There’s no point to a VPN that interferes with or logs your traffic—your ISP already does that. Free VPNs, such as Facebook’s Onavo, explicitly gather traffic data to resell or use it for marketing. We looked carefully at the privacy policies and marketing claims for each company we considered. In some cases, companies we considered had sworn in court filings that requests for data were impossible to fulfill. In other cases, we asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging.
The client is uniform across every device I have used (Windows, Android, and Amazon FireOS). I would like to say I was quite happy that ExpressVPN is one of the few VPNs (that seem trustworthy) that actually had a client in the Amazon App Store for the Fire tablets. No more need for sideloading, manual updates, or sketchy OpenVPN clone clients. At first the speeds weren't the greatest on the "Smart Location" server (New York). These speeds capped at about 12Mbps down and 10Mbps up. I have 150Mbps/15Mbps service. After hunting for other servers I found a few that provide roughly 60Mbps/15Mbps service throughout the US and Canada. DNS Leak tests were successful in that I am not leaking.
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.
Using a VPN is a little trickier for ChromeOS users, however. While Google has worked to make it easier to use a VPN with a Chromebook or Chromebox, it's not always a walk in the park. Our guide to how to set up a VPN on a Chromebook can make the task a bit easier, however. In these cases, you might find it easier to install a VPN plug-in for the Chrome browser. This will only secure some of your traffic, but it's better than nothing.
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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.
Betternet is a straightforward app that connects to a VPN with a single click allowing for access when needed. No registration is required and unlike some other free VPN services there are no data caps. All of this is provided by occasional ads and a promoted premium version which are manageable and discreet. The traditional problem with free VPN access has been slow connection speed and while this is still apparent it is not too much of an issue.
Because few VPN companies offer live support, we appreciate when they at least provide easy-to-follow resources on their websites. Detailed setup guides with step-by-step instructions are available for every platform IVPN supports, and it breaks down troubleshooting advice into language that’s easy to understand. ExpressVPN also has clear, helpful support articles, but other services aren’t as straightforward. It’s harder to find the right information on TorGuard’s support site, and its articles aren’t as novice-friendly. If you need to submit a ticket for a specific problem, you can expect a quick response from all the companies we tested—IVPN and TorGuard both responded to us in minutes, and PIA took the longest at one day. ExpressVPN was the only one of our finalists that offered tech support over live chat. (Other companies provide live chat only for sales and signup support.)
If you're trying to connect to a remote media source with Kodi, a VPN would likely play a different role. It might, for example, prevent your ISP from determining what you're up to. It might also be useful if you're connecting to a third-party service for Kodi that allows streaming of copyright-infringing material. Keep in mind, however, that some VPN services specifically forbid the use of their services for copyright infringement.
Speed-wise, Avast SecureLine did well in our European speed tests, with us recording over 9.83MB/s (78.64Mbit/s) in our file transfer tests to the Netherlands. Its US performance was a little below average but still decent at 3.22MB/s (25.76Mbit/s), although UK performance was a bit slower than in our last round of tests, at 6.5MB/s (52Mbit/s) via FTP and 5.8MB/s (46.4Mbit/s) for an HTTP download.
We also dove deeper into the desktop apps of the top-performing services. Great apps have automatic location selection, easy-to-use designs, and detailed but uncluttered settings panels. We set up each service’s Android app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. We took into account how easy each one was to set up and connect, along with what options were available in the settings pane.
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.
At $7.50/month and $58.49 for a year, they're obviously trying to move you towards their yearly program. We awarded the company points for Bitcoin support, and their money-back guarantee. We're a little disappointed that they only allow a 7-day trial, rather than a full 30-days. The company is generous, with five simultaneous connections. They also picked up points for their connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing.