If your phone isn't listed as compatible, it simply won't work.
Speeds capped at 200Mbps, rendering mmWave 5G useless.
Might have some trouble setting up
When it comes to choosing a new phone carrier, it’s always best to shop around for the best price according to what you want in your plan. That’s especially relevant in the age of COVID-19 when millions of people are looking to lower their bills and save money for more important costs down the line.
I found myself doing the same thing recently. I had Google Fi for about a year, for which I paid $70 per month for the Unlimited plan. It was great while I had it, but when the time came to add additional lines to my plan, I didn’t want to pay an extra $60 per month per line. That’s a really quick way to be paying almost $200 a month for just three lines of service.
I started shopping around for a solid alternative to Google Fi, and I eventually landed on Visible’s website. It seemed that the carrier, owned by Verizon, would be able to save me a ton of money each month while still giving me unlimited, high-speed data. So, I decided to sign up for Visible and port my number over from Google Fi.
I also partnered with Visible for this review. I had them send out an iPhone 12 mini that I could use to test drive their service, including their 5G coverage which just began rolling out. I’ve been using the carrier for about a month now, and here are my thoughts.
Disclaimer: Visible did not provide any compensation for this review, nor does their loan of the iPhone 12 mini unit influence the editorial content in this review whatsoever. This is not a sponsored post.
What is Visible?
Visible is a sub-carrier of Verizon that’s powered by Big Red’s network. It takes a much more streamlined approach to plans and billing while offering a customer service experience powered entirely by its mobile app. It tries to appeal to a younger crowd who doesn’t want to have to deal with trips to retail stores, paper billing, or added confusion from varying fees and promotions.
Plans & Pricing
Visible’s pricing is very simple: pay $40/month and you get unlimited talk, text, and data. That’s the only plan offered by Visible, so you’ll need to decide whether you need unlimited data before signing up.
With the plan, Visible gives you unlimited data at up to 200Mbps in performance. That’s in direct contrast with other budget-oriented carriers who also offer unlimited data, but severely throttle data speeds after just a few gigabytes are used. With Visible, speeds won’t be throttled past 200Mbps.
Of course, that’s assuming the network doesn’t get congested. Through Visible, your data connection isn’t prioritized, so if Verizon decides its network is too busy, Visible subscribers will be among the first to experience slowdowns.
Video quality is capped at 480p on Visible which, while is disappointing, isn’t too surprising given the commonality of 480p video quality across carriers and their plans.
Visible also gives you a hotspot, but its speeds are limited to 5Mbps. You also can only tether to one device at a time.
Visible has a unique feature called Party Pay. If two or more people join your “party” (a.k.a. associate their account with yours), you’ll save money on your bill each month. For instance, a part of two would pay $35/month each, a party of three would pay $30/month, and a party of four or more would pay $25/month. Everyone gets their own separate bills and accounts to manage.
Visible is powered by Verizon’s network, so wherever you get a Verizon signal, you should also get Visible. Here’s a map of coverage for convenience.
When you sign up for Visible, you’re asked to input the IMEI of the phone you’re brining to the network to ensure it’s compatible since device support is a bit awkward.
Every iPhone is supported since Visible used to be exclusive to Apple’s smartphones, but you’ll need to check to see if your Android phone works as those devices are limited. The latest Samsung Galaxies, Google Pixels, and OnePlus offerings are safe, but it’s worth looking at their supported device list before signing up.
If you bring your iPhone to the network, you’ll have the option of choosing either a physical SIM card or an eSIM. This option isn’t available on Android and isn’t available again after you sign up, so you’ll need to decide if having a physical SIM is important to you before placing your order.
After I received my SIM card, getting it activated was straightforward. You just power down your device, insert the SIM, turn it back on, and open the Visible app. You then get prompted with an activation button. Once tapped, it’ll activate your service and ask you to reboot your phone. After it comes back on, you’re in business.
Because I switch phones frequently, I did have a few problems settling in. For instance, because I was hovering between an iPhone XS and Pixel 5 before the iPhone 12 mini arrived, my voicemail wasn’t working correctly. I had to get my mailbox reprovisioned when I switched between the two in order to receive any voicemails left on my account.
I also had to remember to turn off RCS messaging on my Pixel 5 before going to the iPhone. Apple doesn’t support RCS, so if you don’t opt out of it in the Google Messages app before taking your SIM card elsewhere, you’re likely to miss out on text messages (like I did) from other RCS users.
There was also a problem with the porting of my number from Google Fi to Visible, and that’s when I got the opportunity to interact with Visible’s customer support. In the app, you fire up a chat thread and text somebody about your problem. I found the experience to be simple, responsive, and convenient whether you just have a quick question about your service or if you have a serious issue that needs to be addressed ASAP.
The customer care representatives were able to escalate any issues I had with the porting of my phone number so they’d get resolved, and in about a day everything else worked fine. Shortly after I got all my problems resolved, I inserted my SIM card into the iPhone 12 mini, and that’s where the fun began.
It wasn’t long after I signed up for Visible that the carrier announced it was enabling 5G for its subscribers, so long as their phones supported it. After I got the iPhone 12 mini and got my SIM up and running, I immediately saw the 5G logo in the top right corner, meaning my testing could begin.
The verdict? It’s a bit of a mixed bag.
I tested Visible along the shore of southern New Jersey in Pleasantville, Ocean City, Linwood, and surrounding areas. I’ve done multiple speed tests to see how frequently I’d get fast 5G speeds. What I didn’t test were mmWave networks, the ultra-fast 5G connections that get all the press.
That’s because those networks are only available in certain parts of the country in select cities. If you stand next to a mmWave 5G tower with a compatible phone (like the iPhone 12 mini), you can get speeds as fast as 1.3Gbps. But because those towers can’t project a signal that penetrates enough obstructions to hit the mainstream, you’re likely to remain on sub-6Ghz spectrum.
I’ve exclusively used sub-6GHz during my testing, and I found it to be fine… most of the time. Around South Jersey, I get pretty good coverage with Visible, and 5G can be found just about everywhere besides some odd locations like in a pew at the church I work at or in a handful of alleys in Ocean City.
However, despite having decent 5G coverage, speeds are incredibly inconsistent. I’ve gotten everything from nearly 140Mbps to just 6Mbps. Flicking off 5G and relying solely on LTE, I received more consistent results between 20 and 50Mbps. There were a handful of times when I got over 100Mbps on LTE, and I almost never got lower than 20Mbps.
This is pretty good evidence that 5G still isn’t where it should be. Despite carriers hyping up 5G coverage every chance they get, it’s not that big of an improvement over LTE. Mind you, this isn’t Visible’s fault – it’s Verizon’s. So when Verizon’s 5G coverage in the United States gets better, you’ll notice it on your Visible plan.
That being said, when I did reach that max 200Mbps speed, it was great. In day-to-day usage, you don’t really need more than that (unless, y’know, you’re downloading entire Netflix seasons on the go). I also didn’t notice any random hang-ups in data performance.
I will say, though, that there were a few times when my data connection would just crap out. I’d have to then either flick airplane mode on and off or reboot my phone. I’ve never experience this with other carriers which is why I’m mentioning it here. I don’t know if it’s a Visible problem or something I’m doing wrong on my end, but I found it worth highlighting at the very least.
As for everything else, the experience was pretty smooth. Phone calls were consistently clear, text messaging works just fine, and there’s enough device support that I can still hover between my iPhone 12 mini and Pixel 5 if I want to.
In the end, I didn’t notice a huge difference between Google Fi and Visible day-to-day. That should prove to you Visible makes the right choices to bring its price down while still offering unlimited 5G data. Sure, speeds are capped at 200Mbps and you might notice an occasional slowdown if Verizon gets congested, but that’s not enough to hinder the overall experience.
If there’s one thing I miss from Google Fi, it’s the data-only SIM cards. I had a ton of those things, and now I have a drawer full of dead ones because my Fi subscription has been cancelled. I used to put them in anything I needed a data connection on. I wish at some point Visible or some other carrier would add complimentary data-only SIMs to their unlimited plan since it’s such a useful feature for those who may own an LTE iPad or laptop.
I’d also like to touch on Visible’s Party Pay. So far, I have two of my siblings in my party, and it’s great. I pay just $30 a month for service, and pretty soon I’ll be paying $25 a month when I add my third sibling. It’s an incredibly easy thing to set up – you just create a username for the party, have people request an invitation to join through their own accounts, and you confirm them. The savings kick in with your next billing cycle.
It’s a really clever way to save a ton of money and for Visible to gain a bunch of subscribers.
Should you sign up?
If you’re getting overcharged for your unlimited plan and want something a bit simpler while not sacrificing features like 5G, I’d definitely consider signing up for Visible. It’ll also help your decision-making process if you ask some of your friends if they’d also consider switching since you’ll both wind up saving money down the road.
Unlimited 5G data for $40 a month is quite the deal, and if that’s really all you want/need, Visible may be right for you. I’ll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future (or at least until I decide I need some data-only SIM cards).