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Top 4 ‘unlocked’ phones that let you choose your carrier

You’re no longer restricted to a specific service provider if you choose an “unlocked” phone. This new generation of Android products lets users bypass carrier overlords and talk, text and browse nearly anywhere.

The other benefit of unlocked phones is that travelers can pick up prepaid plans as needed. Still, each phone has its own personality. See which one might be right for you.

1. HTC One M8 Google Play Edition

CNET rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (Outstanding)

The good: The HTC One M8 Google Play Edition pairs HTC’s excellent 2014 aluminum superphone – with its brilliant 5-inch screen and top-notch sound – with a pure, Nexus-style Android KitKat interface that’s free of carrier bloatware. (In case you’re not among the 1 billion-plus Android mobile users, you might not know that each operating system update is named for a dessert. Cupcake 1.5 was an early version. KitKat is 4.4.)

The bad: No carrier subsidy means you’ll be paying full price for this beauty. The M8 lags behind the Galaxy S5 on a few points: It’s got a nonremovable battery, no water resistance and photos that aren’t quite as sharp as you’d like.

The cost: $699 to $795.

The bottom line: The HTC One M8 Google Play Edition will fulfill the dreams of Android fanatics seeking to pair top-notch hardware with a Nexus-style KitKat experience, as long as they’re willing to pay a premium.

2. Google Nexus 5

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The Google Nexus 5 has LTE for multiple carriers, a sleek and solid build, and an excellent price. It makes crystal-clear calls, battery life is long and integration of Google Now is deep and wide.

The bad: The Nexus 5’s screen is dimmer than its competitors’ and its camera struggles under auto settings. While an important OS update, Android 4.4 KitKat is more conceptual than feature-rich.

The cost: $150 to $450.

The bottom line: Strong performance, high-end specs, and an ultra-affordable price made the Google Nexus 5 at the time of its release not just the best unlocked phone on the market, but the best Nexus phone by far.

3. Motorola Moto G

CNET rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (Very good)

The good: The Motorola Moto G is extremely affordable, it’s unlocked, and it runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system. The phone is compact and its premium build quality belies its low price. The Moto G’s speakers give lots of volume.

The bad: The processor is slow and the phone comes with a maximum of 16GB of storage and no LTE. The phone’s screen is dim and lacks contrast and vivid colors. The Moto G’s camera takes blurry photos without much detail.

The cost: $90 to $179.

The bottom line: You can’t beat the price of the Moto G, but the more expensive and more powerful Nexus 5 is a shrewder unlocked Android option.

4. Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition offers users the most powerful hardware specs of any Android phone without any carrier bloatware, and with an elegantly simple Jelly Bean user interface.

The bad: Google’s Galaxy S4 variant strips away a lot of Samsung’s neat software and photo features, and it comes with a steep price.

The cost: $649.

The bottom line: Unless you’re an Android enthusiast or demand total freedom from carriers, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition isn’t worth the hefty price.