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, expect the attention to turn to phones that can actually take advantage of these new networks. A handful of 5G phones are already out, with more expected to follow this year.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 mobile processor powered the first 5G phones, thanks to its support for Qualcomm's first 5G modem, the X50. A newer modem, the X55, can connect to 5G, 4G and other networks, and it's now showing up in multiple phones. Expect that to continue with Qualcomm's upcoming Snapdragon 865 processor, which will power this year's flagship devices.
In fact, 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 Note 10 Plus 5G: Works on 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
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G (Available now)
What we know: Samsung's second 5G handset, the 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, is available through both Verizon and T-Mobile. The 256GB version of the phone costs $1,299 at both carriers, a $300 markup on the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. Verizon also sells a 512GB version of the 5G phone for $1,399.
Alternatively, you can purchase the device in monthly payments. The 256GB model can be yours for 24 installments of $54.16 at Verizon while the monthly bill on the 512GB model jumps to $58.33. T-Mobile lets you pay off the 256GB phone in 36 installments, bringing the monthly cost down to $36.12.
Though the phones are the same on T-Mobile and Verizon, they work with different kinds of 5G networks. Verizon's version is compatible with millimeter-wave 5G, which allows for fast speeds, even if coverage isn't limited. T-Mobile's version of the Note 10 Plus 5G works on its low-band spectrum-based network. Speeds aren't nearly as fast, but T-Mobile's 5G reaches a wider service area.
AT&T is now offering the Note 10 Plus 5G after its 5G network became more widely available in December. (Don't confuse that with AT&T's faster 5G Plus service, which is already available in 25 cities.) You can pay off the phone in 30 monthly installments of $43.34 at AT&T, which is offering up to $950 in bill credits when you trade in an eligible phone and port over an existing phone number to a new line on its wireless service.
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 now 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
What else we've heard: At the moment, there's currently no phone on the market that is equipped with all the gear necessary to support every incarnation of 5G, from the low-band to millimeter-wave. That's going to change with the Snapdragon 865 processor, which makes running that chipset better geared toward handling 5G's evolution.
And 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. (That figure includes not just the Note 10 Plus 5G, but also the Galaxy S10 5G — mentioned below — and a 5G variant of the Galaxy Fold that's only available overseas.)
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Available Now)
What we know: Before there was the 5G variant of the Note 10, there was the Galaxy S10 5G, arriving last spring with the rest of Samsung's Galaxy S10 phones. The Galaxy S10 5G debuted on Verizon's network in mid-May, and arrived at AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in June. In the case of AT&T, though, only corporate users on the carrier's Business Unlimited Preferred plan can buy the 5G-ready S10.
At Verizon, you'll pay $1,300 for a 256GB version and $1,400 for the 512GB model. Sprint charges the same amount for the 256GB version, but you can also get the Galaxy S10 5G on an 18-month Sprint Flex lease at just $30 per month. AT&T is charging $1,000 for the S10 5G, but again, that phone is only available to corporate customers.
We spent some time in Chicago testing the Galaxy S10 5G's network performance and were impressed by the speeds we saw, though there are some caveats. Verizon's network only works outside and you need to be in sight of one of its 5G towers. While Verizon is working to expand 5G coverage, it's still in a limited area in the Windy City.
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 25 cities.View Deal
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 tested the phone: You'll get extremely fast speeds where Verizon's network is available. 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.
What else we've heard: The Galaxy Fold, which launched in September after being delayed due to hardware quality, was supposed to get a 5G version, but that only shipped in Korea, Germany and the U.K. If 5G's coming to a U.S-bound version of a Samsung foldable device, we assume that would happen with the Galaxy Fold 2, which could arrive as soon as Feb. 11 at a Samsung press event.
The Galaxy S11 is expected at that event, too, and it's almost a certainty that 5G versions of that phone will be part of the launch.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G (Available Now)
What we know: 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 last December, 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).
What else we've heard: 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.
OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren (Available now)
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.
What else we've heard: The current speeds aren't the last word on T-Mobile's approach to 5G. The carrier plans to continue building out its network and improving speeds — something that becomes much easier if its merger with Sprint goes through and it can start using Sprint's faster mid-band spectrum.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G (Available Now)
What we know: 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 back in 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 sells the LG V50 for $999 if you buy the phone outright. Lease it through a Sprint Flex plan, and there's currently a promotion running where you'll pay just $19 a month for 18 months, down from the usual $41. 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.
What else we've heard: 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.
Motorola Moto Z4, Z3 or Z2 Force with 5G Moto Mod (Available now)
What we know: 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 will be able to connect to Verizon's 5G network, which is available in parts of 31 cities as of the end of 2019.
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, though, 5G performance has improved in Chicago (though that round of testing was with the Galaxy S10 5G — more on that below).
What else we've heard: The Moto Mod gives 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.
Huawei Mate X and Mate 30 5G
What we know: True to its word, Huawei has shown off a 5G phone. And this one also folds.
The Huawei Mate X, unveiled at MWC, 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 is going to offer 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. A version with the Kirin 990 chipset and its integrated 5G modem will ship next year.
What else we've heard: We'd be surprised if Huawei's 5G phone will reach the U.S., given the U.S. government's ongoing hostility toward the company. And the recent move by the U.S. Department of Congress to block American firms from offering software or hardware to Huawei has cast a cloud over the Chinese company's future.
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.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G
What We Know: ZTE's flagship Axon 10 has a 5G-capable variant, with the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G that arrived in China late 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.
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 plans to reveal more at Mobile World Congress in February.
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 declined to confirm Apple's plans when announcing his company's quarterly earnings at the end of April.
“We try to select the right time that things come together and get those into products as soon as we can,” Cook told Wall Street analysts.
Credit: Tom's Guide