Welcome to T3's best 5G phones guide, an indispensable resource for anyone considering on upgrading to a top-rated 5G handset.
This best 5G phones guide has been built to make it as easy as possible for people to discover what the top next-gen mobile phones are, and then decide which one is perfect for them.
And the good news is that unlike a few years back when 5G phones were few and far between and coverage was tiny, today there is a brilliant selection of quality 5G phones and coverage is bigger than ever before – chances are right now you live in an area already equipped with a 5G network.
The other great thing about 5G technology now is that it is not just the preserve of really expensive flagship phones. As this guide shows, there's plenty of budget-price mobiles that also pack a 5G modem, too.
You don't have to break the bank to enjoy the future of mobile data connections, and we've got cheap 5G phones as well as mid-tier and premium devices.
And being honest, buying a 5G phone already makes a lot of sense, and it's making more sense every day in 2021: operators all around the world are now rolling out 5G coverage in more and more areas in a major way, giving you access to super-fast speeds and extra bandwidth. New towns and cities are getting the upgrade all the time.
On top of that, the price premium for making the jump to 5G has plummeted over the past six months and is shrinking all the time: new models are now appearing on the scene on a regular basis, and we reckon there's never been a better time to take advantage of what 5G has to offer.
Do remember, though, that right here T3 has rounded up the top handsets that come with 5G connections and, while many of these overlap with mobiles in our best phones and best Android phones guides, some may not.
As such, if you value a different aspect higher than whether or not it has a 5G modem, then some of our other guides may be better suited to your needs.
For example, if you are looking for a smartphone with small dimensions, then you'll definitely want to check out our best small phones guide. While if you want a phone with top gaming credentials, then one of the highest rated gaming phones is what you need.
We're expecting the best Black Friday deals to include more 5G phones this year. Now that the technology is well and truly mainstream, it doesn't suffer from scarcity: in previous Black Fridays retailers didn't need to discount 5G phones because there wasn't much competition. That's not the case any more, and the 5G phone market is just as competitive as the 4G one. So there should be plenty of Black Friday 5G phone bargains to be found.
With all that considered, here are the best 5G phones of 2021.
The best 5G phones you can buy today
The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a whopping $200 cheaper than the S20 was, and that is a great way to start laying out your credentials as the best 5G phone going right now.
Despite it now retailing at a seriously affordable level (both on-contract and SIM free), the Galaxy S21 still delivers blazing fast 5G connectivity as well as all-round smartphone performance, with flagship-grade processors and a buttery smooth 120Hz refresh rate display combining wonderfully.
No app or game is beyond the Samsung Galaxy S21, and enjoying them as well as any videos or photos is a joy thanks to the AMOLED panel.
And, speaking of photos, despite being the baby of the S21 range, the S21 comes with a very capable triple rear camera system, that makes shooting friends, family and life events easy. Naturally, with a 5G connection at your disposal, even sending large video files is a lighting fast experience.
The phone's OS is also really mature and intuitive, and as it is built on the latest official version of Android, you get full access to Google Play and all of Google's applications, too.
Naturally for a Samsung phone, the fit and finish is top tier and the centre-mounted pinhole selfie camera not particularly intrusive, either.
The S21 is not perfect so to speak, with it's battery being just good enough, but aside from that this is a 5G phone that delivers across the board, and does so for a price point that most Android phone users will be able to reach to.
To see how this handset compares to our number one premium 5G phone choice then be sure to check out T3's Samsung Galaxy S21 vs OnePlus 9 Pro comparison feature.
The OnePlus 9 Pro offers next-gen 5G connectivity as well as a suite of advanced phone technology, which is why it is our top recommendation for the best premium 5G phone.
Super fast 5G connection aside, the phone delivers a truly top-tier suite of hardware, including a 120Hz, QHD+, HDR10+ display, which manages to outpunch even the best panels from Samsung, Sony and Huawei right now.
Internal hardware consists of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 CPU, Adreno 660 GPU, up to 12GB RAM and 256GB of UFS3.0 storage, which combines to deliver buttery smooth performance in games and apps, while unlike past OnePlus flagships the phone also delivers IP68 water and dust proofing.
Unlike previous OnePlus flagship phones, the OnePlus 9 Pro also comes with a proper flagship-grade and performing camera system, too, with the whole system co-designed by camera experts Hasselblad. Quite simply it is the best camera system on a OnePlus phone to date.
It's not perfect, as the battery life is good but not great, and there's a strong argument that the OnePlus 9 offers better value for money, but if you want a premium 5G phone then the OnePlus 9 Pro will not disappoint.
Anyone who tells you that getting 5G on a phone is going to cost you a lot of money hasn't come across the TCL 10 5G: not only does it offer 5G, you also get a very decent screen, processor and camera as well, and all for a very affordable price point.
Some corners are cut to get the phone to this price – no waterproofing, no wireless charging – but you can't have many complaints considering the amount you're paying. TCL is relatively new to the smartphone scene, even though it's a veteran in the electronics industry, and we're impressed with what it's pulled off here.
Apart from the 5G that's on board, it's perhaps the display that has the most appeal here. It's bright and vivid, and you get a host of software tweaks that you can apply to really make the colours pop if you need to (when watching Netflix, for example).
For Apple fans there is one top choice for the best 5G phone for them, and that's the Apple iPhone 12. Released alongside the iPhone 12 Mini (great for small hands) and iPhone 12 Pro (great for those with deep pockets), the iPhone 12 delivers everything an Apple phone fan needs.
Naturally, 5G connectivity is excellent, with all 5G bands covered (great for future proofing and travelling abroad), while the phone also boasts a best-in-class 5nm A14 Bionic CPU, which smokes the best Android has to offer in benchmarks.
The screen, despite not delivering a 120Hz refresh rate, is a stunner, too, with it delivering a pin-sharp HDR10 Super Retina XDR panel that has a remarkable 1200 nits peak brightness.
As you would expect, the iPhone 12 also delivers Apple's typically high build quality and it runs the latest version of iOS, too, in iOS 14.2. There's also plenty of colors to choose from, as well as storage capacity variants, ranging from 64GB up to 256GB.
Overall, as we note in our iPhone 12 review, "the iPhone 12 is the ideal iPhone for most people, thanks to class-leading screen quality, high-quality cameras and great future-proofing (including 5G)." Enough said.
To see if this phone can match a quality 5G phone rival from the Android stable, be sure to check out T3's Apple iPhone 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE comparison feature.
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The best 5G phone for most people today is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. This handset, which was released late-on in 2020, offers all the great core functionality of the Samsung Galaxy S20, including its 5G connectivity, but does so for a firmly mid-tier price point.
On top of that rapid 5G connectivity is an incredible 120Hz HDR10+ screen, suite of premium hardware that includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU and 8GB RAM, as well as a long-lasting battery and strong selection of four cameras (three on the back and one of the front).
Naturally, as it is a Samsung device, you get full access to Android and Google Play store, too, and there is a wide selection of colors to choose from and two spec configurations as well.
In our official Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review we concluded that it was "whether you’re new to Samsung, or upgrading from an older handset, this is the device for you", and now with 5G networks prevalent and the cost of this phone and 5G SIM plans affordable for most people, it is overall our top recommendation.
There's a lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, and if you can manage the cost, it's undoubtedly one of the best Samsung experiences you're going to get this year. It features a brilliant design, a more than capable camera, and internal specs that mean it will outpace almost every phone on the market.
The biggest reason for buying the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, though, is of course that S Pen – scribble on the lock screen, control the camera remotely, unleash your creative side, and more. If you need a phone with a stylus for serious work on the go, this phone has you covered.
5G is on board, as the name of the phone suggests, which means you're covered for years when it comes to next-gen connectivity – and considering you've got the Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset (depending on region) running everything, this isn't a phone that'll be slowing down anytime soon.
As we've said, the price is a little on the eye-watering side, but for something you're going to use every day for years to come, you might consider it worthwhile. The triple-lens rear camera with 5x optical zoom deserves a mention too, as it's capable of capturing some fantastic snaps in any kind of lighting.
Depending on your region this phone could be called the Motorola One 5G or Moto G 5G Plus, so don't get confused when looking around. Despite the multiple names, though, what is important is that it remains a great cheap 5G phone to buy.
You get 5G connectivity as well as loads of other good stuff, including a very large 6.7-inch screen and long lasting 5,000mAh battery. Yes, things like the Snapdragon 765 CPU are mid-range, but performance on the device is snappy and at this low price understandable.
The Motorola One 5G also comes with an astonishing six camera lens, with a quad-array on the back and a double array on the front. It also runs Android 10 out of the box and delivers full access to all Google apps and games.
Overall, this is a great 5G phone pick for those shopping on a budget.
The Sony Xperia 1 II is unique in our best 5G phones guide for two reasons: firstly it has a 4K resolution screen, and secondly that screen has a 21:9 aspect ratio. These two factors make it a true powerhouse when it comes round to watching movies and TV shows.
Obviously, to make this list it also delivers rapid 5G connectivity, and as you would also expect it is no slouch in terms of hardware and performance. The Xperia 1 II delivers a Snapdragon 865 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB storage drive, which is on par with all the other premium handsets on the market today.
Other things to note is that this phone still comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack, so those with wired headphones won't need an adapter to use them, and that it runs Android 10 out of the box.
Yes, the price is rather high with the Xperia I II, but that screen and 5G connectivity mean to us that is to be expected – if you want the best you have to pay for it.
The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G has been on the market for a few years now and, after being teased at MWC 2019 and going on sale in May 2019, it's been a true star in showing that top 5G phones can be sold for low price points. Even now in 2021 it remains a great 5G phone.
5G aside, the Mi Mix 3 is a strong device, with a magnetically sliding 6.39-inch OLED display embedded in a sleek bezel-less design (93.4% screen-to-body ratio), and a suite of hardware that includes a maximum of 10GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space, as well as a dual rear camera system (24MP + 2MP). We were certainly impressed with the non-5G version of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3.
Most exciting for users looking to upgrade to a 5G phone this year is the smartphone's price, which is significantly lower than many other best 5G phones. Indeed, the Mi Mix 3 5G proves that you don't have to break the bank to get a rapid 5G phone.
Our next Samsung pick in this list is the one to go for if you want a quality 5G Samsung phone for as little cash as possible: the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G. It comes with all the usual Samsung qualities (speedy, well designed, great screen) but won't make you part with your life savings.
And you're getting a whole lot in return for your money too, including a triple-lens rear camera (with one camera a 48MP monster), a generous 6.7-inch screen and a big 4,500mAh battery. Some corners are cut – no IP68 waterproofing and no wireless charging, for example – but overall it's a fantastic deal.
It's fantastic to see 5G phones coming down in price, and the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G should be the start of an ongoing trend where 5G becomes more affordable. We'll add more great 5G phones to this list as we come across them.
5G explained: what is 5G?
5G is the successor to 4G (or LTE), which succeeded 3G (spot the pattern...). As phones and the network infrastructure become 5G-capable, we can all start enjoying faster upload and download speeds, among many other 5G phone benefits.
How much faster is a 5G phone connection? It depends on your device, location, and network, but improvements of around 15-50 percent should be possible day-to-day in the real world. Hypothetically, in lab conditions, 5G can improve on 4G many more times than that, so there's room to grow: imagine full 4K movies downloading in a minute or two, and you're in the right area.
5G isn't just about speed though, about simply being able to watch 4K Netflix on the train home. It's also about capacity, and being able to get a stronger signal in crowded areas. In other words, you shouldn't lose connection anywhere near as easily at a crowded sports stadium or a music festival, for example.
Be sure to check out T3's dedicated 5G explained feature if you want even more information about 5G technology and what it can do for you.
Why is 5G important?
In terms of the impact of 5G, think augmented reality (computer graphics merging with the real world), virtual reality, improved streaming resolutions, holographic displays, enhanced power and next-gen cloud computing... 5G is a significant jump forward for phones.
With so much bandwidth available, we're seeing plenty more gadgets and devices getting online too (self-driving cars and so on).
Partner these exciting developments with the other phone advancements charging over the horizon, such as totally notch-less and bezel-less displays, and its easy to see why many commentators are pegging 2021 as another big year of change for smartphones.