Modest hardware means that the Betterspot VPN and Tor router from Betternet will severely slow down your internet connection. It is a well-built device, however, and the mobile app used to control it is stylish and works flawlessly.
The Betterspot is a compact router with a built-in VPN. This means that all devices connected to the internet via the Betterspot benefit from the advantages of using a VPN. The Betterspot comes courtesy of VPN provider Betternet, and so is configured to use the Betternet VPN service. As we see in this Betterspot review, it also functions as a Tor router.
Betterspot was partially funded via a successful Indiegogo campaign. In total, $306,479 was raised, although much of this was raised via “another platform.” This included a Kickstarter campaign. This final amount represents 363% funding.
The finished product is now available to Indiegogo backers, and is expected to be available to the general public from January 2017. BestVPN.com has been provided with a sample model to review.
Different prices reflect different subscription plans to the Betternet VPN service. There is only one Betterspot hardware model.
These prices start at $99 for the basic device. A “gift” of one month’s free subscription to Betternet Premium is included.
The device plus a one year Premium subscription costs $125 + shipping. The device with a lifetime Premium subscription + free shipping costs $249 (US and Canada) or $275 (elsewhere).
The Betterspot device can also be used in Tor mode for free, without the need for any subscription.
You can connect devices to the Betterspot via either Ethernet LAN cable or Wi-Fi. Similarly, the Betterspot connects to the internet via either Ethernet LAN cable or Wi-Fi. In Wi-Fi mode it can act as a range extender (using its own SSIS, not as a repeater).
Note that the 300mbps 802.11n wireless standard used is around three times slower than the current 802.11ac standard.
It is also worth highlighting that the Ethernet ports are not up to the current Gigabit (1 GigE) standard. They allow a maximum transfer speed of only 300mbps. This is still much faster than even the best internet connection, but see below for my real-world Wi-Fi performance results.
The device is powered by a MIPS 24KEC Soc, operating at 580MHZ. It uses 128MB DDR2 RAM + 16 MB SPI FLASH memory. The firmware is OpenWRT. Power is provided using a standard micro USB port.
One of the great things about using a VPN router is that an unlimited number of devices can connect to the router at once. They all then benefit from the protection afforded by using a VPN (or Tor).
As already noted, the Betterspot can act as both a VPN router and a Tor router. It can also be set to “Direct” mode, which disables VPN and Tor functionality. This allows the Betterspot to act as a regular router.
In theory (according to its ToS), the Betterspot can be used with any third party VPN service. This is nice, although in practice there is no way (at least currently) to use any service other than Betternet.
Betterspot users can currently connect to servers in five countries (United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany and Japan). The Indiegogo webpage states that Betternet also runs servers in Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. These locations are not currently available via the Betterspot app, but this will probably change before the official release date.
The Betterspot is a blue box of solid plastic that can be comfortably held in the hand. It is larger and heavier than the similar Anonabox, but this gives the device a reassuringly solid feel. I like it.
Interestingly, an LED light in the shape of the Betternet logo on the front of the box changes color, depending on which mode the Betterspot is set to. This allows you to see at a glance whether you are connected to the internet via a VPN, Tor, or as normal.
The Hexa Protocol is a proprietary VPN protocol that has been developed by the same company that owns Betternet. It is marketed as a separate VPN product, with apps for iOS and Android, under the brand name Hexatech.
The difference between Betternet and Hexatech is that Betternet uses traditional VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, while Hexatech uses the Hexa protocol.
Betterspot claims that the Hexa protocol is specifically designed to run on mobile devices, that it “offers an ultra fast speed and reliable security to the users,” and that it is “blockproof.”
I can find no third party information on this protocol, so all we have is the developer’s word on these things. When it comes to security I would trust the tried and tested open source OpenVPN way more than this otherwise-unknown proprietary protocol.
The Tor Network
In addition to acting as a VPN router, the Betterspot can act as a Tor router. Please see my Tor Network Review for an in-depth discussion on this anonymity network. To cut a long story short, Tor is much more anonymous than VPN will ever be, but at the price of general internet usability.
It is important to note that using Tor through the Betterspot router is not as secure or anonymous as using Tor through the Tor Browser. This is because the Tor Browser has been hardened against a variety of security threats in a way that your regular browser almost certainly has not been.
The Tor network is free, and can be accessed via the Betterspot without the need for a subscription.
At present, support is only officially available via the Betternet website. When I reviewed Betternet, however, the support team did not respond to my requests. I did receive a response when I messaged the Betternet Facebook page.
Unlike other VPN routers that I reviewed, the Betterspot is managed using a mobile app, rather than through the router’s settings webpage. At the time of this review the app remains at the experimental stage. It is only available for iOS, and only via developer channels (so it cannot be downloaded via the regular App Store).
By the time Betterspot hits the shelves in January, however, the app should be ready for show time. An Android app is also being developed, but this may take a couple of months or more to appear.
As it is, the TestFlight developer app must be installed in order to use the Betterspot iOS app.
Despite its beta status, the iOS app already looks polished and works very well.
You can connect to the internet via either Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet.
The quick tutorial does a good job of explaining how to use the app.
The Betterspot can be used as a VPN router, a Tor router, or a normal router.
Choosing VPN server locations is easy.
Filtering (also known as split tunneling) is a neat feature that allows you to exclude specified websites from the VPN.
Overall, the app is smart looking and easy to use. Although not very fully-featured, it does the job well. And website filtering could prove very handy. I found using the mobile app a very easy and intuitive means of controlling the Betterspot.
I tested local network Wi-Fi performance using the WiFi Speed Test app for Android (with my PC on a wired connection). I only tested for nearby range, as in my opinion distance through walls and so forth is too hard to meaningfully quantify. The Betterspot is only capable of using the 2.4Ghz band.
If you have a high-speed internet connection then you will find your Wi-Fi speeds capped when using the Betterspot, even when not using VPN or Tor.
As a travel router, however, this performance is probably good enough for most situations, since most hotels, airports, and so forth do not offer a high bandwidth anyway.
VPN and Tor Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)
All tests were performed using my UK 50 Mbps/3 Mbps fiber connection. For a comparison with the results I achieved using the Betterspot, and those I achieved using the Betternet software client, please see my Betternet Review.
Tor speeds are almost entirely dependent on the random network of nodes from around the world that the Tor connection creates (which changes every few minutes). This means that these speed tests are no reflection on the Betterspot.
I have therefore included the Tor speed test purely as a point of interest, in order to provide a rough idea of the performance hit you can expect when using the Betterspot in Tor mode.
The graphs show the highest, lowest and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.
As I discovered when I reviewed the very similarly specified Anonabox, processing power makes all the difference when it comes to VPN performance in a router. Only a beefy processor such as that found in the Linksys WRT1200AC can keep up with the demands of encrypting and decrypting a VPN signal.
It is interesting to see that the slightly lower-speed Betterspot produces considerably better performance results than the Anonabox. This may well be due to its use of the Hexa VPN protocol rather than OpenVPN, which is known to be very processor-intensive.
I detected no IPv4 DNS leaks or WebRTC leaks while using the Betterspot, which is great! Note that my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6, so I cannot test for IPv6 leaks.
Betterspot Review Conclusion
Controlled via a great mobile app
LED changes color depending on mode
No DNS or WebRTC leaks
I wasn’t so sure about
The Hexa VPN protocol is a completely unknown quantity in terms of security
Poor performance (but much better than the Anonabox)
The Hexa VPN protocol is closed source
The Betterspot does not have a powerful processor or the latest high-speed Wi-Fi technology. For most people, this will make it unsuitable for use as a general-purpose home router. Simply put, if you want a VPN router that does not severely impact your Wi-Fi and internet performance, then you will not find it in this price range or in this form factor.
The Betterspot’s compact form factor does, however, make the device useful as a travel router. It can protect your Wi-Fi connection and bypass internet censorship with plug-and-play ease. Your connection will not the fastest in the world, but then again it rarely is when away from home.
The stylish mobile app really does make it easy to setup and deploy the Betterspot. And your connection should still be fast enough to surf the internet, send emails, and so forth without much noticeable slowdown. It is also a sturdily-built device.
Although its use-case is somewhat limited, I like the Betterspot, and can see myself using it while traveling.