It’s been nearly a year since Verizon announced its all-digital offshoot Visible. The low-cost carrier offers unlimited talk, text, and data with a 5Mbps speed cap for $40 a month. While it was initially designed just for iPhones, Visible started bringing Android handsets into the fold late last year. This year, the carrier released its first exclusive smartphone, the Visible R2 by ZTE. At $99.99, the R2 is surprisingly attractive and capable for the the price.
What Is Visible?
In 2018 Verizon quietly announced Visible, the first all-digital, subscription-based carrier that isn’t an MVNO. The company started off slowly, inviting a handful of iPhone users to the network, and opened it to the general public in late 2018. Shortly thereafter it announced it would begin supporting Android phones.
It’s hard to compare Visible with other carriers. It’s more like Hulu or Spotify in the sense that it’s subscription-based and operates entirely through its app or website. From either you order service, get tech support, buy a new phone, and see billing details. And unlike MVNOs, Google Fi being the closest example, Visible only offers a single plan with unlimited calls, text, and data (capped at 5Mbps), for a flat $40 fee.
The Visible R2 is the company’s first exclusive phone and caters to those who want to try out the service (or anyone who simply wants an inexpensive phone). Visible offers a service called Swap that allows you to get the R2 for free as long as you send in a working Android phone that’s incompatible with Visible’s within 14 days of your order. If you’re not sure if your phone is compatible with Visible, you can easily check on its website by entering your phone’s IMEI number.
Design and Display
From the front, the R2 looks like any other low-cost phone. It’s dominated by a 5.45-inch display with chunky bezels all around. It measures 5.78 by 2.72 by 0.31 inches (HWD) and comes in at 4.90 ounces. So far, so generic. Flip the R2 over, however, and you find a few nice surprises.
The back of the phone features a light gray polycarbonate shell. The shell has a unique texture that feels slightly abrasive but offers a nice grip. Although we were initially worried the texture would stick in pockets or stain easily, so far that hasn’t been the case. At the top of the backplate you’ll find a vertical camera stack with a fingerprint sensor slightly below; it’s similar to the fingerprint sensor placement on the Google Pixel 3. Directly below that is the Visible logo. At the very bottom is a small speaker grill.
While the frame appears to be aluminum, it is actually a sturdy polycarbonate. On the top of the phone, there’s a headphone jack. The left side is home to a hybrid SIM/microSD card slot, while the power button and volume rocker sit on the right. Both are easy to reach and provide a satisfying click when tapped. The USB-C charging port sits on the bottom of the phone.
The R2 has a 5.45-inch IPS LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio and 1,440-by-720 resolution. Pixel density comes in at 295ppi. That’s a noticable improvement compared with the similarly priced Alcatel 1X (203ppi) and even beats out the more expensive Moto E5 Play (282ppi).
Peak brightness tops out at 409 nits in our lab tests, which is more than bright enough to use in direct sunlight. Color accuracy is good as well, with only green coming in slightly undersaturated. It’s obviosuly not going to beat out flagships in terms of color gamut or vibrance, though it’s perfectly adequate for daily use and even long Netflix binges.
Call, Network, and Audio Quality
As a Visible exclusive, the R2 is carrier-locked. It’s compatible with LTE bands 2/4/5/13. Due to its limited band range, it cannot be used on other carriers, even if it were unlocked.
Since Visible uses Verizon’s vast LTE network, the phone gets excellent data coverage across the US. That said, Visible’s data speeds are limited to 5Mbps up and down. During our network tests in downtown Manhattan, the R2 consistently met or exceeded 5Mbps in each test. With 5Mbps down, you should have no problem with normal tasks like streaming multimedia or scrolling through social media, but if you’re downloading large files or using games that require high data speeds, you may want to check out a different carrier that doesn’t cap those speeds (or save those tasks for Wi-Fi).
Call quality on the phone is solid. Our test calls were crystal clear and easy to hear with the 82dB earpiece, with strong noise cancellation. During three test calls on a busy Manhattan street, we encountered no instances of background noise.
Although the R2 has a single speaker that sits on the back, it’s surprisingly loud. Peak volume measures at 92db, and when sitting on a table it decreases only slightly to 88dB. Even at high volumes, audio is clear. There’s none of the tinniness or static that we often encounter on budget phones, but there’s also no bass whatsoever. If you’re looking for better sound quality, the R2 sports a headphone jack with Dolby Audio.
One major disappointment is Wi-Fi connectivity. Both the Alcatel 1X and Moto E5 Play support 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, while the Visible R2 only supports the former. That means the phone should get good range, but slower data speeds than its competitors. Bluetooth 4.2 is also onboard, but there’s no NFC for contactless payments, which isn’t a surprise at this price.
Hardware and Performance
The Visible R2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor with 2GB of RAM. There’s 16GB of storage, of which less than 5GB is available out of the box. For even the lightest smartphone user, 5GB of storage will quickly be depleted once you download a few apps and take some photos. Fortunately, you can add up to an additional 2TB of external storage via the microSD slot.
The R2 performs well with light tasks like surfing the web, streaming multimedia, and scrolling through social media feeds. Apps open with a slight hesitation, but not enough to be bothersome. Multitasking works well with up to a half-dozen apps; after that, you’ll see things start to slow down.
And while the R2 is by no means a serious gaming phone, it can handle basic commuter distractions like Candy Crush or Bejeweled just fine. We even managed to play an hour of Asphalt 8, though it took a long time to load and there were occasional skipped frames. Gameplay, however, chews up battery life. During our hour-long gaming session, the R2’s battery depleted by 22 percent.
See How We Test Phones
On GeekBench 4.0, a suite of tests that emulate typical daily use and provide a single- and multi-core processor score, the R2 performed well for an entry-level phone. It garnered a 677 score for single-core performance and 1,859 for multi-core. That’s surprisingly better than the Alcatel 1X (579/1,459) and almost identical to the Moto E5 Play (677, 1,878). Keep in mind benchmarking simply provides us with an objective way to compare similarly outfitted handsets and doesn’t necessarily predict how the phone will perform on a day-to-day basis.
For budget phone users who’ve become used to poor battery life on their current phones, the R2 is a pleasant surprise. The 3,200mAh battery managed to eke out 7 hours and 52 minutes of use during our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi with the display at full brightness. That’s much better than the similarly priced Alcatel 1X (4 hours, 8 minutes), but far short of the Moto E5 Play and its massive 4,000mAh battery (12+ hours). That said, battery management is good and the phone generally drains slowly when not in use—one evening we left the office with the R2 with four percent battery life and returned the following morning with two percent remaining. With more conservative settings and average use, you shouldn’t have a problem getting through a full day without having to recharge.
Like most budget phones, the R2 has a pretty basic camera setup. On the back of the phone, you’ll find a single 13MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. The front-facing camera clocks in at 5MP and has an f/2.2 aperture.
For the most part, the rear camera on the R2 works well. In our daylight test photos, subjects in the foreground are clear and there’s minor loss of detail in the background. Color accuracy is on point; photos look natural without being oversaturated.
Low-light performance is acceptable but not great. Photos show some detail loss in the foreground as well as a small, but noticeable, amount of noise in the background. While these issues are visible in full-size images, the average user who is just posting photos on social media is probably not going to be bothered by them.
The selfie camera, on the other hand, is underwhelming. Our daylight test shots are acceptable, though there is detail loss in the background and some blurring around subjects in the foreground. In low light, however, the camera performs poorly. Noise was present in all of our test shots, as well as significant detail loss in the foreground.
The R2 ships with the dated Android 8.1 Oreo. For the most part it’s a stock Android experience, though there are a few extra productivity apps that take up valuable space and cannot be uninstalled. The Visible app also comes preinstalled, allowing you to pay your bill, see usage details, and find a new phone when it’s time to upgrade.
It’s unlikely the R2 will ever see an update to Android 9.0 Pie, let alone the forthcoming Android Q. That said, Android 8.1 works well on the phone and it outpaces some older entry-level phones that still ship with Android 7.1.
Over the past few years, budget phone prices have slowly crept up. It’s becoming harder to find a smartphone for less than $100. Right now, the two main contenders are the aging Alcatel 1X and the Moto E5 Play. Compared with these, the Visible R2 is better than the 1X in nearly every regard. If you’re more interested in battery life or software updates, however, go with the Moto E5 Play. And if you want to invest in something that will stand the test of time a bit longer, the Moto G7 Play is your best bet, albeit twice the price; it has a bigger display, a much more powerful processor, and enough battery to get you through more than a day.