In many cities, the answer is yes. Here’s where you can find it, along with an update for the new 5G phone.
The major U.S. carriers have been touting the speed of 5G service for three years, each claiming to be the best 5G network in the country. However, it is often difficult for the average consumer to find a 5G signal, let alone revel in the benefits of the technology.
At this point, it’s safe to say that we won’t be downloading full-length movies in under 5 seconds anytime soon. This means that the instantaneous response times required for safe passage with robotic surgery and autonomous vehicles are also far off.
But the next time you find yourself at a baseball stadium packed with fans, scrambling to upload selfies to Instagram, you might find some benefits. In fact, you don’t even need to own a 5G phone to notice the difference. That’s because 5G service offers greater network capacity, potentially absorbing large chunks of the crowd, while you move on in the suddenly more spacious 4G land.
At least for now, you don’t need to rush to upgrade your phone if you’re happy with what you have. But your next phone is likely to be 5G capable. Here’s a noteworthy tip. 5G service will drain battery faster than 4G service.
Models made by Apple and Samsung now have features to counteract this problem. When 5G service in your area doesn’t noticeably improve, Apple’s 5G automatic setting switches your iPhone to LTE to save battery life. Samsung’s setting is called “Optimize battery usage.”
So, which carrier has the best 5G network? A lot depends on which carrier offers service in your area. While 5G coverage appears to be expanding month by month, it’s not yet nationwide. In fact, in many U.S. cities it still varies by neighborhood.
Here’s a rundown of 5G services from major wireless providers and the latest 5G-compatible phones from Apple, Samsung, and other well-known brands.
AT&T includes 5G service on all of its unlimited data plans. Consumers using the company’s budget-priced Cricket Wireless service can also get 5G access, as long as they have a compatible phone and plan.
Instead of listing all 5G cities and towns on its network (more than 14,000 at last count), the company provides a map of coverage that you can search by entering your address.
T-Mobile includes access to its 5G network on all service plans. And the 2020 acquisition of Sprint boosted the company’s 5G coverage. 5G service hasn’t fully reached everyone, but the company says it has the largest coverage in the country compared to AT&T and Verizon; it operates in all 50 states. This map provides specific details.
All Verizon service plans include access to its nationwide 5G network. However, to get faster Ultra Wideband coverage, you must sign up for the Play More, Do More or Get More Unlimited plans. Play More and Do More plans start at $45 a line, while Get More costs an extra $10 per month.
5G mobile phone
Apple’s first 5G-compatible models appear in the 2020 iPhone 12 lineup. The middling battery life didn’t impress our testers, but the phone’s camera and sharp OLED display earned top marks.
The iPhone 13 models fared better in our battery tests, while maintaining the iPhone’s solid reputation for photo and video quality.
For the new iPhone SE, Apple isn’t skimping on 5G capabilities, despite the phone’s modest price tag of $430.
Apple iPhone 13
The company helpfully inserts “5G” in model names to show which ones have the hardware required for 5G access.
If you want a large display and stylus support, look to the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G or the Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G. Both have 6.8-inch OLED displays and start at $1,200. The S22 Ultra has a built-in stylus (as opposed to the optional $40 S Pen for the S21 Ultra), but it performed slightly poorer in our battery tests.
For a budget option, consider the $400 Galaxy A42 5G, which has a 6.6-inch display and very long 49-hour battery life. The trade-off for this price is photo and video quality that’s just average.
There’s also the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, $1,200, and Galaxy Z Flip3, $1,000, which add 5G connectivity to Samsung’s foldable phones. And for $700, you can buy the Galaxy S21 FE, a sort of pared-down version of the Galaxy S21.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G (128G)
The latest Pixel phones also come with the hardware needed to tap into 5G. That includes the $600 Pixel 6, the $900 Pixel 6 Pro, and the $450 Pixel 5a. The Pixel 6 model earned a Recommended label from CR testers, and the Pixel 5a was CR’s best buy.
So how are they different? The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch display, 34 hours of battery life, and two rear cameras (main and ultrawide). The larger 6.7-inch Pixel 6 Pro has a shorter battery life of 31.5 hours and has three rear cameras (main, zoom, and telephoto). Both are powered by Google’s custom processor called Tensor, which the company says is “the fastest, smartest, and most secure Pixel phone to date.”
Meanwhile, the 5a has a 6.3-inch display and an impressive 43.5 hours of battery life. It was rated very well for still and selfie image quality, although video quality was only rated as good.
All three Pixel phones scored very well in CR’s tests, all things considered.
Google Pixel 6
The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro are our top-rated phones. In our tests, the $600 OnePlus 9 actually did a better job than the slightly more expensive 9 Pro, mostly because it scored better on battery life. The OnePlus 9 lasted 33 hours in our test, compared to just 25 hours for the OnePlus 9 Pro.
On the other hand, the 9 Pro has slightly better camera performance, which OnePlus owes at least in part to its partnership with photography company Hasselblad.
There’s also the earlier OnePlus 8T, which starts at just $400. It has the shortest battery life of the three at 23.5 hours, but that’s still enough to last a day.
one plus 9
The $1,000 Xperia 1 III isn’t quite up to the level of Samsung’s top-of-the-line 5G phones, but it received very good overall reviews from our testers. It has a great 6.5-inch OLED display, and the camera scores very well for still image and selfie image quality. Battery life isn’t bad at 33.5 hours.
The $1,000 Xperia 5 III was at the bottom of CR’s list of recommended phones, with only the $1,200 Galaxy Z Flip below it. However, our testers gave it excellent ratings for durability, sound quality, and fast performance. In our tests, the battery recorded 35 hours.
Sony Xperia 1 III