Best 5G smartphones available now from US carriers

Despite my skepticism, US wireless carriers were able to launch 5G networks in 2019 in three flavors. There are several phones available so you can take advantage of the coverage and speeds of 5G right now.

T-Mobile announces 'nationwide' 5G network that will cover 60% of the territory T-Mobile says its 600MHz 5G service, launching on December 6, will cover more than one million square miles.

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In early 2018, I learned all about 5G at Qualcomm's 5G Day event in San Diego, but I was skeptical we would actually see 5G networks and phones that support the networks until at least 2020. It turns out that all major carriers have some level of 5G available today and several phones you can purchase now to start experiencing 5G.

5G networks

Before listing the available phones, it is important to understand that there are different ways 5G networks are built. In the US, we have low-band, mid-band, and high-band wavelength spectrum with some carriers supporting multiple bands. We won't even talk about AT&T's fake 5G Evolution. It is just beefed up LTE that works on phones without any actual 5G modems inside.

The high-band spectrum is composed of short waves that cover small areas with poor ability to penetrate buildings or pass through objects. However, it is the fastest network technology and one that is talked about the most by Qualcomm since it uses Qualcomm mmWave modems to function.

These high-band networks are designed for cities or dense urban areas since they have greater bandwidth and limited range. Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband is a high-band spectrum network. AT&T will also be supporting mmWave and high-band spectrum, but only has very limited support for consumers at this time.

Also: OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren first take: $900 flagship reaches wider thanks to T-Mobile's 5G network

Mid-band spectrum networks balance speed and range, but much of this bandwidth is already being used, so it has limited growth opportunities. Sprint uses the mid-band spectrum, and if the T-Mobile acquisition goes through, then T-Mobile customers will be able to take advantage of this spectrum, as well. This network is currently available in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, DC.

T-Mobile is the primary advocate for the low-band spectrum and flipped the switch on its nationwide 5G service, with more than 200 million people covered by this spectrum. The low-band network has a frequency of 600MHz and is designed for extended coverage with penetration through buildings and obstacles. It is not as fast as mmWave 5G, but current tests show you can expect faster speeds than LTE and much further range. I understand AT&T may also have some low-band spectrum for 5G.

I've been using a OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren phone for a week and am seeing 5G all over where I live and work with consistent speeds that are higher than LTE with a better range. I prefer to have more coverage at speeds that let me stream movies without issue rather than having blazing speeds in far fewer places.

5G smartphones

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.

Not all 5G smartphones are created equal, so you first need to know what flavor of 5G your preferred carrier uses before choosing a 5G phones. Your best bet is to purchase your 5G phone from your carrier until we get it all sorted out in the future.

  • OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren (T-Mobile): While the name is a mouthful, this is one of the most affordable 5G phones available today, and it is extremely powerful and capable. It has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor with X55 modem for low-band and mid-band 5G, so when the Sprint purchase is complete, you will see improved coverage. It is available now for $899.99
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G (T-Mobile and Verizon): While this same super smartphone is available on two carriers, the internals are different since different spectrums are supported. Visit your carrier or make sure you select the proper carrier if you purchase this phone elsewhere. It's priced at $1,299.99.
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile): All carriers have this phone with it running on mid-band and high-band spectrum. T-Mobile listed it earlier this year with mmWave support, but there is very limited support for the high-band spectrum at this time. That is the same situation with this phone on AT&T. The price is also $1,299.99. I highly recommend you do not purchase this phone and instead wait a few months for the Galaxy S11 release.
  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G (Verizon and Sprint): LG has some excellent phones that don't get much respect. This $1,000 Android smartphone is available on two carriers with 5G and five cameras. The V series is focused on video creation, and it has all the latest LG technology on board.
  • Moto Z series with Moto Mod (Verizon): The first 5G experience that Verizon offered people was with Moto Z series devices (Z4, Z3, and Z2) with a 5G Moto Mod. The Moto Mod approach was a more affordable way to add 5G to an existing device. If you have one of these Moto Z series devices, then the Moto Mod approach makes sense while 5G starts to roll out across the country. The 5G Moto Mod is priced at $349.99.

The current batch of 5G smartphones have a price premium over their 4G counterparts, so it's likely only the early adopters will pick them up in 2019. Then again, these phones are future-proof to some extent, so it may make more sense only to buy a 5G phone if you keep your phone for at least a couple of years.