Why pay $65 to $85 a month for unlimited data when you need only part with $40 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.
You have to make some trade-offs to reap the savings that Visible has to offer, though fewer than you did when the service debuted in 2018. If you're willing to accept some limitations on streaming media and less features than you'd get on other carriers, the savings you'll enjoy on your wireless data plan each month make this upstart phone service a compelling option.
Updated Nov. 5: Visible has added a new Party Pay program for adding multiple lines to an account. The more lines you add, the bigger the discount.
What Visible costs
Visible has just one data plan, but it's a doozy of a deal: For $40 a month, you get unlimited talk, text and LTE data. That $40 includes taxes and fees.
That's an insanely good price, especially when compared to the unlimited offerings you'd find at Verizon's regular wireless service. The carrier's cheapest plan currently costs $70 a month, and it comes with restrictions, like 480p video streaming and Verizon potentially throttling your speed should its network get congested. To remove those restrictions and add features like LTE hotspot data, you'd have to upgrade to Verizon's $80-a-month Do More or Play More plans. So, you're saving up to $40 a month by turning to Visible.
Visible's pricing is also generous compared to that of other low-cost carriers. For $40 a month, Metro by T-Mobile will give you 10GB of data; Metro's unlimited plans start at $50. Google Fi added unlimited data as an option after we originally posted this review — at $70 a month, though, Google Fi's plan still costs $30 more than what you'd pay at Visible.
About the only discount carrier offering anything comparable to Visible is TextNow, another mobile virtual-network operator that uses someone else's towers to provide its cellular service. In TextNow's case, that's either T-Mobile or Sprint. (You have to pick one when signing up for TextNow's service.) Like Visible, TextNow charges $40 a month for unlimited talk, text and data. Your data speeds could get throttled if you use more than 23GB during a billing period at TextNow; there's no such restriction at Visible.
This fall, Visible launched a new program called Party Pay, which offers a series of discounts as you add more lines. Think of it as a way for families to enjoy Visible, which previously charged $40 for each line of service.
Now, when you add two lines, Visible knocks the per-line charge down to $35 a month, so you're paying $70 total. Three lines cost $30 each, while four lines can be had for $25. That means a family of four pays $100 a month for four lines of unlimited data. Boost and Metro by T-Mobile typically charge $140 a month for four lines of their cheapest plans, so those compelling savings make Visible the choice for families among the best prepaid cell phone plans.
Visible does feature some other restrictions you should be aware of. (What — you didn't think there was a catch to that $40 monthly rate?) Visible reserves the right to slow down your data speed when Verizon's network is congested. Like Verizon's least expensive unlimited plan, Visible caps video streaming at 480p resolution. Music streams at 500 Kbps.
The phones you can use with Visible
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.
This January, Visible added support for the Galaxy S9 and S9+, and more Android phones have joined the mix since then. As of this writing, Visible offers the Pixel 3a, Moto Z4 and Galaxy A50 among other Android devices. Still, the service remains available to a wider array of iPhone models — any iPhone 6 or later compatible with Verizon's network can hop on Visible and you can find phones dating back to the iPhone 7 in Visible's store.
Should you still want to bring your own phone, not every Apple-build smartphone of recent vintage will work on Visible's network. There's one iPhone SE model and a pair of iPhone 7 variants that aren't compatible. You can confirm that your iPhone works by entering its IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number into the compatibility checker on Visible's website. (You can look up your iPhone’s IMEI number by launching the Settings app, then tapping General and About.)
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. Right now, there's only one line allowed for each account, so this isn't a great option for families who want to be on the same bill.
What kind of performance Visible delivers
Ordinarily, Visible limits data speeds to 5 Mbps. When we originally tested the service in 2018, we recorded a top download speed of 5.89 Mbps at the University of California, Berkeley, campus. For comparison, my iPhone SE tied to Verizon posted a 16.4-Mbps download speed at that same location at the same time.
That was characteristic of our first round of testing using Visible's service. Download speed 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, my iPhone SE sometimes struggles with simple tasks like checking Twitter on game days when the stands are packed with tens of thousands of smartphone-toting fans. I recorded a speed of 1.98 Mbps on my Verizon-tied iPhone SE during this year's Cal-Stanford game; at that same game, the Visible-powered iPhone 8 petered out at 0.19 Mbps.
In June, however, Visible improved its service in a big way by removing the speed cap for existing customers and new ones who join within a limited time. Users currently with Visible at the time of writing will retain unrestricted data speeds for as long as they remain with the carrier, though anyone who switches to the network once this promotion ends (Visible hasn't said when) will have to live with that underwhelming 5 Mbps cap.
We've gone back and tested Visible's performance again now that the cap's been lifted, and we can confirm the speeds are 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 newly-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 results 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.
There were 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.
It's important to note that both the video and music streaming limitations are still in place, even though the data speed cap has been temporarily eliminated. In our experience, throttling didn't appear to affect all media apps equally. For example, YouTube was able to successfully stream video at 1080p when we asked it to, while Netflix definitely hit a wall in terms of quality, even when streaming fidelity was switched to the highest-possible setting. Additionally, data speeds while using your phone as a mobile hotspot are still stuck at 5 Mbps, just like before the service change.
Even if the 5 Mbps cap returns, smartphone users shouldn't really notice Visible's restrictions on data speeds and streaming quality. Power users who download and upload really large files may feel constricted, but for the most, part the trade-off between slower data speeds and lower monthly bills isn't likely to sting too hard.
How is Visible's 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. The app is spartan but easy to navigate, though 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 save passwords securely, so signing back in wasn't too much of a hassle during my testing
The best feature on Visible's app is live chat with customer support, which is active between 8 a.m. ET an 11 p.m. ET on weekdays and 11 a.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. 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.
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.
Who should use Visible?
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. Use 3GB of LTE data at Republic Wireless, for example, and you'll have a $30 monthly bill.
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. Now that Visible offers multi-line discounts, it's a more compelling option for families, too. At the same time, users counting on fast data speeds may bristle at Visible's 5-Mbps cap once Visible reinstates that cap and so decide to turn elsewhere.
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's an intriguing wireless option if you've got a taste for lots of LTE 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 $40 monthly fee, and though you'll have to make trade-offs, they won't hamper your phone usage very much, so long as you steer clear of extremely data-intensive apps. The addition of Android support, even on a limited number of phones, makes Visible for appealing to more users.
For anyone living in an area that's well-served by Verizon's extensive cellular network, 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.