In the past few years the use of VPNs, or virtual private networks, has become much more common. And although many companies and universities provide VPN clients for their employees and students, people are also seeking out VPN services for their personal use. Whether it is to keep secret sensitive data, keep private personal files and media, or just out of principle – users across the world are now realizing the value in VPNs. Many new VPN services are appearing to absorb this increased demand. Users frequently ask “What is the best VPN service?” or “What is the best free VPN?” It is hard to tell just by a quick Google search because many of these providers pop up one year, and disappear out of existence in the next. I won’t put much of my personal opinion here. Instead, I’ll compare recent reviews from recognizable domains and see if there is any common ground.
In this post I aim to summarize 3 of the most popular VPNs and the metrics by which they are compared. Finally, I will conclude which of the services currently have the best offer. VPNs can fall into three categories; paid, free trial, and completely free. Each of them have pros and cons, so it is important to bring into context each user’s needs and wants in order to effectively determine which service is best for who, and why. In no particular order, I’ll start describing your choices:
Cost / Inter-reviewer agreement / Number of supported protocols and systems / Features & functionality
Here are several articles and threads which review various VPN services. I took three providers out of each article that were ranked highest or supported with valid reasoning. You can look there for a little more detail, or check out the table I link to later for many details.
- How-to Geek: Private Internet Access (PIA), Hide My Ass (HMA), Tunnel Bear
- reddit and more reddit: PIA, AirVPN, TorGuard
- Tom’s Hardware: AirVPN, PIA, HMA
- PCMag: Cyber Ghost, VPNBook, Hotspot Shield Elite
- Techradar: VPN Gate, Tunnel Bear, SurfEasy
- Techworld: Cyber Ghost, SurfEasy, Tunnel Bear
And finally, one massive table with nearly every provider and detail imaginable. Services vary from free (usually up to 500mb of data, which can be a single session) to $10-$20 per month, but most paid services cost $5-$10 per month, and less if you buy an annual license. Number of active devices varies from 1 to 25, with 5 being a common maximum, good if you want to run the app on your phone, laptop and desktop. Some providers log certain traffic details, others swear they do not log their clients information and traffic so that it cannot be dug up in the future. If you’re using a free service, chances a lot of your information is being logged. Services also differ on whether or not they allow P2P traffic that is typical of clients like BitTorrent, so make sure you get the right service for the right job. Methods of payment that are accepted is another factor – some providers accept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Free trials or money-back guarantee offers are a small plus. It is good to know whether a program or service is going to work the way you want it to before buying it. Lastly, number of servers and the location of those servers is important because some people use VPNs to circumvent geoblocking.
For paid services, AirVPN, Private Internet Access and Hide My Ass seem to be the most popular and reasonable (though HMA blocks P2P traffic). AirVPN is a newer service and is supposedly very fast. PIA has been a top choice for longer, and has some of the lowest rates if bought annually. For free VPNs, Cyber Ghost, Tunnel Bear, and SurfEasy consistently come up across reviewers. The problem with many free VPNs is that they only offer limited data, forcing you to upgrade to a paid plan if you wish to continue using their service, or gain more data through a referral program. I tried out Private Tunnel (which uses Open VPN) and ran out of data in one sitting. I could give other people a referral link, and if they signed up I would be awarded more data. Not everybody has a credit card they can use to pay for a service, so maybe this is a viable option for some (or payment by other means). But if you’re serious about your privacy, you should just cough up the small monthly/annual fee and rest easy knowing you have a higher quality service that doesn’t engage in shady practices.
I haven’t ranked any specific client or service over another on purpose: it is up to the user and what they need for their situation that will determine the best choice. For instance, many of the free VPNs are European based services, so somebody living in the UK should give those options more weight. At the very least, the information provided here should narrow down your choice to several candidates. Cheers.