We recommend unlocked phones in this guide. When a phone is sold as “unlocked,” it means the phone can be used on multiple wireless carriers/networks. When you buy a phone directly from your wireless carrier, usually on a payment plan, it often comes locked to that network. Carriers are legally required to unlock a phone upon request so you can switch networks, but it’s a big hassle. Try to pay full price for your phone, or make sure it specifically says it’s unlocked. If that’s too expensive, opt for a cheaper model, buy it from the manufacturer directly, or investigate your carrier’s policies for unlocking phones.
Verizon and Sprint Tips: Buying an unlocked phone is smart (it is!), but even if you do the smart thing, networks like Verizon and Sprint will put up hoops for you to jump through. To find out if your phone works on Sprint, use this page. Verizon users, if you put in your SIM card but still have trouble receiving text messages or something else, contact customer service and have them enable “CDMA-Less roaming.” This OnePlus 6T guide may help. The steps should be similar for other phones.
You’ll also see lots of ads encouraging you to upgrade to a 5G plan and buy a 5G phone. Yes, you do need a new phone that supports 5G to make use of the new network (we have a guide that explains it all), but at the moment 5G is still sparse, only available in certain areas of a handful of cities in the US. The default type of 5G carriers like AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are offering (sub-6) isn’t that much faster than 4G—yet. And if you opt for Verizon’s gigabit fast 5G network, you’ll be spending more on its 5G plans and will have a hard time finding the service, whether you’re indoors and outdoors. Our advice? Think about 5G for the phone you buy next, not for the one you’re upgrading to now.