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The best 5G phones in 2021

best 5g phones
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The best 5G phones are ready to take advantage of the 5G networks that have been expanding across the country since 2019. With Apple joining other phone makers in offering 5G-ready devices, 5G seems more real than ever in 2021.

So is now the right time to make sure your next smartphone can connect to 5G? You can certainly enjoy blazing speeds, but only in places with 5G coverage. 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. That's no surprise really, since many of these phones are really just the best phones overall, only with 5G modems included.

Price has become more of a consideration, though, as phone makers start to offer less expensive handsets that can work on 5G. These devices don't have the premium features found in flagship phones, but they also won't put a $1,000 dent in your wallet. We also expect prices on 5G phones to drop further this year, as cheaper 5G-enabled chipsets become available.

In fact, the number of 5G phones overall is about to expand even further as we get closer to Google taking the wraps off the Pixel 5a — possibly as soon as this month. After the next Pixel, we're expecting a variety of models at a wide range of prices throughout the rest of 2021. Here are the best 5G phones you can get right now.

What are the best 5G phones?

Now that we've tested all of Apple's new 5G phones as well as the new Galaxy S21 models, we think the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best 5G phone. Not only does it offer an immersive screen, it turned in the best battery life of any iPhone 12 model in our testing.

We also like the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12, which offers many of the Pro Max's great features including extensive 5G support while also costing less. We're also impressed that Apple managed to include 5G support with the compact iPhone 12 mini.

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 4a 5G. Meanwhile, both the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and TCL 10 5G UW are duking it out for the title of the best 5G phone for people who don't want to spend a lot of money. 

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

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

Immersive 6.7-inch display
Superior performance
Solid battery life
Charger sold separately
A bit heavy and bulky

The iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn’t just have the most 5G bands of any phone. 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 is the best 5G phone you can buy period. 

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. 

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review.

Best 5g phones: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The best 5G phone from Samsung

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

Dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display
Good battery life
S Pen support
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

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

Extensive 5G support
Best-in-class cameras
A14 Bionic chip blows away other phones
5G puts a hit on battery life
No charger included with the phone

Apple says it's squeezed more 5G bands into its latest 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.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review.

Best 5G Phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

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4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Great for 5G gaming

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

Streams Xbox games
Good battery life
Dynamic 120Hz display
Expensive
Large camera bump on the back

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is currently 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 new Galaxy S21 Ultra is cheaper at $1,199. But you'll find it's well worth the premium price.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.

best 5g phones: iPhone 12 mini

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5. iPhone 12 mini

The most compact 5G phone

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

Perfect for small phone lovers
Capable dual cameras
Comprehensive 5G support
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 the relatively low $699 starting price means you can experience 5G without having to pay up for the privilege. 

Read our full iPhone 12 mini review.

best 5g phones iphone 12

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6. iPhone 12

A more affordable 5G phone

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

Comprehensive 5G coverage
Excellent design with 6.1-inch screen
Impressive performance
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, costing $799. That's $200 less than the iPhone 12 Pro, though you're still getting many of the features that make Apple's Pro model so appealing — a fast A14 Bionic processor, a 6.1-inch OLED screen and 5G connectivity with just about any network you can think of.

As with the iPhone 12 Pro, 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. 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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7. OnePlus 9 Pro

Best 5G phone with a dynamic display

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)

Beautiful 120Hz display
Excellent performance
Crazy fast wired and wireless charging
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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8. Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

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

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

Screen features 120Hz refresh rate
Impressive zoom feature
Supports all 5G network types
Beautiful design
So-so battery life

Replacing the Galaxy S20 Plus, 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.

best 5g phones: OnePlus Nord N10 5G

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9. OnePlus Nord N10 5G

The cheapest 5G phone right now

Screen Size: 6.49 inches | Processor: Snapdragon 690 | Size / weight: 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.35 inches / 6.7 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:48 | 5G networks supported: T-Mobile

90Hz display
Long battery life
5G device for less than $300
Monochrome and macro lenses don’t impress
So-so design

Don't let the fact that the OnePlus Nord N10 5G isn't as powerful as the original OnePlus Nord dissuade you from considering this inexpensive 5G phone. The N10 5G — the first model in OnePlus' new budget Nord lineup to reach the U.S. — offers decent performance for a Snapdragon 690-powered phone and outstanding battery life, having lasted nearly 12 hours on our battery test. The phone charges up quickly, too, thanks to OnePlus' Warp Charge 30T technology. And the screen features a 90Hz refresh rate — a feature normally reserved for much more expensive phones.

All of that comes in a handset that costs $299, which undercuts the price of all the other 5G phones we've tested. While you'll make some compromises with cameras and design, if you've been mulling the leap to 5G, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is currently the cheapest way to experience the latest connectivity standard.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G review.

Best 5G phones: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

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10. Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung's best midrange 5G phone

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

120Hz display
Long battery life
Good main camera
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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11. TCL 10 5G UW

An inexpensive 5G phone

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

Low price
Long battery life
Decent LCD screen
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.

Best 5G phones: Pixel 4a 5G

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12. Google Pixel 4a 5G

Best 5G phone for photos

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Processor: Snapdragon 765G | Size / weight: 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches / 5.9 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:13 | 5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon

Big, colorful screen
Excellent cameras
Sub-$500 starting price
Verizon version costs more
Subpar battery life

As solid a 5G phone as the Pixel 5 is, the Pixel 4a 5G is every bit as good. No, you don't get the 90Hz refresh rate found on the Pixel 5's display, but for the features that matter like top-performing cameras, the Pixel 4a 5G matches Google's flagship while costing $200 less. The only reason to hold off on buying is that the Pixel 5a is expected soon, and it could include 5G compatibility also.

The Pixel 4a 5G's cameras are exactly the same as the 12MP main shooter and 16MP ultrawide angle lens found on the Pixel 5. Even better, the software is the same, too, so you'll get the AI-powered software features that set Google phones apart from the crowd.

While the Pixel 4a 5G works with every 5G network, know that you'll need to pay $100 extra for the version that works with Verizon's high-speed 5G towers. Even then, this is a bargain of a 5G device.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a 5G 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. An OpenSignal report on 5G network performance found that Verizon had the fastest 5G speeds, but the lowest 5G availability. T-Mobile's 5G reach is the most extensive, though its speeds are only slightly faster than LTE.

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 $850 to $1,299 for a 5G phone. Even with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing $2,000 — a price that has more to do with its foldable design than its 5G support — the price range for 5G phones has begun to creep down a little, led by the $699 OnePlus 8. We're expecting to see more 5G phones for less than $500 as devices make use of Qualcomm's lower-cost Snapdragon 7 and 6 series chipsets that now include 5G modems.

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.

  • 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