5 best 5G phones in 2023

    (Image credit: PhoneArena.com‏)

Looking to find the finest 5G smartphones? In today's world, that simply equates to seeking out the most impressive phones, as virtually every device worth its mettle now boasts 5G connectivity.

This applies not just to top-tier offerings, but also to midrange and budget models. This development is a boon for consumers, as it signifies a broader range of prices across the spectrum of the best 5G phones. This way, you're not compelled to overspend on a device that doesn't align with your budget.

The prevalence of 5G connectivity in numerous phones is no coincidence — it's now more effortless than ever to locate 5G coverage provided by leading phone carriers. T-Mobile, with its expansive 5G service encompassing 326 million individuals, holds the lead in network coverage. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon are also actively expanding their reach. What's even more promising is that 5G speeds are rapidly improving, rendering it more prudent than ever to ensure your phone is 5G-ready.

Our preferred 5G phones offer more than just accelerated downloads. The cream of the crop among 5G phones boasts exceptional cameras, expansive displays, and long-lasting batteries. Presenting the best 5G phones currently available across a range of budgets.


1.Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

   The Ultimate 5G Smartphone Choice



   SPECIFICATIONS

   - Screen size: 6.8 inches

   - Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy

   - Size / weight: 6.4 x 3.0 x 0.35 inches / 8.2 ounces

   - Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:22

   - 5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon


   REASONS TO BUY

   + Powerful 200MP camera

   + Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip surpasses iPhone in graphics

   + Excellent battery life


   REASONS TO AVOID

   - One of the most expensive flagship phones

   - Charging speeds limited to 45W


Samsung raises the bar with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, delivering a compelling package that includes a formidable chipset and an impressive camera setup. Powering the device is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, custom-tailored for Samsung's Galaxy S23 lineup. This new Snapdragon chipset narrows the gap with the iPhone's high-performing silicon. Additionally, it boasts exceptional power efficiency, allowing the S23 Ultra to endure nearly 12.5 hours on our battery test — a significant leap from Samsung's previous 5G models, which fell short in endurance.

The camera setup takes the spotlight, featuring a remarkable 200MP primary sensor that provides enhanced flexibility for capturing stunning photos. The front camera boasts swift autofocus, complemented by an AI-driven algorithm enhancing low-light photography. After pitting the Galaxy S23 Ultra against other leading camera phones, we were impressed with its outcomes.

In today's landscape, selecting the finest 5G phone equates to picking the finest phone overall. With its extended battery life, exceptional cameras, and the return of features like an exceptional design and included S Pen, the Galaxy S23 comfortably claims this accolade.

Should the Galaxy S23 Ultra's initial price tag of $1,199 exceed your budget, alternatives like the more affordable Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus models are available. Our Galaxy S23 hands-on provides early impressions, with a comprehensive review on the horizon as we delve deeper into its capabilities.


2.iPhone 14 Pro Max



   Apple's Pinnacle 5G Phone

   SPECIFICATIONS

   - Screen Size: 6.7 inches

   - Processor: A16 Bionic

   - Size / weight: 6.3 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches / 8.5 ounces

   - Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 14:42

   - 5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon


   REASONS TO BUY

   + Superb 48MP camera

   + Ingenious Dynamic Island and convenient always-on display

   + Best-in-class battery life


   REASONS TO AVOID

   - Limited to 20W charging

   - Slightly bulkier compared to last year's model


Though the Galaxy S23 Ultra may have taken the spotlight, the iPhone 14 Pro Max remains the go-to 5G phone for those who prefer the Apple logo gracing the back of their devices — at least until the anticipated new iPhone 15 models launch in mid-September. The iPhone 14 Pro Max seamlessly embraces 5G networks from major carriers, while its enduring battery ensures a full day's use and more on a single charge.

Apple introduces notable enhancements to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, with the introduction of the Dynamic Island feature that replaces the notch, freeing up additional real estate on its expansive 6.7-inch display. A refined dynamic refresh rate also ushers in the era of an always-on display, marking a first for Apple's smartphones. This iteration of the iPhone embodies the anticipated improvements of an annual update, including a swifter processor and cameras that thrive even in low-light scenarios.

The quest to find a superior alternative to the iPhone 14 Pro Max may prove challenging, as few options can match the comprehensive offering of Apple's premier 5G phone.


3.OnePlus 11

   Remarkable 5G Flagship at an Affordable Price



   SPECIFICATIONS

   - Screen size: 6.7 inches

   - Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2

   - Size / weight: 6.4 x 3 x 0.3 inches / 7.2 ounces

   - Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 13:10

   - 5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon


   REASONS TO BUY

   + Insanely good battery life

   + Significantly improved cameras

   + Flagship-worthy starting price


   REASONS TO AVOID

   - No wireless charging


The OnePlus 11 marks an impressive resurgence for this innovative phone maker, showcasing a potent chipset, impressive battery longevity, and consistent enhancements to OnePlus' camera capabilities. However, its standout feature might just be its affordability. With a starting price of $699 for an 8GB RAM and 128GB storage model, the OnePlus 11 unequivocally demonstrates that top-tier 5G flagship phones need not break the bank.

Like the Galaxy S23, the OnePlus 11 harnesses the prowess of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset (albeit uncustomized silicon). The result? Stellar performance and over 13 hours of battery life, even with the adaptive refresh rate activated on the 6.7-inch display. The era of 5G phones guzzling excessive power seems to be a thing of the past, with the OnePlus 11 standing as the prime example on the Android front.

While the absence of wireless charging is a downside, and despite the telephoto lens offering a modest 2x optical zoom, these are minor quibbles in comparison to the exceptional value this 5G phone delivers, all for under $700.


4. Google Pixel 7a

   Embracing Google's Tensor Features for Less



   

   SPECIFICATIONS

   - Screen size: 6.1-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)

   - Processor: Tensor G2

   - Size / weight: 6 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches / 6.8 ounces

   - Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:05

   - 5G networks supported: T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon

   REASONS TO BUY

   + Tensor G2 chip

   + Vibrant 90Hz display

   + Substantial camera upgrade over Pixel 6a

   REASONS TO AVOID

   - Colors in photos lean towards darker tones

   - Phone heats up during demanding gaming sessions


If you're enthralled by the capabilities of the Pixel 7 Pro's Tensor G2 chipset but aren't keen on the higher price, the Pixel 7a offers the same silicon and features, all at a $400 discount.

Opting for the more affordable Pixel 7a doesn't entail significant sacrifices. It's nearly identical to the Pixel 7, featuring a 90Hz refresh rate display and wireless charging support. Camera enhancements are a highlight, led by the 64MP primary shooter. Moreover, the Pixel 7a excels in battery life, especially with its display refresh rate set to the default 60Hz. This budget-friendly choice is remarkably compelling if you're seeking a 5G phone.


5. iPhone 14

   Optimal 5G iPhone Choice for Most Users

   

   SPECIFICATIONS

   - Screen Size: 6.1 inches

   - Processor: A15 Bionic

   - Size / weight: 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches / 6.1 ounces

   - Battery life (Hrs:Mins): TBD

   - 5G networks supported: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon

   REASONS TO BUY

   + Excellent cameras

   + Dynamic display

   + Swift A15 Bionic performance

   REASONS TO AVOID

   - Lack of telephoto lens

   - Screen refresh rate capped at 60Hz


Not everyone's budget aligns with spending $1,000 or more on their next phone. Introducing the iPhone 14, a $799 5G device that continues to deliver premium experiences, even if it doesn't feature the extensive enhancements of Apple's Pro models.

Equipped with an A15 Bionic system-on-chip, the same silicon powering the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, the iPhone 14 offers capable performance. While not on par with the A16 Bionic, the A15 still outperforms the chipsets in many Android handsets. Camera enhancements also enhance the iPhone 14's low-light performance.

With Apple's product event scheduled for September 12, it might be prudent to postpone your iPhone purchase to explore the innovations that the new models will bring.

When in pursuit of a 5G phone, it's vital to factor in which wireless carrier will be supplying your cellular service. Different service providers are adopting distinct approaches to their 5G deployments.

For instance, Verizon initially prioritized mmWave-based technology. If you sought phone service from Verizon, your 5G phone had to be compatible with mmWave towers. However, Verizon is progressively expanding this coverage through C-Band 5G, which most phones now support. Similarly, while T-Mobile and AT&T possess a few mmWave installations, the majority of their networks rely on sub-6GHz technology for initial coverage. Although not as swift as mmWave, it boasts broader coverage. (AT&T is expanding its mmWave-based coverage to enhance performance.)

According to OpenSignal's July 2023 5G experience report, T-Mobile leads in 5G download speed and garners acclaim for its live video experience. Verizon takes the lead in upload speeds and earns high scores for video, voice, and gaming experiences over 5G. OpenSignal states that T-Mobile boasts the highest 5G availability at 57.9% — 2.8 times more than AT&T's 5G connection time. Rootmetrics' latest report, covering H1 2023, crowns T-Mobile for its top 5G availability and fastest 5G speeds, while Verizon gains recognition for 5G reliability.

Beyond 5G network compatibility, selecting a 5G phone shares common criteria with choosing any handset. Factors include the processor, screen size, cameras, and other features. Battery life takes on added significance — 5G can be power-intensive, necessitating a phone capable of handling the extra battery demands.

Price remains a key distinguishing factor, especially as lower-cost 5G phones are set to launch this year. Back in 2019, flagship 5G phones ranged from $700 to $1,200. Although the Galaxy Z Fold 5's price remains at $1,799 — more due to its foldable design than its 5G support — the cost range for 5G phones has started to decline. An increasing array of 5G models are available for $500 or less.


HOW WE TEST 5G PHONES

We evaluate 5G phones using the same methodology as any other phone review. In this stage of 5G's evolution, our focus is confirming a 5G phone's compatibility with a carrier's 5G network. We don't perform performance tests for 5G speeds, as these metrics reflect more on the carrier's network than the phone itself. Moreover, 5G performance can significantly vary based on your location.

In terms of other assessments, we rely on synthetic benchmarks such as Geekbench 5 and 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited to gauge graphics performance. These benchmarks allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. Additionally, we execute a real-world video transcoding test using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and measure the time taken for the task.

For assessing display quality, we conduct laboratory tests to determine panel brightness (in nits) and color richness (DCI-P3 and sRGB color gamut). In these cases, higher values are superior. We also calculate color accuracy using a Delta-E rating, where lower values are better, and a score of 0 signifies perfection.

Furthermore, we conduct camera testing by comparing photos taken with each phone against shots from similar devices. While this testing aspect is less relevant to 5G phone evaluations, it remains an integral part of our overall assessment process.

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