Organizer
Gadget news
Proton VPN review
12:17 pm | October 24, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

All VPN providers claim to be security experts, but few can match Swiss-based Proton’s experience and track record. The company has run popular end-to-end encrypted email service Proton Mail since 2014, and its other products include a secure calendar and encrypted cloud storage.

Proton VPN's network offers 1,700+ servers across 64 countries. Most servers are in Europe and North America, but there are also locations in Australia, Brazil, Columbia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea and more.

Proton VPN owns and manages its own servers, too, and they're connected to the internet using the company's own network. Apart from giving Proton VPN great control over how the service is set up and managed, it's clear this isn't some shell company making profits from reselling other people's kit: there are real resources and expertise here.

You can see benefits of that control in Proton VPN's Secure Core, a smart technology which routes traffic through multiple servers before it leaves the network (meaning that even high-tech snoopers monitoring an exit server won't be able to trace individual users).

A lengthy feature list ensures the service scores just about everywhere. Proton VPN is P2P-friendly, supports up to 10 simultaneous connections, has a kill switch, DNS leak protection and built-in Tor support for accessing Onion sites. A versatile split tunneling system allows you to route specific app or destination IP traffic outside of the VPN, and WireGuard support aims to get you the best possible performance.

ProtonVPN Open Source

All of ProtonVPN's apps are open source and audited (Image credit: ProtonVPN)

Elsewhere, the DNS-based NetShield web filter blocks malware, ads and trackers.  There are now native apps for Windows, Android, Mac and iOS to enable using ProtonVPN on almost anything. Oh, and they're open source and audited, too.

The most obvious change since our last look at the service is Proton’s big rebrand. There’s a mildly new name (Proton VPN, rather than ProtonVPN), and a visual overhaul for the apps, with a glossy new look and feel. 

The most important technical addition is the arrival of Stealth, a brand new protocol which aims to bypass VPN blocks and get you online in even the most privacy-unfriendly countries. Some providers claim to have a similar feature, but usually it's just a tweaked version of a standard protocol (typically OpenVPN.) Proton VPN says Stealth is 'designed from the ground up' to outperform the existing solutions, and claims that 'with Stealth enabled, your Proton VPN connection will be almost completely undetectable.' 

It's too early to tell how Stealth compares in real-world use, but if you're heading off to China or anywhere else that blocks VPNs, you can test it with Proton VPN's free Mac, Android and iOS apps (Windows support is on the way.)

Elsewhere, the Windows app now includes port forwarding, improving P2P speeds. The underpowered Proton Basic plan has been dropped, and you can now opt to buy the VPN and all Proton’s other services in a new security suite.

Proton VPN pricing

The Proton VPN Plus plan delivers all the features we've described above, covers 10 devices, and can be yours for $9.99 billed monthly, $5.99 on the annual plan, or $4.99 over two years. That's a little above average, and you can get very capable VPNs for less (Private Internet Access is just $3.33 a month on its annual plan, Atlas VPN charges just $1.99 a month over three years).

A new Proton Unlimited plan gets you all Proton’s services in a single subscription. That’s the full VPN, 500GB of Proton Drive’s secure storage, 15 secure Proton Mail email addresses, and end-to-end encrypted scheduling of your day with Proton Calendar.

Proton Unlimited looks reasonably priced at $11.99 billed monthly, $9.99 on the annual plan, or $7.99 over two years. If we take the last plan, that’s only an extra $3 a month for access to Proton’s other services. That’s a fair price, even if you’ll only use the storage. (Microsoft's OneDrive Standalone costs $1.66 billed annually for less features and only 100GB.)

Proton VPN will take payment via card, PayPal, Bitcoin, even cash if you're looking for extreme anonymity.

Any payments are (sort of) protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee. The potential catch here is that you'll only get a refund for any unused subscription time. If you sign up for a month and ask for a refund after 15 days, for instance, the company only returns 50% of your subscription fee.

Fortunately, Proton VPN also offers a free plan, giving you unlimited time to sample the service before you part with any cash.

This has some significant limits. It covers just one device, supports 'medium speeds' only, and gives you access to 100+ servers in just three countries (US, Netherlands, Japan).

But the crucial advantage is it has no paltry data limits: you can use Proton VPN Free as much as you like. That's a big deal, and makes Proton VPN interesting all on its own.

Proton VPN Free VPN

Thanks to ProtonVPN's free plan, you can protect your privacy online without a monthly fee (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Privacy

Proton VPN's Swiss home gives it an immediate privacy advantage over most of the competition. The country has very strong privacy laws, is outside of US and EU jurisdiction, and not a member of the '14 eyes' surveillance network.

The company states its logging policy very clearly on the website: "ProtonVPN is a no logs VPN service. We do not track or record your internet activity, and therefore, we are unable to disclose this information to third parties."

Session logging is almost non-existent. The company stores the timestamp of the last successful login attempt, but that's it. This is overwritten when you next log in, so the most Proton VPN will know about your account use is the start time of your last session.

Proton VPN associates your account with an email address when you sign up, but this address can be whatever you like. The company suggests using ProtonMail if you'd prefer to remain completely anonymous.

Sign up for the free plan and you’re not asked for payment details. Choose something else and you can opt to pay by Bitcoin. Or for real anonymity, you can just send the company some cash. Not exactly convenient, but you'll know you're not leaving any electronic audit trail.

There was more good news in January 2020 when Proton VPN released the generally positive results of SEC Consult’s independent audit on its apps. We'd like to see another (three years is a long time in the VPN business), but we can wait just a little longer (and even one app audit is one more than you'll get with most providers.)

Put it all together and Proton VPN deserves huge credit for exposing itself to this level of scrutiny. There's scope to go further, so for example TunnelBear's audits don't just cover its apps; they look at its infrastructure, backend and frontend systems, even the website, and the company has re-run the audit over several years. But Proton VPN still tramples all over most of the competition, who don't have the courage to put themselves through any audit at all.

Proton VPN Net Shield

Proton VPN's Netshield aims to block malware, along with trackers and ads (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Privacy tests

Reading Proton VPN’s privacy promises and other people’s investigations is interesting, but we also like to dig into the detail, and ran some low-level tests of our own.

Proton VPN claims to have DNS leak protection, for instance, but is this really effective? We pointed the desktop and mobile apps to DNSLeakTest.com and other sites, but couldn’t discover a single leak.

Some lesser VPNs don’t set up their Windows OpenVPN connections with the most secure settings, so we dug a little deeper to see what Proton VPN was doing. The results were positive, with rock-solid AES-256-GCM encryption and HMAC-384 for authentication.

Proton VPN’s Netshield aims to block malware, ads and trackers. We don’t have a comprehensive test for it yet, but ran a quick check on its abilities by trying to access 150 common trackers. Netshield blocked 138, an excellent result.

Proton VPN Kill Switch

The kill switch in the Windows app performed admirably (Image credit: Proton VPN)

We completed our tests with an in-depth look at the Windows app’s kill switch, and found it performed very well. The client didn't leave us exposed during normal operations, such as switching to a new server while connected to another. And if we simulated a major problem by manually closing a TCP connection or terminating a VPN process, the client instantly displayed an alert and blocked all traffic until we reconnected.

That's good news, and not just for the kill switch. The ability to cope with extreme and unexpected situations is a measure of code quality, and Proton VPN scores much better here than most of the competition.

Proton VPN Windows App

ProtonVPN's Windows client provides info about your connection and current server location (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Windows app

Signing up with Proton VPN was easy, and within a few seconds we were looking at our account dashboard. It's a handy web portal with a bunch of tools to help the user get started: login credentials, download links, an OpenVPN configuration file generator, and pointers to instructions for setting up Mac, Linux, iOS and Android devices.

We grabbed a copy of the Windows app. It downloaded and installed in seconds with no technical hassles.

The app opens with a large world map displaying Proton VPN's various locations. We don't feel map interfaces are ever as easy to use as a good location list, but Proton VPN's is better than most. The map is large, you can resize the window to get a better view, then spin the mouse wheel to zoom in and out; left-click, hold and drag to pan around; hover the mouse over a server icon to see its location, and click to get connected.

If you really don't like map interfaces, no problem, you can collapse the app down to a standard list of locations. Icons highlight servers which support P2P (17 at the time of writing) or Tor (just seven: France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US). Expanding any location lists all its available servers, with a color indicator of load (green being low, red high), and you can connect with a click.

A left-hand sidebar allows you to enable, disable, or just see the status of three valuable privacy features: the kill switch, NetShield (Proton VPN's ad, tracker and malware blocker) and Secure Core, which routes your traffic through Proton VPN's 'safest servers in privacy-friendly countries' for extra anonymity.

We found the Windows app could take more than 10 seconds to connect with WireGuard, significantly slower than usual (most VPNs connect in 1-2 seconds on the same system). This might have been some local issue, though, because the Mac and mobile apps typically connected in a couple of seconds.

Once Proton VPN connected, the service was dependable, with no connection drops during testing.

Proton VPN seems to deliver on its P2P promises. We tried accessing torrents from five of the specialist torrent servers, and downloaded them all without any issues.

City selection

Proton VPN's apps support choosing cities within many countries, but the location list makes this procedure more difficult than we'd like.

Rather than displaying a simple alphabetical list of cities (Denver, Miami, New York…), it displays every single server in that country, sorted by region or the server number. As the list isn’t in alphabetical order, you might have to scroll through hundreds of US servers to find the city you need.

Typing a city name into the Search box quickly displays any matches (entering ‘Dal’ is enough to find all the Dallas servers, for instance. But they’re sorted by server number, rather than load, so it’s not easy to find the fastest option.

Proton VPN Create Profiles

ProtonVPN even allows you to setup custom Profiles for different workflows (Image credit: Proton VPN)

A better way to go is to use the Profiles feature, which is something like a smart Favorites system. You could use this to create profiles which, say, connect you to New York or Colorado servers, but that’s just the start. You can connect to the fastest server in a country or a location, maybe choose a random server to reduce the opportunity for tracking, select the best P2P or Tor-friendly server, and even choose your preferred protocol (WireGuard, or OpenVPN TCP/UDP).

Proton VPN Settings

You can enable a kill switch, VPN Accelerator and more from the client's Settings menu (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Settings

The Settings dialog allows you to enable or disable key features, configure what the Quick Connect action does (connect to the fastest location, a random server, or a specific server of your choice) and set up the split tunneling system.

The app supports WireGuard, along with OpenVPN TCP and UDP. By default, the app chooses the best protocol for your situation, but you can select your favorite manually, if you prefer.

A 'VPN Accelerator' option, turned on by default, uses various low-level tricks (threading, network optimizations) to improve performance. It also has an interesting and related option in the Settings box. 'Auto Reconnection' looks out for speed issues with your current server, and connects you to a faster one nearby when necessary. A smart idea, and not one we've seen anywhere else.

Proton VPN Android App

This is the user interface of ProtonVPN's Android app (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Mac and mobile apps

Proton VPN's Mac and mobile apps have very similar interfaces to the Windows edition, with much the same map, location list and Favorites-like Profiles system. They performed even better in some cases (connection times were often faster), and connections were stable during our review.

The Mac app supports all the best Proton VPN features: kill switch, Secure Core, Netshield ad-blocking, WireGuard and more. It doesn't give you split tunneling, but there's support for an extra protocol (IKEv2, as well as WireGuard and OpenVPN), and overall, the app still outperforms most of the Mac competition.

The Android app makes excellent use of screen space, portrait and landscape modes to do the best possible job of reproducing the desktop app interface. Its location list improves a little on the Windows app, sorting servers by city name rather than state. And it's powerful, too, with all the Mac features plus support for split tunneling.

Proton VPN Interface

The iOS app also features a familiar user interface (Image credit: Proton VPN)

Proton VPN's iOS app adds some neat visual touches to the interface. Out go the plain markers on the map, for instance, and in come colorful flags; much better. But like the desktop apps, it confusingly organizes servers by state rather than cities. This really should be consistent across the range (and we'd like it to be configurable, too).

Otherwise, though, the iOS app delivers all the Android features, plus simple iOS widgets to connect and disconnect, check battery usage or view the logs to diagnose any connection issues. If you're tired of VPNs that never quite get around to porting the best features to iOS, Proton VPN's offering will be a refreshing and power-packed change.

nPerf performance benchmark

We use benchmarking sites to test the performance of every VPN we review (Image credit: nPerf)

Performance

Our speed testing began by connecting to the fastest server from two locations (a UK data center and a US residential location, both with 1Gbps lines), then checking performance with benchmarking services including SpeedTest.net (via the website and the command line app), nPerf, SpeedOf.me and others. We repeated each test five times, ran the full set in both morning and evening sessions, then analyzed the data to compare median speeds.

WireGuard speeds were acceptable at 360-510Mbps in the UK, 460-480Mbps in the US. That’s a long way behind the speed leaders (Surfshark and TorGuard exceeded 950Mbps in recent tests), but it also beats some big names (Hotspot Shield managed 375Mbps last time), and we suspect it’s fast enough for most network setups and situations.

If you can’t use WireGuard for some reason, Proton VPN also supports the industry standard OpenVPN protocol. This isn’t anything like as speedy as WireGuard, but it still managed a very reasonable 180-210Mbps for us. 

Netflix menu showing popular shows

ProtonVPN was able to unblock Netflix in our tests (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

Proton VPN sells itself mostly on privacy and security, but it has some serious unblocking abilities, too.

BBC iPlayer has plenty of VPN defenses, for instance, but Proton VPN breezed past them all, and we were able to view its library from all three test servers.

We were just as successful with Netflix, getting access to exclusive content in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Proton VPN had a couple of small issues in our regional tests. In Australia, it unblocked 9Now, but failed with 10 play. In the UK, it got us into Channel 4 without difficulty, but ‘only’ unblocked ITV in two out of three tests.

The service didn’t quite score a 100% success, then, but it still finished on a very positive note, unblocking both US Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus – a great result.

(Keep in mind that you need at least a Proton VPN Plus account to get this level of unblocking success. The free account won't do.)

ProtonVPN Support

Customer support is good on the whole, with slight caveats (Image credit: ProtonVPN)

Support

Proton VPN's support site has a lot of detailed articles and guides, but these aren't always organized and presented in the most helpful way.

When we searched the knowledgebase for the keyword 'speed' for instance, the first hit was titled 'How latency, bandwidth, and throughput impact Internet speed', and included the advice 'To calculate the maximum throughput on a TCP connection, you can use the Mathis formula and this online calculator.'

The second article had more relevant advice, but was complex in places. For instance, after suggesting we change servers to improve speeds, it went on: 'To be effective, you should switch to a server with an IP address from a different range. For example, instead of switching from 162.210.192.158 to 162.210.192.159, you should switch to 209.58.129.97.' It's good to see a provider which goes beyond basic FAQs, but newcomers probably won't appreciate this level of technical detail in the first documents they see.

Proton VPN also offers live chat support, though only during business hours: 9am to 5pm CET.

Our chat couldn't have gone much better. The agent was friendly, listened to our question and paid attention to our responses, asked sensible questions of their own, offered good advice, and pointed us to online resources where we could get more help.

They even offered to convert our chat into a support ticket, so that if those suggestions didn't help, we'd then be able to carry on the conversation later, without having to describe our problem all over again. Impressive.

But if live chat doesn't work for you, then you can still raise a ticket manually or send an email. Replies can take a while – we posted a simple product question at 11pm on a Saturday, and didn’t hear back until 10:25am the following Tuesday – but in our experience, responses are generally very helpful and did a good job of pointing us in the right direction.

Proton VPN review: Final verdict

Proton VPN unblocked almost everything we tried, its powerful apps are open source and independently audited, WireGuard speeds can be excellent and there's a free plan with no bandwidth limits. This is a great VPN, and it's getting better. Give it a try.

Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review
12:12 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

Private Internet Access (commonly known as PIA) is a capable VPN provider, now owned by Kape, which also owns CyberGhost, ZenMate and ExpressVPN.

The company's network has speedy 10Gbps servers spread across 84 countries, including many that are often forgotten by other providers: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Qatar, Sri Lanka, UAE and more.

There’s support for using the service just about anywhere, with apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, detailed setup tutorials for routers and other platforms, and smart DNS to unblock sites on games consoles and other devices which can’t run apps.

Private Internet Access Server Map

PIA offers plenty of server locations (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

PIA supports connecting up to 10 devices simultaneously. That's twice the allowance you'll get with many VPNs, although Windscribe and Surfshark have no limits at all.

Extras range from the straightforward (built-in blocking of ads, trackers and known malicious websites) to the more low-level and technical: a SOCKS5 proxy for extra speed, port forwarding support, the ability to select your preferred encryption, authentication and handshaking methods, and more.

And if that sounds too complicated for you, no problem – there's 24/7 live chat support to talk you through any tricky bits.

Private Internet Access Payment Methods

Private Internet Access provides a range of payment methods (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Private Internet Access pricing

The Private Internet Access monthly plan is fair value at $11.95. The annual plan is cheaper than most at a low $3.33 a month, but opt for the three-year plan and this drops to just $2.03 ($2.19 on renewal). Putting that into perspective, Hotspot Shield’s Premium plan costs $95.99 for one year’s protection; PIA asks only $79 for your first three.

PIA offers dedicated IPs in Australia, Canada, Germany, Singapore, UK and US, and recently added Japan and Switzerland. These get you the same IP address every time you log on, and as no one shares it, you're less likely to find you're block-listed due to someone else's dodgy activities. But using the same IP also means you're more likely to be recognized by websites, so this isn't an ideal option for everyone.

Pricing for a dedicated IP is reasonable at $5 a month, $4.25 on the one-year plan, $3.75 over three years. NordVPN is a little more expensive at $5.83 a month on its annual plan, but Ivacy undercuts everyone at just $1.99 a month.

You can pay for PIA via Bitcoin if you're looking for extra privacy, or by card or PayPal, plus there are other methods depending on your region (Amazon Pay is supported in the US, for instance).

There's a free 7-day trial for mobile users, and you're also covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

PIA's Terms and Services has another surprise (and unusually for small print, it's a good one). Many VPNs say customers are only allowed one refund, ever. Private Internet Access says that if you purchase a new account more than three months after the last refund, you're eligible for another. Works for us.

Private Internet Access Encryption

PIA offers AES-128 or AES-256 CBC or GCM encryption (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Privacy and logging

Good VPN privacy starts with a strong set of core features, and Private Internet Access delivers more here than most.

PIA’s apps only use the latest and most secure protocols, for instance, in WireGuard and OpenVPN. There’s DNS leak protection, and a kill switch to disable your internet access if the connection drops. PIA’s MACE feature blocks ads, trackers, malware and more, and its Chrome extension adds a bunch of bonus privacy features (block location access, third-party cookies, website referrers and more).

Private Internet Access DNS Leak Test

Private Internet Access managed to protect all of our data from DNS leakage in the tests we performed (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

The best providers show they respect your privacy, and PIA scores here, too. Many VPNs have an option to send anonymous connection data back to the company, to help improve the service. Some turn this on by default, with the VPN presumably hoping users never realize what’s happening. But with PIA, nothing gets sent unless you go into the Settings panel and turn on the feature yourself (it's the 'Help improve PIA' option in the Help area, if you're curious).

It’s important for a VPN to show transparency, to offer real evidence that it’s living up to its promises. Again, Private Internet Access has way more to boast about than many rivals.

The company’s apps are open source, allowing others to examine the source code, look for bugs, and see whether it's doing anything which might compromise the user's privacy.

To encourage experts to take a look, PIA recently announced a Bug Bounty program. If a researcher finds a genuine vulnerability and reports it to the company, they could receive up to $1,250. That's not exactly generous, because the company only pays cash for the very worst vulnerabilities (remote code execution, unlicensed access to VPN servers), and other providers offer considerably more (ExpressVPN has a $100,000 bounty for critical flaws in its TrustedServer technology.) But we're glad to see the bounty arrive: anything which encourages more experts to check the code is welcome.

PIA’s Android app is certified by the ioXt Alliance, verifying that it complies with standards in areas like cryptography, software verification and updates.

The company has a very clear logging policy, and states that the service does not ‘store or share… incoming and outgoing traffic information, including user and destination IP addresses, browsing history/ websites visited, amount of data transferred, the VPN servers used, DNS queries or files downloaded… [as well as] VPN session information, software used, connection date, and duration.’

You shouldn’t have to take the word of any VPN on trust, of course, but the big news since our last review is that’s no longer necessary.

Private Internet Access No Logs

Private Internet Access keeps no logs on its users (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

PIA has had its no-logs policy independently audited. The company invited Deloitte to interview staff, inspect its VPN and other servers, evaluate its policies, procedures and more. Deloitte’s report found no evidence of privacy issues, and concluded that the policy was a fair description of how PIA sets up and manages its systems to prevent any logging.

That’s great news, and gives potential customers genuine reassurance that PIA really is looking after their privacy. There’s more to do – TunnelBear has its apps, servers, website, backend systems and more audited every year – but this is an excellent start, and we’ll be interested to see what PIA does next.

Speedtest.net performance benchmark

We test the speed of every VPN we review (Image credit: Speedtest.net)

Performance

Every VPN promises a high-speed, ultra-reliable network, but the reality can be very different. That's why we look past the enthusiastic marketing, and put every VPN we review through our own intensive tests.

This starts by installing PIA's latest Windows app on systems in a UK data center and a US location, each with a 1Gbps connection. We connected to our nearest location, then measured download performance using several speed testing sites and services (SpeedTest's website and command line app, nPerf, SpeedOf.me and more). We ran the tests using WireGuard and OpenVPN connections, then did it all again in an evening session.

We’ve seen some disappointing results from PIA in the past, but not this time: WireGuard performance reached a solid 450-510Mbps, double what we saw in our last review. That’s still far behind the fastest VPNs (TorGuard and Surfshark hit 950Mbps+ in their last tests), but would most users really be upset if they ‘only’ got 500Mbps from their VPN? We suspect not.

WireGuard is enough for most users, but if you’re setting up PIA on a router or other device then you may have to use OpenVPN. We tested OpenVPN speeds, too, and they reached a better-than-average 180-260Mbps

Most people don’t have data center levels of connectivity or 1Gbps internet connections, so we also tested PIA’s performance from a UK home using a Three 5G broadband router. With PIA turned off, the router reached 240Mbps; with PIA turned on, it reached a relatively disappointing 83Mbps. That’s fine for browsing or streaming, but it’s also less than half of what we see from most top providers.

Netflix menu showing popular shows

Private Internet Access was able to unblock US Netflix in our tests (with a slight caveat) (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

Connecting to a VPN to use with Netflix or other streaming services can get you access to all kinds of geoblocked websites, hopefully avoiding those annoying 'not available in your region' error messages.

To test the unblocking abilities of Private Internet Access, we attempted to access US and other Netflix libraries, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, UK’s ITV and Channel 4, and Australia’s 9Now and 10 play, from several test locations.

Accessing Netflix is a big test of website unblocking chops. PIA got us into US Netflix with one of our two test servers, and beat Netflix Canada’s defenses with one of our three locations. Not perfect, but one working location is enough, and PIA won extra credit by getting us into Netflix UK, Australia and Japan without any failures.

We saw a similar ‘that’ll do’ performance elsewhere in the US, with PIA unblocking Amazon Prime Video with one out of two test locations, but working with Disney Plus on both our tries.

Our Australian tests saw PIA finally defeated, failing to access 10 play from all three locations (although it did unblock 9Now each time).

Performance picked up in the UK, though, as PIA got us into BBC iPlayer, ITV and Channel 4.

That’s a very good result, but if you need the best possible unblocking, there are better options. ExpressVPN, Hide.me, NordVPN, PureVPN and Surfshark all unblocked every site in our most recent tests.

Private Internet Access Torrents

Private Internet Access allows you to torrent files without bandwidth limits or restrictions (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Torrents

Private Internet Access supports P2P, and we don't just mean on a couple of specialist servers hidden away somewhere. You can use torrents from any location, with no bandwidth or other limits to restrict your activities.

We verified this by connecting to three sample locations and successfully downloading torrents, with no connection or other issues.

There's an unusual bonus in support for port forwarding from PIA. This enables redirecting incoming connections to bypass a NAT firewall, and in some cases, may help improve P2P download speeds.

PIA’s website doesn’t offer much help with any of this. The knowledgebase does have a Torrent section, but it only has a single article on ‘How do I enable port forwarding?’, and that doesn’t even mention P2P.

Still, the company scores well on the fundamentals – large network, decent speeds, no logs, Bitcoin support – and on balance it makes a fair torrenting choice.

Private Internet Access Platforms

Private Internet Access provides clients for mobile, desktop and even browsers (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Client setup

Sign up for Private Internet Access and the website conveniently pointed us to download links for its many apps: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS apps, assorted browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Opera), even the raw Android file (handy for experts who need to manually install it somewhere).

There are some unusually thoughtful touches. Wondering why you should update, for instance? The site lists the changes for every new build. A recent update has broken the app? You can download previous versions, too. If only all providers were this helpful.

Private Internet Access Windows UI

This is the interface of Private Internet Access' Windows client (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Windows app

The Private Internet Access app installs easily, and opens with a simple and very straightforward client window. Tap the big Connect button to hook up to your nearest server, tap it again to disconnect, and status areas tell you when you're connected, and display your original and new IP addresses.

The client's excellent and feature-packed location picker is just a click away. It lists countries and city-based locations, where available, and ping times indicate which is closest. You can sort the list by location name or ping time, and a search box plus Favorites system help you quickly find and access whatever server you need.

Looking for more functionality in the app? Clicking an arrow at the bottom of the UI displays a host of other panels you can add to its default display. A 'Quick Connect' section listed recently used servers; a Performance graph charts speeds; Usage figures listed how much data we'd uploaded and downloaded; a Subscription pane is supposed to display account information, although it was blank for us; a Connection panel displays details on your current connection (protocol, encryption algorithm and more); and finally a Snooze option enables turning off the VPN for a set number of minutes.

We thought the Quick Connect ('Recently Used') and Quick Settings panels looked most useful, and added them to the standard app display in a couple of clicks. We could even rearrange the panel positions by dragging and dropping; easy.

Maybe you're looking for simplicity more than extra features? That's possible, too. If you only ever need to connect to the nearest location, you can remove the location list and have an app which displays a Connect button only.

If you're happy with the standard interface, this may not matter very much. But if you like to tune a VPN app to suit your needs, PIA gives you far more tweaks, options and customization possibilities than we've seen from anyone else.

Private Internet Access Encryption Choice

Private Internet Access lets you change the type of encryption used as well as the connection type (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Windows settings

PIA's Windows app Settings dialog gives you a lot of expert-level control over how the VPN works. Choose OpenVPN rather than WireGuard, for instance, and you're able to select UDP or TCP connection types and encryption (AES-128/256-GCM), as well as choosing a custom remote port (53, 1194, 8080, 9021), and defining how your MTU is set (potentially important for connection speed and reliability).

Some locations support port forwarding, which makes it easier to set up and accept incoming connections to your system.

The app includes split tunneling, a clever feature which allows you to decide which traffic goes through the VPN, and which uses your regular connection (handy for anything which doesn't work when the VPN is active.) This is easy to use at a basic level, but also includes some unusual expert-level features, including the ability to configure split tunneling by IP address and network subnet, and even (on Windows and Linux) direct some DNS traffic outside of the VPN.

Elsewhere, a kill switch disables internet access if the VPN disconnects, reducing the chance that your real IP will be leaked. You get the option to use Private Internet Access' DNS servers, your own, or any other custom servers you prefer. And the DNS-based MACE system to block domains used for ads, trackers and malware can be enabled or disabled with a click.

VPN kill switches don't always deliver (some are almost entirely useless), so we were keen to run some in-depth tests. But whether we gently closed a couple of TCP connections or just terminated PIA's entire OpenVPN-based connection manager, the client didn't care. Each time it displayed a desktop notification to warn us of the problem, then quickly reconnected, without ever exposing our real IP.

It was the same story with WireGuard connections. No matter how brutally we dropped our connection, from closing PIA's WireGuard Windows service to turning our router off and on again, the client successfully blocked our internet access, warned us with a notification and reconnected at speed.

Our final tests put the threat blocking MACE through its paces, again with positive results. We turned it on, then tried accessing 150 common trackers. MACE blocked 111, a decent score for a bonus feature you’re essentially getting for free.

PIA's Windows VPN client for PC might look a little basic initially, then, but spend a few minutes playing around and you'll find it easy to use, with some interesting, advanced features.

Private Internet Access Command Line

Run piactl with no commands to see your options (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Command line use

PIA's desktop clients now include piactl, a simple command line tool which enables using the VPN from a script.

This allows you to do all kinds of clever things which simply aren't possible with other VPNs. What about setting up a scheduled task to automatically connect at a certain time of day, for instance? Or automatically connecting when your system boots, but only after it's performed some local network tasks first? Creating special shortcuts which connect to different locations, then open a website or app you’d like to use with that country?

Getting this working could be easier than you think. The command 'piactl connect' connects you to the current default connection, for instance, while 'piactl disconnect' closes the connection. You don't need to be a developer to recognize what 'piactl set region us-atlanta' does, and there are commands to get and set more options, and monitor the service state.

Private Internet Access Mac App

The Mac app has all the power of the Windows version (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Mac app

PIA's Mac app has the same stylish and appealing interface as the Windows edition. It's so easy to operate that even total VPN newbies will quickly figure out the basics: tap the Connect button to use your nearest server, choose another from the Location list if you like, and you're ready to go.

'Simple' doesn't mean 'basic', though. We immediately noticed several usability plus points, including a sortable location list, ping times to help you spot the nearest servers, and the Favorites list for storing your most commonly-used choices.

That's just the start. The app interface can be customized just like the Windows build, with panels displaying 'recently connected' lists, speed charts, upload and download data transfer figures, a Snooze option to pause the VPN connection, and more.

The real surprise here is the Settings panel, which is absolutely crammed with useful features.

These start with the app basics. You might choose a light or dark theme, or select a protocol (WireGuard or OpenVPN), or specify to launch and connect to the VPN whenever your system starts.

But there's so much more, including just about all the advanced features available on Windows. Custom DNS settings; split tunneling; proxy support; Multi-Hop VPN; a sophisticated rules-based system to automatically connect (or disconnect) when you access particular networks; and more.

Some of these options assume a lot of technical knowledge, and there's not a lot of guidance to be found in the app. We would rather have these features available than not, though, and on balance, PIA's Mac app works well. It's easy enough for beginners to use right away, yet also has the power that even the most demanding experts need.

Private Internet Access Android App

This is the interface of Private Internet Access' Android app (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Android app

PIA's Android VPN app opens with a very conventional interface – featuring white space, a large On/Off button, plus your chosen region and IP address – but swipe up and you'll find a mass of other buttons, icons and status details.

There are quick settings links to toggle the kill switch on and off or launch PIA's Private Browser, for instance (which is not installed by default). Or you can flag icons to quickly access a number of countries, plus there are snooze options to disconnect the VPN and automatically reconnect in 5 or 15 minutes, or an hour. And connection status details cover everything from your preferred protocol and encryption method to the amount of data you've uploaded and downloaded.

Private Internet Access Android App Clutter

Private Internet Access' Android app has more on-screen clutter than is ideal (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

This looks a little cluttered, but as with the Windows app, it's easily customizable. If you'll never hit the Snooze button and don't need to know you're using AES-128-GCM every time you connect, you're able to hide those panels in a tap or two.

Tapping the current region displays a list of other locations. Each one has a latency figure, giving you an idea of its distance, and a simple favorites system enables moving your most-used servers to the top of the list. It's all very easy to use.

The app is surprisingly configurable, with more options and settings than many desktop VPN clients. WireGuard and OpenVPN support, auto-connect when accessing Wi-Fi, a kill switch, split tunneling – it's all here. You can even have your handset vibrate to indicate when you're connected, far more convenient than the usual notifications.

As with the desktop builds, PIA's Android app is very well put together, and a nicely judged mix of power and ease of use. Recommended.

Private Internet Access iOS App

Private Internet Access' iOS app looks quite similar to its Android cousin (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

iOS app

PIA's iOS app looks and feels much the same as the Android version. It sports a stylish interface, capable location picker with server latencies and a Favorites system, and an array of customization options to make the console look exactly as you'd like.

There are a decent set of options and settings, especially for an iOS app. You get a wider choice of protocols than the desktop builds (WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2), the ability to choose UDP or TCP connections, set a custom port, use your favorite DNS, or take fine-tuned control over encryption and enable a kill switch to protect you online.

An Automation pane makes it easy to set particular networks as trusted or untrusted, and instruct the app to automatically connect or disconnect whenever you access them.

There are a handful of useful iOS-specific features, too, including optional support for Siri shortcuts to connect or disconnect the VPN, and a Safari content blocker.

Overall, this is a quality app, easy to use and far more capable than most of the iOS competition. A must-see for more demanding Apple users.

Private Internet Access Browser Extension

The Chrome browser extension is more powerful than some desktop VPN apps (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Browser extensions

Using the Private Internet Access apps isn't difficult, but having to keep switching between your regular application and the VPN client can still be a hassle.

Like ExpressVPN and NordVPN, Private Internet Access now offers add-ons for Chrome, Firefox and Opera (there's no Edge coverage yet), enabling you to connect to the VPN directly from the browser interface. This only protects your browser traffic, but if that's not an issue, the extension makes Private Internet Access much easier to use.

The extension looks very similar to the apps, so there's almost no learning curve. A simple opening interface has a big Connect button to access the closest server. The location list reports latencies and has a Favorites system to help you find and save the best servers for later, and you turn the VPN on or off from your browser with a click.

(The location list only has around a third of the countries available in the app. We don’t know why, but just in case that matters to you, this is the current list: Austria, Australia, Brussels, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK, USA.)

A split tunneling-type Bypass List enables specifying websites which you don't want to use the VPN. If they don't work as they should with the VPN on, add them to the Bypass List and their traffic will be rerouted through your regular connection.

Bonus privacy tools prevent websites accessing your location, camera or microphone. They're able to stop WebRTC leaks, and variously block or disable Flash, third-party cookies, website referrers, hyperlink auditing, address and credit card auto-filling, and more. Oh, and you can use PIA’s MACE to block ads, tracker and malware, too. We've seen dedicated privacy extensions which do less.

All this functionality means there are lots of settings to explore, but on balance the add-ons work very well. If you're looking for simplicity, you can just choose a location and click Connect, much like any other VPN extension. But more experienced users can head off to the Settings area, where they'll find more features and capabilities than just about any other VPN browser add-on we've seen.

Private Internet Access Support Site

Private Internet Access has a large knowledgebase with articles on a variety of topics (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Support

The Private Internet Access Support Center has a web knowledgebase with articles covering troubleshooting, account problems, technical complications and more. These don't always have the detail you'll see with ExpressVPN or NordVPN, but they're not just bland descriptions of app features, either.

For example, a ‘Security Best Practices’ article gives users some technical (but very accessible) background on encryption, authentication and handshaking methods, and more.

A Guides section has setup articles and tutorials for all supported platforms. Some of these are relatively basic, but there's still a lot to explore, with, for instance, 12 articles on Android alone.

Entering a keyword or two in the Search box gets you a list of helpful articles. This didn’t always work as expected, often displaying articles that weren’t in the current website language. But it’s improved since our last review, and you should find what you need with minimal effort.

A handy News page regularly alerts users to new servers, app updates, service issues and more. That could save you lots of hassle all on its own if you see your current problem is some known system outage, and that you don't have to spend time contacting support or trying to diagnose it yourself.

Private Internet Access Support

The support site now includes live chat (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

If you can't solve your issues online, PIA now offers support by live chat as well as email. We opened a chat session and asked a potentially tricky question about the old authentication and handshake options which were dropped in a previous update.

Would the agent know the product in that level of detail, especially with a change which had only just happened? Yes, pretty much – the agent didn't give us any real technical details, but explained they'd been dropped and pointed us to a support page where we could learn more. That's as good a reply as we'd expect from any provider.

Private Internet Access Open Source

PIA's code is entirely open source (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Private Internet Access review: Final verdict

Private Internet Access speeds are relatively ordinary, but it excels everywhere else. PIA runs on almost anything, is easy to use, crammed with advanced features, unblocks Netflix and almost everything else we tried, and all for less than a quarter of the price of some of the top competition. Go take a look.

Surfshark VPN review
12:08 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

Surfshark is a powerful VPN which comes crammed with features, runs on almost anything, and has some of the best download speeds around.

The network has 3,200+ servers distributed across an impressive 160+ locations in 100 countries.

There are Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux apps, plus Chrome, Firefox and even Edge extensions, and a website unblocking Smart DNS system for games consoles, smart TVs and more.

Whatever you're using, there's no need to worry about annoying 'simultaneous connection' limits – you can install and run Surfshark on as many devices as you like.

The service is excellent on the technical essentials, including strong AES-256-GCM encryption, WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2 support, a no logs policy, and a kill switch to protect you if the VPN connection drops.

There's real depth here. Android apps can see through most VPNs by requesting your physical location, but not Surfshark – a GPS Spoofing feature enables it to return the coordinates of your chosen VPN server.

Oh, there’s also ad and malicious URL blocking, P2P support on most servers, VPN chaining (use two servers for one hop), split tunneling, the company's own zero-knowledge DNS servers, and 24/7 support via email and live chat if anything goes wrong.

Updates since our last review include a Pause VPN feature, which allows you to disable the VPN for a set amount of time (5, 30, 120 minutes), then automatically resume your protection. You could always disconnect manually, but then you must remember to reconnect – whereas if you use the Pause button, the app handles reconnection for you, so you can’t forget.

Linux users now have a VPN app with a full GUI, unlike most of the competition. (If other providers have Linux apps at all, they’re typically command line efforts.)

If you're using old hardware, beware: Surfshark is reducing support for legacy systems. Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 systems will no longer get the latest updates, for instance, and the company now offers full support for the last four MacOS and iOS releases only. Even if you can't update your device OS, that's not an immediate disaster, because you can still use the old apps or create manual VPN connections. But you won't get new features or security patches, and for the best service you should probably update or replace your device soon.

New support for manual WireGuard connections allows experts to precisely customize their Surfshark setup, or perhaps get the service running on a device which can’t use the regular apps.

Surfshark’s network is expanding, and the latest additions include many locations you’ll rarely see with other VPNs: Brunei, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nepal and Laos. 

Surfshark Data Breach Check

The Surfshark One plan includes data breach alerts and a privacy-friendly internet search (Image credit: Surfshark)

Surfshark pricing

As you'll see courtesy of our dedicated Surfshark price and deals guide, the service's monthly plan is more expensive than some at $12.95.

Paying for a year upfront cuts the cost to a cheaper-than-most $3.99 a month, but that's just for the first term. It rises to $4.98 on renewal.

Surfshark's 24 months plan offers the best value at $2.05 a month. Or to talk totals: signing up for one year costs an up-front $47.88, but two years is only marginally more expensive at $59.76. But again, this is only for the first term; on renewal you switch to the regular $4.98 a month annual plan.

That initial price beats most of the competition, but there are a few exceptions. Private Internet Access' three-year plan is priced at only $2.03 a month for the first term, for instance, and has a simple on-demand antivirus thrown in.

The Surfshark One plan gives you all the same VPN features, and adds Avira-powered antivirus, data breach monitoring and privacy-friendly internet search. You can activate it for an extra $1.99 a month. Cheap? Well, it's a very basic setup. The antivirus has improved a lot recently, adding real-time scanning and even webcam hijacking protection to protect against hackers taking stealthy snaps. But you'll still get far more features and functionality from a specialist AV product.

Surfshark Antivirus

Surfshark One also gives you an Avira-powered antivirus, but it's a basic affair (Image credit: Surfshark)

Surfshark's 7-day free trial for Android, iOS and Mac gives you some time to sample the service for yourself. We'd like something for Windows users, too, but it seems unfair to complain when many providers have no trials at all.

Surfshark even delivers more than you'd expect with its range of payment methods, with support for credit cards, PayPal, cryptocurrencies, Amazon Pay and Google Pay.

But if, after all this, you sign up and find the company isn't for you, no problem – you're protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Surfshark Privacy

Surfshark keeps no logs on its users and the service protects your connection with AES-256 encryption and a kill switch (Image credit: Surfshark)

Privacy and logging

Surfshark's privacy features start with the VPN basics: secure protocols (WireGuard, OpenVPN UDP and TCP), AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch to block internet access and prevent identity leaks if the VPN connection ever fails.

Surfshark's network has its own private DNS on each server to reduce the chance of others spying on your activities. And the ability to use a double VPN hop (connect to Paris, say, then leave the Surfshark network in New York) makes it even more difficult for anyone to follow your tracks.

Surfshark’s excellent privacy policy explains its no-logging status clearly, with in-depth details on the data it does (and doesn't) collect, and also brief summaries if you’d prefer not to read every word. 

The key points you need to know are that Surfshark’s servers collect only a tiny amount of data during a session: your user ID, and connection time. Even these are deleted within 15 minutes of you disconnecting, and otherwise the service doesn’t log your visited IP addresses, browsing history, session information, network traffic or anything else that could link you to an internet action.

Surfshark Audit

Surfshark underwent a second Cure53 audit on its server infrastructure in 2021 (Image credit: Surfshark)

Audits

Privacy policies are important, but we don't think customers should have to take a VPN provider's words on trust. And that's why we're happy to see that Surfshark has put two areas of its service through an independent security audit.

In November 2018, the Germany security company Cure53 [PDF] put Surfshark's browser extensions under a very high-powered security microscope. The company only found a couple of small issues, and concluded that it was 'highly satisfied to see such a strong security posture on the Surfshark VPN extensions.'

That was good news in 2018, but it's less interesting years later, especially when it only examined such a limited area of the service.

In May 2021 Surfshark went further, though, reporting on a second Cure53 audit of its servers.

This audit had a much wider scope: 'To thoroughly examine and evaluate the security posture exposed by the Surfshark server, VPN configuration, as well as the related infrastructure.'

The auditors found only four security-related general issues, with a maximum severity of 'Medium.' If you're not used to reading Cure53 audits, that's not bad at all (they're exceptionally thorough and always find something).

The report concluded 'the overall outcome should be regarded as good' and Surfshark had a clear understanding of the challenges presented by VPN security.

Surfshark could have taken the audit a little further. It didn't verify Surfshark's no logging credentials, which feels like a missed opportunity. And the company has only published a summary of the report. ExpressVPN and a few others generally make their full audit reports available, and we'd like to see Surfshark do the same.

Still, we're glad to see Surfshark underwent this audit, and the conclusions look good to us.

Surfshark Windows App

Surfshark's Windows client will be easily recognizable to those familiar with other VPNs (Image credit: Surfshark)

Windows app

Surfshark's Windows app looks a little more complex than most – sporting tabs, icons, lists, and more – but it works much like any other VPN. There's a Connect button to access your nearest server, a location list showing other servers, plus a Settings icon which leads to some useful extras.

WireGuard connections are quick, and happen in just a couple of seconds, with OpenVPN taking a more mid-range 8-10 seconds. But the app keeps you informed, with desktop notifications letting you know exactly when you're protected (and when you're not).

The well-designed location picker simplifies your server browsing by displaying countries and cities in the same list. That means no switching tabs or expanding countries to view individual cities – just scroll down, and every location is visible at a glance. Surfshark spoils the effect a little by not sorting the cities alphabetically, but apart from that it works well.

Locations don't display ping times by default, but a ‘Refresh speed metrics’ feature can find and show them with a click. A Search box allows you to find specific locations with a few keypresses (typing 'atl' is enough to display Atlanta), and there's a Favorites system to save your top locations for later.

A Static IP list enables connecting to locations in Germany, Japan, Singapore, UK and the US, to receive a fixed IP from each one (that is, your IP will be from the country you choose, but it'll be the same every time you connect). That could be handy in some situations, but beware if you use it for security – perhaps to get access to an IP-restricted network. This is a static IP, but it's not a dedicated IP, just for you; any other Surfshark customer can be allocated the same IP address, so the IP alone isn't a guarantee of your identity.

Surfshark MultiHop

Surfshark even includes a MultiHop feature that sends your traffic through two VPN servers for added security (Image credit: Surfshark)

A MultiHop tab passes your traffic through two VPN servers, ensuring that even if the exit server is compromised, an attacker still won't have your real IP. There are 12 routes available, where the first server is your initial connection (options include US, Canada, UK, Singapore, Germany, France, Netherlands and Australia), and the second is where you'll appear to be to the outside world (France, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, UK, US).

A Bypasser panel enables specifying applications, websites and IP addresses that bypass the VPN (an expanded version of the split tunneling feature you'll see with providers like ExpressVPN). If using Surfshark causes issues with a particular website or app, adding it to the allow list should solve the problem.

Alternatively, you're able to set the Bypasser to route only your chosen apps through the VPN. That may be more useful if you're only using Surfshark for one or two tasks, for example torrenting: set up your torrent client to connect via the VPN and everything else will use your regular connection.

There are plenty of configuration options, and they all worked well for us, plus it's great to see a VPN provider deliver this level of split tunneling support on the desktop. (Many VPNs have split tunneling-type systems on Windows – ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, ProtonVPN – but several reserve the feature for their mobile apps).

Surfshark's CleanWeb feature blocks ads, trackers and malicious links. We tested this with 100 sample tracker links, and CleanWeb blocked 54. We’ve seen better – Windscribe’s ROBERT feature blocked 98, ProtonVPN managed 87 – but that’s enough to be useful.

A NoBorders mode aims to help you get online in China and other countries where VPNs are commonly blocked. The app should turn NoBorders on automatically if it detects any network issues, but you can enable it manually, too.

More conventional features include options to launch the VPN along with Windows, or switch the protocol to WireGuard, OpenVPN UDP and TCP, or an Automatic option which allows the app to choose. (Surfshark recently dropped IKEv2 on the Windows app, as apparently hardly anyone used it, and WireGuard and OpenVPN are better choices, anyway.)

Surfshark Kill Switch

You can enable Surfshark's kill switch from the settings menu (Image credit: Surfshark)

Surfshark kill switch

A kill switch is on hand to block your internet connection if the VPN drops. This has recently been updated to make it more configurable.

Previously, when you turned on the kill switch, you couldn't access the internet at all, ever, without being connected to Surfshark. That’s highly secure, but it’s not always convenient.

Now, you can also opt for a ‘Soft’ kill switch. This kicks in if the VPN drops by accident, but doesn’t activate if you manually disconnect. That’s not quite as secure, but does mean you can choose whether you need to be connected or not.

Most providers support one kill switch type or the other, so it’s good to see Surfshark give users the choice. (Even if you think you know which option you prefer now, there’s always the chance that might change later.)

The kill switch handled our main tests well. When we tried any conventional way to close the VPN connection, the app displayed a notification to warn us, our internet was blocked, and our traffic was never exposed.

We also run more extreme tests, though. In the worst case, we found that if Surfshark’s Windows service closed, the VPN dropped, and the app didn’t notice. It continued to display a ‘Protected’ message. You could carry on using your device for hours and think you were safe, when in fact the VPN had failed and you weren’t protected at all.

Surfshark Kill Switch Error

Our more extreme kill switch testing did, unfortunately, cause serious problems for the Surfshark app (Image credit: Surfshark)

It's important to keep this in perspective. We use our more extreme tests to see just how bulletproof a kill switch is, but they're not a situation you're likely to see in real life. You might use Surfshark for years without ever experiencing a service failure.

Still, this is an unnecessary issue with the app, and one which could be at least partly addressed with smarter development. ExpressVPN sets its Windows services to automatically restart if they fail, for instance, giving it a chance of recovery in even worst-case situations. Surfshark doesn’t use this standard restart feature, and that’s a problem.

Overall, Surfshark's kill switch is effective and will protect you from all the issues you're likely to encounter. But it's not quite as robust as some of the competition, and we think there's room for improvement.

Surfshark Mac App

Surfshark's Mac app looks like the Windows version, but there are some differences (Image credit: Surfshark)

Mac app

Surfshark's Mac app looks much like the Windows version, but with a few small differences. The app window isn't resizable, for instance. The app doesn’t display your kill switch status on the main Connect window, which is a shame. But it fixes one of our minor Windows app annoyances, sensibly displaying city locations in alphabetical order.

We didn't spot any significant app differences in real-world use. Connection times were speedy, and the VPN didn't drop at any point.

Mac users miss out on one or two Surfshark features. In particular, there's no Bypasser to enable choosing any apps or websites you don't want to pass through the VPN.

There's still plenty of functionality here, though: static IPs, Multi-Hop VPN, WireGuard and OpenVPN support, the kill switch, along with CleanWeb's ad and malware blocking. 

The app even has a handy feature which isn’t available on Windows, in the ability to auto-connect to the VPN whenever you access untrusted networks.

That's a much better spec than we often see elsewhere, and on balance, Surfshark's Mac offering is a well-balanced mix of power and ease of use.

Surfshark Android App

This is the user interface of Surfshark's Android app (Image credit: Surfshark)

Mobile apps

Mobile VPN apps can be far more basic than their desktop cousins, but Surfshark's Android version is surprisingly similar. Sure, it rearranges the interface a little to work better on smaller screens, but otherwise it has the same protocol support, kill switch, static IP, Multi-Hop and other features that we saw on the desktop.

The Android app outperforms the desktop editions in some areas, as it includes both the 'auto-connect on accessing untrusted networks' feature (not available on Windows), and the split tunneling Bypasser system (not available on Mac).

You get a couple of new mobile-specific features, one of which is an 'Override GPS location' to match your device's GPS location with your connected VPN server, making it more difficult for apps to see where you really are. And a 'use small packets' option may improve performance with some mobile networks.

If any of this doesn't work as it should, you can send bug reports, and raise (or browse) tickets from within the app (no need to open your browser and waste time hunting for the right area of the support site).

Surfhsark iOS App

Surfshark's iOS app also shares a similar look and feel to its desktop counterpart (Image credit: Surfshark)

It's much the same story with Surfshark's iOS VPN app: the look and feel are very similar, and you still get the kill switch, the choice of protocols (OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard) and more.

Small but welcome recent additions include widgets to simplify getting connected, and the ability to report bugs from within the app.

It's a surprisingly capable setup, as software for Apple’s mobile OS is often short-changed for features in comparison to other platforms.

Put it all together and these are impressive apps, well implemented, straightforward to use, and a refreshing change for anyone tired of losing VPN functionality on mobile devices.

Speedtest.net performance benchmark

We used several different speed testing services to determine Surfshark's performance (Image credit: Speedtest.net)

Performance

We measured Surfshark performance from a US location and a UK data center with a 1Gbps connection, giving us plenty of scope to see just what the service could do.

We installed the latest Surfshark app on our test systems, connected to our nearest location, and checked download speeds using performance testing sites including SpeedTest (the website and command line app), nPerf and SpeedOfMe. We collected at least five results from each site using WireGuard, repeated each test again with OpenVPN, and ran the full test set in both morning and evening sessions.

Surfshark’s WireGuard speeds were spectacular at 950Mbps+, all we could expect from our 1Gbps test connection. That puts Surfshark equal first in our speed tests along with Norton and TorGuard.

Surfshark uses WireGuard by default and the chances are you’ll never need anything else. But if it can’t connect, or you’re setting the service up on a router or some other device, you might need to use OpenVPN. We found Surfshark’s OpenVPN connections reached 120-190Mbps in the US, a little below average, but enough for most online tasks.

Netflix menu showing popular shows

Surfshark was able to unblock Netflix and all other streaming platforms we tested it with (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

If you're tired of VPNs which vaguely hint about their unblocking abilities, but never make any real commitment, you'll love Surfshark. The company not only promises to unblock Netflix, it also names a bunch of other services it supports: ‘Prime Video, Disney Plus, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Hulu, Hotstar, YLE Areena, AbemaTV, and many others.’

This wasn't just overblown marketing-oriented confidence, either. We were able to access Netflix in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Japan without the slightest hassle.

The good news continued in the UK, with Surfshark getting us into BBC iPlayer, ITV and Channel 4. It allowed us to stream Australia’s 9Now and 10 play from the UK just as easily. And final success with both US Amazon Prime and Disney Plus gave Surfshark a perfect 100% record in our unblocking tests.

That's a great result which puts Surfshark right up there with the very best unblocking VPNs. At the moment, that includes ExpressVPN, Hide.me, NordVPN and PureVPN, all of which have got us into every one of our test streaming sites.

Surfshark Chromebook

Support guides even include tutorials on how to set up Surfshark on Chromebooks (Image credit: Surfshark)

Support

If Surfshark doesn't work for you, the support site has setup and installation tutorials, troubleshooting guides, FAQs and other resources to point you in the right direction.

The content is well-organized. Clicking 'Get Started' takes you to a Tutorials page with articles on setting up the apps, getting the service working on other platforms and using its various features.

These aren't the horribly basic 'download and run the installer' guides you'll get from lesser VPNs, either. For example, the 'How To Set Up Surfshark on Windows' article includes a video guide, step-by-step installation advice with screenshots, plus first steps guidance on choosing locations and getting connected, and basic explanations of all the main features.

If this isn't enough, Surfshark's support is available 24/7 via live chat. We tried this while attempting to diagnose a connection issue, and had a friendly reply in under 60 seconds. So, if you're struggling to find something on the website, it might be worth opening a chat session – the problem could be sorted out quicker than you might think.

Surfshark review: Final verdict

We have some small issues with the apps and Windows kill switch, but Surfshark excels everywhere else, providing market-leading speeds, top-notch unblocking and an array of advanced features for a very fair price. Great value and an absolute must for your VPN shortlist.

NordVPN review
12:04 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off

So you want to know everything about NordVPN, including how good – and fast – a VPN provider it is, as well as all the latest news on the service? Well, you've come to the right place, because this article comprises an extensive review of NordVPN complete with a full range of performance tests, combined with a roundup of news pertaining to the service, plus an extensive FAQ that addresses the most commonly asked questions about this VPN.

But first, let's kick off with a quick TL:DR summary of the review for those who don't want the in-depth stuff, and just want to know whether NordVPN is worth buying, and how it compares to rival VPNs, in a nutshell.

NordVPN: 2-minute review

NordVPN's torrent support is a definite strong point, and there's as much to like on the privacy front too, with plenty of smart features to help keep you safe and anonymous online. 

Performance levels are good – this is one of the faster VPNs we've reviewed – and as for Netflix (or other streaming content) unblocking, it got us into just about everything we tried.

NordVPN's mobile apps are better than you'll find with most VPN providers. The Windows client is generally pretty good, and all the apps are quite user-friendly overall. Speaking of which, there are a lot of quality tutorials to help you get set up with the VPN, and great customer support, which is all good for the less tech-savvy folks out there, should they run into trouble somehow.

An expansive network of servers rounds all this off nicely, and NordVPN's commendable no-strings-attached 30-day money-back guarantee is worth a mention. If you aren't happy, you can get your money back in the first month with no hassles.

You can think of NordVPN as a high-quality jack-of-all-trades VPN. It does everything to a good standard, and while some rivals may offer better performance in specific departments, if you want everything doing well – and a consistent service above all – NordVPN won't steer you wrong.

Keen to find out more about NordVPN? Then read on to learn every detail you could ever want to know...

NordVPN: latest news and updates

It hasn't been that long since we last looked at NordVPN, but the company has been busily improving its service in several key ways.

The big news is the addition of Meshnet, a powerful new feature which allows you to link up to 60 remote devices (Windows, Mac, iOS or Android), anywhere in the world, into a single secure network.

NordVPN Meshnet

Meshnet lets you link up to 60 remote devices across a single secure network (Image credit: NordVPN)

You could use Meshnet to securely access your home PC from anywhere, for instance. Or to share files with others, securely collaborate on a work project, enjoy LAN gaming, and more.

The latest Windows app has a totally redesigned interface, with a brand new look and feel (much more about that later).

Smaller but welcome mobile tweaks include support for voice commands on Android (tell Google Assistant to open NordVPN and connect, and you’ll be online in seconds), and new built-in troubleshooting tools for iOS.

NordVPN: our full NordVPN review

Panama-registered NordVPN is a hugely popular VPN provider with more than 14 million customers around the globe. The company sells itself on features, and there are plenty to explore.

How many servers does NordVPN have?

The NordVPN network has 5,600+ servers in 85 locations across 59 countries.

What platforms does NordVPN have apps for?

You get Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux and Android TV apps, and NordVPN also offers tutorials to set up the service on many more device types.

How many devices can you use with NordVPN?

NordVPN boasts support for six simultaneous connections. That means you can set up NordVPN on as many devices as you like, but only six of them can be connected to the service at the same time. This is probably enough for most people, but other VPNs go further. Private Internet Access supports up to 10 simultaneous connections, Ivacy can handle 12, and IPVanish, Surfshark, Windscribe and others have no fixed connection limits at all.

What features do you get with NordVPN?

NordVPN offers all the technical features you'd expect, including OpenVPN support, and NordVPN's WireGuard-based NordLynx for strong encryption and high performance, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection to keep your identity safe.

Not-so-common extras include double data encryption and Onion support for extra security, along with ad, phishing and malware detection plus blocking via NordVPN's Threat Protection. P2P support is a major plus, and an audited no logging policy gives strong reassurance that your internet activities won't be visible to anyone else.

As we’ve discussed above, the new Meshnet allows you to create a secure encrypted network with up to 10 of your devices, and up to 50 others (as long as they’re also NordVPN users). This could allow you to share files, play network games, access other network devices, and more.

(Beware: Meshnet handles the process of connecting your devices, but after that, you’ll need to understand your device's networking tools to take advantage of that. Meshnet doesn't include an interface to help you share a Windows folder, for instance; you must use the operating system's own sharing and network features to make that happen.)

Meshnet won't be for everyone, but it's a very powerful addition to the NordVPN feature list, and not something you'll find anywhere else. (Read the official Meshnet announcement for more details on what it can do.)

If you're intimidated by this feature overload, or just run into some unexpected problems, NordVPN's 24/7 support is on hand to point you in the right direction, via email or live chat.

NordVPN's prices are a little above average after a special deal in the first year, and if you're not quite convinced that this is the VPN for you, a 30-day money-back guarantee gives you a risk-free route to sampling the service for yourself.

Got any further questions about the basics of NordVPN? Then see our FAQ at the end of this article (jump straight down to it using the link in the bar above).

NordVPN Payment Methods

NordVPN allows for payment by credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin and more (Image credit: NordVPN)

NordVPN pricing

NordVPN's Standard plan comes in three flavors. Monthly billed accounts are $11.99, and the annual plan cuts that to $4.99 a month, while opting for the two-year plan drops the price further to $3.29.

NordVPN's Plus plan adds Nord’s password manager and data breach scanner (which raises an alert if your details are spotted on the dark web), for an only marginally more expensive $4.59 a month over two years.

NordVPN's Complete plan also adds 1TB of encrypted cloud storage, and is priced at $5.89 a month on the two-year plan.

(The company has new offers all the time, but a more in-depth and up-to-the-minute explanation can be found at our dedicated NordVPN price and deals article.)

Beware the small print, though. The one and two-year deals include an introductory discount, and both renew as a standard annual plan, which sees a major price hike to $8.29 a month. NordVPN doesn't exactly make this clear on the website, but you can find these and all the other renewal costs on its Pricing page.

Is NordVPN good value for money?

On the face of it, yes, at least for the first term, but it's true that bargain hunters can find better deals than NordVPN elsewhere. Private Internet Access' annual plan costs just $3.33 a month, for instance, and Ivacy's five-year plan is a featherweight $1 a month. (That’s $59.98 for one year of protection with NordVPN, $60 for five years with Ivacy.)

Still, it's far from the most expensive VPN around, and we think NordVPN is fairly priced for what you get.

What methods can you use to pay for NordVPN?

There are plenty of payment options provided by NordVPN, with support for cards, PayPal, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (via CoinPayments), AmazonPay, Google Pay and more.

Does NordVPN have a free trial?

The company used to have a service-wide free trial, long ago, but unfortunately it was dropped due to abuse.

New Android and iOS users get seven days of app usage for free, though. And if you sign up, NordVPN's 30-day money-back guarantee gives you more than enough time to get a feel for how the service performs.

NordVPN Privacy

NordVPN does a lot to maintain your privacy online (Image credit: NordVPN)

Does NordVPN offer a good level of privacy?

The privacy value of all VPNs starts with the support for encryption technologies.  NordVPN scores well here for its strong AES-256-GCM encryption, and supports perfect forward secrecy to regularly change keys (this time using 4096-bit Diffie-Hellman), ensuring that even if an attacker manages to penetrate one session, they'll be locked out of the next one.

Once you're connected, NordVPN uses its own private DNS to keep your internet browsing away from third parties. Its apps also include protection from DNS leaks, to make sure your online activities are safe.

NordVPN also offers a Double VPN system (on Windows, Mac and Android) where your traffic goes to one VPN server, then is re-encrypted and sent to a second NordVPN server, before heading off to its destination. If you're looking for the maximum level of anonymity, this extra layer of protection makes it even more difficult for anyone to trace an internet action back to you.

If that's still not enough, NordVPN also supports Onion over VPN. This encrypts your traffic and routes it through a NordVPN server first, then directs it to the Tor network, where it passes through three randomly chosen Tor nodes before reaching its destination. This is just about as private as internet access gets, but there is a cost. Tor is slow at the best of times, and all this bouncing around multiple servers will cut your speeds significantly.

NordVPN Kill Switch

NordVPN actually has two kill switches to keep your real IP hidden should the VPN connection drop (Image credit: NordVPN)

How secure is NordVPN?

Impressively secure. NordVPN has something in its armory to further bolster your security, and that's a kill switch. A kill switch is in place to prevent any data leaks in case the VPN connection drops.

NordVPN stands out here for actually having two kill switches. A general internet kill switch blocks all net access when you're not connected to the VPN (this can easily be turned off if it's inconvenient), while an app kill switch closes your chosen applications if the connection goes down.

NordVPN says the service blocks DNS leaks, too, and our checks with DNS Leak Test, IPLeak and other sites confirmed this. Our DNS address was always the same as our IP address, with no DNS, WebRTC or other leaks detected. So overall, security and privacy are tight. (For more details on services that deliver top-notch security, check out our roundup of the most secure VPN providers, where NordVPN ranks highly).

Can NordVPN be hacked?

One of NordVPN’s servers was hacked back in 2018 (a VPN server, not anything holding account information). The company didn’t admit that immediately, and received a lot of criticism when the hack was uncovered, but it has since taken a lot of steps to restore confidence.

NordVPN updated its entire server network to run in RAM only, without disks, ensuring that even if someone hacked a server in future, there would be no local files for them to inspect.

The company also invited security research group VerSprite to audit its apps, helping to identify and fix security issues. And a bug bounty program was introduced, giving an incentive for anyone to uncover and report security problems with the service.

NordVPN joined Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN in having its Android app certified by the ioXt Alliance. The certification covers checks on cryptography, network security, software update procedures and more, and NordVPN came out very well with maximum scores in every category.

Steps like these can't entirely make up for NordVPN's delayed response to the 2018 hack, but they're still hugely positive, and expose the company's services to a level of scrutiny rarely seen anywhere else.

NordVPN No Logs

NordVPN doesn't keep any logs on its users (Image credit: NordVPN)

What is NordVPN's logging policy?

NordVPN claims to have a strict 'no logs' policy. Most VPNs say much the same, but the company's privacy policy defines this more clearly than most, saying:

'Nord guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN Services, meaning that your internet activity... is not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party. We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or browsing data.'

That covers not only general logging of your internet activities, but also session logging details such as recording your incoming IP address when you connect to the service, and the IP you're allocated. (When other VPNs say, 'no logging', they often carry out some form of session logging, so it's good to see NordVPN rule it out).

Can NordVPN back up these claims?

A VPN can say anything on its own website, but unlike most of the VPN competition, you don't have to take NordVPN's claims on trust. In November 2022 NordVPN hired top auditing company Deloitte to run an independent audit on its infrastructure and services, and to verify that its logging policy description is accurate. 

This was an in-depth project, NordVPN explained: 'It involved interviews with our employees, server configuration inspections, technical log inspections, and inspections of other servers in our infrastructure.' 

A January 2023 blog post reported Deloitte's conclusion that it 'saw no signs that we in any way violated our no-logs promises.' 

That's good news, and a reassuring sign that NordVPN is properly looking after user privacy. And there is another plus here. While some VPNs still boast about a single audit they took five years ago, this is NordVPN's third audit for its no-logging policies alone (it's had more covering other areas of the service .) That's important, because an old audit tells you very little about how a service works today. VPNs should be audited regularly for the results to be really useful.

nPerf performance benchmark

We used nPerf and other speed test services to measure the performance of NordVPN (Image credit: nPerf)

Performance testing: How fast is NordVPN?

While privacy features are normally the top priority for a VPN, performance is almost as important. Uncrackable encryption isn't nearly as appealing if it reduces your internet speeds to a crawl, which is why we put all VPNs we review through some intensive performance tests.

Our procedure involves connecting to our nearest server from UK and US locations with 1Gbps connections, then running repeated checks using several benchmarking sites and tools (SpeedTest's website and command line app, Netflix's performance test, nPerf, SpeedOf.me and more). We perform the tests using the best two protocols when possible, then repeat the full test run in morning and evening sessions.

NordVPN says its custom NordLynx protocol delivers great speeds, and we'd have to agree. 700-820Mbps is an excellent result, and puts NordVPN in sixth place out of 20 contenders in our most recent tests. (Surfshark, TorGuard and Norton all reached 950Mbps+ at the top of the rankings).

OpenVPN is slower, but still a useful protocol if you’re setting up NordVPN on a router, or NordLynx fails to connect for some reason. We ran it through our tests and NordVPN really delivered here, too, with OpenVPN connections peaking at an excellent 470Mbps. That beats the WireGuard speeds of some lesser VPNs.

Not everyone has the same 1Gbps connections as our test sites, of course, so we also ran tests from a second UK location using a 5G broadband router (with Three). With NordVPN off, this managed 260Mbps; with NordVPN on, it reached 125Mbps. That’s a little below average – most providers manage around 200Mbps – but it’s still a decent speed for a mobile connection, and more than fast enough for most web tasks.

Netflix menu showing popular shows

NordVPN successfully unblocked Netflix and passed all our streaming tests (Image credit: Netflix)

Can NordVPN unblock Netflix or other streaming sites?

The ability to access geoblocked websites is a key advantage of any VPN service. NordVPN doesn't explicitly claim to unblock any particular website or service, but statements asserting that it allows you to "keep access to your favorite websites and entertainment content, and forget about censorship" sound good to us.

We first put this to the test by trying to access US-only Netflix content from the UK. It worked perfectly, getting us in with all three of our test servers.

Interested in other libraries? So are we, and NordVPN was just as successful with Netflix in Australia, Canada, Japan and the UK.

Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus have been a challenge in some previous reviews, but not this time, and we managed to stream US-only content from three US servers.

Our good run continued in Australia, with NordVPN unblocking 9Now and 10 play. Would our final UK tests spoil the picture? Nope: it got us into BBC iPlayer, ITV and Channel 4, too, a perfect 100% unblocking score.

NordVPN P2P Servers

NordVPN boasts hundreds of P2P-friendly servers (Image credit: NordVPN)

Does NordVPN support torrents?

The short answer is yes, it does. They're not available on all locations, but NordVPN does provide hundreds of P2P-friendly servers in the US, UK, and many other locations around the globe. Wherever you are, there should be a suitable server nearby.

VPNs which only support P2P on some servers can be inconvenient to use, particularly if you connect to a non-P2P server, launch your torrent client and find it doesn't work. NordVPN's Windows app has a P2P server list, though, where you can choose the country you need in the usual way, no hassles at all.

To verify NordVPN's P2P support, we connected to three countries and tried downloading torrents. In each case we connected and downloaded files as expected, with no performance or other issues.

Is there anything else that makes NordVPN a good choice for torrenting?

Along with its direct P2P support, NordVPN has a number of other features which could make it a smart choice for those using torrents. There's its strict no logging policy (verified by audit), multiple layers of DNS and traffic leak protection, payment via Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and privacy extras including Double VPN and Onion over VPN.

Are any rival VPNs better than NordVPN for torrents?

NordVPN clearly offers a strong all-round package in terms of torrents, but ExpressVPN is also worth considering for torrenting. The core features of both services are similar, and while ExpressVPN doesn't have quite as many extras (no Double VPN, for instance), it supports P2P on all its servers and is arguably easier to use. So, you can make your choice based on which of those factors is more important to you, and there's further info to hand in our roundup of the best VPNs for torrents.

NordVPN Download Windows Screen

NordVPN has clients for Windows, as well as Mac, Android, iOS and more (Image credit: NordVPN)

How easy is it to set up NordVPN apps?

You've signed up for NordVPN, you're in a hurry to get started, and NordVPN  makes that surprisingly easy. The website directs you to the right app for your platform (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV), installation is simple, and our Windows app allowed us to log in quickly via a browser.  

As we use the password manager Dashlane, that meant we didn't have to remember (or even know) our login details. Dashlane filled them in automatically, and a couple of clicks later, the app was up and running.

NordVPN’s apps may not work everywhere, but that’s okay. An array of highly detailed tutorials explain how to manually set up the service on Chromebooks, Raspberry Pi, routers, NAS devices, and more besides.

But the site isn't just about the basics. If you're looking to set up NordVPN as a SOCKS5 proxy, there are tutorials for Deluge, qBittorrent, uTorrent and more.

NordVPN Windows App

A map of available servers helps you choose a location to use (Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN's Windows app?

The Windows app has seen a major revamp since our last review, giving it a very different look and feel.

The app opens with its many locations displayed on a world map, now available in both dark and light modes. The window can’t be resized anymore, but you’re able to zoom in and out (with the mouse wheel as well as zoom buttons) to get a better view.

The map updates automatically to suit your zoom level. Zoom right out and it shows a single icon for Europe with the number ‘39’ (NordVPN’s number of European locations). Click this, and the map automatically zooms to show a view of Europe, with icons for many countries. Click any country icon and the app connects you to the best server in that region.

If all that zooming and panning sounds like too much hassle, no problem. Hit the Quick Connect button in a panel top-left and the app automatically connects to your nearest location, with no further steps required.

NordVPN Windows Specialty Servers

You can choose servers for a particular task from the Speciality list (Image credit: NordVPN)

Alternatively, tapping a down arrow displays a conventional location list. You can use this to access countries and cities, or NordVPN’s ‘speciality servers’ to handle certain tasks: P2P, Double VPN, Tor, dedicated IPs and more. If you’re using the new Meshnet feature, then you can even connect to a specific device directly from the location list (your PC at home, while you’re away on a trip, for instance).

A built-in Search box allows you to ignore both the map and the lists. Just type CHI, say, and the app displays your matches: Chile, Chicago and Chisinau (Moldova), and you can connect in a click.

The app doesn’t include the direct list of individual servers (that’s all 5,600+) any longer. That’s fine for most people, but if you want to access specific servers (perhaps you’ve discovered that US server #8876 is the only one to unblock a particular site), you can still do that from the search box. Typing ‘United States #’ displays the full list, or you can enter a number like #8876 to show that specific server.

A Recent section displays icons of the last five locations you’ve accessed, and again, you can reconnect with a click. The icons use country maps or server type graphics, which means they won’t always uniquely identify a location (connect to five US cities or five P2P-friendly locations, and the Recent section displays five American flags or five P2P icons, for instance). Hovering your mouse over each icon displays a tooltip with the country or city, so it’s not difficult to find what you need. Still, it’s less convenient than the previous text-based Recent list, or the Favorites lists you’ll often find with other apps.

Connection times are reasonable. The default NordLynx protocol typically got us connected in 2-3 seconds, and OpenVPN took around 8 seconds. ExpressVPN is a little faster at barely a second for Lightway, six seconds with OpenVPN, but you’re unlikely to notice much difference in real-world use.

The app keeps you informed of its connection status, and uses Windows desktop notifications to tell you when the VPN is turned on or off. It doesn’t display your VPN IP, but hovering your mouse cursor over the location flag displays the server name, IP address and ISP.

NordVPN Windows Pause Connection

You can pause your VPN connection for a short period of time (Image credit: NordVPN)

A Pause button allows you to effectively disconnect from the VPN for 5, 15 or 60 minutes. If you need to quickly use a website which doesn't work with the VPN, click 'Pause', choose your preferred interval, and the client then disconnects. If you finish your task early, you can hit Resume to restore your connection at any time. But the value here is that if you forget, the app will automatically reconnect for you, reducing the chance that you accidentally leave yourself unprotected for long periods of time.

If all this seems a little too complicated, you can launch a mini version of the app by right-clicking the NordVPN system tray icon. This includes your Recent Connections list (with text city names) and a Quick Connect button, and if that’s enough, you may never have to bother with the full app.

NordVPN is generally very reliable, but if you do run into difficulties, there’s an option to raise a ticket from within the app. Most VPNs that do this just ask you to type a message in a single box, but NordVPN goes much further. You can specify a topic, add screenshots or opt to send diagnostic information, and the page helps you describe the issue clearly. It’s very well put together, and the only in-app support system we’ve seen which delivers what you’d expect from a support site.

The new app isn’t perfect in every area. We miss the old app’s resizable window, and the ability to view the map full-screen or shrink the window to save space. The icon-only Recent Connections list isn’t ideal, either. ExpressVPN uses text for its Recent list, and although that takes more space and doesn’t look as pretty, you can see at a glance exactly which location every entry represents.

Overall, though, NordVPN’s latest app is a step forward. It’s easier to use and includes worthwhile new features, while still saving you a few clicks when compared to the previous version.

NordVPN Settings

NordVPN has a number of useful settings (Image credit: NordVPN)

What settings does the NordVPN Windows app offer?

The app has some handy settings to help ensure you’re protected when necessary. You can have it automatically connect when Windows or the app starts, for example, or whenever you access an untrusted network, which is useful if you sometimes forget to do that manually.

There’s an unusual extra in an option to allow remote access to your device (via remote desktop, say) when connected to the VPN. If you never use Windows remote desktop or aren’t sure what it is, this can be safely ignored. But if you regularly use remote desktop, it’s a real convenience, and not something we’ve seen directly supported by other VPNs.

NordVPN's kill switch (a system to avoid data leaks if the VPN connection drops) also offers more control than most. An internet kill switch blocks all access to the net unless you're connected to the VPN, while a separate app kill switch closes particular apps if the VPN drops (your torrent app, for instance).

We tried various ways of forcibly closing the VPN, but in all cases the client correctly blocked our internet traffic and warned us of the problem. The only small omission is that the client doesn't have an 'auto-reconnect' option, leaving users to restore their connections manually.

NordVPN Protocols

The app supports NordVPN's fast NordLynx protocol (Image credit: NordVPN)

What protocols does the NordVPN Windows app support?

Protocol support includes OpenVPN TCP and UDP, along with NordVPN's own NordLynx. The Windows app sets these automatically, and you won't even see the OpenVPN options until you turn this off (in Settings > Auto-Connect, where you disable 'Choose a VPN protocol and server automatically.') But once you've figured that out, you can switch protocols with a couple of clicks.

Expert-level features include the option to set your preferred DNS for VPN connections. Switching DNS could improve browsing performance, help block access to malicious websites, or impart other benefits. Even better, you can add multiple DNS servers and switch between them as and when required.

A bonus 'Obfuscated Servers' feature claims that it may help you connect even in countries and locations which block VPNs.

NordVPN's Threat Protection feature blocks malicious websites, ads and trackers, detects malware, and more. It’s a powerful add-on, but when enabled it means that NordVPN grabs a lot of RAM (800-900MB, compared to 200MB for ExpressVPN), noticeably slowing down our test system. Is it worth any performance cost? We ran a couple of quick tests to get an idea.

First off, with Threat Protection active, we tried accessing 150 common trackers. NordVPN blocked 72, a little below average (most providers block around 80-110). But this shows Threat Protection is doing useful work, and you’ll still have further protection from the privacy tools you’re using now (security suite, browser extensions and more).

Secondly, we worked through a list of brand new malicious websites, and found NordVPN blocked 64 out of 1877. Although that’s clearly a poor result, keep in mind that these were the very latest links, perhaps only a day or two old: we don’t expect a free VPN feature to match Bitdefender for URL blocking.

Put it all together, and although NordVPN's Windows client has some issues, it's generally well-presented, easy to use, and a comfortable place to view and control your VPN status. (Incidentally, you might also want to check out our pick of the best Windows 10 VPNs).

NordVPN Mac App

The Mac app hasn't been treated to the same overhaul given to the Windows client (Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN's Mac app?

NordVPN’s Mac offering hasn’t yet had the same interface revamp as the Windows edition, and that makes for a lot of inconsistencies. The Mac map works very differently, the location list is permanently visible in a sidebar, some server types are displayed in different places (Double VPN and P2P lists come after the other locations, instead of at the top). Furthermore, the Mac has a Favorites system where Windows doesn’t, and you can still access individual servers (‘USA server #50645’) directly from the location list.

Still, although this might be confusing if you’re using both the Windows and Mac builds, it really doesn’t matter if you’re strictly Mac-only. The core of the app works well, you’re connected reasonably quickly, speeds are good and it generally serves Mac users very well.

There are some plus points, too. A Mac-only Presets feature works as a supercharged Favorites system, allowing you to combine a location and VPN settings to get the results you need.

For instance, you could create a P2P preset which connects to a specific server, with settings optimized for downloads, and which automatically launches your P2P app whenever it starts. Or you could have a browsing preset, optimized for security, which enables ad and tracker-blocking and connects to your nearest location. It's a very flexible system which we've not seen anywhere else, and we hope it arrives on Windows soon.

Other parts of the app don't work as well. For instance, although there's a Favorites option, it only works with specific servers. You can't mark Atlanta as a favorite, for instance – you must choose something like 'United States #5064', then hope you remember the city name.

The app Settings pane is fractionally more limited than Windows (with no split tunneling), but still gives you more than you'll see in many Mac apps: a kill switch; NordLynx, OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocol support; auto-connect when you access untrusted Wi-Fi; and an on/off switch for NordVPN's ad, tracker and malicious site blocking.

There's a little room for improvement here, but overall, this is a likeable app, mostly easy to use and with more features than most of the Mac competition.

NordVPN Android app

NordVPN's Android app is a good effort on the whole, sporting plenty of features (Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN's Android app?

The NordVPN Android app is one of the most popular around, with more than 50 million downloads, and an excellent 4.5 rating on the US Google Play store.

The app initially displays its available location on a world map (that’s the latest map style as used by the Windows app, fortunately, not the older Mac version). This works like most other maps: drag to pan around, pinch to zoom in, tap a location marker to connect. But that can still be a lot of work to get to the location you need, and overall, the map isn't the quickest or most practical way to find or choose a server on a device with a small screen.

NordVPN Android App

The mobile app has a similar interface to the Windows client (Image credit: NordVPN)

Fortunately, NordVPN's Android app also supports a conventional countries list. Swiping up gets you an alphabetical list of countries, and you can scroll down to the US (or anywhere else), tap it, and immediately get connected to the best server in that country.

If you need more control over your location choice, tapping a More button displays all the cities in that country.

As with Windows, the new app doesn’t allow you to view the individual servers in an individual location, although you can still find them by entering their name (‘#8192’) in the Search box.

The Settings box starts with a time-saving auto-connect feature. In a tap or two you could use this to, for instance, automatically connect on all Wi-Fi hotspots apart from your home and other trusted locations, ensuring you only turn on the VPN when you know you need it.

The app doesn't have its own kill switch, but simple instructions explain how you can set one up on your device (System Settings > NordVPN settings, then enable 'Always on VPN' and 'Block connections without VPN').

NordVPN Android Procols

The Android app gives you NordLynx protocol support, too (Image credit: NordVPN)

Protocol options include NordVPN's speedy NordLynx, along with OpenVPN TCP and UDP.

The app supports Threat Protection Lite, which is essentially DNS blocking for ads, trackers and malicious websites, but no download scanning.

The features keep coming with the ability to set a custom DNS server, split tunneling to disable the VPN for specific apps, and even tapjacking protection (you get an alert if a malicious app overlays a window on your screen to trick you into performing an action).

There's even a bonus extra in Dark Web Monitoring, where NordVPN alerts you if your email address appears in an online data breach.

The app isn't perfect, then, and we're not sure the map element of the interface adds a lot. But otherwise, it's a likeable and feature-packed piece of software which effortlessly outperforms most of the competition.

NordVPN iOS App

NordVPN's iOS app shares the same design and layout as its Android counterpart (Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN's iOS app?

NordVPN’s iOS app looks great, especially on tablets. The map can display full-screen, with the location list reduced to a small box, or it’s expandable to a left-hand sidebar for easier country-hunting.

There are more inconsistencies than with other platforms. The iOS app has Favorites; the Android app doesn’t. Both mobile apps use the old-style map, rather than the new Windows version. It’ll only take a moment to figure them out, but life would be easier if all apps had a similar interface and feature set.

NordVPN iOS App Settings

This is the Settings panel of NordVPN's iOS app (Image credit: NordVPN)

Settings for the iOS app include the same auto-connect feature we saw on Android, though. You can tell the app to automatically connect to the VPN on untrusted networks, only on Wi-Fi, or keep the VPN active all the time.

If that's not quite convenient enough, you're able to add NordVPN connections to Siri from within the app. As NordVPN points out, connecting is then as easy as 'asking Siri nicely.'

NordVPN Dark Web Monitor

Just like the Android app, you get Dark Web Monitoring with the iOS software (Image credit: NordVPN)

The Protocols menu gives you a wider choice than the Windows and Android apps, with options including NordVPN's WireGuard-based NordLynx, as well as OpenVPN UDP or TCP, and IKEv2.

As with Android, the app supports Dark Web Monitoring, where you'll get alerts if your credentials are exposed online.

Overall, NordVPN's iOS app is a significant plus for the service. If you're tired of other VPNs, where iOS users get the absolute bare minimum of features and functionality, give it a try – you might be pleasantly surprised. (And also check out these other great choices when it comes to the best iPhone VPNs).

NordVPN Browser Extensions

NordVPN makes it easy to connect right from your favorite browser with its extensions (Image credit: NordVPN)

Does NordVPN have browser extensions, and do these work well?

NordVPN does have browser extensions, and if all you're looking to do is protect your browser, these can be pretty useful.

If you're not connected and realize you need to unblock a website, for instance, you normally have to stop, find and launch the NordVPN app, locate and browse the countries list, click your preferred option, wait to see when you're connected, and finally switch back to your browser.

NordVPN’s Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge proxy extensions allow you to choose a VPN location, then connect and disconnect directly from the browser window.

The extension interface drops the map in favor of a single panel with only four recommended locations, a Quick Connect button to hook you up to the fastest, and a Search option to find a specific country only (there's no option to choose a city, region or specific server).

Settings include options to block WebRTC leaks in Chrome, reducing privacy risks, or to enable Threat Protection Lite's ad, malware and phishing protection. A bonus Split Tunneling feature allows you to disable the VPN for selected websites (those sites will see your real IP address and location, not the IP of the VPN server).

You're not going to be overwhelmed with the feature set, then, but the extension is quick and easy to use. You're able to connect in a couple of clicks, and because this is just a proxy, protecting browser traffic only, connection times are near instant.

We checked out NordVPN's Chrome, Edge and Firefox add-ons. Sometimes VPN capabilities can vary between browser extensions, but they’re almost identical, and once you've mastered one, you'll have no problem using any of the others.

How do NordVPN's extensions compare to rivals?

Overall, this isn't as capable a setup as you'll see with some of the competition. ExpressVPN's browser extensions control and work with the full ExpressVPN client, so once you enable them within your browser, they protect your entire system. (ExpressVPN tops the rankings in our pick of the best browser extensions). The NordVPN extensions are simple proxies, and protect your browser alone.

Still, the proxy approach is perfect for simple website unblocking, connections are much faster, and using NordVPN within a browser could be useful in a few situations (if some of your apps don't work with a VPN, for instance, or the VPN hampers your system performance). There are bonus privacy tools, too, including WebRTC blocking (which might prevent some IP leaks) and ad, tracker and malware-blocking via Threat Protection Lite.

In short, we're happy that NordVPN offers browser extensions at all – most VPN providers don't – and overall, this is a plus point for the service.

NordVPN Support

NordVPN's knowledgebase has many helpful articles (Image credit: NordVPN)

What customer support can you expect from NordVPN?

NordVPN's first line of customer support is its support website. Articles are sorted into multiple categories, and a search box allows you to find content by keyword.

The site isn't organized quite as well as we'd like. Head off to ExpressVPN's support site, for instance, and you're presented with the options 'Get instructions', 'Troubleshoot now' and 'Contact support'; very clear pointers on where you need to go next. At NordVPN, you get the sections 'FAQ', 'General Info', 'Billing' and 'Connectivity', and it sometimes takes a little more work to find the details you are after.

Once you get to the tutorials and guides, though, there's a lot to like here, with plenty of detailed but easy-to-follow setup and troubleshooting advice.

NordVPN chatbot

NordVPN's chatbot is a sterling addition to the provider's help options (Image credit: NordVPN)

If you can't locate what you need, an excellent chatbot offers instant and surprisingly intelligent help. NordVPN has a web page where you can download individual OpenVPN configuration files, for instance, but not the full set. We typed 'where can I download all the ovpn files' into the chatbot, clicked a suggested 'OpenVPN configuration files' link, and the bot gave us a link to 'all zipped OVPN configuration files.' That's help as it should be.

If it turns out the bot can't help you, NordVPN also offers 24/7 live chat support with real human beings, and in our experience this works very well. We posed a simple question and received a friendly opening response from a support agent within a couple of minutes.

Email support is available, too. Replies take a little longer – hours, rather than minutes, in our experience – but that's comparable with many other VPNs, and NordVPN responses were generally accurate and detailed enough to solve our problem.

NordVPN review: Final verdict

NordVPN is an appealing VPN provider with great performance, loads of features, and a reassuring no logging audit. It's not the cheapest VPN around, and we've a few small issues with the app interfaces. But the company has added a bunch of welcome improvements recently, and overall, it's a polished and professional service which will deliver good results for most users.


NordVPN FAQ

Here are some answers to other questions you may have about NordVPN, or indeed VPNs in general.

What is a VPN and how does it work?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a secure way to connect to the internet. A VPN gives you software that you can install on your devices, providing a ‘tunnel’ to send your data down in encrypted form, therefore making that data traffic more secure, and giving you a higher level of privacy online. See here for more details on how a VPN works – and remember that it delivers more than just security and anonymity, but can also let you access geoblocked content via servers in different countries, and more besides.


Can you try NordVPN for free?

Sort of – there's no free trial as such, as we mention in the review above, but there is a no-strings-attached money-back guarantee. If you sign up to a NordVPN subscription plan, and don’t like the service, you can cancel at any point within the first 30-days and you’ll get your money back. 

Can NordVPN be hacked?

Theoretically, any online service can be hacked – even a security-focused one like a VPN (given enough persistence from the attacker, resources, and the fact that potential vulnerabilities can seemingly spring from nowhere).

Of course, NordVPN actually was hacked as we mentioned in the review above, although the VPN has since shored up its defenses considerably as we also discussed.

How good is NordVPN for online gaming?

A VPN isn't really designed for gamers, mainly because the likelihood is that it'll decrease performance, snaffling a little of your bandwidth – as we saw in our NordVPN performance tests – and potentially adding a bit of latency (although how much latency can vary widely, depending on where the VPN server and game server are respectively located).

If you're serious about games, and particularly if you're playing the likes of shooters where twitch reactions are required, the added latency will be a real sticking point. That said, for other games, and more casual players, if the proverbial internet winds are blowing in the right direction, and server locations are favorable, you may not notice much difference at all.

A VPN still won't particularly help you when gaming, although it could potentially better protect you from the (admittedly fairly unlikely) prospect of being hit by DDoS attacks, and you might be able to access gaming content in regions that are otherwise unavailable to you.

Does NordVPN slow down your internet connection?

Using any VPN, including NordVPN, may slow down your internet connection a little, as there is inevitably some overhead to encrypting your data and sending it through a VPN tunnel. Sometimes, the difference is pretty negligible though. As we found in our latest performance tests, NordVPN resulted in a drop of performance of between 6-8%, which is acceptable and around average for a VPN provider. The likelihood is you won't even notice this with most everyday tasks you're carrying out online.

Will NordVPN drain my laptop or phone battery?

NordVPN is an application which is being run by your hardware, so by definition it will use some system resources, and in turn, those resources will have an impact on the battery life of a portable device. While there have been some anecdotal reports in the past about NordVPN being a bit of a battery hog, those were from some time back, and it should be no more intensive than any other VPN app.

Does NordVPN work in China?

NordVPN claims its service can indeed function in China. You may simply be able to use one of the NordVPN apps to connect to any server when in China, or for potentially better results, use the firm's Obfuscated Servers feature. For more details on that, check out this blog post (and you might want to have a quick watch of the above video).

What is NordLocker?

It's NordVPN's app which allows you to create a secure locker on your device to store sensitive files which are protected by encryption. This is sold separately to the VPN service, and you might want to read our review of NordLocker.

What is NordPass?

Like NordLocker, this is another separate app, except as the name suggests, NordPass is a password manager (and online form filler). Again, you can see how good it is by perusing our NordPass review.

How does NordVPN itself work; can you provide further details?

We do exactly that in our sneak peek inside a NordVPN server, which reveals in-depth info regarding security, logging, and much more.

If something goes wrong, how do I contact NordVPN customer support?

All you need to do is consult our full guide which covers all the different ways you can get support from NordVPN.

Does TechRadar have any help resources for NordVPN users?

We do indeed: we have guides for installing NordVPN on Windows, and for installing the Android app.

Kobo Clara 2E
8:05 am | October 21, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: | Comments: Off

One-minute review

[Update January 31, 2023: The Kobo Clara 2E has had a small price rise to $139.99 in the US (still the same price in both the UK and Australia). We've updated the price and availability section to reflect this.] 

As the environmentally-conscious sequel to the Kobo Clara HD, the Kobo Clara 2E comes packed with a bunch of features that were noticeably absent from its predecessor. It’s now waterproof with an IPX8 certification, has audiobook support thanks to the addition of Bluetooth connectivity and double the storage capacity at 16GB. It’s also the first Kobo ereader to be made of 85% recycled plastic.

The Kobo Clara 2E’s 6-inch display makes the upgrade to the latest E Ink Carta 1200 screen, which makes text look really nice, and it responds well too. The crisp display and good contrast help details to stand out well on the smaller screen.

In keeping with its open ecosystem, Kobo’s latest ereader still offers wide format support that makes it easy to sideload your existing collection of ebooks and documents. It also brings over the same crisp and clean user interface that we’ve been big fans of since the beginning. The interface is something Kobo has really nailed, and navigating around the device is incredibly simple even for first-time users. It makes finding your library, the Kobo Store, settings or OverDrive (to borrow library books) really easy.

Like the newer Kobo ereaders, the Clara 2E also features Bluetooth support, so you can listen to audiobooks (albeit only those purchased from the Kobo Store). That said, you will need to pair a set of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker to it to enjoy them, as the device itself doesn’t have built-in speakers (like some Onyx and PocketBook models). Interestingly, its Bluetooth connectivity holds up well and has a decent range, as we found out when leaving the Clara 2E on the kitchen counter while we were cleaning the living room.

Overall, Kobo’s latest Clara model features some sweet upgrades for a relatively small markup. That’s right – the Clara 2E’s starting price is higher than the Clara HD. However, it does slip in cheaper than its competitor – Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite – but only in the Australian market. 

The Kobo Clara 2E displaying the use of an audiobook.

The Kobo Clara 2E has an abundance of new features including audiobook support. (Image credit: Future)

Kobo Clara 2E: price & availability

  • $139.99 / £129.99 / AU$229.95
  • Released late September 2022
  • Available to buy now

Announced in September 2022, the Kobo Clara 2E was available for $129.99 / £129.99 / AU$229.95 on release. Given the stack of upgrades from its predecessor, a price rise of only $10 / £10 / AU$40 isn’t too bad.

Since then, the price for the Kobo Clara 2E has gone up to $139.99 in the US, matching the price for the 8GB Kindle Paperwhite in that region, the same as over in the UK (£129.99). Australia's pricing for the Kobo Clara 2E still remains at AU$229.95, coming in at AU$10 cheaper than the 8GB Kindle Paperwhite (AU$239.99).

Compared to Amazon's 6-inch Kindle (2022), the Kobo Clara 2E is a bit more expensive. The Kindle (2022) comes in at $99.99 / £84.99 for an ad-supported model, while over in Australia it'll set you back AU$179 for the device with no ads. Both devices give you16GB of storage, audiobook support and a 6-inch display, but the Kobo Clara 2E won't lock you into Amazon's ecosystem and has a waterproof rating of IPX8, something the 6-inch Kindle (2022) is noticeably missing. In this regard, the Kindle Paperwhite is a better comparison to the Clara 2E feature-wise.

Value score: 4.5/5

The Kobo Clara 2E positioned between a speaker, fake plant, two books and a coffee mug. On the ereaders display is an image of the cover of the current book being read on the device.

There might be a bunch of new features, but the Kobo Clara 2E sticks to a similar design as other ereaders in this price range. (Image credit: Future)

Kobo Clara 2E review: design & display

  • 85% recycled plastic
  • E Ink Carta 1200 screen tech
  • 6-inch display with basic design
Key specs

Screen size: 6 inches 

Display type: E Ink Carta 1200

File formats: 15 file formats & Kobo Audiobooks

Storage: 16GB 

Connectivity: Wi-Fi + Bluetooth

Weight: 171g

At first glance, the Kobo Clara 2E looks just like the Clara HD – the same tablet-like plastic chassis with a 6-inch display – however when flipping the ereader around you can distinctly see the difference. The back panel is navy in color with a wavy pattern on the back for some texture. It’s a nice and subtle touch, perhaps alluding to the fact that 85% of the plastic used to make its body is now recycled material, a lot of which was destined to end up in the ocean. Unfortunately, the rear panel doesn’t really give the device any additional grip, and tends to pick up a bit of dust and dirt – something to keep in mind if you don’t plan on popping it in a case.

There’s only one button and one port on this device. The power button has moved to the back of the device, rather than on the bottom bezel like the Clara HD. This change makes the edges of the device look sleek and neat from the front. The USB-C port replaces the micro USB slot on the bottom of the device.

An up close shot of the Kobo Clara 2E's back panel showing the logo and texture imbedded in navy blue plastic.

The power button on the Kobo Clara 2E is on the navy-coloured back panel that also has a wavy texture embedded into it. (Image credit: Future)

Like its predecessor, the Clara 2E is light and compact. It’s super easy to slip into a backpack or small purse, and we even managed to fit it into a pocket on a pair of cargo pants. The small size of the device made it easy to hold in one hand, meaning even while standing on crowded public transport we were still able to enjoy reading a novel while holding onto an overhead handle.

The E Ink Carta 1200 screen is a crisp display with a 300ppi resolution, and sufficiently avoids glare in the brightest of days. It’s also got a snappy response that makes selecting text, typing in your Wi-Fi password and page turns an absolute breeze.

Speaking of page turns – because the bezels aren’t flush to the screen, this is comfortable to do even while being held in just one hand as they provide ample space for a decent grip on the device.

Design score: 4/5

The Kobo Clara 2E ereader being held.

It's easy to grip the Kobo Clara 2E thanks to the raised bezels around the screen. (Image credit: Future)

Kobo Clara 2E: user experience

  • Audiobook support
  • Clean and easy-to-navigate interface
  • Great reading and listening experience

Reading on the device is a pleasant experience. We found it super convenient to whip out on a packed bus, or to have in a bag playing an audiobook with headphones on. We used the books that came preloaded with the review device that was sent to us, but you’re also able to sideload digital books and documents in 15 different formats from your computer.

Not only that, the fact that you can access ebooks from a public library is a big selling point – this, however, is contingent on the fact that your library of choice has OverDrive support (which many do in several countries). This is simple to use and all you need is your library card number to set up, then head to the OverDrive feature easily found on the device’s home screen.

Kobo’s own store is also easy to access directly from the home screen. While Kobo will pop up a few recommendations based on your collection, you also have the option for signing up to Kobo Plus, which is the Japanese-Canadian company’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

The Kobo Clara 2E laying flat on a table with the home page being displayed.

You can find the Kobo Store straight from the Kobo Clara 2E's home page. (Image credit: Future)

You also get a massive 16GB of space on the Clara 2E. That’s double the space of both the Clara HD and the Kindle Paperwhite that's closer in price, however there is an option for a 16GB Kindle Paperwhite for $149.99 / £149.99 / AU$259. While you can access the books you’re currently reading directly off the home screen, you can easily find your entire collection under My Books on the bottom navigation bar, and they can all be organized into Collections or sorted by authors and a whole load more. 

This makes it super easy to find your next story, with a variety of filters and different subheadings available to narrow down your search. The library shows the front cover of each title, and also gives you some information on how much you’ve read of each book and an estimate on how long you have left to finish your current reads.

The Kobo Clara 2E laying flat on a table next to a speaker and coffee mug, showing the collection of books loaded onto the device.

Navigating through the library is simple on the Kobo Clara 2E. You can filter, sort and switch between categories to find what you're after. (Image credit: Future)

Not only does the Kobo Clara 2E’s clean interface make using the device a breeze, but reading on the device is also a delightful experience. You can customize the font by type and size, plus adjust the brightness of the screen to your liking. There’s also a feature that adjusts the light temperature of the screen when you’re getting close to bed, yellowing the display at the time you set to reduce sleep-disrupting blue light. We found the contrast on each page to be great. 

Listening to audiobooks is also a great experience. As with most mainstream ereaders, there’s no built-in speaker here, but Bluetooth connectivity lets you pair a set of wireless headphones or a portable speaker. We found that connecting headphones was a breeze, and the range was good enough for us to leave the ereader in one room and move into another while still listening to a narration. You can purchase audiobooks directly on your ereader from the Kobo Store.

The Kobo Clara 2E displaying available Bluetooth connections.

You'll need to pair a device through Bluetooth with the Kobo Clara 2E to listen to audiobooks.  (Image credit: Future)

You can also see how you’re tracking in each book and total reading hours under the Activity section in the settings menu. While this may not interest everyone, it’s a great little ego booster for some avid readers. Kobo also has this neat little awards section that earns you badges for various achievements, but note that both the Activity stats and awards work only for titles purchased via the Kobo Store and not for sideloaded ones. 

User experience score: 4.5/5

Reading stats on the Kobo Clara 2E

You can check out your reading stats on the Kobo Clara 2E to track your progress on ebooks purchased from the Kobo Store. (Image credit: Future)

Kobo Clara 2E: battery life

  • 1,500mAh battery
  • USB-C charging

When it comes to battery life, the Kobo Clara 2E was a little erratic during our testing period. The brand-new device had 74% battery life right out of the box and it took us two weeks of reading one to two hours every day to bring it down to 1%. This is with the screen brightness at 25%, page refreshes set to each chapter, and with a mix of reading and listening.

The first time top-up took 3.5 hours to go to 100% when plugged into a computer. After that, though, the battery drained down to 0% in five days with the same settings and same amount of time spent with the device. In a weird twist, plugging it in for a charge showed there was still 35% left. We’re really not sure what happened there, but we didn’t encounter this issue again (thankfully).

Over the next few weeks, the battery issues seemed to smooth over. Used for just over an hour each work day, both listening and reading, we got it down to 48% after about two weeks, indicating that the battery could just be settling down after initial hiccups. 

We’ll need a little more time with the ereader to fully assess its battery life and we’ll update this review as necessary, but we can currently estimate that you’d get up to four weeks when using it for about an hour each day on the default settings (screen brightness at 25%, page refresh rate set to each chapter and both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on). 

Compared to the Libra 2 which also has a 1,500mAh battery, that gave us about 7 weeks per charge when used an hour each day during our testing, it’s a little lackluster. That said, this might get better with use, or Kobo could roll out a firmware update to sort battery issues if this is more widespread.

The Kobo Clara 2E laying flat on a table next to a speaker showing it's settings.

To increase the Kobo Clara 2E's battery longevity, there are a bunch of settings you can adjust. (Image credit: Future)

While the battery appears to be sufficient for a reader who likes to read in short bursts, it’s potentially not great for someone who reads for multiple hours a day and wants a device that can last for weeks without charging. There are battery saving settings and ways to maximize battery life, so you can adjust these to help support longer usage if need be. We also noted that topping up the battery was quicker when using a wall socket rather than plugging the device into a laptop’s USB port which, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Despite the lackluster battery performance, the USB-C charging port is a welcome upgrade from the Kobo Clara HD’s micro USB, and you get a USB A to C cord included with the device.

Battery life score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the Kobo Clara 2E?

The entire back panel of the Kobo Clara 2E showing the embedded texture and brand logo.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Kobo Clara 2E: report card

Also consider

[First reviewed October 2022]

How we test

Here at TechRadar, we hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to reviewing and testing products. Not only do they undergo an initial thorough review, but if it’s still on the market, we’ll update and maintain our reviews to ensure they still maintain correct information.

Find out more about how we test

Simbatex Foam Mattress review 2023: Simba’s budget-friendly all-foam bed
12:30 pm | October 16, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

The Simbatex Foam Mattress was added to the Simba range in September 2022, with a four-layer, foam-only design that's available in two variants – the Simbatex Foam (which we're reviewing here) and the Simbatex Essential Foam, which is a pared-back, even cheaper version.

As an all-foam option, the Simbatex branches away from the hybrid models the brand has built its reputation on. Our favourite of those, which you can read about in our Simba Hybrid Pro mattress review, sits high up in our best mattress ranking. But it's a lot more of an investment than the Simbatex, so we were excited to try this new addition out and see how it holds up. Read on for our full Simbatex Foam mattress review.

Simbatex Foam Mattress review in brief

  • Does a great job of keeping sleepers cool
  • Good motion isolation but edges dip and slope a little
  • Perfect choice for those who like a firm mattress

The Simbatex Foam Mattress may be at the cheaper end of Simba's lineup but that doesn't mean the brand has skimped on materials. The all-foam construction includes Simba's proprietary Simbatex foam – an open-cell structure foam that encourages airflow and is infused with graphite particles to filter heat away. Simba says it provides 30 times more airflow than traditional memory foam and, for an all-foam mattress, we agree that the Simbatex Foam Mattress keeps sleepers impressively cool at night.

Simbatex Foam Mattress specs

Best for: Back and front sleepers, heavier sleepers.
Type: All-foam mattress in a box
Firmness: 7.5/10
Materials: Knitted cover, soft CertiPUR Simbatex foam, open-cell foam, high density foam.
Depth: 25cm
Sizes: Single, Small Double, Double, King, Super King
Weight: 23.5-43kg
Trial period:  1 year
Guarantee: 10 years

The mattress is far firmer than a traditional memory foam mattress, making it a great choice for back and stomach sleepers as well as heavier weight sleepers, who should feel supported without sinking too far into the foam. That's not to say that it will suit everyone. Side sleepers will most probably find it too firm, with a lack of adequate pressure relief at the shoulders and hips. And our lightweight tester found the mattress too firm overall, feeling as if they were lying on top of it rather than being supported.

Simba offers a year-long mattress trial period, giving you plenty of time to decide if it's right for you. Overall, we think this is a well-made and comfortable firm bed that belies its relatively low-price tag. We'll expand on all these points throughout the rest of our Simbatex Foam mattress review.

A Simbatex Foam Mattress on a bed

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

Simbatex Foam Mattress review: price and deals

  • Simba's second cheapest mattress
  • All sizes often reduced by up to 40%
  • Not as cheap as some all-foam mattresses

Although the Simbatex Foam Mattress isn't Simba's cheapest mattress, it's extremely well priced for a firm mid-range mattress. The RRP for a UK double is £799, with other mattresses of comparable firmness often coming in at over £1,000. Simba mattress sales of 40% off are a fairly regular occurrence, so you shouldn't have to pay that RRP if you buy at the right time (the Black Friday mattress deals are an especially good time to buy). 

Here's the official pricing for the Simbatex Foam Mattress in the UK:

  • Single RRP: £679 (usually £539.40)
  • Small Double RRP: £799 (usually £407.40)
  • Double RRP: £799 (usually £479.40)
  • King RRP: £899 (usually £539.40)
  • Super King RRP: £999 (usually £599.40)

The Simbatex's closest rivals are probably the Emma Original and the Nectar Memory Foam Mattress. The price for a UK double from both these brands isn't dissimilar to the Simba, with the Emma coming in at £759 (RRP) and the Nectar at £879 (RRP). And, as with the Simbatex Foam Mattress, you'll see regular mattress sales from both these brands.

View Simbatex Foam Mattress at Simba Sleep
The Simbatex Foam Mattress is one of Simba's newest mattresses, but the company regularly offer discounts and have sales with around 40% off. This means you should be able to pick up a double size for around £479.40, which is a great price for a good quality firm mattress that will suit lots of sleepers. Simba offers a generous year-long trial period for mattresses and a 10-year warranty, plus there's free delivery and returns if the mattress doesn't suit you.View Deal

Simbatex Foam Mattress review: materials

The Simbatex Foam Mattress is, as the name suggests, made entirely of foam. Simba is better known for hybrids – in fact, it has even put springs in one of its pillows (read about it in our Simba Hybrid Firm pillow review). 

There are four layers in the mattress, which is a relatively small number of layers for a Simba model. However, the mattress is solidly constructed and doesn't feel lacking in support. Simba's all-foam construction is different to the best memory foam mattresses on the market, so let's look at what it's made up of. 

A diagram of the layers in a Simbatex Foam Mattress

(Image credit: Simba Sleep)

The mattress is wrapped in an anti-allergy removable knitted cover that's incredibly soft to the touch and to lie on. It's also got a zip for easy removal and washing (a removable cover is fairly rare in cheaper mattresses, so this is a welcome addition). Beneath that is a layer of CertiPUR Simbatex foam, with an open cell structure to circulate airflow and infused with graphite to help keep sleepers cool at night.

Underneath is the Simba-Response foam layer, which gives the mattress its support and also helps to maintain airflow. Last up is the high-density foam base, providing zoned pressure relief and structure to the whole mattress.

Simbatex Foam Mattress review: firmness and comfort

  • A firm mattress with a rating of 7.5 out of 10
  • Provides great pressure relief for back and front sleepers
  • Zoned support helps to keep your spine aligned

When we first tried the Simbatex Foam Mattress we were surprised by how firm it was, as we were expecting an all-foam mattress to be softer. The feel of the Simbatex Foam Mattress did take a little getting used to.

We asked a variety of testers to try out the mattress of different body weights and with varied sleeping positions. Our two main reviewers were of light and average weight respectively.

Our average weight reviewer found the mattress incredibly supportive as a back sleeper and noted the softer support at the shoulders. They felt that the mattress moulded well to their body and that their hips, back and shoulders were cradled with excellent pressure relief. They were also delighted by how cool the mattress kept them as a generally hot sleeper. The cooling properties of the foam do an excellent job of keeping sleepers cool at night.

A hand pushing down onto a Simbatex Foam Mattress

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

However, our lighter weight tester felt that the mattress was too firm for them and that they were lying on top of it, rather than sinking in slightly and being supported. It was also too firm for dedicated side sleepers, who felt too much pressure on their shoulders and hips.

Those with a heavier body weight were pleasantly surprised by how supported they felt, although we wouldn't recommend the mattress for individual sleepers over 18 stone (although the mattress will happily support two separate sleepers of up to 18 stone). Of course, firmness and comfort are subjective, which is why the long trial period with Simba's mattresses is so useful.

Simbatex Foam Mattress review: performance

  • Good motion isolation
  • Edge support isn't great, with the mattress sloping at the edges
  • Keeps sleepers cool throughout the night

We slept on a single size mattress for just under a month, looking at all the major areas of performance. We rated it on pressure relief, motion isolation, edge support, cooling and ease of set up; all of which should help you to decide if this is the right mattress for your sleeping style.

It's difficult to gauge the durability of a mattress after only sleeping on it for a short amount of time and, with the mattress being relatively new, there aren't any long-term reviews on the subject either. However, with the quality of the foams used and judging by the durability of other mattresses in the Simba range, we think the Simbatex Foam Mattress will last well. (Read our Simba Hybrid Pro review for a closer look at that one.)

Setup

A Simbatex Foam Mattress in its box

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

Score: 4.5 out of 5

The Simbatex Foam Mattress was incredibly simple to set up. The mattress arrived rolled in a box and, as it was a single, was easy for one tester to move around. However, if you've ordered a king or super king, we think you'd need two people to move it around and avoid injuring yourself. Inside the box, the mattress is vacuum packed into a bag.

Lay the mattress on the bed before cutting the plastic, as this will break the vacuum seal and make the mattress expand. We found this process painless and the mattress was, as Simba suggested, ready to sleep on in three to six hours. The mattress did continue to expand a little over the next couple of days, but it's fairly minor compared to the initial rise.

A Simbatex Foam Mattress laid out in its bag

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

Off-gassing

Score 4.5 out of 5

Off-gassing, where organic chemicals and gases are released from the foam as a mattress expands, is normal and to be expected when buying a mattress in a box. The chemical-like odour that's produced can last several days with some mattresses.

However, the Simbatex Foam Mattress isn't one of them. We noticed a slight odour on taking the mattress out of the box and packaging, but this dissipated quickly over a few hours and wasn't never too strong to begin with. It was certainly produced some of the least amounts of off-gassing in mattresses we've tested.

The Simbatex Foam Mattress is made from CertiPUR approved foams, which are made without mercury, lead and other heavy metals, carcinogenic chemicals and phthalates.

Pressure relief

Score: 4 out of 5

To test the sinkage of the Simbatex Foam Mattress we placed a 20kg weight in the middle of the bed, where the mattress sank by 3.75 inches. Surprisingly, considering that the edges slope and dip a little, the mattress sank by exactly the same amount at the edges. Placing a hand into the mattress, the foam sprang back extremely quickly.

A weight on a Simbatex Foam Mattress

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

The above fits well with our assessment of the mattress as firm, but how did it translate when it came to pressure relief for our testers? Our average weight tester felt that their pressure points were well supported on the mattress. They mainly sleep on their back and felt that their spine was kept well aligned throughout the night. Heavier weight sleepers also felt supported – both on their back and front. We wouldn't recommend the mattress for lighter weight sleepers, as they're likely not to sink in far enough for decent pressure relief and the mattress is too firm for side sleepers. We'd recommend the Nectar Memory Foam mattress if you sleep on your side, as the mattress is softer.

Motion transfer

Score 4.5 out of 5

If you share your bed with a restless sleeper, a mattress that absorbs motion transfer can be a godsend. We performed a simple drop test with a 6kg weight and an empty wine glass to see how well the mattress isolated motion.

We dropped the weight from around 4-5 inches above the mattress at various distances from the wine glass, getting closer in increments to see whether the wine glass wobbled or fell over. At 25 inches there was absolutely no movement from the glass and at 10 inches there was a little bounce, but the glass remained upright. The glass fell over at 5 inches, but fairly gently.

A weight, a wine glass and a tape measure on a Simbatex Foam Mattress

(Image credit: Jo Plumridge)

We weren't particularly surprised that the wine glass remained fairly stable as the Simbatex Foam Mattress is made entirely of foam. However, because it is such a firm mattress there was a little bounce with a lighter weight object.

Temperature regulation

Score 5 out of 5

We tested the Simbatex Foam Mattress with a 4.5 tog summer duvet and a fleece blanket in a bedroom that was around 15C. Our tester who tends to sleep hot in most mattresses found that the Simbatex kept them cool throughout the night, with them waking at a pleasant temperature.

This is largely due to the cooling materials used in the mattress. Simba use open cell foam that circulates 30x more airflow than traditional memory foam mattresses and it's also infused with heat absorbing graphite to keep the mattress breathable and cooling. If you're a hot sleeper we'd certainly recommend this mattress over other foam mattresses such as the Nectar Memory Foam Mattress and the Emma Original.

Edge support

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Decent edge support on a mattress not only increases the sleeping surface of a mattress, but also helps you get in and out of the bed alongside providing a stable surface to sit on whilst getting dressed. Unfortunately this was one area where the Simbatex Foam Mattress fell a little short.

Although our heaviest weight of 20kg didn't sink any further at the edges than in the middle of the mattress (3.75 inches), we noticed a little dip and slope at the edges of the mattress. It's noticeable when you're sitting on the edge of the bed, but it isn't so bad that you'll feel like you might slide off.

The slight dip and slope is also noticeable if you sleep right up to the edge of the mattress and this does reduce the sleeping area slightly. If you're sharing your bed with a partner, we would recommend investing in a slightly larger size if you're a fan of spreading out through the night.

Durability

Whilst it's difficult to gauge the durability of a mattress after just under a month sleeping on it, we feel that the Simbatex Foam mattress should perform well for years to come. This is a well-made mattress, using high-quality foams and a well-fitting, removeable cover that can be bunged in the washing machine to freshen up. Simba is clearly confident about the Simbatex's durability with a yearlong trial and a 10-year warranty on offer.

You can help keep the mattress in good condition by investing in one of the best mattress protectors available and cleaning the mattress regularly (see our guide on how to clean a mattress for more help on this). 

Simba also recommends you rotate your mattress once a month for the first three months of its life and then every three to six months after that.

Simbatex Foam Mattress: customer reviews

As the Simbatex Foam Mattress has only been on the market for a short while, there are only a very small handful of customer reviews available. Of the three reviews left by customers so far, all three left 5 out of 5-star reviews.

These reviewers all raved about the comfort of the mattress and how much better they slept, with the heat regulation technology being popular as well. And one reviewer also reported no longer having back pain. These early reviews would indicate that this is, so far, a popular mattress with customers and their reports mirror much of what we feel about the mattress.

Should you buy the Simbatex Foam Mattress?

The Simbatex Foam Mattress belies its cheaper price tag in our opinion, offering a great night's sleep for back and front sleepers. Average and heavier weight sleepers will feel supported and cushioned, with excellent pressure relief at the shoulders, back and hips.

The mattress also does a great job of keeping sleepers cool at night, with its open cell foam structure infused with graphite. Its heat regulation technology does a great job throughout the night, making this a great choice for those who sleep hot.

Simba uses Certi-PUR non-toxic foams and all their mattresses are 100% recyclable. They're also made in the UK (or in local factories if you're buying in other countries) and all deliveries are carbon neutral. However, if you're after a thoroughly eco-friendly mattress, the more expensive Simba GO Hybrid mattress is as green as they come, with organic latex rather than memory foam, and it's 100% recyclable as well as providing excellent pressure relief, although it may be too soft for front and heavier weight sleepers. See our Simba Hybrid GO review to learn more.

We wouldn't recommend this mattress to lighter weight or side sleepers. Instead, the Nectar Foam Mattress is a great choice for side sleepers, allowing them to sink further into the mattress and feel supported at pressure points. If you'd prefer a slightly softer mattress overall the DreamCloud Luxury Hybrid has softer foam and springs to provide a more cushioned feel.

First reviewed October 2022