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Today’s phones take on a lot for us, including communication, GPS, gaming and more — even acting as a camera when we want to capture our adventures. The vast majority of us use our cellphones more than almost any other device we own, which is why it can be worth investing in a quality model that can handle all of those needs and whatever else you throw at it.
That said, despite how important it is to get a phone that meets all of your needs, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be spending $1,000 or more to get one of the latest devices from Samsung, Apple or Google. There are plenty of deals and discounts available that can help you get your hands on a new phone for less.
Over the past few years, carriers including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have become far more aggressive with deals for both new and existing customers as they continue to push their 5G networks. These days it’s not out of the ordinary to find deals that can score you a new high-end phone for free, though you often need to be on a higher-end 5G plan and agree to monthly bill credits over a 24- to 36-month period, which locks you into that service. If you cancel before then, you’re on the hook for the difference.
You can also save with unlocked phone deals with direct discounts at third-party retailers like Amazon and Best Buy or by trading in your old device directly to the manufacturer, meaning you have plenty of places to look for phone deals.
That’s why CNET is working with Navi to help cut through the confusion. Navi is an independent marketplace that aggregates information on service plans and phone deals to help consumers find the best choices and prices on the market. Below you’ll find deals for those who would rather pay outright for an unlocked phone as well as deals on phones for new and existing carrier customers who are adding lines, trading in phones and more.
Read more: Best Phone Plan Deals
Best unlocked phone deals right now
If you don’t want to deal with monthly bill credits and would prefer to own your phone outright, you can still save some money on your purchase by looking around a bit. There are a few places where you can buy unlocked phones at a discount, though you’ll want to confirm that they are truly unlocked and not tied to any carrier before ordering. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite unlocked phone deals below.
Best phone deals from carriers
Carrier contracts as we knew them may not be around anymore, but these newer phone deals from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and more are similar in many ways. Through monthly bill credits, you can get a phone for next to nothing in many cases. The stipulation is that you must remain a customer for a set length of time while you’re receiving the credits. Otherwise you’re responsible for the remaining costs and potentially more, depending on the carrier.
In addition, some carriers will only allow you to take advantage of these deals on specific plans, which are usually some of their more expensive 5G plans, so be sure to understand the monthly costs associated with switching before taking advantage of that “free phone” deal you see advertised.
Read more: Cheap Phone Plans, Compared
Do you get the best phone deals when you switch carriers?
In order to attract new customers, carriers often reserve their steepest discounts for switchers. That means you may find a more appealing phone deal if you consider moving carriers. It’s a straightforward process for individuals, but can be a little complicated for those with multiple lines. Ultimately, it’s worth shopping around when it comes time to upgrade your phone in case another offers some kind of switcher bonus or switcher-exclusive phone deal.
Unlocked vs. carrier: Which phone deals are the best for most people?
Whether you want to get your new phone on a carrier deal or unlocked will depend on your preferences and circumstances. For a lot of folks, being able to spread the cost of the phone over two or three years makes it much easier to upgrade to one of the best phones on the market. For others, being locked into a long-term plan is less ideal. While carriers often compete with each other for and offer some steep discounts or added freebies, manufacturers now tend to offer their own trade-in and financing programs to make it more affordable to upgrade without involving a carrier in the process.