Looking for the fastest, most future-proof handset? The best 5G phones are without doubt your best bet. Depending on your location, the 5G infrastructure may still not be fully installed, but make no mistake – this is the technology that is going to drive the future of data, and 5G phones are your opportunity to get on board early.
So what is 5G? Well, in short, 5G delivers faster mobile internet than we’ve ever had access to before. And this is transformative for your workflow; whether you’re waiting for that tutorial to download or for that album to sync on Lightroom mobile, having a faster mobile internet connection will save you serious time.
The best camera phones are obviously about the camera, first and foremost, but 5G will inevitably improve the whole experience – especially with 4K video and high-resolution photos becoming an increasing part of our everyday imaging.
It is worth noting at this point that even the best iPhones do not have 5G. We expect Apple to enter the arena with the iPhone 12 later this year, but if you're looking for a 5G option right now then you're looking at an Android handset.
In theory 5G is capable of speeds as high as 50Gbps, but you won’t get anything close to that just yet; using the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on Vodafone in the UK, we were maxing out at about 200Mbps in the few spots 5G available around London. Though obviously 5G speed and coverage is only going to improve.
What 5G phones are available now?
At the time of writing, there are no 5G iPhones, only Android phones. These include the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Oppo Reno 5G, Xiaomi Mi Mix 5G, Huawei Mate 20X 5G and the LG V50 ThinQ 5G.
When will Apple follow suit? It is widely anticipated that the iPhone 12 will introduce at least one 5G option, as Apple is being as conservative (or, to be more charitable, 'considered') as ever when it comes to rolling out a new technology.
Should I get a 5G phone?
Whether you should buy a 5G phone now really depends on two things: what you need from your phone, and where you live. If you frequently tether your phone’s mobile internet and download huge files on the go, it might be worth investing in 5G sooner rather than later – provided it's on its way to your region.
Bear in mind that 5G is currently only available in big cities, and only in a handful of them around the world. So if you want to know when it’s coming to you, check with your local network provider.
If you think that the new technology is for you, then let's dive into the best 5G phones available right now…
The best 5G phones for photographers
It took Apple longer than we'd hoped, but it's finally delivered the 5G goods. The iPhone 12 family are all 5G phones, offering lightning-fast internet speeds (as long as you're in an area serviced by 5G). Interestingly, the iPhone 12 will automatically switch to using 4G LTE if 5G speeds don't matter to what you're doing to save battery power. The 5G will then turn itself on when it's needed.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro is one of the best camera phones currently available, featuring an impressive triple camera unit, including an ultra wide f/2.4 camera, a wide f/1.6 camera and a telephoto f/2 camera. There are plenty of new features on the iPhone 12 Pro, such as a LiDAR scanner – which will mean faster focusing in low light situations.
The iPhone 12 Pro will also be able to use the new Apple ProRAW file format, which means users will be able to combine the great computational photography effects Apple is known for with the power of RAW files. Combined with the addition of 5G and the new Ceramic Shield display that has a 4x better drop performance, you just can't go wrong with the new iPhone 12 Pro!
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is Samsung’s ultimate Android phone. There’s an optical zoom with around 4x magnification, a 108MP primary sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide, and a time of flight depth sensor for good measure. The consistent quality of these sensors stands out, with great image quality on offer at all native focal lengths. However, its much publicized “100x Space Zoom” photos look bad; add all the clever processing you like, we’re still zooming into a 5x image here. But the results are excellent at 10x zoom and acceptable at 30x zoom. This alone is a big achievement.
What’s missing? The S20 Ultra does't have 4K video stabilization in the same league as the iPhone 11 Pro, but it can capture non-stabilized 8K. Shoot with a tripod in sunlight and the results are often excellent. The 120Hz screen is superb, but other core elements vary by territory. In the UK the phone uses an Exynos processor, which leads to slightly disappointing stamina given the 5000mAh battery capacity, but the phone has the Snapdragon 865 in the US. Judging by our experiences with the two chipsets, the Snapdragon is better.
A few eyebrows raised when the OnePlus 8 Pro arrived and became the most expensive phone the company had made to date. However, it does have some major upgrades and is still one of the most affordable top-end 5G phones.
The primary camera sensor is bumped from the Sony IMX586 to the 48MP IMX689. This is a large 1/1.4-inch chip. Night photos look better than the OnePlus 7 Pro’s even when used with the Night Sight mode, low-light video is brighter and pixel-level detail looks cleaner and more confident during the day.
Its ultra-wide camera has the same sensor as standard OnePlus 8’s main one and the phone is a surprise hit for macro photography, too. Zoom images aren’t best-in-class, though – it has a 3x mode, but uses a 13-megapixel sensor cropped to take 8MP images, rather than a true 3x lens.
There’s a fourth camera, too, a highly unusual 5MP photochromatic one that can see through certain kinds of plastic. However, all its images look pretty poor, and quite strange. This the only truly weak part of the OnePlus 8 Pro camera, though, and video capture uses both electronic stabilization and OIS for smooth footage.
The rest of this 5G phone is great, with a huge, excellent 120Hz 6.78-inch screen, tasteful glass and aluminium design and loud speakers.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is like the Swiss Army Knife of 5G phones – it has a gorgeous pin-sharp screen, six cameras with cutting-edge depth-sensing tech, a huge battery and loads of storage. And let’s not forget, it's one of only two 5G phones available right now with a headphone jack.
The S10 5G has four cameras around the back. In a similar setup to that of the Galaxy S10, these cover wide, ultrawide and telephoto options. Unlike the other S10s though, these are supplemented by a time of flight (ToF) camera, which can detect depth more accurately than traditional cameras, delivering more precise artificial background blur across photos and videos.
The phone’s large 6.74-inch screen is a Dynamic AMOLED panel with sensational colour accuracy, depth and vibrancy. On the top right of the screen is a cutout that houses the front 10MP camera, which is coupled with a ToF sensor for portrait mode selfies and video.
Read the full Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review.
In other territories, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G ships with a Dual Screen case – a fun gadget lover’s dream that gives you plenty to tinker with while adding protection, turning into a handy kickstand for movie-watching or support when photo-taking. In the US, though, it's worth checking with your retailer whether you’ll be getting one included before you pick up the V50 ThinQ 5G.
As for the rest of the phone, it’s loaded up with a flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, features five cameras – two on the front and three on the back, and even crams in a quad-DAC for excellent wired audio. Audiophiles can also rejoice at the fact that the V50 ThinQ 5G is one of only two native 5G phones with a headphone jack.
The design may feel a few years old, and it's not going to win a head-to-head in any single category, but the ThinQ 5G's features still combine like Voltron to offer a compelling option if none of the more obvious choices take your fancy.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the latest handsets from Samsung – and what a handset it is! This impressive phone features a top-of-the-range Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset, 12GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. It also has a massive 6.9" screen with a 120Hz refresh rate (perfect for gaming and watching movies!) and an accompanying S Pen for taking notes.
Even more impressive is the camera setup on the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, featuring a rear triple camera unit with a staggering 108MP camera and two additional 12MP cameras. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera has a 10MP sensor.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is without a doubt a premium phone – but is it worth the eye-watering price? There's no getting away from the fact that if you want a Note 20 Ultra you're going to have to be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it. However, the technology truly does speak for itself, so if you have the cash to splash, then this is definitely one of the best 5G phones to buy.
No you're not seeing double – the OnePlus 8 might not be quite as good as the OnePlus 8 Plus (found further up this list), but it does have one big advantage – its price. The OnePlus 8 is a great affordable 5G phone, especially when you consider how well specced it is as well.
With a huge 4,300mAh battery and the high-end Snapdragon 865 chipset, the OnePlus 8 certainly doesn't pull any punches. We're also a fan of the rear camera unit, including a 48MP main camera, a 16MP ultra wide camera and a 2MP macro camera. The only downside is that we would have loved to have seen a telephoto lens squeezed into this array.
As one of the most affordable 5G phones on the market, we wouldn't be surprised to see the OnePlus 8 veritably fly off the shelves.
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