In 2021, the best 5G phone for you won't just be the latest top-price flagship, as it would have been in past years when 5G was still new. No, now that most phones released connect to the next-gen cellular networks, there's a lot of choice for you.
5G is the next generation of mobile data connectivity, bringing super-fast speeds along with improved reliability and connection stability over 4G, making it great for tasks like online gaming, streaming movies and downloading large files quickly.
Now that 2021 has shown its smartphone hand, so to speak, this list is likely going to stay the same until 2022 - that is, unless any last-minute handsets show up.
This round-up isn't just a replica of our standard best smartphones guide. Instead, we've considered the key uses of 5G, and brought you a list that focuses on these key points. The following roundup 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' to give you a choice even within the categories, which is especially important given that not all of our best phone picks are available in the US or other regions.
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. We've used that knowledge to create this buying guide to help you work out which 5G phone is best for you.
- What is 5G? Our full explainer about the next-gen internet tech
Best 5G phones at any price
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.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
The latest best OnePlus phone out there, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a top-tier device that improves upon past issues such as a weak camera.
Besides offering that all-important 5G connectivity, it's the best OnePlus camera phone out there thanks to its 'freeform' ultra-wide lens that's designed to reduce the distortion at the edge of images, plus a partnership with Hasselblad.
Elsewhere are high-end specs in the form of the Snapdragon 888 chipset, up to 12GB of RAM, and a 6.7-inch 1440 x 3216 AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. HDR10+ support means visuals look fantastic too.
65W fast charging and 50W wireless charging sweetens the deal meaning this is a pricey if highly commendable release from OnePlus.
Best cheap 5G phones
While OnePlus has a few Nord phones that offer low-cost 5G, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is its only true cheap offering, with a low price that undercuts lots of the competition.
This one looks and feels pretty great, whether you're just peering at its colorful back or swiping through its menus. We also found its battery life was very impressive, something you can't say about many 5G phones, and lots of its other specs are good for the price.
This isn't the perfect phone - especially in the camera department - but with how little you're paying, it's our top pick for if you want a cheap 5G phone.
Read our full OnePlus Nord CE 5G review
Possibly the cheapest 5G phone on the market right now is the Realme 8 5G, which is part of the eighth generation of budget devices from Chinese brand Realme.
This smartphone embodies 'cheap and cheery' - its design and cameras aren't exactly groundbreaking, but its screen is big, the processor is good for the price and the battery lasts a nice long time.
If you need a 5G phone but don't want all the bells and whistles of top camera features, snappy charging and oodles of processing power, this is a great choice, and we likely won't see 5G phones that are significantly cheaper for a long time.
Read our full Realme 8 5G review
Best 5G gaming phones
The Lenovo Legion Phone Duel is a powerful 5G phone for gaming, with a top processor, plenty of RAM, side triggers and a dedicated gaming mode, so if you're a mobile gamer it's a great choice.
It's a good phone outside the gaming sphere though thanks to its incredibly fast 90W charging, a pop-up camera for selfies, software that works well in horizontal (unlike most phones) and clean software.
We found in our review a few software issues, but the only big downside is the phone's appearance as, just like for all gaming phones, it has quite a divisive appearance, with a big red 'Y' on the back and some rear LEDs.
Read our full Lenovo Legion Phone Duel review
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).
Read our full Nubia Red Magic 5G review
- The best gaming phones you can buy right now
Best 5G phones for watching and streaming media
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.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review
With a 4K 120Hz display, Sony has achieved a world first here for smartphones and it looks truly gorgeous. The Sony Xperia 1 III is the phone you need if you plan on watching a lot of content on the move, with a choice of image quality modes ensuring you get fantastic color reproduction alongside great resolutions.
The phone is no slouch elsewhere either with a 3.5mm headphone jack making a return, great performance from the Snapdragon 888 processor, plus a good quality camera too. Everything about the Sony Xperia 1 III oozes class. Just bear in mind you'll need to pay for the privilege and some users may find the 21:9 aspect ratio a little tricky to grip.
Read our full Sony Xperia 1 III review.
Best small 5G phones
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.
Read our full iPhone 12 mini review
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.
Read our full Google PIxel 5 review
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