The best 5G phones of 2021

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.

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 their connectivity to 5G networks. And, we’ve covered 5G as a whole, from the rollout of 5G networks, to the development of 5G mobile modems. 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.

Here are the best 5G-capable phones out there.

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 camera, and a range of premium features.

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, it 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, you’ll be able to take advantage of the new ecosystem of magnetic accessories, including faster wireless chargers.

When it comes to 5G, the phone supports all the different kinds of it — so it should be able to continue taking advantage of the latest and greatest 5G networks as they continue to be built up and developed. Even if you can’t really take advantage of 5G just yet, you should be able to some point in the future with the iPhone 12 Pro.

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 device offers a triple-lens 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. And, in classic Apple fashion, we expect the iPhone 12 Pro to stay up-to-date with new versions of iOS well into the next four or five years.

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, 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 phone is perfect for both work and play, and it’s a perfect choice for mobile gamers.

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.

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 10-megapixel telephoto sensors (one with 3x optical zoom and one with 10x optical zoom), and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera.

For the productivity-focused on the go, Samsung DeX has been getting better and better, and on the S21 Ultra it’s wireless.

There aren’t too many downsides with this phone, but nothing’s perfect. There’s no MicroSD card slot anymore, 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 phones out there.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

Best value 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE offers all the important things on offer by the standard Galaxy S20, but at a much 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 S20 FE:

The Samsung Galaxy S20 may be one of the best 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 S20 FE.

The specs on offer by the phone are almost identical to specs you would get in a much more expensive phone. You’ll get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, coupled with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and a 4,500mAh battery that will easily last through a full day or more of heavy use.

The camera may not quite match the likes of the iPhone 12 Pro or Galaxy S21 Ultra, but it’s still excellent — especially for a device in this price range. You’ll get a 12-megapixel wide camera with an 8-megapixel telephoto camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. It’s able to shoot great photos the vast majority of the time.

Other features include the fact that the phone offers an in-display fingerprint sensor, wireless charging, and more. Note, if you buy the unlocked model of the Galaxy S20 FE, you won’t get the super-fast mmWave 5G on offer by some other phones, but considering mmWave is barely available anyway, it may not matter. You can pay a little extra for a Verizon model that supports mmWave.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review

Best cheap 5G phone: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Why you should buy this: The Google Pixel 4a 5G offers the awesome camera and stock Android experience you would expect from a Pixel phone, in a cheaper body.

Who it’s for: Anyone that wants that Googley phone experience without needing the bonus features.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 4a 5G:

The standard Google Pixel 4a is easily the best Android phone for $350 or less, but the 5G version of the phone, which also has a better processor, upgraded camera, and 5G support. It would be better named the “Google Pixel 5 Lite,” since it shares more in common with the more expensive device than the Pixel 4a.

The design of the device is more modern than any other Pixel phone before it. It’s got an edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch cutout for the front-facing camera, and in a bit of a throwback, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.

Under the hood, the phone is pretty powerful. You’ll get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, which should be able to handle most that you can put it through. Coupled with that, there’s a 3,885mAh battery that most reviews suggest will get the phone through easily a full day of use.

The standard Pixel 4a 5G supports sub-6 5G, and you’ll have to pay $100 for a Verizon version if you want mmWave support. Most, however, should stick with the unlocked model, considering the low availability of mmWave in general.

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, to be sure, but if you have the cash to spend, and want the foldable experience with 5G support, this phone is the way to go.

Let’s start with the most interesting parts of this phone — like the foldable display. On the inside, there’s a 7.2-inch AMOLED display that looks stunning. On the outside, unlike last year, there’s a good-looking display too — which is also an AMOLED display that sits in at 6.23 inches.

But under the hood, the phone has a lot to offer too. You’ll get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ processor, along with 12GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage. 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 12-megapixel main camera, one 12-megapixel telephoto camera, and one 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. It’s able to deliver solid photos and videos too — so don’t feel like you have to compromise on camera quality to get the foldable experience.

When it comes to 5G, the phone supports both sub-6 and mmWave, so 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.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review

Research and buying tips

Where can I get 5G?

Unlike a year ago, 5G is actually pretty 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 wide-spread 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.

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 there’s another kind of 5G too — called mmWave. And how it performs is drastically different to sub-6. MmWave networks are far faster than sub-6 networks, offering 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.

That’s where sub-6 networks come in. Like LTE, sub-6 relies on frequencies that can travel much further, sometimes a matter of miles. The downside to that, however, is that those connections can’t quite reach the same speeds as mmWave connections.

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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