These are the Best 5G Phones you can buy for the 2021 holidays

These are the Best 5G Phones you can buy for the 2021 holidays

Whatever your budget, there's a 5G phone for you

5G rollout continues to happen around the world, so if you’re buying a new phone, it might be worth picking one up that supports this fifth-generation network. Most of the phones in our Best Phones and Best Android phones list already support 5G – but you don’t have to spend flagship money to get that high-speed connectivity now. Here’s XDA’s guide to the best phone with 5G support.

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Best 5G foldable phone money can buy: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

If you want the most capable and flashiest 5G phone, it’s got to be the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 right now. A mini tablet that can fold in half to become a pocketable form factor, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the most cutting-edge smartphone in the world right now.

This year Samsung added more durable build material and IPX8 water resistance, as well as improved screen brightness and S-Pen support, making it a very capable productivity machine. Some of us at XDA have used this device to do work, including writing articles for this website. Sure it will never beat working off a proper laptop, but it’s a heck lot easier to type/write and multi-task on the Z Fold 3 than a typical slab phone.

But if you want this machine for fun, you can do so too. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 offers a 7.6-inch large screen with 120Hz that is ideal for gaming and video watching, and “Flex Mode,” aka the ability for the hinge to stay halfway folded, allows the Galaxy Z Fold 3 to sit in an L-shape, like a laptop. This means hands-free video calls or group selfies or time-lapses. The outside “Cover Screen” measure 6.2-inches, and while it’s a bit narrow, is still very usable and great for one-hand use as you’re out and about.

With a Snapdragon 888 and a 4,400 mAh battery, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 can handle anything you throw at it, including marathon gaming sessions.

If we must nitpick, it’d be the cameras: the Z Fold 3’s main camera system is a triple 12MP array that uses the same hardware as the Z Fold 2. This system can still produce fine images in a vacuum, but if you match it against the S21 Ultra, or the Pixel 6 Pro, or any top Android slab flagship, the Z Fold 3’s cameras are inferior: the image sensors are smaller, so it doesn’t take in as much light. There’s less depth-of-field if you try to focus close to a subject. And the zoom lens is just mediocre at best. We must stress that’s comparing the Z Fold 3’s cameras against the absolute best camera phones on the market. Otherwise, the cameras will still satisfy most casual users.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the newest top dog phone in Android, so of course it has 5G support! You’ll want that high speed connection too because this is one capable multi-tasking beast of a machine.

Best 5G phone between $1,000 and $1,500: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Galaxy S21 Ultra in silver

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is arguably the best slab phone in the world right now, so it naturally takes this spot here too. In addition to top-notch network connectivity, you’re getting the best screen possible on a mobile device right now, a 6.8-inch Samsung AMOLED screen with an adaptive refresh rate that can max out at 120Hz, with the punchiest colors and 1,500 nits of maximum brightness. We are also fans of the unique back design, with that camera bump that blends into the chassis.

The camera system is also the most versatile around: it’s headlined by a 108MP camera with a relatively large image sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP 10x Periscope zoom lens and another 10MP 3x telephoto zoom lens. Having two zoom lenses gives the S21 Ultra the most versatile focal length range in smartphones today, and the main camera also captures punchy, bright and vibrant images. The ultra-wide camera doesn’t reach the standards of the other cameras but nothing of major concern.

With a Snapdragon 888 and a 5,000 mAh battery, the S21 Ultra is one of the longest lasting phones around, able to go at least a full 12-hour of heavy use and much longer for casual users.

The S21 Ultra also supports the S-Pen for the first time in the S series, so you can sketch or jot down notes as you see fit. However, the S-Pen requires a separate purchase and there is no place within the phone to house it.

There’s also Samsung DeX, which lets you connect the phone to an external monitor and use it like a “rea” computer — provided you have a Bluetooth keyboard. All these features make the S21 Ultra one of the more productivity-driven slab phones on the market. If you want a 5G phone that checks all the boxes, it’s hard to top the S21 Ultra — unless you want your phone to fold.

    Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
    The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the ultimate overkill in the new 2021 flagship series, packing in a flagship SoC, a premium build, a great display, and an amazing camera setup, as well as all the extras expected on a premium flagship.

Best 5G phone between $800 and $999: Apple iPhone 13

iPhone 13

The standard iPhone 13 is about as good as it gets in this $800-$1,000 price range — and bonus points for sitting firmly at the low end of the range too. The iPhone 13 runs on the same processor — Apple A15 Bionic — as its bigger, more expensive siblings the Pro series, which means the iPhone 13’s processor is the best mobile processor on the market right now.

The iPhone 13 also has a capable dual camera system with larger sensors compared to previous iPhones, so still photos have better light intake ability, as well as superior depth-of-field. The ultra-wide angle camera is also among one of the best in the industry, without the noticeable color shift that you find in some Android phones. And the iPhone 13 also has best in class video recording ability, capturing the most stable footage, with proper dynamic range and even the option to add semi-convincing artificial bokeh. 

With a 6.1-inch OLED screen and tipping the scales at 174g, the iPhone 13 is also among one of the lightest and smallest phones around. And although many of us find the curvier design of previous iPhones slightly more comfortable to hold, there’s no denying the flat sides, hard angled design of the iPhone 13 has a professional, mature vibe. This is a phone that looks less like a gadget than a real machine.

And of course, you have to factor in software and eco-system when buying Apple. The iPhone 13 runs on iOS 15, a smooth and intuitive operating system that works seamlessly with other Apple products. For example, if you record a voice memo on your iPhone 13, you can find that same memo on your Mac (if you use one). Or you can easily send files to other iPhones or Apple devices via AirDrop. We also love that, if you log into a wifi with one Apple device, all your other Apple devices will automatic know the password and log in without needing you to do the process again. It’s the little things that make the iPhone so popular around the world.

    Apple iPhone 13
    The iPhone 13 fits this happy medium price range (for North Americans, anyway), in that it's above mid-range prices so you can expect a flagship device, but it's not in that really expensive premium flagship territory.

Also great between $800 and $999: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

If you know you don’t want to use an iPhone, then the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is an excellent alternative option in this price range. The Z Flip 3 is at once a throwback and a look at cutting-edge futuristic tech: it’s a 6.4-inch, ultra-thin slab smartphone that folds in half to become something much more compact.

Samsung’s made a bunch of improvements over previous Z Flips — the folding screen feels sturdier and less plasticky than before, thanks to a new film material that covers the screen. Animations also appear ultra-fluid thanks to that 120Hz refresh rate. And the outside “Cover Display” has increased its size by four times, now large enough to show most notifications in its entirety, as well as offer a bunch of interactive widgets like calendar, recorder, timer, etc.

The Z Flip 3 also gains IPX8 water resistance rating, so it’s the first foldable (along with the Z Fold 3) that you can use in the rain without worry. And we’re huge fans of “Flex Mode,” which allows the Z Flip 3 to stay half folded at any angle, which means you can take hands-free video calls or selfies, along with a bunch of other possibilties. The dual 12MP camera system does a great job too, producing sharp and vibrant wide and ultra-wide images. And thanks to its foldable design, you can use these cameras to take selfies too. Of course, there is a more traditional 10MP selfie camera located in the main screen too.

Powered by a Snapdragon 888, the Z Flip 3 is among one of the most powerful Android phones around. Whether it’s gaming or NetFlix, productivity tasks or social media, the Z Flip 3 can handle anything you throw at it.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
    The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a sleek and sexy clamshell foldable that offers a gorgeous screen, IPX8 water resistance, and of course, 5G!

Between $700 and $800: OnePlus 9

If you want an Android phone that can almost be considered flagship level for a bit less money, than the OnePlus 9 is a good bet. It offers several specs that matches the top-end Galaxy S21 Ultra, such as 120Hz OLED screen, a Snapdragon 888, premium glass and aluminum construction, and a very good main camera with a large sensor.

However, it lacks mmWave 5G bands so in the US it only supports T-Mobile and Verizon’s 5G Nationwide, but not AT&T’s. And it lacks the crazy zoom lens of Samsung’s top dog phone. Still, for most people to whom the most important things about a phone is the screen, main camera, and processor, the OnePlus 9 can absolutely keep up with anyone.

We are also a fan of OnePlus’ software skin, OxygenOS, which is clean and appears stock Android-like but with tons of customization options, as well as the various fun colors the phone come in, like the Winter Mist color seen in the photo above.

The 4,500 mAh battery is also large enough to power the phone for an entire day, and if you need to top up, OnePlus has one of the fastest charging tech around: a 65W charging brick is included with the phone, and it tops the phone from 0-100% in 29 minutes. This means even a eight minute charge mid-day should add enough juice to the phone for over night use.

    OnePlus 9
    The OnePlus 9 is a $729 phone that punches above its weight class and can hold its own against $1,000 phones. It supports 5G networks from Verizon and T-Mobile, but not AT&T, however.

Best 5G phone between $500 and $699: Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6 GreenAt $599, the Google Pixel 6 takes this category easily. In fact, the Google Pixel 6 may be the best value phone on this market. Running on Google’s own SoC Tensor, with 8GB of RAM and a 6.4-inch 90Hz OLED screen, and a really good camera system, this is a phone with almost flagship hardware that delivers the definitive Android experience — exactly the way Google wants it.

The Pixel 6 can obviously connect to 5G but the big reason to get this phone, in addition to the software, is the camera. This 50MP camera can capture stunning photos thanks to its faster aperture and large image sensor, the latter allows the camera to take in more light naturally so it doesn’t have to resort to night mode as often, as well as produce natural looking real bokeh in certain shots.

The 16MP ultra-wide doesn’t quite reach the same heights but is still a very capable lens, however, the field-of-view is narrower than most ultra-wide shooters on the market. Beyond hardware though, Google’s computational photography is what enables this phone to grab shots that punch way above its price class. One of our favorite features is Magic Eraser, which leverages Google’s machine learning to digitally remove unwanted people or elements from a photo. It doens’t always work, but when it works, it really does seem like magic.

The Pixel 6 Pro’s 6.4-inch screen is also an ideal size in our opinion, as it’s not too large to be used by one hand. And the 4,614 mAh battery is quite large for a phone of this size, so expect all day battery life, easily.

    Google Pixel 6
    The Google Pixel 6 is one of the best value and stylish phones on this list.

Best 5G phone under $500: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 Awesome blue

With a 120Hz OLED display, Snapdragon 750G, and a very capable main camera that can trade blows with the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy A52 5G is one of the best mid-ter phones released this year.

We love the bright pastel colors the phone comes in, as well as the fact that there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack. The 64MP, f/1.8 main camera, as mentioned earlier, is very capable, producing shots with proper dynamic range and punchy colors more often than not. The other lenses, range from solid to mostly useless. The 12MP ultra-wide sits in the former camp, a capable shooter that produce shots with sweeping field-of-view, although details are a bit soft if you zoom in. The pair of 5MP sensors for depth and macro, however, are more decoration than real cameras, as they supposedly help with portrait and macro shots, but the results are mediocre. Still, considering the price of this phone, you’re still getting two very capable cameras, plus a 32MP selfie camera too.

The A52 also runs on Samsung’s One UI which is one of the more mature software skins around, with an excellent set of features and regular security updates.

And yes, the body is crafted out of mostly plastic, and the in-display fingerprint reader isn’t the fastest, but the tradeoffs are worth it to save a few hundred dollars — besides, most people use a case with their phones anyway.

The 4,500 mAh battery with 25W fast charging is also quite good at this price range. In all, this is one of the better value mid-rangers in the US.

    Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
    The Galaxy A52 5G is one of the best budget Android phones you can buy right now, with a 120Hz screen, 5G connectivity, and Android 11.

 

Best 5G phone under $300: OnePlus Nord N10

The OnePlus Nord N10 standing straight in an American backyard.

With a Snapdragon 690 and a plasticky body, no one’s going to confuse the OnePlus Nord N10 as a flagship phone; but it’s got the required modem for connectivity to 5G and still sports a rather lively 6.5 inch, 90Hz LCD display. And despite the older SoC, the phone still performs at a satisfactory level thanks to the super clean and smooth OxygenOS software.

For optics, the 64MP main camera gets the job done, because it uses pixel binning technology, you’re getting 16MP shots that pack a lot of details. But the 8MP ultra-wide camera can be hit or miss. Also serviceable is the 16MP camera which tends to blow out highlights if you’re shooting in sunny conditions but at this price range, you can’t expect too much.

A 4,300 mAh battery can power the phone all day with ease, and there’s a 30W fast charging brick that comes included with the phone. Then there’s the software, a fast and reliable OxygenOS that will serve basic usage needs without issues. The only gripe we have with the software is it lacks a one hand mode. The OnePlus Nord N10 also packs stereo speakers so this is a fine movie watching machine. For gaming, however, you will have to set realistic expectations because the processor is not powerful enough to run graphically intensive games at maximum settings — you’ll have to lower graphics settings to get proper performance.

    OnePlus Nord N10 5G
    The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a budget 5G handset that offers long battery life and a good screen.

Ultimately, if money is no object, my pick of the best 5G phones right now is a two-way tie between the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra — but I understand the price makes either a no-go for many people. For most people, I think the iPhone 13 or OnePlus 9 are excellent purchases; you’re getting basically as good a smartphone as last year’s technology allows, at a reasonable price under four digits.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.