Alternative VPN Choices for You
Despite this focus, the VPN software is surprisingly fully-featured. In some configurations, at least, it is also very secure. If you want a VPN service, then get a VPN service. But if you want an unblocking service that also provides a decent VPN backup, Keenow Unblocker is rather good.
Pricing and Plans
Keenow costs $9.95 per month, which is reduced to $5.79 per month if paid annually. An annual subscription comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Keenow also offers a free “Lite” plan, which is intended primarily as a tester for the service.
Payment for the Premium plan is via PayPal, credit/debit card, and Bitcoin.
Premium users enjoy the following features:
- Smart DNS service
- VPN service
- Servers in 13 countries, including Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, France, Germany and the US
- Virtual WiFi
- “Platinum” level of support
- Torrenting permitted (on select servers)
Free users only have access to the smart DNS service (not VPN), and only US servers. The daily 512MB data cap also ensures that the Lite service is for test purposes only, as it will severely limit how much TV etc. you can stream.
Keenow is primarily a smart DNS service, rather than a VPN service. Smart DNS is a technology used to hide your online location and pretend that you are somewhere else.
This is very useful for accessing streaming services such as US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which block overseas visitors. It works by resolving your DNS requests at a specified location, and has the following advantages over using a VPN:
- It is much faster, as no encryption/decryption is required. This means fewer buffering issues.
- It can be used with any internet-capable device, including many that cannot run VPN software. For example, smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku devices.
- It is less likely to be blocked by services such as Netflix that try to ban VPN users
SmartDNS provides none of the privacy and security benefits of a VPN, but it is arguably the superior technology for simply unblocking websites.
In addition to Smart DNS, Premium customers also have access to Keenow’s VPN service. To find out more about what a VPN service is, and how it can benefit you, please see my VPNs for Beginners guide.
Now… the first thing to stress about Keenow is that it bills itself as an unblocking service only. It would therefore be unfair to knock it for not being something it never claims to be – a privacy service.
A VPN will help prevent your ISP from throttling your connection because you are using a rival service. It may also work where smart DNS is blocked. A VPN therefore makes a great backup option for an unblocking service.
A good example of this is the Netflix mobile app. This uses hard-coded DNS (Google's 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52), as well as hard-coded IP addresses for some Netflix domains. This means that smart DNS cannot be used to evade its block on mobile devices. A VPN, however, can!
Keenow’s VPN will also provide security by protecting you from hackers when using public WiFi hotspots. In addition to this, it provides some privacy benefits by hiding your IP address from websites you visit.
Please be aware, though, that websites also use many other sneaky tactics to identify and track you. No VPN can help against this, although some browser add-ons can.
For reasons outlined below, however, Keenow is not a suitable service for those who want a VPN primarily for privacy reasons. This not a criticism, as Keenow never that claims to protect your privacy, but you should be aware of the point.
I won’t belabor the point here, because as noted, Keenow does not claim to provide privacy. Suffice to say that Keenow is an Israeli company, and the Israeli government conducts wide-scale online surveillance.
Keenow also keeps extensive connection logs. These include a bandwidth usage log of data transmitted, a timestamp, and the IP address used to connect to its servers.
But as I say, Keenow is an unblocking service, not a privacy service.
Given this fact, I am pleased to note that Keenow permits P2P torrenting on some of its servers (US, Netherlands, South Africa and Brazil). This is a definite plus for the service.
With its focus on unblocking streaming content, I am a little surprised at how strong some of the encryption used by Keenow is. It uses the OpenVPN protocol:
“We provide few different sets of configuration on different ports. The most secure one currently running is with cipher AES-256-CBC and auth SHA512 for HMAC (message authentication), while the DH key size is 4096bits. As of PFS, key renegotiation happens once per hour as default for openvpn.”
It is not clear how widely deployed this level of encryption is, but it is impressive. To be honest, though, pretty any near any level of encryption is sufficient for an unblocking service.
The Keenow website looks smart enough, and there is a FAQ that answers most pertinent questions. There are also extensive setup guides, which are illustrated with screenshots. Detailed account management is available via an easy-to-use web console.
Interestingly, clicking on “Blog” sends you to a Reddit page. At time of writing there were only two posts here, but I’m sure this will grow. A nice map is also available, which shows you where Keenow’s DNS proxy and VPN servers are located.
In addition to the FAQ and setup guides just mentioned, Keenow operates a ticketed email support system.
It took around an hour and a half to receive an answer my query, which is perfectly reasonable. This is especially true since I only had a free account at the time. The response was very detailed and knowledgeable.
An automated troubleshooting wizard can help resolve simple problems
A valid email address is required to use the free service. Payment details are, of course, required to access the Premium plan. It is possible to pay using Bitcoins. Given that Keenow is not a privacy service, however, this seems rather pointless to me.
Once you have signed up, you will receive a welcome email. You can now download the Windows client or configure your devices manually.
The Windows client
The Windows software is simple, but gets the job done.
Keenow successfully unblocked all the US streaming services listed on its Unblock Services page… which is a huge number of services! Please do note, though, that you will still require a valid subscription in order to access premium services.
Here I am in the UK watching US Netflix courtesy of Keenow
As already noted, the free Lite plan has a 512MB data limit. This got me through about half an hour of watching Orange is Not the Only Black on Netflix. After this I could not try new streaming services or watch other shows on Netflix, but I was able to continue watching the same episode of Orange is Not the Only Black.
This means that Netflix only checks your location when it first loads an episode. So you can watch a full Netflix episode per day, using just the free Keenow Lite plan! That’s not bad.
I was unable to stream content from Canal+ when connected to the French DNS server, but most international streaming services seem to work fine.
The Premium plan also includes a VPN service.
Again, this is fairly simple, but gets the job done well.
IPv6 leak protection and a kill switch are included. It is also possible to change the port number, which can be useful for punching through firewalls. IPv4 DNS leak protection is not explicitly supported, but as I detected no DNS leaks, it is probably baked-in.
The client also offers an “WiFi protection” feature. If it detects that you are connected to an encrypted WiFi hotspot then it can auto-connect to a VPN server.
An interesting feature that I have never seen before in a VPN client is the ability use your Windows PC as a WiFi Hotspot. This should allow you to connect any WiFi-capable device to this “virtual router,” and it will benefit from the smart DNS and VPN service offered by Keenow.
This feature leverages Windows’ built-in mobile hotspot feature. Unfortunately, it seems my Netgear A6210 AC1200 WiFi adapter dos not support this. So I cannot test Keenow’s implementation.
VPN Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 Tests)
All tests were performed on my Virgin UK fiber connection, using OpenVPN UDP. Note that these tests only apply to the VPN service. DNS translation is more-or-less instantaneous, so distance is the sole factor to consider with SmartDNS.
These speeds are not great, and the transatlantic results are terrible. It should be remembered, though, that Keenow is primarily a Smart DNS service.
I detected no IPv4 DNS or WebRTC leaks. Please note that the Private Use RFC IP is a local IP only. It cannot be used to identify an individual, and so does not constitute an IP leak.
Unfortunately, my ISP (Virgin Media UK) does not support IPv6 connections, so I am unable to test for IPv6 leaks at this time. This is a situation that should change in the near future.
Whichever VPN server I connected to, my DNS address kept turning out to be French. This even after a flushing my DNS cache, reinstalling the Keenow client and rebooting my PC. Although a little odd, it is nevertheless not an IP leak.
Keenow provides custom software for Windows and Android. It also provides manual Smart DNS and VPN setup guides for a number of platforms.
Smart DNS manual guides are available for MacOS, ChromeOS, Android, iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TV, Asus router, D-Link router, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.
VPN manual guides (OpenVPN) are available for MacOS, ChromeOS, Android, iOS, DD-WRT router and Asus router.
The Android App
The Android app is VPN-only. Smart DNS, however, can be configured manually in Android.
It looks very much like desktop client, and also includes a kill switch, port selection, and unencrypted WiFi protection. I detected no IP leaks while using the app. I can also confirm that the Android Netflix app worked with Keenow Unblocker.
Keenow Unblocker does exactly what it says on the tin – with the exception of France’s Canal+, it successfully unblocked every streaming service I threw at it. On its own terms, Keenow Unblocker is therefore a resounding success.
The VPN service is secondary to the smart DNS service, and as a backup technology that also brings some privacy and security benefits, it is fine. Indeed, at least some of Keenow’s servers appear to use excellent security, and the client includes many useful features.
The VPN service is also very handy for those who wish to supplement streaming with a little P2P downloading. If your main concern is to unblock streaming content, Keenow really is an excellent choice.
Keenow has contacted us to say they it has fixed a number of issues based on this review:
- Removed slow VPN servers
- Fixed the France issue indicated
- Added Netflix supported servers in Mexico, Israel, Russia and India
I have not tested these improvements, but am happy to take Keenow at its word.