It's the most wonderful time of the year. When the shoppers rush home with their treasures. Okay, I think I might be mixing up a couple of popular Christmas carols there, but you get the idea. You've got some "nice" people on your holiday shopping list and you're not entirely sure where to begin. If you're thinking that the good little boy or girl on your list deserves one of the best unlocked smartphones around, you've come to the right place.
Fear not. You don't need to blow close to four figures in order to get a pretty great device. Unlocked smartphones are still going to be among the more premium of gift ideas for many, but your loved ones are worth it, right? Right. And you can look toward the lower end of the budget too, all while avoiding those nasty contracts and monthly installment plans.
Blu Energy X 2
A company that has quietly made its name in the more budget-oriented end of the pricing spectrum is BLU and one of the most compelling options for less than a hundred bucks is the BLU Energy X 2 ($99.99). Available in either the US or global version, the Energy X 2 offers dual SIM slots for ease of travel, a 5.0-inch curved HD display, and a perfectly adequate 1.3GHz quad core processor, 8GB of storage, and 1GB of RAM, along with a microSD expansion slot. The most compelling feature, however, is the massive 4,000 mAh battery that promises up to three days of standard usage and over 30 days on standby.
Moto G4 Plus
Ever since the first generation arrived on the scene, I've been thoroughly impressed with the value proposition of the Moto G line. With the Moto G4 Plus ($249.99), you are moving toward the upper end of the Moto G family, but it's worth the slight premium over the cheaper Moto G4 Play. Also sold as the Moto G Plus in some other markets, the Moto G4 Plus boasts several higher-end features in a more wallet-friendly package.
The integrated fingerprint reader is certainly a pleasant surprise, especially since it's something you'd normally only see on phones that cost several hundred dollars more. TurboPower means that the battery will charge quickly, the 16MP camera will capture every perfect moment with laser focus and phase detect auto-focus, and Moto Maker offers the option of creating your own unique look.
ZTE Axon 7
This philosophy has been epitomized by the ZTE Axon 7 ($399.98), available in your choice of Quartz Gray or Ion Gold. They really didn't skimp on any of the features here, giving you a full 64GB of internal storage standard, fantastic 20MP rear and 8MP front cameras, a premium metallic build, and a fingerprint reader on the back, not only for security and verification, but also for launching apps and taking pictures.
Performance is top notch with a Snapdragon 820, the 3,250mAh battery can be topped up quickly with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, and then you get the "best sounding and listening smartphone with HiFi audio" too.
No discussion of tremendous unlocked smartphones would be complete without mentioning the newly announced OnePlus 3T ($439). OnePlus has taken everything that we already loved about the OnePlus 3 and simply upped the ante with the 3T. Like the Axon 7, the OnePlus 3T comes with 64GB of internal capacity standard. Alternatively, you can pony up an extra $40 to get the 128GB model, which sounds like a good upgrade to me!
With the Dash Charge technology, among the fastest quick charge technology around, you can get a day's worth of power in just half an hour. That's pretty incredible. Performance is no slouch with a Snapdragon 821 and 6GB of RAM, while the premium space-grade aluminum alloy gives the premium feel you desire. The lightweight Oxygen OS boosts the user experience further without getting in the way. Any tech geek would be ecstatic to find this under their tree. Never settle.
Look at you there with your deep pockets. If Santa is feeling extra generous this year, far and away one of the best unlocked smartphones to buy is the Google Pixel (starting at $649). Google goes beyond the age of Nexus to provide a wholly cohesive phone for the best possible Android experience.
It's the only phone, at least for now, with integrated support for the Google Assistant. And when you give the gift of Pixel, you also give the gift of unlimited online storage of all the photos and videos your recipient will take. And unlike the regular Google Photos offer, this storage is at full res with no compression.
If you're feeling even more generous, you can move all the way up the line to the 128GB Pixel XL too.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
If the otherwise stellar Samsung Galaxy Note7 didn't have the unfortunate habit of blowing up and getting recalled, it would have made this holiday gift guide. Since you can't get one (or would you want to get one), the next best thing is the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (starting from $649.99). It's like the Note7, except without the S Pen. Meaning that it's pretty incredible, so long as you won't miss the stylus.
It may not have Google Assistant like the Pixel, but the S7 edge is arguably a much better industrial design, a more premium build, and it comes with support for both wireless charging standards too. And, let's be honest, no one does incredible AMOLED screens quite like Samsung. Performance is equally off the charts, even if the phone is almost a year old now.
There are few gadgets we use as much these days as our mobile phones. With unlocked smartphones, you give the gift of choice, flexibility, and immeasurable access to everything on the Internet. So after little Timmy hangs his stocking with care, go ahead and put a Google Pixel or OnePlus 3T there.