Pete Zaborszky

Pete Zaborszky

May 9, 2013

SummaryUK Proxy Server (from Scothosts) is one of those services where you need to spend a little time on the (rather cluttered) website before you can accurately ascertain exactly what is on offer. In essence, UK Proxy Server offer a choice of location-specific proxy and VPN services. While the former option reroutes all of your web traffic through a private proxy server, the latter is a traditional VPN service that gives you an IP address in the country of your choice.

As this is a VPN comparison site, we have concentrated on the provider’s VPN offering for the purposes of our review. Once we had signed up, we found that although the site sells VPN services for separate countries, you are actually given access to all of the different country servers from one subscription. Although this was an unexpected bonus, it did add to the confused feeling we had during much of our testing, which wasn’t helped by some connectivity issues on our Mac. All of the above is a pity, because our performance figures were really rather good.

As stated in the summary, UK Proxy Server presents a rather confusing service offering. As well as offering the choice of a VPN or a proxy service, the company also offers the same services for other countries, and, in the process, links across to other region-specific websites built on the same template (USA Proxy Server, Irish Proxy Server, and so on). It then turns out that access to all servers is, in fact, included with a single subscription (albeit with a change required in the customer area, as detailed later).

Sadly, frustration and confusion was a continuing theme throughout our review, and initially we were unable to connect at all. Even though we eventually experienced notably good performance, we were still left with the impression of a rather muddled service.

Packages & Pricing

As stated above, we concentrated on UK Proxy Server’s UK VPN service for the purposes of this review. Services specific to seven other countries are also available, but, to all intents and purposes they are identical, as they all provide access to servers in all countries:

Country servers

Concentrating on the UK option specifically, there are four different VPN services available, two on a monthly subscription, and two on a more cost-effective annual subscription. The monthly services are priced at £8.99 per month for a service limited to 30GB of traffic, and £12.99 per month for an unlimited package. The annual service costs £74.99 for a package limited to 30GB per month, or £99.99 for an unlimited package.

UK OptionsThese costs are a little above average when compared to most of the VPN services we review, especially as many are charged in US dollars. The annual unlimited package works out to around $155 based on the exchange rate at the time of writing, which is reasonably expensive, even when discounted compared to the monthly subscription.

We had a quick look to review the prices for the other country-specific services, and all of them matched the prices stated above – unsurprising when as far as we could tell they are all essentially the same service!

Although there is a “free trial” link on the provider’s website, clicking it revealed that this option has been withdrawn due to “fraudulent use by hackers.”

No free trial

Instead, there is the promise of a money-back guarantee, though a 24-hour time limit is mentioned for a “full refund.”

Warranty

Customer Service

UK Proxy Server display a “live chat” option on their homepage, but it always showed as “offline” every time we browsed the website.

Chat Offline

The “Support” link took us to a support ticketing system, complete with a rather extensive knowledge base. The “Contact Us” link gave us a support email address, and another link through to the ticketing system. There was also a rather friendly “speaking hologram” at the corner of the site describing the support options.

Helpdesk

The “Contact Us” section states that queries are usually answered within one hour between 9AM and 11PM UK time (GMT). We put this to the test by sending a query and indeed received a response within the hour – a pleasing result. However, a follow-up query relating to TunnelBlick (see later in the review) remained unanswered.

We did notice one rather disconcerting thing while browsing the website. At one point, the branding changed and we found ourself browsing the Spanish Proxy Server site instead. We imagine the parallell branding was done for search engine optimisation purposes, but it seems the provider should have done a little more functional testing!

Security and Privacy

We were quickly able to ascertain that UK Proxy Server offer PPTP, L2TP/IPSec and OpenVPN protocols as part of their VPN package. We were unable to ascertain the encryption level provided with each from the knowledge base, although we did glean the surprising knowledge that the provider’s PPTP connection “does not provide any encryption.”

Knowledge

A query to the support team revealed that the company supports encryption “up to 256-bit.”

As is usually the case, we managed to find a privacy policy on the footer of the provider’s website. This states that the provider does maintain logs of subscriber’s usage, but that these are not linked to any personally identifiable information. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t the kind of “zero logging” service that some users prefer.

UK Proxy server do state that they will comply with law enforcement agencies when illegal activity is suspected.

The process

Registering

We decided to subscribe to the 30GB UK VPN package at £8.99 per month. First, however, we had to reload the providers web page, as we had somehow ended up on the site for the Spanish product! Entertainingly, the “speaking hologram” on this page provided the same information as on the UK site – not in Spanish, but in a Spanish accent! We struggle to see how this would help a Spanish native!

Anyway, once we clicked on our chosen service, we were prompted to add it to our shopping basket. We noticed that the monthly service works on a recurring payment basis.

UK Package

After adding the item to our basket, we clicked the “proceed to checkout” button. We then had to provide a fairly extensive selection of registration details, including our address and a mandatory phone number. While we have no major criticism of this, it is worth noting that many providers allow you to subscribe without providing nearly as much personal information.

Reg details

After providing this, we were able to click the “pay now” button and were given a rather limited choice of PayPal or credit card payment options.

Payment

We chose the PayPal option and were redirected to PayPal to authorise the payment. Shortly after, we were redirected to the provider’s page, where we were shown our invoice and given a link to access our server details. We also received a welcome email at the same time, containing setup links.

Installation and Configuration

Prior to beginning our testing (on a Mac laptop running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion), we spent a few minutes having a look at the installation guides available for the VPN product.

We were pleased to find video setup guides for a wide range of platforms, as well as well-written step-by-step guides with decent screenshots. This makes all the difference for beginners.

Video guides

In our case, being Mac users, we had the option to perform a manual setup (for PPTP or L2TP) or use the third-party TunnelBlick software to create an OpenVPN connection.

Usually, we would have avoided putting third-party software in the mix, but we noticed from our welcome email that UK Proxy Server preconfigure the software with all of the necessary settings. For this reason, we decided to give it a go.

TunnelBlick

We clicked the download link in the welcome email and opened the standard Apple (.dmg) installation file.

Next, we were advised to drag the connectivity program to our “Applications” folder.

Install

We did as requested, and then opened the program from the folder. The program requested our Mac system password, and then created a new icon on our Mac’s menu bar. When we clicked on it, we had the option of connecting to servers in various different countries, and not just the UK.

New Icon

We decided to put the UK to the test first, so clicked to connect to the “UK VPN 1” option. We supplied our username and password, and the software appeared to connect us, however, it quickly became caught in a loop between “authorizing,” “getting configuration” and “connected,” before telling us that our username and password was invalid. The same happened when we tried a couple of the other UK servers and those in the US and Canada.

We were left with no option but to contact the support department for advice.

While we awaited a response, we did a little online research and found reference to some well documented issues with TunnelBlick on our operating system, OS X 10.8. We were rather put out that we could find no reference to this in the knowledge base, or anywhere else on the provider’s site.

Rather than wasting any more time, we decided to follow the manual instructions and create an L2TP connection instead.

This was a rather simple matter of creating a manual VPN connection within our Mac’s “System Preferences”

Manual setup

The instructions were quite straightforward, but it was clear that the screenshots had been created in an earlier version of Mac OS X – some options were named or located slightly differently.

Regardless, we were able to achieve a connection, and an IP lookup revealed that we now had a UK IP address. We reconfigured the connection with the other IP addresses provided in our welcome email, and all but one was functional – in that particular case we were able to connect but unable to browse the web.

Connected

By the time we had finished our testing, we had yet to receive any response from the support department regarding our problems with TunnelBlick.

Connection Speeds and reliability

It’s a shame that we experienced so many frustrations during the configuration of the software, as our speed test results were rather good.

First, we used Speedtest.net to get a benchmark speed for our location:

Benchmark

This download speed, of just under 7Mbps, was what we have come to expect from this testing location.

Next, we connected to one of the provider’s servers via L2TP and ran another test:

Spd Conn UK 2

This result, a speed drop of around 1Mbps, was quite decent.

We then tried speed tests on a few of the other servers and received similar results, including one that was better still:

spd cn uk 3

Overall, this was an impressive set of performance results.

Compatibility

UK Proxy Server supports an impressive array of formats: Standard PC, Mac and Linux operating systems, mobile devices running iOS and Android, and a selection of games consoles, routers and set-top boxes.

Formats

Although, as previously stated, we were impressed with the number of setup guides available, including video tutorials, our experience with the test Mac caused us to lose a little confidence in their quality. Our Mac operating system was released ten months prior to the date of our review, yet there was no mention of it in the documentation. So, while the compatibility list for this solution is broad, how easy it may be to get the solution working will depend on a mixture of luck and technical ability.

Customer Area

UK Proxy server has a fairly extensive customer area, and some functionality we hadn’t seen elsewhere.

Cust area

The “Switch Country” option shown above helped us finally get to the bottom of whether you are really subscribing to access to all country’s VPN options or just one. Essentially, one subscription gives you access to the provider’s servers in all countries, but only one at a time. If you switch country and then click “View Login Info,” you are then given a new list of IP addresses. We couldn’t help but think this could be made a lot more intuitive, and it certainly would have helped if the support department had mentioned it, rather than simply saying that “one subscription gets you access to all our VPN servers and Proxy servers.”

Aside from this, we found a bunch of standard options, such as the ability to change passwords and address details, as well as the ability to order a “remote install” at the rather generous price of £5.

Admin area

Conclusion

We liked

  • Fast performance

We weren’t so sure about

  • Outdated Mac documentation
  • Patchy technical support

We hated

  • Confused country branding
  • Muddled information that caused us to waste time
  • Inability to connect using TunnelBlick

It’s always frustrating when we test a service that provides good performance but somehow still manages to annoy us.

UK Proxy Server offers download speeds as good as some of the best VPN services we’ve reviewed, but at every turn we felt as if our time was being wasted – downloading incompatible software, reading outdated documentation, and finding ourselves on the Spanish Proxy Server page when we never asked to go there.

We won’t deny that this service provider offers a good level of download performance, nor will we deny that reasonably technical people will be able to get it working effectively, if only eventually. At the same time, however, we can’t promise you won’t scream at your screen in frustration at some point too – which is a shame.