One of the biggest challenges of shopping for a VPN is deciding which one to use. It doesn’t help that many providers boast about technical specifications, most of which are meaningless to the general public. This leaves potential customers with a choice: research the ins and outs of computer networking or simply pick a service and hope it’s up to the task.
There is a third option, though. Below, you’ll find an extensive, detailed comparison of two VPNs. To help you better understand what they have to offer, we’ve not only listed their features, specifications, and abilities, but also explained how these affect you during everyday browsing.
Pricing and discounts
|Subscription periods||One month||One month|
|Six months||One year|
|Special offer||Three months extra and a 49% discount with one-year plans||No offer running|
|Highest price per month||$12.95||$6 per month, rising to a maximum of $68 (for 100 simultaneous connections)|
|Lowest price per month||$6.67||$3|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||Seven days or 60 days for annual subscriptions|
At $12.95 per month on a monthly basis, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive services if you’re only looking for short-term coverage. In contrast, its rival’s monthly plan costs $6 per month. There’s one major difference, though: Private Tunnel’s price is dependent on the number of devices you’d like to be able to connect simultaneously. The standard plan lets you connect three devices at a time, while ExpressVPN comes with a five-connection limit.
Users who are willing to commit to a longer-term upfront can take advantage of steep discounts. For instance, ExpressVPN effectively cuts its price in half ($99.95 instead of $194.20) for the first 15 months if you choose its annual plan. It should be noted that after this term ends, you’ll be billed annually, which effectively brings the monthly price up to $8.32.
Private Tunnel offers a similarly impressive price cut, with 50 percent off for annual subscribers ($36 per year). Further discounts are available for plans with higher connection limits, but this doesn’t really provide much value considering there are services out there that are only slightly more expensive and have no connection limits by default. Comparatively, Private Tunnel expects you to pay $408 per year (after a 83% discount — it’s originally $2400) for the ability to secure 100 devices at once.
All ExpressVPN plans come with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee. This allows you to sign up and try the service as much as you like for a month. If you’re unimpressed, just cancel for a full refund, no questions asked. Private Tunnel provides a seven-day trial instead but doesn’t limit your speeds, bandwidth, or server selection like many other VPNs with a trial. You will have to provide payment details before being able to use the service though.
Best Deal for ExpressVPN:Save 49% for the first 15 months with ExpressVPN’s annual plan.
Best Deal for Private Tunnel: At the moment, Private Tunnel isn’t running any deals or promotions.
|Simultaneous connections||5||Between 3 and 100 by default, higher limits negotiable|
|Operating system apps||Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, Amazon Firestick/Fire TV||Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Amazon Fire TV/Firestick|
|Manual install devices||Select routers||Linux systems, supported routers|
|Free extras||Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox)||None|
Whichever service you choose, you’ll have access to a wide range of apps. That said, ExpressVPN offers a simple command line-based Linux app, whereas Private Tunnel has to be configured manually. While Private Tunnel has the potential for a far higher number of connections, this quickly becomes prohibitively expensive, and ExpressVPN allows almost twice as many (five instead of three) straight off the bat. Of course, you can install either VPN on a router to bypass these limits, and ExpressVPN offers custom firmware to make this as easy as possible.
ExpressVPN has a couple of other features that Private Tunnel doesn’t. First, there’s split tunneling ability, which allows you to let certain apps through the VPN. This can be helpful for accessing local and international services simultaneously while traveling, for instance. There are also extensions for Chrome and Firefox that let you control the app without ever leaving your browser window.
|Netflix||10+ libraries including US, UK, |
Australia, Canada, France, India,
Japan, and Germany
|Amazon Prime Video||US, UK||No|
ExpressVPN is the clear winner in this category. Not only was this service able to unblock most of the streaming platforms we tested it with, but it could even access a large number of international Netflix libraries. For context, most VPNs struggle to unblock anything other than the US library, so this is a very impressive result. On the other hand, Private Tunnel could only access a couple of smaller services, making it a poor choice for those hoping to stream while traveling.
There is a reason for this, however. ExpressVPN has marketed itself as being a great way to access region-locked services from abroad, and accordingly has put lots of time into finding ways around strict geo-blocking. Private Tunnel, however, was developed by the OpenVPN team, and was intended more as a general-use privacy tool.
China’s web-filtering technologies are known collectively as the Great Firewall. These prevent citizens (and tourists) from accessing huge swathes of material, from social media sites to impartial news sources. Predictably, most VPN sites are blocked outright, and many services simply don’t work in China. While this includes Private Tunnel, ExpressVPN works perfectly, and users don’t even have to configure anything or change any settings.
Note that there’s a good chance you’ll be unable to visit your provider’s website when you get to China. This means that you won’t have access to the downloads page or live chat, so it’s vital you install the service and save a copy of the manual setup instructions before arriving.
See also: Best China VPNs
Setup and interface
ExpressVPN’s desktop app is free from clutter and very easy to use, with a quick-connection button that allows you to connect to the best available server in a single click. Its server list and settings menus are simple to navigate, and your most recent location can be accessed right on the main page. There are a few other helpful features too, like the ability to install browser extensions, run a speed test, or contact support directly (with diagnostic information included) directly from the app.
Things aren’t much different in ExpressVPN’s mobile app. In fact, the only real changes are in the settings menu. Users can’t turn on the IPv6 leak protection, and can’t connect via the IKEv2 protocol like they can in desktop versions. But the kill switch, split tunneling ability, and local traffic blocker remain, and there’s an automatic wifi protection feature that isn’t yet present in desktop versions. This connects you to the VPN automatically any time you use a public internet hotspot, ensuring you never have to trade privacy for convenience.
There are no differences at all between mobile and desktop versions of Private Tunnel. The main page features the ubiquitous quick-connect button and users can swipe to the right to monitor performance in real-time. Users can select a location (and in some cases, a specific region) in two clicks, which is great. The settings menu is pretty bare, but at the very least, this means you’ll never get lost looking for a particular option.
Servers and performance
ExpressVPN and Private Tunnel have clearly taken different approaches to their networks. For instance, ExpressVPN has tried to cover as many locations as possible, while Private Tunnel seems to have aimed for consistent, reliable connections in a handful of in-demand countries. Still, it’s a little disappointing to see a paid VPN, even one as inexpensive as this, only covering 12 countries.
We’d have liked to see some data on the number of servers Private Tunnel has but this isn’t publicly available and staff refused to provide any details. Conversely, ExpressVPN lists details of its 3,000+ servers prominently on its website. Network size isn’t just a meaningless number; in theory, the more servers a provider has, the more users it can support, and the more reliable your speeds during peak times. Of course, other things can impact reliability too, but network size is a significant contributing factor.
ExpressVPN is a very fast service, averaging around 58 Mbps in our tests. This is fast enough for just about any day-to-day task. Private Tunnel is quick too, but struggles to keep up, even when ExpressVPN is on an OpenVPN connection. In fact, with the new, faster Lightway protocol, ExpressVPN pulls ahead even further. Essentially, Private Tunnel is pretty quick but might struggle with data-intensive tasks like 4K streaming.
Below, you’ll find a complete list of everywhere these VPNs have servers:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔|
|Isle of Man||✔||✔|
No matter how you look at it, ExpressVPN has the upper hand here. In fact, we’re effectively comparing one of the largest networks on the market against one of the smallest. On the plus side, Private Tunnel has made sure to offer servers across a fairly large geographical area. This means that wherever you are in the world, you should be able to get a reasonably fast connection.
|VPN protocols||OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP, Lightway||OpenVPN|
|OpenVPN data encryption||AES-256||AES-256|
|OpenVPN control channel encryption||RSA-4096||RSA-2048|
|Cloaking technology||Cipher-block chaining||OVPN proxy|
|App security||Kill switch (all platforms)||Option to continuously try and reconnect|
|DNS status||Private DNS||Private DNS|
Like most major services, both of these VPNs support the OpenVPN protocol. Private Tunnel was actually developed by the same organization that created this protocol, so on paper at least, it comes from pedigree stock. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t allow users to connect via any other protocols. Conversely, ExpressVPN supports connections over L2TP, IKEv2, and Lightway, its own proprietary answer to the up-and-coming Wireguard protocol.
Both providers use 256-bit AES encryption, but ExpressVPN’s RSA keys are twice as long as Private Tunnel’s. This means that, while neither service’s keys are easy to crack, it should theoretically take an attacker longer to brute force ExpressVPN’s. Instead of offering a kill switch like ExpressVPN (and really, most major services), Private Tunnel does something a little different; it has a feature that simply tries to reconnect over and over again if your connection times out.
These providers each protect your data in different ways. ExpressVPN uses a technique called cipher-block chaining. Simply, this means an attacker needs to capture the entirety of your session’s data before they can even attempt to crack the encryption. With even a single packet missing, there’s no way to decode any of the others. Meanwhile, Private Tunnel offers an OpenVPN proxy that essentially sends your traffic through two servers. This functionality is commonly referred to as a multi-hop or double VPN server in other VPN apps.
|HQ base||British Virgin Islands||Canada|
|Connection logs||Some, but no identifiable data||IP address, bandwidth used, connection timestamps|
|User details for signup||Email address||Email address|
|Anonymous payment options||Bitcoin||None|
ExpressVPN operates out of the British Virgin Islands, a country with no data-retention laws. Private Tunnel, on the other hand, is based in Canada. This country is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, but this doesn’t automatically mean that Private Tunnel isn’t privacy-conscious. Let’s take a look at the type of information each service logs.
We’ll start with ExpressVPN. This VPN stores the date of your connection, the server you use, and the amount of data transferred. If you sign up using Bitcoin and a throwaway email address, none of this can be traced back to you personally. Even if it was, it couldn’t be used to track your activity.
|Dedicated IP address possible||No||No|
Both providers rely on shared address allocation systems. Simply put, this means that when you connect to the VPN, you’ll share the same IP address as everyone else who’s currently using the same server. This mixes everyone’s activities together and makes it especially difficult to tell who accessed what.
Neither service offers a dedicated IP address, and neither includes a NAT Firewall (which helps filter out suspicious incoming traffic). ExpressVPN says that it doesn’t need one because it rejects all incoming data automatically. Although Private Tunnel doesn’t specifically address this on its website, it’s likely that it does as well.
|Live chat||Yes (Zendesk)||Yes (outsourced)|
|Average email response time||35 minutes||3 hours, 10 minutes|
|Searchable knowledge base||Yes||Yes|
Whichever service you choose, you’ll have plenty of ways to get help with any problems. Both providers offer 24/7 live chat, email support, and a knowledge base full of answers to common questions. Additionally, users can find video walkthroughs on ExpressVPN’s YouTube channel. Although Private Tunnel also has a YouTube channel, it only hosts ads there.
Usually, live chat is the best way to get help. In fact, you’ll often get a reply in seconds. However, this service may not always be available. That’s why we decided to send three questions to each provider over email. Below, you can see how responsive and helpful ExpressVPN and Private Tunnel were when we contacted them:
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I install this service on an Amazon Firestick?||28 minutes||1||Yes|
|Does this service allow torrenting?||30 minutes||1||Yes|
|Is this VPN fast enough for streaming?||47 minutes||1||Yes|
|Question||Initial response time||Number of emails||Question answered|
|Can I install this service on an Amazon Firestick?||43 minutes||1||Yes|
|Does this service allow torrenting?||15 minutes||1||Yes|
|Is this VPN fast enough for streaming?||8 hours, 34 minutes||1||Yes|
These providers both have impressive response times, with the vast majority of replies coming within the hour. Private Tunnel’s average was dragged down by one fairly long wait, but it’s important to remember that response times are influenced by everything from the volume of questions to the availability of staff. As such, you may even find that they answer your question faster than ours.
ExpressVPN’s support team provided detailed answers that appeared to be a blend of pre-written and customized text. Private Tunnel usually provides entirely personalized answers over email, although they’re often only a sentence or two long. If you can wait a little longer, it might be best to use email, since Private Tunnel’s live chat support staff tend to struggle with questions that aren’t already answered in the help center.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Private Tunnel was designed to enhance your online privacy, and it does this pretty well. However, it never goes as far as you’d hope. For instance, it fails to include standard security features and stores more personally identifiable information than it needs to. For this reason, ExpressVPN is the better choice for most people.
ExpressVPN is more versatile too, with faster speeds, multiple supported protocols, stronger unblocking abilities, and a higher connection limit. Most importantly, it offers a far more robust selection of privacy and security features, so you can access whatever you like over a secure connection.