The ongoing saga of Facebook data harvesting and the implementation of the GDPR has personal privacy online as a hot topic once again. One common method for protecting yourself online is the use of a Virtual Private Network — or VPN for short. It allows you to safely send information when using public networks via a group of networked computers and faraway servers. Not all VPNs are the same, however, so we took some time to find the best VPN services.
That being said, signing up for free VPN services — especially those dedicated to mobile apps — can be a risky business. Know that all “free” services are making money off of you somehow, whether it be from advertisements or something less innocuous.
We’ve scoured the web for reviews, testimonials, and statistics on which are the best VPN choices. Then, we tried out the services for ourselves, taking notes on ease-of-use and testing network speeds. Keeping all of these factors in mind, these are the services that stood out.
Private Internet Access
If the happy family on the homepage isn’t enough to convince you, maybe the fact that it’s one of the most reliable VPN services on the market is. Private Internet Access does everything you could want from a good VPN. It hides your IP address, protects your information, and scrambles your browsing activity using a variety of encryption methods.
We tested Private Internet Services using its Windows installer, which configures the VPN protocols and provides a simple utility in the task bar to turn the VPN connection on and off. While the interface was spartan, performance was excellent. Our test system consistently maintained over 110 Mb/s download and 19 Mb/s upload speeds with the VPN connection turned on, very close to our usual 125 Mb/s download and 20 Mb/s upload speeds.
On the downside, Netflix complained about a proxy and Amazon Prime Video wouldn’t play due to a geographical restriction. These errors occurred whether we used the automatic setting or selected a local U.S.-based server.
- Cost: $7 on a monthly basis, $40 for an annual subscription, $70 for a two-year subscription.
- Number of servers: 3,209+.
- Number of server locations: 33 countries.
- Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Unix/Linux, iOS, Android — several browser extensions.
- Number of simultaneous connections: Up to five.
With a name like TorGuard, the software better offer strong protection. The software’s hallmarks lie in its ability to connect to a melange of services for different activities, with four different packages available based on various needs. The VPN service will run you $10 each month, but there’s a cheaper proxy service if all you need to do is hide your IP address from the world.
Like most VPN services, the program will prevent websites from viewing your personal IP address, thus preventing others from identifying you or your geographic location. From offshore email to unlimited server switching between over 3,000 servers across the globe, TorGuard offers some pretty impressive scaling. Skilled geeks and professionals alike should take a look at the service, along with the discount bundles that come packaged with hardware.
The TorGuard Windows client was easy to install and made quick work of connecting to a VPN server, including the ability to choose a server location prior to connecting. The internet speed on our test system dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s download to 53 Mb/s, and our upload ran at 17 Mb/s compared to our usual 20 Mb/s. That’s not the best performance in our testing, but all internet services that we tested worked without a hitch, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
- Cost: $6/month for anonymous proxy; $10/month for anonymous VPN; $7/month for anonymous email; $11.50/month for privacy bundle
- Number of servers: 3,000+
- Number of server locations: 50+ countries
- Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
- Number of simultaneous connections: Up to five
With double, 2048-bit SSL encryption, it’s easy to see that NordVPN values your privacy. But the company has also worked hard to build up its server network to include more than 5,200 server locations in 62 countries around the world. The service also comes with a variety of security tools for encrypted chat and proxy extensions, and you can use up to six devices simultaneously, which is higher than many companies are willing to go.
The theme running throughout this service is personal security. From protected DNS queries to automatic kill switches, NordVPN wants you to know that your information won’t fall into the wrong hands. It makes sense, then, that the company also accepts Bitcoin for payments. The company has recently improved its platform support, adding in iOS and Android and thus overcoming its one weakness.
The NordVPN client provided one of the most attractive interfaces, and connecting to a VPN server was straightforward and very quick. We found performance to be somewhat spotty, however, with our fastest connection running at 53 Mb/s down and 26 Mb/s up, compared to 125 Mb/s down and 20 Mb/s with the VPN connection turned off. We did have an issue connecting to Netflix, but Amazon Prime Video ran without issue. Our other internet tests went without a hitch.
- Cost: $4/month with a 2-year agreement; $12/month when billed monthly; $7/month when billed annually, $3/month when billed for two years.
- Number of servers: 5,232+
- Number of server locations: 62
- Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android
- Number of simultaneous connections: Up to six
ExpressVPN’s “#1 Trusted Leader in VPN” claim may be a bit difficult to prove, but the service offers a compelling list of features nonetheless. It also constantly tries to make consistent improvements in speed and simultaneous streaming capabilities, and with support for all major platforms (Windows, MacOS, Android, etc.), you won’t need to worry about compatibility. ExpressVPN shows up on a number of “best VPN” lists, and so its relatively high prices are justified.
With a presence in 148 locations across 94 countries, you also won’t need to worry about international travel. Furthermore, the more than 2,000 servers are all well placed throughout common travel destinations and urban centers. Any package will land you unlimited bandwidth and speed, a guaranteed 99.9 percent uptime, and 24-hour customer service. With so many guaranteed features, it’s no wonder this vendor is considered among the best — although note that ExpressVPN only supports up to three simultaneous connections, which is the least of the services on our list.
Setting up ExpressVPN and connecting to a VPN server was easy enough. Performance, when connected to the VPN server, was average at 49 Mb/s down and 16 Mb/s up, compared to our usual speeds of 125 Mb/s down and 20 Mb/s up. Netflix complained about a proxy being in use when we used the automatic configuration option, but it worked fine when we manually selected a local U.S. server. Amazon Prime Video played just fine, and our other internet tests completed without issue.
- Cost: $8.30/month when billed annually; $10/month when billed every six months; $13/month when billed monthly
- Number of servers: 2,000
- Number of server locations: 148 locations across 94 countries
- Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry, router
- Number of simultaneous connections: Up to three
ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN services, and it boasts some star-studded founding members. The company was founded at CERN, the birthplace of the internet, and grew out of the ProtonMAIL service that’s been protecting the email of activists and journalists for years. The service acts as a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union. It’s also not a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” and user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries, so you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.
ProtonVPN is a bit pricey, but only the most expensive OpenVPN protocol is used, not the less costly to operate PPTP and L2TP/IPSec protocols. It also offers free plan that you can use to try out the service, which is limited to three countries, one device, and low speeds, and prices go up from there.
A great enhancement of the service as of late, was the introduction of Linux, iOS, and MacOS clients. It’s now available on the full suite of popular operating systems and platforms.
Installing and configuring ProtonVPN’s Windows client was simple enough and it provided some of the best in-use statistics. Performance was at the lower end of our comparison group at 39 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up, compared to our usual 125 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up. Netflix was blocked, but Amazon Prime Video and our other test services connected without a hitch.
- Cost: $4/month when billed annually for the Basic plan (two devices and high speeds); $8/month when billed annually for the Plus plan (five devices and the highest speeds and access to Secure Core and Tor Servers); $24/month when billed annually for the Visionary plan. Monthly costs are 25 percent higher.
- Number of servers: Depends on plan (up to 347)
- Number of server locations: Depends on plan (up to 31)
- Clients supported: Windows
- Number of simultaneous connections: Depends on plan