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

Best 5G phones
(Image credit: Motorola, Apple, Samsung)

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 X3OnePlus 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

(Image credit: Samsung)

1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A top tier smartphone, and it takes our best crown

Release date: January 2021
Weight: 227g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
RAM: 12GB / 16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+The best camera zoom+Mesmerizing design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive at any level-No microSD card slot

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

OnePlus 8 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

2. OnePlus 8 Pro

The best OnePlus yet

Release date: April 2020
Weight: 199g
Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.35 x 8.5mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.78-inch
Resolution: 3168 x 1440
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,510mAh
Rear camera: 48MP+48MP+5MP+8MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+One of the best displays around+Reverse & fast wireless charging
Reasons to avoid
-Most expensive OnePlus yet-Less storage base model vs 7T Pro

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.

Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review

Best cheap 5G phone

Motorola One 5G

(Image credit: Motorola)

1. Motorola One 5G

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

Release date: July 2020
Weight: 207g
Dimensions: 168.3 x 74 x 9.7mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2520
CPU: Snapdragon 765
Storage: 64GB/128GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 5MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP + 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Feels snappy to use+Long-lasting battery
Reasons to avoid
-Temperamental fingerprint sensor-Irritating Google Assistant button

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.

Read our full Motorola One 5G review

Oppo Find X2 Lite

(Image credit: Oppo)

2. Oppo Find X2 Lite

A valiant all-rounder

Release date: May 2020
Weight: 180g
Dimensions: 160.3 x 74.3 x 8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.4-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2400
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,025mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Feels good in the hand+Good-looking screen
Reasons to avoid
-Slow at times-Some redundant rear cameras

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.

Read our full Oppo Find X2 Lite review

Best 5G gaming phone

Nubia Red Magic 5G

(Image credit: Nubia)

1. Nubia Red Magic 5G

Magic on the gaming front

Release date: March 2020
Weight: 218g
Dimensions: 168.6 x 78 x 9.8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.65-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB/12GB/16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Great 144Hz display+Handy shoulder triggers
Reasons to avoid
-Software bugs-OS lacks customization options

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

Asus ROG Phone 3

(Image credit: Asus)

2. Asus ROG Phone 3

A 5G gaming powerhouse

Release date: July 2020
Weight: 240g
Dimensions: 171 x 78 x 9.9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.59-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus
RAM: 8GB/12GB/16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 6,000mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP + 5MP
Front camera: 24MP
Reasons to buy
+Top specs+Neat physical triggers
Reasons to avoid
-So-so cameras-Not all games work with triggers

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.

Read our full Asus ROG Phone 3 review

Best 5G phone for watching and streaming media

iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max (Image credit: Apple)

1. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The biggest iPhone with a great display

Release date: November 2020
Weight: 228g
Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1284 x 2778
CPU: A14 Bionic
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 3,687mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP + TOF
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Great screen+Powerful camera
Reasons to avoid
-Almost too large-Most expensive iPhone

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

Sony Xperia 1 II

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony Xperia 1 II

A good phone for a niche crowd

Release date: May 2020
Weight: 181.4g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 1644 x 3840
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Stunning display+Return of the 3.5mm jack
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to hold-Very high price

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.

Read our full Sony Xperia 1 II review

Best small 5G phone

iPhone 12 Mini

1. iPhone 12 mini

The most pocketable 5G phone around

Release date: November 2020
Weight: 135g
Dimensions: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4 mm
OS: iOS 14
Screen size: 5.4-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: A14 Bionic
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB
Battery: 2,227mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Smaller design looks great+Fantastic display
Reasons to avoid
-Middling battery life-Wireless charging is slow

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 5

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixel 5

Small by modern phone standards

Release date: October 2020
Weight: 151g
Dimensions: 144.7 x 70.4 x 8 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,080mAh
Rear camera: 12.2MP + 16MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Great camera software+Clean Android interface
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera-Middling night photography

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