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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.
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 of the 5G service from the major carriers and the latest 5G-compatible phones from Apple, Samsung, and other well-known brands.
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 the 5G cities and towns in its network (more than 1,400 at last count), the company provides a coverage map that you can search by entering your address.
T-Mobile includes access to its 5G network in all service plans. And the acquisition of Sprint boosted the company’s 5G footprint by adding midband-spectrum. The 5G service doesn’t quite reach everyone yet, but it does cover 8,300 cities and towns and has a presence in all 50 states. This map provides specific details.
This carrier operates a “nationwide” network—which operates on the slower but more reliable low-band frequencies—along with its Ultra Wideband 5G service, which uses faster millimeter waves. The nationwide network is now available in more than 1,800 communities. Millimeter wave coverage can be found in parts of dozens of major cities. (See coverage map.)
All Verizon service plans include access to the nationwide 5G network. But for the faster Ultra Wideband coverage, you have to sign up for a Play More, Do More, or Get More unlimited plan. Play More and Do More plans start at $90 for one line, while Get More wil cost you an additional $10 per month.
Apple’s first 5G iPhones arrived in October, and they perform 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 supersharp OLED displays.
But their middle-of-the-pack battery life doesn’t impress our testers.
Like the Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra from a year ago, the U.S. versions of Samsung’s latest flagship phones—the Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra—all come with the hardware required for 5G access.
Better yet, all three of the S21 phones cost $200 less than their 2020 predecessors. Beyond that, they don’t depart much from those earlier models, but they still boast great cameras, displays, and processors, putting them among the top models in CR’s smartphone ratings.
On the even less expensive side, 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.
Samsung also just launched new versions of some of these phones. The Galaxy A32 5G, A42 5G, and A52 5G all went on sale in April. We didn’t test the A32, but the A42 and A52 both perform reasonably well in our labs, especially for budget models, receiving top scores for battery life.
There’s also the Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Galaxy Z Fold2, which add 5G connectivity to Samsung’s foldable phones. And for $700, you can buy the new Galaxy S20 FE, a sort of pared-down version of the Galaxy S20.
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 ultrawide cameras, and 128 gigabytes 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. Though it earns Very Good ratings overall, it doesn’t score high enough in our testing to land among the top performers in our ratings.
The 4a 5G, which we haven’t tested, has a 6.2-inch display and a shell made of plastic, and the older and less advanced Gorilla Glass 3.
LG announced in April that it would be shuttering its struggling smartphone division later this year. But the company has pledged to support the phones below (and others) with the next three versions of the Android operating system.
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 receive ratings of Very Good, and the battery lasts an impressive 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 receives 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. But that phone doesn’t score high enough in our testing to receive CR’s recommendation.
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 earns a Very Good rating from our testers. The same goes for the still-image quality and video quality of the rear cameras.
The Motorola One 5G Ace, which costs $380, is most notable for its 41-hour battery life. The display receives a Very Good rating, but the cameras get just a Good score for still photos, selfies, and video.
The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is one of our top-rated phones. The battery lasts an exceptional 41.5 hours in our testing, but the cameras don’t do as well as those of other top-rated models.
The company recently launched new flagship phones: the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The 9 actually did better in our testing than the slightly fancier 9 Pro, mainly because it scored better when it came to battery life. The 9 lasted a decent 33 hours in our testing, while the 9 Pro logged just 25 hours.
On the flip side, the 9 Pro features slightly better cameras, which OnePlus at least partly credits to the new three-year partnership it recently formed with the photography company Hasselblad.
And if you're on a budget, the OnePlus Nord N200 will be available for $240 starting on June 25. It adds 5G connectivity to last year's also budget-friendly Nord N100.
The Xperia 1 II, which costs $1,200, doesn’t rise to the level of Samsung’s top 5G phones, but it earns a Very Good rating overall from our testers. It has a great 6.5-inch OLED display and rear cameras that receive Very Good scores for still-image quality and video quality.
The Xperia 5 II, which sells for $900 unlocked, offers low- and midband 5G connectivity and receives top scores for performance, display, battery and charging, and durability. The battery logs 45 hours in our testing, easily making it one of the longest-lasting phones in our ratings.