The 8 Best 5G Phones of 2021

These new phones give you access to 5G networks

The Wireless Connection
The Wireless Connection
Introduction

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If you want the best smartphone experience today, you need to buy one of the best 5G phones. There are a lot of great options that fit all sorts of budgets. From budget phones all the way up to foldables, there is a surplus of great options. 5G gives you better coverage and better speed. It's the future of cellular technology, and it's finally time to embrace it.

Even if you don't have a 5G signal in your area yet, your 5G phone will work on existing 4G networks for the time being. Once the 5G switch gets flipped in your area, you won't have to do anything except sit back and enjoy the faster speeds.

Considering the variety of 5G phones available, there's really no reason to buy a 4G phone nowadays. Most people typically keep their phones for two years at a time, and in two years, 5G networks are sure to be abundant. So even if it's just for the sake of future proofing, here are the best 5G phones you can buy today.

The Rundown
This is a phone for people who want the best of everything in their device.
Best Design:
OnePlus 9 at Amazon
The OnePlus 9 is for people who want a smooth operating phone, decent camera, and great battery life.
You get Apple's best camera system thus far with an ultrawide and wide angle lens.
This would be a great phone for people who are looking at Android, but don't want to heavily invest in the higher-end performers.
What you'll get is a great Android experience with good cameras and solid battery life, at 5G speeds.
Simply sit down and open the phone, and you're treated to a mini-tablet that then folds up and slips into your pants pocket.
With 48 to 50MP sensors on every camera lens, zooming and cropping is easy and largely error free.
Considering its price tag, this phone is hard to beat.

Best Overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
What We Like
  • It's the best phone you can buy right now

  • Insane camera

  • 120Hz screen

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Very big

It's fair to say that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best phone you can buy today. That's a very subjective statement, for sure, but this phone doesn't skimp on anything. You get the best screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, the best camera setup, and the best processor. It's objectively the best of everything. That all comes in a package that is very large, and actually won't fit in some pants pockets.

But the story of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is in its cameras. You've got an ultrawide and wide camera, plus two optically zoomed lenses. The first is at 3x and the second is at 10x. Furthermore, Samsung's hybrid zoom technology is top notch, allowing for respectable photos to be taken at 30x zoom. Plus, Samsung adds a neat camera trick at 100x zoom that allows you to take incredible photos of the moon without a tripod. This crazy-good camera is the icing on top of a very expensive cake.

This is a phone for people who want the best of everything in their device. It's also highly recommended for parents who regularly want to capture their children at play. 10x optical zoom puts you right up in the action while remaining in your seat in the bleachers. It's powerful, 5G enabled, and will last you for years.

Screen Size: 6.8 inches at 120Hz | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 | Processor: SnapDragon 888 | Camera: 108MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP Telephoto (3x), 10MP Telephoto (10x) | Battery Life: Around 2 days

"If you’re looking for a super-premium, extra-large Android, there’s no better phone around." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

What We Like
  • Gorgeous 120Hz screen

  • Fast charging (with included charger)

  • Speedy performance

What We Don't Like
  • Inconsistent cameras

  • No IP rating

  • No mmWave 5G

The OnePlus 9 is the latest offering from OnePlus, which started off by undercutting midrange phones with flagship specifications. Today, OnePlus has matured into a flagship company in its own right, putting the emphasis on "fast and smooth" in its devices.

Following that philosophy, you'll get an amazing 120Hz screen that is silky smooth in scrolling and swiping. Plus, OnePlus's minimal skin is one of the best in the Android in terms of performance. Also with that "fast" philosophy, you'll get sub-6 5G speeds (but no mmWave) from all major carriers. Another area where OnePlus excels is in the fast charging you'll get. OnePlus includes an insane 65W charger in the box.

The cameras on the phone are inconsistent, which is disappointing considering how much emphasis OnePlus put on its Hasselblad partnership. There's also no official IP rating for these devices, so you'll want to keep the phone out of the rain.

But the OnePlus 9 is a much more mainstream phone these days. It's for people who want a smooth operating phone, decent camera, and great battery life. 

Screen Size: 6.55 inches at 120Hz | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | Processor: SnapDragon 888 | Camera: 48MP main, 50MP ultrawide, 2MP monochrome | Battery Life: Around 2 days

"The OnePlus 9 offers incredibly fast 65W wired fast charging, which is five times the charging rate of the Galaxy S21." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

OnePlus 9

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Apple: Apple iPhone 12

iPhone 12
What We Like
  • iOS is easy

  • Great cameras

  • Beautiful screen

  • Iconic design

What We Don't Like
  • No fingerprint sensor

  • 60Hz screen

Apple went back to its roots when it designed the iPhone 12. In a throwback to the iPhone 4, the iPhone 12 has a simple, iconic squared-off design on the edges. It has a wonderful screen that is bright and high resolution. It sports iOS, which is a great operating system that is easy to use and known the world over. Additionally, you get Apple's best camera system thus far with an ultrawide and wide angle lens that transfer seamlessly between the two. It runs fast and it will last you forever.

The screen is only 60Hz, which might not sit well with you, especially if you have previously had a phone with a faster refresh rate. There's also no fingerprint sensor, but iOS 14.5 allows you to unlock your iPhone with your Apple watch.

The iPhone is basically for everyone. It doesn't check every single box out there, but it's one of the most popular phones in the world. Apple controls the experience from the hardware to the software, and there are a wealth of accessories designed specifically for the iPhone, so you'll have a lot of options.

Screen Size: 6.1 inches at 60Hz | Resolution: 2532 x 1170 | Processor: Apple A14 Bionic | Camera: 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide | Battery: Around 2 days

"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 Mid-Range: Samsung Galaxy A51 5G

What We Like
  • Great screen

  • Solid performance

  • 5G support

  • Great battery life

  • Headphone jack

What We Don't Like
  • Bad speaker

  • No IP rating

Samsung is not just known for its flagship phones; it offers pretty great mid-range options as well. The Galaxy A51 5G is one such offering that brings 5G at an affordable price. The A51 also features an impressive battery life. Our reviewer regularly went to bed with 40 to 50 percent left in the tank, making this a day-and-a-half or two-day phone for most people.

Its screen is just gorgeous, keeping with Samsung's reputation, but the speaker is quite bad. Make sure you bring your headphones (yes, there is a headphone jack!) The phone doesn't have an IP rating, so you'll want to keep it dry, but beyond that you can count on solid performance from the Exynos 980 chipset.

The camera setup is in the good-but-not-great category. All around, this is a reliable and not too-expensive phone that you can count on. This would be a great phone for people who are looking at Android, but don't want to heavily invest in the higher-end performers.

Screen Size: 6.5 inches | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | Processor: Exynos 980 | Camera: 48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 2MP macro, 5MP depth | Battery Life: Around 1.5 days

"At $500, the Samsung Galaxy A51 5G feels like a great deal for what you get. It’s a well-built and solid-feeling phone with a large and crisp screen, excellent battery life, solid performance, 5G support, and pretty good cameras." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Samsung Galaxy A51 5G

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Budget: Motorola One 5G

What We Like
  • Good price

  • Great battery life

  • Great software

What We Don't Like
  • Software updates are questionable

Motorola has quietly become one of the mainstays of the mid-range and budget phone spaces. The Motorola One 5G is one of the least-expensive 5G phones you can buy today. Motorola offers one of the greatest Android experiences you can find on a smartphone.

The mostly-stock Android build is enhanced by a few really smart software tricks, but otherwise remains true to the Google philosophy, which is ironic considering Motorola's spotty history when it comes to software updates. 

What you'll get is a great Android experience with good cameras and solid battery life, at 5G speeds. That's a win for most people. This phone is best for those who like a really stock Android experience and want exceptional battery life. People who are concerned about camera quality or software updates should pass, for sure.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches at 90Hz | Resolution: 1080 x 2520 | Processor: Snapdragon 765 | Camera: 48MP main, 8MP ultrawide, 5MP macro, 2MP depth | Battery Life: Around 2 days

Best Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G
What We Like
  • Foldable tablet

  • Great cameras

  • Massive storage

What We Don't Like
  • Both screens are small

  • Expensive

  • Handle with care

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 is one of just a handful of foldable phones out there, and it has 5G. This phone is really expensive, topping our list by an extra 50 percent over its nearest competitor. But for that price you get a transformative device that will redefine how you will use your phone.

Simply sit down and open the phone, and you're treated to a mini-tablet that then folds up and slips into your pants pocket. The base storage you can get is 256GB, but that's expandable up to 512GB if you want. 

One problem you run into with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is that both screens are really too small to be what they claim. The cover screen is too narrow to be a phone and the opened screen is too small to be an effective tablet. But, the opened screen is huge compared to even the largest phone screen, so it definitely serves a purpose.

This phone is not for everyone. It is for people who want to live on the bleeding edge. Foldables are just over two years old at this point and more and more companies are releasing new versions. This is one of the best out there right now, so if you want to live on the edge, and treat your phone with kid gloves, the Galaxy Z Fold2 is for you.

Screen Size: 6.7 inches at 90Hz | Resolution: 1080 x 2520 | Processor: Snapdragon 765 | Camera: 48MP main, 8MP ultrawide, 5MP macro, 2MP depth | Battery Life: Around 2 days

Best Overseas: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
What We Like
  • Great camera setup

  • Super-fast charging

What We Don't Like
  • Overpromises on zoom

  • Not available in many western markets

  • Expensive

Xioami released its latest phones positioned to go head-to-head with Samsung's S21 line. Fittingly, the top of Xioami's line is called the Mi 11 Ultra, and it boasts a 120x zoom capability, which is an overpromise for sure. 

Like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you can get a usable snap up to around 30x, but if you go beyond that, photo quality degrades very quickly. Also like the S21 Ultra, this phone is really expensive, assuming you can buy it, because if you live in the US or in many western markets, you simply cannot.

The camera setup is really great though. With 48 to 50MP sensors on every lens, zooming and cropping is easy and largely error free. Pictures are sharp, and finely detailed. This is one of the better camera setups you can get on a phone. Along with that, this is one of the fastest charging phones on the market, charging from 0 to full in 36 minutes. That's outstanding. 

This phone is going to be for people who want the best of everything, but who don't live in the U.S. and don't want to buy a Samsung phone. That may seem like a niche market, but more and more people are turning to Xiaomi in Asian countries, and it's turned into quite a success for the Chinese phone maker.

Screen Size: 6.81 inches at 120Hz | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 | Processor: Snapdragon 888 | Camera: 50MP main, 48MP telephoto (5x), 48MP ultrawide | Battery Life: Around 2 days

Best Android: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Pixel 4a 5G
What We Like
  • Amazing cameras

  • The best Android experience

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Great price

What We Don't Like
  • No IP rating

  • No mmWave

The Google Pixel 4a 5G is one of the breakout hits from 2020, sporting Android as Google intended it. It runs really well, with a great screen and amazing cameras. Google has leaped ahead of most other manufacturers in its camera software processing that takes great photos basically any time. Notable features include an awesome portrait mode and astrophotography mode.

The phone doesn't have mmWave 5G or an IP rating, so it's certainly not the best of the best out there. But it has a long-lasting battery and it runs the best version of Android you'll find. The camera is really reliable even in the harshest conditions. Considering its price tag, this phone is hard to beat. 

This phone is for people who want a phone that "just works," but who don't want an iPhone. The Google Pixel has been called the Google iPhone for years because Google has total control of it from top to bottom, just like Apple does with the iPhone. It's hard to imagine a better Android experience, and when you combine that with the camera and battery, it's one of the best values in mobile.

Screen Size: 6.2 inches | Resolution: 2340 x 1080| Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | Camera: 12.2MP main, 16MP ultrawide | Battery: Around 2 days

"It’s not the most exciting-looking phone, but with 5G, excellent cameras, and plenty more in the mix for $499, the Google Pixel 4a 5G is a smart and sensible pickup." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Google Pixel 4a

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

Final Verdict

The best 5G phone you can buy right now is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, full stop (view at Best Buy). The phone is the best in basically every category a phone can be rated on. It also has a price tag to match, for sure. But for that camera, battery, the promise of three years of updates, and everything else you get, it's not even a question. 

If you're an Apple fan, and many of you are, then the iPhone 12 (view at Apple) is a great choice. It's the best of iOS, has a great design, and lasts forever. If you're more of an Android fan, consider the Google "iPhone," which is the Pixel 4a5G (view at Amazon). All of these are great options that will lead you into the future of telecommunications.

About Our Trusted Experts

Adam Doud has been writing in the technology space for almost a decade. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's playing with the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. He is an expert in Android and Samsung devices and operating systems.

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

What's the difference between 4G and 5G?

5G is the latest generation of voice and data transmission. "5G" actually stands for "5th generation." It's newer and more efficient than 4G, which is often also generically called LTE. The fundamental difference is speed, latency, and bandwidth. All of those are better on 5G, which is why there's a lot of interest in 5G today.

Can you get 5G anywhere?

It depends on your carrier. You'll want to check your local carrier maps to see which technology is available in your area. 5G phones are backward compatible, so if there is any signal where you are, you'll be able to use your phone.

What is sub 6 5G and mmWave?

The two types of 5G that are prevalent these days are sub-6 and mmWave. Both of those labels refer to the type of spectrum that those types of 5G use. mmWave is super fast, but with limited range. Sub-6 is slower, but with much greater range. Soon, midband 5G will start to come online that offers the advantages of both.

Google Pixel 4a

Andrew Hayward / Lifewire

What to Look For in a 5G Phone

Battery

Battery is one of the most pressing concerns when it comes to 5G phones. 5G can be a bit battery hungry at times, so it's important to have a high capacity battery.

RAM

Your phone's memory or RAM will go a long way toward telling you what performance will be like. RAM determines how many apps your phone can run at once. It's also important to not confuse RAM with on-board storage. Storage is where you keep your apps, RAM is what is used when they are running. More RAM is better.

iPhone 12 display

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Camera

Smartphones have largely turned into cameras these days, and some phones offer camera experiences comparable to higher-end, standalone cameras. Look for high megapixel count, and telephoto capabilities if you want to shoot at a long distance.

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