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The best 5G phones to buy in 2021

There’s a growing chance you’re somewhere close to a 5G network today, as the fast data connection becomes more commonplace, and there are more phones than ever with a 5G modem too. It means now is a great time to choose a phone that supports 5G, even if you don’t necessarily buy it for 5G support right now. It’s a further way to future-proof your new phone.

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 a much-loved iPhone 5-style design with the edge-to-edge display found on iPhones since the iPhone X. Of course, it’s more than just pretty — 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 has Apple’s Super Retina XDR screen, with a stunning, sharp, colorful image 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.

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 for years to come. In classic Apple fashion, the iPhone 12 Pro will stay up to date with new versions of iOS for the next four or five years, and add in all the other Apple features from Apple Pay to Messages and FaceTime, and it also becomes excellent value.

 Read our full Apple iPhone 12 Pro review

Best 5G Android phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

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 also supports 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 has 5G network compatibility, including sub-6 and mmWave. That means it’ll work with every 5G network at the moment.

The S21 Ultra 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 module makes the phone a little top-heavy — so make sure to keep two hands on it most of the time.

It’s easily forgiven though, as the module contains a superb camera. 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. There’s an astonishing amount of versatility, and the results can be truly stunning. Samsung really has given the iPhone a run for its money with the S21 Ultra’s 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 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

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 if you don’t prioritize the camera, or don’t want such a massive phone, you can save some money and look at 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 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.

Like the S21 Ultra, the S21 has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, packaged here with 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of storage, plus a 4,000mAh battery that will last you a day. The camera doesn’t match the iPhone 12 Pro or Galaxy S21 Ultra, but it’s still great. You get a 12MP main camera paired with a 64MP telephoto camera and a 12MP ultrawide camera. It shoots great photos the vast majority of the time, even if it’s functionally identical to the Galaxy S20‘s camera.

The display isn’t the biggest around — 6.2-inches — which is good if you’re looking for a smaller smartphone. It’s not lacking in specs, though, as it’s a Dynamic 2X AMOLED with a 2400 x 1080 resolution and a 120HZ refresh rate. In short, it’s sharp, colorful, and feels extremely smooth in action. Other features include an in-display fingerprint sensor and wireless charging — but the cheaper price tag does show itself in the build. The plastic back is very noticeable if you’re used to more premium glass. Still, chuck a case on it and you won’t care.

So, what about the price? While the Samsung Galaxy S21 launched at $800, it regularly gets discounted. If you’d prefer not to have a 5G phone with a plastic back, then the $969 OnePlus 9 Pro is for you. It’s an excellent value as it shares the same processor as the Galaxy S21, but pairs it with a curvy glass body, a Hasselblad-tuned camera, and very fast battery charging. The great software completes the package.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review

Best cheap 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It has all the key smartphone features, including 5G, for less than half the price of our top choices.

Who it’s for: Anyone who doesn’t want to spend $1,000, but still values great features and a future-proof 5G connection.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G:

Samsung has pulled off a very clever trick with the Galaxy A52 5G. It has managed to make a great-looking phone that takes excellent photos, has a battery that lasts for two days, and a high specification screen that costs comparatively little when placed against the competition.

Instead of adding in gimmicks, Samsung has increased value by carefully selecting additional features that people often look for, but rarely find in cheaper phones. For example, the A52 5G has an IP67 water resistance rating, a MicroSD card slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Try finding those all together on the other phones in this list.

It looks and feels great too. The plastic case has a glass-like feel and is warm to the touch, while the chassis has a cool chrome finish, and the camera module on the back resembles the Galaxy S21 models. The camera takes very attractive photos, and there are lots of fun features including Samsung’s Single Take mode. The only thing letting the A52 5G down is the poor fingerprint sensor, which is slow and unreliable.

At $500 the Galaxy A52 5G is excellent value, and you won’t feel shortchanged if you decide to get one. The Google Pixel 4a 5G is another option for the same price, but is older than the A52 5G.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review

Best foldable 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G

Galaxy Z Fold 2 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Foldable phones are still in their infancy, but the Galaxy Z Fold 2 makes us excited to see more, thanks to its excellent specs and two beautiful displays.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a phone and a tablet all rolled into one.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G:

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G is a luxury phone but if you want it all, and want the foldable experience with 5G support, this uber-flashy phone is the way to go.

As befits its super-premium price, the phone supports sub-6 and mmWave 5G, so it’s compatible with every major U.S. carrier’s network. That means that no matter where you are, if you have a 5G connection, you should be able to take advantage of it with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.

But let’s move on to the most interesting part of this phone — the foldable display. Unfold your phone (as you’re going to want to do as soon as possible) and you’ll find a stunning 7.2-inch AMOLED display. It’s amazing for video and games, and a game-changer for multi-tasking. But it’s not all about the big inner display though, as there’s a good-looking display on the outside too — a 6.23-inch AMOLED display that’s just as useable and useful. Any open apps will snap between the two screens as well, so you can start using Maps on your outer screen, and continue using it if you open the phone up.

The phone also has a lot to offer under the hood. You’ll get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ processor, along with 12GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage. These specs can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, and considering its ability to multitask, it might actually need these high specs. Powering it all is a 4,500mAh battery, which can get the phone through a day of use, though your usage may vary.

The camera is solid, too. There are three sensors, with one 12MP main camera, one 12MP telephoto camera, and one 12MP ultrawide camera. The 5G mobile phone can deliver solid photos and videos too — so don’t feel like you have to compromise on camera quality to get the foldable experience.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review

Research and buying tips

Where can I get 5G?

Unlike when it first arrived, 5G services are much more widely available now — though it really depends on what network you use. T-Mobile was the first to launch a nationwide network, built on its Sub-6 spectrum, while Verizon finally launched a nationwide 5G network that relies on some fancy spectrum-sharing tech recently. AT&T has a relatively widespread 5G network now too.

If you live in a major city, you should have access to some kind of 5G network, and chances are you have access to one from all three of the major carriers. If you live in a rural area though, your odds still aren’t very good — though it might still be worth picking up one of the best 5G phones now if you’d like to be prepared when it does arrive, without the need to change phones again.

The different kinds of 5G

5G isn’t just 5G. If you have access to a 5G network right now, chances are you’re on what’s called a Sub-6 network — which are much more available around the country. But you’ve probably heard about another kind of 5G technology called mmWave. MmWave networks are far faster than Sub-6 networks in terms of 5G speed, and offer multi-gigabit speeds at times — which is enough to download a 4K movie in a matter of seconds. But mmWave connections are extremely limited, in that they rely on frequencies that can only travel very short distances, and can’t really go through obstacles, thus limiting 5G access.

That’s where Sub-6 networks come in. Like 4G LTE, Sub-6 uses frequencies that can travel much further. However, the downside is that those connections can’t quite reach the same speeds as mmWave connections. Either way, a 5G connection is faster than a 4G LTE connection, and faster still than 3G. Don’t think you’re “making do” with Sub-6 5G, as it’s still the easiest, most reliable way to get 5G speeds today.

5G may not be widely available just yet, but it's getting there. Here's where you can find 5G in the U.S.
5G Map

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