Dec 07 AT 1:24 PM Taylor Wimberly 198 Comments

Best unlocked Android phone for any budget: December 2012


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 early termination fee, 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, 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 Nexus 4 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: $659 (White) or $665 (Gray), down $25 from last month

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.

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$569 (Pebble Blue) or $584 (Ceramic White), prices are same as 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 $100 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: $490, down $10 from 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: Sony Xperia S

The Good: 4.3 inch Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine, 12 megapixel camera with Exmor R sensor, fast Snapdragon S4 processor, NFC, 32 GB of internal storage, expected to get Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

The not-so-good: No expandable storage.

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

Last Amazon Price: $399, new to the monthly list

Final Words: The Sony Xperia S is a great device, but it is kind of stuck in the middle. I would suggest getting the Nexus 4 or spend the extra cash and get the One X or Galaxy S III.

Best unlocked phone for $200-299: Nexus 4 by LG

The Good: Pure Android experience, updates straight from Google, NFC, wireless charging, beautiful display, fast Snapdragon S4 Pro processor.

The not-so-good: No expandable storage, no removable battery, camera is not as good as SGS3 or HTC One X, glass back can crack.

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

Last Google Price: $299 for 8 GB, $349 for 16 GB

Final Words: This is the best unlocked Android phone for the price. It doesn’t have expandable storage and a removable battery like the Galaxy S III, but this device is selling for half the price.

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

The Good: 3.5 inch Reality Display powered by the Mobile BRAVIA Engine, Android 4.0, dual-core 1 GHz processor.

The not-so-good: No expandable storage, no NFC.

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

Last Amazon Price: $202, new to the monthly list

Final Words: The Xperia U has been flirting with the 199 barrier, so we included it as our top pick for this price range. It’s a great buy at only $200, but we would suggest saving up some money and getting the Nexus 4.

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, price remains unchanged

Wrapping Things Up

When it comes to unlocked phones, the Nexus 4 is the new king. It provides the best overall experience and Google is selling it for half the price of competing phones. This would explain why the device is sold out and extremely hard to get.

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 enter next year. 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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  • Patrick Rochon

    The only android phone worth buying is the Nexus 4, never buy anything else but nexus no matter how superior the hardware is/seems

    • jaxidian

      I think this is a bit narrow-minded.

      That said, I really do think the Nexus 4 (if you can buy it at Google prices) really is the best buy right now unless you are on a $100 budget. If you’re no a $200 budget, then I think the right answer is to really find a way to increase it to $300 – you get a $600-quality phone for that extra $100.

      If you’re on a $100 budget, then I think you’re better off finding a good used phone instead of buying something brand new. If that Sony Xperia U could be purchased brand-new for $150, that might sway me.

      • naypalm

        Thanks to this article, I just grabbed my Xperia U for $128 (I had Amazon credits piled up).

        • kazahani

          Not a top-of-the line handset, sor sure, but I think this is a great buy for someone on a budget. Sony doesn’t make bad products. I think you will love it.

          • BrotherBloat

            Agreed! Except the Xperia Mini Pro, which has numerous issues – but it certainly a product filling a niche, in terms of Android devices…

      • anon

        Google now has the nexus at 200 for the 8 gb and 250 for the 16 gb models

    • CaptainDoug

      Why? Have you not heard of roms? The only reason I buy is phone is for the hardware. Software can be changed.

      • Michael Rogers

        Buying a phone for the hardware and expecting to be able to change the software? The G2x owners would like to have a word with you.

        • Adam

          As a former G2X owner, I support this comment.

          Two years after release, GINGERBREAD is still the G2X’s top-performing rom.

          The HC/ ICS / JB roms out there are only partially functional. still years post release. Sure, you can have ICS. but you have no camera, bad GPS, no bluetooth, random reboots, and best of all, data drops.

          I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion if you want a phone that stays up to date, it’s best to stick with someone who will update the base software, and that will trickle into the other unofficial roms. AKA, Nexus devices are the only way to go.

        • phaet2112

          If you can find one of us left, as most have moved onto other phones

        • ArticulateFool

          I was also an unfortunate casualty of the G2x fiasco…

          That was by far the worst phone experience I have had in my life.

          • phaet2112

            They did release ICS for the O2x in europe, so some of us with G2xs are waiting for the source to drop and hoping that some devs will port it back onto the G2x. Once a 32gb Nexus 4 comes out, I think that Ill switch.

        • CaptainDoug

          That’s their fault for getting an LG. Haven’t had any bad experiences yet. HTC phones are great for development.

          • Homncruse

            Um, the Nexus 4 is made by LG…

      • ericl5112

        Custom roms are great, but they can be buggy and slow. The more the OS changes from the last supported release, the more difficult it gets. I have an SGS1, and I’m running a JB rom on top, but some of the things like the bootloader are still GB based. How much longer can that go?

        That’s on a phone that was lucky enough to have a nexus for a twin brother. It’s harder on other devices.

        • CaptainDoug

          All of the devices I’ve had have had great developer support. Granted I’m not an early adopter so by the time I get the phone things have been better established but so far so good.

      • drcmda

        roms, you say that as if programmers could just snap their fingers and hack a plattform. its not like that, it never was. programmers need access, which they either dont get or dont get easily. take samsung for instance, they block the developer scene where they can by withholding sources or dishing our old rotten sources that wont compile.

        it took literally




        for the s2 to get a somewhat semi-stable ICS. the JB thats running on that thing right now is still a mess, basically it runs like 5 times slower than ever and misses the entire hwcomposer. even the s3 is shit right now, note II, htc whatever, all these super phones are electronic trash without software. the guy is right on the money, there is no android but nexus.

        as for roms, nexus has always had great roms, the rest gets watered down ports or worse. most of the big roms and innovations came from nexus.

        • CaptainDoug

          I disagree. There are some extremely talented developers out there who have been doing great work. All of the devices I’ve had have had great developer support. My droid incredible 2 has been running Jelly bean like a champ since september/october. What you have to understand is the time it takes for great roms to come around. Stock android is great but you’re being too harsh on other devices and the developers that make those phones more than touchwiz/motoblur/sense allow. Maybe I’ve just had astounding luck(or you’ve had terrible luck) with roms but I get better battery life, more features and better stability then the stock rom. There’s no way I will buy a Nexus unless it has the best hardware out there.

          • drcmda

            entire xda seems to fall into wishful thinking every now and then. everything there is smooth and runs like a champ. thats xda, cooks earn their livelihood on that plattform. but read what the actual developers have to say, visit their profiles on g+ and you’ll see the other side of the coin. start with cyanogenmod, which is providing the buildtrees your cooks are using.

            what people got to understand, “good hardware” means literally nothing and accounts for nothing. google is trying to establish something important but people are too easily lured with bullshit stats. a decent, free OS is sorely needed and each of these devices could run for years and always on full potential but they are intentionally crippled so they wont. you say you dont buy bad hardware, but you let em lock your bootloader, lock your simcard, youre okay that they block your software, which is the primary driving factor, youre ok with them withholding sources and bocking developers. i dont get it. at all. try genuine android stock on a nexus, which is worlds appart from what you have seen on your droid incredible 2.

            i am an android developer btw. im confronted with this stuff everyday. people are crying everyday on our channel how they want our stuff but its simply impossible because their manufacturers block progress on 4.2. that rom is called paranoidandroid, maybe you have heard of it.

      • Rahul Verma

        How about a Sony Xperia X10 for that statement?

    • nasko

      I agree with you in general, I have mine in shipping right now. However if I were to get a phone for my wife, i would get the Sony Experia S, mostly because pictures are very important for her. I currently have a EVO LTE, and she thinks its too big. Also she has a lot of music, which with 32GB would be perfect.

      • Xperia User

        Trust me,i have both the Ion and the S in my household. they take decent pictures but not great ones. i still tend to like the One X’s and the Lumia 920. Lumia 920 is so far the best tbh,but i barely use it mainly due to the OS.

    • n25philly

      I bet he laughs at the Apple fanboys that sound just as dumb

    • ConfuciusTse

      I have the Galaxy Nexus and I really like it BUT it is somewhat gimped by the lack of micro SD slot and poor camera. I considered the latest Nexus 4 but it’s further gimped by lack of removable battery (along with no micro SD slot). On the other hand, the GS3 has all of those bases covered and strong developer community support. So all in all, I’m now waiting on the GS4. The worst part is waiting like 3 months for CyanogenMod to come out with a ROM but that’s worth it to get all the hardware features I want.

    • kr.ray.kaushik

      Agree that it comes straight from google but feel Samsung is the next innovatiopn..!!! They might be tryin got copy each and everything that they can find in iphone and windows but they are bringing nice innovation to the market..!!

      Also Nexus might feel good in hand but its not up to the mark when compared with many others..!!

      I tried Nexus 4 .. I own Note 2..!! Still will prefer my Note 2 over nexus..!!

    • Hipstr63

      My old HTC Rezound is a better phone than the Nexus 4…and the Samsung Galaxy IV will be twice the phone any Nexus will ever be.

  • mario_1603

    Im waiting for the nexus 4, please google restock

    • Dylan

      you can order the 16GB one, ships in 6-7 weeks though. don’t waste your time with the 8GB.

      • vforvortex

        t-mobile has stock of 16gb for $199 if you are with them now. ready to ship. I ordered one for the wifey. yesterday and she will get it in a week. I would buy it, but i dont think 16gb (probably 12gb after the software) will be enough for me.

      • ArticulateFool

        A friend at work ordered the 16gb Nexus 4 from Google’s website 3 days ago.

        He now has the phone in-hand. The 6-7 week time on Google’s website seems extremely conservative.

        • Virtue

          On the contrary, I think it’s because Google messed up the order of processing, giving people who ordered more recently their phones before they did those who ordered earlier. For example, I ordered mine 6 days ago and here I am, no phone in hand.

          • ArmandoT

            same thing here. I placed the order for the Nexus 4 on Dec. 2nd. And nothing yet…

  • staryoshi

    If I were in the market I’d opt for the Note II. I’m going to try to hold out until the Note III is available, as I’m only half-way into my contract. I’ll either be going unlocked with t-mo or back to Verizon when I do :)

  • zolikaaa666

    Note 2 would be the best for me….but I can’t afford it :(

    • Thomas Biard

      I’m all about the Note II. If my funds were limitless I’d get it for sure.

      • Richard Yarrell

        Clearly the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 pimp dlsps all these devices silly. .

        • squiddy20

          And it still can’t help you spell amazingly simple words…

          • lol

            aaah squiddy. i love you.

    • naypalm

      MY brother just got his and really likes it with AT&T. However I am not made of money so I nabbed the Xperia U

    • WlfHart

      The Note II is quite dreamy. I’m really debating signing up for a contract with T-Mo to grab the thing at an affordable price. They’re offering a decent deal with trade in of my HD2. I just keep hesitating because I don’t care for contracts and I keep hearing news of a 7″ Note in the works which would really be the ideal form factor for my use.

  • Nathan D.

    All about the nexus :-)

  • alexanderharri3

    Another phone that is often cheap unlocked/prepaid is the HTC OneV. While not a powerhouse, it can do sufficiently and comes in at under $100 recently.

    • phaet2112

      Doesnt that have a Snapdragon S2 while the Sony has an S3? How does the ICS version of sense run with just 512 mb ram and the S2 on the V vs. the Sony skin is what Id like to know.

  • cutiyar neriman

    i always unlocked phone cauz iam from Iraq and there are no carrier that support selling smart phones to users with contract or guarantee . The one x is my next phone because my previous Sensation Stolen.

  • Luv_android

    I wish I had that kinda cash to fork up :(

  • damambt

    I make sure AT&T unlocks my phone before i replace it with a new one. They sell well on craigslist. In August1 2011, Google had the Nexus S going for free if you renewed your contract, so I did and once I bought a full price HTC ONE X to replace the Nexus S, the AT&T guy at the store said my Nexus S was already unlocked. So a couple of months later i picked up the SGSIII and the same guy at the store unlocked my HOX. So i sold my Nexus S on craigslist which was unlocked and now I have a HTC One X thats also unlocked and once I upgrade this SGSIII, I will get it unlocked and then I will sell the HOX on craigslist, and i will continue to do this until it bores me.

  • jefflarkin

    Wow, I’m impressed that there are unlocked phones that come in below the Nexus4 in price! Prepaid plans are clearly less expensive for most individuals, but for families I’m still not sure whether the story is as clear. As with anything else, I guess that varies by how the family uses their devices.

  • Thomas Biard

    For a powerhouse phone with a great price I’d get the Huawei Ascend D Quad XL. That phone has great specs with a modest price.

    However, based on the list, my ideal phone if money is no issue, Note II. In my current state, Nexus 4 is more likely.

  • CaptainDoug

    Not sure these account for last gen’s phone. I buy according to hardware and for $200-250 I’m thinking about getting the Sensation XE. Anybody wanna buy an unlimted data planX2 from Verizon? Really you buy the phones and keep the service. PLEASE?!?!

  • Moises Rivera

    I really like the HTC One X. It might not be the best phone spec wise, but i love the design of it, and it is still a fairly good phone to have. If my contract didnt end in May, i would have picked it up, But seeing that by May a new phone, like the HTC M7, will probably be out that is superior to the One X that I wont want it anymore lol.

    • SGB101

      HOX is a great phone, I had one for a few months, screen is superb,the Tegra3 is very fast but runs hot, which leads to battery life, mine was wowful , I was lucky is I wasn’t looking for a socket at around lunch time.

      I was waiting for the nexus4 to announce. As soon as I knew about the sealed battery I was put off and got a note2. If the size puts you off an sgs3 is almost identical barring size.

    • Rahul Verma

      I was a Xperia X10 owner since 2 1/2 years.
      When HOX was release, I started saving for that… then came Galaxy S3… I thought… lets save some more for that …. then came the note 2. I am happy I waited for it. If you are comfortable with size.. it is the best phone around as far as features are concerned. (microSD, removable Battery, etc)

  • Brickerhaus

    Good post. It really gives a good idea of how unlocked is better. I like T-mobile’s idea of savings and taking out the subsidy now. I just wish they had LTE on these phones and LTE available on T-mobile.

  • Steve Heinrich

    Nexus 4 is probably the best value considering the hardware and the availability of software updates.

  • jeshep

    Minor correction:

    “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.”

    T-Mobile’s Value plans are contract (not monthly) but provide extra savings since the phones are not subsidized within the monthly rate (phones can be paid over time in payments that are added on top of the normal monthly rate). Contract prices can be beneficial to employees since many corporate discounts are only applied to contract plans (15% at T-mobile for my employer).

  • jeshep

    Nice summary. With T-Mobile supposedly going completely unsubsidized next year and monthly plans becoming more common, unlocked phones are likely to become more popular in the US.

    Besides Amazon, are there other low price retailers for unlocked phones? I’ve seen good prices on eBay, but I am always weary of buying expensive electronics from sellers there.

  • Mix

    Currently waiting for my Nexus 4 to ship from Google and it only cost me, roughly, $170 more than signing up for another 3-years with Bell Canada.

    I can not WAIT to retire my 3.5 year old Blackberry Bold.

  • chestont

    I think it’s kind of cheating to put the Nexus 4 in the $200-$299 price range because after shipping and tax the 16gb version comes out to $375+. Even the retail $299 8gb Nexus 4 is going to be well into the $300 range.

    I’m curious where the price on the Galaxy Nexus is going to settle on places like eBay after the Nexus 4 has been out for a little while.

    That being said it’s hard to argue the value and quality of the Nexus 4. I love this monthly article, looking to get my wife on a prepaid Android phone soon and will be following this closely when it comes time.

  • aarontam

    It’s good to see that my budget and my desires are in line, the Nexus 4 will soon be mine. Though, if I could get a Nexus Note 2, things would be different.

    • Evert Heylen

      Nexus poem :)

  • thymeless

    At the lower end, why don’t you ever recommend some used phones on the market? Seems that some of the 12-24 month old phones have better features than the cheapo phone does new. Plus, these often have a deep community support pattern for those willing to root&ROM and parts availability such as replacement batteries at good prices.

    New isn’t always better.

  • Nolerltw

    Price wise the Nexus 4 probably will be my next phone, even with the “drawbacks”

  • Nandu Salunke

    Yes…Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is good choice

  • mr 1338

    The HTC One X is a really great deal. On Par with the Galaxy S3 but Superior in Build quality and design for a better Price. Plus HTC is awesome :D

  • tanman888

    For the HTC One X design , does it bother One X users that the camera lens slightly protrudes from the body? I’ll worry it’s more likely to get in contact with other surfaces and therefore is more likely to get scratches.
    I guess a case would significantly reduce the chances of scratches.

  • vitriolix

    “However, T-Mobile does plan to launch HSPA+ service on the 1900 MHz band by the end of 2012″

    This upgrade has already happened in something like 20+ cities. Lucky for me, Oakland and San Francisco are already upgraded :)

  • owlique

    Thank you very much for info about US networks and best services for unlocked phones.
    And Nexus 4 without a doubt the best phone for today.

  • mprziv

    My $700 Note 2 is nowhere near as amazing as me $350 Nexus 4.

    The Nexus 4 can and should be the only device on this list above $300. It is that good.

  • uknowme

    God I can’t wait to go unlocked to get a Nexus. I still have about a year and a half to wait though.

  • mrjlwilliams7

    The Samsung Galaxy note 2 is the best choice. The nexus has no sd card no removalable battery camera is not good frame is fragile and the list goes one.

  • dino13

    Hey, I kinda miss my LG 4x HD on this list? Great phone for a great price, at least in europe.

  • Dorkstar

    Very informative for us who have always been too chicken to try it out!

  • Jorge Eslava

    I find this post very useful, thanks for the suggestions.

  • hurracayne

    I want to get a Nexus 4 but it’s LG

    • redraider133

      I’d get the nexus but I’m stuck on Verizon who is so controlling Google said f u

  • sunrise

    What about the Blaze 4G? It’s a powerful device for those who like 4 inch screens, and you get a 50 dollar prepaid card if you buy it from Tmo

  • KingCrow02

    Still waiting for my Nexus to ship

  • ndub21

    Talking about Amazon’s price fluctuations, you can go to and it will show you historic prices for the items you are looking for. That way you will know you aren’t paying too much.

  • nikhilverma

    Of all these I am a personal Fan of Samsung Galaxy Note 2 . Reply with you favourite and lets see which one wins.

    • masterpfa

      Nexus 4

      • nikhilverma

        Nexus 4 is a totally Badass.

        • nikhilverma

          * a total

  • Paulstraker

    Nexus 4 = best build quality + best hardware + best software + best value for the money + nice design.

  • myandroid99

    nexus 4 ftw!

  • luckykrrish

    sony xperia go is another phone to consider, just like xperia U but more solid, water proof and dust proof

  • avijaunty

    i m surprised to see LG Optimus one in the list,, i own it.. was my 1st android phone.. its a decent package at a cheap price

  • masterpfa

    Great article. It would have been nice, even if only for debating purposes, to have singled out the best of this bunch.

    prefer stock Android over manufacturers UI’s, even though TouchWiz does have some great features and Sense has been a favourite of mine for years.

    Nexus for me personally all the way with the Note II a very close second.

  • Rahul Verma

    I own a Note 2 and I am very happy with this. The development community is also active for the phone.

    I am currently working on the wireless charging Mod for Note 2 as given on XDA forums. :)

  • amIT29

    What baffles me is that why nexus series device dont have expandable memory..for me that is what keeps me from getting nexus..why nexus hasno expandable memory.

    • B

      I’ve come to accept the lack of a SD card, but I think the recent talk about lack of OTG USB cable support even more disappointing.

      • amIT29

        Samsung sg3 with JB rom i have. On the go OTG supports fine .. to act as usb host class

    • stringdidj

      It’s part of Google’s policy of promoting their cloud storage philosophy. For example with Google + all your photos and videos can be stored off the device. Get the 16gb model is you play lots of games or lots of apps though!

  • klcow92

    NEXUS 4!!! just a bit worried about the build quality from LG though

  • lukaszki

    Xperia S has Snapdragon S3, not S4.

  • raovallab

    In India we mostly use unlocked phones and it has worked out well, you have greater flexibility. The device costs might seem higher but might not be so if you factor in the money you pay the carrier.

  • rhoslug

    A very concise article on great new options for phone service. Hopefully this leads to more competition between carriers. Which is always a good thing.

  • ConfuciusTse

    How about the previous generation Galaxy Nexus? I wonder where that fits in. It’s a solid phone and may still be available at a significant discount now.

  • Agret

    Hey, I liked the article you have picked some great phones. You should include the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as it should be somewhere between the Nexus 4 and the xperia U. I would also like if you wrote a few words for each phone in terms of hackability. You listed “hacker friendly” as a pro in a couple of the phones but I would like you to write a separate dot point saying if it has an unlocked bootloader or not and what is the highest android version that is available for it at the current time in custom ROMs. Overall a good piece with some good choices.

  • Ilyse Rose

    This article is really helpful.
    It would have been nice to have a list of a few ‘honorable mentions’, though.

  • Wakame

    The Xperia S has a snapdragon S3 processor, not S4. Also the S has an upgraded model for ~$10 more, but it is not a major change. Either SL or SX, dont remember which.

    If you are looking for something between U and S, the Xperia P can be had for $250( or 300(amazon). The P has an aluminum unibody unlike the S and U. Processor is the same as U, but adds NFC and white magic tech for a very bright screen.

    Three gripes that are possible for this line of Xperia phones. No MicroSD, Smaller batteries (~20% less than other phone of that size), and processors that on average are 1 year older.

    With that said, it really depends on what you are looking for in a phone. For budget phones that will not be used as work horses, they are fantastic. I haven’t been hands on with their new line of late 2012 phones, but they look pretty nice. 2013 will hopefully see a few more higher end phones from sony.

    The Xperia line will be getting Jellybean early 2013. Current update is android 4.0.4.

  • subhamallen

    never owned a smartphone…. :(

  • morris105

    Great breakdown.. i have my galaxy nexus and i’ll probably skip the nexus 4 and wait for the next one.

    • stringdidj

      Yes The galaxy nexus with jelly bean can do all the nexus 4 can do. Worth an an upgrade if you had the nexus s though

  • JC005

    I go through a lot of phones, and really like the stock Android. I’m with T-mobile, my favorite one I had so far was the nexus one. Went too LGs g2x and wasn’t a big fan. Tried the G2, and realized I didn’t need a keyboard anymore. I final went to HTC sense on the sensation, I liked it a lot no issues. Then I went to the galaxy s2 and liked it a lot also. I then tried the one s and I could get back into the sense I have been with Samsung and touch wiz ever since. I have the galaxy s3 now and it’s my favorite can’t wait to see the gs4.

    • amIT29

      ihope they dont make screen any bigger.. May clash with note series .its already having large screen.

  • titanium man

    Awesome post thanks! My girlfriend is in the process of looking for a new unlocked phone and this really helped.actually it made me think of my own plan with TMobile.

  • ndub21

    I’m on AT&T and calculated the cost difference for switching my wife and I to prepaid and it was about $300 a year. That wasn’t enough of a cost difference to justify it, plus we would lose out on LTE and my wife loves her iPhones…

    • yuyuyuyu

      300 isn’t enough :O

  • misael

    i will have to say that the nexus 4 is without a doubt the best unlocked android phone right now, it is way cheaper than the galaxy s3 or the htc one. it has the same hardware and it may lack lte but boy it doesn’t matter

    • cflo

      I hope all nexus devices keep coming out so cheap maybe I will sell my s3 and buy one next year

  • sncrmck

    I’m wondering how the processor of the nexus 4 compares with the 7. That tegra 3 screams and can only imagine it on a smaller screen. Anyone had a chance to play with the nexus 4 yet?

    • cflo

      Doesn’t it come with s4 products?

  • scubabum

    Great summary and review.

  • ccn_cristi

    I have the LG P500 and outdated is an understatement. Even if I have a custom ROM 4.1.2 it still feels old, lag and battery doesn’t hold even a day. I really need a Nexus 4 :D

  • smwinn7

    I like the mention of Sony in this list they could really start making waves by introducing so many of their phones unlocked in the US maybe if they can work on a partnership here their presence will start to grow.

  • avijaunty

    Nexus 4 all the way.. rest all are crap..

  • fradster

    Not having 4G would sure be a bummer after ponying up $200+ for a decent phone…

  • calmness

    The Note II looks awesome, but were I in the market I might opt for the Nexus 4 for the ‘pure Android experience’. Aw, just dreaming of more spiffy Android devices to enjoy.

    Thanks AndroidAndMe for the info.

  • alividmar

    Nice article, but i miss the Huawei devices. Great phones for decent bucks. Now you can get the dualcore g330 for 190 euro on Plan to upgrade from my U8800 Ideos X5.

  • anonymous

    You can add another category $700-$1100 for the “made in Japan” phones available unlocked online..One example,

    Sharp Aquos Zeta SH-02E – approx. $1050
    Quadcore Snapdragon S4 Processor
    2 Gb Ram
    16 Megapixel camera
    720p Resolution IGZO Display (Battery Saving Display)
    Waterproof and Dust Proof
    2,320 mAh battery
    32 Gb Inernal Memory (64 Gb External Supported)
    Also has that Tv antenna thingy but I dont know how and in which all countries that works.

    The high price is mainly due to the Japanese labor being used to make these phones so its an option for those who are concerned about human rights and stuff.

  • Nick

    Great article, very helpful, but one line is misleading: “Most unlocked phones that were designed for the international market will have no problems running on AT&T’s network.” Almost all unlocked phones use the European standard of 900/2100 Mhz for 3G. AT&T uses 850/1900 for 3G, so most unlocked phones will “work” but not at 3G speeds. T-Mobile uses 1700/2100, but you need both frequencies because TM uses one for uploading and the other for downloading. In either case, with a 900/2100 phone, you will be browsing the web with 2G speeds! As the article says, “Check the bands on an unlocked phone before you make your purchase”, but it should also say that only a few phones (including several from Sony) will give you 3G in the US.

  • Joshua Reach

    Seriously love these guides. These are incredibly helpful, especially for someone new to the pre-paid carrier world.

    • cflo

      How often are they updated?

      • yuyuyuyu


  • s2svetko

    Great guide

  • impromark

    Don’t suppose there’s a guide specifically for Canadian buyers, somewhere out there? I’ve got a work-provided Blackberry, and my workplace is gunning to replace them all with iPhones (mistake IMO). I’m trying to find alternatives or even an example of a working BYOD policy, but nothing yet. Any ideas?

  • motzvi

    Unlocked is only for non cdma phones…

  • snownebula

    The Samsung Galaxy Note II… never have I wanted a phone so much, yet frustrated that the 32 and 64 GB models that were heavily advertised during the worldwide launches haven’t materialized outside of South Korea.

    This is usually the point where people say that you can just use the SD card. However, moving apps to the SD card has been disabled on the Note II. With around 11 GB of space left for apps and data (out of the original 16 GB), you could theoretically use up all of the space with a few larger games (ranging from 800 MB to 1.8 GB each).

    • mjhombre

      It is possible if you root your phone.

  • humidity

    I want a Nexus 4 so badly!

  • jaysond

    ya wish I had one to

  • androgue

    Nice. Just what I was looking for.

  • cflo

    Lgs definitely best one

  • murali.ram

    Optimus one is in the list, just a surprise to see this, old & solid rock, my 1st android gadget…
    Now thinking for Nexus 4, which is also LGE…

  • Flapjack7

    Samsung Galaxy S3 – my preciousssssss :]

  • nobile

    HTC One X I like it!

  • dbuck

    These are the current best…some of the previous best might be good to add. I love my Galaxy S2. You might get some better deals buying last year’s top models that beat this years lower end models.

  • nmoline

    All I want for Christmas Is you

  • stewbstewart

    I use revol an ohio based company

  • naypalm

    Hey, thanks for posting this, It’s been about a week since purchasing my Xperia U.

    I haven’t had any issues or concerns so far especially with ICS. rooting was too easy and every App has worked great so far.

    I heard many people complain about its small size, I think is perfect and I have huge fingers. Thanks again!

  • cjleines

    I wanted to thank you for the article. I had been wondering about the advantages of an unlocked phone, but couldn’t find an article as nicely laid out as this.

  • cduran1983

    Thanks for this great article It just rocks now I’m going to do some shopping! Thanks! :D

  • nobile

    Google takes over Apple :D

  • klcow92

    this should be my shopping list now :P

  • ed l

    Great article. But the xperia u link is for the international version, which is not optimal for the USA, I believe. Also, both nexus 4 models sold out today.

  • Viequense

    Choices choices choices which one should I get.

  • Snowman81

    If LG and Google ever sort of the Nexus 4′s production capacity the Nexus 4 will be the ultimate unlocked phone.

  • radaan

    LG nexus 4 por HTC for me!

  • killrgummibear

    i just got my mom a Sony Xperia U. pretty good starter phone n it’s built solid.

    • stringdidj

      Very good choice, fast and very compact. The screen is narrow but smaller hands will love it

  • darklord486

    You guys shoild check out Xperia acro s :D

    It is a pretty phone with a fantastic dock cherger. Water and dust proof. :)

    • darklord486


    • darklord486

      *charger.. Lol, I hate keyboards with no auto correct. :D

    • toe-B

      Is the Xperia Acro S compatable with T Mobile?

  • Allan Tribe

    Are the low end phones rootable?

  • TheyCallMeZ

    @Allen Tribe Most phones are rootable, the only ones I have had issues with are the ultra cheap ones like Pantech… speaking of which avoid Pantech! :P

  • stringdidj

    I bought a used HTC wildfire S for very little money as a temporary phone until I get a nexus 4, for under $60 just put a custom ROM on it and you can have a phone that is more than adequate and greater value for money

  • nephroid

    The best phone available at it’s price is the LG Nexus 4.

  • dutrak

    LG Optimus One lol

  • kenbr1960

    I like the HTC phones except for the fact that you can’t swap the batteries. I hope all manufacturers don’t start doing this.

  • marcus1518

    which one to get which one to get… many good phones to choose from….decisions decisions…

  • freddiefan

    Any reviews for Samsung Galaxy S III mini? Came across some based on rumours before the launch but not since.

  • ibap

    The Nexus still looks like a real contender for me.

  • mickjen

    Am I the only person who thinks anything above $250 for a top-of-the-line phone is RIDICULOUS?!

    It’s time for Google to offer Wireless service and provide CHEAP phones!!!!

  • jumbojet747

    Do the recommendations apply for Australia? Nexus 4 come back in stock please…

  • c1liu

    I like the one x. htc makes some solid phones. kinda just feels better in the hand compared to my plastic-encased sgs2. my next phone will probably be an htc.

  • altonwang

    Makes me regret being on Sprint and not being able to use unlocked phones.

  • jcbobea

    Thanks for this info, really helps a lot

  • jcbobea

    Any one has an Asus Padfone, What do you think about it?

  • bleeew

    I think the Nexus devices are best for unlocked. Supports straight from Google, and for a low price.

  • zippyioa

    I switched from tied in contracts to buying sim free handsets and payg SIMS a few years back. If you can afford the upfront cost of the handset you can save a lot of money and can upgrade whenever a new phone comes out because you’re not locked into a contract :)

  • chralex

    I really like that you broke it down into price ranges. Not everyone can afford or want to spend 600+ on a phone But I would like some options and know what I am spending/getting for my money before I spend it Thanks this is great.

  • mlynch01

    Google really changed the game when they made the Nexus 4 so affordable, it makes it much less of an issue if you want a new phone and your still under contract (provided your on t-mobile or at&t). Plus the phone is a beast, I am really enjoying it. Not having to wait for HTC/Samsung or my carrier for software updates feels so good too! I recommend it without hesitation for anyone that’s still on the fence. Hopefully LG gets there manufacturing issues sorted out so more people can buy it.

  • troysyx

    Nexus 4 baby!

  • tylerfoy

    Hands down S3 in my eyes

  • Deter

    probably going to do a galaxy s 3, or whatever is out there once i can save up the $600 to do it. I will however be staying with my post-paid account to keep my unlimited LTE usage as long as possible.

  • Balaram Vineeth Venugopal .P

    I favor the nexus one

    • Balaram Vineeth Venugopal .P

      I meant the nexus 4, goofed up there o0)


    Good to see nexus supporting both att and t mo’s band. I have to say, if I am not in contract now, I will so choose nexus 4 and go with prepaid.

    • castlefox

      Yea I love that the Nexus phones can be used on ATT and T’mobiles network. I cant wait until my ATT contract is up in April 2013 and then I will be going off contract with the nexus 4

  • KingCrow02

    Loving my Nexus 4

  • ankushsurana

    i would prefer NExus 4

  • mwallred

    Loving my Nexus 4 as well. Looking for a decent case but none really look that good.

  • quicky

    The nexus 4 look like the best phone for the price on the list

  • chethu

    Nexus 4 is the best phone But it is not available in Indian market :(

  • murali.ram

    Hope nexus phone will launch in India and next nexus phone may be from Sony or Motorola…

  • HeadDoc

    Great piece. VERY thorough.

  • castlefox

    I ordered my Nexus 4 16GB back on Nov 28th but I dont have my phone yet : ( I really hope it gets here soon. I cant wait to get an unlocked phone and go on a prepaid plan after my ATT contract is up.

  • g1user

    The only unlocked phone I personally would buy is the Nexus 4…best specs and best price!

  • anish67

    When is nexus 4 coming to India

  • Toe-B

    So whats the best HSPA+ network 1700/2100 T-Mobile phones out there.

    Im really thinking of moving to T-Mobiles $30 for 100 minutes, unlimited text, and data (throttled after 5 GB). I dont need over 100 minutes of talk a month, and would really like to save the $15 a month over Straight Talks $45 unlimited AT&T plan

    I was hoping I could find a Sony Experia phone to do the job, but dont want to spend $500+ on a grey market, third party imported phone from overseas without a U.S. warranty.

    I really dont get why Sony dosent sell them unlocked in the U.S., vs the same phone without the 1700 band.

    Its not like they have some awesome deal with AT&T. ATT pushes the SG3, iPhones, Nokia WP, and sticks the lone Xperia amongst the Pantechs, and low end Galaxy’s.

    At least T-Mobile would be pushing unlocked phones, and up until the near future, wouldnt have been pushing it to the side to make room for iPhones.

  • Bernard A Cohen

    I live in the US and am currently using AT&T. However, I travel a lot in Europe, Middle East and areas of the former Soviet Union.

    I really like the Samsung Note 2 and would like to get an unlocked version of this phone. It is not clear to me whether the N7100 or N7105 would be better.

    Are any versions of the Samsung Note 2 that work on the US AT&T bands? AT&T will not sell unlocked phones and since I travel so extensively, I need the ability to switch SIMs.

    Will these models work on US AT&T as well as in all of Europe and middle East? If not, is there an unlocked phone that will?

    Can you tell me please what bands the N7100 work on then? Is there an “international version” of the Note 2 that I should be looking for? Does either of these work on the ATT 4G LTE?

  • gusbus23

    Ive been thinking about canceling my contract with at&t and switching to straight sim because at&t is killing me with their data. I love my one x and the only thing missing is unlimited data.

  • Anon

    I’m not sure what the price is for the Sony Xperia Sola in the US but in Australia it retails for about the same price as U unlocked ~220 AUD. Nicer overall phone imho.

  • Barbara Machtinger

    I have the Note 2 and am really frustrated by the lack of a home softkey. I want a new phone.

  • David

    I think this site sells a really good New Unlocked Android Smartphone. It is a lot cheaper than most of the smartphones suggested here. It costs only $230 and has a 4.5 inch QHD display, a 8MP back and 3MP front camera and a dual core processor. Check it out:

  • shintaro1858

    Watch out for and they are scammers. sends you fake codes. never returns email mthere is not even a tel. # to get them. FAKE Fake . I got dupped for a day. thank goodness my CC got reveresed.

  • babygal

    Yup even i ll get my phone unlocked to change itto other networks.. great choice of you to get HTC one x.. you can get it unlocked using codes that can be purchased from any vendors online like .Once unlocked you can use any carrier to it