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The best cheap 5G phones for 2021

5G is the future. It’s also the present, since even if 5G network coverage hasn’t overtaken 4G LTE in your area, there is an increasingly wide range of 5G smartphones now available that support 5G coverage. Some of these are fairly expensive flagship devices that boast all the latest specs, yet others are more affordable models which still offer decent specs while throwing in 5G support. We turn our attention to the second group of phones in this article, looking at the best cheap 5G phones out right now.

We cover all of the major manufacturers in this article, running through everyone from Apple to Google and Samsung (and beyond). Also, if you’re open to spending a bit more money on a 5G device, be sure to check out our best 5G phones article.

Best cheap 5G phones at a glance

Best overall cheap 5G phone: iPhone 12 Mini

iPhone 12 Mini
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s simply the best 5G smartphone you can buy for just under $700.

Who it’s for: Anyone who can stretch their definition of “cheap” a little and who wants the very best 5G smartphone.

Why we picked the iPhone 12 Mini

Okay, so the iPhone 12 Mini may not be “cheap” in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s cheap compared to the iPhone 12 Pro and other Apple iPhones with 5G, and can now be found for close to $600 from some outlets. For that price, you really do get a top-of-the-line smartphone that’s very much the match of the other models in the iPhone 12 range, save for the fact that it sports a smaller 5.4-inch display (compared to a 6.1-inch or 6.7-inch one).

As a 5G-compatible smartphone, it’s important to note that the iPhone 12 Mini also supports the faster mmWave 5G band (so long as you’re in the U.S.), in addition to the standard — and longer range — sub-6Hz band. This means you’ll be able to get the fastest possible download speeds with it, assuming you live in the vicinity of a 5G network.

Under its hood, you’ll find Apple’s latest A14 Bionic chip, coupled with 4GB of RAM. This is more than enough to handle all of the latest apps and games, although one slight disadvantage the iPhone 12 Mini does have is that it comes with only 64GB of internal memory as standard. This is tiny for a smartphone released in late 2020, and while you can pay an extra $50 for the 128GB model, it kind of defeats the purpose of buying a “cheap” 5G-ready phone.

This misstep aside, the iPhone 12 Mini is otherwise a nigh-on flawless device, even if it isn’t a flagship phone. Its 5.4-inch OLED display packs 2340 x 1080 pixels, offering a very clear and vibrant visual experience. It offers wireless charging and a dual-lens camera that is one of the best of any phone available today, taking great pictures in the vast majority of situations. At the same time, it offers all the perks that come from owning an Apple, most notably a very user-friendly operating system and regular updates. It may not be the cheapest 5G phone, but provided you can find it for under $700, it really is the best cheap 5G phone you could hope to buy at the moment.

Read more in our full iPhone 12 Mini review

Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

Samsung A71 5G display and design

A not-so-distant runner-up to the iPhone 12 Mini is the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G. As with its Apple counterpart, it offers 5G connectivity and many of the core features of more expensive phones — like the Samsung Galaxy S20 — at a relative discount (and it can be found online for well below its official retail price). Most notably, it probably has the best design — and display — of any 5G phone in its price range, retaining the stunning edge-to-edge display and thin bezels of its more expensive siblings. It also provides a meaty 4,500mAh battery, meaning it can last for over a day without needing a refill. Its processor — the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 — is also perfectly capable, particularly when coupled with the A71’s 6GB of RAM. One downside is the sometimes inconsistent rear camera, but for the prices you’re now likely to find the A71 5G, it’s almost the best cheap 5G phone around.

Read more in our full Samsung Galaxy A71 5G review

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

Pixel 4a 5G

Why you should buy this: Offering one of the best cameras in the game, great software, a sharp screen, and full 5G support, the Pixel 4a 5G is a great way to enjoy ultra-fast cellular data speeds on a budget.

Who it’s for: Anybody who wants a great camera, the definitive Android experience, and 5G access.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 4a 5G:

The Pixel 4a 5G is basically a slightly bigger version of the similarly named Pixel 4a, albeit with 5G support thrown in for good measure. As such, it adds about $100 to the standard 4a’s asking price of $350, while keeping all the features that make its little sibling one of the best budget phones out now.

The Pixel 4a 5G supports only the slower sub-6Hz band of 5G as standard, although you can get a mmWave version if you opt for Verizon as your carrier. Regardless of which one you go for, you’ll still get all the other features that make it such a great phone.

First off, you’ll get its excellent rear camera. It may come with only a 12.2-megapixel main lens and a 16MP telephoto lens, but thanks to Google’s finely honed software, it really does take great photos irrespective of the situation. Its colors are natural and vibrant, as are its exposure levels. Similarly, its dynamic range is also well-balanced, leaving you with photos that pop without being too oversaturated. It also offers a great portrait mode with excellent edge detection, as well as a Night Sight mode that puts many expensive phones to shame.

Otherwise, the Pixel 4a 5G isn’t a spectacular mobile phone when it comes to specs, but it does take many of the most important boxes. It offers a bigger battery than the original Pixel 4a, helping you to last into a second day before recharging. Its 6.2-inch OLED screen is also larger than the 4a’s, while keeping the same resolution for a sharp experience. Lastly, its processor — the Snapdragon 765G — is also an improvement on its non-5G counterpart, making for faster performance overall, even if premium flagships are now coming with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888.

The only real negative mark against the Pixel 4a 5G is that its design is a little dull, with its plastic rear highlighting the fact that it’s a competitively priced 5G handset. Still, if you can get over not having the most glamorous-looking phone around, the Pixel 4a 5G is certainly one of the best cheap 5G phones you can hope to own.

Read more in our Google Pixel 4a 5G vs. Pixel 4a breakdown

Best cheap 5G Samsung phone: Samsung Galaxy A51 5G

Samsung Galaxy A51 5G

Why you should buy this: It’s an affordable Samsung that looks absolutely beautiful, offers solid battery life, and comes with 5G.

Who it’s for: Samsung fans who prize attractive phones that support 5G and don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A51 5G:

Much like the slightly more expensive A71 5G, the Samsung Galaxy A51 5G combines affordable 5G support with many of the key selling points that have helped to build Samsung’s reputation as one of the world’s best smartphone manufacturers. Its headline feature is, once again, its gorgeous design and display, revolving around a sleek edge-to-edge display that makes the iPhone 12’s notch look like an overgrown pimple. Its display is an impressive 6.5-inch AMOLED screen with 2400 x 1080 pixels, with the AMOLED technology used giving it noticeably more vibrancy and vividness than other phones.

As for 5G connectivity, the A51 supports the faster mmWave 5G band if you happen to buy it from Verizon, while T-Mobile and AT&T users will have to settle for (the still faster than 4G) sub-6Hz band as the 5G rollout continues. Beyond 5G service, the phone comes with an ample 4,500mAh battery, providing you with plenty of use-time, even if you use 5G more than the average person. Its quad-lens camera is also very good, taking some excellent photos in well-lit environments, as well as offering an ultrawide lens for more panoramic shots.

The A51 5G does slip up a little with its performance. It comes with Samsung’s own Exynos 980 chip and 6GB of RAM as standard, and while the 980 is good enough for what it is, it doesn’t quite hold up against similar Qualcomm Snapdragon chips (which are what Samsung’s flagships usually ship with). Also, as Samsung’s budget model, it will probably be one of the last in line for Android updates, so you may find yourself using outdated software for longer than some of your peers.

These faults notwithstanding, the A51 5G is a very good cheap 5G phone overall. It looks fantastic, and with a perfectly good camera setup, it will keep you entertained for long after you lose interest in 5G.

Read more in our full Samsung Galaxy A51 5G review

Best cheap 5G OnePlus phone: OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord App Drawer
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: If you want an affordable phone with a long-lasting battery, easy-to-use software, strong performance, and 5G speeds.

Who it’s for: People who like OnePlus’ streamlined take on Android, who want a longer-lasting battery, and who need 5G.

Why we picked the OnePlus Nord:

OnePlus flagships like the OnePlus 8 Pro already offer great specs at competitive prices, yet the OnePlus Nord goes one step further by providing many of the same specs for an even lower fee, including 5G support. That said, the OnePlus Nord doesn’t support mmWave bands on any network, so if this is a big issue for you, you may want to look elsewhere for a cheap 5G phone.

Like other Android phones, the Nord features an edge-to-edge display punctuated only by a selfie camera in the corner (in this case, two selfie cameras). Its 6.44-inch AMOLED screen affords a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels, making it at least as sharp and as vibrant as many an iPhone. It also comes with a very welcome 90Hz refresh rate and support for HDR10+, so that, overall, the screen’s quality and richness are surprisingly high for a phone in its price range.

It also comes with a generous 4,415mAh battery, which can last for two days before recharging, so long as you don’t use it constantly. One of its other strengths is OnePlus’ software, with OxygenOS being one of the best Android skins out there. It’s a fast, streamlined version of Android that cuts away any extraneous or unnecessary features, leaving only what’s important to you. It also includes the helpful Zen Mode, which helps give you a digital detox by muting calls and notifications, and restricting app access, for 20 minutes.

One area where it does betray the fact that it’s a cheap phone is its camera, which occasionally underexposes shots and features a mostly redundant macro lens. However, with an attractive display and design, a reliable Snapdragon 765G processor, and a capable battery, the OnePlus Nord is a decent — and cheap — 5G phone.

Read more in our full OnePlus Nord review

Best cheap 5G LG phone: LG Velvet

LG Velvet Screen
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a beautifully-designed smartphone with a sharp screen, strong battery life, 5G support, and military-standard durability.

Who it’s for: Anybody looking for a gorgeous yet affordable flagship Android that caters to 5G networks.

Why we picked the LG Velvet

The LG Velvet is another 5G phone that was officially released for just over $700, but can now be found for under $400 on sites such as Amazon. It’s a wonderfully attractive phone, stacking up very favorably against phones from bigger name manufacturers in the looks department. It also comes with an enticingly large 6.8-inch P-OLED screen that boasts a resolution of 2460 x 1080 pixels. This makes it satisfyingly crisp and clear for a phone that can now be found at a discount.

In terms of 5G, it doesn’t support the faster mmWave band, although sub-6Hz tends to be more widely available and also boasts a better range than its faster cousin.

It also ships with a big 4,300mAh battery, which will take you to a second day under moderate-to-heavy usage. At the same time, it’s also a pretty durable phone, featuring not only an IP68 rating (for water resistance) but also a MIL-STD 810G seal of approval, indicating that it has passed a variety of tests related to its ability to survive heavy vibration, shocks, heat, cold, and humidity, among other things.

Elsewhere, the LG Velvet is a solid phone. It uses a Snapdragon 765G processor and offers 6GB (or 8GB) of RAM, so it can handle most tasks fairly well, even if it isn’t the fastest. Its camera also features a very capable ultrawide lens, although its main lens has a recurring tendency to over- or under-sharpen shots.

These quibbles aside, the LG Velvet is a highly recommended cheap 5G phone and, at times, the cheapest 5G smartphone available.

Read more in our full LG Velvet review

How we test

Why should you pay attention to our recommendations? We’ve tested and reviewed nearly every major smartphone that’s ever been released, from the original iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. This includes almost all of the 5G phones which have been coming out in recent years, encompassing premium models and more affordable alternatives.

As such, we know how to evaluate the latest phones and compare them to the past, present, and future. We know how to compare new devices to their predecessors and rivals, and we know what to look for when reviewing devices. We live with phones when we review them, using them as our main smartphone for at least a week before beginning to write up our impressions. Because of this, we find out how phones actually perform in the real world, learning their strengths and weaknesses in the process.

We’re phone users ourselves, so we know what most people are looking for when shopping for a new smartphone, whether it’s a cheap 5G phone or a flagship camera phone. We also know that investing in a new device isn’t a casual undertaking for most people, so we focus on what truly matters when reviewing devices and avoid getting swept away by hype. As a result, you can be confident that we assess smartphones as objectively as possible, while retaining our excitement for really innovative tech.

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