The best VPNs offer a solid balance of features, server location, connectivity protocols, and price. Some are great for occasional use, others are geared towards getting around the location restrictions companies put on their apps and services, and others are targeted at people who do heavy downloading and want a little privacy while they do it. Here’s what you should look for.
Our results were similar in other parts of the world, with IVPN ranking near the top regardless of the test, day, or time. The exception was in Asia, where its Hong Kong servers didn’t perform well. At the time of our initial tests in spring of 2018, IVPN didn’t offer any other servers in Asia aside from Hong Kong. Since then, the company has added locations in Singapore and Tokyo, but we haven’t run a new series of standardized tests with either location.
Hopefully, you’re not a candidate for government surveillance, but who knows. Remember, a VPN protects against your internet service provider seeing your browsing history. So you’re protected if a government agency asks your internet service provider to supply records of your internet activity. Assuming your VPN provider doesn’t log your browsing history (some VPN providers do), your VPN can help protect your internet freedom.
If you're of the iPhone persuasion, there are a few other caveats to consider for a mobile VPN. Some iPhone VPN apps don't use OpenVPN, even if the VPN service that made the app supports the protocol. That's because Apple requires additional vetting if a company wants to include OpenVPN with its app. VPN app developers have slowly started jumping through those extra hoops and are bringing support for protocols such as OpenVPN to iOS.
One basic test for a VPN service is to check how long a VPN client takes to connect to a VPN server and get online. For our 2018 reviews, we installed each vendor's VPN client software on an HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2 laptop running Windows 10, an iPad mini and a Samsung Galaxy S8 Android phone. (In 2017, we used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga notebook, an Apple MacBook Air, a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and the iPad mini.) We used each device with each VPN service we tested.
IVPN exceeded our requirements for being trustworthy and transparent. It also offers good performance without sacrificing security, and it’s easy to set up and use on nearly any device running Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. Other VPNs we tested had faster connections at particular server locations or lower prices, but they came up short on essential factors such as transparency about who exactly runs them. If you’re ready for a VPN, we think IVPN is worth the price, even considering competitors with cheaper options. If you’re not ready to commit, you can try it out with a seven-day money-back guarantee. It’s easy and obvious to turn off automatic billing, too.
VPNs also cloak your computer's actual IP address, hiding it behind the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to. IP addresses are distributed based on location, so you can estimate someone's location simply by looking at their IP address. And while IP addresses may change, it's possible to track someone across the internet by watching where the same IP address appears. Using a VPN makes it harder for advertisers (or spies, or hackers) to track you online.
Another VPN with a money-back guarantee is CyberGhost. The theme we were seeing here was that when servers are good, they're really good, but when they're bad, they're really bad. However, after looking through Reddit threads, we're not really sure how this ranked in the top three. The biggest thing: This is not the VPN to get if you're looking to torrent or stream, as it's known to be pretty slow. Reddit user NewWorld98 writes:
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.
It can be quite simple to watch Netflix and other restricted goodies. You'll have to use a VPN service that allows you to get a unique IP address. This can often be available for an additional fee. Look for VPN services that offer a "dedicated IP address", "dedicated IP", or "static IP." Additional features like these will always allow you to access content from Netflix through a VPN service.
When we test VPNs, we generally start with the Windows client. This is often the most complete review, covering several different platforms as well as the service's features and pricing in depth. That's purely out of necessity, since most of our readers use Windows (although this writer is currently using a MacBook Air). We currently use a Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running the latest version of Windows 10. We periodically upgrade to a newer machine, in order to simulate what most users experience.
Fortunately, there are some brave companies that are still trying to stay one step ahead of Netflix’s VPN catchers. Currently, Windscribe Pro is our top choice. The service delivers good speeds on its U.S. servers, and has a very simple approach to Netflix: Just select the “Windflix” connection from the desktop app or browser extension and you’re good to go. Windflix is still technically in beta, but it works well and there’s even a Windflix U.K. option if you’d like to experience Netflix from the other side of the pond.
Nevertheless, the point of a VPN is to remain private and to have your internet activity kept as private as possible. For that reason, we’re choosing Mullvad as the best overall VPN (see our full review of Mullvad). The company recently released an overhauled desktop client, and the VPN does a great job at privacy. Mullvad doesn’t ask for your email address, and you can mail your payment in cash if you want to. Like many other VPNs, Mullvad has a no-logging policy and doesn’t even collect any identifying metadata from your usage.
NordVPN may not have the number one spot, but it is a very close second. In fact, there are some areas that it might even pull ahead of its rival ExpressVPN for the coveted crown. For starters, it is super easy to use, allows torrenting, and ranks highly on all speed tests. That already makes NordVPN an attractive option, but its fabulously low monthly pricing plan really seals the deal for most people.
Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.
Cost: To be billed every 7 days, you can subscribe to ZenVPN on a weekly basis for $2.95, which is equivalent to around $11.80/month. Another option is to just buy it a month at a time for $5.95/month. A third option is to buy a whole year at once (for $49.95) for what comes out to be $4.16/month. The unlimited option is more expensive, at $5.95/week, $9.95/month or $7.96/month if you pay $95.50 for the whole year.
It was chosen as an Editors' Choice at PCMag, where the site concluded its review with this: "Private Internet Access is easy to recommend, but only with an asterisk. Yes, it's incredibly robust with powerful tools and an extensive network of VPN servers across the world. It also has a strong privacy stance when it comes to protecting customer information. And it's incredibly simple, but (and this is the asterisk) it's also stripped to the bone in terms of interface."
Paid VPNs are actually not that expensive as you may think. The most recommended VPN based on our reviews is NordVPN which starts at $11.95 per month. But if you get the 2-year license, you will pay only $3.29 for each month. Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN may be cheaper, but still, a very good alternative for only $6.95 per month or $2.91 if you get the 2-year plan.
CyberGhost operates an ample network of more than 1,200 servers, including 20 in Australia and more than 200 in the US. It has a strong focus on unblocking streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It’s also popular with torrenters and has a dedicated “Torrent Anonymously” option within its apps. Plus, speeds are excellent, making it a great all-rounder. CyberGhost doesn’t log user activity or record IP addresses. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
IVPN also performed well in our speed tests. Though it wasn’t always the fastest in the 54 measurements we took on each service, it ranked near the top on many servers at different times of the week—especially compared with the most trustworthy services. Private Internet Access, one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs, had slower speeds when connecting to most servers and less reliable connections than IVPN. For US servers (which we expected to be the fastest locations since we tested from California), IVPN ranked behind only OVPN and TorGuard. We liked OVPN—especially its speed results—but we thought that company’s small team and small selection of servers and locations were too limiting for some people. (Read more in the Competition section.) Though TorGuard edged out IVPN in this test, the difference wasn’t big enough to affect our everyday browsing. And because we tested each application at its default settings, TorGuard’s faster speeds were partially thanks to its default 128-bit encryption; IVPN offers only more secure, but often slower, 256-bit encryption.
For those who are unaware, net neutrality is the much-discussed concept that ISPs treat web services and apps equally, and not create fast lanes for companies that pay more, or require consumers to sign up for specific plans in order to access services like Netflix or Twitter. Federal net neutrality rules would ensure that the internet effectively continues to operate the way it has for its entire existence.
Beyond those two factors, it’s difficult to make blanket statements about what makes a trustworthy VPN. At the bare minimum, a good VPN provider should not collect and keep any logs of its customers’ browsing history. If it does, that puts your privacy at risk should someone access (or even release) those logs without authorization. But deciding when to a trust a logging policy isn’t easy. As the EFF points out, “Some VPNs with exemplary privacy policies could be run by devious people.” You don’t need to have done anything illegal to prefer that law enforcement and criminals alike not have access to a browsing history that may include your bank, medical websites, or that one thing you looked at around 2 a.m. that one time.
A lot of people started using a VPN to evade geo-restrictions. But despite its forbidden benefits to users outside the US, a VPN is a great tool that can protect you and enhance your online experience over the internet by providing you with sufficient security and privacy. When it comes to selecting the best VPN, you have plenty of choices. There are many cost-effective VPN options, and all of them will vary in monthly offerings. Choosing the best VPN is easier once you narrow down the competition. The best indication of a good VPN service provider is that they have the right security and the right support in place for you.