Best 5G phones 2021: these are the next-gen handsets you should pick up

Plenty of 5G phones are being put out now, two years after the first such handset was released – at this point, it’d be surprising for a new device launched to be 4G-only.

5G is the next generation of mobile data connectivity, bringing super-fast speeds and improved connection reliability and stability over 4G, making it great for tasks like online gaming, streaming movies and downloading large files quickly.

We’ve compiled this list of the best 5G phones so, if you’re looking for one, you know what to opt for. This round-up isn’t just a replica of our standard best smartphones guide – we’ve considered the key uses of 5G, and brought you a list that focuses on these key points. The following round-up is broken down into categories to fit the reasons you might be looking to buy a 5G phone.

Each of these entries has a ‘best’ model and a ‘runner up’. This is so you have a choice even within the categories, which is especially important given that not all of our best phone picks are available in the US.

At TechRadar we test every new 5G phone that comes out, so we’ve got a good idea of how they all run, work, and compare, and we’ve used that knowledge to create this buying guide to help you work out which 5G phone is best for you.

This guide has recently had a shake-up too, with the addition of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. There might be more new additions arriving soon as well, with the Oppo Find X3, OnePlus 9 and more all expected in the next few months. So if you can wait for a little while longer, your choices might be very different.

What is 5G? Our full explainer about the next-gen internet tech

Best 5G phone at any price

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier smartphone, and it takes our best crown

Release date: January 2021Weight: 227gDimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mmOS: Android 11Screen size: 6.8-inchResolution: 1440 x 3200CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100RAM: 12GB / 16GBStorage: 128GB/256GB/512GBBattery: 5,000mAhRear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MPFront camera: 40MP

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra tops our list of the best smartphones, so being a 5G phone it’s also of course the best 5G phone you can buy – but it doesn’t come cheap.

Still, you get a decent amount for your money, with a 6.8-inch 1440 x 3200 curved AMOLED screen (that also has a 120Hz refresh rate), a top-end chipset, up to 16GB of RAM, and a quad-lens camera, with a 108MP main shooter, a 12MP ultra-wide, and a pair of 10MP telephotos snappers – allowing for up to 10x optical zoom.

The design impresses too, with a stylish matte glass back and an edge-to-edge display. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a big battery, so you can make use of 5G (and everything else) for longer, and there’s support for the S Pen stylus, making this better for art and productivity than most smartphones.

2. OnePlus 8 Pro

The best OnePlus yet

Release date: April 2020Weight: 199gDimensions: 165.3 x 74.35 x 8.5mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.78-inchResolution: 3168 x 1440CPU: Snapdragon 865RAM: 8/12GBStorage: 128/256GBBattery: 4,510mAhRear camera: 48MP+48MP+5MP+8MPFront camera: 16MP

The OnePlus 8 Pro is one of the best phones available so of course – since it comes with 5G as standard – it’s also one of the best 5G phones.

5G-aside the highlight is undoubtedly its screen, which is a 6.78-inch curved, Fluid AMOLED display with 513 pixels per inch. But it also has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is higher than most phones, and can help interactions feel smoother.

This being a flagship it also has flagship power, with a Snapdragon 865 chipset and up to 12GB of RAM. It has a quad-lens camera too, headlined by a 48MP snapper, and there’s a big 4,510mAh battery.

Speaking of the battery, this is the first OnePlus phone to support wireless charging, as well as the first to have a real water resistance rating. You could in fact say that it’s the first to have no real compromises.

1. Motorola One 5G

Or Moto G 5G Plus, depending on where you live

Release date: July 2020Weight: 207gDimensions: 168.3 x 74 x 9.7mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.7-inchResolution: 1080 x 2520CPU: Snapdragon 765RAM: 4GB/6GB/8GBStorage: 64GB/128GBBattery: 5,000mAhRear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 5MP + 2MPFront camera: 16MP + 8MP

This phone has different names depending on where you live – in some regions, like the US, it’s the Motorola One 5G, in others, like the UK, it’s the Moto G 5G Plus. Wherever you live, though, this handset is the best affordable 5G phone you can pick up.

The Motorola One 5G is a big phone with a 6.7-inch display and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and its processor, camera capability, and screen are all better than you’d expect for its low price.

Sure, it’s not a perfect phone, and the signs of its low price (and some of Motorola’s quirks) bring it down in a few departments. But if you’re looking for a 5G phone without a high price, you should start here.

2. Oppo Find X2 Lite

A valiant all-rounder

Release date: May 2020Weight: 180gDimensions: 160.3 x 74.3 x 8mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.4-inchResolution: 1080 x 2400CPU: Snapdragon 765GRAM: 8GBStorage: 128GBBattery: 4,025mAhRear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MPFront camera: 32MP

If you’re looking for a 5G phone that’s stylish and affordable, the Oppo Find X2 Lite is for you, as it looks great and has a display that matches. The only problem? As with most Oppo phones, this isn’t available in all countries, including the US. That’s why it’s not our top pick for the best cheap 5G phone you should consider, because in many places, you can’t consider it.

If you live in a place where you can pick up the Oppo Find X2 Lite, you’ll find it great, as it barely betrays its ‘budget phone’ traits. It’s well-spec’d with a good chipset, powerful rear cameras, and some of the best-looking software we’ve seen.

As that ‘cons’ list above betrays it isn’t perfect, but we had a good time using it and it beats out some same-price and even pricier rivals in a few key ways.

1. Nubia Red Magic 5G

Magic on the gaming front

Release date: March 2020Weight: 218gDimensions: 168.6 x 78 x 9.8mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.65-inchResolution: 1080 x 2340CPU: Snapdragon 865RAM: 8GB/12GB/16GBStorage: 128GB/256GBBattery: 4,500mAhRear camera: 64MP + 8MP + 2MPFront camera: 8MP

The Nubia Red Magic 5G has all you’d want from a gaming phone – a FHD+ AMOLED screen with a 144Hz refresh rate, a top processor paired with plenty of RAM, and a long-lasting battery with fast charging capabilities.

You won’t be able to pick up the Red Magic 5G in all regions, but if you can get it, and you’re looking for a 5G gaming phone, it should definitely be your first pick.

We found some software issues with the phone, but if you’re a mobile gamer it’ll handle anything you throw at it with ease, especially if you want to play games online while out and about (thanks to the 5G connectivity).

2. Asus ROG Phone 3

A 5G gaming powerhouse

Release date: July 2020Weight: 240gDimensions: 171 x 78 x 9.9mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.59-inchResolution: 1080 x 2340CPU: Snapdragon 865 PlusRAM: 8GB/12GB/16GBStorage: 128GB/256GB/512GBBattery: 6,000mAhRear camera: 64MP + 13MP + 5MPFront camera: 24MP

The Asus ROG Phone 3 is our runner-up for best 5G phone for gaming, and it’s certainly a close call, given how the phone has lots of great gaming features as well as two separate USB-C ports for plugging in accessories.

The main reason this phone doesn’t reach its Nubia rival is because of price, as it’s a fairly premium gaming phone with a higher cost. That’s justified by its top features and specs, though the Red Magic also has lots of those.

But rest assured, this is great for playing games, especially if you play online, thanks to that 5G connection.

1. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The biggest iPhone with a great display

Release date: November 2020Weight: 228gDimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4mmOS: iOS 14Screen size: 6.7-inchResolution: 1284 x 2778CPU: A14 BionicRAM: 6GBStorage: 128GB/256GB/512GBBattery: 3,687mAhRear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP + TOFFront camera: 12MP

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has been winning awards for its display, so it’s no wonder it makes its way onto our 5G phone list in the ‘screen’ category.

With its big 6.7-inch OLED screen, great contrast and sharp visuals, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is great whether you’re using Apple’s own services like Apple TV Plus or something like Netflix.

The phone also has better battery life than its predecessors, so watching TV during your commute to work won’t stop you being able to stream on the way back. The presence of 5G also makes downloading movies on the go super easy.

2. Sony Xperia 1 II

Release date: May 2020Weight: 181.4gDimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mmOS: Android 10Screen size: 6.5-inchResolution: 1644 x 3840CPU: Snapdragon 865RAM: 8GBStorage: 256GBBattery: 4,000mAhRear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MPFront camera: 8MP

The Sony Xperia 1 II is the only phone on this list with a 4K screen, so if you need the highest resolution possible for viewing content, this is the device for you. Plus, it has a 21:9 aspect ratio which means there are no black bars above and below movies you watch.

The phone is no slouch in other areas either, with snappy processing making it a great gaming phone, and a 3.5mm headphone jack being great for fans of wired audio.

It’s not the best phone for media consumption mainly because the iPhone 12 Pro Max beats it in a few ways, but also because its high price makes it hard to recommend, and because in the US there actually isn’t a 5G version of it.

1. iPhone 12 mini

The most pocketable 5G phone around

SPECIFICATIONS

Release date: November 2020Weight: 135gDimensions: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4 mmOS: iOS 14Screen size: 5.4-inchResolution: 1080 x 2340CPU: A14 BionicRAM: 4GBStorage: 64GB/128GB/256GBBattery: 2,227mAhRear camera: 12MP + 12MPFront camera: 12MP

The smallest of its line, the iPhone 12 mini has a relatively tiny 5.4-inch display. It’s easily totable, fitting in your pocket or hand with ease.

The phone gets most of the specs of its bigger iPhone 12 sibling though, including the same processor, cameras, 5G and MagSafe technology. It’s a veritable powerhouse, so you shouldn’t judge it based on its size.

That dainty design does pressent one or two issues, especially in the battery department – the battery life isn’t great and wireless charging is a touch on the slow side. Overall, though, if you’re looking for a small 5G phone this is the one to go for.

Google Pixel phones tend to be smaller than your average flagship, and that’s certainly the case with the Pixel 5, as its 6-inch display is quite a bit smaller than most 5G phones.

That makes it easy to carry about and use, and that’s just one reason to pick it – it also has a nice clean Android interface, a metal design that’s refreshing compared to loads of plastic or glass rivals, and the great camera software that Google is known for.

Like all phones it isn’t perfect, with middling camera hardware, and it’s not actually the smallest 5G phone either, as the iPhone 12 mini is quite a bit smaller. Still, if you’re an Android fan and want a mini phone, this is your best bet.

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