Author Archives: Alex Grant
Author Archives: Alex Grant
Why Choose PureVPN
PureVPN is a Hong Kong-based provider that’s been in the VPN business since 2007. With ten years of experience, it’s no wonder the company offers an impressive server coverage – 141 countries, 180 locations, and 750+ self-managed servers. Do note that some of these servers are virtual. There are no third-parties involved and the provider doesn’t log user activities. All servers support OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, PPTP, SSTP, and IKEv2. Considering Pure VPN often pops up as a highly-recommended provider, I had to give it an unbiased look myself.
Best VPN for
First off, Pure VPN is not the cheapest kid on the block, with $10.95 monthly plan, and $69.72 annual subscription. The best deal is the 5-year subscription that comes down to $1.65/mo, or $99 total.
Pure VPN supports a broad range of payment methods – credit and debit cards, PayPal, Alipay, a gazillion of options in Alipay, Cashu, as well as CoinPayments including Bitcoin, and gift cards.
All plans come with a 7-day money-back guarantee, but mind the restrictions – you can’t use more than 3 GB data or have more than 100 sessions to be legible for a refund. Also, payments made via Bitcoin and gift cards are non-refundable.
Pure VPN doesn’t offer a free trial. Instead, you can purchase a 3-day subscription for $2.5 to test the ins and outs. If you ask me, that’s better than subscribing for a month just to try a service.
Pure VPN supports the traditional platforms like Windows and Mac, Linux and even Blackberry. You can also install it on Android, iOS, and routers, as well as on smart TVs, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, and 20+ more OS.
Usability is superb with their Windows desktop client. Right from the get-go, the app offers a selection of five modes – Stream, Internet Freedom, Security and Privacy, File-Sharing, and Dedicated IP. The modes are self-descriptive enough to expect for each to come pre-configured for a particular purpose. And so they do – each mode has its bells and whistles enabled, or disabled, as well as a different selection of servers.
The user interface is easy to navigate, even if you’re not into technicalities. You can sort the servers by location or purpose, which is neat since you don’t need to weed through them all to identify the best server for, say, streaming HBO GO.
To the left, you have the dashboard, map, and VPN Hotspot options, with latter allowing you to set up a VPN hotspot for your other devices.
Settings are positioned a bit awkwardly in the top right corner next to Minimize. Here, you can change the mode, define the app behavior at startup, enable a kill switch, split tunneling, or access advanced options.
The website and the members area are equally intuitive, and the Support section is chock-full of helpful guides. I contacted their support via live chat, which was prompt, and polite, so kudos for overall user experience.
Pure VPN is jam-packed with goodies. You can connect 5 devices simultaneously, and the bandwidth or server switching is unlimited.
If you feel like tweaking the settings and changing protocols or toggling the IPv6 leak protection or kill switch, the app comes with self-explanatory settings. If you don’t want to run their proprietary software, you can use OpenVPN with their config files instead.
Split tunneling lets you choose which apps get to connect to the Internet via VPN whereas the smart purpose selection makes using VPN a no-brainer even for the technically challenged.
All modes are well-described in the app and Support section of the website.
The Advanced Security Features Beta tab lets you toggle antivirus and content filtering options for hardened security. These options are available in select countries for now, but overall, Pure VPN comes across as a solid solution for technical and non-technical users.
Pure VPN performed reasonably well in my synthetic speed and security tests. The speed drop was around 40% on both short- and long-distance connections.
My default speed before connecting to VPN was:
This is the result of the speed test when connected to a US streaming server:
US Secure server:
and UK streaming server:
As you can see, in some cases VPN even improved my upload speeds, which is great.
On the security front, Pure VPN passed the DNS leak test:
The WebRTC leak test:
and the IPv6 leak test:
All results were successful, so I had no reason to complain about performance until I decided to check if Cormoran Strike figured out who killed Lula Landry, yet.
While failure to unblock Netflix US seems to be the new norm among many VPNs these days, I normally expect BBC iPlayer to be readily available.
Alas, I spent a lot of time trying to troubleshoot this issue on my own, and then some more with the support agent. I tweaked the DNS settings, as instructed; I used the suggested Dedicated IP mode with a custom bbctv.pointtoserver.com server provided by the support agent – to no avail.
BBC iPlayer remained inaccessible – sometimes it would recognize I wasn’t in the UK, other times it would just keep displaying errors when loading pages.
BBC iPlayer is something basic for a VPN to unlock. So I was quite disappointed all that tweaked functionality and gloss came down to a limited streaming capability.
On a side note, P2P is allowed, and the number of servers supporting torrenting should be enough for torrenters out there.
Pure VPN is the property of GZ Systems Limited registered in Hong Kong, where there are no draconian data retention laws found in China. However, considering Hong Kong is only semi-autonomous from China, and a former British territory, I’d recommend that you watch the regional events closely.
They do record personal details like name, email, and payment details, but claim that they don’t share them with any third party. Acceptable use clauses are also reasonable and quite standard.
Pure VPN delivers on many fronts – excellent client, good speeds, a broad server coverage, and all the nifty pre-set modes for streaming, P2P, and privacy. Disappointing is the lack of a free trial, quite expensive monthly plans, and VPN’s inability to get past the basic geo-block of BBC iPlayer. I’d recommend a 3-day trial.
Why Choose OverPlay
OverPlay offers unlimited server switching and OpenVPN protocol for secure connections. Their SmartDNS is slated towards streaming geo-restricted channels, and their list of supported services and websites is impressive.
Best VPN for
OverPlay offers two packages – a SmrtDNS-only plan worth $4.95 per month or $49.95 a year; and a SmartDNS + VPN package that kicks in at $9.95 per month, or $99.95 per year. The SmartDNS plan is mostly for streaming and bypassing geo-blocks while the VPN plan provides encryption for improved privacy.
That’s a higher price than most providers offer. There’s no free or paid trial, which is also a disappointment that is somewhat remedied by a 5-day money-back guarantee.
Uninspiring is their list of accepted payment methods – PayPal and credit cards.
OverPlay’s native client is available for Windows and Mac devices. If you use the official OpenVPN software, you can also set it up on Linux, routers, gaming consoles, and smart TVs. There’s no OpenVPN setup for mobile devices – only instructions for manual setup of PPTP and L2TP connections.
I tried the OpenVPN setup for Windows and the native desktop client.
The service that relies on the OpenVPN software is slated towards the techies. I’m familiar with OpenVPN, and importing config files is not a hassle when the provider sets it up right. However, OverPlay’s approach isn’t my favorite. The configuration files come in a compressed folder – a total of 270+ servers with names like BOM, BEG, and BFS.
Intuitively, I suspected ATL is for Atlanta and LON is for London. But with nearly three hundred files, hand-picking a few dozen servers that I wanted to test was brain-numbing.
Another ridiculous issue that popped up was that my username had to bundle @overplay at the end. Considering my username was my email, the OpenVPN login turned into [email protected]@overplay. Note that you have to enter email/password the first time you connect – for each server.
All things considered, this is not the simplest of implementations I’ve seen for OpenVPN. @overplay at the end of a username and the poorly named config files just seem like a usability flaw nobody cared to fix.
Moving on to the OverPlay’s proprietary desktop app, things weren’t smooth either. The initial installation of OverPlay app was long and tedious. It came bundled with Microsoft Visual C++ and Microsoft .NET Framework. I don’t mind those, but the desktop client didn’t install properly. When I launched it and tried connecting to a server – any server – it blocked my connection altogether.
Their support is only available via email so I couldn’t get a quick tip on what could be causing the issue. Further investigation brought up this article on all the things that could go wrong. A total of 11 possible reasons why a VPN client is failing seems like overkill for an average user to digest.
So, I went with the simplest solution – uninstall it, reboot everything and install it again. That solved the problem, whatever was
When I finally got it to work, OverPlay client was sleek and intuitive but far from perfect. The gear icon takes you to the General Settings, Connection, Logs, Licenses, and About tabs. Switching between those tabs is riddled with freezes. Either the app doesn’t register clicks, or it just takes too long to respond, but you never know if the click went through until something happens.
Overall, I can’t say OverPlay’s Windows client comes out winning when compared to their awkward OpenVPN setup. Inaccessibility of support doesn’t instill certainty that novice users will be able to
The desktop client allows switching protocols, toggling the auto-reconnect, kill switch, IPv6 leak protection, and DNS leak protection features. You can also set ports, and initiate an installation or repair of OpenVPN driver from the app.
You can also tweak the app’s behavior and set it to connect automatically to the last connected server upon launch or connect to the fastest server in a country automatically. That’s a welcome usability improvement.
P2P is allowed, and there are servers specifically geared toward gamers. But read the provider’s DMCA policy before you proceed with torrenting.
SmartDNS comes as a rather standard setup – you need to edit the DNS servers addresses in your device’s settings.
I tested OverPlay for speed and security issues. My initial connection wasn’t stellar but I could stream and play:
Whereas the download speeds on most servers fell by almost a half, the upload speeds improved slightly. Here are the results for OverPlay US server:
Security-wise, all my tests showed no leaks, which means encryption is working as it should.
No DNS leak:
No WebRTC leak:
Nor IPv6 leaks:
What was left unclear was why the IPVanish servers showed up on the OverPlay’s DNS test. I found nothing on the matter online, so this topic is left open for speculation.
Despite the lethargic speeds, I managed to access Netflix US and BBC iPlayer. While the latter gets easily unblocked by many VPNs out there, Netflix US is a tough nut. For now, it works, so let’s hope OverPlay will be able to keep it up.
The security specs look good at OverPlay. The VPN supports PPTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN protocols, backed by SSL security and 128-bit Blowfish encryption. It’s not the top-tier encryption you can get from a VPN, but it’s enough for private browsing.
The refund policy is equally clear – no questions asked as long as you request a refund within the first five days of subscription.
Account sharing is prohibited, so is VPN chaining, or connecting to the service from another VPN. Even though P2P and the use of BitTorrent are allowed, sharing pirated material is not. Perhaps, one of the biggest concerns with this provider is its UK origin. If in doubt, check out the Five Eyes surveillance group. Moreover, UK is tough on copyright infringement.
OverPlay VPN is expensive and not the most intuitive VPN. So, beginners should look elsewhere. When it works, however, it gets the job done thanks to the sheer number of servers and the SmartDNS feature. Their security specs aren’t top-notch but sufficient for average users. Finally, their stance on privacy is inviting, but their UK jurisdiction cripples the idea of unbridled P2P.
Why Choose IronSocket VPN
With servers in 38 countries, P2P support, and a comprehensive solution wrapped in one neat client, IronSocket is a capable – but not ideal – contender.
Best VPN for
7-day money-back guarantee, 3 simultaneous connections, 24/7 customer service via live chat, P2P support, kill switch and a variety of protocols including OpenVPN come with all IronSocket plans.
The monthly plan kicks in at $6.99, which is not the most expensive proposition on the market as far as monthly plans are concerned.
A six-months plan will set you back $35.95 while the yearly plan comes in at $49.95. So, IronSocket is admittedly one of the affordable solutions currently available.
You can pay anonymously with Bitcoin or gift cards, or resort to the traditional payment methods like PayPal and credit cards.
IronSocket VPN comes ready for a wealth of platforms from the traditional Win, Linux, and Mac to the mobile devices, routers, gaming consoles and Smart TVs.
If you’re familiar with OpenVPN and have come to rely on its robust simplicity, you can just download the config files, import them into your OpenVPN client, and you’re good to go. They don’t come all-wrapped-in-one compressed folder. Instead, the provider’s website offers a webpage where you can hand-pick the config files for specific servers. Notably, you can also customize the config file from a simple pop-up window before the download.
That was the first thing that I did before trying out IronSocket’s native Windows client, expecting the OpenVPN solution to run smoothly. That was the case but for a small setback – US East server didn’t work. Meaning the app displayed I was connected and assigned a masked IP, but all security tests effectively showed I was browsing unprotected.
Other servers I tried via the OpenVPN client worked just fine.
Currently, IronSocket doesn’t offer native mobile clients, so you’d need to use OpenVPN mobile app and config files. The setup isn’t difficult but may be a serious turnoff for less technical users.
IronSocket VPN also comes with a native desktop client, which is currently in open BETA.
I found the experience rather smooth and hassle-free. Install, log in, and enjoy. The user interface is simplistic and well-organized; everything is positioned where it belongs. I had no trouble finding the settings or switching from VPN to DNS Proxy.
So, if you’re a newcomer to the VPNs, your safest bet is to go with the BETA version of IronSocket’s native client. Likewise, if you’re into fiddling with the settings, you will appreciate the app’s controls.
Besides the basic “run at startup” and “minimize to tray when closed,” IronSocket Windows client comes with quite a few options.
You can enable a kill switch, a DNS leak protection, and have VPN connect immediately when launched. For this, you also have an option to set your favorite servers.
You can also tweak the data protocol, encryption level, and enter custom DNS, or enable HTTP Proxy and persist-tun if those ring a bell.
You can also configure your DNS manually referring to the provider’s setup guides. For this, you’d also need to activate your current IP in the members area.
I tested IronSocket’s speeds using Ookla’s speed test – before connecting to the VPN, and then with the VPN enabled for various servers.
Here is my speed before the VPN:
Here’s how VPN affected my speeds when I connected to a US server:
and a UK server:
As you can see, the short-distance USA server chopped 50% off my speed, while the long-distance UK server almost 60%.
That’s not stellar, but you can work with those speeds.
More troubling, though, was the security leak. My security tests showed a WebRTC leak:
The good news is there was no DNS leak:
Nor IPv6 leaks:
IronSocket VPN is not the only VPN provider out there falsely claiming to unblock Netflix US these days. It’s not the provider’s fault that Netflix got them blacklisted, but the information on their website reflect the fact.
The good news is BBC iPlayer worked perfectly fine in my test, with only some minor buffering.
IronSocket also has a Channel Guide – available to subscribed users only, I’m afraid – that displays a comprehensive list of streaming services you can unblock with its VPN or Smart DNS.
It’s worth mentioning not all channels get unblocked successfully. For instance, it worked for Discovery but not for HBO GO or Amazon Instant Video.
At the same time, they collect your registered email and password, referral codes you use, subscription choices, payment information, as well as your interaction with the support team.
There’s also logging of your session details(kept for 72 hours under normal conditions):
The 72-hours storage limit is fine until you bump into the next clause – the company may disclose your data in response to law enforcement inquiries valid under Hong Kong jurisdiction.
The Information Disclosure clause also states the provider might share your non-personally identifiable information with “non-affiliated third parties for advertising, marketing or research purposes” - always a bad sign if you ask me.
Truth be told, I like IronSocket enough to feel genuinely disappointed about their Privacy Policies and an increasing list of unavailable streaming services.
Their native desktop client is good-looking and performs well, with average speeds acceptable for streaming and P2P while the affordable long-term plans look inviting. I’d like to see the WebRTC leak issue fixed, and a proactive approach to bypassing the streaming blocks.
All things considered, IronSocket VPN is a capable and affordable VPN with a couple of issues that keep it off my A-list.
Why Choose FrootVPN
FrootVPN is an established Sweden-based VPN provider with 80 servers across 22 countries, watertight privacy, no logs, and support for OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP. I was satisfied with pretty much everything about FrootVPN except for their connection speeds and support.
Best VPN for
FrootVPN is one of the most affordable VPNs out there, with $4.99 in the monthly plan, $11.97 per three months, and $35.88 for 12 months.
All plans come with the native desktop client, support for OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, and L2TP, unlimited bandwidth and speed, and 2048-bit encryption. You are allowed to connect up to 5 devices simultaneously, and torrenting is allowed.
FrootVPN accepts payments via credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and Perfect Money, so you can stay below the radar and pay anonymously.
There is no free or paid trial with FrootVPN, unfortunately. The good news is there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee that is based on the provider’s inability to fulfill the user’s reasonable expectations. I’m not sure how they define if the user’s expectations were reasonable, though.
FrootVPN supports the major operating systems – Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS and some routers. In theory, any device capable of running OpenVPN software can be configured to connect to the Internet using a VPN.
FrootVPN offers config files if you are familiar with the OpenVPN software and would rather rely on it instead of a FrootVPN native client.
The mobile devices require OpenVPN app and FrootVPN config files, but the setup is not intimidating, especially considering the FAQs and installation guides are easy-to-follow even for the non-techies.
Windows users can just go with the native FrootVPN application that is easy to install and even easier to use. I was set up and running in a matter of minutes – the client is sleek, intuitive, and performs flawlessly.
For a moment, I got eclipsed out and couldn’t locate the OpenVPN config files for Android device, browsing in loops from members area to help articles. I eventually realized the Servers tab in my account was what I was looking for, but I initially thought it was a page reflecting server status. However, while I was searching for the files, I thought a quick inquiry with the support team would solve my issue. Alas, FrootVPN doesn’t offer 24/7 support, so my inquiry fell on deaf ears.
The desktop app has rather basic Settings tab, where you can configure app behavior at startup and change interface language.
The main connection window, however, lets you choose the protocol – OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, PPTP, or L2TP.
There’s also a nifty feature that helps you send app logs to support directly from the app, making a convenient shortcut so that you don’t go scouting your hard drive for log files.
You can sort servers by country, and add servers to favorites. The main connection screen displays your current IP while the Quick Connect button lets you just choose a country – the service picks the optimal server automatically based on your location.
I haven’t located a kill switch in the app’s controls, no DNS leak protection toggle, however.
I tested FrootVPN from a location on the Caribbean, and my connection was rather slow. Nonetheless, I was able to stream and browse without noticeable delays with my default speeds without a VPN:
However, with FrootVPN enabled, my connection speeds slowed down to a crawl. Here is the reading for a US server:
and a UK server pre-configured to run with BBC iPlayer:
Even though the upload speeds improved, the download speed wasn’t so stellar.
I then tested FrootVPN for security leaks and issues and was happy to find none.
No DNS leak:
No WebRTC leak:
No IPv6 leak:
This means the security technology under its hood actually work to protect your location and identity.
If you’re looking for a way to bypass Netflix US geo-restrictions, I’m afraid I’ve bad news for you – FrootVPN, just like many other providers, currently do not unblock Netflix’ US libraries for users located outside the US.
I wasn’t able to achieve a consistent performance with BBC iPlayer, either. It would load and buffer for ages. Then eventually it just recognizes I wasn’t located in the UK, which means the VPN connection dropped at some point.
P2P torrenting is allowed with FrootVPN, but with these speeds I’m not sure if it’s feasible.
On the security front, FrootVPN comes fully loaded with the industry’s best features. They support OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP. Notably, IPv6 is also supported with OpenVPN connection. User data is encrypted with 2048-bit encryption, PGP Key is available, as well as support for TLS1.1 and up, using Perfect Forward Secrecy.
The provider doesn’t log user activity, which means your user info, bandwidth, IP address, timestamps, DNS queries, and session logs are safe.
They do need your email and username. The one thing that made me cringe is that if your login is your email – that’s what you’ll end up using as a login to the VPN across all your devices. It is considered a good security practice for VPNs to assign users a login/password combination for the VPN that’s different from the login/password for the members area.
If the law enforcement requires user data, all FrootVPn can hand over is a username, email, and subscription expiry date.
FrootVPN comes with excellent privacy and security specs but fails on the performance front with sluggish speeds. Your mileage may vary, so give it a try – their monthly subscription is very wallet-friendly.
Why Choose Buffered VPN
Even though sale-sy speak like “total security” and “fastest and most secure VPN” usually make me cringe, Buffered has some tangible proof to back its claims. They offer native clients for major operating systems, use OpenVPN and 256-bit Blowfish encryption, and don’t log user activity.
Best VPN for
Buffered VPN positions itself on the high end of the VPN spectrum, with $12.99 monthly, $79 yearly, and $99 biennial subscriptions. All plans come with OpenVPN protocol and 256-bit encryption and allow up to 5 simultaneous connections. Top it off with a 24/7 support, and you’re in for a good – if slightly overpriced – deal.
Their 30-day money-back guarantee comes with reasonable restrictions – you can’t exceed 10 GB data, 100 sessions, or 10 hours of sessions.
The provider accepts PayPal or credit cards only – no Bitcoin support at the moment. There is neither free nor paid trial, which is a major turnoff if you ask me.
Buffered VPN offers native clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux. To use it on mobile devices, you need to install OpenVPN app from the app store and then download Buffered config files. It’s not much of a hassle since you only need to do it once.
All VPNs come with perks and glitches, so I never expect a 100% smooth ride when installing a new client. Buffered VPN, however, turned out to be one of the most haunted installations I’ve had lately.
I tried their Windows desktop app, which appeared to be fresh out the oven – with just a few days on the downloads page. In my case, the app glitched so bad it caused my video card to restart. That’s stress-inducing, and I encourage the tech wizards at Buffered VPN to roll out an update as soon as possible because the painfully poor user experience may sabotage an otherwise fine VPN.
On the bright side, their support is top-notch – available round the clock, fast, and helpful. In a live chat, the agent took a look at my log files and screenshots and recommended that I install a legacy app.
That solved the issue. Never mind that legacy app is not a beauty and far from being convenient to use.
It’s worth mentioning Buffered’s support sent me a follow-up email after I unsubscribed, mentioning a brand-new desktop client for Windows was in Beta. So, I was more than willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, Beta didn’t work out for me. Since it’s a work in progress, Beta app’s failure to run is not reflected in the rating.
On the other hand, I applaud the company’s work ethic and diligent support team. A Beta in works also means we’ll see an improved desktop client with – hopefully – all rough edges ironed out some time soon.
(Note: They have released a new client for Windows and Mac, under the name of 2.16.)
Since I was able to run the legacy app, I can’t say much about the settings – the old app has none. The sneak peek I got at the new version shows some toggles to choose ports, switch to TCP instead of UDP, enable auto connect, allow latency checks and report errors.
While connected, the app displays a nifty screen complete with your usage stats – speeds, IP address, and total bandwidth consumed. This can be useful if you’re on a metered connection or need to limit your consumption for some other reason.
As I already mentioned, Buffered relies on OpenVPN, 256-bit Blowfish encryption, which is a strong, secure, and fast protocol. P2P is allowed, and you can connect up to five devices simultaneously.
When I was finally up and running, the synthetic tests showed I lost almost two-thirds of my initial speed, which was:
And here’s the result when I connected to the US server:
The UK server:
As you can see, the loss is significant.
On the other hand, Buffered VPN passed the DNS leak test:
The WebRTC leak test showed no leaks:
And the IPv6 leak test completed successfully:
Netflix US is a tough nut to crack for Buffered VPN, unfortunately. The good news – I was able to stream BBC iPlayer moments after I connected to a UK server. No lags, or buffering – smooth like butter.
Kudos to the support agent who kindly provided me with a list of streaming services that Buffered VPN unlocks.
Buffered VPN is based in Hungary, a country that refused to approve the draconian data retention laws many EU countries imposed. So, it’s outside the 14 Eyes club of nations swapping surveillance signals with each other.
Their logging policies are written in human speak – they do not log your traffic, but do log the duration of connections. The provider also keeps your login and registration data.
This clause here sounds like they can log user activity:
That presents a mild concern, but I’m not inclined to be paranoid about it since they don’t disclose your data “unless required by Hungarian law.”
On the security front, Buffered delivers some of the best results by deploying robust OpenVPN protocol with 256-bit Blowfish encryption. The provider also explains the choice of Blowfish encryption in a rather detailed post worth reading, if you’re on the fence.
Buffered VPN is worth your attention, with servers in 41 countries, rock-solid security, and reasonable – and transparent – approach to privacy.
It does feel a bit raw and overpriced, though, with the unstable client and noticeable speed drops. Hopefully, the developers will iron out these rough edges sooner rather than later because I’m anxious to see it improve.