The 8 Best Contract-Free or Prepaid Cell Phones to Buy in 2018

Is a contract-free or prepaid cell phone better for me?

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Looking for a contract-free or prepaid cell phone? You may have to pay slightly more for the handset itself, but you will get more freedom in your calling plan. You won't have to commit to a lengthy contract and you can pay for only the calling time that you need.

You may find that there are not as many choices when it comes to prepaid cell phones, but the selection is improving every day. And it actually may be quite easy to find a handset that meets your needs, as the carriers are offering a range of prepaid phones. Better yet, you also have a choice of prepaid plans, as most of the major carriers are offering a prepaid option. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless all offer prepaid options and carriers like Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile offer a variety of contract-free choices.

Here are several prepaid and/or contract-free phones that might meet your needs. When you're ready, we also have the best plans to match.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Google Pixel 2

Samsung Galaxy J3
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The Google Pixel 2’s AMOLED display is five inches and offers a 16:9 aspect ratio, as well as a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution with ultra-strong, smudge-resistant Gorilla Glass to protect against drops. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor powers the handset with very impressive speeds, and runs Android 8 Oreo super well. The USB-C connector ensures that you won’t need to buy proprietary cords for charging or transferring, and the 2,700 mAh battery will hold an impressive charge all day. And of course, the whole thing is powered by the ability to navigate with Google Assistant (which can be called up simply by squeezing the edges of the phone), so it’ll be super seamless to get to know your new phone right out of the box.

Best Budget: Motorola Moto E (4th Generation)

Motorola Moto E
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The 4G LTE Moto E employs a 425 Snapdragon, quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM to power the Android 7.1 Nougat OS at near lightning speeds. It can store up to 16 GB internally and includes a microSD slot that can accommodate an extra 128 GB of additional storage. There’s a 5-inch HD display, and everything on and in the phone is covered in a nano-coating that adds all-around water resistance to protect from minor contact from spills and splashes. There’s an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing camera that both offer autofocus for professional quality photos and selfies. This thing even has a fingerprint reader so you can quickly unlock it without having to type in a pesky code—a feature normally reserved for premium phones.

Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best budget smartphones can help you find what you're looking for.

Best Battery Life: ASUS Zenphone 3 Zoom

HTC Desire 530
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For a phone that doesn’t go toe-to-toe on brand recognition, the display is pretty impressive. The 500-nit AMOLED screen is 5.5 inches corner to corner and offers a 1920 x 1080 resolution that’s covered in an ultra-tough Gorilla Glass, which bevels at the edges by a factor of 2.5 that gives it a natural feel in your hand. The color gamut response makes the thing look basically like real life, too. The rear cam is 12 megapixels and is classified as wide-angle, which is basically unheard of for cameras outside of Galaxy models and iPhones. They’ve even incorporated some manual focus and ISO features right into the camera software to add an additional level of pro photo flexibility.

The battery life is impressive on this phone with an ultra-high capacity of 5,000 mAH on top of the software efficiency built right in, and you can provide power to external devices through the USB-C connector, so this phone will act like a mobile power bank. There’s internal storage of 32GB and an unlocked dual SIM technology that will let you use the phone with any prepaid cards or bargain network you want.

Best Flip: Samsung a157

Samsung a157
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Powered by AT&T’s 3G network, the The Samsung a157 is a delightful flip phone that harkens back to a time before smartphones, app stores and Facebook. Featuring a 1.77-inch display and weighing only 2.82 ounces, the a157 doesn’t scream fancy or “download all the apps,” but just concentrates on phone calls and text messages. The battery life allows for up to five hours of talk time, which is pretty standard.

The clamshell design covers the keypad and send and answer keys, as well as the navigation pad and AT&T logo middle button that serves as something akin to an “enter” key on a keyboard. The simplified menu offers just what you need without overdoing it, and there's not even a camera on the phone. 

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best basic cell phones.

Best Camera: Huawei Mate 9

LG Phoenix 2
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The Huawei Mate 9 offers dual Leica second generation lenses—one at 12MP and the a monochrome one at 20MP. The lenses are research-driven to provide excellent, low-noise images even at low light, and the camera also shoots in full 4K video. The phone itself is Alexa enabled so right out of the box you can ask questions, navigate the features, and optimize performance with your voice alone.

The 4,000 mAH battery is extra efficient so you won’t have to keep juicing it up. The Kirin 960 processor powers a super unique machine-learning algorithm that goes hand-in-hand with the Alexa features to try to anticipate your needs with the phone so your device will know what you need to do even before you do. There are four noise-cancelling microphones for beautifully crisp calls and the gorgeous 5.9-inch screen comes with a complimentary 3-month protection policy. There’s even a dual SIM system that will let this phone work in 216 different countries -- now that’s contract freedom.

Best Display: Samsung Galaxy S8

LG Volt 2
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Samsung’s Galaxy S8 features their Infinity Display front and center which is arguably the most beautiful display ever on a smartphone. The 5.8-inch screen can hold up in a pixel-for-pixel comparison to most other top-of-the-line phones. The curved sides both give it an infinite look while also giving you more real estate to interact with on the edges so you won’t have to awkwardly reach across the whole screen with your thumb.

The specs are impressive too, with a resolution of  2960 x 1440 that’s a QHD super AMOLED-powered beauty. The front and back cameras are 8 and 12 MP respectively and both employ top of the line with professional image stabilization. You can film in full 4K video at 30fps, and the speed only goes up from there when you film at 1080p. You can even pull 9MP still photos from those 4K videos which gives you ultimate post-processing flexibility. The Octa-core 10nm processor is basically more powerful than the processor in your computer. And now, Samsung has released a dual SIM card that is unlocked so you can prepay it or run it in a wide array of foreign countries. 

Best for Seniors: Jitterbug Flip

For seniors who want a reliable, hassle-free phone and miss the tactile feedback of pressing actual buttons, the Jitterbug Flip, by GreatCall, is a perfect choice. The phone measures 4.3 x 0.7 x 2.2 inches and features both a large numeric keypad and an easy-to-read screen. The menu options have been simplified for your convenience: just scroll with the arrows and select “yes” or “no.”

The Jitterbug boasts a variety of features that are tailored specifically for seniors. Firstly, the speaker delivers robust, clear audio during calls and is compatible with M4/T4 hearing aids. Secondly, it includes an app that connects to your loved ones, so they can receive updates on your health and well-being. Thirdly, the Jitterbug doubles as a personal safety device, giving you access to the 5Star Urgent Response service package, which includes a 24/7 hotline to registered nurses, board-certified doctors, and highly-trained 5Star agents.

With the Jitterbug Flip, there are no contracts or cancellation fees, and the phone plans start as low as $14.99 a month. Additionally, the GreatCall network prides itself in having award-winning customer service, so you’ll always have dependable, friendly tech-support for your device.

Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best cell phones for senior citizens can help you find what you're looking for.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: HTC U11

ZTE Maven
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The U11 has spent a ton of time in research and innovation attempts. There’s an Edge Sense function, which pops up new phone functionality with just a simple squeeze on the phone’s edges—you can even assign these functions yourself so that one squeeze opens Facebook and two squeezes opens Twitter, for example. In camera mode, a squeeze will take a selfie.

The on-board speakers are super loud and super clear with acoustic chambers built right into the phone, and they include a pair of active noise-cancelling and super high fidelity earbuds. They’ve even put some super unique research into the phone’s covering on the back surface, layering shiny glass and sparkling mineral materials at random levels to create a beautiful look—what they’re calling a 3D Liquid Glass surface. There’s a QHD display, a 12MP UltraPixel camera, a 16MP front-facing selfie cam, an octa-core Snapdragon process, and the convenience of voice-controlled Alexa capabilities. In short, this small, slim phone packs a TON of features into a tiny, unlocked package.

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