ClearVPN has an appropriately “clear” focus, with marketing concentrated on highlighting a service that allows subscribers to access the Internet as if they were in another country – namely the USA, UK or Canada. Unlike most other services, it sells access to its location-specific servers on an individual or packaged basis, so you can, for example, sign up to a UK-only service if that’s all you require. If you have specific requirements along those lines, it could provide just what you’re looking for.
ClearVPN doesn’t set out to be “all things to all people.” The company offer servers in a limited range of countries, and target their marketing message primarily at expats or travellers abroad as a means to access “region locked” content such as streaming media. It does this rather well, with fairly decent performance, at the same time as keeping things simple for novice users. Techies and enthusiasts may well choose to find a service that does more, but ClearVPN’s target market will probably be quite happy with this service. There are, however, a few important caveats, which we discuss below.
Packages & Pricing
Clear VPN’s service and pricing offerings are a little more complex than those from most other VPN providers, who often simply offer one service at a fixed monthly fee.
As you can see from the image above, Clear VPN sell their country-specific services individually, with dual and triple country options available for those who require them.
In terms of pricing, ClearVPN gets cheaper when you are willing to sign up for a longer commitment package. For example, as shown in the screenshot below, the UK-only service costs $9.75 per month for those subscribing on a recurring monthly basis, but $90 per year for an annual contract, which works out at a lower price of $7.50 per month.
The dual and triple country services are more expensive and, importantly, only available on a six or twelve month contract basis. The cost of an annual subscription, with access to all available servers (in the UK, USA and Canada) costs $165 per year, which works out to $13.75 per month. It’s fair to consider this pricing as a little above average, when there are other services that provide more country options for a lower fee.
Mobile access is included in the price, but note that you must tick a box to activate this whilst placing your order.
ClearVPN do offer a seven-day free trial of their service, but take payment details up-front. Payments begin automatically if you do not cancel the service before the end of the trial period.
The provider uses a third-party payment provider, Plimus, to deal with payments. This caused us a few minor irritations, as you will find out later in this review.
ClearVPN’s support options are rather limited. Clicking the “contact” link on their website provides you with a single form for queries and support requests, which comes with a promise that messages will be answered within 24-hours. If you need guaranteed 24/7/365 support, this isn’t the service for you. However, in fairness, the test support query we sent via email was answered very quickly, within under two hours.
We couldn’t find a phone number for support anywhere on the site, or, unusually, a trading address for the company.
Security and Privacy
ClearVPN primarily uses the OpenVPN protocol together with 2048-bit encryption. The company also offer L2TP/IPSEC options for those with mobile devices that don’t support OpenVPN.
We were impressed with the clear detail provided on both security and privacy on the company’s website.
ClearVPN state on their homepage that, in terms of privacy, they do no “logging or monitoring of any kind,” when it comes to the data moving through their service. They only maintain connectivity information for troubleshooting purposes. This will be reassuring for those who wish to use a service that doesn’t maintain any logs.
The company also state that their use of third-party payment provider Plimus means that they have no access to payment details.
We decided to sign up for a monthly package with access to UK servers only, and benefit from the seven-day free trial for the purposes of our review.
When we began the sign-up we were surprised to note that ClearVPN accounts take up to 24-hours to set up due to “security reasons.” This is rather unusual and important to note for those who want to use their VPN service immediately.
Unfortunately, the rest of the sign-up process was unnecessarily convoluted as well. We signed up with PayPal, but were unable to complete the order as we tried to use a PayPal address that didn’t match the email address we signed up with. After a series of confusing emails, we received one which said we could authorise the payment, but clicking the authorisation link instead resulted in our instantly receiving an email saying our order had been cancelled.
We tried again, only to find out our order now had to be “reviewed.”
Eventually, we received another message saying our order was being processed, but could take up to 48-hours, rather than the 24 mentioned on the ClearVPN website:
As it turned out, our welcome email arrived about 18-hours later, complete with login and setup instructions. However, it’s fair to say that getting signed up was all a bit of an unnecessary struggle – especially when all we were trying to do was take advantage of a “free trial.”
Installation and Configuration
We decided to use a MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion 10.8 to test the ClearVPN solution. We clicked the “UK Installation Instructions” link on our welcome email and were taken to seperate Web domain containing instructions.
Clicking the “Step 1” link took us to a detailed page of instructions, with good screenshots.
We followed the instructions, which required us to log in using the username and password supplied in our welcome email and download ClearVPN’s recommended OpenVPN software for our Mac.
This was a normal Mac (.dmg) installation file, containing a standard Mac installer that required us to click continue a few times and enter our computer’s system password. Once the installation was complete, it added a new icon to our Mac’s top menu bar with simple “go,” “connect,” and “quit” options.
We popped back to the online instructions and were pleased to find screenshots explaining what to do next. It seems a small thing, but it’s refreshing when VPN providers actually tell you what to do to connect – a surprising number expect you to work it out for yourself once the software is installed.
We followed the instructions and within around ten seconds we were connected to the service. A quick IP address lookup revealed that we now had a UK IP address.
We then browsed to a UK-specific streaming media site and were immediately able to stream UK TV content with no noticeable buffering.
So far, so simple, and really that was about all we needed to do; As we were using the UK-specific subscription and ClearVPN is an OpenVPN-only service (on computers at least), there were no settings to tweak or change. Clear VPN therefore scores well for being simple, user-friendly and suitable for novices.
Connection Speeds and reliability
Having been quite impressed with the basics of getting Clear VPN working, we were keen to check out the performance of the service. To that end, we turned to the Speedtest.net site.
First, as usual, we performed a speed test whilst disconnected from the VPN service to gain a benchmark speed for our current location:
We then connected to ClearVPN via the OpenVPN client software and performed the test again:
As you can see, being connected to ClearVPN resulted in a download speed drop of just under 3Mbs. This isn’t the best we’ve seen, but nor is it the worst, with some poor quality VPN services halving download speeds. The far greater upload speed visible in the screenshots should be taken as an anomaly, which is quite common when running speed tests over a VPN connection.
All-in-all, while the performance of ClearVPN was far from ground-breaking in our tests, it’s acceptable enough, and prolonged viewing of UK streaming media produced no buffering despite the performance hit.
One small issue we did notice on our test Mac was that we lost our Internet connectivity once we disconnected the VPN client. We were only able to resolve the problem with a reboot. While this may have simply been a glitch on our test Mac, this is still worthy of a mention.
ClearVPN’s website features quite a long compatibility list including Windows PCs (running XP, Vista and Windows 7), Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. Windows 8 support was notable by its absence, but it may just be that the website had not been updated since its release.
We had a quick glance at the setup instructions for other platforms. All were similarly well-documented, but it did seem that there were a couple more installation steps involved on Windows and Linux platforms, when compared to our Mac experience.
We clicked through to the iOS instructions and decided to do a little testing on an iPhone.
ClearVPN on iPhone
As the iPhone has no native support for OpenVPN, it’s necessary to set up a manual L2TP connection to connect to the service.
As before, we were pleased to find detailed instructions, complete with screenshots.
We followed the instructions, which essentially involved creating a new VPN connection within our iPhone’s network settings, and completing various fields with our account information.
After entering the required information, the VPN connection worked first time with no problems.
As we had already performed speed tests on our local WiFi network, we decided to test the service over a 3G connection.
With the VPN switched off, we achieved a download speed of 1.90Mbps, after connecting to ClearVPN’s L2TP server, our speed remained relatively close to benchmark at 1.68Mbps. This was a pleasing result.
Clear VPN’s website doesn’t have a “customer area” in the traditional sense. When you click on the “installation instructions” link in your registration email, you are taken to a separate Web domain containing instructions, a support link and options to amend your details or password:
While you progress through the setup instructions, you do log into ClearVPN’s system to download the VPN client for various operating systems, which appears to then be pre-populated with your settings. This is a neat and tidy way of doing things that protects novices from having to take too many technical steps.
So, while ClearVPN doesn’t provide quite the same kind of login-protected area as most VPN providers, its own way of doing things works rather well, even if it’s not especially sophisticated.
Clear user-friendly solution
Good documentation that shouldn’t trip up the technophobes
Reasonably impressive performance
Good clarity on security and privacy issues
We weren’t so sure about
Limited configuration control for techies
Connectivity glitches after disconnection on our Mac
No confirmed support for Windows 8
Limited support options
Slow, convoluted sign-up procedure
Limited country options
Although a couple of things irritated us about ClearVPN, especially the sign-up procedure, we came away with a reasonably positive impression. Instead of trying to do everything, the product keeps things simple and the developer clearly has a defined target market in mind. The good news is that that target market should be largely happy with the product.
So, while ClearVPN’s not for everyone, if you feel you are part of the intended target audience, it deserves, at least, a place on your shortlist.