get the latest phones as fast nor have as good infrastructure as a major carrier like Verizon. IDK if there are any places where AT&T exist but Verizon is absent. But that would only prove that Verizon has such superior coverage not data speeds.

      • Aj

        This guy is all over T-mobile, his S3 and Note 2. Why doesn’t he just grow up, i mean no body would have liked any of your comments.. most of them have 15 or 16 (atleast) thumbsdown. Dude you are making yourself appear as an idiot.. grow up

    • paxmos

      Nobody surfs the internet on their phones….it’s all about apps and 3G is sufficient….

      • SGB101

        alot of people only surf the internet on their phones. the smart phone has opened up the internet for alot of peeps and that figure is only going to rise.

        geeks and internet savy folk have got a smart phone, its the low end smart phone that make samsung the most, i thnk the samsung Galaxy Ace was their biggest seller last year. it aint us geeks buying them is it.

    • erica92

      i think my unlocked iphone 4S (t-mobile) is the best

  • vitriolix

    Thanks for these rundowns, very helpful. I’m going to pay the ETF on my verizon contract (after getting suckered into joining them on contract for the GNex) … I use the phone as a phone so infrequently I think I could even get by on the Tmo $30/month plan. I’d be curious to see some real world speed comparisons between Tmo or AT&T’s HSPDA+ vs Verizons LTE in major cities like San Francisco where I live.

    • Thomas Biard

      (private message) Let me know if you want to get rid of your GNex from Verizon.

  • shadhussain

    I really like these phone guide segments you put up. I’d also be interested in your recommendations if one was considering buying a used Android phone.

    Over the past year, I’ve found that NEW users to Android are often hesitant to dish out 400+ before making a switch. These folks also demand comparable performance and specs to mid-high end devices. I also think the entry-level devices (e.g., ., MOTO Spice, Samsung’s cheap offerings) do Android a massive disservice. I often scour the web for older Android phone deals and I’m finding that the used Android phones are increasingly providing greater value. I’ve recently gotten both my dad and wife used T-mobile G2s (they wanted keyboards) as their first Android phones for under $140.

    Anyway, a best-value used phone by suggested price limit segment would be very beneficial I think.

  • www.phonewbie.com

    what about the One S for phones between $300-$400? the Galaxy Nexus is getting old fast.

    • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

      I’d agree that the HTC One S is a much better phone than the Galaxy Nexus, but I simply wouldn’t trust a retailer who’s selling the One S for less than $400 right now. The price at reputable retailers should drop below $400 in the next month or two.

    • mattcoz

      The One S is probably what I would go with if it wasn’t for the Pentile screen.

  • irishrally

    Hopefully the November article will include a 16GB LG Nexus for $450 … or less.

  • James W.

    I’m leaving Verizon to get an unlocked phone with Straight Talk. I just can’t decide between the Nexus 4 or the Lumia 920.

    • thel0nerang3r

      The camera on the Lumia looks awesome. I hope the Nexus4 has a good camera

  • perlowin

    Thank you for your great post about pre-paid plans and phones. I’m considering switching to pre-paid, but the then I thought about the fact that when I usually upgrade my phone every year to year and a half. Upgrades are roughly $200 and Sprint will give me, usually, about $80 for me existing phone so it ends up costing me only $120. I know, do the math and see how much it REALLY costs me…

  • Dave

    Have any of you who have gone this route had any issues buying an international phone? I’m looking at Amazon (Galaxy S3) and it is the international version. I am looking at making the jump and was wondering if anyone has had issues with the phone.

  • Trey

    I just got my note 2 internatiinal off ebay $680. I just recieved my sim from srraight talk. I have the unlimited $45 plan. All works great. My only concern is the reviews of cutting people off after going over 1 gb of data. On sprint, I never went iver a gb because wifi access. But I am now using google voice so I dont have to port my number. What is your experience with straight talk and the data usage?

    • Bpear96

      Straight talk kinda of varies, they dont have a set limit. However if you use to much data in the same day (like 500mb in one day) for a couple days in a row, they may throttle you (happened to me once, when my cable internet was out for a couple days *tethering..*) But im usually fine, and use around 1gb a month, you could probably get away with 2-3gb. Its the per day over usage that seems to get ST angry.

      • Trey

        Cool. Thanks.

  • Nathan D.

    And great selection as always :-)

  • scott

    What do mean by no contracts and you pay less?? Please explain:)

    • Bpear96

      Using a n No-contract device on a prepaid carrier like straight talk will be significantly less in the long run

  • agudanna

    I just bought for 400$ an unlocked Galaxy Note 1. I think that is the best option in that price frame!

  • dewphus

    Thanks for your coverage. Friends, family, and I are slowly moving away from contract. After many years on Verizon I led the charge 2 weeks ago to ST with the N8000 (China, Note size, android 4, double sim for when I travel overseas next year) from Amazon. So far it’s great. My feeling is why be concerned over speed when I’m normally on wifi anyway (FIOS at home, good speed at work)?

  • Ardrid

    The HTC One X is a great deal at that price. This list is going to be very interesting come next month though. Looking forward to it, that’s for sure.

  • Jono

    I can pick up a SGS3 for $459 (16gb) unlocked through a sale.
    I don’t need 32gb and I’m not too fussed by no 4G/LTE.
    Is this recommended over the One X at this price?

  • davehomeless

    cant wait until Gnex is in the 200-300 category next month.

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  • Alex

    Last night I just made the switch to tmobile!! I have the 70 plan and great coverage. See ya sprint and your crappy service..prepaid is the only wait to go..from 120 a month to 74 dollars..to easy a decision..

  • Third Eye

    Good series of informative articles on pre-paid. Some general questions though.

    a) Do any of the GSM pre-paid carriers support Micro-SIM yet? For example GN-II is u-SIM based so while it is compatible with T-Mo HSPA+ and future LTE AWS, is it a no-no in Solavei/Simple Mobile/ST (Tmo)? Going forward all high-end phones seem to be going on the micro SIM route.

    b) When you say that 1900MHz is going to be supported in 2012 (I think this is due to the merger failure between ATT and TMo), would it be available as a LTE band or as a HSPA+ band?

    c) If HSPA+ in 1900MHz would it only be 21Mbps or the full 42Mbps?

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      a) Yes, the pre-paid services offer micro SIM cards.
      b) T-Mobile is adding HSPA+ support on the 1900 MHz band.
      c) The HSPA+ on 1900 MHz is 42 Mbps.

  • Balaram Vineeth Venugopal .P

    I want a nexus 4

  • DroidPower

    always enjoyed these posts, thanks!

  • Danno

    Please review the Pantech Burst. 1.5Ghz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB Ram, 16GB internal storage. $200 on amazon or $140 unlocked on ebay. I am thinking about this for my wife when she travels to Mexico.

  • timthedon

    I have a att locked htc one x and i was thinking about puttin mine on straight talk like taylor did his can i just buy the st micro sim and pop it in my phone will it work?

  • veracu

    My understanding is that you would have to unlock it first, but being an att phone maybe you don’t need to unlock it before switching to straight talk. Find out what a straight talk reps says first. If you have to unlock it, xda is a great place to start reading and learning. Once you unlock the bootloader and root a phone, you’re options greatly increase.

  • veracu

    Verizon has been good to me. Customer service in 2011 and 2012 greatly improved from the years prior. My knowledge of smartphones has also increased and improved my understanding of the business as a consumer. They could have taken away my unlimited data plan (to their loss of course) but didn’t and I was thankful. I’ll buy an unsubsidized phone any day over giving up unlimited data as I use 50 to 80 gigs a month. And I used Sprint for two weeks, without giving my Verizon contract up, to try the Evo 4g lte and returned because the reception didn’t come close to Verizon’s in OC and LA county. My girlfriend’s One S (T-Mobile) is a cool phone but many times all she has 3g and when it’s 4g it still doesn’t come close to mine. Do I hate the branding? Hell ya. Do I hate the their skins and bloatware? Hell ya I do. Do I hate how they only seem to care about the Droid line? Yea. But do they offer me good service and exceptional reception and very fast speeds? Yup. So I unlock my bootloaders and I root my phones and do things how I want and I’m glad for it. 50 bucks a month for my line and unlimited data on 4g lte with my nexus makes me a happy customer.

    • veracu

      PS. I want a new Verizon nexus phone….

  • George

    I have a Kyocera Hydro and am really pissed at Booste Mobile and would like to unlock and change carrier. It appears it is a CDMA 850 1900 2000 1xEV-DO

    Whom do you suggest to use for unlocking and what are my options (Verizon : ATT?) for a new no contract service? I text and talk VERY little. Rarely reach limit of 2gig internet too.

    • Joey

      The CDMA networks are Sprint, Verizon, and their prepaids. They aren’t truly unlocked as each carrier only allows certain models on their network with ESNs from phones that they have sold.

      Sell the Hydro and switch to another carrier. Virgin uses the same Sprint network as Boost, with more phone options. Also check out Ting.com

  • Dave baker

    If I’m reading correctly the s3 international can be put to either the att or t mobile service, correct?

  • Grayson

    How does the Galaxy Note 1 rate on this list? Is it a better buy than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus or HTC One X?

  • http://www.jdotreach.com Joshua Reach

    Love this breakdown of these phones.

    I’m actually using the LG Optimus One (Optimus V on Virgin) for the next month or two until I upgrade to a better phone. For the price, it’s definitely a solid device. The poor camera and tiny storage can be frustrating though.

  • Adrien Chapelet

    And the Nexus 4, on the top of the list ?

  • gautham

    If this was written now, would be very simple. Best phone for any budget: Nexus 4. Want to buy Galaxy or One devices? do a favor, buy Nexus 4 and save some money. Want to buy cheaper devices? do a favor, buy Nexus 4, extra cost is worth it.

  • Lola

    What about unlocked phones with wifi calling? I haven’t seen much about that feature. I’m moving from USA to Italy next month for 2 years and am exploring unlocked phone options. I have a mytouch tmobile contract now and need to get out of this situation.

  • mark

    I just want to say that I love this article and I can’t wait for the november edition. Just a word of advice: also consider if and when the phones will get jelly bean. the htc one v for example will not get jb while the xperia sola will. are there any phones that can compete with the sola? I don’t like the design of the sola even though it’s better than the xperia u design which I think is horrible.

  • lilboozy

    where’s november/december

  • Shirley Skinner

    I have been using Pure TalkUSA (which use AT&T towers for almost 3 years and I love it. It only costs me $37.95 for unlimited talk and text and $43.95 for unlimited talk and text plus 600 MB of data and MMS per month. Their phones are refurbished, but you can buy a new AT&T prepaid phone (which I did) and it will work great. They also have a referral plan that pays you when you refer someone to their service.

    They are in Atlanta, GA which means there customer service is in the good old USA!!!

    I love them!!!

  • pick

    This is really good and explained well about the different phones which comes under budget but I have also found a thread in which the information and which one to go for is explained well. Check this link http://www.techhotfix.com/forum/showthread.php/98327-Which-is-the-best-mobile-phone-under-my-budget-post-your-budget.

  • aakash

    hey mate
    can you help me
    i live in california
    i wanna buy a smart phone at around the range of $200
    which one do u thing would be my best option??

  • aakash

    and yes it should be a GSM phone , no CDMA

  • pwincezz

    ya i agree

  • gracious

    veracu
    My understanding is that you would have to unlock it first,

    >>>>>>>>yup coz unlocked phones will cost fortunes o it is always wise to get a phone and unlock ourself,..there are several commercial vendors online like http://www.prounlocking.com who provide cheap unlock codes…This would be simple and will save our pockets..

  1. No 4G = No Sale! HSPA and HSPA+ just aren’t as fast in the majority of places that have 4G coverage. I’ll gladly pay Verizon the extra money to have the coverage and speed that I get from them.

    • I agree, however when it comes to comparing money and speed, I’d be ok with slower speeds (reasonably speaking) as long as its less money.

      But on the coverage front, there is no question for me, I’ll pay a premium for ‘uninterrupted’ coverage.

      One thing I do wish I had was the HUGE variety of phones to choose from. I wanna try a Sony Xperia, and I want to try an unlocked Nexus of some sort.

    • cozzyGuest 3 years ago

      I didn’t know you needed more than 15-20 mbs. To be honest thats plenty fast. My home internet is rated at 20mbs and the fastest my computer can download is like 3mbs on sites like microsoft, steam, and nvidia.

      At a certain point you don’t need more speed because the websites themselves that are serving you, limit how fast you can actually go.

      • SeanGuest 3 years ago

        You might want to get that checked out. If that is your home internet speed, and on sites like those, particularly from steam, you are only getting 3mbs down, that is horrific. On steam in particular, you should be getting your full 20 mbs down, if not 22-23. If you are connecting wirelessly, it should be more like 8-10. When I had Comcast 50mbs, on steam servers, I was getting 64 mb down for some reason, pretty much 6.4 megabyte download per second. You might want to have your provider make sure everything is in order.

        • My guess is there is a confusion between mb and MB. a 20mb connection could very likely result in 3MB/s download speeds on Steam and other services.

    • LindaGuest 3 years ago

      WOW ipad mini is spectacular. I love it!!!!
      Announcement was today!!!!

    • 4g doesbt bother me as price plans was announced today in the uk, and they are stupid expensive and are capped.

      Plus- hspda is now averaging at 3.5meg in my main use areas, so I’ll be sticking with my Unlimited 3.5g thanks.

    • AndroJYGuest 3 years ago

      I believe you are mistaken, some prepaid carriers do offer 4g LTE. Metro pcs offers the Samsung Galaxy S3 with 4g beginning at $30/mth, yes they have been bought out by T Mobile but they are continuing with their pre paid service. I know before they were Wimax but I believe its changed now. In fact Metro Pcs has the cheapest 4g for non contract service, the quality has jumped from years past.

    • Can we please stop saying “4G”, LTE isn’t (check the ITU site). Please don’t let marketing run amok.

      • i tend to agree, acourding to the rest of the world is about 100meg (give or take) but i did read the other day that who ever runs the ‘naming police’ in the US, they said

        “4g can be used as long as it offers a significant speed improvement over 3g”

        so this is very ambiguous and open to interpretation over in the USofA, however you are not alone, 4g LTE launches in 6 days over here in the UK, and we will not be getting 100meg.

    • Another poor misguided Verizon soul. Hspa Plus is fast enough Verizon LTE service is underrated and overpriced. Tmobile and At&t have millions upon millions of people using Hspa plus it’s no way possible it’s not as good as Verizon. I left Verizon for T-mobile so I know what Hspa plus.

      • squiddy20Guest 3 years ago

        “I left Verizon for T-mobile so I know what Hspa plus.” And that qualifies you as an “expert” of some kind? Just because I buy a car, TV, or even a child’s toy does not mean I automatically know all that went into that product and how exactly it works/functions. You’re a delusional idiot if you think otherwise. Heck, you’ve been on Verizon and you claimed not even a week ago that its *low* frequency LTE doesn’t penetrate buildings well, when in fact it’s the high frequency signals that are like that, such as Sprint’s failed Wimax, which you’ve also experienced.

        “Hspa Plus is fast enough Verizon LTE service is underrated and overpriced.” So because it’s “underrated”, it’s better than HSPA+. Hey, you said it yourself. Protip: might want to check what you post BEFORE you post it. Also, your “overpriced” is another person’s perfect price.

        “Tmobile and At&t have millions upon millions of people using Hspa plus it’s no way possible it’s not as good as Verizon.” And yet, Verizon has roughly 111 million customers to AT&T’s 105 million, and T-Mobile’s 33 million. Surely 111 million people wouldn’t be on a network that is supposedly “not as good as” AT&T or T-Mobile. -_- Source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57505803-94/competitive-wireless-carriers-take-on-at-t-and-verizon/

        • 5n4r35Guest 3 years ago

          Number of customers is not an adequate measure of network speeds. In places like Nebraska or Kansas Verizon really is the only game in town. Sure you have small regional carriers but those smaller companies don’t get the latest phones as fast nor have as good infrastructure as a major carrier like Verizon. IDK if there are any places where AT&T exist but Verizon is absent. But that would only prove that Verizon has such superior coverage not data speeds.

      • AjGuest 3 years ago

        This guy is all over T-mobile, his S3 and Note 2. Why doesn’t he just grow up, i mean no body would have liked any of your comments.. most of them have 15 or 16 (atleast) thumbsdown. Dude you are making yourself appear as an idiot.. grow up

    • paxmosGuest 3 years ago

      Nobody surfs the internet on their phones….it’s all about apps and 3G is sufficient….

      • alot of people only surf the internet on their phones. the smart phone has opened up the internet for alot of peeps and that figure is only going to rise.

        geeks and internet savy folk have got a smart phone, its the low end smart phone that make samsung the most, i thnk the samsung Galaxy Ace was their biggest seller last year. it aint us geeks buying them is it.

    • erica92Guest 3 years ago

      i think my unlocked iphone 4S (t-mobile) is the best

  2. Thanks for these rundowns, very helpful. I’m going to pay the ETF on my verizon contract (after getting suckered into joining them on contract for the GNex) … I use the phone as a phone so infrequently I think I could even get by on the Tmo $30/month plan. I’d be curious to see some real world speed comparisons between Tmo or AT&T’s HSPDA+ vs Verizons LTE in major cities like San Francisco where I live.

  3. I really like these phone guide segments you put up. I’d also be interested in your recommendations if one was considering buying a used Android phone.

    Over the past year, I’ve found that NEW users to Android are often hesitant to dish out 400+ before making a switch. These folks also demand comparable performance and specs to mid-high end devices. I also think the entry-level devices (e.g., ., MOTO Spice, Samsung’s cheap offerings) do Android a massive disservice. I often scour the web for older Android phone deals and I’m finding that the used Android phones are increasingly providing greater value. I’ve recently gotten both my dad and wife used T-mobile G2s (they wanted keyboards) as their first Android phones for under $140.

    Anyway, a best-value used phone by suggested price limit segment would be very beneficial I think.

  4. what about the One S for phones between $300-$400? the Galaxy Nexus is getting old fast.

    • I’d agree that the HTC One S is a much better phone than the Galaxy Nexus, but I simply wouldn’t trust a retailer who’s selling the One S for less than $400 right now. The price at reputable retailers should drop below $400 in the next month or two.

    • The One S is probably what I would go with if it wasn’t for the Pentile screen.

  5. Hopefully the November article will include a 16GB LG Nexus for $450 … or less.

  6. I’m leaving Verizon to get an unlocked phone with Straight Talk. I just can’t decide between the Nexus 4 or the Lumia 920.

  7. Thank you for your great post about pre-paid plans and phones. I’m considering switching to pre-paid, but the then I thought about the fact that when I usually upgrade my phone every year to year and a half. Upgrades are roughly $200 and Sprint will give me, usually, about $80 for me existing phone so it ends up costing me only $120. I know, do the math and see how much it REALLY costs me…

  8. DaveGuest 3 years ago

    Have any of you who have gone this route had any issues buying an international phone? I’m looking at Amazon (Galaxy S3) and it is the international version. I am looking at making the jump and was wondering if anyone has had issues with the phone.

  9. TreyGuest 3 years ago

    I just got my note 2 internatiinal off ebay $680. I just recieved my sim from srraight talk. I have the unlimited $45 plan. All works great. My only concern is the reviews of cutting people off after going over 1 gb of data. On sprint, I never went iver a gb because wifi access. But I am now using google voice so I dont have to port my number. What is your experience with straight talk and the data usage?

    • Straight talk kinda of varies, they dont have a set limit. However if you use to much data in the same day (like 500mb in one day) for a couple days in a row, they may throttle you (happened to me once, when my cable internet was out for a couple days *tethering..*) But im usually fine, and use around 1gb a month, you could probably get away with 2-3gb. Its the per day over usage that seems to get ST angry.

  10. And great selection as always :-)

  11. scottGuest 3 years ago

    What do mean by no contracts and you pay less?? Please explain:)

    • Using a n No-contract device on a prepaid carrier like straight talk will be significantly less in the long run

  12. agudannaGuest 3 years ago

    I just bought for 400$ an unlocked Galaxy Note 1. I think that is the best option in that price frame!

  13. dewphusGuest 3 years ago

    Thanks for your coverage. Friends, family, and I are slowly moving away from contract. After many years on Verizon I led the charge 2 weeks ago to ST with the N8000 (China, Note size, android 4, double sim for when I travel overseas next year) from Amazon. So far it’s great. My feeling is why be concerned over speed when I’m normally on wifi anyway (FIOS at home, good speed at work)?

  14. The HTC One X is a great deal at that price. This list is going to be very interesting come next month though. Looking forward to it, that’s for sure.

  15. JonoGuest 3 years ago

    I can pick up a SGS3 for $459 (16gb) unlocked through a sale.
    I don’t need 32gb and I’m not too fussed by no 4G/LTE.
    Is this recommended over the One X at this price?

  16. davehomelessGuest 3 years ago

    cant wait until Gnex is in the 200-300 category next month.

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  18. AlexGuest 3 years ago

    Last night I just made the switch to tmobile!! I have the 70 plan and great coverage. See ya sprint and your crappy service..prepaid is the only wait to go..from 120 a month to 74 dollars..to easy a decision..

  19. Third EyeGuest 3 years ago

    Good series of informative articles on pre-paid. Some general questions though.

    a) Do any of the GSM pre-paid carriers support Micro-SIM yet? For example GN-II is u-SIM based so while it is compatible with T-Mo HSPA+ and future LTE AWS, is it a no-no in Solavei/Simple Mobile/ST (Tmo)? Going forward all high-end phones seem to be going on the micro SIM route.

    b) When you say that 1900MHz is going to be supported in 2012 (I think this is due to the merger failure between ATT and TMo), would it be available as a LTE band or as a HSPA+ band?

    c) If HSPA+ in 1900MHz would it only be 21Mbps or the full 42Mbps?

    • a) Yes, the pre-paid services offer micro SIM cards.
      b) T-Mobile is adding HSPA+ support on the 1900 MHz band.
      c) The HSPA+ on 1900 MHz is 42 Mbps.

  20. always enjoyed these posts, thanks!

  21. DannoGuest 3 years ago

    Please review the Pantech Burst. 1.5Ghz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB Ram, 16GB internal storage. $200 on amazon or $140 unlocked on ebay. I am thinking about this for my wife when she travels to Mexico.

  22. I have a att locked htc one x and i was thinking about puttin mine on straight talk like taylor did his can i just buy the st micro sim and pop it in my phone will it work?

  23. My understanding is that you would have to unlock it first, but being an att phone maybe you don’t need to unlock it before switching to straight talk. Find out what a straight talk reps says first. If you have to unlock it, xda is a great place to start reading and learning. Once you unlock the bootloader and root a phone, you’re options greatly increase.

  24. Verizon has been good to me. Customer service in 2011 and 2012 greatly improved from the years prior. My knowledge of smartphones has also increased and improved my understanding of the business as a consumer. They could have taken away my unlimited data plan (to their loss of course) but didn’t and I was thankful. I’ll buy an unsubsidized phone any day over giving up unlimited data as I use 50 to 80 gigs a month. And I used Sprint for two weeks, without giving my Verizon contract up, to try the Evo 4g lte and returned because the reception didn’t come close to Verizon’s in OC and LA county. My girlfriend’s One S (T-Mobile) is a cool phone but many times all she has 3g and when it’s 4g it still doesn’t come close to mine. Do I hate the branding? Hell ya. Do I hate the their skins and bloatware? Hell ya I do. Do I hate how they only seem to care about the Droid line? Yea. But do they offer me good service and exceptional reception and very fast speeds? Yup. So I unlock my bootloaders and I root my phones and do things how I want and I’m glad for it. 50 bucks a month for my line and unlimited data on 4g lte with my nexus makes me a happy customer.

  25. GeorgeGuest 3 years ago

    I have a Kyocera Hydro and am really pissed at Booste Mobile and would like to unlock and change carrier. It appears it is a CDMA 850 1900 2000 1xEV-DO

    Whom do you suggest to use for unlocking and what are my options (Verizon : ATT?) for a new no contract service? I text and talk VERY little. Rarely reach limit of 2gig internet too.

    • JoeyGuest 3 years ago

      The CDMA networks are Sprint, Verizon, and their prepaids. They aren’t truly unlocked as each carrier only allows certain models on their network with ESNs from phones that they have sold.

      Sell the Hydro and switch to another carrier. Virgin uses the same Sprint network as Boost, with more phone options. Also check out Ting.com

  26. Dave bakerGuest 3 years ago

    If I’m reading correctly the s3 international can be put to either the att or t mobile service, correct?

  27. GraysonGuest 3 years ago

    How does the Galaxy Note 1 rate on this list? Is it a better buy than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus or HTC One X?

  28. Love this breakdown of these phones.

    I’m actually using the LG Optimus One (Optimus V on Virgin) for the next month or two until I upgrade to a better phone. For the price, it’s definitely a solid device. The poor camera and tiny storage can be frustrating though.

  29. Adrien ChapeletGuest 3 years ago

    And the Nexus 4, on the top of the list ?

  30. gauthamGuest 3 years ago

    If this was written now, would be very simple. Best phone for any budget: Nexus 4. Want to buy Galaxy or One devices? do a favor, buy Nexus 4 and save some money. Want to buy cheaper devices? do a favor, buy Nexus 4, extra cost is worth it.

  31. LolaGuest 3 years ago

    What about unlocked phones with wifi calling? I haven’t seen much about that feature. I’m moving from USA to Italy next month for 2 years and am exploring unlocked phone options. I have a mytouch tmobile contract now and need to get out of this situation.

  32. markGuest 3 years ago

    I just want to say that I love this article and I can’t wait for the november edition. Just a word of advice: also consider if and when the phones will get jelly bean. the htc one v for example will not get jb while the xperia sola will. are there any phones that can compete with the sola? I don’t like the design of the sola even though it’s better than the xperia u design which I think is horrible.

  33. where’s november/december

  34. Shirley SkinnerGuest 2 years ago

    I have been using Pure TalkUSA (which use AT&T towers for almost 3 years and I love it. It only costs me $37.95 for unlimited talk and text and $43.95 for unlimited talk and text plus 600 MB of data and MMS per month. Their phones are refurbished, but you can buy a new AT&T prepaid phone (which I did) and it will work great. They also have a referral plan that pays you when you refer someone to their service.

    They are in Atlanta, GA which means there customer service is in the good old USA!!!

    I love them!!!

  35. pickGuest 2 years ago

    This is really good and explained well about the different phones which comes under budget but I have also found a thread in which the information and which one to go for is explained well. Check this link http://www.techhotfix.com/forum/showthread.php/98327-Which-is-the-best-mobile-phone-under-my-budget-post-your-budget.

  36. aakashGuest 2 years ago

    hey mate
    can you help me
    i live in california
    i wanna buy a smart phone at around the range of $200
    which one do u thing would be my best option??

  37. aakashGuest 2 years ago

    and yes it should be a GSM phone , no CDMA

  38. ya i agree

  39. graciousGuest 2 years ago

    veracu
    My understanding is that you would have to unlock it first,

    >>>>>>>>yup coz unlocked phones will cost fortunes o it is always wise to get a phone and unlock ourself,..there are several commercial vendors online like http://www.prounlocking.com who provide cheap unlock codes…This would be simple and will save our pockets..