The US smartphone speed race: how Apple, Google, LG, OnePlus and Samsung compare

Key takeaways:

  • Samsung dominates the rankings for the top 25 fastest 5G smartphone models in the U.S., 60% of models in the list are Samsung. The new Samsung Galaxy S21 5G has the highest U.S. average download speed.

  • Apple users see the biggest leap in speeds in 5G areas among smartphone brands — 2.3x faster.

  • “Foldable” smartphones are competitive with conventional 5G smartphone designs for cellular speeds, despite the additional complexity of antenna design in “transformable” form factors.

  • When there is a 5G iPad, users are set to see a speed boost: today, because 5G-capable iPhone 12 Pro users have speeds 36% faster than current cellular iPad Pro users that are limited to 4G.


Smartphone makers are moving quickly to implement the latest 5G technologies with the aim of improving users’ mobile experience. Here, Opensignal analyzes our latest real-world data to see if the jump in speeds we anticipated last autumn for Apple and Google users with the arrival of 5G models has happened now that both companies have launched 5G smartphones. 

For the first time we analyze the experience of Samsung’s just launched S21 range. As these models are the first to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform in the U.S. they provide indications of the experience we will see with other 888-powered smartphones from Samsung and other brands. The Snapdragon 888 will be used in most Android U.S. flagship smartphones this year.

The latest 5G models support improved 5G capabilities. For example the latest smartphones can connect to different kinds of 5G wireless spectrum — “time division” and “frequency division” bands — at the same time which should enable faster speeds over earlier 5G smartphones that had more limited carrier aggregation capability. Apple and Google added 5G support in late 2020 with the iPhone 12 range and Pixel 5, when previously all iPhone and Pixel models had been 4G.

When we compare the five largest smartphone brands in the U.S. we see Apple users have the biggest increase in download speed. In areas where 5G is available, Apple users had overall download speeds 2.3 times faster than the iPhone users’ 4G download speeds. Among the other brands we analyzed, the difference ranged from 1.7 times for LG users, to 1.4 times for OnePlus and Google users. 

As the U.S. moves ahead with 5G, Apple is narrowing the gap in experience with other smartphone brands. In areas where 5G is available, Apple users see download speeds approximately 18% slower than the fastest brand (Samsung). But for 4G Download Speed, our OnePlus and Google users experience speeds over twice as fast as Apple users.

Notably, where older 4G iPhone models used Intel modems, Apple and all the leading U.S. Android smartphone brands are using the same Qualcomm modem in their 2020 smartphone models which helps explain why the difference is smaller in 5G areas. Apple has also taken the unusual step of including support for the extremely fast mmWave flavor of 5G in all four iPhone 12 models in the U.S., even in the iPhone 12 Mini. 

But for many users, understanding the overall experience they see when using their smartphone is perhaps the most useful, instead of looking just at areas where 5G exists today. 

Samsung smartphone models make up 60% of the top 25 smartphone models with the fastest overall average download speed in the U.S.. The recently launched Samsung Galaxy S21 5G has the highest average download speed of 56.0 Mbps, although it’s in a statistical tie with the TCL Revvl 5G. The other two S21 models also feature in the top 10, which shows promise for other upcoming high-end smartphone models that use the same modem and chipset.

Three models with folding displays feature in the top 25: the horizontally folding Motorola Razr 6G and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G. Folding smartphones are still rare because of the complexities of incorporating not just the display, but all of the other electronics that need to find a home in a radically different case. The antennas that are critical for cellular reception represent a particular challenge, because they must work if the phone is open or closed, and regardless of how users hold the phone. It’s reassuring for carriers, users and smartphone makers to see their foldable smartphone models rank with similar high average download speeds to their less complicated designed conventional peers. 

The iPad Pro is yet to receive 5G support even though Apple has been consistent in believing cellular is a key part of the iPad range: Apple has offered cellular connectivity on every iPad released since the first iPad model in 2010, even on the cheapest iPad models, Apple has always offered cellular as an option. 

Apple is due to update the iPad Pro with an updated new processor, graphics and modem system on a chip (SoC) soon. The most recent iPad Pro (early 2020) continues to use a minor variant of the same SoC that the 2018 iPad Pro used, rather than one based on the A series SoC used in the iPhone 12 range.

Today, we see average download speeds on the 5G iPhone Pro models that are on average 36% faster than the speeds on the most recent cellular iPad Pro models. With a new 5G-capable SoC, future iPad Pro users should see speeds at least as fast as iPhone 12 users.

Everyone expects newer technology to be faster than what came before. With the iPhone range, this is not always true. users of 2020’s iPhone SE see notably lower speeds than either the iPhone 12 range released that year, or users with older iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone XS phones. This is because the SE lacks 5G — unlike the iPhone 12 range — and Apple has designed it for a lower price point which means it lacks the latest components throughout its design.

Notably, users with all of the 5G iPhone models see download speeds faster than previous generations, even those with the tiny iPhone 12 Mini where space is extremely limited to house all the necessary components for a great mobile experience. 

The smartphone speed race will accelerate in 2021. In the U.S., the arrival of new spectrum later this year will add new capacity which should boost speeds. Carriers are continuing to expand the reach of their 5G service and deploying new parts of the 5G standard such as 5G standalone access. As the U.S. market changes, and 5G technology evolves, Opensignal will continue to analyze how different devices compare on mobile experience.