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The best 5G phones in 2021

best 5g phones
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The best 5G phones come in at all price ranges now, thanks to technology innovations. This list almost always include the best phones from top phone makers, though. But the real story is that less expensive devices now routinely support 5G, too. 

Does that mean this is now the time to make your next phone a 5G-ready device? In many ways, you don't have much of a choice — most phones at different prices include 5G whether you ask for it or not. Buy a phone, and you'll almost certainly have a 5G model to choose from.

The real question is what to expect from the best 5G phones once you've got one to call your own. You'll see faster speeds, certainly, if not as fast as what 5G proponents were touting back before 5G networks came online in 2019. Check out our 5G guide to see when 5G is coming to you.

Then again, our favorite 5G phones offer more than just speedier downloads. The best 5G phones feature outstanding cameras, big displays and super-sized batteries. 

Samsung and Google have expanded the pool of 5G phones, and the new iPhone 13 lineup from Apple adds four more models to the mix. Expect our iPhone 13 impressions to come soon, but until then, these are the best 5G phones you can get right now.

What are the best 5G phones?

Right now the Phone 12 Pro Max is the best 5G phone, thanks to its immersive screen and the best battery life of any iPhone 12 model. But it's being replaced in the iPhone lineup by the iPhone 13 Pro Max, so expect a shake-up in our rankings. That goes for the lower-cost iPhone 12 models, too.

If you prefer Android to iOS devices, we'd recommend either the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Both phones work with every kind of 5G network and sport big OLED displays. The S21 Ultra fares a little better on our battery test, though. Other Samsung flagships, including the Galaxy S21 Plus, offer 5G compatibility for less than $1,000.

If you want one of the best performing cameras on a 5G phone, consider the Google Pixel 5a, a new sub-$500 phone from Google that includes 5G connectivity. For an even lower price, look at the Galaxy A32 5G. Both the Pixel 5a 5G and Galaxy A32 5G are great back to school options, providing 5G speeds without breaking the bank. In the Pixel's case, you also get one of the best camera phones available.

The best 5G phones you can buy right now

best 5G phones: iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

1. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best 5G phone you can buy

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Processor: A14 Bionic
Size / weight: 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches / 8.03 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:53
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Immersive 6.7-inch display+Superior performance+Solid battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Charger sold separately-A bit heavy and bulky

Our favorite phone of the past year in the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards has also been the best 5G phone you can get, and that's not just because the iPhone 12 Pro Max supports a lot of 5G bands. You’ll be able to enjoy those speeds for a long time, thanks to this phone’s large battery. In fact, the iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted nearly 11 hours on our web surfing battery test over 5G. Apple’s Smart Data mode can also help you save some juice, as it can automatically toggle between 5G and 4G when you’re performing less intensive tasks (like streaming music with the screen off.) 

This big-screen phone impresses in other ways, including its brilliant and immersive 6.7-inch OLED display that’s ideal for video streaming and showing off the photos you take with the Pro Max’s stellar cameras. The main camera boasts large 1.7μm pixels for up to an 87% increase in low-light performance, and you get a 2.5x telephoto zoom for getting closer to your subject. Add in a tough Ceramic Shield display that can shrug off drops, a seamless MagSafe wireless charging system and a superfast A14 Bionic chip, and you have a truly excellent and future-proof 5G phone. 

Of course, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is making way for the iPhone 13 Pro Max. We'll be testing that newer model soon, but it has quite a high bar to clear if it wants to inherit the title of best 5G phone.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review.

Best 5g phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best 5G phone from Samsung

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.8 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 888
Size / weight: 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches / 8.08 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:25
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display+Good battery life+S Pen support
Reasons to avoid
-No charger in box-Lacks microSD card slot

The Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup is the first to feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip in the U.S., which means that any of the three new phones — the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra — support every 5G network available in this country. We favor the Galaxy S21 Ultra, not just because it costs $200 less than last year’s comparable S20 model, but because it also lasts a long time on a charge.

The Galaxy S21 held out for nearly 11.5 hours on our battery test, though that was with its screen set to a 60Hz refresh rate. Turning on the setting that lets the phone dynamically adjust its refresh rate does draw some power, but even with that mode turned on, the S21 Ultra still outlasted the average smartphone. That’s a good quality to have in a 5G phone, as is the S21 Ultra’s expansive screen and S Pen support.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.

best 5G phones: iPhone 12 Pro

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3. iPhone 12 Pro

A less expensive 5G phone from Apple

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.1 inches
Processor: A14 Bionic
Size / weight: 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches / 6.66 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:06
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Extensive 5G support+Best-in-class cameras+A14 Bionic chip blows away other phones
Reasons to avoid
-5G puts a hit on battery life-No charger included with the phone

Apple says it squeezed more 5G bands into last fall's iPhone models (like the iPhone 12 Pro) than any other phone out there. That allows the iPhone to work with 5G in most places, regardless of what kind of 5G network a wireless carrier has built. And that should also allow the iPhone 12 Pro to get the best of 5G going forward, making this an excellent option if you're looking for a 5G phone.

The 5G connectivity comes at a price, with the iPhone 12 Pro taking a hit on battery life when it connects to the faster network. (When we turned off 5G, the iPhone 12 lasted nearly 90 minutes longer on our battery test.) But Apple has added a number of other features that make this a very appealing 5G phone, from a powerful A14 processor that outperforms any chipset found in an Android phone to a gorgeous 6.1-inch OLED screen.

The iPhone 12 Pro also boasts features that make it a great phone overall, not just the best 5G phone. The phone's three rear cameras are augmented by a LiDAR sensor, producing some of the best shots we've seen from a smartphone. And the phone's new MagSafe charging system makes it easy to wirelessly power up the battery on your iPhone 12 Pro.

Like the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 Pro is being replaced by a new model. Look for our iPhone 13 Pro review soon.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review.

Best 5G Phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Great for 5G gaming

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.9 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 865 Plus
Size / weight: 6.48 x 3.04 x 0.32 inches / 7.33 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:15
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Streams Xbox games+Good battery life+Dynamic 120Hz display
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Large camera bump on the back

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra remains Samsung's most versatile big-screen phone, and that includes its approach to 5G. This 6.9-inch phablet works with every available 5G network, and its dynamic 120Hz display adjusts the refresh rate to squeeze more battery life while also delivering smoother scrolling and more immersive gaming.

It's the gaming aspect of the Note 20 Ultra that makes it one of the best 5G phones, and not just because it runs on a powerful Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra works with Microsoft's xCloud game streaming to let you play more than 100 Xbox games on your phone. With 5G connectivity, gameplay should be a delight.

You'll pay a bit more for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra than you would for some of Samsung's other 5G phones, like the Galaxy S20 Plus. Even the Galaxy S21 Ultra is cheaper at $1,199. But you'll find it's well worth the premium price, especially with Samsung skipping over a new Galaxy Note model in 2021.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best 5g phones Google Pixel 5a

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5. Google Pixel 5a

The best 5G camera phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.43 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 765G
Size / weight: 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches / 6.5 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:45
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Stunning display for price+Excellent wide/ultrawide cameras+IP67 water resistance
Reasons to avoid
-Older chipset-No U.K. availability

5G phones have fallen in price, so you'll find cheaper options than the $449 Pixel 5a. But you won't find many that handle mobile photography as well as Google's latest midrange phone.

Unlike the Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a, the Pixel 5a sports two rear cameras — a 16MP ultrawide lens and a 12.2MP main shooter. That gives the new phone added flexibility, and, when combined with Google's computational photography strengths, you can be assurred of getting some excellent photos from this sub-$500 phone.

The U.S. version of the Pixel 5a works with both sub-6GHz and mmWave-based 5G, so you should be able to use the phone on any network. And Google has included a beefy battery so you'll go longer between charges than you did with previous Pixel models.

Read our full Google Pixel 5a review.

best 5g phones: iPhone 12 mini

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6. iPhone 12 mini

The most compact 5G phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 5.4 inches
Processor: A14 Bionic
Size / weight: 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches / 4.76 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:28
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Perfect for small phone lovers+Capable dual cameras+Comprehensive 5G support
Reasons to avoid
-Shortest battery life of any iPhone 12 model-Only 64GB storage to start

A 5G phone doesn’t have to be humongous to house all the antennas needed to connect you to the next-generation network. The iPhone 12 mini features a compact 5.4-inch OLED panel, and even though the phone itself is actually smaller than Apple’s own iPhone SE, it can still connect to every type of 5G network — even Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G towers.

You’ll get Apple’s class-leading A14 Bionic processor with the iPhone 12 mini, as well as the same camera setup found in the iPhone 12. That means you can expect great pictures from Apple’s smallest iPhone. The battery inside the iPhone 12 mini is pretty taxed by 5G connectivity, but a relatively low starting price means you can experience 5G without having to pay up for the privilege. And that price has dropped to $599 now that Apple has introduced a new iPhone 13 mini model for $699.

Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.

best 5g phones iphone 12

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7. iPhone 12

A more affordable 5G iPhone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.1 inches
Processor: A14 Bionic
Size / weight: 5.78 x 2.81 x 0.29 inches / 5.78 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:25
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive 5G coverage+Excellent design with 6.1-inch screen+Impressive performance
Reasons to avoid
-Only 64GB of storage in base model-5G can impact battery life

If you don't want to pay up for a 5G phone, the iPhone 12 is an attractive proposition, especially with its price falling to $699 now that the $799 iPhone 13 has arrived. The reduced cost of the iPhone 12 is $300 less than what Apple charges for the iPhone 13 Pro. And even though Apple's new phones boast better specs, the fast A14 Bionic processor, 6.1-inch OLED screen and 5G connectivity on the iPhone 12 are nothing to dismiss.

5G connectivity puts a strain on the iPhone 12's battery, as we saw when we switched off 5G and saw battery life improve by nearly two hours on our battery test.  That's one area where the iPhone 13 figures to be an improvement, thanks to a larger battery. The iPhone 12 features a Smart Data Mode to intelligently switch between LTE and 5G depending on whether or not the device really needs the extra speed.

Read our full iPhone 12 review.

best 5g phones: OnePlus 9 Pro

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8. OnePlus 9 Pro

Fastest-charging 5G phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 888
Size and weight: 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.34 inches / 6.9 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:40
5G networks supported: T-Mobile, Verizon (low-band)
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful 120Hz display+Excellent performance+Crazy fast wired and wireless charging
Reasons to avoid
-Won't work with AT&T 5G

The OnePlus 9 Pro has two features that typically hamper a phone’s battery life — 5G connectivity and a display that can offer a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling and more immersive games. Both can consume a lot of battery power, but that wasn’t the case when we tested the OnePlus 9 Pro and its 4,500 mAh battery. The phone lasted more than 10.5 hours, even with its higher screen refresh rate turned on.

That’s because the OnePlus 9 Pro features a dynamically refreshing display that adjusts its speed all the way down to 1Hz for static activities, only hitting 120Hz when you benefit from a faster refreshing screen. And when it’s time to charge, the OnePlus 9 Pro sets the standard for speedy recharging, both wirelessly and with a wired connection.

A Snapdragon 888 chipset and plenty of RAM means the OnePlus 9 Pro can match any Android phone for performance. The phone is coming to T-Mobile, where it will work with the Uncarrier’s 5G network. Verizon also certified the OnePlus 9 Pro for its 5G network, too, with the phone able to use Verizon's nationwide and Ultra Wideband networks; the cheaper OnePlus 9 only works with nationwide 5G and not faster Ultra Wideband connections.

The OnePlus 9 Pro starts at $969, but currently the only version available in the U.S. is the $1,069 edition that packs in more RAM and storage (12GB/256GB) than the 8GB/128GB base model.

Read our full OnePlus 9 Pro review.

Best 5G phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

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9. Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

A great Samsung 5G phone for under $1,000

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.7 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 888
Size / weight: 6.36 x 2.98 x 0.31 inches / 7.05 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:41 (adaptive) / 9:53 (60Hz)
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Screen features 120Hz refresh rate+Impressive zoom feature+Supports all 5G network types+Beautiful design
Reasons to avoid
-So-so battery life

Released earlier this year, the Galaxy S21 Plus came along and surprised everyone. For $200 less than its predecessor, the S21 Plus checks a lot of the boxes. It's a big, beautiful phone with a gorgeous 120Hz display and the best Qualcomm processor yet, the Snapdragon 888.

Starting at $999 for the 128GB model, the Galaxy S21 Plus is a force to be reckoned with, even if it lacks some of the Galaxy S21 Ultra's big features. As a 5G phone, however, you have the latest Qualcomm X60 5G modem and you can access whatever 5G bands you need. Any of the three carriers will work, including Verizon's mmWave network.

If you want a smaller phone, the regular Galaxy S21 is also a great pick. It's basically the Galaxy S21 Plus in a more compact frame for $799. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review.

galaxy a32 5G review

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10. Galaxy A32 5G

The best budget 5G phone right now

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.5 inches
Processor: Dimensity 720
Size / weight: 6.46 x 3.00 x 0.36 inches / 7.23 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:39 (adaptive), 12:22 (60hz)
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Very low price+Four years of security patches+Great battery life+90Hz refresh rate
Reasons to avoid
-Subpar HD+ display

5G is available even below $300. One such device is the Galaxy A32 5G, a chunky phone that you can take to any carrier and get sub-6Ghz support. You can buy the Galaxy A32 through AT&T or T-Mobile, or bring an unlocked model to Verizon. And at $280, you might be tempted to do so.

If we had to lodge one major complaint against the Galaxy A32, we'd knock it for the subpar 720p LCD. At 6.5 inches, that's a low pixel density and you can visibly see it if you look close enough. But the two main cameras work great for something at this price point, much better than the A32's direct competitor, the OnePlus Nord N200 5G.

Grab the Galaxy A32 if you need the best cheap 5G phone around. It won't wow you at all, but it gets the job done.

Read our full Galaxy A32 5G review.

Best 5G phones: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

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11. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung's best midrange 5G phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.5 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 750G
Size / weight: 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches / 6.7 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:19
5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile
Reasons to buy
+120Hz display+Long battery life+Good main camera
Reasons to avoid
-Other cameras underperform-Display scratches easily

Samsung has updated its midrange Galaxy A lineup, highlighted by several 5G-ready devices that lower the cost of owning a 5G phone. Of these, the best option for most users is the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, which features a display capable of a 120Hz refresh rate. (You will have to manually set that feature.) The phone is a solid performer, and its main camera captures some compelling shots.

The 5G connectivity doesn't put too much of a hit on battery life, as the Galaxy A52 5G lasted more than 12 hours on our batter test. While that result came with the screen's refresh rate at 60Hz, even turning on the faster refreshing display gave us 10-hour-plus battery life — a more than acceptable result.

Verizon customers will want to turn to the Galaxy A42 5G, which can work with that carrier's mmWave-base towers. But if you're on AT&T and T-Mobile, the Galaxy A52 5G offers a way to join the 5G crowd without spending too much on your phone.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review.

best 5g phones: TCL 10 5G UW

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12. TCL 10 5G UW

An inexpensive 5G phone

Specifications
Screen Size: 6.53 inches
Processor: Snapdragon 765G
Size / weight: 6.4 x 3 x 0.37 inches / 7.4ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:07
5G networks supported: Verizon
Reasons to buy
+Low price+Long battery life+Decent LCD screen
Reasons to avoid
-Limited to Verizon-Display is dim

As good as the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is, its 5G modem doesn't work with faster millimeter wave 5G. To enjoy those faster speeds, you'll need another bargain 5G contender — the TCL 10 5G UW. This phone costs less than $400, but doesn't skimp too much in the areas that matter to smartphone users.

For one thing, the phone's 4,500 mAh battery lasts a long time — more than 11 hours on our surfing test. The Snapdragon 765G chipset delivers comparable performance to 5G phones that cost hundreds of dollars more, and the 6.53-inch display gorgeous (even if it is a little dim).

The TCL 10 5G UW is limited to Verizon's 5G network, so you'll have to look elsewhere if you prefer AT&T or T-Mobile. But otherwise, this is the phone to get if you want the fastest 5G without having to pay too much for it.

Read our full TCL 10 5G UW review.

How to choose the best 5G phone for you

When looking for a 5G phone, you'll want to consider which wireless carrier will be providing your cell phone service. Different service providers are taking different approaches to their 5G rollouts.

Verizon, for example, has placed an emphasis on mmWave-based technology at the beginning, so if you plan on getting your phone service from Big Red, you had best make sure that your 5G phone is capable of connecting to mmWave towers. Likewise, while T-Mobile and AT&T have a few mmWave deployments, the vast majority of their network relies on sub-6GHz technology for initial coverage. That's not as fast as mmWave, but it covers a wider area. 

OpenSignal currently ranks T-Mobile as the best 5G network, though not every third-part testing firm agrees. Global Wireless Solutions ranks AT&T as the best 5G network, while RootMetrics praises AT&T's speed and T-Mobile's 5G availability.

Apart from what 5G networks a phone supports, the criteria for picking a 5G phone is about the same as it would be for any handset. Consider the processor, screen size, cameras and other features. Battery is especially important — 5G can draw some serious power, and you'll want a phone that's able to handle the added demands on its battery.

Price remains an important distinguishing factor, and it's going to get more so as lower-cost 5G phones roll out later this year. In 2019, you had to pay anywhere from $700 to $1,200 for a flagship 5G phone. Even with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 costing $1,700 — a price that has more to do with its foldable design than its 5G support — the price range for 5G phones has begun to fall with more 5G models available for $500 or less.

How we test 5G phones

To test phones with 5G connectivity, we take them out into the field to measure download speeds with the Speedtest.net app. When possible, we compare that speed to a comparable phone on the same wireless network to try and gauge the improvement that 5G has to offer. We also take note of how the phone performs when 5G coverage isn't available.

Because so much of that 5G performance hinges on the wireless network and not the phone itself, though, we give greater weight to the criteria by which we judge all phones. We run an array of benchmarks on every phone — both synthetic benchmarks as well as real-world tests like transcoding a 4K video to 1080p and timing how long it takes. Our lab also measures the brightness and color accuracy of each phone's display. Our proprietary battery test determines longevity on a charge by endlessly streaming web pages over an LTE network; we then recharge the tested phones to see how quickly they charge in 15-minute intervals.

To measure camera performance, we shoot images under a variety of conditions, comparing the results to photos produced by cameras in the same price range.

For 5G phones, we also consider the price of the device compared to comparable LTE handsets.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter.

  • ashleydent
    I like the Samsung Galaxy S20 plus, but I am also thinking that 4 G phones could not work properly. There is network issue almost all the time. What good 5G will do?
    Reply