Best 5G Phone 2021: Sub-6 & mmWave Smartphones

2019 was the year the 5G phones started appearing on store shelves, then in 2020 the technology really took off, with the country’s major mobile carriers all supporting this new super-fast network infrastructure and a wealth of manufacturers starting to offer top-tier phones with 5G modems onboard.

That means that as we march into 2021, there is already a great selection of 5G-capable phones worth considering, and very little reason not to buy a 5G phone.

Of course, with new tech there always comes a price tag, and for a while 5G was really limited to high-end and flagship devices. That’s no longer the case, with more and more mid-range and even budget handsets now supporting faster networking. In this article we’re focusing on mid-range and flagship phones, but be sure to check out our guide to cheap 5G phones if your budget is a bit lower but you still want to future-proof your next phone.

Best 5G phones 2021

1. iPhone 12 – Best 5G iPhone

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra – Best 5G Android

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

3. Oppo Find X3 Pro – Best design & display

Oppo Find X3 Pro

4. Samsung Galaxy S21 – Best Android all-rounder

Samsung Galaxy S21

5. Xiaomi Mi 11 – Best for specs

Xiaomi Mi 11

6. OnePlus Nord – Best value

OnePlus Nord

7. Google Pixel 5 – Most compact

Google Pixel 5

8. Asus ROG Phone 5 – Best for gaming

Asus ROG Phone 5

9. OnePlus 8T – Best software

OnePlus 8T

10. ZTE Axon 30 Ultra – Best value flagship

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra

Honourable mentions

The biggest phone we haven’t mentioned above (almost literally) is the Galaxy S21 Plus. It’s essentially the same as the regular S21 apart from its expanded screen size – and a bigger battery to come with it. Buy it if the S21 appeals, but you don’t want to settle for a smaller form factor.

There’s also always the Note 20 Ultra – a great phone for productivity that’s simply been supplanted by the more recent S21 Ultra. You should still consider the Note version if you find a good price though, or if the included S-Pen appeals enough, as while it’s compatible with the S21 Ultra it’s sold separately and also doesn’t slot directly into the phone.

We also haven’t included either the OnePlus 9 or OnePlus 9 Pro, and have instead included a few older OnePlus phones. We were disappointed with both the design and the performance of the 2021 OnePlus flagships, especially the much-hyped Hasselblad camera, and so we don’t recommend you buy them – you’re better off with rival phones from other brands, or OnePlus’s own 8T or 8 Pro from 2020.

Then there’s the iPhone variants. Every iPhone 12 offers 5G support, but we’ve only mentioned the 12 and 12 Pro Max in our chart. Check out the 12 mini if you like the 12 but want a smaller display, though for the most part we don’t recommend the 12 Pro – it’s too similar to the standard 12 to justify the price hike, though consider it if you really care about the minor camera upgrades.

5G phone buying advice

Getting a 5G phone is only one piece of the puzzle. To actually take advantage of this latest generation of cellular connectivity you need to:

  1. Have a 5G-capable phone
  2. Subscribe to a network that offers 5G connectivity
  3. Pay for a plan that includes 5G connectivity
  4. Be in an area with good 5G coverage

Before you splash out on a 5G phone, it’s worth checking to see what the quality of 5G coverage in your area is like, noting that it varies by network. You may have to change network if you want to reap the benefits of 5G in your area, and every network offers a different set of 5G phones – though you can of course buy any of them SIM-free.

Check out RootMetrics’ coverage map for an independent evaluation of mobile coverage (including 5G coverage) from the UK’s major carriers, across the nation.

Why upgrade to 5G?

5G is around 20 times faster than 4G, with the potential for even better speeds in future. With 5G, you’ll be able to stream video in 4K resolution without buffering and make high-resolution video calls if you so wish. There are also benefits for mobile gaming, because of 5G’s lower latency. For more details on the technology, check out our ‘What is 5G?’ guide.

If you decide to wait, we’ve also tested some great 4G smartphones at various price points. Check out the best flagship, mid-range and budget phones available now, as well as some great phones coming soon.

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