SaferVPN is an Israel-based provider that claims to be the “fastest and simplest” VPN service on the market. It offers all of the key benefits we’ve come to expect from a reputable paid VPN: better privacy, improved security, and the ability to unblock content on the web. But how does it perform versus the litany of competition? We aim to find out.
A month of basic service costs $8.99 per month. A 1-year subscription will reduce the price to $5.99 per month, and the two-year plan to $3.49 per month. These are all listed as promotional discounts, however it doesn’t seem like the discounts ever actually end.
The basic plan allows you to simultaneously connect a maximum of two devices. If you want more than that, you’ll need a premium plan, which allows up to five. Other than the max number of devices you can have connected at the same time, there are no differences between the basic and premium plans. The premium plan costs $12.98 for a single month. The one- and two-year plans reduce the price to $9.99 and $5.42 per month, respectively.
With some rivals allowing five or six simultaneous connections on their similarly priced basic plans, the premium price point isn’t the best value. If you’re just one person looking to connect a couple of devices, however, then the basic plan is competitive in terms of devices-per-dollar.
SaferVPN also offers business plans, but we won’t be evaluating them in this review.
A 24-hour free trial is available without the need for a credit card. Trial users get full access to the service without restrictions. You will need an email address to sign up, but no other personal information is required.
SaferVPN accepts credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and several third-party payment systems. After paying for a subscription, all plans include a 14-day money-back guarantee.
SaferVPN apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. For this review, we tested SaferVPN on Windows 10 and Android 6.0.
SaferVPN allows unlimited downloads, uploads, and as much bandwidth as its servers can dole out. Torrenting is only allowed on the Netherlands server. While piracy isn’t legal in the Netherlands, the country is known for being more lenient to P2P filesharers.
An internet kill switch is built into both the desktop and mobile apps. With this setting toggled on, if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops for any reason, all internet traffic is halted until the connection is re-established.
One of the more uncommon features built into the apps is automatic wifi security. With this enabled, any time you connect to an unsecured wifi network, the SaferVPN app will automatically detect that the network is not secure and connect to the VPN. It’s a handy bonus, especially if you’re forgetful or lazy about opening up and connecting through the VPN app each time you connect to the wifi at a Starbucks or the airport. Note that you need to have the app running on desktop, at least in the system tray, for this to work.
A Chrome extension is available for users who just want a quick way to unblock a website in their browser. Note that browser extensions and browser plug-ins are not, can not, be full-featured VPNs due to the limitations of web browsers. Instead, what you get is an HTTPS proxy. For many intents and purposes, this will do the same thing as a VPN, but only for your browser traffic. It will not protect your torrenting traffic, for example. It’s a nice extra, but we recommend connecting via the native app in order to maximize privacy and security.
Does SaferVPN unblock Netflix?
Yes, in a web browser. In our tests, SaferVPN unblocked US Netflix, a very recent and welcome addition to the service. Users will need to connect to the “US Streaming” server in order to watch US Netflix. Support staff told us Netflix users can connect to Denmark, Romania, and Hungary servers as well, but you will be stuck with the local Netflix catalogs for those countries.
Note that you’ll need to set your computer’s IPv4 settings to automatically obtain a DNS server because the SaferVPN app won’t override them (with Google DNS configured, Netflix wouldn’t change countries while connected to the VPN). This is the default setting on Windows.
If you’re using the Netflix app, you’re out of luck. SaferVPN couldn’t unblock Netflix on Android. This is because the Netflix app can override your device’s DNS settings and reveal your true location. To be fair, only two or three VPNs that we know of can overcome this.
Does SaferVPN work in China?
No, SaferVPN’s apps will not work in China. You cannot unblock Facebook, Google, Youtube, Gmail, Instagram, Tinder, or any of the other apps and websites that are normally censored in mainland China.
SaferVPN should work in other countries with less strict censorship regimes, although we are not able to test them ourselves.
SaferVPN prides itself on its ease of use, and it shows in its setup process and simple user interface. Getting set up is a quick process of download, install, and log in with your username and password. There’s no need to validate each device.
Once you’re logged in, you can connect straight away with one click. This will automatically choose a nearby server and the most appropriate protocol, though we recommend changing the latter to OpenVPN to maximize security.
The app is fairly clean but has a couple banners advertising promotional deals for referring friends or upgrading your service, even if you’re already paying for a full subscription.
Along the left side of the app is a list of countries, which you can star to pin your favorites to the top. Unfortunately, you can’t select specific cities. This might be a problem if you need to choose a more specific location to bypass a regional blackout of a live sports event, for example.
If you don’t want to use the default automatic connection settings, you can change the protocol in the settings menu. Here you’ll also find the toggles for automatic wifi protection, the VPN kill switch, and startup behavior.
When you close the main window, SaferVPN minimizes to the system tray. From here you can connect or disconnect to specific countries. While SaferVPN is running, you also get occasional popup notifications from the system tray advertising company blog posts, which cannot be turned off. All of the self-promotion seems a bit excessive for a service that the user is already paying for.
Still, getting connected is very simple. The app is responsive and loads quickly.
At the bottom of the settings menu is a button to run a speed test. Most VPN apps that have such a feature will test the download speed, upload speed, and ping time of one or more servers to give you an idea of how a server is performing at that point in time. Instead, it just opened up our web browser to speedtest.net, which for technical reasons isn’t even that practical for measuring VPN speeds.
On a couple occasions, the app got stuck after disconnecting from a server and would not allow us to reconnect. The Connect button was inexplicably greyed out, and we had to quit the application entirely and reload it to get connected again.
The mobile app is fairly similar to the desktop app. The server list is tucked away in a side menu while the settings and other account details can be found in the hamburger (three lines) menu. You still get one-tap connections if you aren’t concerned about your location.
The app is fairly lightweight and never hangs or freezes, even on a low-powered Android phone.
We did notice that the flag icons were missing from the location menu in the mobile app, but this was a minor annoyance. You can use the search function to find the country you’re looking for. The “Save logs” function in the settings failed and gave us an error whenever we attempted to use it, which could cause problems if you’re troubleshooting connection issues.
Unlike the desktop version, there are no promotions or advertisements displayed on the main app page. The Upgrade and Refer a Friend functions are hidden away in the settings menu.
SaferVPN offers a Chrome extension that creates a VPN-like HTTPS proxy solely for internet traffic traveling to and from your browser. It can be downloaded from the Chrome web store free of charge, but you will need an account to use it.
SaferVPN has done a good job maintaining a uniform theme and design across all of its apps, including the Chrome extension. It looks and functions almost exactly like the mobile app. Just remember that it is not quite as private and secure as the native VPN apps and will only tunnel browser traffic, not traffic from the entire device.
Servers and performance
SaferVPN operates 400 servers in 30 countries. That’s not bad for a provider of its size, but there are larger networks to be had at similar price points. Asia and Europe are well covered, but there’s nothing in Latin America and slim pickings in Africa and the Middle East. The US and UK both have dedicated “streaming” servers in addition to the standard ones, which presumably net you faster download speeds.
We had no issues with connections dropping or being unstable. The only problem we encountered was with the Chrome extension, which occasionally failed to connect. 1080p 60 FPS video streamed like a breeze, but the UK streaming server wasn’t quite quick enough to seamlessly watch 4K 60 FPS video from Lisbon, Portugal. Your mileage may well vary.
We were able to play Brawlhalla, a Super Smash Bros-style fighting game for PC, online with no noticeable lag while connected to the same server.
To make the speed tests as empirical as possible, we downloaded the same 82.7MB file (compressed from 103MB) from a server in Chicago three times on three different VPN servers at three different times per day for a total of nine tests. As a control group, we also did the same without a VPN. Below you can see the results alongside some tests for IPVanish, a competing VPN. We conducted these tests from Lisbon, Portugal on a 15 Mbps connection. For both VPNs, I connected to two servers in the US–East and West Coast–and one in the UK.
In the boxplots below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.
As you can see, SaferVPN nearly maxed out our bandwidth. It is easily one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested and excelled no matter the time of day. We often see speeds like this from new VPN services that haven’t had time to accrue customers that eventually congest the network, but SaferVPN has been around the block a few times, so these results are especially impressive. If raw speed is what you’re after, we highly recommend SaferVPN.
Keep in mind that this test is not a definitive indicator of which VPN is fastest. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness, so VPN speed tests should always be taken with a big grain of salt. Those with faster connections may well notice a larger discrepancy in speeds.
Unfortunately, security and privacy is where SaferVPN starts to stumble. While the company does not record any logs of user traffic, it does store detailed metadata including
your source IP address, the IP address of the VPN server they connected to, when they connected and disconnected, and the amounted of data transmitted.
Update August 2017: SaferVPN has informed us that it no longer logs users’ source IP addresses, which is good news for privacy-conscious users.
That’s enough information to correlate what a user is doing online and identify them, including torrenters. “Use of torrents” is prohibited under the company’s acceptable use terms, as are several other actions, even though the company directs users to torrent on the Netherlands server.
When connected with the OpenVPN protocol, the tunnel uses 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys, and SHA256 authentication. Unfortunately, it does not avail of perfect forward secrecy, so if a key is compromised then it can be used to decrypt traffic from past sessions.
SaferVPN also struggles with DNS leaks on certain servers. When we connected to a US server and ran a DNS leak test, all was well. But when we ran the same test when connected to the UK server, many of the DNS servers were identical to those we used without a VPN, and they were listed in our real location, not that of the VPN server. That’s a serious problem if you want to hide your location or unblock geo-locked content.
Update on August 7, 2017: The latest version of SaferVPN now protects against DNS leaks, Comparitech has confirmed. Users will need to download the latest version of the app to take advantage of DNS and IPv6 leak protection. When connecting to certain servers, however, the DNS being used belongs to Google, not SaferVPN. We would prefer private DNS servers rather than the public Google DNS, but at least DNS requests are no longer being leaked outside of the VPN tunnel.
SaferVPN’s customers support relies on both live support and a ticket submission system. The live support runs on Zendesk, a third-party company, so privacy-conscious users ought to opt for the the ticket submission option.
We used the Zendesk live chat on SaferVPN’s website to ask several questions about the service during our test period. In some cases, it asked for our account email address, and other times it did not. Either way, support replied almost instantly with helpful answers, although some were clearly copy/pasted from a response book. It could be that they use chat bots in certain instances, but we’re not certain. Either way, responses came fast on every query we put forth.
A searchable knowledge base is also available on the website, but it’s not as thorough as we’ve seen from rival competitors.
SaferVPN is all about speed and simplicity. Getting set up is easy. Changing servers and connecting couldn’t be any easier. And the servers we tested were all blazing fast, easily ranking among the fastest VPNs available. Even the customer service is quick. The service unblocks Netflix in a desktop web browser.
Private DNS servers and perfect forward secrecy need to be implemented across the board. More advanced users might find the feature set to be limited. There’s no option to set your own DNS servers, change ports, or obfuscate traffic, but these won’t be an issue for novice users, SaferVPN’s target demographic.