The 9 Best Contract-Free or Prepaid Cell Phones of 2019

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The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Google Pixel 3

4.8

This 2018 release has generated a good amount of buzz, and we are glad to say that the Google Pixel 3 does live up to most of our expectations. It offers a bundle of incredible features: some are a bit gimmicky (such as the Google Playground augmented reality app), but most of them enhance the smartphone-using experience in some way. For instance, the voice-activated Google Assistant offers a wide-range of hands-free control over your device.

The Pixel 3’s front-facing camera features an 8-megapixel lens, as well as two rear cameras: a wide-angle lens with f/2.2 aperture, and a second with just f/1.8. Both these cameras boast 12.2-megapixels, capturing professional-grade landscape photos and 4K video at 30 frames-per-second. Also, the Pixel offers unlimited storage with Google Photos.

The Pixel 3 features a brilliant HD 5.5-inch display, with an 18:9 aspect ratio. In regards to the hardware, the Pixel 3 sports a reliable Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and 64GB storage. Additionally, the device boasts other special design elements, such as its IP68 water-resistance and compatibility with wireless charging.

Best Budget: Motorola Moto E (4th Generation)

Motorola Moto E
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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 Value: Alcatel 1X Evolve

Alcatel 1X Evolve

 MetroPCS

The 1X Evolve has taken some smart measures to make this phone look and feel like a premium flagship, without the bloated price tag. The 5.24-inch screen sports a cinematic 18:9 aspect ratio so, while the resolution won’t be that amazing, it will definitely be immersive for watching video. There are 16GB of internal memory, but you have the option to expand that up to 32GB via microSD card. The 1.1GHz quad-core processor is middle-of-the-road in terms of speed, but it’s pretty impressive when you factor in the price.

The 1X evolve also sports an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing camera, so the resolution should be pretty solid. This phone is even hotspot-capable, meaning that the “pay as you go” plan that you can choose for it can be extended to other devices like a laptop or tablet. It all runs on Android 8.1 Oreo and, while it isn’t the most impressive phone you’ll see out there, the fit, finish, look and feel are more than satisfying at this budget price point.

Best Battery Life: ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom

HTC Desire 530
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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 a157V

Samsung a157
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Powered by AT&T’s 3G network, the Samsung a157V 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 a157V 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 the 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
Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Huawei Mate 9 offers dual Leica second generation lenses—one at 12MP and 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-canceling 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
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 features its 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 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: GreatCall 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
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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-canceling 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.

Tested by

How We Tested

We bought a top-rated contract-free or prepaid cell phone and our reviewers tested it for 80 hours. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using this cell phone, from its screen size to its camera quality and battery life. We’ve outlined the key points here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for

Screen size - From flip phones to phablets, today’s mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes. Screen size is one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider, as it dictates how you’ll interact with your phone. If you have small hands, you might want an option that lets you comfortably stretch your thumb to the upper opposite corner. If you like to watch a lot of media, a larger screen might be a better fit. Most smartphones will range from five to six inches, measured diagonally, but bigger and smaller options are also available.

Operating system - When it comes to smartphone operating systems, most models fall into one of two camps: iOS or Android. The latter is open-sourced, meaning many operators use the software to create their own customizations. As a result, Android will have many more versions, while iOS will provide a more consistent user experience.

Camera quality - Let’s face it—many of us rarely use our smartphones to make actual calls anymore. Instead, we’re sending messages, using apps, and snapping photos. So, naturally, it makes sense that a camera is a top priority when considering which phone to buy. Most smartphones have at least two cameras: one front-facing camera that has a lower resolution (of around 5 to 8MP) and one higher-quality rear-facing camera (usually around 8 to 12MP).

Test Results: Google Pixel 3 (Best Overall)

Google Pixel 3
 Courtesy of Amazon
4.8

What We Like

  • Excellent camera

  • Feels great to use

  • Etched two-tone back is less slippery

What We Don't Like

  • Larger bezels make it look dated

  • Less RAM than some competitors

“The best thing about the Pixel 3 is the camera,” declared one of our testers. “Despite only having a single rear camera, Google leverages its AI chops to turn out better pictures than you'll get from the competition.” One of our reviewers also thought it was nice to use, generally: “The Pixel 3 feels good in your hand to begin with, and the haptics—everything from swiping, to typing, to squeezing the active edge feature—just feel better than other phones.”

Another highlight was this phone’s etched two-tone back, which, according to one tester, “felt less slippery than other glass phones.” In terms of negatives, one reviewer felt the size of the phone’s bezel: “The bezel is big,” he said, “especially above and below the screen. It's nice that the Pixel 3 houses high quality speakers there, but it still looks dated.” Lastly, one reviewer noted that the phone also “has less RAM and storage than some of its competitors.”

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