How We Test & Rank VPNs
All of our VPN reviews are broken down into several parts so that you're informed about the price, usability, features, privacy, and performance. These are arguably the most important aspects to consider before deciding to use one.
- By VPN Team
Pricing | User Experience | Features | Privacy & Honesty | Speed
VPNs deal with your personal data, so you should have complete knowledge of the provider before investing any money or time into one. It's our commitment to be as thorough as humanly possible in our fact-checking and examinations of these services. No exceptions.
+ + +
Being open and completely transparent on pricing is something we take very seriously. Instead of calling all your attention to deals and coupons, our primary focus is relaying to you exactly what you'll pay should you choose to stick with that VPN service.
This means reporting everything. If the provider charges less for the first month but will make you pay more every month after that, we won't hide that in the fine print to convince you to pay for it. If there's a discount for buying a few years upfront, that'll be clear. If it happens to be cheaper to buy by the month instead of the year, or if no payments are necessary at all but at the cost of features, you'll see that in the review.
All prices are listed in monthly equivalents. Since most services offer a month-by-month plan in addition to pay-by-the-year options, it can be confusing to make a comparison unless they're all listed the same way. Knowing what a yearly plan costs per month even though you're paying once for the whole year, will help you decide if you want to go that route since it usually saves money in the long run.
Most VPN services let you do a trial run for a few days, or longer, to get a feel for how everything works. We'll always recommend this so that you can have a true hands-on look at how well (or not so well) it works for you. Since you might have a different experience than we did, it's always a good idea to test the VPN yourself before committing to it long term. Many providers offer a money-back guarantee anyway, but a free trial shouldn't be overlooked since it doesn't involve exchanging money.
On that note, we test every trial out as well. You should know before buying the VPN if the trial offers a different experience than the real thing—maybe it's faster to lure you into a purchase. Our reviews clearly state if there are any differences so that you get the whole picture instead of just what the company wants you to see.
Too often, tech reviewers speed through their assessment of a product so that they can get the content out there to their viewers. It's understandable, but since thorough scrutiny is in short supply, we've left it up to our reviewers to do what others won't. Each of our VPN reviews are taken through the same extensive examination process.
If the provider offers a completely free version, we start off there so that we can compare how it works to the paid version later. If applicable, we test it on a Windows computer, the Chrome browser, and both an Android and iOS device. Any differences between them are detailed in the review.
Then, we jump over to the trial edition if that's an option, and we let the VPN run the full length of the trial. During this time, normal, everyday tasks are completed to see how well it works under regular conditions. Depending on what's allowed by the software, we browse web pages, stream videos, play games, upload and download files, switch servers, enable optional security features, etc. Included in the review is our interpretation of how easy it was to do those things and whether we ran into any hiccups along the way.
The next step is to pay for the VPN to get a feel for any differences that might pop up between that and the trial or free version. These details are included in the review for clarity to show that your experience will most likely be similar to ours.
Throughout the review process, these are some of the questions we keep in mind that help shape our perspective of the VPN:
- How easy is it to use for a beginner?
- Does the software accurately reflect what the company says about it?
- Are there advanced options you can choose to use?
- Is performance affected elsewhere on the device when using the VPN?
Not everyone cares about all the intricate features a VPN might offer, but being mindful of the users who do is what compels us to be exhaustive in our listing of features. We show as many relevant screenshots as we can and at least briefly mention all that the app can do.
Of course, the more important features are highlighted over the others. If the provider offers a really useful privacy feature such as a kill switch, that's definitely important to mention. But we don't skip over the finer details just because they're uncommon in other apps.
Some examples of the areas we focus on include whether the VPN:
- Supports popular services like Netflix and Hulu.
- Works on various platforms (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, etc.).
- Offers the same features across all its apps.
- Offers entirely unique features not found in most other VPNs.
- Can be used from more than one device under the same account.
- Provides multiple servers around the world.
- Lets you use torrents.
- Has a split tunneling option.
- Provides multiple VPN protocols.
Privacy & Honesty
To get a full, well-rounded understanding as to whether a VPN provider is true to their word regarding how they deal with your privacy, we read the whole policy. We dissect it and pull out the important parts that we think you should care about, and that's what we include in the review.
We mainly look for two things:
- The data they store about their users.
- What they're willing to hand over to authorities should they be demanded to.
Answering those questions provides a perspective on whether they actually care about their users' information. Since VPNs can see everything you do online, the last thing you want is to put your faith in one and pay a premium price for it, only to find out that it's not quite as private as you'd hoped.
Unfortunately, not all privacy policies are 100% transparent. So we also research all that we can about the company to answer those questions and more that they might otherwise try to hide from their website. One way we do this is by reaching out to them directly and researching public information regarding data breaches and other privacy or security issues they might have had.
What we find plays a role in how we rank the VPN, and should also be part of your decision to use the service. So we try our best to address any privacy concerns in each review.
Speed is one of the most important determining factors when choosing a good VPN service. Of all the metrics we use to decide whether a VPN is worth it or not, speed is absolutely a contender. Most people will gravitate toward a provider that will have a minimal negative impact on speed. This is especially true for anyone paying their ISP for premium bandwidth or for someone needing to maintain decent speeds for streaming, gaming, teleconferencing, etc.
Measuring how fast any particular VPN service is requires more than just a simple speed test. Everyone pays for different levels of bandwidth, so churning out a random number from a single test and then reporting it as the VPN's definitive speed would be untruthful, and honestly, unhelpful.
Our speed testing strategy is simple:
- Turn the VPN off and run three speed tests.
- Enable the VPN and test three more times.
- Ignore the high and low results of each set.
- Determine the difference and report the findings.
This shows how the VPN affects normal speeds. It answers the common question of whether it makes your internet faster or slower.
There is an issue with this, though, which is that we all have a different maximum bandwidth. Reporting whether a VPN increased or decreased our speed when we connected to it, might not be useful to you. But this is what you'll find on some online VPN reviews—you'll get a percentage increase or decrease (e.g., "this VPN will make your internet abc% faster, and this one will slow it down by xyz%"). This is good to know but doesn't reveal the whole picture. You're then expected to apply that to your network even if you have a vastly different bandwidth capacity and a totally different ISP.
The only way around this is to also report what our starting speeds are and to, when possible, test the VPN from a high-capacity network to get a feel for the true upper limits.
Take two hypothetical networks as an example. One can download at 1 million Mbps and the other at just 1 Mbps. Clearly, any VPN will get far lower speeds on the first network, but testing a VPN on the second network might reveal that it's closer to 1 Mbps since most VPNs exceed that speed. Results from the fast network will therefore show a massive decrease when the VPN is on while the second will show a minuscule difference. Knowing the percentage drop is hardly useful since everyone's network falls somewhere between those two extremes.
In this example, the fast network might show the VPN's speed to be 300 Mbps while the other would indicate a max speed of around 1 Mbps. Both are true for their respective networks since you're always limited by the speed provided by your ISP. But if we only tested VPNs on the slower network, all our results would come back basically the same (around 1 Mbps), making it impossible to find accurate results.
So any time we mention a VPNs speed, we'll show you the decrease or increase that we experienced, but we'll also reveal how fast our data transfers are normally when the VPN is off. When we can, we'll test from both a low-speed and high-speed network to see if the percentage differences match each other. If they do, you can apply that same percentage to your speed to guess how the VPN will affect your bandwidth. If they're completely different, then our higher number is more than likely approaching the upper limits that anyone can expect from that specific VPN.
In terms of testing frequency, we might run additional tests throughout the month to verify the average, and we'll report that in the review, too, if the numbers are vastly different from the originals.
Since most VPNs report the fastest server based on the user's physical location, we test that server based on our location and then often do the same for random servers located elsewhere. This is done to see how well it works from faraway servers as well as how effective the provider is at identifying which server supports the fastest speeds. It's not, however, always a true indication of the speeds you'll get from those servers since you're (probably) not physically located where we are.
All our tests are performed through Speedtest.net. Every review lists at least one of the test results and links out to it on that website so that you can verify the numbers yourself.