Best Unlocked Phones for Seniors

We've researched and tested out the top unlocked phones in the industry to give you our picks for the best unlocked cell phones for seniors.

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How We Chose the Best Unlocked Phones for Seniors

We’ve tested out the industry’s leading unlocked phones, so you don’t have to. After hours of trying out a dozen phones, researching, chatting with customer service, and making side-by-side comparisons, we found four unlocked phones that stand above the rest for seniors. All of the phones were evaluated using several metrics, including features, value, price, and carrier compatibility. Every cell phone had to meet the following criteria:

  • Senior-friendly features: Not all unlocked phones are right for seniors, so we only included phones on our list that meet older adults’ needs. These phones have features like large screens, voice texting capabilities, large text and buttons, and powerful speakers.
  • Value: We’re all about phones that offer the most bang for their buck. While our top picks come at various price points, you’ll find that the value matches up with or exceeds the price tag.
  • Network compatibility: All of our best unlocked phones for seniors are compatible with GSM and CDMA-based networks. GSM and CDMA is techie jargon that means these four phones will work with virtually any carrier on the market!

What Exactly is an Unlocked Phone?

Locked cell phones sold through a particular carrier use software to lock the phone so it can only be used on their network. For example, if you buy an iPhone from AT&T, you’ll only be able to use the phone on AT&T’s network because it’s locked to the carrier. The carrier generally offers a discount on the phone in exchange for a contract commitment or payment plan. If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably taken advantage of big discounts on device purchases in the past. While we love a good deal, this type of discount locks you into one provider, so you’ll have to pay off the phone or deal with early termination fees if you want to switch carriers. Plus, you’ll have to request to have the phone unlocked by the carrier before you can use it on another network; every carrier has different policies for unlocking phones, so this can be a time-consuming and costly process depending on your provider.

On the other hand, an unlocked phone isn’t tied to any one network, so, in theory, you could use it with a mobile plan from any carrier. An unlocked cell phone doesn’t have any software restricting its use to a particular network. For instance, if you buy an iPhone directly from Apple, the manufacturer, you could use the phone with a SIM card from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and other major carriers. An unlocked phone is more expensive upfront but gives users more freedom of choice over which network to use and how much they pay for service.

Let’s take a look at this year’s top picks for unlocked senior-friendly phones!

Pros and Cons of an Unlocked Phone

The majority of older adults who have embraced smartphones find that they can remain independent thanks to the ease of staying in touch with family, caregivers, and medical support.1 That freedom only gets better when you invest in an unlocked phone. However, unlocked phones aren’t for everyone. Below are the pros and cons of unlocked phones for seniors to consider:

What We Like About Unlocked Phones

  • Freedom to choose any carrier: Hands down, the biggest reason that consumers choose an unlocked phone is the option to change carriers and plans at any time. An unlocked phone lets you break free from the endless cycle of upgrading and renewing contracts that are difficult and costly to get out of.
  • Wider selection of senior-friendly phones: With unlocked phones, you aren’t limited to the selection of phones available from one carrier. Instead, you can buy any phone directly from the manufacturer.
  • Ease of travel: Almost half of all older adults ages 50 and over travel internationally.2 Unlocked phones make it easy to set up service in another country because you can just purchase a SIM card from one of the local carriers at your destination. With locked phones, you’ll typically have to pay for a costly international plan from your carrier, which adds up quickly.
  • No contracts: Since you purchase the unlocked phone outright, it’s yours to keep, and there are no long-term contracts that tie you to a carrier.

Things to Keep in Mind About Unlocked Phones

  • Higher upfront costs: As we’ve mentioned, carriers often offer locked phones at discounted rates or affordable monthly payment plans when you sign a long-term commitment. This isn’t the case with an unlocked phone. However, some manufacturers, like Apple and Samsung, offer financing options for unlocked phones, so you don’t have to pay off the phone all at once.
  • Fewer options for warranties: Carriers will often provide warranties, repairs, and support for the locked phones they sell, but not for unlocked phones that you bring to their network. If you’re having network issues or other technical difficulties, you’re on your own.
  • Service isn’t guaranteed from all carriers: While an unlocked phone can work on most carriers’ networks, not all carriers will support your unlocked phone. Depending on the phone you choose, you might find that the carrier’s technology or policies don’t support your phone.

Important Tip: Before purchasing an unlocked phone, ask for the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. The IMEI is a 15-digit number that’s unique to each phone. Your carrier can then use the phone’s IMEI to see if it can be supported by their network.

Who Is an Unlocked Cell Phone Best For?

Traditional cell phone plans can be restrictive for some senior lifestyles. For many older adults, unlocked phones provide the freedom to use their phone on any network. Unlocked cell phones are best for seniors who:

  • Travel abroad frequently
  • Snowbird to warmer climates for a portion of the year
  • Seniors who find traditional contract plans cost-prohibitive
  • Anyone who doesn’t like the commitment of a one- or two-year contract

Buyer’s Tip: Our in-depth cell phones for seniors guide includes details on brands, carriers, and how to pair your unlocked phone with the best cell phone plan.

Frequently Asked Questions About Unlocked Phones

  • Does an unlocked cell phone save money?

    There is potential to save money by choosing from a bigger pool of carriers and plans. However, cost savings are not guaranteed. The phone’s upfront cost is often higher, and accidental damage can cost more money in repairs and replacements without carrier-provided insurance.

  • I already purchased a device on this list from another carrier; can I have it unlocked?

    The terms of your agreement with the carrier may require that the phone stays locked on their service for a set period of time. For example, T-Mobile/MetroPCS plans typically require 12 months of continuous service or a minimum purchase of minutes. Once this obligation is fulfilled, most carriers will unlock the device.

  • Can I get insurance on my unlocked phone?

    To get carrier-provided insurance, you will likely have to buy the phone from an authorized dealer. However, there are plenty of opportunities for third party accidental damage and theft insurance. Just be careful to do your homework on the company before signing up.

  • If I get an unlocked phone, do I have to sign a contract with a carrier?

    Contract requirements vary by network and plan. Some carriers will allow you to sign up for minutes on their network with your unlocked phone. Others, like AT&T, offer attractive deals to pay for prepaid service in set increments of three, six, or 12 months at a time. And, if you are interested in a senior citizen discount, the provider may require a one- or two-year commitment.

Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman