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The speedy 5G network service we’ve been hearing about hasn’t quite swept the nation, but it’s expanding by the month.
All the major U.S. carriers now have some form of consumer 5G service up and running. And smartphone makers continue to announce new devices.
Samsung’s three new flagship Galaxy S20 phones come standard with 5G, as does LG’s V60 ThinQ 5G. And while those are premium phones with prices to match, manufacturers are set to roll out more affordable models, too, including some that will cost less than $500, partly thanks to new, cheaper 5G chips.
According to telecommunications 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 while experts say 5G networks made tremendous progress in 2019, they still have a long way to go to reach those lofty goals. And that’s what cell service in 2020 is all about.
“We’re in a phase right now where there’s a lot of hype around 5G,” says Phil Solis, a tech analyst for the market research firm IDC. “But the reality doesn’t match the hype just yet.”
Here’s a rundown on the 5G service of the major carriers and the latest 5G-compatible phones.
After months of offering 5G service only to select customers, AT&T’s consumer network now covers 190 markets across the country, including smaller cities like Kalamazoo, Mich.; Worth, Ga.; and Erie, Pa.
The company says it will soon offer 5G service to customers of its budget-priced Cricket Wireless subsidiary with compatible phones and plans.
Though AT&T says it won’t charge extra for 5G service, you have to sign up for the Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite plans to access it.
Phone options: AT&T currently sells all three of the Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, along with the Galaxy Note10+ 5G and LG V60 ThinQ 5G.
Sprint and T-Mobile
Now that they’ve officially merged, these two carriers are in the process of combining their 5G networks. That means the midband spectrum 5G service Sprint offers gets added to the existing millimeter-wave coverage of the “nationwide network” T-Mobile launched in December 2019. While the network still leaves many cities without 5G coverage, it expanded in June to Anchorage, Alaska, giving the service a foothold in all 50 states.
Sprint is still offering its own service plans, including Unlimited Premium, the only one that includes 5G service. At $85 for one line, it’s the brand’s most expensive option. By comparison, all of T-Mobile’s existing plans include 5G.
Phone options: Sprint and T-Mobile currently carry the trio of Samsung Galaxy S20 phones, and those are the only models that work on both the low- and midband 5G spectrum. T-Mobile also sells the LG V60, OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren, and OnePlus 8.
The carrier’s Ultra Wideband 5G service has officially started in parts of 34 markets across the country, including Chicago; Miami; Little Rock, Ark.; and Sioux Falls, S.D.
To get it, you have to sign up for a Play More, Do More, or Get More unlimited plan; these plans start at $80 for one line.
Phone options: Verizon currently carries the Samsung Galaxy S20+, S20 Ultra, and Note10+ 5G, along with the LG V60, Motorola Edge+, Motorola Moto Z4, and OnePlus 8.
New, ultra-wideband versions of all three Samsung S20 phones, which work on both millimeter wave and midband 5G spectrums, are available for preorder now and officially go on sale June 4.
The U.S. versions of Samsung’s newest flagship phones—the Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra—all come with 5G standard.
The phones, which start at $1,000 for an S20, feature slightly larger displays, new optical zoom lenses, and larger batteries. Consumer Reports will have test results soon.
The Note10+ 5G, which launched in August 2019, is still being sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Starting at $1,300, it features a 6.8-inch display and the Note line’s trademark stylus.
Samsung says it plans to launch 5G versions of its new Galaxy A51 and A71 phones later this year. Those phones will start at $500 and $600, respectively.
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G, about $900, is available through AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
It has a 6.8-inch display, can shoot video in 8K, and features an optional attachable dual screen. Consumer Reports’ test results are coming soon.
To be compatible with 5G, the Moto Z4, which went on sale through Verizon last June, requires a $350 Mod attachment that’s sold separately.
The phone, $500, boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display and an ample 3600-milliamp-hour battery.
Verizon also is selling the Motorola Edge+, which launched this spring. The phone, which we haven’t tested, costs about $1,000 and boasts a 6.7-inch OLED display.
Like Samsung’s latest 5G phones, it works with Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network.
Both T-Mobile and Verizon sell versions of the OnePlus 8, which launched in late April and starts at $700. CR is in the process of testing the phone.
The 8 includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor (also found in the Samsung Galaxy S20 phones) and a display that the manufacturer says is sharper and more color-accurate than last year’s version.
OnePlus also sells an 8 Pro version that starts at $900. That phone features a quad-camera setup that includes a 48-megapixel main camera and another with a 3x optical zoom lens. It’s powered by a 4510mAh battery.
T-Mobile also offers the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren, which CR hasn’t tested.
During the CES trade show in January, TCL, known best for TVs, announced its first 5G smartphone: the TCL 10 5G. The model, which will cost less than $500, is slated to reach the U.S. around September.
Touted by TCL as “the people’s 5G phone,” the 10 5G will be powered by Qualcomm’s new 7-Series 5G chip, which is geared toward lower-priced 5G devices. The model also will have four rear cameras and a high-quality LCD display.
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