VPN Review: Mullvad VPN
Every VPN provider makes at least two promises: Enhanced security and more privacy. Since the encryption principle for each program is the same, providers increasingly attempt to differentiate themselves by strengthening these promises. Mullvad VPN has sought to do this by allowing users to register without an email address, and pay for their subscriptions with cash. Our test shows if Mullvad's added anonymity and privacy are bonuses offered on top of a strong service, or meant to cover up for the provider's shortcomings.
What is Mullvad VPN?
Mullvad is a VPN provider headquartered in Göteborg (Sweden). The provider offers applications for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. For mobile devices, users must manually configure the VPN using WireGuard or OpenVPN. Recently, a beta version of the provider's client was released for Android. We tested Mullvad on Windows and Android.
Pros and Cons
Anonymous registration and payment
Very good speeds
Undertook an independent security audit
No iOS app; Android app only in the beta version
Relatively limited server network
Installation and Features
Mullvad is a subscription-only service that makes creating an account even simpler than its competitors. You do not need to enter an email address, and instead receive an account number from the company upon registration. Subscriptions can be paid for using various methods such as PayPal, credit cards, bank transfer, or Swish, as well as anonymous methods like Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, cash, or mail-in vouchers.
After downloading the client, it is only necessary to enter your account number to establish a VPN connection. Perhaps the software has homesickness, because as soon as you load the client, Mullvad automatically establishes a connection to Sweden, which can be turned off with the click of a button.
The interface is similar to those of other VPN services, however, Mullvad is pinned to the bottom of the screen in the Windows taskbar, meaning that the client cannot be moved freely across the screen. After some time, this small difference becomes unnoticeable.
Apart from this, installation is relatively self-explanatory. A connection can be established by clicking on the green button, above which the server location can be selected. Mullvad only includes the most necessary information; You won't find a quick connect feature, server categories, favorites, or even server information.
Settings can be accessed by clicking on the gear symbol in the upper right. Under 'preferences' auto-start and the establishment of a connection can be enabled. Apart from that, you can allow other devices to use the same network. Under 'advanced settings', there is a kill switch as well as the ability to modify VPN protocols, which will be examined in greater detail below. The kill switch ensures that your internet connection is severed automatically, should you lose your VPN connection, guarding you from unprotected surfing.
Split tunneling, the selective use of the VPN connection for specific programs or websites, is not available. In fact, Mullvad doesn't contain any bonus features like an ad-blocker, or additional security functions like 'double hop'.
Streaming content from abroad was also not possible: Netflix and the BBC iPlayer immediately identified our connections as VPNs, preventing us from viewing any content.
A mobile app only exists for Android. We installed the beta version using an .apk download on our device, as it was not available in the PlayStore at the time of our test. iOS users, must configure WireGuard or OpenVPN manually to use Mullvad, however, it seems likely that the provider is already developing a native iOS solution.
The Android client is basically identical to the desktop version, however, the latter lacks the multitude of settings possessed by the former. Concretely, this means that the configuration of auto-start, a kill switch, or the selection of VPN protocols are not possible. Apart from these however, selecting your server's location and connecting function exactly the same as on the desktop.
Mullvad is noteworthy for its easy and anonymous account creation and payment methods, however, its clients and apps offers only the bare minimum (or perhaps even less) in terms of functions.
Score: 3.3 / 5
Mullvad's server list is nothing to write home about: The program's 554 servers are spread across 59 cities in 36 countries. Most of these are located in Sweden, the UK, and the US, as well as a number of European countries. In addition, there are a few locations in the Asian-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan), South America (Brazil), and the Middle East (UAE and Israel).
Mullvad is far behind the top providers, who offer thousands of servers in dozens more countries, leaving much room for improvement.
Note: 2 / 5
The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We tested random Mullvad servers at different times of the day to more accurately evaluate their performances. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.
The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):
Although our first impressions of Mullvad were not particularly good, during testing, the VPN provider surprised us (in a positive sense), clocking a download speed of 184.0 MB/s and an upload speed of 18.1 MB/s, securing it second place in our speed ranking, behind only ExpressVPN.
The diagram below shows Mullvad's average speeds over the past months.
Score: 5 / 5
Security and Privacy
Mullvad uses two VPN protocols: OpenVPN is widely seen as the most secure option on the market, whereas Wireguard is a comparably new protocol, considered by some to be the next big thing in the world of VPNs. Connections are encrypted using AES 256, which guarantees maximum security.
According to the company's data privacy agreement, Mullvad does not gather any activity logs from its users. In conjunction with the ability to anonymously create an account, this means that no logs can be saved, and that your activity cannot be tied to a specific account. Should you pay your subscription by cash in an envelope without a return address, no personal data will exist tying you to your payment method or account. In terms of anonymity and privacy, Mullvad truly goes the extra mile, surpassing its competitors.
The location of the company's headquarters in Sweden means that Mullvad must follow stricter data privacy laws than those competitors based in places like Panama, or the British Virgin Islands. Further, Sweden is party to the 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement, including it in the global surveillance apparatus. However, because of Mullvad's anonymous payment and registration methods, this doesn't really raise any concerns.
An independent security audit from Assured AB and Cure53 conducted in 2018 only uncovered a handful of security risks in the application and its code. According to the report's authors, Mullvad "left an overall positive impression" with its "security-dedicated Mullvad team" creating "no doubts about the project being on the right track from a security standpoint."
Score: 5 / 5
One of the items in the menu redirects you to Mullvad's help center. This is organized into topical areas, has a practical search function, and features a number of FAQs. Our only complaint here is that the layout and visual design of this section could use some attention.
The support team can be contacted directly by email (in English or Swedish). During our test, we waited roughly a day and a half (35 hours) for an extensive and personalized response to our question. Chat or telephone support is not available.
Mullvad's help center is a bit mediocre. The channels for contacting the support team are limited and the response time is just acceptable. Compared to its competitors, who offer live support chat, or much quicker response times, Mullvad definitely has a lot to learn.
Grade: 3.3 / 5
Mullvad makes the selection of rates very easy, in that it offers only one: a flat 5 Euro ($6 USD) per month. In comparison to the monthly prices offered by other services, this is very reasonable, however, this is a bit more expensive than those providers' long-term rates.
|Price per month||$5.85|
|Contract period (months)||1|
|Number of devices||5|
|Number of servers||542|
|Number of countries||35|
As mentioned above, the flat rate can be paid with PayPal, major credit cards, bank transfer, Swish, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, cash, or vouchers. Mullvad does not offer special corporate rates.
Mullvad has found its niche in the VPN market, without being a niche product. Users who place a high premium on privacy should not have any concerns about the provider owing to its anonymous registration and payment options. Mullvad's connections are not only secure, but also fast: In our speed test, Mullvad secured second place. While the provider's quality is good, costs have been cut in terms of quantity: The server network is relatively limited, and its apps and clients are perhaps too spartan, lacking additional features such as split tunneling. Nevertheless, Mullvad's strengths eclipse its weaknesses and make it to a good choice, both for its niche market, as well as in general.
As of the time of writing, Mullvad has only received a small number of ratings on the review aggregators we consulted. Most of these are positive, stressing the provider's good speeds and privacy guarantees. The absence of a mobile client, and problems paying by credit card were criticized.
Our test winners ExpressVPN and NordVPN offer more features and a larger server network, whereby Mullvad cuts a good figure in terms of security owing to its somewhat unique registration and payment methods. Should you not be interested in subscriptions, freemium providers like Windscribe or hide.me offer good choices worth looking into.