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? Well, it could be a matter of days! The upcoming iPhone 12 family is due to be announced in mid-October 2020 – and the rumor is that there will be four 5G capable handsets. Apparently, two will use sub-6GHz 5G and the premium models will have mmWave 5G.
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.
Available exclusively on Vodafone in the UK, the Mi Mix 3 5G is our pick for the best budget 5G phone. It has two cameras, skipping the ultra wide-angle option found on many of its competitors. While this means it doesn’t have as versatile a camera as that of the Galaxy S10 5G or the Oppo Reno 5G, what it does deliver is incredible value for money.
It comes loaded up with a Snapdragon 855 processor with 6GB RAM, so performance is excellent, and the 6.39-inch AMOLED screen delivers bezel-free gaming, watching, swiping and scrolling.
If you think you’re getting a poor camera, think again. The Mi Mix 5G still has smart scene detection, a dedicated night mode and dual front cameras to make your portraits pop with a shallow depth of field effect. There's also a slide-out selfie camera that's hidden from view when not in use – so from the front, it's light on bezels and has a futuristic look.
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.
The Huawei P40 Pro is a beauty – just look at it! Huawei’s hardware has always been top quality, and its latest flagship is no different. The camera is everything you would expect from a Huawei handset, delivering stacks of soft-focus depth to pictures, balanced against plenty of detail. Like other phones with a ridiculous zoom, it's better on paper than in practice – you probably won't use the 50x digital zoom more than a few times, though the 5x optical zoom is genuinely useful.
The 50MP High-Res images don't pop as much as software-assisted lower-res shots, but all cameras produce very impressive results. The video is among the best we've ever used on a phone, and will be a boon for content creators. Ultimately, the lack of Google leaves this handset with a severe handicap for most people, but if you're happy to pay the premium then the P40 Pro's camera is about as good as it gets.
In full: Huawei P40 Pro review
The Sony Xperia 1 II sports a high-end Snapdragon 865 chipset, making it one of the best 5G phones around. It also has an impressive 4,000mAh battery, which means users can expect to be able to take plenty of photos, shoot lots of videos and make countless calls and texts before need to recharge the battery.
With a 21:9 aspect ratio and a 4K display, the Sony Xperia 1 II is particularly good for gamers and gaming enthusiasts. Meanwhile, the triple camera unit on the back of the phone includes three 12MP cameras infused with Zeiss lens technology. There's a f/1.7 wide lens, a f/2.4 telephoto lens and a f/2.2 ultra wide lens – plus a 0.3MP time-of-flight sensor.
The Sony Xperia 1 II comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage as standard – and there's a microSD card slot if you want to add additional storage as well. It's worth noting that, while this is the first 5G phone from Sony, the 5G connectivity isn't available in the US. In addition, the 5G version of the phone is only capable of supporting sub-6GHz 5G, which isn't quite as speedy and impressive as the mmWave technology (although will likely be more reliable).
Check out the full Sony Xperia 1 II review
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.
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