The Best 5G Phones You Can Buy Right Now (2021)

Best 5G Phones You Can Buy Right Now (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 future support right now. It’s a great way to future-proof your new phone.

We’ve been reviewing 5G phones since the start of the 5G era and have spent countless hours testing all aspects of 5G phones — including their performance, display quality, battery life, and connectivity to 5G networks. We’ve also 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 13 Pro. But if you’re an Android adherent, there are plenty of worthy choices from Samsung. 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 13 Pro

Best 5G phone overall: Apple iPhone 13 Pro.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: This iPhone is a joy to use, giving you the new favorite squared-off form factor, a 120Hz screen, excellent camera performance, tons of battery life, and a range of great storage options.

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 13 Pro:

The Apple iPhone 13 Pro maintains Apple’s new-old and much-loved iPhone 5-style design, resurrected last year with the iPhone 12 series. It’s a solid chunk of phone that sits comfortably in the hand and offers stellar performance, an awesome rear camera, and a range of premium features.

The iPhone 13 Pro supports all varieties of 5G connectivity, from sub-6 and ultra-wideband to mmWave, meaning that this iPhone — and all others in the iPhone 13 series — can leverage 5G on every major U.S. network as they continue their buildout. Even if you can’t take advantage of 5G just yet, the iPhone 13 Pro means you’ll be ready when it’s available in your community.

The iPhone 13 Pro’s 6.1-inch Super Retina OLED screen has great color accuracy, 2532 x 1170 resolution, and 460 pixels per inch. It’s got sharp, bright viewing angles and can hit 1,000 nits of brightness, and punch up to 1,200 nits for HDR content. Outdoor visibility is excellent even in direct sunlight, and the screen also supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. But what really sets it apart is the 120Hz ProMotion display. ProMotion allows for a boost in refresh rate from the standard 60Hz to 120Hz for different kinds of content. Plus the iPhone 13 also features MagSafe and can take advantage of the new ecosystem of magnetic accessories, including those that allow for faster wireless charging.

The iPhone 13 Pro (and its big sibling the Pro Max) has the best camera array in the iPhone 13 range. Three 12-megapixel sensors — a 12-megapixel wide-angle, a 12MP telephoto, and a 12MP ultrawide that can take 120-degree snaps — facilitates the best photos. Aside from the 3x telephoto zoom, Night mode, and Cinematic mode, the other big feature of the iPhone 13 Pro is macro photography via automatically swapping to the zoom lens to give you an up-close focus on your subject.

Much of the iPhone 13’s power is derived from optimized power usage from combining the larger A15 Bionic processor and the LTPO screen with a variable refresh rate. The battery is also larger at 3,095mAh compared to the 2,815mAh battery that came with the iPhone 12 Pro. The result is more runtime with average usage. Apple excels at software and security updates, so your iPhone 13 Pro should feel like new for three years or more.

 Read our full Apple iPhone 13 Pro review

Best 5G Android phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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

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 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 3 5G

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

 

Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best foldable on the market. After three years of refinements and progress, this phone is ready for prime time, and ready for everyone. It offers a great gaming experience and tons of value for multitasking and productivity.

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

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G:

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is a luxury phone, but if you want it all as well as the foldable experience with 5G support, this flashy handset is the way to go. The phone supports sub-6 and mmWave 5G, so it’s compatible with every major U.S. carrier’s network. The Fold 3 also supports Wi-Fi 6e, NFC, and has Bluetooth 5.2. so there are no problems taking and making calls, browsing on 5G in the city, and connecting to accessories like the Galaxy Watch 4 and Bluetooth headphones.

The main screen is where all the action is. When the phone unfolds, you see a big, bright 7.6-inch screen with a 2208 x 1768 resolution, which works out to a crisp 374 pixels per inch. It’s AMOLED and supports HDR10+, so the colors are rich, saturated, and have the dense, inky blacks the panel is known for. The phone hits 1,200 nits of peak brightness, so both the cover screen and main screen have stellar visibility in direct sunlight. The weight tips the scales at 271 grams — heavier than most phones, but lighter than a tablet. Folded, it transforms into a tall and narrow “candy bar” measuring 158.2 x 78.1 x 14.4-16 millimeters. While somewhat bulky, it is relatively easy to use one-handed because of the narrow 6.2-inch cover screen. When folded, the cover screen has a resolution of 2268 x 832 and supports a 120Hz refresh rate, like the main screen.

Under the hood, the Fold 3’s hardware matches the best flagship phones available. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and has 12GB RAM and 256GB/512GB of storage. There’s no microSD card slot, so if you’re a power user, choose the bigger storage configuration.

Camera capabilities are unchanged from the Fold 2. On the rear, the phone has three 12MP cameras: One primary sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS), one telephoto for 2x optical zoom and OIS, and one ultrawide for 123-degree shots. All three cameras take great photos with images that look crisp, with plenty of detail and minimal noise.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 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.

Best 5G Phones
Best 5G Phones

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.

Watch for the new C-band

The major telecoms (Verizon and AT&T specifically) are spending billions on a new 5G spectrum called C-band, so it’s a good idea for cell phone customers to know what it is.

C-band could speed up 5G networks for potentially 60% of the U.S. population, if everything goes as planned. C-band has been the sole province of satellite companies up until now, but they are moving on to the upper portion of the band and leaving the lower spectrum open to cell phone carriers. C-band frequencies travel farther than mmWave and can move through solid obstacles, though without the range of the lower frequencies. But they are speedy, approaching 1Gbps.

The first exodus is at the end of 2021 and the second is scheduled for the end of 2023. This is a catch-up call for the U.S., as other nations worldwide have already jumped on C-band.

For smartphone owners, the question is whether the new phone you buy will support this spectrum. Currently, only iPhone 5G phones, the Google Pixel 5, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 series support C-band. More phones will be climbing on board the C-band soon.

Meanwhile, if something can go wrong, it will. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has now issued a warning about potential interference to airplane safety systems from upcoming C-band frequency — specifically, for radio altimeters that help with landing in bad weather, avoiding collisions, and preventing crashes. That has already caused delays in implementation of the telecom’s buildout plans, at least until early January of 2022, though no problems have thus far been reported in Japan, South Korea, or Europe, where C-band is already in use.