Saturday, September 25, 2021
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The Best 5G Phones for AT&T in 2021

What a difference a year makes, especially for 5G. The new mobile network tech, which seemed almost futuristic a year ago, is fairly widely available today, especially in big cities. AT&T boasts a large 5G network now, covering 14,000 cities and towns throughout the U.S.

If you are currently using 5G, it’s likely on a sub-6 network, which is more available right now. Sub-6 relies on lower frequencies to deliver a larger network, but with a tradeoff in speed, which may be only marginally faster than 4G. Another 5G variant called mmWave (millimeter wave), differs in that the network’s radio waves are much faster than sub-6 networks, offering multi-gigabit speeds at various points. It relies on frequencies that can travel short distances but cannot penetrate obstacles like walls or windows. Sub-6 frequencies travel further, sometimes a distance of miles, but the connections can’t reach the same speeds as mmWave.

AT&T’s network is largely comprised of Sub-6. Depending on your location, the carrier’s Sub-6 5G may be the same speed or slower than 4G because AT&T doesn’t have adequate spectrum to deploy to both networks simultaneously. In some cities, the company is offering speedy mmWave, but that type of connection is geographically limited. However, to leverage 5G at all, your phone must be compatible with at least one type of 5G network.

Here are the best 5G-capable phones out there. Once you know which phone you want, you can check out the latest 5G phone deals for savings.

Best 5G smartphones at a glance

Best 5G phone overall: Apple iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The iPhone 12 Pro features a gorgeous display, an updated new design, and the 5G support you would expect from a phone that’s going to last for several years.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a high-end phone — unless they’re wedded to the Android ecosystem.

Why we picked the Apple iPhone 12 Pro:

Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro is a premier smartphone and the first Apple device to support the new 5G protocol. With its angular, slab-like body and 6.1-inch, high-resolution OLED edge-to-edge display, it’s a calibrated, balanced delight to behold and to use. New Ceramic Shield glass promises four times better durability. The A14 Bionic chip with its 6GB of RAM blasts through gaming, multitasking, shooting photos and videos, and anything else you do. Apple has revived the popular MagSafe tech for the iPhone 12 series, so the new iPhone can take advantage of the new magnetic accessories, including those that support fast wireless charging.

The iPhone 12 Pro supports all the available 5G connectivity — like sub-6 and mmWave — to take advantage of 5G on every major U.S. network as the network rolls out. Even if you can’t use 5G just yet, having an iPhone 12 Pro means you’ll be ready when it’s available near you. Apple includes some smart controls as part of iOS 14 to manage transitions between 4G LTE and 5G networks. Voice and data are set to 5G Auto by default and prioritize the best experience, or you can set it to 5G On to stick to 5G as often as is feasible. You can also set your data mode to Allow More Data on 5G, which lets the phone use 5G for everything and especially for maximizing video quality when streaming or video chatting.

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If you purchase an iPhone 12 Pro from AT&T, it will cost $33.34 per month for the 128GB model, $36.67 per month for the 256GB model, and $43.34 per month for the 512GB model. Or you can pay the full retail price of $1,000, $1,100, or $1,300 respectively. If you have a qualified phone to trade in, you can save up to $700 on the total amount. 

 Read our full Apple iPhone 12 Pro review

Best 5G Android phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: If you prefer the Android ecosystem, then the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a beautifully huge display, excellent multitasking features, and a high-end camera.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best Android phone they can get, that also happens to support 5G.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, an advanced pro-level phone, gives you the power and speed of 5G for more and better smartphone experiences. The S21 Ultra is compatible with all current 5G networks, including sub-6 and mmWave, so it’s certain to work with every 5G network at the moment.

It features a gorgeous AMOLED screen within an elegant new design and at a lower price than last year for an analogous model. In the U.S., the phone has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor with 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space at the basic option, running Android 11.

You get an advanced 108-megapixel camera with a 12MP ultrawide, a 10MP 10× periscope zoom, and a 10MP 3× telephoto zoom, giving you extraordinary opportunities for close-ups for both photos and videos. The phone facilitates shooting 8K cinematic video, and lets you create social network videos and GIFs, as well. The camera adds weight though, making the unit feel somewhat top-heavy, and while it has an obtrusive bump on the back, that doesn’t look too out of place as it naturally flows into the phone’s frame.

Samsung added S Pen stylus support to the S21 Ultra, and palm rejection is accurate, making it easy and natural to scrawl your notes on the screen. Its intelligent 5,000mAh battery manages phone usage to conserve energy, so you can go all day without an extra charge.

If you purchase a Samsung S21 Ultra 5G from AT&T, it will cost $40 per month, or you can spring for the full retail price of $1,200. If you have a qualified phone to trade in, you can save up to $800 on the total amount. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

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Best value 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Christian De Looper/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE offers all the critical features from last year’s Galaxy S20, but at a much lower price.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a 5G-capable phone that offers high-end specs at a relatively affordable price.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE:

The moderately priced Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is everything you need in a smartphone, featuring a colorful design, a Super AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, high-end camera, and 5G connectivity in the U.S. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor in the U.S. 5G version, or an Exynos 990 outside of the U.S. and either 6GB or 8GB of RAM.

Its high-powered pro lenses produce beautiful portraits and landscapes, as well as crisp close-ups with a 3X optical zoom. The 30X Space Zoom lets you get even closer to your subject. You can also capture crisp images and video with Night Mode and create high-quality images or videos in low light without flash. One tap of the screen captures multiple images and video simultaneously. Powering all of this is a 4,500mAh battery, which can get you through a full day.

Other features include an in-display fingerprint sensor, wireless charging, and more — but the cheaper price tag does show itself in the plastic back, as opposed to the more premium glass. But if you throw a case on it — which you should — then it makes no difference.

If you purchase a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE from AT&T, it will cost $10 per month or you can pay the full price of $700. If you have a qualified phone to trade in, you can save up to $150 on the total amount.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review

Best cheap 5G phone: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Google Pixel 4a 5G
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Google Pixel 4a 5G offers the awesome camera and stock Android experience you expect from a Pixel phone, but in a cheaper body.

Who it’s for: Anyone that wants that Google phone experience without pining away for the bonus features.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 4a 5G:

Google’s Pixel 4a 5G offers an unlocked Android phone with the flexibility to change carriers and data plans, including AT&T. As a 5G cell phone — with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor — you get the extra speed for streaming or downloading movies or playing games. The 3,885mAh battery lasts up to 48 hours with the Extreme Battery Saver. It has an edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch cutout for the front-facing camera, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.

The standard Pixel 4a 5G supports sub-6 5G, but you’ll have to pay $100 for a Verizon version if you want mmWave support. Most, however, should stick with the unlocked model, considering the low availability of mmWave at this time.

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The phone automatically gets the latest OS and security updates for three years as the Titan M chip helps secure the operating system and your private data. The phone can produce vibrant photos even in low light with Night Sight and brings studio light to portraits with Portrait Light. The rear ultrawide lens lets you capture more with your landscape shots. With Call Screen, Google Assistant removes spammers and provides information about callers you don’t know before you answer your phone. HD Google Duo screen sharing lets you read, watch live sports, and video chat. It includes a 3.5 mm audio jack to work with either wired or Bluetooth headphones.

If you purchase a Google Pixel 4a 5G from AT&T, it will cost $10 per month, or you can shell out the full $525. A trade-in with a qualified phone can save you up to $150 off the total price. If you’re looking to snap up a 5G on a budget, then Google’s Pixel 4a 5G is a great choice.

Best foldable 5G phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G

Samsung Galaxy Z-Fold 2
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Foldable phones are still in their infancy, but the Galaxy Z Fold 2 makes us excited to see more, thanks to its excellent specs and two beautiful displays.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a phone and a tablet all rolled into one.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G:

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2lets you capture hands-free photos and videos and control Android apps coordinating both halves of the large display — with a preview on one half and video chat, record, browse, edit, and more on the other.  features an elegant 2-in-1 design that offers expansive viewing, seamless interactivity, and a cinematic infinity display. When folded, the 7.6-inch foldable panel acts like a classic cell phone, but when stretched flat, it looks and acts like a tablet. An Adaptive Flex Mode

The phone’s 5G connectivity gives you extra speed for whatever you’re into. It supports sub-6 and mmWave 5G, so it’s compatible with every major U.S. carrier’s network. No matter where you are, if you have a 5G connection, you should be able to use it — no problem.

This two-screen cell phone touts seamless integration of hardware and software, powered by a 4,500mAh battery, so you can multitask or play games using multiple apps. Its advanced Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ processor, 12GB RAM, and either 256GB or 512GB of internal storage, give you fast and powerful performance. These specs can handle pretty much anything you want to do.

If you purchase a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G from AT&T, it will cost $66.67 per month or you can pay the $2,000 in full. A trade-in with a qualified phone can save you up to $700 off the total price.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review

Editors’ Recommendations


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