5G phones are everywhere now, with the latest networking tech gracing everything from Apple's iPhones even to some of the cheapest Android phones on the market.
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.
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
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - Best 5G Android
After 2020's disappointing Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung has finally earned the name with a follow-up that delivers almost everything you could want from a 5G Android flagship - admittedly at a price that only a few can afford, and in a form factor that will simply be too big for some.
The camera is now probably the best in any phone, with a 108Mp main shooter backed up by an ultrawide and two telephoto lenses at different zoom levels.
The expansive 6.8in display delivers both high WQHD+ resolution and adaptive refresh rate up to 120Hz, and with new S-pen stylus support it comfortably fills the productivity niche of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra too.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Oppo Find X3 Pro - Best display
The Oppo Find X3 Pro is a phenomenal phone by any measure. The 6.7in 10-bit 120Hz QHD+ panel is one of the best displays in any phone right now and Oppo backs it up with 65W wired and 30W wireless charging, a 4500mAh battery, and a top-tier camera that boasts 50Mp sensors on both the main and ultrawide lenses.
You’ll have to live without a periscopic zoom lens - the telephoto here is a measly 2x zoom - but Oppo instead includes a novel microlens camera capable of microscopic super-closeups. That's not the only oddity, as the design itself is utterly unique thanks to a seamlessly sloped camera module built right into the glass of the phone's body.
For pure performance the Find X3 Pro is also hard to beat, with all of the above plus a Snapdragon 888 chip, 512GB storage and 12GB RAM. You just have to be willing to pay the price, as it doesn't come cheap.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 Pro review
iPhone 12 - Best 5G iPhone
It took Apple a little while longer to roll out 5G technology, but it was well worth the wait. Sporting an Apple-designed 5G modem and support for 5G bands around the world, the iPhone 12 is the best iPhone for those that want super-fast connectivity and all the benefits that come along with it.
It's not just 5G that makes the iPhone 12 great though; it features an industrial design reminiscent of the iPhone 5 and it features Apple's latest and greatest A14 Bionic chipset at its heart, offering incredible performance across the board. There are also improvements to the camera setup and, importantly, it sports the same 6.1in Super Retina XDR display as the iPhone 12 Pro - a first for a non-pro iPhone.
If the standard iPhone 12 is too big for your tastes, we'd also recommend the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 Mini, which offers the same features in a smaller form factor.
Read our full Apple iPhone 12 review
Xiaomi Mi 11 - Best value flagship
The Xiaomi Mi 11 is a rock-solid performer thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset with integrated 5G at its heart, which comes paired with 8GB RAM and plenty of storage.
Throw in a WQHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display (quad-curved, no less), 108Mp rear camera, and 55W fast-charging paired with 50W wireless charging, and you can see that the Mi 11 won't be beaten for specs at its price.
There are minor downsides: you won't get an IP rating, there's no telephoto camera, and Xiaomi's MIUI software still has room for improvement. But if pure performance is what you're looking for, then look no further.
There's also the more expensive Mi 11 Ultra, which upgrades to faster charging and a more powerful camera, but is much bigger - or the Mi 11 Lite 5G, which is about half the price and at the time of writing is the thinnest 5G phone you can buy.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 review
Samsung Galaxy S21 - Best Android all-rounder
Samsung takes the same balancing act that it struck with last year's Galaxy S20 and updates the hardware.
As a result, you get strong performance, a fresh new design, better battery life, the latest Android 11 (dressed in Samsung's own One UI 3.1, at launch) and integrated 5G.
Best of all, all this comes in a more affordable package than its predecessor - though if you're happy to spend a little more, there's always the larger S21 Plus.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 review
OnePlus Nord - Best mid-range
OnePlus's second-ever affordable phone is an absolute treasure even a year on, powered by Qualcomm's solid mid-range 5G-capable chip, the Snapdragon 765G.
The Nord also totes a 90Hz AMOLED display, a great primary 48Mp camera and solid 30W fast charging.
Software-wise, the company's OxygenOS user experience is also a major highlight - bringing responsive interactivity and a clean interface to the table that lends itself to the phone's powerful, premium feel.
OnePlus has since launched the Nord CE 5G, which takes most of these great specs but wraps them in a plastic body - with a few other key downgrades elsewhere. Overall we prefer the original Nord, but the CE 5G is well worth a look too.
Read our full OnePlus Nord review
Google Pixel 5 - Most compact
Google's first 5G flagship walks a different path to its predecessors, showcasing Android 11 to the best of its abilities but also shedding the more experimental features of previous generations and opting for more conservative hardware at the same time.
Its clean design and user experience are supported by a set of superb - and now more feature-rich - cameras, as well as an incredibly compact design and battery life that's actually usable.
Read our full Google Pixel 5 review
Realme GT - Best 5G flagship killer
The Realme GT is the 2021 flagship killer that the OnePlus 9 should have been.
Top specs - a Snapdragon 888 5G, 65W charging, and 120Hz AMOLED display - are encased in a phenomenal yellow vegan leather racing striped design (skip the two boring glass models) that ensures the Realme GT looks as fast as it is.
You won't get wireless charging or a waterproof rating, and the camera is a little basic, but for performance per pound there's none better right now.
Read our full Realme GT 5G review
Asus ROG Phone 5 - Best for 5G gaming
The Asus ROG Phone 5 offers one of the best mobile gaming experiences around, complete with built-in triggers, a gorgeous 144Hz AMOLED display with impressive touch response times, impressive audio chops and incredible power under the hood in the form of the Snapdragon 888 and up to 16GB of RAM.
There are plenty of accessories available, from the Switch-like Kunai 5 controllers to the AeroActive Cooler 5 to keep your phone cool during extended gameplay sessions. The software is top-notch too, offering granular per-game performance tweaks alongside system-wide performance modes.
However, while the large display means it’s great for gaming, some may find it too tall to use effectively one-handed, plus, at 238g, it’s much heavier than most flagships in 2021 – and it’s noticeable when you pick it up too.
Read our full Asus ROG Phone 5 review
Vivo X60 Pro - Best design
The Vivo X60 Pro delivers 5G courtesy of the Snapdragon 870 processor at its heart - not the latest and greatest, but more than enough for most.
It also offers 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, a 120Hz refresh rate AMOLED display, and a phenomenal triple camera led by a 48Mp, f/1.5 gimbal-stabilised main lens.
It's the design that really makes the phone. 7.6mm thin and only weighing 177g, this is one of the lightest and thinnest 5G phones around - especially considering it still offers a generous 6.56in display. The frosted glass finish is beautiful and feels great too, available in either Shimmer Blue (pictured) or a more restrained black.
There's no wireless charging, nor an official IP water-resistance rating, but if you don't mind those omissions then the X60 Pro is well worth a look.
Read our full Vivo X60 Pro review
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 the cheaper OnePlus Nord. 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:
- Have a 5G-capable phone
- Subscribe to a network that offers 5G connectivity
- Pay for a plan that includes 5G connectivity
- 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.
Sub-6 vs mmWave
You may have heard about two types of 5G signal: Sub-6GHz and mmWave. The good news is that for the most part you don't need to consider this too much.
Every 5G phone ships with Sub-6 support, and conveniently this is the most common standard worldwide, including the UK and Europe.
mmWave is a shorter wavelength standard that is capable of higher speeds, but with worse range. For the moment it's only widespread in the US, and as a result it tends to only be US phones that include mmWave chips - Apple supports mmWave in its US iPhone 12 models, for example, but not elsewhere.
If you're in North America then it is worth checking if a phone supports mmWave or not, but even there you shouldn't consider it a dealbreaker. Outside the US, there's really no point considering it at all.
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.