There are hundreds of VPN providers vying for your business. But how do you decide which provider best meets your needs? That’s where Pixel Privacy can help.
I’ve put numerous VPN providers through rounds of rigorous testing to assist you in making the right VPN choice. I test each provider in multiple categories, including security and privacy protection, connection speeds, app support, and many more.
Whether you’re looking for a safe way to torrent files, are looking for access to Netflix and other popular geographically-blocked streaming services, or are simply searching for a secure and private way to connect to your favorite coffee shop’s Wi-Fi hotspot, a VPN can help.
What Features Are Important?
It seems as if every electronic device we own is connected to the internet. That’s why it’s important to use a VPN that offers native app support for as many devices as possible.
I rate each provider on its apps offerings. I also rate them on whether or not they offer browser extensions for popular browser platforms, and whether or not they offer router support.
A provider that offers router support can protect all of your devices that don’t have apps available, such as your Internet of Things devices, like your Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, or your internet-connected security cameras.
Most paid VPN providers allow users to make more than one connection to their servers using the same set of login credentials. The number of simultaneous (or concurrent) connections allowed varies by provider.
Obviously, the more simultaneous connections allowed, the better. This comes in particularly handy for users looking to protect a large number of devices and users, such as a user who heads a large family or owns a small business.
Perhaps one of the most popular uses for a VPN is the unblocking of streaming services that are normally unavailable in your country. Services can include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and numerous others.
Many streaming services are either not available in all countries, or they limit some of their content to particular countries. A VPN can make it appear as if you’re in another country, opening access to that region’s streaming content.
However, many streaming services, Netflix included, have caught on to this trick, and actively attempt to block a VPN-provided IP address from accessing their service. That’s why it’s important to find a VPN provider that actively adds new IP addresses when old IPs are blocked.
Security and Privacy Protections
If online security and privacy are your #1 consideration when buying a VPN, you’ll want to pay close attention to this section in my VPN reviews.
I consider whether a VPN service keeps any records of their customers’ online travels while connected to the provider’s servers. I also note whether the VPN provider is based in a privacy-friendly country and whether they accept Bitcoin as an anonymous payment option.
In addition, I look at the types of encryption that a VPN provider uses to protect their users’ connections from prying eyes. Terms like “military-grade” or “government-level” encryption mean the provider uses the best available encryption to protect your connection.
Other features that can protect your connection include kill switch protection, DNS leak protection, and IPv6 leak protection. For more information, check out my article on VPN Security Features.
You’ll see plenty of VPN services claim that they’re “the world’s fastest VPN” or that they “provide the fastest connections in the industry.” Pixel Privacy tests those speeds to see how true those claims are.
When I discuss a VPN provider’s connection speeds, I’m referring to their download speeds. The Pixel Privacy team tests those speeds by assigning 3 team members to connect to providers at 3 different times of day for 3 days, testing 3 VPN servers in various locations around the globe.
Once testing is completed, we average all of the results for each provider, and that’s the download speed I use in my reviews.
In addition to download speeds, I also investigate whether a VPN service imposes bandwidth restrictions or data caps on their customers’ data usage. The fastest connections in the world are useless if you’re subjected to data caps.
Global Server Coverage
VPN providers usually publish two different figures when promoting their global server coverage: Their raw server numbers and the number of countries the servers are located in.
The more servers a provider has, the less chance their servers will be overwhelmed by their users’ connections. The more countries a provider has servers located in, the better access you’ll have to websites and services that might not normally be available in your region.
While most of today’s VPN providers offer reliable service and apps that are simple to install and easy to use, there will be times when you’ll need assistance.
You’ll find most VPN providers rely on the tech trinity of support, which is made up of live support chat, a trouble ticket submission system, and a searchable knowledge base.
Some providers will also offer an email link, and in very rare cases, a phone number. (But don’t hold your breath for phone support, because most providers don’t offer it in order to keep costs down.)
While it would be wonderful if all of us could afford to pay any price for a quality VPN, in the real world, price is almost always an important consideration. I encourage you to consider pricing on an equal footing with the other factors I’ve listed here.
When I discuss a VPN service’s pricing, I usually concentrate on a provider’s annual subscription pricing. That puts all of the providers on equal footing for pricing considerations.
I don’t list exact pricing, as VPN providers change their pricing structures regularly. They also almost always offer special deals, which can greatly reduce your expenses. So, be sure to visit a VPN provider’s website for their latest pricing and deals.
Warning: While we’re discussing price, I’d like to strongly advise you to avoid free VPN services like the plague. Free VPN providers typically offer slower speeds and fewer server options. Some free VPNs will even log your online activities and sell that info to the highest bidder.
I’ve tested a large number of VPN providers in the last few years, and all have proven to offer features that would be attractive to potential VPN users.
Here are my full reviews of each provider:
- NordVPN – This top-ranked provider doesn’t cut corners to deliver a low price. NordVPN offers comprehensive global server coverage and app support while delivering fast and well-protected connections.
- Surfshark – Excellent privacy protections, fast download speeds, and unlimited simultaneous connections are the hallmarks for this provider. Plus, it does it all at a budget-friendly price.
- ExpressVPN – A reliable choice for VPN service, this provider offers excellent download speeds, comprehensive global server coverage, and excellent access to streaming services.
- CyberGhost – Offers fast, reliable connections that do an excellent job of keeping your online antics undercover. The provider’s easy-to-use apps will be appreciated by first-time VPN users.
- IPVanish – An excellent choice for users who are focused on security. IPVanish owns and operates its huge server network instead of leasing from third parties.
- PrivateVPN – Offers reasonably priced VPN protection and fast download speeds.
- Hide My Ass! – While providing fast speeds and access to Netflix and other services, this provider has shared information about its users in the past.
- Private Internet Access – Fast speeds are the rule with this provider, but it offers limited global server coverage, and its content-unblocking powers are limited.
- PureVPN – Easy-to-use apps provide one-click access to streaming, P2P file sharing, internet freedom and more. Questionable privacy policies in the past.
- SaferVPN – Offers excellent privacy protections while providing easy-to-use apps, making it an ideal provider for the first-time VPN user.
- TunnelBear – Offers fast download speeds, but its global server coverage and multi-app support are both “bearly” there.
- VPN Unlimited – Offers excellent connection speeds, and comprehensive privacy and security protections at a low price.
- VyprVPN – Offers excellent customer support, great global server coverage and comprehensive customer support.
When considering any VPN provider, take a close look at how well their performance and features compare to that of other providers. Making a well-informed decision will help ensure your satisfaction with your VPN experience.