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.
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 discounts on multiple lines. Lately, Visible has started offering 5G coverage as part of its plans, and it's dangling a few more perks at subscribers. The changes underline Visible's status as a compelling alternative for people who want lots of data but a small monthly phone bill.
In our Visible review, we find a phone carrier that delivers lots of data for a relatively low cost and that has continued to improve since our original review. Still, prepare yourself for a few compromises you wouldn't have to make with plans from better known phone carriers.
Visible review: What the phone service 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 data (both LTE and now 5G where that service is available). That $40 rate 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 unlimited option — Start Unlimited — 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 between $30 and $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 has since added unlimited data as an option — at $70 a month, though, Google Fi's plan still costs $30 more than what you'd pay at Visible. Verizon's own prepaid wireless plan starts at $65 a month, though you can reduce that monthly rate to $50 if you stick with Verizon for nine months; even then, Visible still costs less.
You'll find a handful of mobile virtual network operators — also known as MVNOs — that can match Visible's rate, the most compelling of which is Mint Mobile. That carrier only charges $30 a month for unlimited data, but it requires you to commit to a year of service for that lower rate. Otherwise, you'll pay $40 a month like you do at Visible.
Discount carriers aren't know for their generous family plans, but Visible stands out on that front. Its Party Pay program offers a series of discounts as you add more lines.
With Party Pay, 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. If you need more lines, they're now just $25 each, and you can add an unlimited number of people.
Under Visible's Party pay pricing, 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. 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. As of this writing, Visible has added the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus to go with three Galaxy S20 models (the Galaxy S20 FE, Galaxy S20 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra). You'll find other flagships from Google and OnePlus along with discount models from Motorola, Samsung and ZTE.
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 X and iPhone 8 in Visible's store. All of the latest iPhone 12 models are now on sale at Visible, too, though sometimes at a higher price than what you'd pay for those phones elsewhere.
Visible's phone stock 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.
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
We're in the process of re-testing Visible performance for 2021, and will update this review with those results once we have them. But here's what we've observed in the past.
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.
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 the 2018 Cal-Stanford game; at that same game, the Visible-powered iPhone 8 petered out at 0.19 Mbps.
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 in 2021, and Visible has yet to go back to the bad old days.
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 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.
Visible review: What about 5G?
Visible's parent company, Verizon, has been aggressively expanding its 5G coverage, launching nationwide service to go with the iPhone 12's debut and to complement the high-speed 5G currently available in more than five dozen cities. (Get the latest on Verizon 5G in our report on the carrier's launch efforts.) And now Visible customers can reap those rewards, provided they have the right phone.
You can now access 5G coverage in areas where it's available if you're using an iPhone 12, any Galaxy S20 or Visible's own Blade X1 5G. Eventually, that compatibility will roll out to other devices.
Those phones will work with both Verizon's nationwide network, which now reaches more than 2,700 cities, and its high-speed Ultra Wideband network, which uses millimeter wave-based 5G to offer 1 Gbps speeds in parts of 61 cities. Visible customers won't be able to enjoy those super-fast speeds, though, as the carrier caps 5G speeds at 200 Mbps.
We plan to test Visible's 5G performance to see if we bump up against that cap.
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. 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.
Visible review: Perks for subscribers
You generally don't get a lot of perks when you sign up for a discount phone service, but Visible is starting to change that. Calling and texting to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is now covered in Visible's $40 monthly plan. If you've got an eSIM-compatible phone, you'll be able to activate it with Visible in less than 15 minutes. (That's restricted to the iPhone XR or later for now, with Android support coming.)
Visible offers unlimited hotspot data, though speeds are capped at 5 Mbps. You can also only connect one device at a time.
Finally, you can get a month of service for $5 for every customer you refer to Visible.
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. 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 (or friends who don't mind sharing a wireless phone bill). At the same time, users counting on fast data speeds may bristle at Verizon occasionally slowing Visible traffic, and let's not even imagine how customers might fee if the service reinstates its 5 Mbps speed cap.
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 $40 monthly fee, and though you'll have to make trade-offs, they won't hamper your phone usage very much. The addition of features like 5G make Visible even more compelling, though you may bristle that 5G is limited to select devices for now.
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.