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The Best AT&T Phones for 2020

Your Next Upgrade

Now that you’ve chosen AT&T as your carrier, it’s time to pick a phone. Choices are broader than ever, as AT&T has largely gotten rid of phone subsidies. Most people still buy their phones from their carrier, with the help of monthly payment plans or fast-upgrade plans like AT&T Next. But there’s no overall cost penalty to buying an unlocked phone anymore, and AT&T supports more unlocked devices than any other US carrier. That puts a lot of choices at your fingertips, so we’re here to help narrow them down.

AT&T placed second in our Fastest Mobile Networks tests this year, with an excellent 4G network held back a bit by a muddled 5G situation. AT&T customers are getting generally good LTE performance, as long as they ignore the icon in the status bar: AT&T sells its 4G network as 5G Evolution or “5GE” (though it isn’t 5G) and also runs a “nationwide 5G” network that is, in general, no faster than its 4G network.

See How We Test PhonesSee How We Test Phones

Even though AT&T lacks good 5G, you still need a relatively recent phone to take advantage of AT&T’s high-quality 4G. Most phones produced since 2019 have 4×4 MIMO antennas and 256 QAM encoding, key elements of the “5G Evolution” experience. Our feature on why you need a faster phone explains what a difference 4×4 MIMO makes.

AT&T’s strength has always been its globally compatible GSM network. That has let the carrier nab many exclusive phones over the years, from the first iPhone to various Windows phones. You can pretty much always assume that the latest hot, buzzy device will be available on AT&T, though more and more, you may not be buying it from AT&T.

Remember, all the phones on our list of the best unlocked phones work on AT&T.

iPhone 12 mini

The iPhone 12 mini

The Best 5G Phone for AT&T

Right now, there are no good 5G phones for AT&T, because AT&T doesn’t have a 5G network worth talking about. The iPhone 12 series and Google Pixel 5 offer the best future-proof options.

AT&T uses two forms of 5G right now. If your phone says “5GE,” it’s actually on 4G. Low-band “5G” uses a tiny slice of set-aside, former 4G airwaves for 5G, and doesn’t make an appreciable difference in performance. AT&T’s high-speed “5G+” is available in small parts of 35 cities and has dramatic speeds up to 1Gbps, but it’s extremely hard to find.

In 2021, AT&T will start to turn over more of its 4G airwaves to 5G, and to handle that transition, phones will need the upcoming Qualcomm X60 modem chipset. Phones with the X60 won’t come out until early 2021. It may make the most sense to hold off on an upgrade until then.

At the end of 2021, AT&T will likely start to run 5G on “C-Band” frequencies that will have better speed and potential citywide coverage. Right now, the iPhone 12 series phones are the only phones government-certified for C-Band. The Pixel 5 has it in hardware, though it hasn’t received FCC certification. That’s what puts them at the top of our list for 2020.

For now, don’t fear you’re missing out on too much if you don’t have AT&T 5G. For more, see our list of the best 5G phones right now.

The Best Flip Phone for AT&T

If you’re interested in a flip or voice phone, you should be buying one that supports voice over AT&T’s 4G network, as the carrier is no longer investing in improving 3G service. We prefer the Sonim XP3. It’s rugged and has a long warranty, which helps make up for its relatively high price. The less expensive Cingular Flip IV has a few smartphone features, such as WhatsApp and Twitter access, but its performance is sluggish.

If you need more help buying a cell phone, check out our story on the best cheap phones. While you’re at it, take a look at our lists for the best phones on T-Mobile and Verizon. And head over to our Readers’ Choice awards for 2020’s top mobile carriers.

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