Apple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini smartphones
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini smartphones
Photo: Apple

If you’re in the market for a new phone, this is a good time to consider 5G. After years of buzz, we’re getting our first real glimpse at what the new wireless technology can do.

It might not be widely available where you live, but the major carriers have been steadily expanding their 5G networks over the past year, slowly turning what once was spotty connectivity into something resembling national coverage.

The choice of 5G-compatible phones is wider now, too. Bare-bones models start as low as $500, with high-end models stretching beyond $1,000 because of cutting-edge cameras and OLED displays.

More on Smartphones

According to experts, 5G speeds—five times faster than 4G connections at peak performance—will eventually allow users to download a movie in just 5 seconds.

The technology will also pave the way for the instantaneous response times required to safely perform robotic surgery and operate self-driving cars that communicate with other vehicles and road infrastructure.

But before you crack open your wallet for a new 5G phone, make sure it includes the hardware required to operate on your carrier’s 5G network, because not all 5G signals are the same.

As we witnessed firsthand in this early look at 5G technology, the high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) signals are much faster than those on 4G networks, but they don’t travel as far as signals sent over the lower bands of 5G. They don’t have much success penetrating walls, buses, and throngs of pedestrians, either.

Conversely, midband and low-band 5G frequencies are slower but more reliable.

In the end, you want a phone that works with the full range of 5G signals. Though most of the new phones on the market do, it’s best to double-check before buying a model that’s a year or two old.

Here’s a quick look at the 5G smartphones currently on the market.

Apple

iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max
Pricing:
 12 Mini (64 gigabytes), $700; 12 (64GB), $800; 12 Pro (128GB), $1,000; and 12 Pro Max (128GB), $1,100.

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: All four phones perform very well in our testing, with the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max landing in the top 10 of our smartphone ratings (available to members).

They all feature cameras that rank among the best on the market and supersharp OLED displays. On the flip side, the phones lag behind other premium models when it comes to battery life, which pulls down their Overall Scores. 

Quick Take

Apple iPhone 12

Price: $800

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings
Quick Take

Apple iPhone 12 mini

Unlock Ratings
Quick Take

Apple iPhone 12 Pro

Unlock Ratings
Quick Take

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Price: $1,100

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Samsung

Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra 5G
Pricing: S21, $800; S21+, $1,000; and S21 Ultra, $1,200 (all 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These phones are each priced $200 cheaper than their predecessors. And all three receive Excellent ratings overall, particularly shining when it comes to their displays and performance.

The cameras receive Very Good ratings across the board. And with the superpremium S21 Ultra, you get a fourth rear camera: a 3x telephoto lens on top of the wide, ultrawide, and 10x zoom cameras on last year’s model.

Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra 5G
Pricing: Varies; availability limited.

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: The 2020 models still rank among our highest-rated smartphones. The basic S20 scores the highest, mainly because it survived our tough tumble testing. The other two options did not.

But as you’d expect, the S20+ and Ultra get higher marks for battery life and cameras.

Just a heads-up, Samsung has discontinued all three models, so you may have a tough time finding one.

Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy S20

Unlock Ratings
Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy S20+

Unlock Ratings
Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G

Price: $1,400

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra
Pricing: Note20, $1,000, and Note20 Ultra, $1,300 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These are two of the top models in our ratings. They feature slightly bigger and brighter displays, along with improved battery life, when compared with the 2019 versions.

In our testing, the Note20 lasted 34 hours on a single charge and the Note20 Ultra made it 36.5 hours. And the cameras on both are top-notch. The Note20 includes a 3x camera, and the Note20 Ultra sports a camera with a 5x lens.

Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G

Price: $1,000

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings
Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G

Price: $1,300

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Galaxy Z Fold2 5G and Z Flip 5G
Pricing: Z Fold2 5G, $2,000, and Z Flip 5G, $1,450 (both 256 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: These are 5G-ready updates of Samsung’s foldable phones.

The Z Flip 5G performs a bit better than the original in our testing. The battery lasted 27.5 hours, an increase of a full 10 hours. But the cameras are still a weak point, particularly the rear setup, which received just a Good rating for still-image quality.

The Fold2 5G receives Very Good ratings for both rear still-image and video quality. And the battery lasted a decent 29 hours.

Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G

Price: $1,800

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings
Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

Unlock Ratings

Galaxy A71 5G, A51 5G, and S20 FE
Pricing: A51, $500; A71, $600; and S20 FE, $700 (all 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: They’re not superpremium models, but the A71 5G and S20 FE both score fairly well in our labs. And though we haven’t tested the A51 5G, the 4G version of the phone receives a Very Good overall rating from our testers.

The A71 5G and S20 FE boast top-of-the-line OLED displays, along with great battery life. The S20 FE made it 38 hours in our testing, and the A71 5G lasted an impressive 43 hours.

But the phones don’t have the fancy camera setups you’d get with a premium model. The rear cameras on the FE receive Very Good ratings, and those on the A71 earn just Good ratings.

Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

Price: $600

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings
Quick Take

Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

Unlock Ratings

Google

Pixel 4a (5G) and 5
Pricing:
Pixel 4a (5G), $500, and Pixel 5, $700 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: Verizon and unlocked.

Test results: The Pixel 5 would have scored significantly better in our testing had it survived our tumble test. But the phone’s display was broken after the equivalent of just 50 drops.

That, combined with its decent but not spectacular battery life of 34 hours, dropped the phone to the middle of our rankings.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a (5G), which we haven’t tested, offers 5G at a lower price. Like the Pixel 5, it boasts an OLED display, along with wide and ultrawide rear cameras.

But the Pixel 5 features a slightly larger battery and an aluminum and Gorilla Glass 6 construction. It’s also water- and dust-resistant, and capable of wireless charging. By comparison, the 4a (5G) is made of plastic and the older, less advanced Gorilla Glass 3. 

Quick Take

Google Pixel 5

Unlock Ratings

OnePlus

9 and 9 Pro
Pricing: 
9, $730, and 9 Pro, $970 (both 128 gigabytes).

Carriers: T-Mobile, plus unlocked. The phones also currently work on Verizon’s 4G, but not 5G, network, though that could change.  

Test results: Both of these phones, which feature new camera technology created through a partnership with camera and lens manufacturer Hasselblad, are now available for preorder. They reach stores April 2. Look for test results a few weeks after that.

8 and 8 Pro
Pricing:
8, $800, and 8 Pro, $900 (both 128GB).

Carriers: T-Mobile and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: The OnePlus 8 Pro receive Excellent scores for display and performance. But the camera test scores fall short of those for other top models. In particular, the rear camera receives just a Good rating for video quality.

The lower-priced OnePlus 8 also performs well in our testing. In the battery life trials, it scores better than the 8 Pro despite its slightly smaller size, lasting 38 hours compared with the 8 Pro’s 34 hours.

Quick Take

OnePlus 8

Unlock Ratings
Quick Take

OnePlus 8 Pro

Price: $700

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

LG

V60 ThinQ 5G
Pricing:
 $650 (128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, plus unlocked.

Test results: This smartphone has a 6.8-inch display, the ability to shoot video in 8K, and an optional attachable dual screen.

The rear cameras receive Very Good ratings, and the battery lasted an industry-leading 45 hours in our testing.

Quick Take

LG V60 ThinQ 5G

Price: $650

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Velvet 5G
Pricing: $600 (128 gigabytes).

Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Test results: It’s not one of our top-rated models, but the Velvet is a decent 5G phone for the price.

You get a 6.8-inch OLED display, and the triple-camera setup on the back receives Very Good ratings from our testers for still-image and video quality. The phone is both wireless-charge- and quick-charge-compatible, and the battery lasted an exceptional 40 hours in our testing.

Quick Take

LG Velvet 5G

Price: $600

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Motorola

Edge
Pricing: $500 (256 gigabytes).

Carriers: Unlocked.

Test results: Our testers give the Edge’s rear cameras Very Good ratings for still-image and video quality. And the battery lasted a respectable 34 hours in our labs. But after 50 drops in our tumbler, the phone’s display no longer worked.

Verizon sells a similar model called the Motorola Edge+, which we haven’t tested. That phone costs about $1,000 and features a larger battery.

Quick Take

Motorola Edge

Price: $500

Performance
Battery and charging
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings

Sony

Xperia 1 II
Pricing:
$1,200 (256 gigabytes).

Carriers: Unlocked.

Test results: A premium-priced 5G phone from Sony? That’s right, and it performed fairly well in our ratings.

It doesn’t rise to the level of Samsung’s top 5G phones, but the Xperia 1 II does receive a Very Good Overall Score. It has a great 6.5-inch OLED display and rear cameras that earn Very Good ratings for still-image and video quality.

Quick Take

Sony Xperia 1 II

Price: $1,200

Performance
Camera: Rear image quality
Unlock Cell Phone & Service Ratings