5G has been talked about for a long time and while coverage isn't exactly widespread at the moment, there is now an exciting range of 5G mobile phones available. The likes of Samsung, OnePlus and Huawei have been producing 5G-ready phones for a while, but now Apple has joined the party it feels like the 5G market has really opened up.
There's actually so much choice that you may need a bit of help to work out what's going to be the best deal for you. Don't worry, we're here to help. We'll take you through the best 5G mobile phone options, look at the providers offering 5G deals and we'll start by setting out exactly what 5G is.
5G is the fifth generation of mobile network technology. Like previous generations, it features advances in technology that open up new possibilities. 3G ushered in the era of smartphones and mobile internet while 4G gave us faster speeds and the ability to stream videos on the move. 5G promises to deliver not only much faster speeds, but also vastly increased capacity – allowing more devices to get online at the same time – and reduced latency, making browsing, gaming and everything else you do online far more responsive.
As well as bringing noticeable benefits to smartphone users, 5G's greater capacity will accelerate the growth of smart devices while its low latency will allow for better communication between vehicles as the development of driverless cars continues.
Like other generations of mobile networks (3G, 4G, etc), 5G is broadcast on specific frequencies of a radio spectrum. In the UK, it uses frequency bands of between 700 MHz and 3.8GHz, enabling it to transmit information with speed across long distances.
5G technology is still in its relative infancy and thus is seeing frequent improvements and upgrades. Many things, including the spectrum range, may change as time goes on.
5G is really fast. Vodafone – one of four mobile network operators rolling out 5G coverage in the UK – says users can expect it to be about 10 times faster than 4G. Voda says its 5G network is designed to work at average speeds of 150-200Mbps with peak speeds hitting 1,000Mbps, or 1Gbps. Compare this to average 4G speeds of between 23 and 35Mbps. To put 5G speeds into perspective, Vodafone uses the old favourite of telling us how long it would take to download a HD movie (about three minutes on 5G, about 15 minutes on 4G).
Rootmetrics has tested 5G networks in the UK and found median download speeds to be well in excess of 100Mbps. It has also recorded some impressive top speeds on 5G, including a speed of 450.9Mbps on EE in Birmingham. Network testing by Umlaut in London found average download speeds of 215.2Mbps for Vodafone, 182.8Mbps for EE, 147.1Mbps for O2 and 109.2Mbps for Three.
There is now a pretty wide range of mobile phones available that support 5G. You'll often see these phones described as being '5G-ready' – this is because 5G coverage isn't yet available in all areas and when the phone isn't connected to 5G, it'll use 4G. In the past 12 months or so there's been a shift in the industry from 5G phones being something of a novelty to practically all of the new models supporting the network.
Let's take a (by no means exhaustive) look at some of the 5G mobile phones available right now.
It can be hard, when there are so many choices, to narrow down your options when looking for a new phone. With some of the flashy features available on 5G handsets, it becomes even harder. But we're here to help. Here are some of things we think it's important to look for when choosing a 5G phone.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that bigger is necessarily better when it comes to screen size, but this is something that comes very much down to personal choice. There are some really massive phones on the market at the moment and only you can decide whether you'd rather have a big screen for streaming and gaming, or a smaller handset that fits more easily into your pocket and is generally easier to handle.
Cameras are getting ridiculously good on phones now. The way to differentiate between different phone cameras is to look at the amount of megapixels (often written as MP). This tells you the resolution of the camera, which doesn't necessarily translate into better photo quality but means the camera is capable of capturing more detail. The other thing to look it is the number of lenses – as well as a front-facing 'selfie camera' there is a trend for phones to have three or even four lenses on the back, each giving the camera different capabilities.
An obvious one, but for most of us the price of certain handsets will rule them out of our considerations. Top-of-the-range Apple and Samsung phones will set you back a pretty penny but both offer more budget-friendly options and there are a number of manufacturers competing in the mid-range price bracket. It's also worth considering a refurbished phone as they come with a new battery and cost a fraction of the price of a new handset.
This is the platform on which everything you do on your phone is built. Apple phones use an operating system called iOS, while pretty much every other manufacturer uses Android, although there are subtle differences between Android on, say, a Samsung phone compared to Android on a Sony or Huawei handset. Most apps are available on both platforms, so it really comes down to personal choice.
You're going to want your 5G phone to last all day without recharging it, so look for a phone with a good battery life. Apple phones have a reputation for keeping their charge not only when they are brand new, but even when they are two or three years old. Having said that, battery life is improving across all phone brands.
This is important because it dictates how many apps, photos and videos you can store on your phone. Some phones allow you to add more storage by way of an SD card and it's always worth backing up important media and files to the cloud, but look for a phone with at least 32GB of internal storage as anything less is unlikely to be enough.
All four of the UK's mobile network operators – EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three – are currently rolling out 5G coverage across the UK. But it's not a quick, easy or cheap process so it's going to take a while. All four are focussing on major cities to start off with because the increased capacity of 5G is going to be most useful in the areas that have a lot of people trying to get online at the same time.
EE had rolled out 5G to 160 cities and large towns in the UK at the time of writing, including major ones like Bolton, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, London, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Leeds. We can’t list all the cities here, but it’s likely in yours or one close to you.
A city or town being on EE's list doesn't necessarily mean coverage is widespread in that area. Rootmetrics tested the 5G coverage of the four big mobile operators in 16 British cities in the second half of 2021 and found EE's coverage varied between cities. Testers got a 5G connection 53.3% of the time in Birmingham but only 31.6% of the time in Glasgow. EE did, however, have the highest 5G availability in 10 cities and the fastest 5G median download speed in 8 markets.
Vodafone says it has rolled out 5G to over 140 towns in the UK as well as 200+ towns across Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland.
In the second half of 2021, Rootmetrics found Vodafone's 5G network covered all 16 cities it tested, including a record 59.6% ability in Liverpool.
O2 claims to be in "most major UK towns and cities" as well as a number of smaller towns and villages. It increased its 5G availability in 15 out of 16 markets that Rootmetrics tested in the second half of 2021, including a record 18% jump in Hull.
Three says its 5G mobile network is available in "selected postcodes". Rootmetrics found increased 5G availability in 12 out of 16 cities it tested in the second half of 2021, with median download speeds above 200Mbps.
The limited amount of 5G coverage has not put mobile phone provider off from offering great deals on those shiny new 5G-ready handsets we mentioned earlier. Prices vary, with the iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S22 generally sitting among the more expensive 5G phones. Look for Motorola, Huawei or even the Google Pixel 6 for a cheaper option.
You can also get a range of 5G-ready phones from giffgaff, Virgin Mobile and iD Mobile,which now all offer 5G connectivity.
Yes, as long as you're using a 5G-ready phone and you're in an area with 5G coverage. Most providers offer free roaming in a number of countries so before you go, check that your destination is covered.
5G coverage isn't perfect at the moment, so ensure you live in an area with solid connectivity before getting a 5G phone. That said, many of the top new phones are 5G-ready so if you were going to upgrade anyway, there's no harm in having a phone that's ready to go when 5G coverage does reach your area.
No, you need to have a 5G-ready phone and a 5G SIM in order to connect to a 5G network.
Prices are always changing and there are always new deals being offered by providers, but some of the cheaper options are likely to be an 'A' range Samsung Galaxy, a Motorola or a Huawei handset.