Best VPNs for 2022: Windows, Mac, and Android

What are the best VPNs for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS in 2022? We’ve analyzed all available manufacturers to show you the top 10.

We test the software in depth. To support our research, we charge a fee through one of the links.

What is a VPN? 

A VPN (a virtual private network) allows us to surf the web securely and anonymously, without being tracked. So we can safely download torrents, unblock Netflix, circumvent censorship and use public wifi networks without risk. VPNs make all this easier by masking our IP address and encrypting our internet connection. In short, with a VPN you are safe online.

What is the best VPN to protect multiple devices? 

CyberGhost and NordVPN are the best VPNs on all levels. They are fast, secure, priced accordingly and both have millions of users.CyberGhost allows us to protect up to seven devices, while NordVPN allows us to protect up to six. If we need to protect, even more, we recommend looking attenuated to ensure shark. Both allow us to install the VPN service on an unlimited number of devices. Finally, if we want to get one of the best antivirus and an excellent VPN in one package, Norton is the best option.

Why don’t we recommend ExpressVPN?ExpressVPN is great. It’s fast, secure, and beautifully designed. But to be honest, it’s too expensive and only allows installation on three devices. CyberGhost and NordVPN are just as fast, secure, and attractive. And all for a better price, as well as protecting more devices. All of the best VPNs below work (at the very least) on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

1. CyberGhost

cyberghost

The most advanced VPN.

  • Privacy and security 100%
  • Speed 100%

✓ Streaming: Netflix, Hulu, BBC, HBO, and Prime
Torrenting: Allowed on P2P servers
Refund: 45-day guarantee
Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 92 countries
Protection: 7 devices.

Read our CyberGhost review

2. NordVPN

nordvpn

A luxury VPN at a reasonable price.

  • Privacy and security 100%
  • Speed 98%

✓ Streaming: Netflix, Hulu, BBC, HBO, and Prime
✓ Torrenting: Allowed
✓ Refund: 30-day guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs )
✓ Servers: 59 countries
✓ Protection: 6 devices

Read our NordVPN review

3. Surfshark

surfshark

A cheap VPN with no device limit.

  • Privacy and security 100%
  • Speed 95%

✓ Streaming: Netflix, Hulu, BBC, HBO, and Prime
✓ Torrenting: Allowed
✓ Refund: 30-day guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 61 countries
✓ Protection: Unlimited devices.

Read our Surfshark review

4. Norton 360

norton

VPN, antivirus and password manager in one.

  • Privacy and security 100%
  • Speed 94%

✓ Streaming: Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Prime
✓ Torrenting: Not allowed
✓ Refund: 60-day guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 28 countries
✓ Protection: 1,5 or 10 devices.

Read our Norton review

5. ZenMate

zenmate

A VPN with no device limit.

  • Privacy and security 100%
  • Speed 76%

✓ Streaming: Netflix, BBC, HBO, and Prime
✓ Torrenting: Allowed
✓ Refund: 30-day guarantee
✓ Privacy: Maximum (no logs)
✓ Servers: 74 countries
✓ Protection: Unlimited Devices

Read our review of ZenMate

Overview of the top VPNs & Privacy

CyberGhost VPN Review

CyberGhost VPN is ultra-fast, secure, affordable, and doesn’t track anything we do online (it doesn’t keep logs). It works with all streaming services, allows torrenting, and can block ads and malware if we want it to.

We consider CyberGhost and NordVPN the best VPN services. NordVPN has a more sophisticated design, but CyberGhost is cheaper and has servers in more countries, which gives it a slight edge. CyberGhost is a truly comprehensive choice.

Advantages:

  • Ultra-fast: With a speed of 90 Mbps in our tests, it’s one of the fastest VPNs on the market.
  • Maximum security: It features AES-256 encryption, WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, an automatic switch and malware blocker.
  • 100% privacy: It doesn’t track our IP address, search history or anything else. It enforces a clear no-logging policy, which means we are completely anonymous online.
  • Streaming services: It has dedicated servers for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, AmazonPrime, HBO, BBC iPlayer, Firestick and many others.
  • Torrenting: It has dedicated servers for downloading that are optimized for speed and P2P.
  • Payment options: We can pay for CyberGhost VPN using a credit card, PayPal and BitCoin. In Germany, we can also make cash payments through Amazon and MediaMarkt.
  • Refund policy: It offers a money-back guarantee of up to forty-five days for contracts of one year or more, and fourteen days for monthly contracts.
  • A huge number of servers: It has more than 7,300 servers in 91 countries, from the USA to Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and Australia.
  • Seven simultaneous connections: Using a single account, we can connect seven devices to CyberGhost’s VPN servers.
  • Romanian-based: Headquartered in Romania, which has no data retention laws and is not a member of a «Fourteen Eyes» surveillance alliance.
  • Affordable: Compared to other top VPNs such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, CyberGhost VPN is considerably more affordable.

Drawbacks:

  • Doesn’t always work in China: It used to be great in China, but, lately, it has started running into issues.
  • OpenVPN isn’t available for iOS or Mac: On Apple products, we’ll have to use WireGuard, which, thankfully, is also excellent.
  • BBC iPlayer issues: Although it has a dedicated server in the UK for BBC iPlayer, it has lost reliability in our recent tests.

Learn more in our full CyberGhost VPN review.

NordVPN Review

NordVPN is one of the most secure VPNs. It’s fast, allows torrenting

on dedicated P2P servers, unblocks Netflix catalogs in over twenty countries, and has several advanced features, such as double VPN, RAM-only servers, and Onion browser with VPN.

NordVPN is more expensive than CyberGhost, but it also sports a more sophisticated design across all devices, including its mobile apps.

However, CyberGhost has more server locations and a lower price.

NordVPN is a really excellent choice:

Advantages:

  • Ultra-fast: With speeds over 90 Mbps in our tests, it operates lightning fast.
  • Ultra-secure: It features OpenVPN and NordLynx (/ WireGuard), AES-256 encryption, DNS leak blocking, an automatic switch, dual VPN, split tunneling, RAM-only servers, and Onion browser with VPN.
  • One hundred percent privacy: It doesn’t track anything we do online (it doesn’t keep logs). This endpoint has been audited by PWC (a large auditing firm) in 2018 and 2020.
  • Streaming services: It works with Netflix in many countries, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Amazon Prime and Hulu, among others.
  • Torrenting: It has dedicated P2P servers that we can use to download torrents at high speeds.
  • Payment options: Accepts credit card payments, Sofort, UnionPay and several cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.
  • Refund policy: We can demand a refund from NordVPN within thirty days of our purchase.
  • A huge number of servers: It has more than 5,300 servers spread across sixty countries and six continents. Although less than CyberGhost, it covers all major regions.
  • Simultaneous connections: We can connect to NordVPN with up to six devices simultaneously, which is one less than with CyberGhost.
  • Panama-based: Panama has no data retention laws and is not part of a «Fourteen Eyes» type surveillance alliance.

Drawbacks:

  • Doesn’t work in China: While it used to work in China, that’s no longer the case.
  • A minor server breach in 2018: A hacker managed to gain access to a server in Finland. NordVPN has since deleted the server and stopped working with the server provider, Creanova.
  • Does not accept PayPal: NordVPN stopped using PayPal in 2019 and started accepting Adyen instead.
  • Cannot download torrents on all servers: It does not allow P2P traffic on its servers in Argentina, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates.

Learn more in our full NordVPN review.

Surfshark VPN Review

Surfshark is fast, secure, and allows torrenting, as well as working with over thirty Netflix catalogs. It lacks a point of speed compared to CyberGhost and NordVPN, but that small disadvantage is compensated by its price.

In addition, Surfshark allows us to use an unlimited number of connections, making it an excellent VPN to share with family and friends.

Surfshark is the best VPN for limited budgets.

Advantages:

  • Fast: With speeds in excess of 80 Mbps in our tests, Surfshark is fast enough for almost any user.
  • Highly secure: It has all the essential features: from OpenVPN and WireGuard, to AES-256 encryption, DNS leak blocking, an automatic switch, dual VPN, RAM-only servers, and split tunneling.
  • One hundred percent privacy: You don’t track what your users do online. Using Surfshark, we will be completely anonymous online.
  • Streaming: It is exceptional for unblocking streaming services. Not only does it work with Netflix catalogs from over thirty countries, but it also works with Disney+, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max.
  • Torrenting: Allows torrenting through specialized P2P servers in thirteen countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Hong Kong and Singapore, among others.
  • Payment: Accepts all major payment options, from credit cards to PayPal, or the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin, Ripple or Etherium.
  • Refund policy: If we are not satisfied with the service, we will be refunded during the first thirty days after our payment.
  • Servers: It has more than 3,200 servers in sixty-six countries and six continents. That’s less than CyberGhost has, but it’s on equal footing with NordVPN.
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections: A big advantage of Surfshark is its ability to be installed on an unlimited number of devices. This makes it a perfect VPN to share with a friend or family member.
  • Based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI): A small Caribbean archipelago that has no data retention laws. They are considered a tax and privacy haven.

Drawbacks:

  • Slower than CyberGhost and NordVPN: Surfshark is plenty fast, but CyberGhost and NordVPN are slower.
  • Small delay when connecting : Although the delay is minimal, Surfshark does not connect as fast as CyberGhost or NordVPN.
  • Incompatible with IPv6: Not being compatible with the IPv6 protocol, we may incur security risks when browsing with the new routers that work only with IPv6. This aspect calls for a solution.

Learn more in our full review of Surfshark VPN.

Our method for selecting the best VPNs

Do I need to use a VPN? Getting the best-paid VPN is vitally important if you spend time on public WiFi networks, download torrents, or don’t want the government to know what you’re doing online.

That’s why we want to be absolutely transparent about how we select the leading providers on our list.

We use three factors to determine the winning service. While they are all relevant, they are not all of equal importance. Therefore, they have varying degrees of impact on the final score. The factors used are:

  • Privacy and security 50%
  • Speed 30%
  • Features 20%

Privacy and security

Important note:

Most private VPN services allow you to sign up with an email address and do not require your name or address. On top of that, they offer a variety of anonymous payment methods including cryptocurrencies.

Of course, they should also be fast, secure, lightweight, easy to use, and offer a money-back guarantee. But don’t forget: the first and most important purpose of a VPN is your anonymity.

Below, we briefly explain why privacy is the crucial factor for a VPN, how we are tracked on the network and how VPNs change that.

If we are already familiar with what a VPN is and how they work, we can move on to the «Is a VPN completely secure?» section.

Privacy is everything

If we’re like most people, the main reason we get a VPN is to protect our privacy. And we have plenty of reasons for that:

  • Internet service providers spy on us and sell our data.
  • Government agencies conduct a massive surveillance exercise.
  • Hackers steal our data on wifi networks and public hotspots.
  • Advertising agents track us and sell our identity and location.

Ultimately, it all comes down to a matter of privacy. That being the case, we need our VPN to cover this aspect perfectly. We can’t allow exceptions or compromises.

To understand which VPNs do their job well, it’s useful to understand the principles of how we are tracked on the web and how VPNs put a stop to it.

How are we tracked?

When we visit a website or use an online service, we are actually connecting to a network owned by an internet provider, which in turn connects us to that website or service.

This is what happens in our homes when we connect through an internet service provider. Likewise when we do it in a public place or in a venue, where we connect through the provider of the latter.

If we don’t use a VPN, everything we do online is easily stored, analyzed and sold by the provider that owns the network we use. Or, any hacker who makes their way into the data stream through a man-in-the-middle attack.

How does a VPN change this?

When we connect to one of the best VPN services, our data is sent through an encrypted tunnel. We often refer to it as a VPN tunnel. This means that our data is encrypted as it travels through the internet provider’s network on its way to the VPN server. The VPN server then connects to the website or online service corresponding to our request.

This solves a few security and privacy issues:

  • The internet provider only contemplates gibberish. Since the data sent to the provider is encrypted, the provider has no idea what we do online. It can’t see what websites we visit, what services we’re using, or what data we’re transferring.
  • The same goes for any hacker accessing the data flow between us and the website in question. The hacker will now only see an encrypted and unusable stream.
  • The websites or online services we use will see the VPN as the source of the traffic. Not us. This makes it harder for them to build a consumer profile and send us personalized advertising that will chase us all over the web.

Is a VPN completely secure?

This is possible, but not always the case. It depends on the VPN provider’s policy, the technology it makes use of, and the jurisdiction it falls under. And these are precisely the elements we tested.

What aspects of VPN services do we test?

We test seven different elements in our privacy and security test:

What we test:

We analyze each VPN service’s logging policy and check exactly what data they collect about us. The less the better the score.

So what is a logging policy and why does it matter?

Remember why we got a VPN in the first place? Privacy.

Well, logs are data that the best VPN services might collect about us and our online activity. Certain providers have a zero-logs policy and collect (almost) no data, while others collect enough data to create full user profiles. And the latter is, of course, the opposite of what we want.

The range of logs that a VPN provider can store includes:

  1. User dataDevice and browser usedSource IP addressPayment information.
  2. User activity dataBandwidth dataConnection dates, times, and durationsBrowsing history
  3. Server performance data

As we can see, in the worst-case scenario, this can be virtually the same data that an internet provider collects. By combining, for example, our credit card details with our browsing history, a VPN provider could build up a very accurate profile about us.

Fortunately, none of the best VPN providers in our comparison undertake such practices. In fact, the best ones, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN, only collect data to optimize the service they provide. They do not store any sensitive information, such as our browsing history or original IP address.

In a recent interview with the CDT(Center for Democracy and Technology), ExpressVPN explained the data they collect and closed with the comment: «None of the data would allow ExpressVPN or anyone else to assign an individual to a specific network activity or behavior». In other words: they don’t collect sensitive information about us.

What we test:

We check in which country the VPN provider or its parent company is registered as a company. And also how intrusive the relevant government’s policy on data logging and net neutrality may be. The less intrusive the latter, the better the score.

So what is a jurisdiction and why does it matter?

In this context, a jurisdiction is a country.

Like any other company, VPN providers are subject to the rules and regulations of the country where they are incorporated as a company. And this can have very serious consequences.

Depending on the country, a VPN provider can be forced by a court to provide full server or data logs. For example, in the United States, a government agency can use a National Security Letter (NSL) to demand that companies provide customer data such as phone, internet, or banking records.

And, to make matters worse, a government’s reach can extend beyond its own borders under international agreements.

A good example of such an international reach is the UK USA agreement. This agreement, which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, was established to share information between the security services of the signatory countries. This group is also known as the «Five Eyes».

The agreement between these countries states that they will not spy on each other. However, the Snowden leaks show that this is simply not true. Both the British spy agency GCHQ and its American counterpart, the NSA, collect and share vast amounts of information about each other’s citizens.

For users who value their privacy, we, therefore, do not recommend using a VPN provider based in the United States, the United Kingdom, or one of its partner countries. A safer bet is ExpressVPN or NordVPN, incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and Panama, respectively.

What we test:

We analyze which protocols the VPN provider offers, which one is used by default, and how easy it is to switch between protocols. The more secure the default protocol, the better the score.

So what is a VPN protocol and why does it matter?

A VPN protocol determines how data is transmitted over a VPN connection. There are several protocols available and they all have different specifications. While some prioritize speed, others emphasize security.

While it may be obvious, it is always worth noting that VPN protocols do not mix well. When the VPN software installed on our device, called the client, connects to a VPN server, both must use the same protocol. Otherwise, the connection will not work.

OpenVPN is, in short, the most widely used VPN protocol and is very secure, but SSTP is also very robust. It’s best, however, to avoid traditional PPTP, as well as IKEv2 and L2TP/IPsec, which can potentially be cracked by the NSA.

If we want to dive deeper into each protocol, just read on. Otherwise, we can advance directly to Encryption.

OpenVPN.Overall, the best and most widely used protocol available. It’s open-source, very secure, supports AES-256 encryption (essentially impassable), and can be used for pretty much everything: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, routers, and other devices. We can learn more about it on Wikipedia.

SSTP. A protocol developed by Microsoft and fully integrated with all Windows operating systems since Vista Service Pack 1. This allows SSTP to be used with Winlogon, a smart chip that provides additional security. It uses a 256-bit SSL key for encryption and is natively supported on Linux, Windows, and BSD systems. iOS, Android, and MacOS can be used via third-party clients. Overall, a very secure protocol. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

L2TP / IPSec. L2TP, which stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol, is the successor to the PPTP protocol developed by Microsoft and the L2F protocol developed by Cisco. Since it does not itself provide any encryption, it forms a package with the IPSec security protocol. Combined, they form a very secure protocol using AES-256 encryption. However, there have been reports that the NSA may be able to decrypt the IPSec protocol. Therefore, it may be wise to avoid this protocol. For more information, see Wikipedia.

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange, Version 2). Also developed by Cisco and Microsoft. IKEv2 is a tunneling process that is often combined with IPSec for encryption. It is often used in mobile VPNs because of its ability to reconnect after a temporary network outage or network change. Snowden’s documents suggest that the NSA is also capable of breaching IKEv2, so it may be best to avoid it as well. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

PPTP. PPTP, which stands for Point-to-PointTunnelling Protocol, is the oldest one around. Although it is still sometimes used, most VPNs have adopted more modern solutions. It is generally considered an agile protocol, but at the cost of numerous security vulnerabilities. Definitely a protocol to avoid. We can learn more about it in more depth on Wikipedia.

What we tested:

We analyze the encryption standard used by the VPN provider. The more secure the encryption, the better the score.

So what is encryption and why does it matter?

The basic concept of encryption is as follows: ordinary data is taken and transformed using a secret code (called a key) into unreadable gibberish. The gibberish is then sent to a receiver who has the key to convert it back into ordinary data.

In our digital world today we use the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm. This algorithm can use different key lengths to encrypt data; the ones most commonly used in the VPN industry are AES-128 and AES-256. Although AES-256 is the more secure of the two, it is generally assumed that AES-128 is already impenetrable.

Furthermore, AES technology is not unique to VPNs. It is also used by tools such as Winzip, encryption software such as BitLocker, password managers such as LastPass, and of course messaging apps such as Whatsapp. It’s ubiquitous.

What we test:

We analyzed whether the VPN provider employs its own DNS servers or uses third-party ones. If they use their own servers, the score is better.

So what is a DNS server and why does it matter?

To understand why all these matters, let’s explain the basics. We will explain what a domain name is, what DNS is and why it is important for a VPN provider to use its own servers.

What is a domain name?

When people browse the internet, we visit websites by entering their domain names into our browsers. For example, google.com, or facebook.com.

Browsers, however, do not visit domain names. They visit IP (internet protocol) addresses, which are long segments of numbers used to identify websites. Numbers are too long for us to remember.

So we need a system that translates domain names into IP addresses. This is where DNS comes in.

What is DNS?

DNS stands for «domain name system». We can think of it as the phone book of the internet. Just as the phone book provides a person’s phone number, DNS provides an IP address that our computers can interpret for a domain name.

Thus, our browser knows which resource we want to load and sends us to the right website.

What is a DNS server?

DNS server, also known as name server, is the server that contains a huge database with domain names and IP addresses. Its job is to look up the correct IP address that corresponds to the domain name you just entered in your browser.

So why should a VPN have its own DNS servers?

When handling our request to the DNS server, the VPN provider makes sure that it follows the same tunneling and encryption protocol as our internet traffic. Therefore, our DNS request:

  • Cannot be censored by governments or organizations by intercepting it.
  • It cannot be hacked or manipulated to redirect us to phishing or scam websites.
  • It cannot be logged by third parties who could store what websites we visit, when we visit them and from where.

Bottom line: exposed DNS requests can put our security and privacy at risk.

What we test:

We analyze whether the VPN is equipped with an automatic switch and check that it is working properly. If it is available and operational, the score improves.

So what is a circuit breaker and why does it matter?

A kill switch is a security feature of a VPN that automatically interrupts our internet connection when the VPN’s encrypted connection fails. It will block all incoming and outgoing data flows until the VPN connection is re-established.

This is an important feature for a VPN, as our device will likely try to re-establish the network connection when the VPN fails, revealing our online activity.

Of the VPNs, we tested ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, NordVPN, Hotspot Shield Elite, and Private Internet Access are the ones with an automatic switch. Norton Secure VPN and Panda Dome do not.

We proceeded to simulate a sudden drop of the encrypted connection by unplugging the network cable and plugging it back in after sixty seconds. As expected, only VPNs with a circuit breaker did not prevent the original IP address from being revealed. VPNs without a kill switch, on the other hand, saw an unencrypted connection re-established and revealed the source IP address while the encrypted connection was being re-established.

It is also worth noting that ExpressVPN was the only VPN where the auto-switch was enabled by default. On the other, it is up to the user to turn it on manually. This is more important than most would appreciate. As a result, many people forget to turn it on, in a huge mistake.

What we tested:

We tested each VPN for data and information loss, such as DNS requests or source IP addresses. The fewer leaks, the better the score.

So what is a leak and why does it matter?

A leak occurs when a VPN allows some of your personal data, which should remain hidden, to become visible. And the consequences can be huge.

The four possible leaks we tested for were:

  1. DNS leak: A DNS server is responsible for sending us to the correct website when we enter its domain name, such as e.g. google.com. When a VPN fails to hide our DNS requests, even if the rest of our data is encrypted by the VPN, we are talking about a DNS leak. This can be a problem, as our ISP or DNS provider will be able to see what websites we are visiting.
  2. IP Leakage: As we described in more detail above, we have checked the correct functioning of the automatic switch for each VPN. This is very important, as the switch is responsible for ensuring that our real IP address is not leaked when the encrypted VPN connection is unexpectedly dropped.
  3. WebRTC leak: WebRTC, which stands for «real-time web communication», is a group of technologies that browsers use to communicate with each other. Because WebRTC uses advanced IP detection methods, not all VPNs protect us from these leaks. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are particularly vulnerable to this type of leak. Fortunately, however, there are solutions available.
  4. Windows credentials leak. This is a long-standing leak that remains unpatched. And yet it is very dangerous. Using the Edge browser or Internet Explorer, it is possible for our Windows username and password to be leaked. Since usernames and passwords are often reused, and not only for Microsoft products, this can be a serious security risk.

Speed

Let’s put it bluntly: a VPN slows down our activity. This is simply a consequence of encrypting and decrypting data and routing it through an additional server.

But if we choose a fast server, close to our location, the speed loss should not be too severe. A 14% reduction in download speed seems to be the average in Western Europe. We assume that this figure will be similar in other technologically developed parts of the world.

We will now explain how we arrived at that 14%:

In one of our tests, we analyzed 16 VPNs for a 100 Mbps connection in Antwerp (Belgium). The optimal server location for all VPNs was Frankfurt (Germany). This is a central nexus with very agile connections and servers, where almost all VPNs seem to have at least one server located.

When we proceeded to route our traffic there, the average download speed for those 16 VPNs was 86 Mbps, which is a 14% penalty over the starting connection speed of 100 Mbps.

Let’s keep in mind that this figure is an average and that results vary greatly. The slowest VPN, Tunnelbear, had a download speed of 74 Mbps, which is a 26% speed penalty. In contrast, the fastest VPN, NordVPN, recorded a download speed of 92 Mbps, which is only an 8% speed penalty.

The important thing here is to test multiple servers for our VPN to determine where we get the fastest connection. We should not just accept the location automatically assigned to us by our VPN. Our experience shows that the latter is not, more often than not, the fastest connection.

What was the test configuration?

  • Location: Antwerp (Belgium)
  • Starting download speed: 100 Mbps
  • Operating system: MacOS High Sierra
  • Hardware: Intel Core CPU i5 2.6 GHz / 8 GB RAM
  • Test program: The MacOS Speedtest application by Ookla

Features

There are five features that every VPN should have (outside of the fact that it has to be easy to use):

  1. It should have servers in many locations around the world.
  2. It should be compatible with most platforms and devices
  3. It should allow us to connect to multiple devices with a single subscription
  4. Must be able to work with streaming and torrenting services
  5. It must be able to circumvent censorship in specific countries.

Below, we briefly explain each of these features and show how VPNs are classified for each of them.

What have we tested?

We analyzed the countries around the world where each VPN provider has at least one server. The more countries, the better the score.

So what is a server location and why does it matter?

When we open our VPN and establish a connection, we establish an encrypted connection between our device and a VPN server. The place where that VPN server is physically located is called the server location, for example, New York.

Some VPN providers allow us to select city-level servers, for example, London, or Melbourne. On the other hand, others only allow us to select servers at the country level, e.g. Germany, or Brazil. In the latter case, the VPN automatically selects a city server for us.

VPN providers usually have only one server location per country. These countries are not large in terms of geography, do not have many users or both. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to invest in too many server locations.

It is not surprising, therefore, that most VPN providers have many servers in the United States, which is a large country with many users. By contrast, very few offer servers in Luxembourg. And if they do, only in one city.

In our analysis, we focus on countries, rather than cities.

So why do server locations matter? For two reasons.

  • Speed

The closer we are to a VPN server, the faster the download speed. After all, sending encrypted data back and forth between our device and the VPN server is time-consuming. So we’re going to want to select a VPN provider with a server relatively close to us. This may mean a country on our own continent, our own country, or even our own city, depending on where we live.

Since most VPNs concentrate their servers in the locations where the largest number of their customers reside (North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Australia), it’s especially important for users outside of those regions to check available locations, as they will have fewer servers close to them from almost all providers.

  • Unblocking content

Certain online services are limited to specific regions. A good example of this is Netflix, which offers different content in the United States that users in other regions cannot watch. Using a VPN will allow us to unblock these programs.

This works so that we connect to a VPN server within the United States, for example, Los Angeles. Netflix will see the IP address of that server, rather than our own. Therefore, it thinks we are in the US and will show us local programming.

This works for other geo-restricted services as well.

What have we tested?

We have tested the operating systems, streaming devices, gaming consoles, and routers supported for each VPN. We also checked if the provider offers dedicated browser extensions. We have checked the following:

  • Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux operating systems.
  • Streaming devices: Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast and Roku.
  • Gaming consoles: PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo.
  • Others: Routers.
  • Browser extensions: Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

So what are platforms and devices, and why does it matter?

When we talk about platforms, we mean operating systems.

The operating system is the interface through which we interact with our devices. It also manages all other programs installed on it, such as the VPN client. There are five main operating systems: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. Above all, VPN providers should support as many operating systems as possible, as that is what allows them to serve a larger number of users.

When we talk about devices, we mean gaming consoles and streaming devices.

Both types of devices are used to play games or watch content via streaming. The most commonly used gaming consoles are Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo. In terms of streaming, the most popular devices are Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku. Having a dedicated app, or some kind of system for these devices, is not a must for a VPN, but certainly appreciated by specific users.

VPN extensions for browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, are very light versions of the application installed on our device. Some, such as the ExpressVPN extension, allow us to control our VPN application remotely from our browser. Most, however, are just proxies, rather than a full VPN. And it’s very important to know the difference:

The full VPN works at the operating system level. This means that it encrypts all our internet activities for all applications. Most VPN browser extensions offer much less protection:

  • In their most basic form, they operate like a proxy server, but they don’t encrypt our data. This means that they route our traffic through a VPN server, for example, a server in New York. In this way, they make websites believe that we are in New York. Although our real IP and location are now hidden, our traffic is not encrypted.
  • In a more advanced form, they work as a proxy server and encrypt our traffic. In this way, they do emulate a real VPN. However, we should note that it is only our browser traffic that is now protected. All other activities on our device that do not operate through the browser are uncovered.

What have we tested?

We tested the number of simultaneous connections we are allowed to make simultaneously with a single subscription. In other words, the number of devices (laptop, phone, TV) that we are allowed to connect with a single payment.

We have also calculated the cost of every single connection. We do this by dividing the annual subscription for US customers by the number of connections.

So what is the number of connections and why does it matter?

The number of simultaneous connections tells us how many devices we are allowed to connect with a single subscription. If it’s a single user using the VPN, three devices will usually suffice. After all, we can then protect our laptop, our phone, and, optionally, our gaming console.

However, if we plan to share our VPN with a friend or within a family, the story changes. Being able to connect seven devices simultaneously allows us, in one fell swoop, to protect our own laptop and mobile phone, plus those of two friends. Now we can split the cost of the VPN and the value for money is much better.

What have we tested?

We checked if the VPN worked with Netflix US and if torrenting(P2P) was allowed on their servers.

So what are streaming and torrenting and why does it matter?

Most of us are familiar with services such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Sling TV, HBO Now, Amazon Prime Video, and many others. But not all of us are aware that their programs are often geographically limited. This means that we won’t be able to access all of their content for all countries. And from certain locations, such as China, we won’t be able to access Netflix at all.

Because of this, it has become a popular practice to connect to a US VPN server before accessing the service. Since in Netflix’s eyes we are accessing its content from a computer located in the United States, it will show us all the content for that country.

Although Netflix has put a stop to the use of VPNs with its service, many providers have at least one server that still works.

Downloading via torrenting is a bit more complex. In essence, torrenting is simply file sharing. However, it is done in a very clever way.

Let’s imagine we are downloading a (non-copyrighted) movie via torrent.

Instead of downloading that movie directly, we download a torrent, which is also called any tracker. Using this file, we can download the movie through a dedicated application, such as BitTorrentouTorrent.

The movie is divided into smaller pieces, called packets. These packages are stored on a server, known as a seed, in addition to a huge set of other computers that are downloading that same movie. These computers are called peers (i.e., other users like us).

In this system, each peer functions as a mini-server. This is because all of us who are downloading the movie is also uploading the parts of the movie we have already downloaded. Hence the name peer-to-peer (P2P).

It’s a clever system, designed to lighten the load on the network. And there’s nothing illegal about it. The problem arises when you download a movie that is subject to copyright.

Some countries have therefore shut down-torrenting websites, and some people in the US have been sued for downloading copyrighted material. While such lawsuits usually come to nothing, the lawsuit could have been avoided altogether if the downloader had hidden their internet activity with a VPN.

Keep in mind that we are always personally responsible for how we use our VPN. Neither SoftwareLab nor any of the VPN providers advise us to download or upload copyrighted material.

What have we tested?

We tested which VPN works reliably in China, one of the most heavily censored regions in the world.

So what is censorship and why does it matter?

There are a surprising number of countries that censor the internet. According to a report by The Freedomhouse, there are 19 countries that severely limit public access to the internet by blocking a large number of websites and services. It’s a huge problem.

After all, we not only use the internet for communication, work, and travel. But, equally important, we use it to learn about politics, religion, and other subjects that should not be censored by the oligarchy of the powerful. It is therefore essential that the internet remains a free and open space.

Using a VPN allows us to encrypt our use of the net, ensuring that governments cannot see what we do. It also allows us to connect to servers in other parts of the world and view websites as if we were residents there, circumventing censorship.

Of course, governments are aware that VPNs are capable of circumventing it. That’s why some are taking steps to block VPN use.

In a permanent game of cat and mouse, certain VPN providers are developing technologies to mask VPN traffic and make it look like ordinary HTTPS traffic.

This makes it more difficult for a government to detect the use of a VPN. A good example of such technology is the Chameleon protocol, developed by VyprVPN.

Since China, using its unique Great Digital Wall, not only has one of the most extensive censorship in the world but also affects the largest number of people, it forms the basis of our tests.

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