Thanks to Samsung and Verizon, 5G is about to all get up in your face – CNET

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Ready or not, 5G data is at your doorstep. Samsung and Verizon made that fact crystal clear. Last Wednesday, Verizon lit up its 5G network, claiming it to be the world's first. Two days later, the largest phone maker on the planet began selling its first 5G device, the Galaxy S10 5G, in its home country of South Korea. These two events prove 5G is off to a very real, if slow, start. 

I tested Verizon's days-old 5G network in Chicago, one of its two launch cities. Some results were encouraging, but mostly my experience revealed how far Verizon has to go to make its newborn network stable enough to support phones like the Moto Z3 with a 5G Moto Mod, and the Galaxy S10 5G, when that device comes to the US.

Read also: Verizon gets sassy over 5G data speeds, then smack-talks AT&T and T-Mobile


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Samsung's exact US launch date is unconfirmed, but the S10 5G is rumored to go on preorder sale April 18, with a May 16 launch. It'll come exclusively to Verizon before heading to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. 

It's entirely possible that Samsung is deliberately holding back the S10 5G launch until Verizon's new 5G network becomes a little more stable, and perhaps more widespread. Right now it's available only in Chicago and Minneapolis (and in mere downtown hotspots at that), but Verizon says its 5G service will come to 30 cities by the end of 2019.  

Neither Samsung nor Verizon immediately responded to a request for comment on my theory.

I did get a chance to go hands-on with the Galaxy S10 5G in February. A little larger than the Galaxy S10 Plus — it's a kind of an S10 Plus Plus — the S10 5G has a 6.7-inch screen, a total of six cameras and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 chipset. It's absolutely a premium phone, though we'll need to see how some of its features, like its depth-sensing front and rear cameras, will work on the phone day to day. 

I did get an early demo of portrait video, which gives the background a blurred Bokeh effect, but it did need a little work to keep a moving subject separated from the background. 

Samsung also showed off a live demo of manipulating players in a baseball game being streamed over 5G. You could actually rotate them to take a look. That's not something a 4G phone can do.


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Speeds will come at a cost

Samsung and Verizon haven't announced pricing for the Galaxy S10 5G, but we do know it'll cost more than the $1,000 Galaxy S10 Plus. My educated guess puts it at $1,100 or $1,200 all in. Verizon's 5G service also costs $10 more per month on top of your regular data plan. 

At a time when phone costs are rising, the advent of 5G is one more burden, or barrier, for people on a budget trying to keep up with the times. While we know costs will come down at least some after the new technology settles in, that could still be years away.

Verizon and Motorola both point to price as a main reason you might want the Moto Z3 and 5G Mod. With the total cost of ownership under $440 with both elements currently on sale and $830 at full retail price, Motorola's option may be the only midprice 5G choice until other phonemakers ramp up their own portfolios.

Read: Meet the 5G phones headed your way

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You can actually swivel this player on the Galaxy S10 5G to catch a different angle.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung gets another chance

For Samsung, the Galaxy S10 5G is another opportunity to turn a profit and keep its spot at the top. Samsung's felt the chill of a slowing smartphone market, expecting revenue far below this same time last year, despite strong Galaxy S10 Plus preorders. 

It could be that customers are waiting for 5G and foldable phones to debut before making the decision to upgrade to a “flat” 4G phone. 

On that note, Samsung's foldable Galaxy Fold arrives April 26 for 4G networks, with a 5G variation coming out sometime after.

That said, CNET doesn't recommend rushing out to buy a first-wave 5G phone. Verizon's shaky 5G start is one deterrent. Higher prices for both the phone and 5G data service are another. But there's one more good reason to wait, too, and that's a new chip that can make 5G phones slimmer and more efficient. Those devices will be ready by the end of the year.

So while 5G is ready for you, you might not quite be ready for it. 

Originally published April 6 at 3:16 p.m. PT.

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