Choosing the absolute best of the best isn’t an easy task. Much depends on extensive tests carried out, but a major portion of it also depends on you – the user. Everyone has different needs when it comes to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service and like it or not, it isn’t easy to find one that is the best in everything.
In general, though, having gone through a lot of VPNs I have found that there are a few big names that have come up over and again and rated extremely highly in all key categories. This includes privacy and anonymity, speed and stability, customer service levels, technical features and of course, extra features plus pricing options.
For overall excellence in almost all categories, there are three VPN providers you should be looking at in 2021: NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.
|Best Price||Logging||Free Trial||Servers||Netflix Support||P2P Support||Devices|
|Private I.A.||$2.42/mo||30 days||3,000+||Partially||5|
|Hotspot S.||$7.99/mo||7 days||2,000+||Partially||Unknown||5|
|Pure VPN||$3.33/mo||31 days||2,000+||Partially||5|
NordVPN saw an extremely exciting 2019 and enters this new year strongly. The brand has proven its resilience by overcoming some difficulties and stepped forward with a slew of new products and services.
Having been in the market for a while now, NordVPN has already shown its mettle. This serves them well as they bring forward NordPass for consumers and NordVPN Teams for business users.
Still, their strength remains in the core VPN service which already fields a remarkable network of over 5,500 servers in 60+ countries around the world. This makes them one of the biggest, baddest dogs in the VPN industry.
They offer users stable speeds, reliable performance, excellent anonymity options and great price options. Even with slight price adjustments, you can sign up for their 24-month plan for as little as $3.71 per month.
Pros of NordVPN
Cons of NordVPN
Surfshark has taken us by storm and for a newcomer to the VPN scene, it is making waves. This 2018-founded service is fast, powerful and comes at a hard-to-beat price of $2.49 per month.
Based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark has even now already grown its network to include over 3,200 servers in more than 60 countries. A point of note is that it also includes the Shadowsocks protocol which helps users in mainland China get past the Great Firewall.
The entire Surfshark experience from signup to sign on was very quick and pain-free. Even if you might encounter potential issues there shouldn’t be cause for alarm as their customer support is on the ball and will quickly resolve any issues that might arise.
Of course, there are also a ton of extras that come with the service which makes it number one on this list.
Extra features make Surfshark an extremely attractive option such as CleanWeb (block ads and phishing attempts), connect to unlimited devices and the near giveaway prices it sells long term subscriptions at.
Keep a close eye on Surfshark as their service quality is excellent and once they put in a few more years of excellent service, they may rise to the top of our list. As it is, they are an excellent budget-oriented option.
Pros of Surfshark
Cons of Surfshark
ExpressVPN is one of the most trusted and reputable brands in the VPN business and is in fact, one of our top choices. Based in the British Virgin Islands, their service is reliable, secure and stable.
Hosting more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries around the globe, its extensive network offers users from almost any country blazingly fast access points. The list of capabilities it provides is long and distinguished, including top-notch encryption, access to content on geolocation-limited services such as Netflix and the BBC iPlayer and support for P2P file sharing.
Of course, there are also a ton of extras that come with the service which makes it number one on this list.
Prices start from $8.32 per month onwards, which unfortunately is on the high side.
Pros of ExpressVPN
Cons of ExpressVPN
This name may not be overly familiar to many of you, but I was probably as surprised as you are feeling now. At first glance the TorGuard client will seem a little old-school and not as polished around the edges as our top three on our Best VPN list.
Yet the multiple feature options it has built into the service plus impressive connection speeds make this easily one of my top choices. The ability to adjust encryption levels may not seem like a great idea but it does allow users to balance security and anonymity according to their needs.
TorGuard is also beginning to offer access to the next-generation WireGuard protocol, which means that it is living on the cutting edge of VPN technology.
Prices start from as low as $4.99 per month.
Pros of TorGuard
Cons of TorGuard
This VPN service provider has one of the most outstanding long-term plans on offer which I have ever seen. If you’re looking to buy in to a VPN and stick with it, FastestVPN comes as low as 83 cents a month on a five-year plan.
What makes it really special is that they have undergone extensive improvements and are much closer to the speeds their name lays claim to. All said, technical specifications are top-notch, performance is pretty good, and it comes with a 7-day money back guarantee as well if you have a change of heart. The only downside to it which I have seen is that it has occasional issues with overcoming geolocation blockers and it doesn’t have the network distribution the top dogs boast of – yet.
Pros of FastestVPN
Cons of FastestVPN
PrivateInternetAccess (or PIA) has a surprisingly large network of servers – in fact, more than TorGuard has. This is great news since in many cases, VPN speed is affected by physical distance from VPN servers.
It also comes with a very out-of-the-way client which tried to make itself as unobtrusive as possible on your system. This could make it either fantastic – or very infuriating for you – depending on your disposition towards the matter. Prices start from $2.42 per month on an annual plan.
Pros of PrivateInternetAccess
Cons of PrivateInternetAccess
Equipping users with military-grade encryption and hosting over 2,000 servers in 25 countries, Hotspot shield is one of the bigger VPN service providers around. It is also decently priced at only $7.99 per month on an annual plan (with a 45-day money back guarantee!)
They also support almost all devices available today, from desktops to mobiles so you can go ahead and run it on probably all your dives at home at the same time – up to a limit of 5 per account.
Pros of Hotspot Shield
Cons of Hotspot Shield
PureVPN prides itself on its excellence in media streaming and bypassing geolocation blocks. This is great for Netflix and other services of the kind. Interestingly it has also grown past the standard desktop and mobile device support to branch out onto other lesser devices. This includes support for Kodi and even Chromebooks.
It also has a huge server network covering 140 countries worldwide – one of the most prolific around. P2P is also supported along with excellent encryption and highly secure servers. Prices for PureVPN start from $3.33 per month on a two years plan.
Pros of PureVPN
Cons of PureVPN
Based in Switzerland, VyperVPN is a no-fuss, no-muss service provider that has been around for a long time. They also have the distinction of owning (not renting) their own servers, which means they have more control over the security of their services.
For those who are concerned about getting around geolocation limiters on services such as Netflix, this can be an interesting choice. They have developed their own protocol called Chameleon which is specially designed to help you hide the fact that you’re using a VPN service!
It’s easy to use and checks many of the right boxes at only $2.50 per month on a two years plan especially when Chameleon protocol is included.
Pros of VyprVPN
Cons of VyprVPN
Once a top contender in the world of VPNs, IPVanish has lost a lot of its shine since the logging fiasco of 2016. Today it is owned by a different company and still offers users a chance to run traffic through over a thousand servers in more than 60 countries.
With 256-bit encryption, support for torrenting and free SOCKS5 proxy, they also offer users great agility in service access on their network. Geolocation-restricted services are a bit of a touch-and-go but overall, IPVanish does an overall ok job.
Prices for IPVanish start from $3.25 per month on an annual plan.
Pros of IPVanish
Cons of IPVanish
There are a LOT of VPN service providers out there, so when shopping for a service provider it is important to keep in mind exactly what your requirements are. If you’re simply trying to bypass certain censorship curtains, there are cheaper alternatives, such as a HTTP / HTTPS Proxy.
VPNs are the highest form of normal consumer privacy and anonymity protection, They are designed to keep you safe, secure, and ensure that your web traffic (such as browsing activities and downloads) are kept personal.
Since virtual private networks can be used with many purposes in mind however, how each service provider targets their customers plays a role in their product design. For example, TorGuard was built with an aim to help protect those constantly on Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing networks.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at specific areas of VPNs you should take into consideration when evaluating one.
While it is true that the Internet has been around for ages, technology has been evolving rapidly. Today, companies around the world are beginning to track users digitally to help them through data analysis.
In some cases, governments have also been known or suspected to be tracking users digitally. If you think that won’t happen to you because you live in country X, which is wonderful, think again.
There are known government surveillance projects being carried out in countries as restrictive as China and Russia all the way to neutral Switzerland! You can be tracked through emails, registering on websites, and yes, even by simply visiting any location on the web.
Frightening, isn’t it?
One of the core functions of a VPN service is to help you maintain anonymity on the Internet. It does this by hiding your IP address, masking your location, encrypting data that is transmitted between you and sites on the Internet and by ensuring that even your VPN service provider doesn’t keep track of when and what you do.
More VPN service providers today are also adopting the acceptance of anonymous payment options such as crypto currency and cash, or even gift certificates in some cases.
Personally, one item I keep an eagle eye out for is the country in which the VPN registers its business. Many VPNs say they do not log user activity, but some countries have mandatory data retention laws. I prefer to choose a VPN provider that registers in a country where the service provider is not legally obligated to keep records. Examples of locations such as this are Panama or the British Virgin Islands.
From Encryption protocols to built in security features of client software, VPNs today offer security on many levels. Of course, the most critical is the security and integrity of the connection it maintains between you and the Internet though.
One more feature that many VPN service providers offer is a kill switch. This means that any time the connection between your device and the VPN server is broken or lost for any reason, the VPN client will stop all data from going out or coming in to your device.
VPNs have also been around long enough that some websites or even governments have experience in recognizing VPN activity. The VPNs service providers also know this and have introduced a feature called Stealthing, Ghosting or VPN Obfuscation (terminology varies, but they generally mean the same thing). This helps to confuse systems that are actively looking for VPN users.
Some VPNs go to great lengths to help their customers hide their identities and have come up with a feature called double VPN or multi-hop. This means you connect to one VPN server and the connection is then routed through another VPN server before hitting the Internet. Aside from the routing, the encryption is doubled as well which adds an extra layer of security.
NordVPN uses double encryption to ensure top level privacy and security
Aside from this, additional features are being added to many VPN services all the time such as Malware scanning, web banner blocking and more. While all of these are handy, never forget the core purpose – keeping your connection secure and anonymous.
Here’s the first thing you need to realise before signing up with any VPN service provider; your Internet speeds will take a hit. There is no way around it, that’s simply how the technology works – for now.
However, a VPN which has many servers which are spread over a good number of locations worldwide will allow you to mitigate speed deficiencies somewhat. Take for example a provider such as NordVPN versus iPredator. Nord has over 5,000 servers spread across 58 countries while iPredator has a handful in one country alone (Sweden).
No matter how great iPredator’s servers are, if your actual location is far from Sweden, it is likely that your Internet speeds will suffer terribly when connected to it. At the very least, your connection latency will increase. As a rule of thumb, the further away your actual location from the VPN server, the more your speeds will be affected and the higher your latency.
The hardware you are running the VPN service on also needs to have significant processing power, as VPN encryption is CPU-intensive. For example, if you were to run the VPN on a router verus on a computer, you would get much faster speeds on the computer.
My laptop is a low-powered one with an Intel i5-8250U processor and can only manage roughly 170Mbps to 200Mbps at 128-bit. A VPN connection on a router might give you a speed of roughly 5Mbps to 15Mbps.
Keep in mind that many different things work together to affect overall Internet speed – it’s not always the VPN service provider’s fault if your speed drops!