You were promised 5G was going to bring Google Fiber-like speeds to your smartphone and transform everything from mobile gaming to digital health to watching sporting events in real time. But the early US tests were a big disappointment. Now CNET is giving it another go, with the first phone that has 5G built in — and the results are a lot more impressive.
Six weeks ago I came to Chicago to test Verizon’s then-day-old 5G network for the first time (it launched April 3). The results were… mixed. Now I’m back to see how fast Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G can be, on the same network.
This story will evolve throughout the day as I rack up more tests on the Galaxy S10 5G loaner phone that Samsung flew out here to provide to reviewers like me. On the whole, I expect similar test results on the S10 5G to those I got using Motorola‘s Moto Z3 and 5G Moto Mod back in April (mostly speed benchmarks using the Speedtest.net app). There are also some small-yet-significant ways I expect this experience to be not just different, but hopefully better too.
First, there’s the phone: the Galaxy S10 5G, versus the Motorola Moto Z3 with a 5G Moto Mod. Then there’s the experience, in which Samsung and Verizon are setting expectations. Finally, there’s Verizon’s 5G network, which the company says is being built out day by day. (To skip straight to the 5G test results, scroll down. I’ll be updating this as I go.)
Though real-life experience on Verizon’s 5G network is still limited because the technology is so incredibly new, carriers around the world are hungry to get their commercial networks up and running. 5G data speeds represent a profound shift for the industry, promising exponentially faster download speeds on your phone, which can make AR and new camera features come to life. The ultrafast data transfer also paves the way for next-generation capabilities including remote surgery, connected security cameras and cars and buses that talk to each other on the road to reduce accidents and help keep lanes clear. Carriers that can build out the most robust networks first believe they’ll have an advantage over rivals for signing on new subscribers.
Impressions from the Galaxy S10 5G tests
I’ll be tweeting my thoughts throughout the test, and they’ll be collected here. (They’re in the order in which they were sent, so scroll down for the latest.)
Here we go:
Testing the Galaxy S10 5G with Verizon
Last time I did this Verizon 5G test, I had high hopes of logging benchmarking speeds using Speedtest.net. But I also wanted to see how long it would take to download Netflix videos and big apps such as PUBG in a 5G world. Unfortunately, everything but the benchmarking test was a disappointment, mostly because those other servers controlling the content weren’t optimized for 5G download speeds.
It was a lesson for everyone, myself included, because it demonstrated how young this network is. In other words, expect change in inches, not miles. The 5G future is still coming, and you may need to wait awhile to see all the speeds we’ve been promised.
We tested Verizon’s new 5G network
This time around, Verizon has made its network expectations clearer. Though I’ll still attempt to see how well a video download does, Verizon has prepared its early reviewers for optimization only on the Speedtest.net app, even then with the best results on Verizon’s own server within the app.
Does that mean results are fake? Not at all. But it does mean that real-world progress is slow going and that everyone’s expectations should be tempered — including mine. 5G is an inevitability, and right now we’re getting a curated sampler platter. The 5G buffet isn’t quite ready at this point.
From what I’ve seen so far, 5G is an exciting prospect, and it’s good to remember that these next-gen “G” rollouts don’t happen overnight. This isn’t me giving Verizon a pass. It’s a reality that affects every one of these fledgling networks. 5G will be up and coming for some time, until it finds it legs. Verizon strives to launch in 30 markets by the end of 2019, with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile behind it, and other global carriers also making inroads in their home countries.
Compared with six weeks ago, it may not seem like much has changed here in Chicago. Verizon still has cell sites scattered through downtown. Look closely enough and you might notice more sites than there were a month and a half ago. Verizon isn’t so much trying to expand its coverage area to more local neighborhoods as it’s trying to make those network nodes stronger.
That means we should see faster speeds per cell site, but we still have to stick to specified cross streets, not wander anywhere we want. Of course, when 5G is completely rolled out, we’ll want those fast speeds almost everywhere we go. Baby steps.
Future of 5G: Better Healthcare Outcomes
What makes this Verizon 5G test different than the last
This test with the Galaxy S10 5G differs in a significant way from the one using Motorola’s Moto Z3. The Z3 is a midrange device with a magnetically attachable Moto Mod — this was the first 5G “phone” setup you could use in the US.
Unlike Motorola’s phone-plus-Mod pack, the S10 5G is a single device that integrates the necessary Qualcomm X50 modem into the phone. The Moto Z3 never had this, so it needed the Mod to hand off that data, a workflow that could lend itself to something going wrong (like the Mod running out of battery and therefore a 5G connection). This modem, by the way, is the thing that connects you to 5G data, in concert with the Snapdragon 855 chipset, and without it, you “just” have a 4G phone.
In terms of the experience, Verizon and Samsung have taken a firmer hand in setting expectations for early reviewers. Last time around, we understood that we could experience a 5G downlink and 4G upload speeds, but we had no idea that the 5G UWB (ultra wide band) logo would flicker in use rather than remain persistent to indicate a 5G connection.
That lack of understanding made for a frustrating and confusing day of testing, because it wasn’t clear if we were connected and running clean tests, or if we kept losing signal.
Ahead of the latest testing day, Verizon and Samsung hosted a joint morning meeting (at 6 a.m. in my time zone, yayyyy) to run through Verizon’s network expectations and caveats, and answer any questions.
Verizon also shared how it’s been beefing up its network cell sites and 5G nodes since my last visit to the area. Again, though coverage hasn’t gotten much broader throughout Chicago and Minneapolis, where Verizon’s first two networks launched, the carrier has said that it’s made these available sites more potent.
There’s so much more to dig into, so stick with us throughout the day as we test how Samsung’s first 5G phone brings us closer to a 5G reality.
Originally published May 16, 8:46 a.m. PT and updated throughout the day.
Is buying a 5G phone worth it?