PrivateVPN review 2017
Pro rating:9 / 10
Verdict:Excellent

PrivateVPN is a great all-rounder with excellent privacy and high speeds. It also unblocks streaming sites like Netflix and is suitable for torrenting.

For:
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Fast speeds
  • Zero logs
  • Use up to six devices simultaneously
  • Live chat and remote control
Against
  • Small network of servers
  • Live chat not 24/7
Visit web site

PrivateVPN is a relatively small Swedish-based VPN provider. With only 60+ servers up and running, it claims to be the best VPN for streaming, privacy, and security. With Netflix cracking down on VPNs, the streaming claim is a strong one, but PrivateVPN is confident enough to offer a thirty-day money back guarantee on all packages. This is higher than most other VPNs on the market and competes with top rated providers such as ExpressVPN.

Although its server numbers are tiny, they appear to be well-placed. And this provider goes big in other ways, including offering multiple encryption options to suit your specific needs. So let’s see how it stacks up!

Features and pricing

Reader discount: PrivateVPN is currently offering our readers a 20% discount here as well as five months free. You can get access for 17 months at $3.39 (GBP £2.64) per month.

Alternatively, you can opt for shorter terms of three months at $6.75 (GBP £5.25) per month or one month at $10.95 (GBP £8.51) per month. A seven-day money back guarantee is offered on all of these packages. If you don’t want to part with your payment details just yet, you can also try it for free for 24 hours, full details of the free trial can be found here.

PrivateVPN pricing table.

Overall, PrivateVPN is about average, if not a little below, in terms of pricing. Moreover, these prices cover up to six devices, whereas many other providers only allow five or fewer with standard packages. PrivateVPN also offers a referral scheme whereby you can earn points (exchangeable for credit) when you get others to sign up.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. There are also instructions for connecting through Linux, Amazon Fire TV, and OpenELEC Kodi. If you want to secure every device in your home continuously, you can even install PrivateVPN at the router level.

Like many other VPN providers, PrivateVPN provides IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, and a built-in kill switch. One standout feature with this VPN that you don’t often see is that you can choose your protocol depending on how and where you want to use it. For example, if you want to connect in China, you can opt for the L2TP protocol, since other options will likely be blocked by China’s firewall.

If you’re wondering about torrenting, Private VPN states in its FAQ page that it allows P2P and recommends using its Sweden servers for this purpose. It also offers unlimited usage and bandwidth so you won’t have to worry about that side of things, either. Adding all this to its streaming capabilities, this provider really does prove to be a solid all-rounder.

Setup and interface

The PrivateVPN website includes a full step-by-step installation guide (including downloads and screenshots) for every configuration it offers. Simply go into the Installation Guide tab and choose your operating system and encryption method. Then follow the steps to download and install the VPN on your device.

For the purposes of this review, we will be using the standard PrivateVPN APP setup with Windows 10 and iOS.

Desktop

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the VPN, you’ll be prompted to restart your computer. Then you can search for and run the application, which will prompt you to enter your login details. Once running, it will be accessible from the taskbar or tray.

The interface itself is very simple, with few options. The main screen enables you to select the location of the server you want to connect to. Aside from the country, you can also see which city the server is located in. Some VPNs don’t offer this information, but it can be helpful, especially if you’re trying to find the geographically closest server to you.

The main screen.
If you click on Advanced in the main screen, you’ll see a few more options.

The Dashboard screen.

In the Dashboard tab, you have similar information to what you saw on the main screen, in addition to your connection type, port forwarding, and connection time. Here you can change your server location and connection type using the dropdown menus. Just note that you have to make sure the VPN is disconnected before you can make those changes. If you try to do it while connected, the dropdowns simply won’t expand.

Settings screen.

Under the Settings tab, you have a few connection options to control, a language setting (although English is the only option), and a link to your log files that are stored on your computer.

Connection Guard screen.

Finally, in the Connection Guard tab, you have the option to disable (they’re enabled by default) IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, and the kill switch. The kill switch acts as a safeguard to shut down certain applications if the VPN connection is lost. The application will restart automatically once the connection is regained.

There are fewer bell and whistles than some other VPNs we’ve tried, but overall, this app is intuitive and has all the options you really need.

Mobile

The mobile version is a little lighter on features than the desktop. On the main screen, you can change your server location, view your IP, and see how long you’ve been connected.

The mobile app interface.

Then if you click the settings icon in the top right hand corner, you’ll land in the Setting tab. Although, the only actual setting here is your connection protocol which you can change from IKEv2 to IPSec. Other than that, you can access your account information and connection log (which you have the option to clear).

There’s definitely nothing wrong with either app, but they’re missing features that some users may miss, such as ad and malware blocking options.

Servers and performance

PrivateVPN’s website states that they have 80+ servers in 52 countries. According to its server list, this includes two each in Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, and UK, and six in the US. The number of server locations in terms of countries covered is higher than many other providers. However, the total number of servers is tiny compared to say ExpressVPN with over 1,500 or CyberGhost with more than 850.

Thankfully, the small network of servers doesn’t correlate to poor performance. We were able to stream 1080p video seamlessly with no buffering while connected to servers in New York, Los Angeles, and London, from the test location in Canada. There were also no issues when playing games using the same servers. Connecting to different servers rarely took more than a few seconds, and there were no dropped connections observed while surfing, downloading, or streaming.

For our speed testing, the aim is to be as empirical as possible. As such, for each test we downloaded the same file (with a size of 266MB) from a Chicago server. We carried out the tests at three different times during the day using three sample VPN servers. We compared our results to those of two other VPNs (CyberGhost and ZenMate) which were tested in the same manner. We also performed a control test using no VPN. The tests were conducted from Toronto, Canada using servers in New York, Los Angeles, and London. In the boxplots below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.

Boxplot of speed test results.

PrivateVPN performed very well in the tests as compared to our other VPNs. It was particularly fast when connected to a geographically close server in New York, and wait times were surprisingly low for farther away servers in the US West and the UK. This also meant the spread of results was relatively tight. It would have been even tighter if it wasn’t for one anomalous result using a London server at around 1:30pm in that time zone.

Of course, it’s important to note that these tests aren’t completely definitive and can merely serve as a general indication of the performance you might observe. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so these tests should be taken with a grain of salt. They were run while using a 30Mbps connection, so you’ll likely see longer wait times with a slower connection, and potentially smaller or larger discrepancies.

Does PrivateVPN unblock Netflix?

Even with its small fleet of servers, PrivateVPN is one of the few VPN providers that can currently unblock Netflix. We tested it with Windows, iOS, and Android, and they all worked seamlessly. This is welcome news since Netflix seems to be cracking down on VPN users accessing from different parts of the globe. PrivateVPN is clearly not immune to this as some servers don’t always work, but you can simply visit the website for a handy up-to-date list for which servers aren’t blocked at the current time.

As well as Netflix, we were also able to successfully unblock other streaming sites. These included BBC iPlayer (while connected to a UK server), and Amazon Prime (while connected to various servers in the US and Europe).

Does PrivateVPN work in China?

With so many VPNs being blocked by China’s Great Firewall, it’s pretty slim pickings when trying to find one that will work reliably. Fortunately, thanks to PrivateVPN’s vast number of configuration options, you should be in luck.

In its FAQ page, PrivateVPN advises that you use L2TP for connecting in China. This is because OpenVPN and sometimes PPTP are typically blocked easily by the country’s firewall. Bear in mind that some VPN sites may be blocked in China, so make sure you know how to switch to L2TP on all of your devices before you travel. You can toggle within the apps, but just in case it doesn’t work, the website provides guides for installing manually.

Security and privacy

Being based in Sweden, PrivateVPN would be subject to some pretty stringent data retention laws. However, this provider says it never stores logs of data traffic so it couldn’t cough up any records even if it was asked to. To sign up, you’ll need to provide an email address and password, and you can pay through Stripe, PayPal, or Bitcoin. Details will be used for account correspondence and potentially for promotional materials but are never shared with third parties.

As for data security, PrivateVPN uses 128-bit CBC encryption for TAP and 256-bit AES for TUN on the default OpenVPN protocol. Both of these are effectively un-crackable, although 256-bit is obviously the stronger of the two. SHA256 is used for authentication, in conjunction with 2,048-bit RSA keys. Additionally, 2,048-DHE keys are used to provide perfect forward secrecy.

Depending on which device you’re using, you’ll have several different encryption options, including IKEv2, L2TP, and PPTP, IPSec, and OpenVPN – Viscosity. You can toggle between these in the Dashboard tab in the desktop client or Settings screen for the mobile application.

A kill switch is enabled by default, so if the VPN connection happens to drop, internet traffic will be blocked. This acts as a backup to ensure your data remains private. If you’d rather not have this feature activated, you can turn it off in the Connection Guard screen (within the desktop client).

PrivateVPN also protects against IPv6 leaks and DNS leaks. When we asked about which DNS servers they use, we were told that they had been using Google DNS servers but are currently (at the time of writing) in the process of setting up their own servers. With Google DNS servers, Google has the ability to track what websites you visit when using the VPN, although it won’t know your real IP address. However, this won’t be a concern once PrivateVPN has fully implemented its own.

Customer service

PrivateVPN promises a live chat service and remote control support for setup and troubleshooting. They claim it’s 24/7 but there were occasions (mostly weekends) when we visited the website and it was unavailable. In one such instance, we contacted the support desk on a Saturday and the response time was 1–4 hours. This isn’t bad and they did apologize for the slow response, but it’s not quite 24/7 live chat.

In addition to live chat, PrivateVPN also offers remote control support for help with setup and troubleshooting. This is especially handy since some of the protocol options require setups that go beyond the standard installer wizard.

Verdict

Even though it’s a small network, PrivateVPN has big offerings. With so many operating systems and protocols covered, there’s no doubt you’ll find what you’re looking for here. Its reliable connection and ability to unblock sites like Netflix make it ideal for streaming. Unlimited bandwidth, high speeds, and P2P allowance also mean it’s suitable for torrenting.

Although it’s not 100 percent reliable, the live chat and remote control support are certainly selling features and make this is a great option for beginners and advanced users alike.

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