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The best 5G phones for 2021

5G smartphone

Phones are among our most personal devices. We increasingly lead our lives through them and they inspire loyalty, especially when picking a new one.

But with so many options, buying a new phone can be a potentially tough challenge; deciding what make and model to choose and which features matter most.

The hottest buzzword is “5G-enabled” and the implied benefits this brings. However, it’s not always immediately clear why this matters. In this guide, we'll explain why you might want to upgrade to a 5G smartphone, and help you choose a new handset with our pick of the ten best phones for 2021.

Why should I upgrade to a 5G smartphone? 

Upgrading to a 5G smartphone is about speed essentially. 5G mobile broadband promises faster speeds and these phones are built to use it. 

But as well as being optimised for 5G networks, these newer phones will boast faster chips, plenty of memory and storage, beautiful displays, and great cameras. Since 5G is still very new any 5G phone you buy will include some cutting-edge mobile hardware.

How much does a 5G phone cost?

Because 5G is still something of a novelty the 5G-enabled smartphones are often marketed as higher-end and more costly.

But in fact, many of the latest devices will be 5G capable, even those at a budget price. Of course, the price tag will get progressively steeper based on make, model and the broader features it offers. If you only care about getting 5G you can save some cash with a budget handset. Getting one that also has multiple gigabytes of memory, a high-res display, and a stunning camera will mean you have to spend more.

For example, at ~£299 the Realme X50 would be considered an entry-level 5G handset. A more mid-range option might be Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE 5G (~£699), with something like the iPhone 12 Pro Max 512GB (~£1399) a fairly high-end choice.

5G contracts and plans

A 5G phone also requires a 5G phone contract. If your current plan doesn’t include 5G network access, then this is an upgrade you will need to make.

Prices here will vary between providers, but it is not expensive. EE, for example, offers SIM-only 5G plans from £14.

SIM-only deals like this are a great choice should you buy an unlocked, SIM-free 5G phone separately. This can be cheaper than a phone and SIM contract, but you can miss out on benefits such as any insurance or upgrade offers and it means you will have to pay the full price of the handset upfront.

Best 5G Phones

We start with a general selection of six great 5G handsets, before highlighting two of the cheapest options and two of the most compact.

OnePlus Nord 2 5G

Popular handset gets a 5G update that provides value for money.

  • Display: 6.43", 2400x1080
  • CPU: Media Tek Dimensity 1200-AI
  • Memory: 6-12GB RAM
  • Storage: 128-256GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £399-£469

We like:

  • Splendid 90Hz screen.
  • Great value.

We don’t like:

  • Lacklustre camera.
  • No dust or water resistance.

The 5G version of OnePlus’ Nord 2 adds two 5G SIM card slots and Wi-Fi 6 technology. It has a bright and colourful AMOLED display with a fast 90Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling. A capable chipset and RAM allowance also keeps things moving nicely, making this a good all-rounder without breaking the bank. 

Lenovo Legion Phone Dual 2

Great for gamers.

Lenovo Legion Phone Dual 2

  • Display: 6.92”, 2460x1080
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Memory: 12-16GB RAM
  • Storage: 256-512GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £699-£899

We like:

  • 144Hz refresh rate.
  • Adreno 660 graphics.
  • Big battery.

We don’t like:

  • Not the best camera.
  • Bulky.

Lenovo’s Legion Phone Dual 2 will appeal to mobile gamers predominantly. The handset is fairly bulky to accommodate a big battery, plus a vibrant screen and boomy speakers. Camera performance is less stellar but if you plan to play lots of games over snapping selfies then it could be ideal.   

Nokia 8.3 5G

Top value 5G handset from this retro brand.

Nokia 8.3 5G

  • Display: 6.81”, 2400x1080
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Memory: 6GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £349

We like:

  • Large HD+ screen.
  • Long battery life.

We don’t like:

  • Limited internal storage.
  • Average camera.

Nokia’s first foray into 5G phones is steady rather than stunning but delivers on value for money. Long battery life and the bonus of a 3.5mm headphone jack is offset by an okay camera and limited storage. The latter is expandable at least to 512GB using a MicroSD card, while the PureDisplay powered screen is big and kind on the eyes.

Google Pixel 5

Affordable all-rounder.

Google Pixel 5

  • Display: 6.0”, 2340x1080
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £599

We like:

  • Robust metal chassis and comfortable dimensions.
  • Stock Android interface.
  • Decent body-to-screen ratio.

We don’t like:

  • Lower-grade chipset lags behind the competition.
  • Camera limitations.

Crowned the “ultimate 5G Google phone” by the makers themselves, the Pixel 5 covers many bases. A mid-tier price provides a pure Android experience in a tactile metal body, while a slightly underpowered processor but ample RAM keep things fluid. However, the Pixel lacks the telephoto lens that's fast becoming standard on the latest smartphones and its night photography capability needs improvement.

Samsung, Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The best Android smartphone for big spenders.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

  • Display: 6.8”, 3200x1440
  • CPU: Samsung Exynos 2100
  • Memory: 12/16GB RAM
  • Storage: 128-512GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £1149-£1329

We like:

  • High-end hardware.
  • Exceptional 108MP camera sensor.
  • Water and dustproof.
  • Gorgeous display.

We don’t like:

  • No expandable memory.
  • Pricey.
  • Even more costly if you want more storage.

Regarded by many as the best Android phone available, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is high-end in every respect, including the price tag. It has a huge S Pen stylus compatible screen (with 120Hz refresh rate), five cameras, a powerful Samsung Exynos 2100 processor, and up to 16GB of memory. Unfortunately, there is no expandable storage and the larger capacity options come at an even higher price.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

The next-level choice for iPhone devotees.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • Display: 6.7”, 2778x1284
  • CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
  • Memory: 6GB RAM
  • Storage: 128-512GB
  • Operating system: Apple iOS
  • RRP: £999-£1299

We like:

  • Awesome camera.
  • Excellent screen.
  • Powerful CPU.

We don’t like:

  • No charger included.
  • Battery life isn't the best.

Apple includes 5G support in all iPhone 12 models as standard, but the uprated specifications of the Pro version make this a snappier option if you can pay the extra, even if battery life could be better.  The Pro Max and Pro are very similar, but the Max tips it for us with a superior camera. However, it is a large phone; if you want something that's less of a handful and a little cheaper the regular iPhone 12 is also highly recommended.

Best cheap 5G phones

Motorola moto g50

A great start for 5G on a budget.

Motorola moto g50

  • Display: 6.5”, 1600x720
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 480
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £199

We like:

  • 90Hz display refresh rate.
  • Good battery life.

We don’t like:

  • Small on storage.
  • Lower resolution display.

As one of the cheapest phones to offer true 5G support, the moto G50 is superb value. Strong battery life and solid plastic design deliver durability, while a trio of cameras shoots passable pictures. Built-in storage is low but expandable to 1TB using memory cards, and the Snapdragon CPU achieves decent multi-core performance.

Xioami Redmi Note 9T

Premium specs for a very low price.

Xioami Redmi Note 9T

  • Display: 6.53”, 2340x1080
  • CPU: MediaTek MT6853 Dimensity 800U
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64-128GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £159-£249

We like:

  • 360° antenna layout.
  • All-day battery life.

We don’t like:

  • Camera could be better.
  • Only 60Hz refresh rate.

Despite its lack of an ultrawide camera sensor, Xioami’s Redmi Note 9T is generously equipped. Featuring chips and memory that deliver power beyond its price, the phone lasts long on a full charge and gives good reception. Dual-sim 5G support is joined by a symmetrical all-round antenna for ensuring a strong signal.

Best compact 5G phones

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

A fast and foldable fit for your pocket.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

  • Display: 6.7”, 2636x1080
  • CPU: Snapdragon 855+
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Storage: 256GB
  • Operating system: Android
  • RRP: £1299

We like:

  • Unique folding clamshell design.
  • Large AMOLED display.
  • Upgraded CPU.

We don’t like:

  • Slight screen crease.
  • Small outer display is of limited use.
  • Expensive.

The Galaxy Z Flip 5G adds a faster Octa-core processor to the impressive clamshell design of the original Z Flip. Keeping pace with the faster network speeds, users can enjoy a big folding display for ultimate portability. App notifications show externally, while dual 10/12MP cameras deliver admirable selfie shots.

Apple iPhone 12 mini

Apple appeal at lesser size and cost.

Apple iPhone 12 Mini

  • Display: 5.4”, 2340x1080
  • CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64-256GB
  • Operating system: Apple iOS
  • RRP: £699

We like:

  • Neat compact design.
  • OLED “Super Retina XDR” display.

We don’t like:

  • Non-expandable storage.
  • Relatively poor battery life.

The mini model of the iPhone 12 offers a great entry point for Apple adoption. A better fit for most pockets, the smaller size still packs the processing power of the premium range. Equipped with the same A14 chipset as the rest of the iPhone 12 range for 5G-ready performance, the phone’s stunning retina display looks equally sharp.

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