Unless you’re a technical expert, you probably won’t delve into all of the behind-the-scenes features of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). You probably just want to know that it works! In this context, the software that the VPN service downloads onto your computer has to work beautifully. It has to be simple to install, easy to use, and flawless at protecting your privacy.
Quick Links to our 5 best VPN Software
This review focuses on VPNs that are a pleasure to use. You will read about VPN software that has the following attributes:
- Easy and fun to use
- Looks good on mobile devices
- Gives options of different VPN protocols, which you can switch between in the app
- Has apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
- Prevents IP leaks
- Blocks internet access if the VPN is not engaged
- Automatic protection on start-up
- WiFi protection
Using these features as a guide, we’ve selected the best VPN software from all of the VPNs that we here at BestVPN.com regularly test.
You can read more about the importance of our selection factors later on in this review. However, first let’s take a look at the five best VPN software choices.
Best VPN Software: Summary
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- Self-installing, easy-to-use app
- Versions for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux
- Software for routers and set-top boxes
- Kill switch
- IP leak protection
- Only three simultaneous connections allowed
ExpressVPN has a great interface that installs itself. The app is uncluttered and doesn't require any specialist knowledge to use. It comes in custom versions for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. This company has quickly built up a reputation for reliability. Its software is one of the few VPNs that can get through the Great Firewall of China. It also defeats the VPN detection systems at Netflix. Security is top-of-the line, with 256-bit AES encryption for data and a 4096-bit RSA cipher for session establishment. You can switch between OpenVPN, Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) on a back tab of the app. Another tab gives controls for the settings of the VPN, which include a kill switch. Connections are air tight and have high speeds.
This is a very easy-to-use app, with strong security, so ExpressVPN gets our vote as the best VPN software available. Away from our software assessment, it has to be noted that ExpressVPN also has excellent customer support, which is available via live chat 24/7. It also has an extensive server network in 94 countries.
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- Cool app
- Fast network speeds
- Automatic settings to suit activities
- System-wide and per-app kill switch
- Apps for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android
- Can't get into Netflix
CyberGhost has a really cool user interface. The company has great branding and carries through its "friendly ghost" theme to every corner of the app. When this VPN software opens, it presents you with a choice of activities. You select from the options to stream video, download with torrents, or surf anonymously. Following your selection, the software adjusts the VPN's settings to optimize the connection. This is a real help and means you don't have to mess about under the hood to get the VPN to work properly.
The app installs itself and there are versions for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android systems. You can set up a VPN on Linux, routers, and set-top boxes with CyberGhost. The software sets up high speed connections and is good at dodging regional restrictions on many streaming services. Unfortunately, it can't get into Netflix. CyberGhost produces extra security software, which is free to subscribers. This includes an immunizer, which protects your devices against ransomware. The app has a WiFi protection feature that logs your trusted hotspots.
The app only gives you OpenVPN, but this is the best VPN protocol going and the system uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is totally secure. The security of authentication is ensured with 4096-key RSA encryption, which, again, is the best you can get. Take up the free version to try out the software.
- Animated interface
- Free version
- Good speeds
- Cloaking technology
- Kill switch
- Doesn't allow peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading
TunnelBear competes with CyberGhost for the title of the best VPN interface design. If you want something hip and colorful with humor, go for CyberGhost. If you want to watch a funny cartoon when you connect to a VPN, take a look at TunnelBear. The installer wizard for this software gets you ready for the humor and originality of the interface. Rather than report drab progress events, the installer tells you about bear-related tasks, which will make you chuckle. The bear theme dominates the app. Your current location is represented by a vulnerable sheep. When you choose a VPN server, the sheep turns into a bear, which digs down into the ground. Where did it go? When the VPN is connected, the bear pops up in a honeypot in the server location. It stays there until you close the connection, then it tunnels back to your home location. Kids will love watching this VPN.
The TunnelBear kill switch is called the "Vigilant Bear" and its obfuscation method is called "Ghost Bear." Users of Windows, Mac OS X, and Android systems get to use the OpenVPN protocol through the app. Those with iOS devices get L2TP or Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) in the app, or they can download a third-party user interface to get OpenVPN. TunnelBear has its own Domain Name System (DNS) server, gives automatic WiFi protection and has great speeds. You can choose to install the VPN as a browser extension and there's also a free version, called Little Bear.
- App for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux
- Manual installation for routers
- Browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera
- Free version with 10 GB data per month
- Ad and tracker blocker
- Account sharing not allowed
Windscribe's app is small and business-like. The controls are very straight-forward. They even fit into a much smaller browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. This software has some unique features, which mark out this company as one of the best VPNs around. If you install both the app and a browser extension, you can create your own "double hop" VPN. This gives you extra protection because it routes your traffic through two VPN servers and encrypts all of your communications twice over. Although other VPNs offer double hop connections, these are always pre-set combinations. With Windscribe's software, you can create your own route.
Another fascinating feature of the browser software is the Secure.link report. This creates a link that assesses every security weakness in each page that you visit. You can then send that link to a friend, or copy it into another browser tab to see the security report yourself. Other security features in the Windscribe browser extension software include an ad blocker and a blocker for tracker codes. You can also set the extension to strip out social media "Like" buttons that turn out to be a threat to your online privacy.
- Easy-to-use app for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android
- Manual setup for Linux, Blackberry, set-top boxes, routers, and game consoles
- Kill switch
- Private DNS servers
- Gets around detection at streaming services
- Customer support can be slow
Our NordVPN review found that it installs seamlessly and its app is really easy to use. The main screen of the user interface shows a map of the world that includes markers for the company's server locations. You just double click on a location to connect. The VPN includes procedures for two security protocols - OpenVPN and IKEv2. The app can assess the connection you wish to make and automatically select the most efficient. However, you can override this setting and nominate a preferred protocol. Other nifty connection features include settings that optimize the connection for P2P downloading or streaming and another optimized connection for use with the Tor network. NordVPN offers a number of pre-set double-hop configurations. It also has special servers that include protection from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. The security features of this VPN software include a kill switch, a private DNS server, IP leak protection, cloaking technology, and automatic WiFi protection.
VPN Software that’s Easy to Use
Many VPNs are exceptionally good at protecting privacy, but don’t have a very good user interface. Although concepts of interface design and usability may seem frivolous to technology experts, the “user experience” of VPN software is actually vitally important.
If a VPN is difficult to set up and has a large number of settings that regular users don’t understand, then there’s a high risk that the customer won’t tune the VPN properly, or just won’t bother to use it at all.
The design effort that went into creating CyberGhost and TunnelBear really helps the user. The CyberGhost app is something that you hope others see you using. It is like the software equivalent of an expensive watch, or designer clothing – it makes you look good. Thus, you’re more likely to have the CyberGhost interface open all the time. With this frequency of use, you can become familiar with the software very quickly. Similarly, the TunnelBear app is really fun to use. You look forward to opening the interface and looking at all the amusing, bear-related settings. TunnelBear’s investment in fun is really unique in the VPN world and it fronts some serious and well-executed security features.
If you need the privacy of a VPN, it’s probably because you’ve worked out that your internet activities can get you into trouble. On that basis, you’re probably better off having the VPN on all the time. Most VPNs give you the option of loading and connecting when your computer starts up. You can set a default server, so the software doesn’t need to prompt you for a decision before it connects. This setting should keep you protected all the time. Unfortunately, there are some circumstances in which it doesn’t.
Many people have their internet set to reconnect automatically if the connection gets dropped. If there is a problem with the Internet Service Provider’s equipment, it could take a few minutes for the internet to get back on. A prolonged disconnection will cause your VPN software to report back that there is no connection and change its status to “Off.” When your computer reconnects to the internet, your VPN could be off without you realizing. As such, you would carry on surfing or downloading without any protection. This is a dangerous situation, particularly if you live in a country where government monitoring is prevalent. Another situation where the VPN might drop is if there is a brief problem with the VPN servers or the connection equipment of the VPN company. Then, your constant connection would suddenly become unprotected.
A kill switch covers these unexpected disconnects and blocks access to the internet if the VPN is not active. The first time you experience this situation you may panic, because you’ll see that your computer reports that there is no internet. In fact, the VPN software is blocking the internet until you connect to a server. This is an important technical feature of VPN software, and you should only subscribe to a service that has it.
Best VPN Software: Conclusion
The number of servers that a company operates, the responsiveness and expertise of its customer support staff, and its pricing are all important factors when you choose a VPN service. However, the key element that will keep you using a VPN is the competence and usability of its software. Unfortunately, in many cases, you don’t get to try out the client interface software until you’ve already paid up. The software of a VPN provides its core function, and so VPN companies have to spend a lot of time with their marketing copy to try to convince you to buy. Without a demo of the software, your subscription is a leap in the dark.
Fortunately, three of the VPNs on our list have free versions that mean you can try out the software before you commit to buy. These three services are CyberGhost, TunnelBear, and Windscribe. In each case, the free version of the VPN has some limited or disabled features. For example, CyberGhost doesn’t deliver the high speeds of its paid service to users of the free VPN. TunnelBear limits the amount of data throughput that you’re allowed each month for its free version. Meanwhile Windscribe doesn’t give access to all of its servers through its free service. However, the free versions are good enough to help you get familiar with the software and its settings.
NordVPN and ExpressVPN both offer 30-day money-back guarantees. This option means that, though you have to pay up front without seeing the software, you can get all of your money back if you find that the service doesn’t suit you. In both cases, BestVPN.com technicians have tested the companies’ claims that they give refunds. Both did, so you don’t need to worry that this promise might be a con.
Take advantage of the opportunity to try out the software of your chosen VPN with no risk. It’s important that you understand your VPN software and enjoy using it. Otherwise, you might not turn it on so often, and then you would be putting your internet privacy at risk.
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