Free2Surf clearly set out to provide a comprehensive VPN service, with a choice of protocols, servers in 14 countries, and a range of setup guides covering all common operating systems as well as mobile devices and routers. Sadly, a vast amount of attention to detail has been lost along the way, leaving a service that’s unreliable and hard to recommend.
Free2Surf is described online as a “premium” VPN service with no commitment. The company offers a simple range of subscription options but seems to assume that subscribers already have a certain level of technical knowledge.
Free2Surf seemingly demonstrate a commitment to making their service work across the widest possible range of computers and devices. While this may be exactly what certain enthusiasts are looking for, beginners with simple needs will definitely find more user-friendly options elsewhere.
Packages & Pricing
Free2Surf offer a single VPN service package with daily, weekly, six-monthly or annual commitment options. As with many VPN services, the price reduces if you commit to longer upfront. At the time of writing, the daily service was advertised at $1.50, the weekly at $4.99, the six-monthly at $50, and the annual subscription at $85 – a 20% saving over the monthly cost.
Free2Surf also sell their own branded VPN router at $75, which was not tested as part of this review. Interestingly, on the page offering the router, the monthly VPN service was shown at a higher price of $8.95 per month, however when we added this to the shopping cart it was charged at the correct price of $4.99. This represents a worrying lack of attention to detail that, unfortunately, continued as a theme throughout our testing.
The $85 annual subscription is more expensive than some competing VPN packages, however it’s important to note that what Free2Surf are selling is essentially unrestricted access to their 78 VPN servers, for use on any of your devices. This is not a package tied to a specific computer or device.
Free2Surf offer no free trial of their service, however they do advertise a seven-day money back guarantee.
There is nothing on the service provider’s site that indicates any fundamental differences between the service features based on the time package purchased, with all offering a choice of OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP connections.
As soon as you arrive at the Free2Surf homepage, you see a pop-up box highlighting the availability of 24x7x365 online chat support.
Sadly, when we attempted to use this we received no response at all, and were eventually prompted to send our query by email.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. 24 hours after resending the query via email, we had still received no response to the question. All that arrived in the inbox was a “chat transcript” of our one-way, unanswered conversation. So, although Free2Surf offer 24/7 chat, email and ticket-based support (once logged into the member area), it would perhaps be unwise to rely on it! Despite a good look we found no phone number for support on the developer’s website either.
Security and Privacy
Free2Surf offer PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN options on all subscription packages.
Free2Surf appear to take privacy very seriously and highlight the fact that they do not keep customer logs and will never pass customer information to any third-party, even in the case of DMCA / Abuse incidents.
The detailed legal information provided by Free2Surf will be reassuring to those wishing to know exactly how their use of VPN is logged and monitored. The company is, of course, keen to make clear that their service should not be used for immoral purposes such as illegal file sharing and also publishes a detailed stance on DDoS attacks.
For the purposes of this review we subscribed to the monthly service at $4.95 per month.
Free2Surf offer an array of payment methods including regular credit and debit card options, PayPal, and less commonly seen payment methods including Liberty Reserve and Amazon Simple Pay.
We chose to pay with PayPal, and the process was fast and slick. We instantly received PayPal receipts and product receipts, and a welcome email containing setup details and passwords followed just a couple of minutes later.
Installation and Configuration
We decided to use a Mac running Mountain Lion 10.8 for the bulk of our testing. Free2Surf provide manual setup guides for a wide range of operating systems, but they also include “auto installers” for Mac and Windows users.
Pleasingly, there is also a large collection of video tutorials available to watch direct from the site.
We decided to put the auto installer to the test. After clicking the option from the website, we were a little surprised to be taken to a page containing something akin to a PowerPoint presentation taking us through manual steps, one of which was to choose the VPN server we wished to connect to:
We followed the instructions and chose a server in New York. We were then taken to a login screen, where we had to input our email address, and the password supplied in our welcome email.
We were then able to download a Mac (.dmg) file containing the connection software which installed via a standard Mac installation routine.
While we had no problem with any of this, it was hard to ignore that getting to this point could be a little unintuitive for the non-technical. The act of choosing a server, the second of the steps detailed, had caused our browser to navigate away from the instructions, and we could imagine technophobes already going around in circles by this point.
Once installed, the Free2Surf software added a connection icon to our Mac menu bar, and the following box appeared:
After clicking “Yes,” we were connected to Free2Surf’s New York VPN server, and (for testing purposes) were able to stream media from a US-specific TV service.
The installed client software had minimal options, and we were disappointed by the lack of functions available. In order to explore the software further, we needed to revert back to the online setup guides.
Changing Servers (OpenVPN)
After watching the video tutorial on changing servers, we learned that, in order to connect to a different VPN server, we must first revisit Free2Surf’s website and server list.
From here, the basic process was much the same as connecting to the initial New York server: Choosing the server from the list, clicking “connect,” providing our username and password (which, annoyingly, we had to do twice), and allowing the VPN client software to connect to the new server. At least, after going through this process, our new server (London) was connected and we were able to connect to UK-specific sites.
Annoyingly, however, the New York server had now disappeared from the list in the VPN client (which was contrary to what was shown in the tutorial video). We were struck by how unnecessarily convoluted this process was.
Switching away from Free2Surf’s (recommended) OpenVPN configuration means heading back to their website for more instructions and video tutorials.
Free2Surf provide no Mac VPN client for L2TP and PPTP, so setting these up involves creating manual connections in the Mac’s System Preferences. This is all quite technical stuff, and not for the faint of heart (or non-technical), and not helped by the occasional typo in the setup tutorials as well as some unclear instructions.
For example, at one point, you’re told to “fill in the server address and account name,” and at another to “fill in the password and shared secret.” You’re not told that the “account name” is your email address, or where to find either the server name or shared secret. These are, in fact, hidden away in the members area of the website, with the shared secret described there as the “L2TP key.”
We, as techies, were able to get our heads around all of this, though not without frustration. The non-technical, it’s fair to say, wouldn’t stand a chance – but then it could be argued that it’s unlikely a non technical person will find themselves configuring an L2TP VPN connection!
Anyway, after these frustrations, we created our L2TP connection and tried to connect to Free2Surf’s Los Angeles server. It was “unreachable.” We changed our settings again, this time to connect via L2TP to New York. This worked, and we had finally achieved an L2TP connection on our test Mac.
Connection Speeds and reliability
As usual, we used the Speedtest.net website to test our connection speeds. To start with, we ran a SpeedTest with no VPN connection active to gain a benchmark:
We then used the OpenVPN client to connect to Free2Surf’s London server, and ran the test again:
As you can see, the overhead of running via the VPN server caused a drop in our connection speed of over 1.5Mbps. While this could be worse, we have seen far better performance from other VPN services.
Finally, we decided to connect to our L2TP connection, only to find that, whilst connected, we were unable to browse or resolve DNS queries, despite following the setup instructions in detail. This could have been a temporary problem but left us unable to test the speed over L2TP.
All in all, we were left with a questionable impression of reliability. The Los Angeles server was unreachable over L2TP, and the New York server connected over L2TP but left us unable to browse. The recommended OpenVPN connections to London and New York worked, but with a performance overhead. In totality, this wasn’t a great set of results.
Compatibility is, on the face of it, one of Free2Surf’s strong points, with a client for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, another for Mac, and setup guides for Ubuntu Linux and also a handful of routers and set top boxes.
Setup guides for iOS and Android mobile devices exist too, for OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP. Initially, we decided to test the OpenVPN option on iOS, but upon clicking on the setup guide, we were told that this works “on jailbroken devices only.” After such poor results with L2TP on our test Mac, we were reluctant to try this again, so we decided to set up a PPTP connection using our test iPhone….or at least try to….
Free2Surf on iOS
Setting up a PPTP connection on our iPhone meant once again consulting a slideshow-based instruction guide, which directed us to Free2Surf’s mobile site.
Sadly, we fell at the first hurdle. We carefully keyed in the address of the mobile site to find it down or nonexistent We then checked via our desktop browser and were also unable to find the site. Visiting Free2Surf’s normal site via the iPhone didn’t redirect us to a mobile site, so we were unable to progress any further through the instructions.
As with most VPN service providers, Free2Surf offer a login-protected customer area for subscribers:
There’s little to speak of within this area, other than the ability to view and cancel your subscription, raise support tickets and, bizarrely, register or transfer domains to the company. One can’t help but wonder if this last menu option is meant to be there, or if the client area has been recycled from another website or project.
We noticed other disturbing factors whilst navigating Free2Surf’s website. On one occasion, none of the customer testimonials loaded properly, and spelling and grammar mistakes were a constant presence.
- The multi-platform approach
- The simple sign-up procedure
We weren’t so sure about
- The performance hit whilst connected
- Convoluted setup procedures
- Unanswered support queries
- L2TP servers that didn’t work
- “Missing” service for mobile devices
- Typos, mistakes and inconsistencies on the company website
Free2Surf, with some serious work, could become a choice VPN service for enthusiasts, but as it stands there’s little to recommend it. The company’s website is unreliable and poorly designed, and this, coupled with nonfunctional servers and the inability to set up a mobile connection, leaves a very unprofessional impression. There are far better options out there.
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