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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 of the major U.S. carriers now have some form of consumer 5G service up and running. And smartphone makers continue to announce new devices.
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 have made tremendous progress in recent months, they still have a long way to go to reach those lofty goals.
Here’s a rundown on the 5G service of the major carriers and the latest 5G-compatible phones.
AT&T now includes 5G service in all of its unlimited data plans. And consumers who use the company's budget-priced Cricket Wireless service can get 5G access, too, provided they have a compatible phone and plan.
Rather than listing all of the 5G markets in its network (close to 400 at last count), the company uses a coverage map that you can search by entering your address.
Sprint and T-Mobile
Now that they’ve officially merged, the two carriers are in the process of combining their 5G networks. That means the midband-spectrum 5G service offered by Sprint gets added to the "nationwide network" first launched by T-Mobile in December 2019.
The T-Mobile network still leaves many cities without 5G coverage but now has a presence in all 50 states. This map provides specific details.
This carrier launched its "nationwide" network—which operates on the slower but more reliable low-band frequencies—this fall. Meanwhile, its Ultra Wideband 5G service, which uses faster millimeter waves, is available in some markets, with the company pledging to cover parts of 60 cities by the end of this year. (See coverage map.)
To access either kind of Verizon 5G service, you have to sign up for a Play More, Do More, or Get More unlimited plan. Each start at $80 for one line.
Apple’s first 5G iPhones arrived in October and they performed pretty well in our testing. The iPhone 12 ($800) and 12 Pro ($1,000) have some of the best smartphone cameras on the market. And both sport super-sharp OLED displays.
But their middle-of-the-pack battery life didn’t impress our testers.
Looking for something a little bigger or smaller? Preorders for the iPhone 12 Mini ($700) and 12 Pro Max ($1,100) are underway. Both of those phones will also come standard with 5G.
The latest Pixel phones also come with the hardware required for access to 5G. The Pixel 5 ($700) and 4a 5G ($500) feature OLED displays, wide and ultra-wide cameras, and 128GB of storage.
So how are they different? The Pixel 5 features a 6-inch display, a slightly larger battery, and aluminum and Gorilla Glass 6 construction. It’s water- and dust-resistant, and capable of wireless charging.
The 4a 5G has a 6.2-inch display and a shell made of plastic and the older and less advanced Gorilla Glass 3. We hope to have test results for both models very soon.
All five phones, which cost $1,000 or more, feature slightly larger displays, new optical zoom lenses, and larger batteries. They rank among the top models in CR's smartphone ratings.
On the less expensive side of the spectrum, the 5G version of the Galaxy A71 starts at $600. It includes a 6.7-inch OLED display, multiple rear cameras, and a generous 4,500-milliamp-hour battery. The slightly less fancy Galaxy A51 5G costs $100 less.
There's also the Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Galaxy Z Fold2, which add 5G connectivity to Samsung's previously launched pair of foldable phones. And for $700, you can buy the new Galaxy S20 FE, a sort of pared-down version of the Galaxy S20.
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G, which sells for about $900, has a 6.8-inch display, can shoot video in 8K, and features an optional attachable dual screen. The rear cameras received ratings of Very Good, and the battery lasted an industry-leading 45 hours in our testing.
The LG Velvet costs $600. It features a 6.8-inch OLED display and a triple rear-camera setup that received ratings of Very Good from our testers. It's both wireless and quick-charge-compatible.
LG also sells the $1,000 Wing, which allows you to rotate the main display to create a T-shaped gimbal for playing games or shooting video, and the K92 5G, which AT&T sells for $400. We have yet to test those phones.
The Motorola Edge can be purchased for $700. It's unlocked, which means it can be used on any service. The 6.7-inch display is rated Very Good by our testers. The same goes for the still-image quality and video quality of the rear cameras.
Verizon also sells the slightly fancier Motorola Edge+, which we haven’t tested. It costs about $1,000.
The Moto Z4—which went on sale last June—requires a $350 Mod attachment (sold separately) for 5G connectivity. The $500 phone boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display and an ample 3600-mAh battery.
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.
OnePlus also sells an 8 Pro version that starts at $900. That phone features a quad-camera setup that includes a 48-megapixel main camera and another with a 3x optical zoom lens.
The Xperia 1 II, which costs $1,200, doesn’t rise to the level of Samsung’s top 5G phones, but it rated Very Good overall, according to our testers. It has a great 6.5-inch OLED display and rear cameras that rated Very Good for still-image and video quality.