The Best 5G Phone for You

·9 min read

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If you’re in the market for a new phone, this is a good time to consider 5G. After years of buzz, we’re getting our first real glimpse at what the new wireless technology can do.

It might not be widely available where you live, but the major carriers have been steadily expanding their 5G networks over the past year, slowly turning what once was spotty connectivity into something resembling national coverage.

The choice of 5G-compatible phones is wider now, too. Bare-bones models start as low as $300, with high-end options stretching beyond $1,000 because of cutting-edge cameras and OLED displays.

According to 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 before you crack open your wallet for a new 5G phone, make sure it includes the hardware required to operate on your carrier’s 5G network, because not all 5G signals are the same.

As we witnessed firsthand in this early look at 5G technology, the high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) signals are much faster than those on 4G networks, but they don’t travel as far as signals sent over the lower bands of 5G. They don’t have much success penetrating walls, buses, and throngs of pedestrians, either.

Conversely, midband and low-band 5G frequencies are slower but more reliable.

In the end, you want a phone that works with the full range of 5G signals. Though most of the new phones on the market do, it’s best to double-check before buying a model that’s a year or two old.

Here’s a quick look at the 5G smartphones currently on the market.

Apple

iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max
Pricing:
12 Mini (64 gigabytes), $700; 12 (64GB), $800; 12 Pro (128GB), $1,000; and 12 Pro Max (128GB), $1,100.

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: All four phones perform very well in our testing, with the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max landing in the top 10 of our smartphone ratings (available to members).

They all feature cameras that rank among the best on the market and supersharp OLED displays. On the flip side, the phones lag behind other premium models when it comes to battery life, which pulls down their Overall Scores.

Samsung

Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra 5G
Pricing: S21, $800; S21+, $1,000; and S21 Ultra, $1,200 (all 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These phones are each priced $200 cheaper than their predecessors. And all three receive Excellent ratings overall, particularly shining when it comes to their displays and performance.

The cameras receive Very Good ratings across the board. And with the superpremium S21 Ultra, you get a fourth rear camera: a 3x telephoto lens on top of the wide, ultrawide, and 10x zoom cameras on last year’s model.

Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra
Pricing: Note20, $1,000, and Note20 Ultra, $1,300 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These are two of the top models in our ratings. They feature slightly bigger and brighter displays, along with improved battery life, when compared with the 2019 versions.

In our testing, the Note20 lasted 34 hours on a single charge and the Note20 Ultra made it 36.5 hours. And the cameras on both are top-notch. The Note20 includes a 3x camera, and the Note20 Ultra sports a camera with a 5x lens.

Galaxy Z Fold2 5G and Z Flip 5G
Pricing: Z Fold2 5G, $1,800, and Z Flip 5G, $1,200 (both 256 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These are 5G-ready updates of Samsung’s foldable phones.

The Z Flip 5G performs a bit better than the original in our testing. The battery lasted 27.5 hours, an increase of a full 10 hours. But the cameras are still a weak point, particularly the rear setup, which received just a Good rating for still-image quality.

The Fold2 5G receives Very Good ratings for both rear still-image and video quality. And the battery lasted a decent 29 hours.

Galaxy A52 5G, A42 5G, and S20 FE
Pricing: A52, $500; A42, $400; and S20 FE, $700 (all 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: They’re not superpremium models, but all three of these phones score fairly well in our testing.

Each boasts a high-quality OLED display and great battery life. The S20 FE made it 38 hours in our testing; the A52 5G, 45 hours; and the A42, 49 hours.

The phones don’t have the fancy camera setups you’d get with a premium model, though. The rear cameras on the FE receive Very Good ratings, and those on the A52 and A42 earn just Good ratings.

Google

Pixel 4a (5G) and 5
Pricing:
Pixel 4a (5G), $500, and Pixel 5, $700 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: The Pixel 5 would have scored significantly better in our testing had it survived our tumble test. But the phone’s display was broken after the equivalent of just 50 drops.

That, combined with the decent but not spectacular battery life of 34 hours, dropped the phone to the middle of our rankings.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a (5G), which we haven’t tested, offers 5G at a lower price. Like the Pixel 5, it boasts an OLED display, along with wide and ultrawide rear cameras.

But the Pixel 5 features a slightly larger battery and an aluminum and Gorilla Glass 6 construction. It’s also water- and dust-resistant, and capable of wireless charging. By comparison, the 4a (5G) is made of plastic and the older, less advanced Gorilla Glass 3.

OnePlus

9 and 9 Pro
Pricing:
9, $730, and 9 Pro, $1,070 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: T-Mobile, plus unlocked. The phones also currently work on Verizon’s 4G—but not 5G—network, though that could change.

Test results: 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 partially credits to the new three-year partnership it recently formed with the photography company Hasselblad.

8 and 8 Pro
Pricing:
8, $700, and 8 Pro, $900 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: T-Mobile and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: The OnePlus 8 Pro received Excellent scores for display and performance, but its camera test scores fall short of those for other top models.

The lower-priced OnePlus 8 also performs well in our testing. In the battery life trials, it scores better than the 8 Pro despite its slightly smaller size, lasting 38 hours compared with the 8 Pro’s 34 hours.

LG

V60 ThinQ 5G
Pricing:
$650 (128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: This smartphone has a 6.8-inch display, the ability to shoot video in 8K, and an optional attachable dual screen.

The rear cameras receive Very Good ratings, and the battery lasted an industry-leading 45 hours in our testing.

But LG announced in April that it's shuttering its struggling smartphone division later this year. Though the company has pledged to support the V60 and other premium releases with the next three versions of the Android operating system, you might want to buy something else if you're looking to make a more long-term investment.

Velvet 5G
Pricing: $600 (128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Test results: It’s not one of our top-rated models, but the Velvet is a decent 5G phone for the price.

You get a 6.8-inch OLED display, and the triple-camera setup on the back receives Very Good ratings from our testers for still-image and video quality. The phone is both wireless-charge- and quick-charge-compatible, and the battery lasted an exceptional 40 hours in our testing.

Motorola

Edge
Pricing: $500 (256 gigabytes).

Carriers: Unlocked.

Test results: Our testers give the Edge’s rear cameras Very Good ratings for still-image and video quality. And the battery lasted a respectable 34 hours in our labs. But after 50 drops in our tumbler, the phone’s display no longer worked.

Verizon sells a similar model called the Motorola Edge+, which we haven’t tested. That phone costs about $1,000 and features a larger battery.

One 5G Ace
Pricing: $380 (128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T and T-Mobile, plus unlocked.

Test results: The most notable attributes of this phone are a big battery and a bargain price. But, overall, it’s one of the lowest-scoring models in our ratings.

The One 5G Ace received a Very Good rating for its display, and its battery lasted 41 hours in our testing. But the cameras received just Good ratings for still photos, selfies, and video.

Sony

Xperia 1 II
Pricing:
$1,200 (256 gigabytes).

Carriers: Unlocked.

Test results: A premium-priced 5G phone from Sony? That’s right, and it performed fairly well in our ratings.

It doesn’t rise to the level of Samsung’s top 5G phones, but the Xperia 1 II does receive a Very Good Overall Score. It has a great 6.5-inch OLED display and rear cameras that earn Very Good ratings for still-image and video quality.

Xperia 5 II
Pricing:
$900.

Carriers: Unlocked.

Test results: This phone, which offers low- and mid-band 5G connectivity, received top marks for performance, display, battery and charging, and durability. The battery powered on for 45 hours in our testing, easily making it one of the longest-lasting phones in our ratings.

But the quality of both the still and video images taken with the cameras didn’t impress our testers. The overall performance of the cameras is middle of the pack.

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