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The speedy 5G network service we’ve been hearing about hasn’t quite swept the nation, but it’s expanding by the month.
All the major U.S. carriers now have some form of consumer 5G service up and running. And smartphone makers continue to announce new devices.
Samsung’s three new flagship Galaxy S20 phones come standard with 5G, as does LG’s V60 ThinQ 5G. And while those are premium phones with prices to match, manufacturers are set to roll out more affordable models, too, including some that will cost less than $500, partly thanks to new, cheaper 5G chips.
According to telecommunications experts, 5G speeds—five times faster than 4G connections at peak performance—will eventually allow users to download a movie in just 5 seconds.
The technology will also pave the way for the instantaneous response times required to safely perform robotic surgery and operate self-driving cars that communicate with other vehicles and road infrastructure.
But while experts say 5G networks made tremendous progress in 2019, they still have a long way to go to reach those lofty goals. And that’s what cell service in 2020 is all about.
“We’re in a phase right now where there’s a lot of hype around 5G,” says Phil Solis, a tech analyst for the market research firm IDC. “But the reality doesn’t match the hype just yet.”
Here’s a rundown on the 5G service of the major carriers and the latest 5G-compatible phones.
AT&T’s consumer network now covers 327 markets across the country, including smaller cities like Kalamazoo, Mich.; Worth, Ga.; and Erie, Pa.
The company says it will soon offer 5G service to customers of its budget-priced Cricket Wireless subsidiary with compatible phones and plans.
Though AT&T says it won’t charge extra for 5G service, you have to sign up for the Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite plans to access it.
Phone options: AT&T currently sells all three of the Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, along with the Galaxy Note10+ 5G and LG V60 ThinQ 5G.
Sprint and T-Mobile
Now that they’ve officially merged, these two carriers are in the process of combining their 5G networks. That means the midband spectrum 5G service Sprint offers gets added to the existing millimeter-wave coverage of the “nationwide network” T-Mobile launched in December 2019. While the network still leaves many cities without 5G coverage, it expanded in June to Anchorage, Alaska, giving the service a foothold in all 50 states.
Sprint is still offering its own service plans, including Unlimited Premium, the only one that includes 5G service. At $85 for one line, it’s the brand’s most expensive option. By comparison, all of T-Mobile’s existing plans include 5G.
Phone options: Sprint and T-Mobile currently carry the trio of Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, and those are the only models that work on both the low- and midband 5G spectrum. T-Mobile also sells the LG V60, OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren, and OnePlus 8.
The carrier’s Ultra Wideband 5G service has officially started in parts of 35 markets across the country, including Chicago; Miami; Little Rock, Ark.; and Sioux Falls, S.D.
To get it, you have to sign up for a Play More, Do More, or Get More unlimited plan; these plans start at $80 for one line.
Phone options: Verizon currently carries the Samsung Galaxy S20+, S20 Ultra, and Note10+ 5G, along with the LG V60, Motorola Edge+, Motorola Moto Z4, and OnePlus 8.
The phones, which start at $1,000 for an S20, feature slightly larger displays, new optical zoom lenses, and larger batteries. And they're some of the top-ranked models in CR's smartphone ratings.
The Note10+ 5G, which launched in August 2019, is still being sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Starting at $1,300, it features a 6.8-inch display and the Note line’s trademark stylus.
On the less expensive side of the spectrum, the 5G version of the Galaxy A71, which starts at $600, will be available for preorder beginning June 19. The phone officially goes on sale July 10.
The A71 will include a 6.7-inch OLED display, multiple rear cameras, and a 4,500-milliamp-hour battery.
A 5G version of the Galaxy A51, which will start at $500, is also set to go on sale later this year.
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G, about $900, is available through AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
It has a 6.8-inch display, can shoot video in 8K, and features an optional attachable dual screen. In our ratings, the model ranks about the same as last year's LG V50 ThinQ 5G.
The rear cameras received Very Good ratings, while the battery lasted an industry leading 45 hours in our testing.
To be compatible with 5G, the Moto Z4—which went on sale through Verizon last June—requires a $350 Mod attachment that’s sold separately.
The $500 phone boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display and an ample 3600-mAh battery.
Verizon also is selling the Motorola Edge+, which launched this spring. The phone, which we haven’t tested, costs about $1,000 and boasts a 6.7-inch OLED display.
Like Samsung’s latest 5G phones, it works with Verizon’s Ultra-Wideband network.
Both T-Mobile and Verizon sell versions of the OnePlus 8, which launched in late April and starts at $700.
The 8 includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor (also found in the Samsung Galaxy S20 phones) and a 6.6-inch display. In our testing, the phone's rear camera received a Good rating when it comes to still images, scoring well below other premium models. But for video- and selfie-camera quality, the model received Very Good ratings.
OnePlus also sells an 8 Pro version that starts at $900, but it's been in short supply recently. That phone features a quad-camera setup that includes a 48-megapixel main camera and another with a 3x optical zoom lens. The device is powered by a 4510-mAh battery.
T-Mobile also offers the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren, which CR hasn’t tested.
During the CES trade show in January, TCL, known best for TVs, announced its first 5G smartphone: the TCL 10 5G. The model, which will cost less than $500, is slated to reach the U.S. around September.
Touted by TCL as “the people’s 5G phone,” the 10 5G will be powered by Qualcomm’s new 7-Series 5G chip, which is geared toward lower-priced 5G devices. The model also will have four rear cameras and a high-quality LCD display.
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