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A VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, virtual tunneling protocols, or traffic encryption. A VPN available from the public Internet can provide some of the benefits of a wide area network (WAN). From a user perspective, the resources available within the private network can be accessed remotely.
A powerful VPN service, Hotspot Shield is ideal for those who enjoy using public Wi-Fi. It is basically a free VPN that comes in the form of an application or as a browser extension. Security is assured as the service uses OpenVPN , which makes use of the same encryption as HTTPS does. This feature is particularly effective in protecting credit card information during online purchases.
NordVPN operates out of Panama, which means it has no legal obligation to record any of the activities of its users. You're free to connect to any of the 5,000+ VPN servers in 62 countries, and you can use NordVPN on up to six different devices at once. I awarded NordVPN a near-perfect score in my review, focusing on the large set of extra features, like double VPN, P2P-dedicated servers, a DNS leak resolver, and a dedicated single IP address. Grab a year subscription for about $7 a month, go short term with a $12 monthly plan, or choose one-year or six-month plans to best suit your needs.
Mobile VPNs are designed and optimized to ensure a seamless user experience when devices are switching networks or moving out of coverage. It generally has a smaller memory footprint, and because of that, it also requires less processing power than a traditional VPN. Therefore, it enables your applications to run faster while the battery pack is able to last longer.
Almost all VPN services now offer a dedicated macOS client. These are sometimes not quite as fully featured as their Windows siblings, but are often all but identical. In general, what makes a great VPN for your Macbook or Mac Mini is exactly the same as what makes a good VPN for any other system. Please check out our Best VPNs for Mac for our top macOS recommendations.
Every service we tested accepts payment via credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin. That’s plenty of options for most people, and you can always use a prepaid debit card if you don’t want your billing information tied to your VPN account. IVPN and OVPN are the only ones to accept cash payment through the mail, if you really don’t want to make a payment online. Private Internet Access and TorGuard accept gift cards from other companies—IVPN doesn’t, but that option isn’t worth the additional hassle for many people when other secure, private methods are available.
The Android app is actually fun to use, and you got to give TunnelBear credit for really doubling down on its name by really running with the concept. TunnelBear does not currently support torrenting, so if that's an important feature you're best to look elsewhere. If you're only looking for a casual VPN for your phone, TunnelBear is a great free option with affordable pricing for upgrading to the premium service.
IVPN doesn’t have as many server locations as larger services like ExpressVPN do. When we initially recommended the service, IVPN was limited to 13 countries, compared with ExpressVPN’s 94. But in the months since, IVPN has doubled that to 26, including two additional locations in Asia (Tokyo and Singapore). We’ve yet to test the new servers though, and in the past, IVPN’s single location in Asia—Hong Kong—was slower than competitors.
My rule of thumb is to use a domestic VPN and connect to servers as close to my location as possible. That said, I have had good nights and bad nights getting online. In my recent trip, I found most hotels' networks to become unusable after about 9pm. My theory is that many of the guests were watching Netflix at that time, completely clogging the hotels' pipes.
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.
For features, VPN.ac offers double-hop VPN servers, numerous encryption options, obfuscation (stealth VPN), and great apps for all major operating systems and devices. VPN.ac’s apps are very well designed and come in both light and dark modes. In addition to the VPN, you can also use their secure proxy browser extension, which is available for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera browsers.
So, what’s so great about ExpressVPN? Well, to kick things off, ExpressVPN offers members more than 2,000 servers spread out over 148 locations. This means no matter where in the world you are, you are likely to have several servers at your disposal for smooth and fast streaming. Which brings us to our next ExpressVPN benefit. This company has ridiculously fast speeds. This comes from all of those servers we mentioned. Plus, ExpressVPN lets you see which servers have the fastest download speeds. You can also forget about privacy issues with ExpressVPN since it has a strict no logs policy across the board. No timestamps, no destinations, no browsing history. It’s all private, all the time.
We tested each service using both the Netflix-operated Fast.com download speed test and the more comprehensive Internet Health Test; the latter measures speeds up and down through multiple interconnection points between Internet providers. We ran each test on the macOS version of each VPN software in its default configuration, with our test computer connected over Gigabit Ethernet to a cable modem with no other traffic running through it. We recorded baseline download rates without a VPN active of nearly 300 mbps, and we checked our non-VPN speeds at random intervals to ensure that our local ISP wasn’t affecting the tests.
The app likewise prevents websites from collecting users’ private data, allowing for safer and more secure web browsing. To make things even better, the solution automatically connects whenever an unsecure Wi-Fi connection is detected, ensuring constant protection. It connects to the nearest server, resulting in optimum speeds. But one can also connect manually and be able to choose a preferred server.
With VPNs you can access streaming services which are usually blocked to overseas viewers. You can do this by simply connecting to a VPN server in the appropriate country. Unsurprisingly, both Netflix and BBC iPlayer attempt to block VPN users. These blocks are often ineffective, and many providers have found ways around them. For more information about unblocking the most common services see our VPN for Netflix and VPN for BBC iPlayer guides.
Central America isn’t the first place you’d think of when it comes to cutting edge technology, but NordVPN is up there with the best VPN services in 2019. It has 1015 servers in 59 countries, supports up to six devices simultaneously, runs 2048-bit encryption and has a feature list including an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, strong DNS leak protection and the ability to pay in Bitcoin. For relatively short connections performance was superb, although we did notice a little latency creeping in from time to time for very long distance connections. However, browsing remained snappy and performance wasn’t degraded significantly. We’d recommend hunting the site for its free trial and if you like it, signing up for the 3-year plan which is currently going for just $99!
TorGuard offers applications for every major platform, including Windows, macOS, and Android. And unlike our top pick, it also supports OpenVPN on ChromeOS. (Though TorGuard does offer an iOS app, it doesn’t natively support the OpenVPN protocol that allows for the easiest and most reliable secure connections.) Using these apps, you can manually select a server, click Connect, and not worry about the rest. But otherwise, the applications aren’t as refined or easy to use as IVPN’s. New users are likely to find themselves out of their depth when modifying anything but the most basic functions, such as auto-connecting at launch or minimizing the app.
Some VPNs offer “split tunneling,” which routes all traffic through your VPN except specific services or sites that you allow. For example, you might want to send your Web traffic through your VPN but stream Netflix on your fast, domestic connection. But these types of rules are complicated to implement without also leaking other important information, and we didn’t assess how effective they were in practice.
The service supports torrenting through its zero logs policy. It supports PPTP, Open VPN and L2TP connections, with each going up to 256 bits except for PPTP. To further increase security, IPVanish uses shared IPs, making it even more difficult to identify users. This also ensures that even the vendor could not furnish agencies with your information even if it wanted to.
If you’re on a heavily managed Internet connection, be it government censored or just college Wi-Fi, standard VPN connections may be blocked or throttled due to deep packet inspection, a way for providers to analyze what type of traffic is passing over a network even when they can’t see the actual contents. IVPN’s desktop apps include a checkbox for Obfsproxy, which disguises your traffic as more ho-hum data to get it past those types of blocks—like kids stacked in a trenchcoat to pass as an adult, but more convincing. Our budget pick, TorGuard, and competitor ExpressVPN use different methods to disguise traffic, but we couldn’t find documentation on equivalent features from our other top performers.
Buffered VPN doesn't disclose much about the size of its network, but the 30-day money back guarantee means that you can take their service for a test drive and really get a feel for how well it performs for you. The company lost a few points from us because they do keep some connection information. They gained points for their client support, unlimited bandwidth, and generous number of simultaneous sessions allowed.