2020 will finally be the year to invest in 5G

Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod in Chicago
Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod in Chicago (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

There's been a lot of talk around 5G throughout the year. I've personally tested Verizon's Ultra Wideband 5G network and Sprint's far more practical Sub-6 network in beautiful Chicago, and while I still carry an LTE phone, we've seen quite a few 5G-capable devices launch in 2019.

The Moto Z4 largely kicked off the 5G race with its 5G Moto Mod accessory that enabled support for Verizon's UWB network with a dedicated Snapdragon 855 chipset while keeping the cost of entry at a minimum — for the first few months, Verizon even offered the 5G Moto Mod for free in bundle deals to incentivize early adopters.

Other devices like the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro have since launched with optional 5G variants at a premium, while others still have been released with no sans-5G version, like the LG V50. Some newer flagships, including extra-pricey phones like the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Galaxy Fold, don't offer 5G at all, no matter how much you spend (though there is a 5G Fold in some countries).

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

While it's great that we have options, the inconsistency is hard to overcome — and more annoyingly for me, there aren't any small 5G phones to choose from. I'm not a phablet kind of guy (I'm using that term one last time before we leave it behind with the 2010s, never to be uttered again), and the Galaxy Note 10 I currently carry is on the upper limit of what I'm willing to keep in my pocket.

For better or worse, the Snapdragon 865 will mandate 5G in every 2020 flagship.

It's pretty safe to assume that battery life is to blame for the complete lack of small form factor phones with 5G, but in my experience with larger phones like the Galaxy S10 5G, the up-and-coming network seems to have a surprisingly negligible added impact on longevity.

But there's also just not much reason to invest in 5G yet; coverage is still scarce, data plans with 5G are typically more expensive, and once again, the devices themselves are pricier as well.

Some of that's about to change with the shift to the upcoming Snapdragon 865 chipset in 2020. With the 865, Qualcomm is no longer integrating a modem into the chip — not even an LTE-only one. Instead, manufacturers will need to include a separate X55 modem, meaning like it or not, 5G will no longer be optional.

Galaxy S10 5G Sprint

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Every 2020 flagship with a Snapdragon 865, large or small, will work with either Sub-6 or mmWave technologies, and some will support both. That's great news if you've been in the market for a 5G-capable phone, since it means your options will be virtually unlimited, but if you live in a city without 5G availability, it could be a reason to steer clear of early 2020 releases altogether.

5G already creates a bit of additional battery drain and generates a ton of heat, and the need for yet another chip inside of your phone means less room for a large battery. That's only going to exacerbate battery-related complaints with small phones; it's hard to imagine a followup Pixel device with even worse battery life than the Pixel 4, but I'm already preparing for the worst with next year's model.

Still, these aren't entirely new problems. Looking back at early 4G rollout makes the current state of 5G actually comparatively impressive, and we all remember the hours-long battery life of the HTC Thunderbolt and other premier LTE devices. Things have to get worse before they can get better, and 2020 is the year things will get worse. For the better.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

14 Comments
  • Where I live 4G still isn't widespread, being confined to the major cities. Sometimes, especially at work, I even switch my phones back to 2G in order to get a stronger signal(putting it on auto-connect is much less effective). I won't even think about using 5G until 2022(December !) by which time it will no longer be a big deal in the Western world. It will just be a feature on my Galaxy Notes 11- 13(allegedly to be renamed Notes 20 - 22) that I won't use.
  • I don't think cheaper phones will have 5G for a while and there are some people who still use non-smart phones. I live in the Uk and to be honest before they start mucking around with 5G, they really should concentrate on getting what they have already got working, because 4G in some places here are awful and 5G will be worse.
    i watched a article on our BBc where someone went around with 5G phones on different networks in London and it was only now and again he could get any speed that you could call 5G speed.
    even if you buy a phone with 5G, there is still a choice, just turn 5G off, I can turn 4G off on my phone and just use 3G if i want to.
  • I'm going to wait before I purchase a 5g phone. When all the carrier's are using it, only then will I consider a 5g phone. By then prices will be much cheaper!
  • Hmm, do I want 5G for the speed I don't need, or the buildings it won't penetrate through? Or is it the money and battery life I don't need?
  • I used Verizon's 5G in Washington DC Christmas Day... I was able to download a movie off Netflix in less than 25 seconds. I reached a GBPS in download speed, but the coverage was pretty much line of sight. One thing Zito noticed was my wife was able to get faster than normal speeds on her LTE Note 9 in the same area. I didn't plan on going to a 5G phone this year, but I got a deal I couldn't pass up.
  • There's not much incentive to buy a new phone at all. I live in a major city, NYC, and even though 5G is being expanded I don't feel the pressure to get anything new. My 1+6T runs blazing fast, Battery life is great, price was affordable, all things that might not happen in 2020. 4G and constant Wi-Fi just work.
  • All comments thus far are true real life experiences.It would be desirable to perfect the current networks FIRST; what's the point of producing phones for networks that don't exist or cover vast areas, are pricier and could possibly be a battery drain when we all presumably wish for a 2 - day battery life; at the least?
  • Specs. 4G had a reason to exist, but 5G is a pure specs pursuit.
  • I just don't get the radical push for something that will benefit so few.
    Poor coverage, weak penetration, expensive, power hungry.
    Why is this being forced on us? It's not the hero we are looking for, and not the one we need either.
  • One of the biggest issues with networks running slow, is too many people using it and bogging it down. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you make the network faster, that means less time people are on the network (because their information is downloading faster) causing less congestion. It's the difference of a 2 lane highway and an 8 lane highway.
  • and yet, when you widen a road, you create an effect called induced demand. Meaning more people find ways to use it making it less efficient even with more lanes. Faster networks just means people will find more ways to use it. Whether downloading more stuff, or connecting more devices, it will all catch up to the system eventually.
  • How many people are going to be affected in many areas by the race by the carriers to shut down 3G voice service? I live inside the Perimeter in Atlanta and still see that 3G icon from time to time. And yet the carriers are trying to foist 5G on us before 4G is even everywhere. A friend lives just outside Chattanooga TN and had to switch to Verizon because ATT basically didn't work in many areas just 15 miles outside the city. This race to 5G that might as well be a laser for all its ability to work without direct line of sight is insane.
  • As long as 4G is still in the airwaves, people will continue to use 4G devices. Personally, I'm not touching 5G until 2022 at the earliest. There is ABSOLUTELY NO INCENTIVE for me to switch to 5G.
  • I am on Cricket and I like it. My speed is capped in 4G so I will get no benefit from 5G unless Cricket decides to give me 5G speeds on my plan. I will not pay extra for a 5G network or a 5G phone. Its still about the coverage not the speed. I have WiFi if I need speed.