Visible’s R2 is an acceptable $100 phone on a low-cost network

A decent smartphone for $100? Visible's R2 proves it's not impossible

Visible is arguably one of the most unique carriers to join the mobile industry since the likes of Google Fi — largely thanks to its low price point: You get an unlimited data plan for just $40 per month. But the Verizon-owned company isn’t all about just offering cell service; Visible also wants to sell its own phones, and so we have the first Visible-branded phone, the Visible R2.

The Visible R2 is a white label phone built by ZTE, and it’s not of the flagship kind. It costs just $100, and in my time using it, I’ve found it to be a compelling option for those with limited budgets. Here’s what the R2 is like to use on Visible’s network.

Visible

Before thinking about whether you want the Visible R2, you’ll want to know exactly what it’s like to use Visible as a carrier. The company is known for offering a $40 phone plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and data. The catch has been a speed cap of 5Mbps — so you can’t blaze through tons of downloads or watch high-res videos on the go.

But Visible is currently running a promotion that removes the data cap. Videos are still capped at a 480p resolution, and music 5treams at s00Kbps, but you’ll get quick loading times on search results, the ability to use Maps for as long as you want, and can enjoy the other benefits of 4G LTE. Visible piggybacks off of Verizon’s network, so service across most of the U.S. shouldn’t be a problem.

With the speed cap removed, Visible is offering one of the best-value phone plans available.

Digital Trends tested Visible’s service back with the 5Mbps cap, and found the experience to be perfectly acceptable — if you can live with a few compromises. Without the data cap, the service is even better. I largely used the R2 in Santa Cruz, California, and didn’t have any trouble finding service and using my favorite apps. I happened to do some traveling to Montana, and the R2 managed to maintain solid connectivity in towns and cities; it only lost service is the most rural of areas.

The Ookla Speedtest app showed 3.58Mbps download speeds and 8.12Mbps upload speeds in my apartment, which is low, but I didn’t have issues streaming on YouTube or using apps like Instagram or Twitter.

With the speed cap removed, Visible is offering one of the best-value phone plans available, so it’s well worth considering if you’re interested in getting an unlimited data plan for cheap. Keep in mind that the removal of the data cap is a promotion for new and existing customers. When the promotion ends, new customers will likely be stuck with the 5Mbps cap.

Barebones design, and adequate display

In a world of edge-to-edge phones, the Visible R2 looks dated due to its thick bezels around the screen, but if you can ignore them, you might like holding the R2. It’s tall and narrow, thanks to the 18:9 ratio, making it easier to hold than traditional 16:9 phones, which are wider.

What I like the most about its design is the textured back. It’s a gray polycarbonate material, but it feels soft and fabric-like. It makes for a grippy phone that feels nice in-hand. There’s not much weight to the phone at just 139 grams — the iPhone 8, by comparison, weighs 148 grams — and it makes the R2 feel a bit cheap, but not as cheap as its actual price.

Visible R2
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

On the back is a single-lens camera aligned vertically with the flash to look a little like the iPhone XR, along with a fingerprint sensor that reacts quickly. There are moments where the sensor fails to unlock, though. More surprisingly, there’s a USB Type-C charging port on the bottom — a rare sight on such a cheap phone — as well as a headphone jack.

The R2 has a 5.45-inch LCD screen with a 720p resolution, which is unsurprising considering the phone’s price. Some may notice the pixels more than others, but I found watching movies and shows to be an adequate experience on the screen. It’s not the brightest display, but I didn’t have much trouble reading it outdoors.

Software and performance

The Visible R2 is powered by Android, running a close to stock experience of Android 8.1 Oreo. While the fact the software is clean, easy to use, without any alterations or even bloatware, it’s disappointing to see a dated version of the Android operating system. That said, Visible has confirmed to us that the R2 will get Android 9 Pie, though we wouldn’t hold our breath for Android 10 Q, which Google will release soon.

There is one extra app that comes pre-installed, and that’s the Visible app. It allows you to manage your subscription and pay off your bill, plus you can buy a new phone when you want to upgrade through it.

Power users will want to look elsewhere.

There is a measly Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor inside with just 2GB of RAM, as well as 16GB of internal storage and support for MicroSD cards. It’s a low-power setup, but I didn’t have much trouble in day-to-day use. Granted I wasn’t juggling too many apps at the same time but sending emails, messages, making calls, and browsing select social media apps wasn’t too much trouble on the Visible R2. The camera often took a second or two to properly open up, and the software does stutter now and then, but it wasn’t a detriment to my overall experience. Power users will want to look elsewhere, though.

The phone even handling basic games well — specifically low-intensive games like card games. While games like Asphalt 8 and Real Racing 3 ran on the phone, serious gamers will lament the low resolution and dropped frames. You may need something with a little more power to play games like Fortnite.

Multitasking is where the Visible R2 struggles — it had trouble switching between demanding apps like the camera and a game. For reference, the phone scored 37,221 on AnTuTu’s 3DBench benchmarks, which is just a hair better than our AnTuTu score for the Walmart Onn tablet. That’s not good.

If you aren’t planning on relying on this phone excessively, and largely want a phone you can use to check a few apps throughout the day, the R2 will serve you just fine.

Poor camera

The rear-facing camera on the Visible R2 sits in at 13 megapixels with an f/2.0 aperture, while the front-facing camera offers a 5-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 aperture. You likely won’t want to take many photos with this phone.

With enough light, the camera does its job and produces usable images. But even in moderately-lit environments, the R2 struggles to deliver detail in its photos — they’re often quite soft. Colors are also a bit muted, and the contrast is flat. The camera struggles the most with high-contrast scenarios, and several images you see here are blown out, or over-exposed.

The selfie camera is worse. There’s little detail to speak of, and the subject is often blurry. For both cameras, things go further south in low light due to a ton of noise and poor detail. This is not a camera you can rely on.

Day-long battery

There’s a respectable 3,200mAh battery capacity inside the R2, and it easily gets through a full day of use. Game on the phone and you’ll deplete it quickly, but with normal use, I typically had more than 30% remaining at the end of the day.

Conclusions

If you are looking to join the Visible network and want to spend as little as possible on a phone, then the $100 Visible R2 is a decent option — if you don’t care much about the camera on a phone and if you’re not a power user.

On Visible’s network, your choices are slim for alternatives as you need to have a phone that supports the network. Are there better phones for a similar price? The Moto G7 Play is an excellent phone — especially since it frequently gets discounted on Amazon for less than $150 — but it’s not compatible with Visible’s network yet. You can now bring in select Android devices to the network, so if you already have one of the phones listed in this story, you won’t need to buy a device to get Visible’s service to work.

If not, I strongly think it’s worthwhile to spend more — $240 to be exact — on the much more capable Moto G7 Power, which has superior performance, battery life, screen, and a better camera over the R2 — and it’s sold by Visible as well! But not everyone can extend their budget, and if Visible’s low-cost plan appeals, then the R2 is a satisfactory choice.

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