Best 5G phones Android Central 2021
New technology works best when everyone commits to it, and in 2021, 5G has gone from marketing hype to a legit feature. In other words, you'll want to find the best 5G phones to future-proof yourself. A ton of support from carriers and smartphone companies is going to flood the market with 5G-capable phones this year. 5G isn't everywhere (yet), but if you live in a place with a 5G network, these are the best 5G phones you can buy, although the Galaxy S21 Ultra tops our list.
- Best 5G phone overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G - Phantom Black
- Best alternative: OnePlus 9 Pro 5G - Morning Mist
- Best value flagship: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G - Cloud Navy
- Best cheap 5G phone: OnePlus Nord N10 5G - Midnight Ice
- Best mid-range 5G phone: Google Pixel 5a with 5G
- Best small 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G - Phantom Violet
- Best 5G flip phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G - Lavender
- Best foldable 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G - Phantom Black
- Best for Verizon: Motorola Edge 2021
- Best for Pixel fans: Google Pixel 5 - Just Black
Best 5G phone overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Samsung got so much right with this thing, and it all starts with the display. The S21 Ultra packs a massive 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel that can hit a max resolution of 3200x1440. Unlike last year's S20 Ultra, you can run the display in that Quad HD setting with a 120Hz refresh rate enabled at the same time. This means the Galaxy S21 Ultra has one of the most stunning smartphone displays currently available.
The other big draw to the S21 Ultra is its camera system, featuring a 108MP primary sensor, 12MP ultra-wide one, and two 10MP telephoto cameras — one offering 3x optical zoom while the other gives you 10x zoom. With excellent detail, gorgeous colors, and jaw-dropping quality from those telephoto sensors, the Galaxy S21 Ultra proves that Samsung is still one of the best in the business when it comes to great camera packages.
As for the other specs, they're just as impressive. The Snapdragon 888 and 12-16GB of RAM allows for amazing performance; the 5,000 mAh battery ensures you don't have to live with battery anxiety, and you can even use the S Pen to turn the S21 Ultra into a makeshift Galaxy Note. As far as 5G is concerned, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Sub-6 and mmWave 5G.
- Sleek, refined design
- Quad HD display at 120Hz
- Snapdragon 888 offers excellent performance
- Top-of-the-line camera system
- 5G support for every carrier
- Doesn't have expandable storage
- No MST for Samsung Pay
Best alternative: OnePlus 9 Pro 5G
The OnePlus 9 Pro is as impressive and well-designed as any high-end smartphone can be. If you know anything about OnePlus phones, you'll be happy to know it doesn't upend the traditional OnePlus formula. Instead, it extends it to its logical place in the world of 2021 flagships with more features and a higher price.
The hardware goes toe-to-toe with any phone out there, and it's punctuated by the best display OnePlus has ever used. It's bright, colorful, and has a 120Hz refresh rate. Inside, there are exceptional specs, which leads to amazing performance thanks to the super-smooth OxygenOS software — it's just wonderful.
The 9 Pro also brings the best cameras yet to a OnePlus phone, with a new main sensor that steps up its game to a true flagship level, inspired by the company's partnership with camera titan Hasselblad. The entire camera experience is a step behind the likes of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but then again, it's also less expensive. That's really where the 9 Pro fits in. It's a true flagship experience top to bottom, for just a bit less money than the traditional players with big brand names.
Thankfully, the OnePlus 9 Pro makes up for one of the 8 Pro's biggest weaknesses, mmWave support. The 9 Pro has both Sub-6 and MMWave 5G connectivity, which will work on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.
- Large, beautiful 120Hz display
- Hasselblad-tuned cameras
- Excellent battery life
- OxygenOS is best-in-class Android software
- Wireless charging and IP68 rating
- mmWave and Sub-6 support
- Sub-par battery life
Best value flagship: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G
There are many exciting options to choose from right now, but Samsung may have outshined all of them with the Galaxy S20 FE. Samsung offers all of the best features and specs from the Galaxy S20+ while finally providing a flat-screened device that users have wanted for some time. In a world where curved displays look good, they struggle with palm detection, ending up with more accidental touches than anything else.
Samsung also upped the ante by integrating the 120Hz refresh rate, so everything you do on the S20 FE looks smooth. Considering the price of the S20 FE, you figure that Samsung had to cut corners somewhere, and that's where the plastic material comes in. But this can help alleviate the worry of cracking the back glass panel if accidentally dropped, along with providing six fun and different colors to choose from.
As for 5G connectivity, the Galaxy S20 FE features Sub-6 GHz for most users, but those who want to use 5G on Verizon will be a bit disappointed. Since Verizon relies on Ultra-Wideband (mmWave), the standard unlocked version found on Amazon or Best Buy won't feature this. Instead, you'll have to go to Verizon directly to get the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G UW model.
We're also still scratching our heads as to why Samsung ships a 15W charger in the box. The Galaxy S20 FE can charge at speeds up to 25W, but you'll have to come out of pocket for a compatible charger. The 1080p resolution on this 6.5-inch display may not look the greatest at all times, but the 120Hz refresh rate and improved battery life will make up for it.
- 120Hz flat display
- Six colors to choose from
- Plastic build is refreshing
- Triple camera system
- 5G connectivity for all carriers
- Ships with a 15W charger
- 1080p display
- No headphone jack
- mmWave version only available through Verizon
Best cheap 5G phone: OnePlus Nord N10 5G
With the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, OnePlus is looking to move beyond its traditional flagship killers and expand into the more affordable smartphone niche. While the N10 5G may not be a perfect device, it's a seriously great value for anyone that wants a 5G phone while spending as little as possible.
Despite being so cheap, OnePlus managed to give the N10 5G fairly impressive specs. There's a Snapdragon 690 processor paired with 6GB of RAM, allowing for solid performance for most tasks. That 690 also enables Sub-6 5G connectivity, though you won't find mmWave support here. Other specs include 128GB of expandable storage, a 4,300 mAh battery, and even a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Picture quality from the N10 5G's quad-camera system is about as average as it gets, and as far as the design is concerned, the cheap and glossy plastic won't win a design award any time soon. That's about it as far as cons go, and considering the Nord N10 5G's $300 asking price, that's mighty impressive.
- 90Hz refresh rate is buttery smooth
- Very good performance
- Reliable 4,300 mAh battery
- Has a headphone jack
- Excellent price
- Mediocre cameras
- Cheap plastic design
Best mid-range 5G phone: Google Pixel 5a with 5G
If you like what you see with the OnePlus Nord N10 5G but have a bit more cash to spend, it might be worth considering the Pixel 5a with 5G. This might be one of the most overlooked smartphones of 2021, but as far as affordable 5G phones are concerned, it's one of the best options.
Powering the Pixel 5a with 5G is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G and, in our testing, results in a genuinely excellent performance. It may not be on the same technical level as something like the 865+ or 888, but for the vast majority of people, it's more than fast enough for virtually any task. You're also getting 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a massive 4,680 mAh battery that is the largest ever on a Pixel phone.
A big draw to the Pixel 5a with 5G is its camera system, which is the exact same setup you'll find on the more expensive Pixel 5. The 12.2MP primary camera and 16MP ultra-wide camera may not sound all that impressive on paper, but in actual use, this is a phone that churns out stunning photos every single time you press the shutter button.
As for the 5G situation, it's a bit clunky. The unlocked variant of the Pixel 5a with 5G is limited to Sub-6 speeds, and there are no plans for a mmWave variant.
- Amazing cameras
- Snapdragon 765G is fast and reliable
- AMOLED display looks great
- Excellent battery life
- IP67 water and dust resistance
- Three years of timely updates
- No mmWave model
- Display is only 60Hz
Best small 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is an incredible Android phone no matter how you slice it, but for some shoppers, it may be too much — whether it be the steep price tag or its gigantic size. Thankfully, we have the regular Galaxy S21 as a cheaper and smaller alternative.
While we don't consider the Galaxy S21 to be the absolute smallest phone you can buy these days, it is refreshingly compact compared to many of its competitors. The 6.2-inch AMOLED display gives you a sizeable canvas for everything you want to do, and thanks to extremely small bezels and a lightweight plastic design, the S21 ends up being quite comfortable in day-to-day use.
At the heart of the S21 is the exact same Snapdragon 888 processor, and in addition to top-notch performance, you also get support for Sub-6 and mmWave 5G. You also get 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4,000 mAh battery that allows for good (but not great) battery life.
You could argue that the Galaxy S20 FE still offers the best bang-for-your-buck (especially when it's on sale), but for shoppers that prefer a smaller phone and want the added speed + 5G support of the Snapdragon 888, the Galaxy S21 is a compelling purchase.
- New design looks great
- 120Hz display is gorgeous
- Same processor as the S21 Ultra
- Very good cameras
- Sub-6 and mmWave 5G
- Average battery life
Best 5G flip phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
With LG exiting the smartphone market, your options for dual-screen phones are now limited to foldables. The foldable offering the most convenient form factor with 5G onboard is Samsung's new Galaxy Z Flip 3.
At first, the Z Flip 3 may not look like a huge upgrade from the previous version, but it features incremental upgrades that dramatically improve its utility. For starters, its hinge, display, and outer glass have all been re-engineered to be more durable than ever, and it now sports IPX8 water resistance for the first time ever. Its external display is much larger and more usable, and it offers flagship-grade cameras and the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor.
On the 5G side, you get both Sub-6 and mmWave, so regardless of which network or carrier you use, you're sure to get the best speeds available. One word of caution, though — this phone is a slippery little bugger. Do yourself a favor and pick up a great case before taking it out into the real world.
- Gorgeous design
- Larger cover display
- Fantastic cameras
- Sub-6 and mmWave support
- IPX8 water resistance
- More durable than ever
- No telephoto camera
- Super slippery
Best foldable 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Where does one begin when it comes to talking about the Galaxy Z Fold 3? It's almost as if the original Galaxy Fold — and even the Fold 2 — are from a different device lineup altogether, as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is incredible from every perspective. The Cover Screen fills up almost every inch of the front and unfolding it provides you with a 7.6-inch tablet that is much more useful than you may think. And now it even supports the S Pen, making it a fantastic note-taking or doodling device.
The camera system may not be exactly on par with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but it is still better than a lot of other smartphones. While Google is still trying to figure out how to handle foldable devices, Samsung has tweaked its software just enough to make sure that you can take full advantage of those apps. From including the Snapdragon 888 paired with 12GB of RAM and 256GB or 512GB of onboard storage, along with all-day battery AND 5G connectivity, this is truly the Ferrari of smartphones.
The Z Fold 3 is the most durable fold ever, with an improved hinge, display, and stronger glass, and it's the first to sport IPX8 water resistance. While the phone comes with up to 512GB of onboard storage, that may not be enough for some, but that's just "too bad" as you won't be able to use one of the best microSD cards with this bad boy.
- Improved durability and IPX8 water resistance
- S Pen compatibility
- Great cameras and performance
- Flex mode is awesome
- No built-in storage for S Pen
- The folding crease is still noticeable
- No microSD card slot
Best for Verizon: Motorola Edge 2021
Motorola has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years when it comes to providing one of the best Android phones. With the latest in its popular Edge lineup, the Motorola Edge 2021, the company is offering a premium 5G experience at a sub-premium price point.
2021's Edge is positioned as more of a value flagship than the Edge+ from 2020, but you still get a ton of value here. The phone comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G chipset, which means it can run on both Sub-6 and mmWave networks, including Verizon and T-Mobile.
It also has a 108MP main camera sensor, paired with macro and ultra-wide lenses, and the selfie camera is even 32MP. The phone features a 6.8-inch LCD with a 144Hz refresh rate, and thankfully it has ditched the curved panel in favor of a flat screen. As far as durability is concerned, Motorola says the phone is IP52 certified as "water repellent."
The Edge ships with Android 11 but is scheduled to receive two major OS updates and bi-monthly security updates for at least two years. On top of that, you still get the little extras that make Motorola phones such a delight to use.
- Beautiful display with 144Hz refresh rate
- 108 MP primary and 32 MP selfie cameras
- Excellent battery life
- Water-resistance could be better
- LCD instead of OLED
- No wireless charging support
Best for Pixel fans: Google Pixel 5
2020 was a weird year for Google after getting lambasted in regards to the shoddy battery life from the Pixel 4. The only saving grace for 4 and 4 XL was the absolutely amazing camera system, making it possible to point your smartphone at the night's sky and get pictures of the constellations. Fast forward to today, and Google has redeemed itself with the Google Pixel 5.
This handset features all of the specs one would expect from a smartphone priced at less than $1,000. The Snapdragon 765G provides great performance while unlocking 5G connectivity. Google's decision to use an aluminum unibody design while still making wireless charging is fantastic. The Pixel 5 features an ultra-wide secondary camera instead of the telephoto lens found on the Pixel 4 and 4 XL.
Getting a Pixel guarantees you three years of platform updates, along with getting the latest version of Android as soon as it's become available. But with the Pixel 5, Google learned from the past and packed in a larger battery with its latest devices to go along with the 90Hz display for buttery smooth scrolling and gaming.
There's also the fact that the Pixel 5 is just a joy to use. It's considerably smaller than most other flagships, Google's custom take on Android is filled with useful features, and the $700 asking price makes it a lot more affordable than something like the S21 Ultra.
- Aluminum unibody
- Qi wireless charging
- 90Hz refresh rate
- Same great camera from Pixel 4
- 3 years of software updates
- Does not feature Qualcomm's latest processor
- Limited global availability
The best 5G phones aren't just for enthusiasts anymore
5G coverage is growing, but it isn't yet to the point where we can unequivocally say that you have to get a 5G phone. At the same time, most phones launching these days now have 5G as a staple feature. Whether you can take advantage of 5G speeds today or need to wait a little longer, ensuring it's in your next smartphone is a good way to ensure you're prepared for the latest generation of wireless connectivity.
For those who want to get to the best network speeds, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a clear winner — because it's just a great overall phone that happens to have 5G connectivity. You don't choose the Galaxy S21 Ultra because it has 5G, but because of its great hardware, display, specs, and cameras. Having 5G for now — and more importantly, for a year from now — is just a great side-benefit.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Andrew Myrick is a regular freelancer at Android Central. He has been a tech enthusiast ever since the original iPhone was released and continues to flip-flop between devices. You might as well hook him up to an IV filled with coffee to get him through the day. If you have any questions, you can find him on Twitter, and he'll get back to you.
Joe Maring has been talking/writing about Android in one form or another since 2012 and often does so while camping out at the nearest coffee shop.
Samuel Contreras is a writer covering networking and 5G at Mobile Nations. He spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.
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