Opinion: It’s time to start caring about 5G phones

Last year, I made an appearance on the Pocketnow Weekly podcast (linked here!) during which I was asked whether I cared about all the 5G hype. At the time, I didn’t. The tech was so new and unrefined that it would be stupid to care about it at all, let alone whether your phone had it.

Since then, I’ve stuck to my guns, and throughout the rest of 2019, I wasn’t telling people to buy certain phones just because they had 5G. It really didn’t matter because of how new the network was and how much longer consumers had to wait until it was widely available.

Recently, though, I’ve had a change of heart. I’m not going a full 180 on my opinion on the state of 5G (for instance, you should still wait to get excited about 5G, especially if you don’t live in a big city), but I am altering it in a specific area: smartphones.

Last year, we saw the first batch of 5G phones make their way to the market. This included entries from Samsung, OnePlus, and LG that were all sold on major U.S. carriers. Problem was, they weren’t all perfect. Each of them got pretty good reviews (particularly the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren Edition, but let’s be honest, it’d be hard to give that phone bad press), but issues like battery drain and overheating while on 5G were pretty real. These are both issues worth not buying a particular phone over.

Flash forward to today, we’re starting to see the next crop of 5G devices hit the market, specifically Samsung’s Galaxy S20 series. Each of the three phones in this series have 5G support, and in early Galaxy S20 Ultra reviews, no overheating issues or excessive battery draining was reported. Problem solved, right?

Well, kind of. Naturally, with first-gen products, you’re gonna have problems, especially when it comes to smartphones supporting a new network standard. Remember when 4G and LTE were rolling out and the initial crop of supported devices were terrible? Some were lucky to connect to the network at all, while others were considered “good” if they could last you until lunchtime after unplugging in the morning.

We don’t have that exact issue with 5G phones, mind you, but there definitely was a time last year where it didn’t make sense to buy a 5G phone because of some compatibility issues. Now that those issues are beginning to disappear, though, is it a good idea to buy a 5G phone?

Here’s the short answer: not for that reason.

For me, it’s all about timing. Nowadays, people are buying phones and not upgrading them for at least 2.5 – 3 years down the road. That’s perfectly fine. After all, almost any flagship phone recently released can certainly last that long, and any flagship released in 2020 is destined to hang on for at least 30 months down the road.

But 30 months away is a while, and that’s just about the amount of time carriers are promising much wider 5G roll-outs to more cities, rural areas, and neighborhoods across the United States. So if you buy a flagship phone this year and it doesn’t have 5G onboard, it’s probably gonna suck and force you to upgrade to something newer much sooner than you planned.

Of course, companies are concious of this. That’s why Samsung’s entire S20 lineup has 5G on board, and so does LG’s new V60 ThinQ. OnePlus is also working on new flagships with 5G, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple release new iPhones in the fall with the new connectivity standard.

If you’re gonna buy a phone this year and it’s gonna be an expensive one, you should really make sure it has 5G. It might not matter at this time, but in a couple of years, you’re gonna look for it, and chances are your phone won’t be slowing down enough to justify another $1,000+ upgrade.

As a bonus, your phone won’t overheat or have a significant battery drain while on 5G. Over time, phones will get better and better about handling 5G, whether on the sub-6 or mmWave spectrum. The worst of the 5G phones is pretty much behind us at this point, so when you do buy a 5G phone, your experience will likely be pretty nice.

It’s time to start caring about 5G phones. Sure, the technology still needs a couple of more years to mature, but in that time, you’ll likely still have the flagship you buy in 2020. And if it doesn’t have 5G in it, you’ll be seriously missing out. With all of the future-proofing companies are doing to their phones nowadays, it makes sense for you to play your part and pick a device that can connect to 5G. It won’t come in handy until it rolls out to your neck of the woods, but at least you’ll have it the moment it’s available.