For more than a year, we've been hearing a lot about what 5G networks can deliver in terms of faster speed and lower latency. And now, with every major U.S. carrier having launched 5G in some form, the attention has turned to phones that can take advantage of these new networks.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 processor, which powers this year's flagship Android devices, is paired with the Qualcomm X55 modem, which can connect to 5G, 4G and other networks. This same modem (or similar) is expected to power the iPhone 12's 5G connection.
While 2019 may have been billed as the year of 5G, the truth is we only saw a few phones that have demonstrated how 5G is faster than 4G. That figures to change this year, not only because of the Snapdragon 865, but also the Snapdragon 765, which sports an integrated 5G modem and is expected to power lower-cost handsets than the $1,000-plus models that appeared in 2019.
Here's all the 5G phones announced so far and what we're looking for in the year ahead.
5G phone cheat sheet: What's available now
- Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy S20 Ultra: Works with all carriers (available March 6)
- Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G: Works on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon
- Galaxy S10 5G: Works on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon
- OnePlus 7 Pro 5G: Works on Sprint
- OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren: Works on T-Mobile
- LG V50 ThinQ: Works on Sprint and Verizon
- Moto Z4, Z3 and Z2 (with Moto 5G Mod): Works on Verizon
- Sony Xperia 1 II: Ships in spring 2020
Samsung Galaxy S20 (Available March 6)
5G is getting a big boost in 2020 with Samsung's new flagship lineup. All three new models — the Galaxy S20, the Galaxy S20 Plus and the Galaxy S20 Ultra — feature 5G connectivity. Even better, the three new phones use a modem capable of connecting to both millimeter wave and low-band 5G networks, so the S20 family is compatible with all four major U.S. carriers, who are now taking Galaxy S20 pre-orders. The phones hit stores on March 6.
We've only had a chance to test the Galaxy S20 Ultra, using T-Mobile's lowband 5G network. The speeds didn't exactly blow us away, though the advantage of lowband 5G is that coverage is more widespread and can reach indoors.
The S20 lineup is pricier than recent Samsung flagship releases, in part because of that 5G support. The S20 starts at $999, a $100 jump over the starting price for last year's Galaxy S10 flagship. The S20 Plus and S20 Ultra feature four-figure prices of $1,199 and $1,399, respectively.
Still, you're getting a lot more than just a 5G modem with these phones. In particular, Samsung has emphasized camera improvements, particularly on the Ultra, which has a 108-MP main sensor and a telephoto lens that can pull off a 10x lossless zoom. All three phones feature screens that support 120-Hz refresh rates, double that of most flagship phones these days.
The fact that Samsung included 5G connectivity with every model instead of restricting it to a single variant is a big step forward, and one that potentially gives 5G a much-needed boost. At any rate, Samsung has set the tone for other phone makers to follow with their 5G efforts in 2020.
Galaxy S20: All three new models in Samsung's flagship phone lineup — the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra — feature 5G connectivity. That makes them pretty pricey, with the S20 starting things off at $999, but all three models work on every carrier's 5G network.View Deal
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and Galaxy S10 5G (Available now)
The S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra may be Samsung's most recent 5G devices, but Samsung has other 5G phones available. Last year, Samsung shipped the Galaxy S10 5G in the spring, then followed that up with the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G.
Both phones debuted with matching $1,299 price tags. With cheaper S20 models on the way that can connect to all 5G networks, they're less compelling buys these days.
The Galaxy S10 5G is available at every carrier (though AT&T only sells it to business customers). It works with higher-speed 5G networks, which has made it a mainstay at Verizon, which has launched millimeter wave-based 5G coverage in more than 30 cities.
Samsung did more than just insert a 5G modem into its first 5G phone. The device features a 6.7-inch display — bigger than the 6.4-inch panel on the Galaxy S10 Plus — and it's powered by a 4,500 mAh battery. (Curiously, the S10 5G lasted 10 hours and 56 minutes — a very good time, though not as long as the 12 hour, 35 minute result we saw with the S10 Plus.)
Samsung's S10 lineup features three rear cameras, and on the 5G version of the phone, that setup adds a 3D depth sensor. That 3D sensor is on the front of the phone, too. Samsung says the feature will support augmented reality apps that are sure to benefit from the lower latency of 5G.
Our Galaxy S10 5G verdict, now that we've run 5G speed tests with the phone: You'll get extremely fast speeds where Verizon's network is available. (The speeds are a little less fast on Sprint's mid-band network.) But given how limited 5G coverage is at this point, it's hard to justify the $300 premium you'd pay over the Galaxy S10 Plus.
Galaxy S10 5G: Pick up the first 5G phone available in the U.S. at Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile. AT&T only offers the S10 5G to corporate customers for use on its fast 5G Plus network in 35 cities.View Deal
Samsung's remaining 5G handset, the 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, is available through AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. It works with the latter carrier's high-speed 5G network while a different version of the Note 10 Plus 5G is available for the low-band 5G networks of AT&T and T-Mobile.
We tested the Galaxy Note Plus 10 5G on Verizon's network in Providence, Rhode Island in August, and found the handset's performance to be quite similar to that of the S10 5G. Speeds got as high as 1.06 Gbps — five times the best possible LTE speed we recorded with a standard Note 10. You're unlikely to see those kinds of speeds on the lower-band 5G networks of AT&T and T-Mobile, but there should be an improvement over LTE speeds.
Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G: Samsung's 5G-ready phablet is available at Verizon for use on its high-speed millimeter wave-based 5G network. T-Mobile and AT&T also sell the phone for their wider-reaching if slower 5G networks. The phone costs $1,299 at each carrier, with different payment plans if you buy the phone in monthly installments.View Deal
For what it's worth, initial 5G phones sales seem to have met Samsung's expectations. The company says it shipped more than 6.7 million 5G Galaxy phones around the world, with more than 4.5 million of those shipments coming during the holiday quarter. And that's before the S20 lineup introduces 5G to more potential customers.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren (Available Now)
The OnePlus 7 Pro debuted last May, and it's a really good phone. But then a few months later, OnePlus introduced a 5G model, exclusively through Sprint, for $840, which is quite inexpensive for a 5G phone.
When Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 855 in December 2018, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau appeared at the launch event to announce that his company would build a 5G-capable phone using the new processor. In the U.K., operator EE committed to offering OnePlus' 5G phone, as did Finland's Elisa. Lau originally told USA Today that it wouldn't sell that version in the U.S., though he must have had a change of heart, because the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G later emerged on Sprint.
We tested the phone when Sprint launched its 5G service in Los Angeles late in August. We tended to see speeds ranging from 300 Mbps to 700 Mbps — pretty fast, though not anywhere near as quick as the peak 1.4 Gbps speeds we've witnessed on Verizon's 5G network. That's because Verizon's millimeter-wave infrastructure can deliver much quicker speeds than Sprint's mid-band coverage, though Sprint's technology is far better at carrying long distances and penetrating physical obstructions (meaning you can actually get a 5G signal indoors).
For a while, it looked like the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G might be the only 5G phone from the upstart phone maker. But that changed in December, when T-Mobile's 5G network went live with a different 5G-ready handset from OnePlus. Just as the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is a 5G-capable version of an earlier OnePlus release, the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren takes the OnePlus 7T and adds a 5G modem.
T-Mobile currently sells this 5G-ready OnePlus phone for $899 — again a bargain when it comes to 5G handsets at this stage. Spread out the payments over 24 months, and you'll pay $37.50 a month for the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren at T-Mobile.
Like the 7T, the McLaren edition runs on a Snapdragon 855+ processor, features a display with a 90-Hz refresh rate and sports three rear cameras. But it's got a 5G modem and some design touches that evoke the McLaren racing colors. (Think black and gray design with papaya orange accents.)
The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren is faster than LTE, though just barely in our testing. (T-Mobile says to expect a 20% improvement in speeds, which we saw, except in a few cases where LTE matched or outperformed our 5G phone.) We did see some practical benefits from T-Mobile's low-bad 5G, as we were able to download a 24-minute TV episode from Netflix in a little more than 30 seconds; that same download took nearly 3 minutes over LTE.
Still, the story here isn't speed, but coverage. T-Mobile says its 5G network reaches 200 million people and publishes a map showing just where you can expect the 5G network to reach.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G (Available Now)
Like Samsung, LG lined up a carrier to exclusively offer the manufacturer's first 5G phone at launch. In LG's case, that carrier ended up being Sprint, which launched the V50 ThinQ 5G last June.
The LG V50 ThinQ 5G is a successor the V40 ThinQ released in 2018. There's a lot of similarities between that phone and the V50, right down to the three cameras on the back of the phone and the form factor. But besides the Snapdragon 855 chipset and 5G connectivity, the V50 also promises more onboard storage and a bigger battery (4,000 mAh versus 3,400 mAh for the V40).
Sprint originally sold the LG V50 for $999 if you buy the phone outright, but as of this writing, the phone is now listed at $600. Lease it through a Sprint Flex plan, and there's currently a promotion running where you'll pay just $12.50 a month for 18 months, down from the usual $25. Sprint requires you to have an Unlimited Premium plan, which at $80 a month is Sprint's most expensive unlimited option. For now, the phone will only get 5G service from Sprint in nine cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
Sprint may have gotten the phone first, but it's not the only carrier offering the V50. After debuting on the Now Network, the V50 made its way to Verizon, which began selling the phone last summer. If you buy the $999 phone in monthly installments, you'll pay $41.66 over 24 months.
Another 5G phone from LG is likely in the works. We were expecting to hear about the LG V60 ThinQ at Mobile World Congress this month. But LG pulled out of the mobile trade show due to fears over the coronavirus. (And the trade show itself has been cancelled.) LG says it will hold separate events "in the near future" to discuss upcoming phones.
Motorola Moto Z4, Z3 or Z2 Force with 5G Moto Mod (Available now)
Motorola has three phones that can connect to Verizon's 5G network. You just need a special add-on to make it work.
Both the Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z3, released in 2017 and 2018 as Verizon exclusives, and the newer Moto Z4 can support a Moto Mod that adds 5G connectivity. Like other Moto Mods, this add-on snaps to the back of the phone. It can connect to Verizon's 5G network, which is available in parts of 31 cities as of the end of 2019.
Moto Z4: If you want to experience Verizon's 5G network, this is the cheapest way to do it, as the Moto Z4 costs $499. (Under a current promotion, you can buy the phone for $5 a month for 24 months after a $379 credit when you open a new line.) You will need to get a Moto 5G Mod, which is sold separately, usually for $349.View Deal
You can order the 5G Moto Mod from Verizon for $349. You'll also need to add on 5G service to your regular Verizon unlimited plan. That will cost $10 per month on top of your regular month rate; Verizon says the first three months of 5G service will be free.
Before rushing out to buy a 5G Mod though, consider our experience testing 5G in Chicago, when Verizon's network had just rolled out. We saw fast speeds when we were able to connect to the carrier's 5G network, but we also had a hard time finding a signal. Since those initial tests in April 2019, though, 5G performance has improved in Chicago (though that round of testing was with the Galaxy S10 5G).
The Moto Mod gave Motorola a way to offer a 5G-capable phone around the same time that other phone makers are rolling out 5G-ready devices. It's also a relatively inexpensive way to get 5G now, without spending roughly $1,000 on a standalone 5G phone. But we expect that Motorola has more in store, especially with the phone maker pledging to use both the Snapdragon 865 and 765 in 2020's phones.
Sony Xperia 1 II (Spring 2020)
Sony's ready to jump into the 5G with its first 5G-ready smartphone. The Sony Xperia 1 II debuted in late February and will feature a Snapdragon 865 processor plus the requisite 5G modem.
Huawei Mate X and Mate 30 5G
True to its word, Huawei has shown off several 5G phones. And a few of them even fold.
The Huawei Mate X, unveiled at MWC 2019, folds out into an 8-inch tablet; otherwise, it's got a pair of panels on either side that you can use. And this phone offers 5G connectivity via Huawei's Balong 5000 modem, which is combined with Huawei's existing Kirin 980 chipset. (Unlike the vast majority of flagship Android phone makers, who turn to Qualcomm for mobile processing components, Huawei builds its own silicon.)
Set aside a lot of dough for this phone. Huawei says the Mate X costs 16,999 yuan, which translates to around $2,400. After Huawei pushed back the launch from its original June date, the Mate X is shipping, but only in China.
There's now a follow-up to the Mate X, which offers 5G connectivity like its predecessor. But the 5G modem is built into the Kirin 990 processor powering the new Mate Xs, which Huawei unveiled in February. We're expecting that phone to make it out of China, though it likely won't reach the U.S. And no matter where you get the phone, don't expect it to feature Google apps, as part of the ongoing ban from the U.S. Department of Congress.
Huawei is also selling 5G versions of its Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro in China. But those phones don't ship with any Google apps, and a U.S. launch isn't happening. We're expecting to hear about the P40 and P40 Pro at a Huawei event in Paris on March 26, with those phones joining Huawei's growing selection of 5G devices.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G
ZTE's flagship Axon 10 has a 5G-capable variant, with the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G that arrived in China this past summer. The LTE version of the Snapdragon 855-powered phone is already available worldwide (including in the U.S.), and it features a teardrop notch on its display and three rear cameras (a 48-megapixel main lens augmented by telephoto and wide angle shooters). The 5G version of the Axon 10 Pro is essentially the same phone, only with a 5G modem and a liquid cooling system.
Artificial intelligence figures to be a big part of the Axon 10 Pro 5G, too. ZTE touted an “AI triple-camera, AI motion capture, AI scene recognition, AI portrait lighting adjustment, AI user behavior learning and AI everywhere” in the run up to the phone's launch.
The 5G version of the Axon 10 Pro is unsurprisingly pricier than the standard 4G model, which costs $499 in the U.S. In China, the 5G version of the phone costs 4,999 yuan, or about $710.
Like LG, ZTE pulled out MWC 2020, so any additional 5G news from that phone maker will have to wait.
Other phone makers
A lot of the other companies that have disclosed 5G plans are in the same class as Huawei: Chinese phone makers that have already released one or more 5G handsets, with some making their way to Europe and the U.K. as the U.S. market has been largely ignored.
Xiaomi is leading the charge with affordable 5G phones, thanks to its Mi Mix 3 5G and Mi 9 Pro. The latter is actually going for the equivalent of $520 in China — less than half the price of the $1,299 Galaxy S10 5G. Sadly, neither is U.S.-bound, though the Mi Mix 3 5G is available in the U.K. Xiaomi says its Mi 10 phone will run on the Snapdragon 865, thus giving it 5G connectivity.
Also available in the U.K. is Oppo's new Reno 5G, which is available through EE. Huawei sub-brand Honor took the wraps off Honor V30 and V30 Pro at the end of November, and these upper mid-tier phones both offer 5G.
Cheaper 5G phones for 2020
We mentioned the Snapdragon 765 and its integrated 5G modem, and how that chipset opens up the possibility of 5G connectivity coming to less expensive phones. We saw evidence of that at CES 2020, where two makers of budget handsets touted 5G phones coming later this year.
Coolpad plans to offer the Coolpad Legacy 5G for less than $400. The phone will feature dual rear cameras, a 16-MP selfie cam and Android 10; it will be available unlocked during the second quarter of the year.
Around that same time, TCL plans to introduce the TCL 10 5G, which will cost less than $500. We don't know much about that phone's specs, though TCL had planned to reveal more at the now-cancelled Mobile World Congress. Expect an announcement on the TCL 10 5G at some point in the near future.
What about Apple?
Apple never discloses its smartphone plans until it's good and ready, though that doesn't stop the iPhone rumor mill from setting expectations for future devices out of Cupertino. And right now, all signs point to Apple joining the 5G fight this year.
In late 2018, Bloomberg reported that Apple wouldn't come out with a 5G iPhone until 2020, which would match the company's approach to the 4G rollout a decade ago. Apple's strategy this time around may have been influenced by a since-resolved dispute with Qualcomm that was preventing Apple from using the chip maker's modems and forcing it to find alternative suppliers.
With that court case now settled, Qualcomm and Apple are back in business together, and analysts expect the 5G iPhone to be on track for 2020. The latest series of iPhone that launched in September 2019 — the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max — are all LTE-only.
If it's all but certain that Apple will release 5G phones in 2020, the only remaining question is how many iPhone models will ship with the faster modems. At one point, it looked like there might be two 5G iPhones next year: a 6.7-inch and 5.4-inch model. But the analyst behind that prediction, Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities, now expects a trio of 5G-ready iPhones.
CEO Tim Cook hasn't commented on Apple's 5G plans when pressed, like when an analyst asked during January's earnings call whether a 5G iPhone would drive demand. "I think we’re in the early innings of [5G's] deployment on a global basis," Cook said. "We obviously couldn’t be prouder of our line-up and are very excited about our pipeline as well and wouldn’t trade our position for anybody."