Visible: Are the wireless carrier's low-cost unlimited plans too good to be true?

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Visible review
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Why pay $65 to $85 a month for unlimited data when you need only part with as little as $25 to get that same big bucket of data on the same cellular network? That's the argument in favor of Visible, a wireless service owned by Verizon that uses its parent company's cellular towers to deliver the same extensive reach without the same pricey monthly bill.

Since its debut in 2018, Visible has continued to evolve, removing some of the restrictions on its original data plan while adding new features like 5G coverage and — in the case of its pricier plan — international calling. The ongoing changes and still low pricing underline Visible's status as a compelling alternative for people who want lots of data but a small monthly phone bill. 

When we tested the service a few years ago for our Visible review, we found a phone carrier that delivers lots of data for a relatively low cost. That's continued in the ensuing years, as Visible has improved its service since our original testing. We've updated this review to reflect the carrier's latest pricing and features, but as we first observed in our initial testing, Visible is a great option for bargain hunters who don't mind making a few compromises if it means a lower bill at the end of the month.

Visible review: What the phone service costs

When it first got started, Visible offered just one plan — a $40/month unlimited offer with taxes and fees included. These days there are two options — both offering unlimited data with talk and text as part of the package.

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Visible plans now start at $25 for a bare-bones unlimited data plan. Your only perks with that plan include unlimited mobile hotspot data along with unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico. This is one of the best cheap phone plans for unlimited data on price alone, as it beats the $30 monthly plan that Mint Mobile offers — and Mint requires that you pay for a year of service to get that low rate.

Visible's other option ranks at the top of the best unlimited data plans. It's $45 a month, and this Visible Plus plan includes data roaming in Canada and Mexico, plus international calling to 30-plus countries and texting to 200-plus countries. You're also eligible for a $10 monthly discount on Verizon's home internet service. Most importantly, you get access to Verizon's faster Ultra Wideband 5G service where available.

In March 2024, Visible expanded the perks for Visible Plus, adding the ability to connect a smartwatch to your plan at no extra cost. (It's $10/month otherwise.) Visible Plus customers now enjoy faster hotspot speeds compared to the cheaper unlimited option, and they get a Global Pass for use when traveling overseas that lets them use their plan at no additional cost. Sadly, Global Passes don't rollover to the next month, so you can't stockpile them for a big overseas trip.

Even at $45, Visible Plus represents an insanely good price for unlimited data, especially when compared to what Verizon charges. Verizon's cheapest unlimited option — Unlimited Welcome — costs $65 a month, and it comes with few perks. To get Ultra Wideband 5G speeds, you'd need to upgrade to Unlimited Plus at Verizon, which starts at $80 for a single line.

In other words, you're saving anywhere from $20 and $55 a month by turning to Visible, depending on which of its two plans you pick.

Even the $45 monthly plan is an insanely good price for unlimited data.

Visible's pricing is also generous compared to that of other low-cost carriers. Besides Mint's $30 unlimited plan, you can turn to options like Metro by T-Mobile, where unlimited plans start at $40, or Google Fi, where the Simply Unlimited plan costs $50. In both instances, Visible offers the better monthly rate. Discount carrier Tello matches Visible's $25 rate for unlimited data, though Visible does include taxes and fees in its monthly prices.

Visible review

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Recommend Visible to a friend, and you can knock $20 off next month's bill. Visible promo codes also offer you a way to save, and the best Visible deals provide discounts on new phones available through the carrier.

We miss Visible's old Party Pay program, which provided a series of discounts whenever you added more lines — four lines of unlimited data cost $25 each under Party Pay, for example. And the people on your Party Pay plan could be at different addresses and receive their own bill. It was a great way for families and friends to keep costs low, but alas, Party Pay is long gone from Visible's offerings.

Visible does feature some other restrictions you should be aware of. (What — you didn't think there was a catch to that low monthly rate?) Visible reserves the right to slow down your data speed when Verizon's network is congested. (The Visible Plus plan does guarantee 50GB of "premium data" that won't be slowed.) Like Verizon's least expensive unlimited plan, Visible caps video streaming at 480p resolution. Other caps on LTE data and music streaming have been removed over time.

Visible review: Supported phones

When Visible launched in 2018, it was an iPhone-only affair — and you had to bring your own iPhone at that. That's no longer the case.

Visible has since added support for Android phones, with the mix of models constantly changing. You'll find the latest flagships from Samsung, Google and Motorola alongside the iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 in Visible's online store. The carrier also offers a number of low-cost phones like the TCL 40 XE, Galaxy A15 and Moto G Stylus. Just be aware that some phones cost more at Visible than what you'd pay elsewhere. (Example: The iPhone 15 Plus costs $929 at Visible, but starts at $899 with other carriers.)

Visible's phone inventory is pretty volatile in our experience, with devices frequently coming in and out of stock. So if you see the phone you want at a decent price, we'd suggest grabbing it.

Visible review

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Should you still want to bring your own phone, not every smartphone of recent vintage will work on Visible's network. You can confirm that your iPhone or Android device works by entering its IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number into the compatibility checker on Visible's website. 

Visible lets you keep your phone number when you sign up for the company's service (though you'll need to have some information handy from your previous phone service provider). You can also opt for a new number if you prefer. 

Visible review: Performance

It's been a while since we've tested Visible's service, though we wouldn't expect much has changed over the last couple years in terms of network performance.

When we first tested Visible, the service limited its data speeds to 5 Mbps. At that time, we recorded a top download speed of 5.89 Mbps at the University of California, Berkeley, campus. For comparison, an original iPhone SE tied to Verizon posted a 16.4-Mbps download speed at that same location at the same time.

Visible review

That was characteristic of our first round of testing using Visible's service. Download speeds would occasionally poke above 5 Mbps — I saw a 6.11 Mbps download speed when traveling in Maui — but never by much and certainly nowhere near the speeds I could get through Verizon's standard service.

The performance gap didn't close even in areas where Verizon's network isn't as strong as elsewhere. At Berkeley's California Memorial Stadium, the iPhone SE I carried at the time would struggle with simple tasks like checking Twitter on game days when the stands are packed with tens of thousands of smartphone-toting fans. (Things haven't much improved since I upgraded to an iPhone 12.) I recorded a speed of 1.98 Mbps on my Verizon-tied iPhone SE during the 2018 Cal-Stanford game; at that same game, the Visible-powered iPhone 8 petered out at 0.19 Mbps.

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In June 2019, however, Visible improved its service in a big way by removing the speed cap for both existing and new customers. Supposedly, this was a limited-time promotion, but here we are nearly four years later, and Visible has yet to go back to the bad old days. We can assume that the temporary removal of speed caps is now permanent.

We went back and tested Visible's performance again when the cap disappeared, and speeds were much, much better than anything customers saw previously. In our office in New York City, near Bryant Park, we pulled down 47.5 Mbps in Ookla's Speedtest app. In Southampton, PA, we recorded a top speed of 105 Mbps.

However, Visible's unfettered speeds aren't quite as consistently high as you'd hope. Even though the network has ditched that pesky speed cap, Visible users are still subject to deprioritization during times of congestion. And, as we found in a string of head-to-head tests between a Visible-powered iPhone XS and a OnePlus 6T on Verizon, that often resulted in throttling for those who access Big Red's network through the discount prepaid network.

Our Verizon-connected OnePlus 6T averaged 112 Mbps downloads across five tests in Pennsylvania. How did the Visible iPhone fare, in the same location at the same times? Just 37.5 Mbps.

We should point out that deprioritization is a common practice among big carriers and not unique to the Verizon-Visible relationship. But the occasionally slowed speeds are a trade-off you make for the lower monthly rate.

visible review

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Besides, we've seen instances where Visible's service rivaled Verizon's, like in one particular test where the prepaid carrier mustered an 82 Mbps-download to Verizon's 83 Mbps. But those occasions were few and far between, and Visible normally hovered at speeds either half or two-thirds as fast as those we'd see on Verizon.

Disappointing though that may be, it doesn't necessarily mean that Visible's service is significantly inferior in a practical sense. For instance, it took me 56 seconds to download the Discord app on Visible's network, and that was when the 5 Mbps cap was in place. My iPhone SE took just 39 seconds through Verizon. That said, when I played PUBG Mobile over Visible's network, there were no noticeable lags or graphic slowdowns during this demanding game. When I died — and I did, often — it was due to my own lack of skill and not any throttling imposed on me by Visible.

I also failed to notice much of a difference in video-streaming quality on Visible's network. Sure, my stream of Blue Planet II on Netflix was limited to 480p — wireless providers call this "DVD quality" — but the video looked good enough to my eyes most of the time. I could make out different shades of ocean blue and spot distinct fronds of gorgonian corals. Only occasionally did the picture look less than sharp, usually right at the start of a streaming session. I could also stream music from the Spotify app over LTE with no noticeable dip in quality.

Visible review: What about 5G?

Visible's parent company, Verizon, has been aggressively expanding its 5G coverage, launching nationwide service in 2020 to complement the high-speed 5G already available in major cities. Verizon has since rolled out C-Band 5G, boosting its speeds. 

Visible customers are reaping the rewards of those efforts, as they get 5G coverage through Verizon's network. Just make sure you have one of the best 5G phones.

Visible review: Customer service

Your primary interaction with Visible will be through the carrier's app on your smartphone. That's where you'll pay your bill, manage your account and deal with customer service questions. For that reason, you have to keep the Visible app installed on your phone. 

When I used the app for my original Visible review, I found it spartan but easy to navigate; I didn't like that it required me to log in if I hadn't used the app in a few days. Fortunately, 2018's iOS 12 update added the ability to save passwords securely, so signing back in wasn't too much of a hassle during my testing

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The best feature on Visible's app is live chat with customer support, which is now available 24 hours a day seven days a week, according to Visible. When I tested customer support, I found the chat feature responsive to my questions, though at times, the chat will label itself as busy when there's a backlog of Visible users seeking answers. 

I was less impressed by an FAQ feature on the mobile app, which never seemed to load for me; instead, I had better luck perusing the FAQ on Visible's website, where you can also pay your bill. In a nod to younger users, the site lets you use Venmo or PayPal, in addition to a credit card, to pay your monthly bill.

The best feature on Visible's app is live chat with customer support.

When you set up Visible for the first time, you'll download the service's app onto your phone, create an account and follow the sign-up steps, which include ordering a SIM card from Visible that's overnighted to you. Because Visible supplied me with a test phone for this review, I couldn't check out the setup process. And now that you can buy phones directly from Visible, I suspect the process is even easier.

Visible review: Who should use this service?

As attractively priced as Visible's unlimited plan is, it's not a good value if you don't use a lot of data in a given month. If you use 5GB of data or less regularly, you're probably better off turning elsewhere, because plenty of MVNOs offer attractively priced tiered-data plans as you can see in our look at the best prepaid phone plans. A 4GB plan at Mint costs you $15 each month; T-Mobile now offers 3.5GB for that same amount. Even Verizon's own 15GB prepaid plan drops to $35/month after you enroll in autopay.

Visible's service is best for users who consume a lot of data in a given month, by posting on social networks, streaming media and playing games. Users counting on fast data speeds may bristle at Verizon occasionally slowing Visible traffic, though I imagine the low monthly rate more than makes up for that.

Because Visible uses Verizon's network, you'll want to use the service only if Verizon's signal is strong where you live. Fortunately, Verizon's expansive network is far-reaching, but if you live in one of the areas Big Red can't quite reach, you'll be better off considering another carrier.

Visible review: Verdict

Visible's an intriguing wireless option if you've got a taste for lots of data but you lack the budget for a higher-priced unlimited plan. Visible provides you with all the data you could want for a reasonable $30 to $45 monthly fee, and though you'll have to make trade-offs, they won't hamper your phone usage very much. 5G coverage via Verizon's network makes Visible even more compelling.

For anyone living in an area that's well-served by Verizon's extensive LTE network and growing 5G coverage, Visible's a great way to save money on your monthly cellular service. Smartphone users who are outside of Verizon's reach and who prefer phones not currently supported by Visible's service will want to look elsewhere for their wireless needs.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.