In the 21st Century everything seems to be digital and about instant access. No matter where you are in the world people are desperate to know what is going on with their social media feeds, check e-mail and keep up to date on their favourite sport or hobby. Yet with so many surfing restrictions or risk of hackers you need an online VPN service to protect yourself.
Why do you need to use a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs provide online protection by encrypting your online data through a secure connection. This stops prying eyes watching what you are doing online if you are using an open, public wifi network.
Your e-mail, banking and log in details are more secure through these online VPN portals. Before I started using VPNs I remember my hotmail being hacked and it was a real pain trying to get access to my e-mail again. It took a few days to get back in.
VPNs allow travellers to access country specific sites. So you might be in India or Vietnam but you want to watch or hear your favourite sporting team play on a live broadcast. No problem, just VPN into the server of the country the radio or TV station serves then you can connect to their online service. If you are showing as connecting from another country then you are likely to be denied viewing or listening rights because of broadcasting restrictions.
You can also get around strict internet policies in some countries. Places like China, Iran and Turkey may block certain social media and other websites. Yes, the internet is censored in those countries so don’t expect to be tweeting or Facebooking when in China. As for YouTube, well you won’t be seeing any videos there either. Yes, countries like China and Iran don’t want their people to read negative things about their country so they’ve been known to block Google and social media sites. This could be hard to adjust to when you originate from a society where there is almost complete freedom of access to data online.
A lot of companies use VPN networks to protect their online data. So people can VPN into their company server to access, add or modify files. However since they are of a corporate nature I will not be talking about them. I’m going to review some commercially available Virtual Private Network programs for private users.
I’d discussed this last year as I tried to find the best VPN for China. After testing a number of services I concluded that the HMA VPN service (Hide My Ass) was by far the best one I had tried. I signed up for a year to HMA then not so long ago I renewed my subscription for a second year. I think it is a very good VPN service and has continued to be a great tool to keep me safe online no matter which hotel or public wifi network I connect to, wherever I am in the world.
After they read my review on what I thought was the best VPN for China I was contacted a number of times by another big name in online protection, Vypr VPN by Golden Frog. They wanted me to try out their product and include it in my VPN reviews.
At first I explained that I was a very happy customer of Hide My Ass and saw little point in moving to another online VPN service. The fact I’ve paid for 2 years worth of HMA subscription is testimony to that.
Vypr were keen to emphasis how they’ve become experts in getting around the great firewall of China and provide very fast online connections. After a little discussion I agreed to accept their 3 month free trial and write a review of their product.
I also felt it appropriate that I review the performance of Vypr (sometimes incorrectly called Vyper VPN or Viper VPN) vs Hide My Ass plus another VPN service which I’ve previously used (and has a free VPN subscription option) called Tunnel Bear.
Products often change so maybe now is a good time time to find the best VPN for travellers in 2015.
So how do the online VPN services compare and which is the best VPN for a traveller?
Vypr VPN is also branded and known as Golden Frog.
Whilst I am not a techno geek the Golden Frog brand have a lot of selling points as to why you should consider their VPN service as the best.
Firstly, they claim to be the fastest VPN service that you can use. So I needed to use the speedtest measuring tool to see how speeds stack up.
Vypr VPN also offers what they call Chameleon which is a big selling point for them. This is a feature which Golden Frog engineers have developed to scramble metadata. This means it can get past restrictive government networks, such as in Turkey or indeed the Great Fire Wall of China. So I can now access blocked websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on. Chameleon is available with the Pro or Premier subscription levels.
You may recall that in my best China VPN review a lot of VPNs failed this test or were too slow. It was only Hide My Ass which seemed to perform well as a fast VPN and made it my first choice.
Well now Vypr is on my radar, it could be strong competition to HMA. Unfortunately I don’t have any trips to China planned in the near future. (They will happen just not now.)
So I can’t compare Vypr v Hide My Ass in China. However a recent trip to the US allowed me to compare them for my user needs. Both of these VPN versions were paid versions although you can get a VPN free trial via their websites.
The Vypr software was fairly quick and easy to download and install. Registration was also easy.
There is an option with this Vypr VPN for the service to start up once you switch on your computer. Lots of software offer this. However I opted to make it a manual selection to switch this on and off since I am often on my own, secure home network.
The log in portal is also a doddle. Select your preferred country to route through, hit connect and away you go.
Once online the service appeared very stable and as a user I didn’t notice any problems streaming, downloading or with my general surfing. I’m not an online gamer so I can’t testify to how good any of these VPNs are for such users.
The ping, download and upload speeds for Vypr were more comparable to the other VPN services. The results are further down below.
As an online VPN service Vypr also likes to distinguish what they see as their unique qualities. These include using their own servers as opposed to third party servers. This means they have full control and responsibility for maintaining their networks.
They also say they have unlimited speeds. So if you are on a really fast internet connection you should be able to maintain that through your VPN. Chameleon technology should help with this.
Whilst the technical details are beyond my knowledge of these things, I know many say an online VPN can impair some of the speed of your connection. Obviously the minimum loss of speed is a big plus here.
Vypr state they have unlimited VPN data usage, however it is worth noting this is only with one of their paid plans. Their VPN free version allows 500 mb per month. Whilst this is a selling point for Vypr I struggle to see how this is different to other online services. For example the free TunnelBear version gives 500 mb per month. Yet with their long running tweet promotion (send one tweet to them a month) you get an extra GB on top! So TunnelBear’s free version is currently the best offer of the three offering 1.5GB per month of data usage.
Vypr can be used on various devices, Windows, Mac, IoS, Linux, Android. You can also run 2 devices consecutively with a Pro or Premier subscription.
Whilst I’ve had no need to call upon it, that in itself is probably a good thing, Golden Frog offer Vypr VPN support all hours of the day, everyday.
For me though, probably the biggest differentiator Vypr VPN from Golden Frog offer is their Dump Truck online storage. With the onset of Dropbox, Amazon, Google Drive and even a Windows storage facility it seems everyone is in on the act.
Backing up and storing data online seems to be the big thing at the moment.
Even with the free version of Vypr VPN you can get 5GB of online storage with Dump Truck. This then goes up to 50GB with the highest tariff subscription, Premier. Compare that to just 2GB for a the free subscription to Dropbox.
The Dump Truck allows you to automatically sync files across various devices and share things online. You can keep things private or share files.
Vypr make a big play on the fact they protect your identity. They recently did a big promotion on this fact whilst citing a competitor who revealed a user’s identity. As far as I understand it though, the identity was revealed after a subpoena in the US. Why wouldn’t you then reveal details?
Unfortunately some people use VPNs to perform nasty or illegal acts and I do wonder if such bad people should be protected? Things such as hacking, setting up criminal or copyright infringed websites are some of the ways users may abuse the VPN service.
Hide My Ass!, also referred to as HMA is the VPN service I am most familiar with. I’ve been using it for close to a year and I am a very happy customer.
As previously mentioned I chose HMA because it was able to get around tight internet restrictions, such as in China, which many other VPN services are unable to.
In addition it has a wealth of countries (200+) with servers and over 121,180 IP addresses. Whilst I’m not a geek at these things I guess that is good. Should the Chinese authorities try to block a certain IP address there is always another one you can use.
The interface and settings for HMA are the most complex of the 3 VPN services that I am reviewing. However, for the basics it is really simple and you just click Connect to VPN.
The console also has a speed guide section. This allows you to see the closest servers to your current location, the thinking being the closer you are the better the connection.
It also offers a speed or ping test. This will help you find out which server for your destination country is the best choice. The best choice could well be down to the least loaded server, that is the server with the most available bandwidth resource.
I’m not aware of other VPN speed test features built into the competition offerings. (Vypr does offer to automatically connect you to their fastest server but this may not be your preferred destination country as I found out on testing. Whilst in the UK I clicked to connect to the fastest VPN connection and it took me to Belgium! That is not going to allow me to watch Sky or BBC iPlayer because it is not a UK IP address.)
Should I have any problems with connecting to a Hide My Ass server I’ve always found the HMA VPN online support to be fantastic. I’ve had live chats online with their customer support team. They have always been very patient, clear and polite. At the end of each chat they have resolved any issue I might have and helped me get the fastest connection possible. This is often due to them advising me of tweaks to proxy or protocol settings which may fix my problem. – Yes I don’t really understand it either but the fact they fix it so well for me is why I like them.
As far as I understand HideMyAss! are the biggest VPN provider in the world (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). So they have a great support and technical network.
It might well be for this reason that they don’t always come across as the cheapest VPN service. Yet they don’t do things on the cheap. They provide a great service with a wide network and excellent support.
I do think prices with VPNs can be a bit of a misnomer. They all seem to have frequent discount sales and special offers. It is for this reason that I renewed my HMA annual subscription very early.
Sometimes discounts can be 60%+ off the main price so you have to check day by day what the latest offer is.
Although Hide My Ass VPN would appear to be the highest standard price of the VPNs I am reviewing you need to check the prices before you buy as time limited discounts are common across all services.
Whilst I am unable to currently see a HMA VPN free trial offering they do offer a 30 day money back guarantee. Isn’t that almost as good as a free trial? Admittedly you can have a free subscription indefinitely with Vypr or TunnelBear which is not offered by HMA.
For me the TunnelBear VPN service is the most straightforward of the 3 online VPN services that I reviewed. It is undoubtedly a good VPN for people with basic requirements.
The free subscription offering came out as a fast VPN for download and upload speeds and also scored well on the ping test.
I love the fact that the free subscription has an ongoing Twitter promotion. You just send one quick tweet (use the pre-set tweet option they have to save even more time) and typically within a few minutes to an hour your allowance for that month moves from 500 MBs to 1.5 GBs. I don’t know how long this tweet promotion will last but it has been going for over a year. Well it is good publicity for them on Twitter by various users so I guess they’ll keep it going.
If you are worried about using up your data allowance you can even see real time in the console how much data you have left so you can plan ahead.
TunnelBear worked well with my live streaming.
As I said before, the one thing that puts me off this service is that when I tried it in November 2014 it wasn’t sophisticated enough to bypass the internet controls in China. So as along as you don’t go to highly censored internet usage countries then this could be the online VPN for you.
I’ve never used their support but I hear that people typically have a response e-mail within 24 hours. Whilst this is reasonable I personally prefer a live chat feature. Then if you have an urgent task to complete you can resolve it quickly.
TunnelBear, like the other online VPNs offer apps for android and iOS so you can load it onto your tablet too.
Whilst this is all good, I do get the impression that TunnelBear is the smallest organisation of the three. They have the least number of servers and countries.
Also their customer support might not be instant and they can’t crack that great firewall of China. They do have some cool cartoon character graphics though.
Security risk of using VPNs
In addition to the above TunnelBear VPN provide some honest updates of some issues they face from a technical point of view. All 3 VPN services have in recent months been found to have had some vulnerability to redirecting traffic from a wifi router (an IPv6 Leakage or a DNS Hijack). TunnelBear openly discusses this on their website blog and the steps they have been taking to address it.
You can read the full research paper hear: http://www.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/~hamed/papers/PETS2015VPN.pdf
You will also note a big plus for Vypr VPN in that they were found not to be vulnerable on the IPv6 traffic leakage. On iOS all VPNs were secure in this regard yet on Android all were vulnerable, including Vypr.
Since TunnelBear were so open about it I thought I’d look into the approach of the other two online VPN providers for their response. Both responded on the same day that I raised the query.
Vypr VPN from Golden Frog highlighted the fact that they responded almost instantly to this report. Not only did they discuss the issues on the Golden Frog blog they also held a Google hangout with their co-CTO. Both of which you can find on the same blog page.
Hide My Ass came back to me with a similar reassuring tone. They said:-
“HideMyAss! is aware of the report. While we agree with the report that there is no silver bullet when it comes to security, the report does not make it clear that only a minority of VPN users will be affected due to the very low adoption rates worldwide for IPv6 (~6%). https://www.google.com/intl/en/ipv6/statistics.html#tab=ipv6-adoption
The HideMyAss! DNS configuration has been resolved. While we do not provide IPv6 VPN services, we have already been working to address issues with IPv6 – future versions of our clients will address the IPv6 issue noted in the report.”
Following on from this they advised me that an updated release of their software on 10th September 2015 addressed the IPv6 issue.
Whilst I am far from technically skilled on the ins and outs of the issues I am reassured to see that all providers have paid attention to the report and acknowledged the claims within it. The risks discussed have been quantified and let’s face it you are going to be more vulnerable not using a VPN compared to using one. Especially if you are on a public wifi network you don’t want your bank login details stolen or e-mail hacked.
Hide My Ass and TunnelBear have actively sought to close any weaknesses in their networks. Vypr emphasised the strength of being a totally self managed network which gives them more control.
Testing the speeds of the online VPNs
I was going to be using speedtest.net to perform my tests. This is a free online testing software which has often been used by IT professionals I know.
It first of all performs a ping test. Ping is defined as to how long it takes for a packet of data to travel from my computer to a server and then back again. As a result a lower ping score is better than a high one. High ping scores may make streaming of videos buffer or online gaming slow and unresponsive.
Then there is upload and download speeds. The faster these are the better. So if you want to upload pictures or video to say your social networks you would want them to load quickly.
If you are downloading pictures or say streaming from Amazon Prime video or another online streaming service you want high speeds.
As part of my testing I would be trying the UK TV sites to which I have a subscription/registration. Those being BBC iPlayer and Sky TV.
There are a few reasons why I chose those sites to test:
– firstly they have live streaming as an option so I want to know if I can watch things live whilst I am away from home and online
– they are services I use frequently
– they have geographical tracking to make sure non-Brits aren’t trying to watch their services which are licensed to be shown to a UK audience only. This is where the magic of an online VPN comes into play. With an online VPN you can connect, whilst in another country, to a UK server. Then from that UK server you can then browse as if you are in the UK without any viewing restrictions on these sites.
As well as online protection, connecting to UK servers is crucial to my needs. All 3 of the VPN services I’ve tested provide UK servers as options to connect to. Numerous other countries are available but some VPN services offer more countries and servers than others.
I’m also glad to say that all 3 VPN services that I tested allowed me to stream BBC iPlayer and Sky whilst I was in the US.
I performed all my tests during the same time period whilst online in a hotel in the US. It was a Marriott Fairfield Inn.
This was a good test since it is exactly the time I’d need a reliable VPN. I was on a public user network so needed protection of my data and movements online. I also wanted to access UK facing websites from another country.
I wanted to perform this test later on a trip to Norway and then some accommodation in London. I’m afraid it was difficult to perform reliable tests at these other 2 locations because the hotel internet connections were horrendous. All 3 VPN services struggled. Whilst in London I ended up tethering the internet from my phone because the hotel wifi was so poor.
Online VPN Speed Test
So how did they all do in a speed test of Ping, Download and Upload speeds? I used speedtest.net first on the hotel wifi network without any VPN switched on. Then I switched on each one in turn and connected to one of their designated UK servers.
These results are completely unbiased and the screenshots show what my exact findings were.
This is what happened without a VPN being switched on, so just the normal hotel internet connection.
These are the results from using Vypr.
There are the results of using TunnelBear as a VPN.
Here are the speed test results from using HideMyAss! (HMA).
Summary of VPN speed test results.
If I’m honest the results vary so much I think it depends what purpose you are using the internet for prior to deciding which online VPN to use.
Without a VPN switched on the hotel internet clearly is quick to ping the web at around 24 ms. Golden Frog’s Vypr VPN showed the highest score here at over 370 ms for each test.
Tunnel Bear results were highly variable but seemed to offer the highest Mbps for download speeds.
Tunnel Bear was also competing with no VPN switched on for speeds connecting for uploads.
This is all promising for TunnelBear but there are reasons why it is not my preferred VPN.
As mentioned before when I was in China it couldn’t get around the great firewall of China (at least not when I tried in late 2014).
Also, the range of countries it offers with servers is very limited. Yes the UK and US are on there, but some readers and potential users may want to access country specific websites which they don’t have a server for. From my most recent look at the options in the TunnelBear control panel I could see 16 countries to choose from.
Compare that to 48+ countries with Vypr VPN and over 200 with Hide My Ass!
Which is the best online VPN for a traveller like you?
So the question you all have to ask now is which is the best VPN for when you travel? Well I’m going to cop out here, it all depends on what you are looking for. All 3 have merits.
If you want a free VPN then TunnelBear offers the most data allowance for each month. The VPN free trials with the others can’t compete with 1.5GB of free data. However TunnelBear is limited in its offering of servers and not offering 24/7 support.
If you want a paid version then it is a tough call between Vypr and HMA.
Vypr keep everything in house, have a straightforward and easy to use portal. They offer lots of extras with your subscription, such as data storage. Also with Chameleon they provide a way to get around the toughest internet restrictions.
Hide My Ass however offer the widest range of countries and number of servers in countries of them all. Their user interface may blind you with science if you start tinkering but you can keep it simple too. From first hand experience I know the customer service is excellent.
As a long term user of HMA I am happy to stick with them. However should my relationship with HMA change then I think Vypr is an excellent alternative.
|Vypr||Free trial||Yes for 500 MB monthly data usage|
|2 simultaneous connections|
|Plus 5 GB storage|
|Vypr VPN Basic||Unlimited data usage|
|$6.67 / month||1 connection|
|billed annually||10 GB storage|
|Vypr VPN Pro||Unlimited data usage|
|$8.33 / month||2 simultaneous connections|
|billed annually||25 GB storage|
|Vypr VPN Premier||Unlimited data usage|
|$10 / month||3 simultaneous connections|
|billed annually||50 GB storage|
|Tunnel Bear||Little TunnelBear||500 MB data / month|
|Free||Extra 1GB a month with|
|their current Twitter promotion|
|Giant||Unlimited data usage|
|$6.99 / month||On up to 5 devices|
|Grizzly||Unlimited data usage|
|$49.99 a year||On up to 5 devices|
|Hide My Ass||Kick-ass||Unlimited data usage|
|$11.52 / month||On 2 devices at once|
|Half-ass||Unlimited data usage|
|$8.33 / month||On 2 devices at once|
|Over 6 months|
|Smart-ass||Unlimited data usage|
|$6.55 / month||On 2 devices at once|
|Over 12 months|
|No of different countries with servers||Total No of servers|
|Tunnel Bear||16 + 3 in testing mode||354|
|Hide My Ass||210||890|
Prices correct as of summer 2015. Prices subject to change at short notice.
I have tried to be as impartial as possible in my testing and review. I have been a free user of TunnelBear for more than a year. I have also paid for my own subscription to HMA which I recently renewed. Vypr provided me with a 3 month free trial to their service so I could test out their product.
I am registered as an affiliate for all 3 services. So should you click on a link to one of the providers I will get a small commission towards the running costs of this site. You however will still get the best price available from that provider.