Launched in 2014, Total VPN is a relative newcomer to the VPN market. It aims to entice users with a free plan, which limits the user to three servers in the Netherlands, Iceland, and Singapore with a 2 Mbps data cap. Data is unlimited, though, and Total VPN comes packaged in a lovely, simple-to-use app. Let’s see how Total VPN compares to some of our top ranked VPNs such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
UPDATE, 2 August 2016: While Total VPN performed well in our tests we’ve had a number of comments about billing issues and customers being charged more than expected. For this reason we have reduced the rating by one star. We will continue to monitor this situation and will update this review and rating as appropriate.
The premium version offers one of the cheapest paid VPN options on the market, starting at $4.49 per month. A 24-month subscription will cut that figure down to $2.99 per month, and 12 months will get you the same service for $3.59 per month. Every Total VPN premium subscription comes with a 30-day money back guarantee (it’s not anywhere prominent on the website but it is in the terms & conditions). Payment can only be made using a credit card or PayPal. There’s no option to pay with Bitcoin, gift cards, or other third-party payment gateways.
Total VPN apps are available for Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, and Android. Tutorials for manual configuration are available for Linux users.
A normal account allows the uses for three simultaneous devices. If you need more than that, a multiple devices add-on costs GBP 14.95 per year ($21.72 … prices for all add-ons are in British pounds).
Three VPN protocols are at your disposal: OpenVPN, PPTP, and IKEv2. We recommend OpenVPN, but IKEv2 is useful on mobile devices with unstable connections. It’s also one of the only protocols that works on Blackberry devices, though there is no native Blackberry app. The mobile app only connects through OpenVPN.
It’s apparent that Total VPN is targeting novice users who want an affordable, no frills VPN option. While that makes it intuitive and easy to use, it sacrifices some features found on more robust apps. You won’t find a kill switch or DNS leak protection, for example.
Total VPN offers a few premium servers that limit the number of people allowed on each for an extra GBP 25 per year. We didn’t test out these “supercharged” servers, but it’s a bit irritating that people who pay for a normal subscription aren’t treated equally when it comes to bandwidth. It’s sort of like the resentment you feel toward people who fly first class while you’re stuck in coach. Those who pay more get to impose on your leg room.
SmartDNS is currently not supported, but Total VPN’s website says it’s “on the roadmap and due for release very soon.”
Total VPN’s US servers have been blocked by Netflix, though we successfully watched from servers in a few other countries. Obviously, the US catalog of shows was not available from those places.
Setup and interface
Setup is as simple as a quick download and installation wizard. Enter an email and password and you’re logged in, and free users don’t even need to do that much. No activation codes, email verifications, or two-step authentication is required, though the most security-conscious among us might see that as a con instead of a pro.
Total VPN’s apps emphasize simplicity, and are beautifully designed on both desktop and mobile platforms. A straightforward list of servers and a connect button are all the user really needs to interact with. Servers can be starred so they’ll appear at the top of the list. Once connected, an overview of the server, usage, connection duration, protocol, and bandwidth limit (unlimited on the paid version) are displayed on the home page. A search bar is available so you don’t have to scroll through the entire list of servers to find a specific country or city.
The settings tab will link you to your account, set the protocol, and choose whether to run and connect on startup. You can also toggle notifications, marketing messages, and security tips. We turned off the last two to get rid of ads.
On the desktop version, the app will run quietly in the system tray. The icon doesn’t change based on whether it’s connected or not, but that’s a minor complaint. A right-click will allow you to connect to your starred servers, disconnect, check for updates, and access the settings.
The mobile app is equally simple, consisting of a server list and home page with connection details. After installing, the setup process is pretty much the same, only requiring your email and password. Starred servers will be synced across devices.
The apps look great and couldn’t be more intuitive, but the same cannot be said for the website. It looks fine, but it’s difficult to navigate. Free users especially will find it a pain to locate troubleshooting information and support. The site is fragmented with no clear links to pages we were searching for. It could really use a search bar that indexes the entire site.
Servers and performance
Premium users of Total VPN get access to 33 servers in 27 countries. The US hosts servers in seven cities, while every other country gets one each. This does not include the “supercharged” servers add-on mentioned earlier. A server list on the website will show the current load on all available servers. A few are often over capacity like New York, which is the default server when opening the app, but most could handle a lot more.
So long as you choose your server wisely, Total VPN premium users should have no trouble streaming 1080p video. Normally, I like to play a few rounds of Brawlhalla, an online Super Smash Bros-style fighting game on Steam, to test latency. Unfortunately, we were unable to connect to the game’s servers when using Total VPN. I couldn’t pinpoint the cause, and the issue occurred from multiple locations and on different VPN protocols. I was able to hop on a public server for Don’t Starve Together, where I didn’t experience any noticeable lag. Still, it’s probably worth it for gamers to ensure they can at least establish a connection to their game of choice using the free version prior to shelling out for a premium subscription.
As for the free version, it’s a bit too slow for gaming. I was able to stream Netflix in low quality, but it wasn’t pretty. The 2 Mbps speed cap is fine for general web surfing.
To make the speed tests as empirical as possible, we downloaded the same 82.7MB file (compressed from 103MB) three times from three different servers at three different times per day for a total of nine tests. We performed additional tests conducted at near to the same times without a VPN for a control group. Times for a couple other VPNs are included for comparison’s sake, though these were tested at an earlier date. I connected to servers in Miami and Atlanta in the US, which are geographically closest to me, and in London. In the boxplot below, the thick black line represents the median download time, while the red diamond represents the mean. Lower is better.
Total VPN outperformed every other VPN we’ve tested thus far, including the much more expensive ExpressVPN. The difference between using and not using the VPN made nearly no difference. Hopefully, as Total VPN gets more popular, it can maintain these fantastic speeds.
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. My original location is in Bogota, Colombia, where I run these tests on a 10 Mbps connection. Those with faster connections may well notice a larger discrepancy in speeds.
When the desktop app first launches, the default connection protocol is PPTP. Your first action should be to go into the settings and switch it to OpenVPN. While fast, PPTP has well-documented vulnerabilities and is not considered secure. IKEv2 is also available and is a solid choice if you don’t want to use OpenVPN.
The OpenVPN protocol uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is as strong as it gets when it comes to consumer-grade transfer encryption. All servers use shared IPs, which add to anonymity by making it difficult to trace activity back to a single user. Total VPN doesn’t offer much in the way of configurations beyond choosing the protocol. You can’t opt for UDP or TCP, and there’s no modifying the encryption standards.
Total VPN doesn’t have built-in DNS leak protection. IPleak.net confirms DNS does leak while connected to the VPN, so users will need to take some other action on their own behalf to mitigate this. Ideally, the VPN should route DNS requests through either its own DNS servers or a third-party like Google Public DNS. Instead, DNS requests are still sent through the ISP, revealing the real location and IP address of the user. We recommend you set up Google Public DNS on your device if you use Total VPN.
Total VPN will not keep usage or activity logs concerning the content you transmit, but it does keep connection and authentication logs. These include when you log in, the IP from which you log in, your username, source IP address, VPN username, and VPN protocol. Activity and usage logs are the biggest threat to privacy, and connection logs are usually not as much of concern. Still, a totally log-free service would have been preferable. Total VPN is based in the UK, where law enforcement is known for mass surveillance.
The Total VPN website uses some tracking cookies that it in turn hands over to advertisers and possibly other third parties.
Total VPN offers customers a 24/7 live chat hotline, but that’s not as great as it sounds. On the first occasion that I tried it, I waited about 20 minutes before giving up and going to lunch. On the second attempt, I waited between 25 and 30 minutes before finally getting a response. A ticket submission system is also available, though I didn’t try it myself.
Then comes Total VPN’s most frustrating add-on: priority support. For an additional GBP 9.95 ($14.54) per year, you can move to the front of the customer service queue and talk with the most experienced staff. First off, like the supercharged servers add-on, users who pay more get better service at the expense of those who pay less. Everyone should get quick and effective customer service. Secondly, a VPN service shouldn’t even need an add-on like that; it’s just a superfluous gimmick to make more money.
Once someone finally replied on the live chat, they seemed competent and not like an outsourced one-size-fits-all firm that handles everything from refrigerators to credit cards. They answered all my questions and were knowledgeable about the product they represented.
A search-able knowledge base of FAQs and tutorials is available on the website.
In-app marketing messages can be toggled off in the app to prevent advertisements. As a paid user, I didn’t receive any unsolicited emails or other promotions.
Total VPN offers some of the fastest speeds we’ve tested at a rock-bottom price. For novice users who want a very affordable VPN option, it’s well worth considering. Advanced users will find it a bit too dumbed down, lacking sufficient configurations and privacy protections. Total VPN isn’t quite at the level of more mature providers such as ExpressVPN however, for a new entrant it shows good potential. DNS leak protection should be a top priority for the developers.
Customer service is slow but knowledgeable. We’d like to see a few more payment methods and a few less paid extras.