When it’s time to go shopping for a new VPN utility, it might be difficult to make a decision, especially when taking into account the amount of software products available on the Internet. There are a lot of quality VPN services out there, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Going with the first virtual private network service that shows up on the Google search results isn’t wise because later you might realize that you actually wanted a tool with better security, better speed, more VPN servers, and so on. If you’re unsure about all the steps you have to take toward picking the best VPN tool, then you can trust us to stir you in the right direction. In this article, we put together a simple guide designed to help you every step of the way.
Simple steps for picking the best VPN for your needs
Before jumping to conclusions, you can start by writing down the VPN features you’re interested in, such as privacy, connection speed and device compatibility. Then you can set your goals by figuring out what you actually want to achieve with such a service, like hiding your browsing activity from your ISP or accessing the Netflix library of another country.
Based on these preferences, you can check out the offers on the market, narrow down your choices to a handful of VPN tools, carefully examine each one to be certain they can make good on their promises, and finally look into buying options to get the best possible deal.
Identifying your preferences
Before taking a look at the list of features provided by a particular VPN application, you should figure out what you are actually looking for. Unfortunately, there’s no ultimate program capable of delivering the best in speed, security and low price, or there wouldn’t be a competitive market out there. However, by pinpointing your exact needs, you can significantly narrow down your options and make a healthy decision when it comes to a reliable VPN service provider.
VPN for personal/commercial use
There are two main types: remote-access VPN and site-to-site VPN.
Remote-access creates a secure connection between individual users and a remote network, permitting users to access remote resources just as if they were in that physical network. It’s the most common type of VPN and mostly used for personal purposes (home users). It’s also available for commercial purposes for small- or medium-sized companies that wish to facilitate office access to their remote employees, such as teleworkers, mobile users or travelers. VPN clients must be used in this case. If you’re a casual consumer, you don’t have to dig too much into this since you must use a VPN client, so remote-access VPN mode is what you’re interested in.
On the other hand, site-to-site VPN is intended for large corporations or startups which have branches in many places. Although they are fixed locations, they can communicate with other via site-to-site VPN. Intranet mode allows multiple remote branches to connect to the same private network. There’s also extranet mode, designed for companies that have collaborations with other companies, like partners and suppliers or even customers, which permits them to join a single network that’s separate from each other’s intranet. VPN client software applications are not used by hosts in site-to-site mode because regular TCP/IP traffic is transferred through a VPN gateway.
Corporations can pick either remote-access or site-to-site VPN mode. Remote-access is ideal for remote users who don’t always work from fixed locations (travelers, mobile). The office’s intranet can be safely accessed from public wireless networks when strong encryption is applied by the VPN client. On the other hand, site-to-site VPN is better for fixed locations since there’s no need to install VPN clients or other tools, and access can be gained through a web browser. It also ensures better reliability since remote users don’t have to depend on their own internet connections as much as in remote-access mode, as an unstable connection can often log them out of the virtual private network.
Compatibility with multiple devices and operating systems
If you plan on securing your internet connection with the help of a virtual private network application, you should extend this benefit to all your personal and family devices, not just your desktop, laptop or mobile. For example, if you think that having a VPN on your desktop is enough for enjoying secure connections when navigating the web, keep in mind that you’re likely to resort to your mobile for accessing your online banking account, shopping for various products or services, and generally making payments or transferring funds to other accounts.
Although each bank has (or should have) its own security, it’s a good idea to add another safety net with the aid of a virtual service network, especially in the case of man-in-the-middle attacks. Many VPNs support multiple devices like desktop, mobile and digital media players. Subsequently, they add support for multiple operating systems like Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, AndroidTV.
If a VPN can be installed on routers, it means that any device connected to the router will be secured by the VPN, and it’s not necessary to install software on every device. Therefore, router VPNs should be taken into account if you have a large family (each with its own devices) or if you frequently have friends over. It goes without saying that router VPNs are the better alternative for companies.
VPN with simultaneous connections
You shouldn’t be fooled by VPN applications advertised as compatible with all popular devices if they don’t explicitly specify how many simultaneous connections are allowed. It’s redundant to pay good money for premium VPN that has great compatibility but doesn’t let you establish more than one connection to the same account, at the same time. In this case, the person who first connected to the VPN gets kicked out of the connection as soon as a second person signs in, if they both share the account.
For example, ExpressVPN can be installed on any number of devices but only three connections can exist at once, Windscribe permits a maximum of five simultaneous connections, and CyberGhost supports a total of seven connections for the same account.
Free/freemium versus premium VPN
You might be wondering why would you ever choose to pay for a premium VPN service when there are so many free alternatives out there. Unfortunately, free virtual private network applications usually comes with big security issues. For example, the VPN provider might collect user data and sell it to third parties like marketing companies for profit. In other scenarios, it can take advantage of you, turning you into an end point that can be used to facilitate extra bandwidth for paying customers. If the VPN tool is ad-supported, you might end up accidentally installing additional applications you never wanted in the first place. It’s also possible to expose yourself to malware infections that might reach your PC by accidentally clicking on any banners displayed during runtime.
On the other hand, there’s a huge difference between free and freemium VPN. In the second case, VPN companies want to give you a taste of what you can get when paying for a premium subscription to their virtual private network service. The way they choose to do so may vary, from limiting your monthly bandwidth while giving you full access to all premium features, keeping some premium options disabled, giving you a free trial of everything there is for a limited time, and so on.
The bottom line is that going for a premium VPN is always preferable to using free products, especially if you’re the type of person who cares about their security and privacy.
What you want to do with VPN
If it seems difficult to figure out the types of VPN features you’re interested in, create a list of goals. Simply put, what you want to do with a VPN application that cannot be done when using the public internet. By identifying the effect you want to get with a virtual private network service, you can easily find the cause.
For example, if you’re interested in protecting your online privacy, then you’re definitely looking for a VPN application that focuses on encryption, with support for many protocols and modes of encryption. On the other hand, this takes out of the connection speed so it’s not idea if you also want to enjoy online streaming without lagging. If you want to watch online streaming shows while still taking advantage of good encryption, then you have to be careful when picking a tool since it should focus on both. Some VPN applications don’t have any support for Netflix, Amazon Prime and other similar services. To be optimized for online streaming, the service should deliver good internet speed and remain stable throughout the session, without connection interruptions.
Quick examples of VPN usage
Here’s a rundown of some great things you can achieve by getting equipped with a VPN application. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to find a tool that ticks all the boxes, and this is why you should focus on the most important aspects and start making a plan from there on. For more information, you should check out our article about the pros and cons of VPN.
- Hide your real IP address when going online and have safe conversations with friends or clients by keeping your privacy in check. In this case, you’re looking for a VPN application that puts emphasis on encryption. Solid encryption is based on strong VPN protocols like AES-256, SSTP and OpenVPN with UDP. For more information, feel to check out our article about VPN protocols.
- Add a second layer of security to protect your connection if the VPN fails unexpectedly. This means that you want to protect your IP address no matter what happens, even in the case of sudden connection drops. To prevent IP leaks, make sure that the VPN application is equipped with a kill switch.
- Get access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other online streaming websites which are normally unavailable due to geographical restrictions. In this case, you’re interested in a VPN tool that focuses not only on speed but also reliability (no connection drops). OpenVPN with TCP is a good combination since TCP focuses on reliability.
- Get better deals when it comes to airplane tickets, booking, car rentals and other online services or even products. In this case, you have to make sure that the VPN application you’re interested in has servers available in as many countries as possible, so that you can verify varying prices by obtaining IP addresses from different regions.
- Connect to the internet through a virtual private network from your computer, smartphone, tablet, smart TV and other similar devices. This means that the VPN should have support for multiple operating systems and devices. Otherwise, the simpler solution is to find a VPN application that can be installed on the router. This way, all devices connected to the router are protected by the VPN solution.
- Extend VPN usage to all family members. If you want to pay for a household subscription instead of a single user plan, so that many people can use the same VPN at the same time, then the application you’re interested in must allow simultaneous connections. The other solution is, once again, to install the VPN on your router.
Inspecting VPN services
Once you narrow down the reasons why you need a VPN application, it’s time to search the web for viable services and examine their presentation. However, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t take a product for word value but personally examine everything it has to offer, especially if it’s a premium product.
Visit the website of the providers to check quality
It’s always important to make a good first impression, and VPN applications should follow this rule as well. When accessing the company website, pay attention to not only the simplicity but also level of detail of the webpage. The description and list of features should be easy to reach and to understand. If you get bombarded by ads, banners and popup windows, it’s a sign that you should stay away from that particular VPN service – they likely receive more revenue from marketing websites and pay little attention to the needs of their potential customers.
While reading the VPN’s presentation, be wary of any grammar errors as well as expressions used. Unfortunately, many companies tend to exaggerate when talking about their product or service, like “the number one application” and “best VPN” – they mostly rely on fiction, not facts. Don’t get fooled by these words of praise or testimonials of so-called real clients. Some websites go to the length of creating and publishing fake testimonials and reviews they claim were made by reputable websites.
Run background checks, search for the source material, contact customer support
Instead, become curious in learning the source of this material, such as running background checks on the web to see if you can find any proof of unethical policy conducted by the VPN provider. If you cannot find evidence on a particular topic or if you have any questions which cannot be answered by searching the Internet, contact the company itself and be blunt about it. Customer support and the way it’s handled is a huge part of any business, including virtual private network companies.
The few companies that wish to be honest and transparent may even provide additional help, like links for websites that make it possible to test internet speed as well as to check for DNS, IP and WebRTC leaks. They can also keep up-to-date blog posts about extra ways to improve online security, keep your computer safe from malware attacks, and so on.
It doesn’t apply to most type of software companies but the physical location of the VPN provider is important. Depending on the whereabouts, the virtual private network company may be subjected to the country’s laws when it comes to storing user information and handing over to the authorities if necessary. For example, it’s best to avoid countries from the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes international surveillance alliances since they gather and share information about internet users.
Make sure the VPN service covers your preferred countries
If the reason why you use a VPN application is to access online content that’s only available to particular countries, like viewing Netflix or BBC iPlayer shows, then it’s essential to look into the list of servers supported by the VPN service. Few applications support many countries, so there’s the risk of ending up with a VPN provider that cannot connect you to IP addresses from two or more regions.
Compared to free VPN services that may not support more than one country, premium editions typically extend availability to numerous servers. The number of servers available for each country is also an aspect worth taking into account since there’s a low risk of encountering traffic problems due to too many people connected to the same server.
Getting a good deal when purchasing a VPN application
If a particular virtual private network service managed to impress you with its presentation, it’s time to look into buying options. Don’t rush into spending your money just yet, though. A lot of VPN services offer free trials and/or demos to give you the possibility to test the VPN tool before deciding whether or not it’s worth the money. The trial option lets you test all features for a limited amount of time, while demo mode keeps some features unlocked (could be servers or extra security settings) but doesn’t have a time limit. You may also stumble upon any combination of the two – with some features unlocked and a time limit.
However, if there’s no way to test a VPN service for free before paying money for it first, look into a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee policy on the service’s website. This way, you can take the full application for a spin and get your money back if you’re not completely satisfied with the results. If this isn’t an option either, don’t be shy and contact the VPN service to kindly ask for a license – you might be surprised. In some cases, it may ask you to write a review in exchange for a full license. Last but not least, if you’re patient enough, you can keep an eye out for special events like giveaways or huge discounts on the VPN service’s website. Make sure to follow social media channels to stay in touch. These special events typically occur around the holidays or Black Friday.
Once the VPN application is in your hands, test it for as long as you can and be thorough when it comes to a user-friendly graphical interface, intuitive options, speed tests, and so on. One day is certainly not enough to form a true opinion about the tool’s capabilities, so extend the evaluation period for as long as you can. Contact the tech support if you have any questions and make a note of how long it takes for the team to respond and how helpful it is.
Most people aren’t patient enough to study the market before purchasing a premium application. But if you are willing to spend a bit of time identifying your own preferences, then researching and comparing multiple virtual private network services, you will surely find your VPN eventually. Once you set your mind on a particular service, make sure to check out our article about setting up and configuring VPN on all your devices.
We’d love to hear your favorite VPN application and the specific reasons why you picked it, so please feel free to drop us a line in the comment section below.