Update: LeafyVPN no longer exists. Click here to view the best overall VPN providers.
LeafyVPN is something of a “middle-of-the-road” VPN service. It does everything you’d expect of it such as offering a choice of servers in a range of countries and a selection of connection protocols, and provides setup guides (and a few automated setup methods) for a standard range of devices.
For fairly competent users who want some flexibility in their VPN configuration, this could be the perfect service, but sadly the “middle-of-the-road” description also applies to the download speeds we experienced. Furthermore, novices who simply wish to watch streaming media from other countries will find other services that do a better job of holding their hand through the installation process.
Packages & Pricing
Essentially, Leafy VPN offer just one premium VPN package, but with different pricing based on the length of time for which you are willing to commit.
The basic monthly price for the service is $9 per month. This monthly price gradually reduces if you commit to a three, six or twelve month up-front package. At the highest level, the annual subscription of $69 works out to $5.70 per month. This is a fairly average price for a service of this nature.
Web searches reveal mention of a free trial version of the service, and trial servers are listed on Leafy VPN’s server list. However, it was unclear how to sign up for the trial from the company website. We contacted support about this and were told that if we wanted a “free trial” we had to sign up (i.e. pay for the service) and use the “three-day money back guarantee.”
A three-day money back guarantee is fairly stingy in an industry that usually offers at least a seven-day refund deal or easy access to a free trial. Furthermore, after checking the FAQs, we found that the three-day guarantee only applies if you have been unable to connect to the Leafy VPN servers and not if you are unhappy with the service due to slow speeds or other reasons. It’s certainly fair to say that there are other providers who give you far more chance to fully test their service without risking your money.
Customer service options are relatively thin on the ground at Leafy VPN. The “Contact us” link on the company website allows you to submit a support ticket, but only once you are registered with the site. It is slightly irritating that registering appears to be the only way you can submit a pre-sales query to the company.
Once registered, submitting queries through an online ticket system is the only support option. The FAQs state that tickets are answered in “a maximum of twelve hours.” This certainly doesn’t appear to be a 24/7/365 support service!
Also, while the “Contact us” page provides the company’s address (in Hong Kong), there is no phone number available for telephone support.
We registered and sent a support query (to ask about the free trial, as mentioned above). We received a reply within about four hours, which was quite reassuring.
Security and Privacy
Leafy VPN offer their VPN services via the OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP protocols.
Based on the information in the setup guides, OpenVPN is not an available option for iOS devices or DD-WRT routers. In addition, the only Linux setup guide provided is for PPTP connections.
Leafy VPN supports both 128 and 256 bit encryption. It’s refreshing to be provided with this detail, which many VPN providers choose not to reveal.
In terms of privacy, Leafy VPN make clear in their FAQs that the only information they store is three-days of connection logs “for troubleshooting.” This is reassuring for those concerned about privacy. However, this shouldn’t be seen as “carte blanche” for those wishing to use VPN connectivity for illegitimate purposes; Leafy VPN make it very clear that their service is not to be used for Peer to Peer file sharing or BitTorrent traffic, and that accounts used in this way will be terminated.
We signed up for a single month subscription, due to the lack of a free trial available (as detailed above).
The sign-up process is straightforward and required us to provide minimal details: name, email address, city, state and country. Payment options available were credit card, Liberty Reserve or PayPal. We chose the PayPal option, which was straightforward and well integrated. Order confirmation emails and receipts appeared immediately.
PayPal payments automatically renew on a monthly basis when subscribing to Leafy VPN, and they state in the FAQs that it is necessary to cancel these yourself via PayPal if you choose to cancel the service.
Installation and Configuration
We decided to use an Apple Mac using Mountain Lion 10.8 to test the service, and were pleased to find a “one click setup” option.
The “one-click” setup option instructed us to navigate to the client area of the website where, at this point, we noticed that our username and password for the service was shown to us, along with an option to change it. We also found the “one-click” setup option for our Mac:
Clicking the button resulted in the download of a file called “leafy.mobileconfig.” We could be a little pedantic at this point and say that what to do next wouldn’t be apparent to a complete novice (and that we had already clicked more than once!) but we opened the file which resulted in the following setup screen.
After clicking “install” we had to enter our Mac’s system password, after which a series of “VPN profiles” were installed:
While, as techies, we liked the way that Leafy VPN integrated this setup directly with Mac OS X’s “System Preferences,” it was no longer pedantic at this point to say that a novice would probably say “now what?”
There was no indication whatsoever of what to do next. While we quickly (and correctly) guessed that the setup had placed the profiles within the “Network” area of “System Preferences,” nothing was there to tell us this, nor (we checked) was there anything about the “one-click” setup in Leafy VPN’s OS-X documentation.
It’s important to make clear that most people with technical knowledge would have no problem at all with the setup process, and probably appreciate not needing to manually enter any settings, but it must be said that this presumption of knowledge loses Leafy VPN a point or two on the “user friendly” scale.
The profiles automatically created on our Mac consisted of four connecting to US servers and four to UK servers, with two for PPTP and two for L2TP in each case. The “one-click” setup didn’t set up anything for the OpenVPN protocol.
We connected to a US server via PPTP and a UK server via L2TP, both with no problems. Our username was already pre-populated as part of the automatic setup (a nice touch), but we had to enter our password manually. We were able to access region-specific streaming media services in both countries whilst connected, but performance was a little sluggish with some buffering.
We looked into why the automatic setup had not created an OpenVPN connection, and were a little disappointed to find that Mac users are required to download a third-party product called Tunnelblick to establish a connection. While we have no reason to suspect this won’t work, having a third-party product involved is not ideal.
In addition, we took into account the fact that the “one-click” setup only configured connections to the UK and US, so connecting to servers elsewhere in the world would require following the manual connection steps and referring to the server list provided in the welcome email. Again, none of this is disastrous, but does re-emphasise the “not for novices” nature of this particular solution.
Although we weren’t reviewing the Windows version, we did have a quick peek at the documentation to see what’s involved for Microsoft users.
There is a “Leafy VPN Dialler” available for the Windows platform, which probably makes life a little easier. However, we did find a dead link to this as part of one of the setup guides. So, while Windows users may find things a touch easier, there are still bumps in the road to trip up the technophobes.
Connection Speeds and reliability
After noticing rather sluggish streaming performance, we were interested to see the results of our speed tests. As usual, we used Speedtest.net for this purpose, and began by testing our speed with no VPN connected, in order to gain a benchmark:
We then connected to one of Leafy VPN’s US servers via PPTP and performed the test again:
As you can see, the download speed here was disappointing – a drop of over 2Mbps, which went a long way to explaining the stuttering media streaming we experienced.
To give the service more of a chance, we connected, again via PPTP, to Leafy VPN’s second US server. This time the result was a little better, with a download speed of 5.11Mbps, but this was still a significant drop on our benchmark speed.
Finally, we connected to the UK, trying an L2TP connection this time:
Sadly, the result was worse still, with the overhead of the VPN connection effectively halving our benchmark download speed.
The speed results were disappointing, and with Leafy VPN making it very clear in their FAQs that they “do not refund for speed issues” this is becomes even more of a problem.
Leafy VPN offers compatibility with Windows (XP, Vista, 7 and 8), Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS devices and DD-WRT routers. As mentioned in the “Security and Privacy” section, not all protocols are supported on all devices.
We decided to grab an iPhone and test out the service available for iOS.
Leafy VPN on the iPhone
Leafy VPN offer a “one-click” setup for iOS, so we were keen to find out whether it was more of a truly “one-click” configuration than its OS X equivalent.
First, we were instructed to log into the Leafy VPN website client area using the browser on the iPhone.
After doing this, we located the “one-click” setup icon. This took us to a profile installation screen that added the VPN connections to the phone.
Annoyingly, the experience here was almost identical to our experience with the test Mac. Once the connections were configured, there was nothing to show novices what to do next (and the online instructions didn’t specify what to do once the connections were configured either). Furthermore, the setup again created eight connections to UK and US servers, so manual intervention is required by anyone wishing to connect to servers elsewhere in the world.
We connected to the UK via L2TP and carried out a speed test. Unsurprisingly it revealed almost identical results to the Mac test, with a download speed of 4.32Mbps. Disconnecting the VPN brought us back close to our original benchmark with a speed of 6.58Mbps.
Leafy VPN provide a customer area on their website which is accessible as soon as your have registered.
The client area is fairly basic, offering you a link through to the subscription page, a summary of invoices, and the ability to raise new support tickets and check existing communications. You can also access your VPN username and password here as well as links to the “one-click” setup routines for Apple devices discussed above.
The client area also allows you to sign up as a Leafy VPN affiliate and gain a small commission for referring people to the service.
Although the client area is hardly extensive in functionality, it is clear and functional and provides all you really need to administer your account.
- The simple, uncluttered approach and organised client area
- Trouble-free connectivity to all the servers we tried
We weren’t so sure about
- Limited support options
- “One-click” setups that could confuse the non-technical
- Sketchy “money back guarantee” that requires you to pay up-front to try out the service
- Poor performance
- No refunds for speed issues
Leafy VPN comes close to being a recommend service for techies; All the provider’s servers worked when tested and account administration is simple and well organised. However, slow speeds will put off enthusiasts and novices will find more user-friendly VPN options elsewhere. Sadly, this leaves a middle-of-the-road service that compares poorly to its competitors in too many areas.