The 9 Best 5G Phones of 2021

These new phones give you access to 5G networks!

The Wireless Connection
The Wireless Connection
Introduction

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
"The Note20 Ultra 5G is the best high-end 5G phone for those who price is no object."
"The 5G version of the Pixel 4a is the phone for most people, it comes with a big display, great camera, solid performance, and it won't break the bank."
"Apple’s first 5G phone, the iPhone 12 comes with a powerful A14 processor, an attractive screen, and impressive camera capabilities."
"The Galaxy S21 offers excellent camera performance and a crisp 120Hz display. "
"A sized down iPhone 12, the Mini gives you all the power of its larger sibling in a smaller footprint."
"If you want 5G without having to shell out for a lot of extras, the Galaxy A71 offers great value as a reasonably affordable phone."
"This budget 5G phone from OnePlus presents a shockingly good bargain."
Best OnePlus:
OnePlus 8T at Best Buy
"The OnePlus 8T is a powerful 5G phone that still holds its own as a value option despite the release of the OnePlus 9."
"One of Motorla's top-tier flagships, the Edge+ can compete with Samsung's best offerings."

The best 5G phones should support 5G connectivity on U.S. mobile carriers. All the major carriers in the U.S. like AT&T, T-Mobile/Sprint, and Verizon have 5G networks up and running and they are continuing to be expanded. 5G phones offer faster connectivity than 4G LTE, giving you high download and upload speeds no matter where you are. But you'll want to keep in mind that not all phones are 5G compatible and that not all phones support Ultra-Wideband 5G network which offer high bandwidth connection.

Most 5G phones currently on the market are flagships, but there are more affordable mid-range 5G phones available from companies like OnePlus, Motorola, and Samsung. Be sure to take a look at our general roundup of the best smartphones and our list of the best smartphones under $300 if you're on a tight budget. Otherwise, read on to see the best 5G phones to get.

Best Overall: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G
What We Like
  • Huge, stunning screen

  • Amazing cameras

  • Ample power

  • Productivity perks

  • Good battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Can be hard to handle

  • QHD+ or 120Hz, not both

  • Sluggish fingerprint sensor

Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G is an exercise in smartphone excess, delivering top-end technology and ample perks at the highest price of any mainstream smartphone today. It’s a luxurious-looking handset with an enormous 6.8-inch screen, which you can run at either a crisp QHD+ resolution or super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate (but not both simultaneously). The Note20 Ultra also has an excellent and versatile triple-camera array, a very speedy processor, ample battery life, and the pop-out S Pen stylus for a productivity boost.

With support for both sub-6Ghz and mmWave 5G connectivity, it can also deliver swift on-the-go downloads and steady streaming. We found the Note20 Ultra to be a little too large to be comfortable in everyday usage, but size aside, this is one seriously impressive phone. That said, it’s a pricey smartphone that can be matched or nearly matched on many points by top flagship phones today, making it a very pricey and decidedly niche option.

Screen Size: 6.9 inches | Resolution: 3088x1440| Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ | Camera: 108MP/12MP/12MP rear and 10MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

"The Note20 Ultra has a highly versatile shooting trio that delivers consistently excellent shots in all conditions. It’s one of the best smartphone camera systems you’ll find today."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Value: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Pixel 4a 5G
What We Like
  • Stellar cameras

  • Smooth Android OS

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Great, big screen

  • 5G support

What We Don't Like
  • Generic looking design

  • No water resistance

  • Lacks mmWave 5G

The 5G model of the Pixel 4a is likely going to be one of the most popular 5G phones on the market. It offers 5G connectivity, just like all the phones on this list, but it does it at a lower price than the Pixel 5 and several hundred dollars cheaper than most of the high-end phones on this list. What you get with the Pixel 4a 5G is a 6.2-inch 2340x1080 OLED display, working out to a crisp 413ppi. The screen is an edge-to-edge panel with a cutout, as has become increasingly standard.

Under the hood, it has a Snapdragon 765G processor, just like the Pixel 5. That won't match the Snapdragon 865+ chipset on most flagship phones, but combined with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, along with Google's optimized software, you shouldn't face much trouble when it comes to multitasking and gaming.

The camera capabilities stand out for special consideration. Both are heavily optimized for snapping great shots, with a 12.2MP primary sensor and a 16Mp ultra-wide sensor. The phone can record in 4K video and comes with a sizable 3,800mAh battery and fast charging support. What you're missing here is a higher refresh display, water resistance, and wireless charging, which might be significant omissions for some, but if you can get by without it, the Pixel 4a 5G has great value.

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080| Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G| Camera: 12.2MP/16MP rear and 8MP front | Battery: 3,885mAH

"You get a 5G-capable phone with a great screen, excellent cameras, and strong battery life, and enough processing power to get the job done." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Google Pixel 4a

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Best Apple: Apple iPhone 12

iPhone 12
What We Like
  • Eye-catching design

  • Incredibly powerful

  • Full 5G support

  • Beautiful screens

  • Excellent cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Only 60Hz screen

  • No external storage

  • No included power brick

Apple’s first 5G iPhone is a winner, keeping the notched look of recent models while packing in big improvements across the board. The iPhone 12 has a more striking look thanks to the flat frame, and is also thinner and lighter in the process. It also has a markedly better 6.1-inch OLED screen that is much crisper and benefits from improved contrast and black levels.

Beauty is much more than skin-deep with the iPhone 12, however, as it includes the most powerful smartphone chip on the market, the A14 Bionic, not to mention compatibility for blistering 5G speeds and an excellent camera setup. This is a robust, fully-featured iPhone, and sure to make some Apple fans second-guess whether it’s even worth paying extra for one of the iPhone 12 Pro models.

Screen Size: 6.1 inches | Resolution: 2532x1170 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and 12MP front | Battery: 2,815mAh

"The iPhone 12 is Apple’s best smartphone in years, delivering a premium, polished handset that is packed with power and style alike.” — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

iPhone 12 back
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward.

Best Camera: Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21
What We Like
  • Gorgeous 120Hz screen

  • Plenty of power

  • Excellent cameras

  • Distinctive design

What We Don't Like
  • Downgrades from S20

  • Battery life just OK

  • No microSD slot

  • Plastic backing

The Samsung Galaxy S21 is the smaller sibling to the powerful S21 Ultra. As the successor to the Samsung Galaxy S20, everything you get here builds on what came before—albeit with some exceptions. For starters, you get a sleek phone that has a 6.2-inch screen, just like before, but it sheds the glass back in favor of a plastic build. That's a notable step down in build material, but the trade-off is the price cut making it quite a bit cheaper than the previous model.

Our reviewer noted that most of the other features Samsung users love are still here. This includes a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, a high-refresh 120Hz display for smooth animations and transitions, and solid benchmarks. While the RAM has been cut from 12GB to 8GB, it's still a great phone that can handle anything you throw at it. The real standout is the camera, with a 12MP wide-angle sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor, and a 64MP telephoto zoom lens. The combination resulted in stellar shots with excellent detail that our reviewer loved. There's no doubt the Galaxy S21 lives up to its reputation as a flagship, even if some frills have been trimmed from the previous generation.

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 12MP/64MP/12MP | Battery: 4,000mAh

“It’s a speedy handset that feels super responsive with all demands, from apps and games to media and multitasking, and the smooth 120Hz display only aids in that swift sensation."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Best Compact: Apple iPhone 12 mini

iPhone 12 Mini
What We Like
  • Compact, attractive design

  • Immensely powerful

  • Crisp, bright display

  • Speedy 5G support

  • Great cameras

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly weaker battery life

  • Just 60Hz screen

  • Limited 64GB base storage

  • No power brick

There isn't much difference between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 mini. The main thing comes down to size and form-factor. The mini has a smaller 5.4-inch OLED screen, compared to the 6.1-inch panel you get with the iPhone 12. The mini is also thinner and lighter (and probably has less battery). It won't weigh down your pocket as much as the other phones on this list and it'll be easier to use with one hand.

.In other regards, it's largely identical to the iPhone 12. The screen supports HDR and Dolby Vision, has 476ppi, dense black, and rich, saturated colors. It's powered by an A14 Bionic processor making for effective multitasking and has two 12MP cameras on the rear for ultrawide and wide-angle shots, and a 12MP selfie camera. It supports wireless charging, fast charging, IP68 waterproofing, and has a Lightning port despite coming with a Lightning to USB-C cable.

Screen Size: 5.4 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080 | Processor: A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and12MP front | Battery: 2,227mAh

"This is the fastest chip available in any smartphone today by clear margins, expanding the lead that Apple has gradually grown with each new edition of its mobile system-on-a-chip in recent years."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Apple iPhone 12 mini

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Mid-Range: Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

 Samsung Galaxy A71 5G
What We Like
  • Extensive battery life

  • Big, beautiful screen

  • Smooth performance

  • 5G support

What We Don't Like
  • No water resistance

  • Middling speaker

  • Unlocked doesn't work on Verizon 5G

Another Samsung on the list, but don't worry, the A71 is a different kind of 5G phone from the rest. For one, it costs less than most, making it one of the more affordable phones on this list. Despite the lower price, it still offers solid mid-range performance. For starters, you get a 6.7-inch Super AMOLED edge-to-edge with a 2400x1080 resolution, working out to 393ppi. There are no special frills like a high refresh rate or HDR, but it's powered by an Exynos 980 processor and has 6GB/8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, allowing for a solid level of multitasking and a bit of gaming.

Camera quality is solid, with a quad array consisting of a 64MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and 5MP depth sensor. It can record 4K video at 30fps and 1080p at 120fps. While it doesn't have waterproofing or wireless charging, you do get a 4,500mAh battery, fast charging, and most key features like dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 For those who don't need all the the bells and whistles, the A71 is a very capable 5G phone for a reasonable price.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 | Camera: 64MP/12MP/5MP/5MP rear and 32MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

"The Galaxy A71 5G feels smooth and responsive the vast majority of the time, with only occasional hints of sluggishness here and there." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Best Budget: OnePlus Nord N10 5G

 OnePlus Nord N10 5G
What We Like
  • Incredible value for 5G phone

  • Solid performance

  • Fast-charging, long-lasting battery

  • 90Hz display

  • Oxygen OS is smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Dim LCD screen

  • Won't get Android 12

  • Non-main cameras are weak

  • No alert slider

The Nord N10 5G shows that OnePlus’ biggest strength may be feature-rich and shockingly affordable mid-range phones. Despite a reasonable price, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G delivers speedy 5G connectivity, solid performance, a long-lasting battery, and surprising flagship-level perks like a 90Hz display and fast 30W charging.

It comes with a couple of caveats, such as a dim screen and limited Android upgrade plans (it’s only slated to get Android 11), but otherwise, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G has no major deal-breaking flaws. If you’re looking for a 5G phone that runs well and doesn’t cost $500 or more, this is easily your best option right now.

Screen Size: 6.49 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 690| Camera: 64MP/8MP/2MP/2MP rear and 16MP front | Battery: 4,300mAh

"The Nord N10 5G reached a top speed about three times faster than I usually see on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and it’s impressive to see a $300 phone wrangle such stellar speeds." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

OnePlus Nord N10 5G

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

What We Like
  • Incredibly fast charging

  • Beautiful 120Hz screen

  • Basic 5G support

  • Hefty 256GB storage

  • Smooth performance

What We Don't Like
  • Inconsistent cameras

  • No water resistance rating

  • Back glass smudges

  • No mmWave 5G

OnePlus once pumped out “budget flagship” phones that undercut the competition, but at $749, the new OnePlus 8T is very much a premium offering and in the same ballpark as rivals. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. On the upside, the 6.55-inch OLED screen is a smooth-scrolling 120Hz beauty, plus the OnePlus 8T has great performance, loads of storage, and basic 5G compatibility. It also charges incredibly quickly with the included 65W Warp Charger, which charges up the phone from 0 percent to full in just 35 minutes.

However, the inconsistent cameras don’t match up to like-priced rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G or the Apple iPhone 12/12 Mini. Furthermore, the unlocked edition doesn’t have IP dust and water resistance certification, which is strange for a phone at this price. There’s a lot to love about the OnePlus 8T, but I can’t help but feel like the company made the wrong compromises with this feature-rich, yet frustrating flagship.

Screen Size: 6.55 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 | Camera: 48MP/16MP/5MP/2MP rear and 16MP front | Battery: 4,500 mAh

"The OnePlus 8T feels plenty speedy throughout usage, particularly with the silky-smooth 120Hz screen refresh rate in effect." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

OnePlus 8T

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Best Motorola: Motorola Moto Edge

Motorola Moto Edge
What We Like
  • Distinctive looks

  • Powerful performance

  • Full Verizon 5G support

  • Two-day battery

  • Headphone port

What We Don't Like
  • Curved screen issues

  • Slippery wobbly design

  • Middling low-light shooting

  • Very expensive

  • No IP rating

The Edge+ is Motorola’s first high-end flagship phone in a couple years, and it’s a distinctive but inconsistent return. While the Verizon-exclusive Edge+ impresses with some of its core attributes, such as strong performance, excellent 5G speeds, and epic battery life, it falls short with screen and design issues and can’t justify the sizable $1,000 price point.

The ultra-curved waterfall display is unique amongst phones in the American market, but such sharp curves distort the view at the edges of the screen and occasionally lead to accidental and misread taps and touches. The slippery design also underwhelms and wobbles when set on a flat surface. Add in middling low-light camera performance and the Motorola Edge+ is handily beat by many other current flagship phones, including some that cost $200-300 less.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | Camera: 64MP/8MP/16MP rear and 25MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

"When tapped into Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, I saw a peak high speed of 2.44Gbps, or nearly 25x the top Nationwide speed. That’s incredibly fast."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Motorola Edge+

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Final Verdict

The best 5G phone in terms of specs, power, and capabilities is the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra (view at Amazon). It's a powerhouse phone with a stylus for improved productivity, AI-enhanced cameras, a long-lasting battery, and all the best features like wireless charging and waterproofing. If you need a less costly option, we like the Google Pixel 4a 5G (view at Best Buy). It has solid mid-range specs, great camera capabilities, and clean software, all without hitting your wallet too hard.

About Our Trusted Experts

Ajay Kumar is Tech Editor at Dotdash and has been working in the tech industry and reviewing consumer electronics for nearly a decade. He's reviewed hundreds of phones at his previous position at PCMag and personally has used several of the phones on this list.

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who's been reviewing products for Lifewire since 2019. He's previously been published in TechRadar, Stuff, Polygon, and Macworld. He specializes in smartphone and mobile devices and has reviewed a big chunk of the products on this roundup.

FAQs

Is it best to get a 5G phone now?
Now is a great time to get a 5G phone. 5G service is now available for the majority of US customers on major carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile/Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and a variety of others. We've put together an overview of the 5G rollout in the US so you can confirm your carrier offers 5G services. 5G speeds are notably faster than 4G LTE and that will only continue as capacity increases.

Which phone has the best 5G connectivity?
Most new flagship phones and an increasing number of mid-range phones support 5G connectivity, but there are some differences in spectrum and frequency. T-Mobile uses low-band spectrum and 2.5GHz spectrum and now that Sprint is merging with it, it also has more spectrum than any other carrier with three spectrum bands. AT&T uses mmWave for dense areas and mid and low-spectrum for rural and suburban locations. Verizon has 5G Ultra Wideband with 28GHz and 39GHz. What this means is that Verizon can offer the fastest speeds on its devices, though in a very concentrated area.

Which 5G phone is performing best on T-Mobile?
Any of the new flagship phones will work great with T-Mobile's 5G network. This includes the latest iPhone 12, Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra, OnePlus 8T, and other devices. We've reviewed and tested many of these phones on the carrier and gotten blazing-fast results.

Google Pixel 4a

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

What to Consider When Buying a 5G Phone

Screen size

One of the key features to look for in a 5G phone is screen size and quality. Most 5G phones are on the larger side, with most averaging around 6 inches. OLED and AMOLED panels are the most common screen technology, providing dense, saturated colors, and inky blacks. Higher refresh panels are usually 90Hz or 120Hz, making animations and transitions seem smoother. This is particularly useful for games that rely on fps.

A variant of OLED is used by certain companies like Samsung and Motorola to create folding phones that can bend, either snapping closed into a clamshell, or expanding into a tablet-sized device. A bigger screen size allows for better multimedia and utility, but unless it's a folding screen it may also add to bulk. Folding phones tend to be more expensive and the screen a bit more fragile.

Processor

Most 5G phones tend to be flagships, meaning they have a Snapdragon 865 or 865+ processor along with plenty of RAM. This allows them to do multitasking, gaming, and productivity, taking full advantage of 5G data speeds. However, if you're looking for a more affordable device, you can get 5G phones that are powered by a Snapdragon 765G processor or one of Samsung's Exynos variants. They won't be quite as powerful as the latest and greatest Qualcomm chipset, but most people won't notice performance impact outside of benchmark testing.

Features

A certain set of features have become common on most 5G phones and flagship phones, for that matter. IP68 waterproofing allows phones to be immersed in water and survive exposure to dust. Wireless charging allows for compatibility with Qi charging pads, reverse wireless charging lets your phone charge other compatible devices, and fast charging to top up quickly. Some phones allow microSD storage, while others lack the option.

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