2020 is the worst year to buy a new smartphone, because 5G just isn't worth it yet

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

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  • Android phones in 2020 are coming with 5G connectivity, which is raising the price of smartphones.
  • 5G is technically already here, but it's only available in certain pockets of certain cities in the US. It's by no means a widespread network that everyone can connect to.
  • Progress and innovation like 5G is good, and it's not unusual that it costs more. But, what's the point of paying for 5G tech if you can't connect to it yet?
  • If Android phones of 2020 are looking too expensive for your taste, you can opt for slightly older and less expensive Android phones that don't come with 5G to hold you over until 5G becomes mainstream rather than novelty.
  • I especially recommend the $500 OnePlus 7T from 2019.

Android phone makers are coming out with some great smartphones in 2020 so far, but 5G is ruining the party.

Indeed, 5G is making phones more expensive than ever before, where 5G tech like mobile processors, modems, and antennas are adding up to $200 extra to what smartphones used to cost in 2019. "5G poses many more technical challenges compared to 4G," OnePlus CEO Pete Lau told Business Insider in an interview in March, "prices across the supply chain, from raw materials to 5G chips, are all rising generally in the industry."Advertisement

Take Samsung's latest Galaxy S20 series. The minimum price tag for Samsung's latest and greatest is $1,000. Last year, the Galaxy S10 started at $900. And, the larger $1,200 Galaxy S20 Plus costs $200 more than last year's $1,000 Galaxy S10 Plus.

And, the $900 OnePlus 8 Pro released in 2020 is $230 more expensive than the $670 OnePlus 7 Pro of 2019. Some of that price increase can be attributed to new premium features that OnePlus added to the OnePlus 8 Pro, like an official water-resistance IP rating and wireless charging. Still, including 5G tech also played a massive role in the OnePlus 8 Pro's price hike, as Lau confirmed.

Paying more for innovation and progress isn't the problem. Rather, it's that the innovation and progress — 5G, in this case — simply isn't ready yet.
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Phones are coming out with expensive 5G tech, but there's barely any 5G to go around

5G is technically here, but 5G coverage is so scarce and scant as of mid-May 2020 that it's barely noticeable. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have 5G networks that cover parts of cities, not the entire cities themselves. That means there's no guarantee is the slightest that your expensive 5G phone will connect to a 5G network. Unless they live and remain in a 5G coverage area, most people with 5G phones will likely be connected to a 4G LTE network for the majority of 2020, not 5G.

If you're a T-Mobile user, you'll actually likely run into the carrier's low-band 5G network, which has pretty good coverage, but it's hasn't proven to be much better than 4G LTE. That's likely to change at some point, and we'll eventually be walking around streaming 8K video calls without buffering on 5G. But when is not clear at all, whether it's later this year, next year, or a few years down the line.Advertisement

5G is more of a novelty at the moment than it is a functional network that improves our experiences with our smartphones, and the smartphone industry jumped the gun by essentially forcing expensive 5G tech onto smartphone users when 5G clearly isn't ready.

That's why buying a phone that comes with expensive 5G tech isn't the greatest move at the moment — you're paying for the promise that 5G will become common and mainstream. And, who knows, 5G could take so long to roll out that a 2020 5G smartphone might be considered dated when 5G becomes mainstream.

You're better off with a great 4G LTE phone to hold you over until 5G coverage improves

Instead of prematurely buying into the promise of 5G, you can buy a 4G LTE smartphone that costs significantly less to hold you over until 5G actually becomes a real thing.Advertisement

The Android phones listed below are from Oneplus' 2019 lineup. They were the best Android phones to buy in 2019 for their value, performance, design, cameras, and features, and they're still top phones in 2020. They're perfect smartphones to hold you over until it's finally worth paying the extra money for 5G tech.

The new OnePlus 8 is actually a 5G smartphone, and it's the least expensive 5G smartphone you can buy in the US at the moment. Just note that Verizon users should buy the OnePlus 8 from Verizon to get the best 5G support when coverage is improved. T-Mobile users only get access to T-Mobile's slower and mid-tier 5G network. And, AT&T users are completely out of luck because the OnePlus 8 doesn't support AT&T's 5G networks at all.

Here's a list of the best phones of 2019 that are still far more worth buying in 2020 than the latest flagships. All the iPhones listed below are Apple's latest, so there's no compromise whatsoever in terms of aging hardware.Advertisement

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