The best VPNs 2017

What is a VPN? If you're concerned about online privacy, a virtual private network (VPN) will help keep snoopers at bay. We round up the best VPN services for hiding your location online and allowing you to access blocked content and blocked sites.

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ExpressVPN

  • RRP: From $8.42 per month

ExpressVPN advertises itself as the fastest VPN on earth, so if outright speed is your concern it should immediately find a place on the shortlist. It also speaks proudly about not logging timestamps or your IP address describing itself as an armoured car service for the internet. This is a major plus for those who do not like the idea of privacy. A caveat though is that it does record date stamps.

It advertises itself as still working for Netflix, but this did not work initially for us. We had to contact support who told us which server to choose, and this got it working.

We do like however the fact that it offers its own first-party DNS servers, has support for the OpenVPN protocol and gives access to the Tor network.

Residing the British Virgin Islands it is technically based outside the 14-eyes countries, but as a British overseas territory, if push came to shove it could be considered something of a grey area, which may be too close for comfort for some. While Richard Branson owns two islands in the region after all we don’t believe there’s a Virgin Media branded VPN at the moment and we wouldn’t rush to sign up if there was.

Express VPN service costs $8.32, and payment can be accepted in regular credit cards and Bitcoin if you prefer. We found ExpressVPN quick and easy, and simple to use but it’s not the cheapest option.

Buffered

  • RRP: $8.25 per month

 If long-term anonymity is a priority, then Hungary-based Buffered is an attractive option as it’s not part of the confidential data swapping '14-eyes' collective. However, in terms of ultimate privacy it’s something of a mixed-bag. It does keep a record of timestamps and IP address that use it, and it doesn’t offer an anonymous payment method, which some would view as counting against it.

However, it does run its own DNS servers and supports OpenVPN. A big plus is that it claims to offer unfettered VPN access to Netflix, which is becoming increasingly rare since the streaming video company’s crackdown of earlier this year.

It currently offers more than 30 countries in which you can virtually reside and there are no limitations to the speed or bandwidth to worry about.

Plans include a yearly option of $8.25 per month, a bi-annual option (billed every six months) for $9.99 per month, or the regular monthly plan at $12.99 per month.

Its monthly cost in on the high side, but it does boast fast servers and a 24/7 customer support. There is a 30-day money back guarantee but beware, as according to the T&Cs this is only if your usage does not exceed 100 sessions, 10 GB of bandwidth or 10 hours of sessions.

Overall, unless Netflix is a priority, there are cheaper and more privacy-minded options to look at.

ZenMate

  • RRP: Free version available;$4.99 per month

 Not every VPN offers a free trial, so ZenMate gets off to a good start by offering one. It can be used for free though with restrictions – an unrestricted annual Premium plan is $59.99, equating to $4.99 a month.

ZenMate started out as a plug-in for Chrome, but is now also available as an extension for Firefox and Opera, as a Windows or MacOS desktop app and for Android and iOS. However, only one connection at once is supported.

The Chrome plug-in works seamlessly with Chrome with a browser extension providing a slick dashboard. It’s easy to use and controls are stripped down but this is partially because ZenMate is light on features. It doesn’t support OpenVPN and it doesn’t support a Kill Switch.

You can choose from 28 countries (US is in there twice for East and West coast) and in Premium you can set it to switch location automatically depending on the webpage you’re visiting. (We tested with Netflix and unlike many VPNs it did enable us to view US content). However, it doesn’t reveal how many servers it actually runs.

We like Zenmate for its simplicity but hardcore privacy advocates will look elsewhere especially as it’s based in Germany, part of the 14-eyes group.

StrongVPN

  • RRP: $5.83 per month

 StrongVPN is a US based VPN so immediately that will turn you off if you aren’t keen on being vulnerable to local internet privacy laws.

The site says it does not log any information regarding its users, but it wasn’t clear if that referred to IP addresses and connection timestamps or just activity. It supports a good selection of protocols, including the more secure OpenVPN. However, on MacOS this will require the download and installation of the free third-party Tunnelblick software.

At time of writing StrongVPN offers 43 servers in 20 countries, and immediately stood out by letting us access US Netflix, a rarity these days. What’s more you can get routers with StrongVPN built-in, useful for watching US Netflix on your TV. StrongVPN also advertises itself as being ideal for use with torrents and suitably has no restrictions on bandwidth.

It also has a reputation for being good for accessing the internet from China, though we weren’t able to test that. Finally, the interface was simple if unspectacular, but usable. The price is also reasonable.

Total VPN

  • RRP: Free version available; Approximately $6 per month

If you want your VPN to be easy to use as well as secure then you would do well to look at Total VPN. If your use is only occasional then the fact that it has a free plan might well appeal. This only offers three server locations and limited usage however, with speeds capped at 2Mb/s. By contrast the £5.98 plan offers unrestricted browsing from over 61 servers in over 30 countries with no speed restrictions.

However, 47 of these are located in the US and Europe so if your aim is to avoid the prying ’14-eyes’ then your server choice is more limited, which could impact availability. It’s also based in the UK, so again, potentially at risk from the ‘snoopers charter’. It also doesn’t offer totally anonymous payment, should that be a concern for you – major credit cards and PayPal are accepted.

Annoyingly however, the sign up process proved overly secure – it wouldn’t recognise our test email address, and we assumed it was due to it containing a hyphen. Indeed, retrying it with a hyphen free alternative worked fine.

Total VPN supports, Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android – and Chromebook is looking as ‘coming soon’. Linux support is not available

Total VPN scores well for ease of use. When it first fires up it provides some useful tips, such as using a server in your own country when banking online to avoid the bank thinking its fraudulent activity.

Overall, if ease of use is the main priority, then Total VPN is a good choice but it’s not the cheapest.

Hide My Ass! Pro VPN

  • RRP: £3.99 per month or £6.99 per month for an annual plan

 Hide My Ass! Pro VPN is a versatile VPN service with a large number of servers listed all over the world – over 940 at time of writing and has attentive technical support staff to help with setup issues,

Despite a name that draws on the US spelling of our nickname for a person’s posterior, the company is actually based in the UK. This is a disadvantage if your hope is to guarantee privacy as Hide My Ass! abides by our special data-retention laws that deny anonymity to VPN users. While HMA does not keep a record of your Internet traffic it does log connection timestamps and IP addresses.

It has already demonstrated that it's ready to inform on its users when asked, so if that’s an issue, stay away. Additionally, it does not maintain its own DNS servers but rather uses OpenDNS, effectively outsourcing any concerns over DNS leaks.

For local network security and placing yourself virtually anywhere for shopping or entertainment purposes, Hide My Ass! Pro works as advertised, but even though its competitively priced, the cost is high in terms of principle.

Private Internet Access

  • RRP: $2.55

If it’s a wide choice of servers you’re looking for, then you won’t be disappointed by Private Internet Access. It boasts a massive 3,340, more than any of the VPNs we’ve looked at.

At a monthly cost of just $3.33 for an annual subscription it’s also one of the cheaper options available. For that you get five licences so it can be run at the same time on Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android.

Additionally, it scores points by stating that it doesn’t track IP address or even connection timestamps. It runs its own DNS servers and supports the slower but more secure OpenVPN protocol. A Kill Switch feature means it will shut down all connections should the VPN be disconnected. Furthermore, you can pay anonymously should you wish. However, for those who are truly concerned about privacy, all this good work is undone by the fact that it’s based in the USA – the heart of the ‘5-eyes’ data swapping collective.

Private Internet Access is easy to use and is considered one of the fastest VPNs available and is well featured. As long as you’re not overly concerned about the fact that it’s based in the US this is a contender.

HideIPVPN

  • RRP: $0.99 per month

If there was an award for probably most awkwardly named VPN, then HideIPVPN would win. And if there was an award for cheapest paid-for VPN, then HideIPVPN would win that too – currently on offer for just $0.99 a month. This includes a SmartDNS and the capability to add up to five connections at once.

However, be warned that if you’re interested in using it for Torrents is has quite harsh rules. If you use P2P on US, UK or Canadian servers you’ll get a warning from them to cease, and if the offence is repeated you’ll get your account terminated without a refund.

While the SmartDNS features is a bonus, we found that it still did not let us access US Netflix. We were at least impressed by the honestly and upfrontness of its webpage where it admits as much, with no sense it was trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

HideIPVPN is also based in the US, which isn’t a country which has your privacy interests at heart. We could also not find any information regarding the number of countries of servers it offered.

We found HideIPVPN easy to use so if you just want something cheap to keep your activity private in certain situations then it will do the job, but it’s not one for those looking for real privacy or for a way to bypass Netflix restrictions.

TorGuard

  • RRP: $5 per month

 Despite what its name suggests, TorGuard is not in any way related to the Tor browser project. The Tor in the name refers to ‘torrents’. This makes it a great choice for those looking to avoid ISP P2P throttling. It offers a choice of over 1600 servers in 50 countries, and says it does no logging whatsoever. Furthermore than are no restrictions on speeds and it offers its own DNS severs. It runs OpenVPN and will do so on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In the US, it’s even possible to buy routers with TorVPN preflashed onto the firmware. If you buy an annual fee the monthly price of $5.00 seems reasonable though it’s not that the most affordable in our selecton.

A potential issue with TorGuard is that it’s based in the US, which means it’s off the table for anyone that doesn’t want to use a VPN in a ‘Five eyes’ country. It also will not let you access US Netflix from the UK.

TorGuards interface appeared somewhat dated to us If your mainly interested in protecting BitTorrent traffic it’s worth considering but as there trial version, so it might be worth trying to for one month, before signing up for the whole year.

This story, "The best VPNs 2017" was originally published by PC Advisor (UK).

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