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If you’re in the market for a new phone, this might be a good time to consider 5G. The new wireless technology has many people excited. And after years of buzz, consumers are getting their first real glimpse at what it can do.
It may not be widely available where you live, but it’s coming. The major carriers have been steadily expanding their 5G networks over the last 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 thanks to cutting-edge cameras and OLED displays.
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.
Before you crack open your wallet for a new 5G phone, though, 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 employed by T-Mobile 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.
That’s one big reason T-Mobile was eager to merge with Sprint, which owns mid-band 5G frequencies that are slightly slower, but more reliable.
In the end, you want a phone equipped to capture the full range of 5G signals in your carrier’s network. Most of the models listed below are set up for low- and mid-band signals. Others—specifically those set up for Verizon’s “Ultra-Wideband” network—are compatible with millimeter wave signals.
We’ve tried to include all the information you need to make an informed decision on each model. But it’s not a bad idea to double check with your carrier or retailer before you buy the phone.
Here’s a quick look at the 5G smartphones currently on the market.
Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra 5G
Pricing: Samsung’s new flagship devices start at $1,000 for a S20 with 128GB of storage. A S20+ with 128GB of space will run you $1,200 and the lowest-priced version of the S20 Ultra costs $1,400.
Carriers: All of the major carriers sell models specifically designed for their 5G networks. The three phones are available in unlocked versions as well.
Test results: The phones each score high enough to make the Top Ten in our smartphone ratings list. The S20, which has the least in the way of bells and whistles, actually rates the highest of the three, mainly because it survived our tough durability testing.
While the smaller S20 made it through the equivalent of 100 drops in our specialized tumbler, the glass on both the S20+ and S20 Ultra cracked after just 50.
But, as you’d expect, the S20+ and Ultra get higher marks for battery life and cameras. While the S20 powered along for a very respectable 37 hours in our testing, the S20+ and S20 Ultra lasted 40 hours and 40.5 hours, respectively.
In addition, the S20+ offers a rear-camera setup with a 3x lens, while the Ultra has one with a 10x lens.
Galaxy Note10+ 5G
Pricing: While Samsung continues to sell this phone for $1,300, it’s nearly a year old. So, if you shop around, you might find a deal.
Carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all offer versions of the phone.
Test results: This remains one of the higher-rated models in our rankings. It comes with a 6.8-inch OLED display and the Note line’s trademark stylus.
The rear cameras received Very Good ratings for both still and video image quality. And the battery lasted a respectable 29 hours in our testing.
Galaxy A71 5G
Pricing: This more budget-friendly model will run you $600.
Carriers: The A71 is currently being sold by AT&T and the combined T-Mobile and Sprint. Unlocked models aren’t available right now.
Test results: We’re still in the process of testing this model. But, on paper, it appears to pack in quite a bit for the price. It comes with a 6.7-inch OLED display and a multi-camera system that features a 64-megapixel main camera.
Looking to save a little more money? The very similar Galaxy A51 5G, which is set to come out later this year, will cost $100 less. That phone will come with a 6.5-inch display and a new 48-megapixel main camera.
OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro
Pricing: The OnePlus 8 starts at $800, while the 8 Pro costs $900.
Carriers: You can buy the phones unlocked. There are also versions of the 8 specifically designed for the 5G networks of T-Mobile and Verizon.
Test results: The OnePlus 8 Pro is one of the highest-scoring phones in our ratings. It received Excellent ratings for both display and performance. But the test scores for its cameras fell short of those found on other top models. In particular, the rear camera received just a Good rating for video quality.
The lower-priced OnePlus 8 also performed well in our testing. And, in terms of battery life, it actually scored better than the 8 Pro, despite its slightly smaller size, lasting 38 hours compared with the 8 Pro’s 34 hours.
You can also buy last year’s OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren in an unlocked or T-Mobile version. But CR hasn’t tested that model.
LG V60 ThinQ 5G
Pricing: About $950
Carriers: You can buy this phone unlocked or in versions made for all major carriers.
Test results: LG’s latest smartphone comes with a 6.8-inch display, the ability to shoot video in 8K, and an optional attachable dual screen. In our ratings, the model ranks about the same as last year’s LG V50 ThinQ 5G.
The rear cameras received Very Good ratings, while the battery lasted an industry-leading 45 hours in our testing.
Price: Introduced about a year ago, this phone retails for $500, but appears to be on its way out. To get 5G service, you have to add a $350 Mod attachment sold separately.
Carriers: The model is limited to Verizon’s network.
Test results: The Z4 boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display rated Very Good by our testers and an ample 3600-mAh battery that lasted 28.5 hours in our labs. But the cameras rank near the bottom of our ratings, reflecting a mid-priced phone with mid-priced hardware.
Verizon also sells the Motorola Edge+ launched this spring. The phone, which we haven’t tested, costs about $1,000 and boasts a 6.7-inch OLED display. Like the Z4, it works with Verizon’s Ultra-Wideband network.
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