Phone carriers are rolling out their 5G networks. It will take years before 5G coverage is available everywhere, but this new network will deliver better speed and improved coverage. Now is the perfect time to invest in a flagship phone that supports 5G, even if you don’t necessarily buy a phone just for its 5G support. Think of it as future-proofing yourself.
We’ve been reviewing 5G phones since the start and have spent countless hours testing all aspects of 5G phones — including their performance, display quality, battery life, and connectivity to 5G networks. And we’ve covered 5G as a whole, from the rollout of 5G networks to the development of the 5G modem.
Here are the best 5G phones available. Right now, the best 5G phone you can get is also the best overall smartphone: The iPhone 12 Pro. Once you know which phone you want, you can check out the latest 5G phone deals for savings.
Best 5G smartphones at a glance
Best 5G phone overall: Apple iPhone 12 Pro
Why you should buy this: The iPhone 12 Pro offers a beautiful display, stunning new design, and the 5G support you would expect from a phone that’s going to last for years to come.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a high-end phone — unless they’re firmly in the Android ecosystem.
Why we picked the Apple iPhone 12 Pro:
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro represents a shift in design for the iPhone series, blending the much-loved iPhone 5 design with the edge-to-edge display found on iPhones since the iPhone X. Of course, it’s more than just pretty though — it offers the best performance you can get in a phone, with an awesome rear camera and a range of premium features.
But we’re here to discuss 5G, so 5G is what we’ll highlight first. The iPhone 12 Pro supports all the different kinds of 5G connectivity, from sub-6 through to mmWave. That sounds like technical jargon because, well, it is — but the upshot is the iPhone should be able to take advantage of 5G on every major U.S. network as they continue to be built up and developed. Even if you can’t really take advantage of 5G just yet, the iPhone 12 Pro means you’ll be ready when it’s available near you.
Like the previous-generation iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro offers an OLED display that meets Apple’s “Super Retina XDR” standard. Tech specs of the display aside, the 5G iPhone offers a sharp image with bright vivid colors and deep black levels. It looks great. Apple has also revived MagSafe for the iPhone 12 series, and as such, the new iPhone can take advantage of the new ecosystem of magnetic accessories, including those that allow for faster wireless charging.
The camera is a step up this year too, though perhaps not as much of a step up as the iPhone 11 Pro was compared to the iPhone XS. The 5G device offers a triple-lens rear camera with one wide, one ultrawide, and one telephoto lens. You’ll get a wider f/1.6 aperture on the primary lens, which means that the camera can let in more light than before — essentially meaning you’ll get better low-light shots. It’s an iterative update to the camera, but you’re still getting among the best you can get in a smartphone camera.
The Apple A14 Bionic chip in the iPhone 12 Pro is Apple’s most powerful chip to date. It’s easily powerful enough to handle all the mobile gaming and multitasking you can throw at it, and it should remain so for at least three or four years before it even starts to slow down. In classic Apple fashion, we also expect the iPhone 12 Pro to stay up-to-date with new versions of iOS well into the next four or five years.
Read our full Apple iPhone 12 Pro review
Best 5G Android phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
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Why you should buy this: If you prefer to stick within the Android ecosystem, then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a beautifully huge display, excellent multitasking features, and a high-end camera.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best Android phone they can get that also happens to support 5G.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the latest high-end phone in Samsung’s bestselling series, offering a sleek new design, a great camera, and a beautiful display with a variable refresh rate. The 5G smartphone is perfect for both work and play, and it’s a perfect choice for mobile gamers, thanks to its huge display.
Samsung has been bundling 5G connectivity into its flagship phones for a while now, so it’s no surprise the S21 Ultra comes bundled with every current 5G network compatibility, including sub-6 and mmWave. That means it’ll work with every 5G network at the moment, so you can rest assured it’ll work with any network if you choose to buy unlocked.
Under the hood, the phone offers everything you would expect from a flagship Android device in 2021. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor coupled with up to a massive 16GB of RAM and a hefty 5,000mAh battery that will easily last through a full day of even heavier use. Speaking of “heavy,” though, the main downside to the phone is its size, weight, and where that weight is placed within the phone. The camera nodule adds a lot of weight, and that makes the phone top-heavy — so make sure to keep two hands on it most of the time.
On the back of the phone is a pretty huge camera bump, but that bump hosts a great camera, and it doesn’t look too out of place, thanks to how it flows into the frame of the phone. You’ll get a 108-megapixel main camera, with two 10MP telephoto sensors (one with 3x optical zoom and one with 10x optical zoom), and a 12MP ultrawide camera.
For the productivity-focused on the go, Samsung DeX has been getting better and better, and on the S21 Ultra, it’s wireless, too. If you’re a drawing fan, you can also pair it with Samsung’s S Pen for some serious sketching.
There aren’t too many downsides with this phone, but nothing’s perfect. There’s the previously mentioned weight issue, no microSD card slot, and the phone is pretty expensive. But as with anything, you get what you pay for, and with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you’re getting one of the best 5G phones out there.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Best value 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy S21
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends
Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy S21 might not have all the Ultra’s features, but it’s still a powerful flagship at a lower price.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a 5G-capable phone that offers high-end specs at a relatively affordable price.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21:
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra may be one of the best 5G phones out there, but ultimately, you probably don’t need all of the features it has to offer. If you’re willing to deal with a slightly less premium build and a bit less RAM, you’re getting practically the same experience from a cheaper phone in the Samsung Galaxy S21.
A lower price doesn’t mean lesser 5G, though — the Samsung Galaxy S21 comes with full 5G compatibility for all major U.S. carriers, so you’ll be able to able to access the fastest 5G connections across the country and should be able to hop between them on an unlocked model without losing access to 5G.
The specs on offer by the phone are almost identical to the specs you would get in a more expensive phone. You’ll get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, with 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of storage, and a 4,000mAh battery that’s nothing special but will last you a day of all but the heaviest use. These specs match what you’ll get in the Galaxy S21 Ultra (or are as close as makes no difference), and while there’s no microSD card slot any longer, that’s a common feature in the S21 range as a whole, as is the lack of a charger in the box.