VPN Review: PrivateVPN

Martin Gschwentner

One of the easiest ways to protect your privacy online is through a VPN. With that said, choosing the right provider, your digital middleman, is critical, as you will be entrusting them with the anonymization of your activities and data.

PrivateVPN describes itself as just such a service, offering "the world's most trusted VPN". However, we're uncertain as to what this claim is based on, as, at least according to our sample, it is not the most used VPN. For more information about PrivateVPN, and whether the service excels in privacy and security, continue reading.

What Is PrivateVPN?

First launched in 2009, PrivateVPN is a Swedish VPN provider offering apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.

The service is not particularly modest, giving itself the epithet of "the most secure, rapid connections of its kind." We took a closer look at the Windows and Android versions of the provider's clients and apps to put their claims to the test.

Review

Review Score
3.6 / 5
04/2021
good
Visit Website
Performance
4.3 / 5
Customer Support
3.7 / 5
Installation and Features
3.7 / 5
Security and Privacy
3.3 / 5
Server Network
3.0 / 5

Pros and Cons

High speeds

Easy-to-use interface

Well-suited for streaming (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer)

Only 100 servers

Has not submitted to any external audits

Offers few features

Installation and Features

All available apps are listed on the developer's website in the download area. Here, you can also find practical setup guides, video tutorials, and step-by-step explanations for setting up the service on Linux, routers, or other devices. PrivateVPN does not offer any browser extensions.

Dedicated apps, guides, and video tutorials are available from PrivateVPN's website.

After installing the Windows client, PrivateVPN offers users two tutorials that go into greater detail about streaming servers and how to use its VPN to circumvent geoblocking in places like China (more on this below in the "Performance" section). Once you're finished watching these, you'll be taken to the client's main window which, like most other VPN desktop clients, is organized around a large On/Off button and a list of server locations.

The client's default layout is similar to those used by most VPN clients.

Should you want access to more settings and options, it's possible to open the "Advanced View", and adjust your connection type and encryption. Once a connection has been established, you'll also be shown your external IP, forwarded ports, as well as how much data has been uploaded and downloaded using the tunnel you've created.

A quick-connect option for connecting to the best available server is not offered in either the basic or "Advanced" views. Instead, Stockholm (Sweden) is set as the default server location; We would have preferred connecting to the best available or fastest server instead.

You can find additional information and settings in the "Advanced View".

When changing server locations, an additional window will open in which all available servers are listed either alphabetically, or according to their geographic distance from your present location. You can also select servers that are optimized for torrenting, however, be sure not to confuse these with a static dedicated IP address, which PrivateVPN doesn't offer.

Information about how servers are performing is provided in the form of ping. You're also able to mark favorites, which adds them to a special list, albeit, one which isn't shown in the main window. Search functionality is integrated, however, as the server list isn't all that long, this is less important.

You can keep track of your most-used servers by marking them as favorites.

PrivateVPN doesn't offer all too many features: You'll find auto-start settings, a kill switch (under the "Connection Guard" tab), and "Stealth VPN", which disguises your VPN traffic as regular traffic, helping to circumvent VPN restrictions in countries like China. IPv6 and DNS leak protection are also offered.

As such, the service limits its package of features to only the most essential. We particularly missed the presence of split tunneling, which allows you to set what programs, apps, or websites should use your VPN tunnel. Multi-hop, which routes your connection through multiple VPN tunnels, is another notable absence to say nothing of the inability to execute user-defined scripts or fine-tune DNS settings.

No Frills Smartphone App

The Android app's user interface is identical to that of the desktop client, and just as minimalistic. "Stealth VPN", the kill switch, and IPv6 leak protection all made the cut, however, the mobile version doesn't include anything that the desktop client is missing. Some of PrivateVPN's competitors make up for the shortcomings in their desktop clients by including things like split tunneling in their mobile versions, however, PrivateVPN offers the same features and functionality on each.

PrivateVPN's smartphone app is identical to its desktop client.

PrivateVPN's streamlined user interface doesn't offer up any surprises or bonuses. The service is easy to use, however, the inability to quickly connect to the fastest or best available server is unfortunate. The developers could improve by adding more customization options and features. As things stand, their product is rather plain for tinkerers and/or those with more technical requirements.

Score: 3.7 / 5

Server Network

How many servers does PrivateVPN offer? According to the company, "more than 100 across 63 locations". The number of countries is decent, albeit clustered around Europe and North America. There are a few servers in Asia and South America, but only two (Nigeria and South Africa) for all of Africa.

PrivateVPN's server network has decent geographic coverage, but is a bit short on numbers.

In terms of the number of servers, PrivateVPN is definitely near the lower end of our sample, with only Perfect Privacy offering fewer. As such, the service needs to do quite a bit of catching up, but considering how long it has been on the market, we're not holding our breath. Below, we'll take a look at whether the limited number of servers has any impact on how PrivateVPN performs.

Score: 3 / 5

Performance

The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We assessed random PrivateVPN servers in the US and Germany at different times of the day to more accurately gauge their speeds and performance. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.

The table below shows the average results over the last 12 months, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):

With a download speed of 155.1 MB/s and an upload speed of 21.2 MB/s, PrivateVPN staked out a very respectable eighth place in the upper middle of our sample.

The chart below shows PrivateVPN's average speeds over the past months:

Solid For Everyday Usage and Streaming

PrivateVPN is reliable for everyday usage, that is to say, downloading and surfing. Our VPN tunnels were built quickly and reliably, remaining stable throughout our sessions. We didn't notice any speed or connection issues and were spared captchas when performing Google searches, an annoying side effect, common to some VPN providers.

We continued to be impressed when it came to video streaming, as we were able to stream foreign content from all four platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and the BBC's iPlayer) without issue.

The only blemish was in circumventing geoblocking, as we were unable to establish a connection from China. Other services, like Windscribe, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, or Hotspot Shield do better in this area.

Overall, PrivateVPN gave a strong showing of its capabilities, coinciding nicely with its solid place in the speed ranking.

Score: 4.3 / 5

Security and Privacy

We always accept it as a challenge whenever a VPN markets itself as being the best or most at something, so, PrivateVPN's claim to be "the world's most trusted VPN provider" piqued our curiosity. At least on the surface, the service makes few mistakes:

VPN protocols, including OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), L2TP, IPsec, PPTP, and IKEv2 are all supported. Regrettably, the newest member of the 'protocol gang', WireGuard, offering the cutting edge in terms of security and performance, is not supported. OpenVPN users are given a choice between AES 256 or AES 128 (either CBC or GCM).

PrivateVPN passed our VPN leak tests (IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC) without fuss:

No leaks were identified when using PrivateVPN.

Transparent Privacy Policy, but No Independent Audits

And how do things look in terms of privacy and data protection? The service's privacy policy states: "It is our policy to not log or store any unnecessary data about our users. Hence, we do not collect or store logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, connection time stamps, DNS queries, IP addresses (neither allocated IP nor connected IP), data content or bandwidth."

In contrast, information necessary for the service's smooth functioning or critical to your account (email address and payment method) is stored. Such secondary data can be used for analytical purposes.

Nothing from PrivateVPN's privacy policy raises too much concern, however, we do have to take the provider at their word, which considering their boastfulness, isn't ideal. PrivateVPN has never submitted to an independent security audit, something we expect from trustworthy VPN providers, like PrivateVPN's Swedish counterpart, Mullvad VPN.

While on the topic of Sweden, it's important to note that being based in the Nordic country means that data privacy is subject to stricter legal guidelines than elsewhere, like the British Virgin Islands or Panama. Sweden is also party to the 14 eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, another blemish when it comes to privacy.

Trust is difficult to earn, and your VPN shouldn't be an exception. We prefer providers that take away all of the guesswork by submitting (regularly) to external security audits. On paper, PrivateVPN hardly misses a beat when it comes to security and privacy, but we can't award it a better score in lieu of an external security audit.

Score: 3.3 / 5

Customer Support

We might have caught PrivateVPN at a bad time while overhauling its support center, however, we had a very confusing experience with it.

When we clicked on "Support" from the menu on the service's website (and through the appropriate link in the desktop client) we were brought to one support center; When we searched in Google, we found a more current, newer support area, offering FAQs and a full-text search. Unfortunately, in the latter, many of the links, to setup guides or filing support tickets, were dead-ends.

In the 'older' support center, we found plenty of guides with screenshots that make setting up the VPN easier, as well as some (relatively thin) FAQs. This support center was not full-text searchable, making it necessary to manually search for answers. Overall, both of PrivateVPN's support areas were a bit rough and disorganized, even though the setup guides were good.

We were able to speak with a support staffer in live chat in a matter of seconds.

Direct support is available around the clock either by support ticket or in the service's live chat. In the latter, we were put in touch with friendly staffers capable of answering our questions within a matter of seconds.

And what about the promise of "industry-topping support"? In terms of live support, we're happy to report that our experiences with the provider's staffers were as good as can be. Static support was a bit lacking and could do with some attention, but perhaps we conducted our assessment at an inopportune moment.

Score: 4 / 5

Pricing

As is the case with nearly every provider from our sample, a PrivateVPN subscription becomes cheaper the longer you sign up for. For month-to-month users, the rates aren't anything special, however, the 2-year package costs 77% less per month. In other words, if planning to use the service for 6 months or longer, you'll pay less for a 2-year subscription than a monthly one.

Features and content are the same for each subscription level, with all allowing six simultaneous connections.

Payment can be made by credit card, PayPal, or Bitcoin.

Below, you can find an overview of current prices:

24 Months3 Months1 Month
Pricing
Set-up fee $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Base price per month $2.50 $6.66 $9.99
Contract period (months) 24 3 1
Limits
Data volume unlimited unlimited unlimited
Number of Devices 6 6 6
Features
Number of servers 100 100 100
Number of countries 62 62 62
No server logs
P2P allowed
Tor access
Kill Switch
Protocols
OpenVPN
PPTP
IKEv2
IPSec
L2TP
OpenVPN
PPTP
IKEv2
IPSec
L2TP
OpenVPN
PPTP
IKEv2
IPSec
L2TP

PrivateVPN offers all subscribers a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

Conclusion

Review Score
3.6 / 5
04/2021
good
Visit Website
Performance
4.3 / 5
Customer Support
3.7 / 5
Installation and Features
3.7 / 5
Security and Privacy
3.3 / 5
Server Network
3.0 / 5

PrivateVPN is a straightforward VPN that doesn't suffer from too many defects but is still a way's off from being groundbreaking. Its clients and apps are intuitive and easy to use but lack depth in terms of functionality and configuration options. Features like split tunneling aren't offered. The geographic spread of the provider's server network is decent, but the number of servers is tiny, the second-lowest from our sample. Of course, this doesn't have a noticeable effect upon performance as we were able to do everything that we would expect from a VPN, except bypass the "Great Firewall", which the provider oddly claims to be able to do.

In the all-important realm of security, there wasn't anything tangible to fault the provider for, however, independent audits are a must for VPNs, and PrivateVPN hasn't submitted to any. The live support on offer was fast, competent, and reliable, however, static support could do with a bit of work, as could the service's website.

No one could claim that PrivateVPN lacks confidence, but, despite performing decently in most areas, it has a few weaknesses that could be relatively easily rectified. Integrating split tunneling, doubling (or tripling) the server network's size, overhauling static support, and, most importantly, submitting to an external security audit would collectively boost the service up near the frontrunners from our sample. As things stand, PrivateVPN lags behind this group.

PrivateVPN Test
PrivateVPN
(8,264)
Good Performance
Simple user interface
Well suited for streaming
Only 100 servers
No external audit
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
6
Protocols
5
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
PrivateVPN 24 Months
$2.50
monthly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
3.6 / 5
good

Customer Reviews

To find out how the service fares among users, we gathered scores from verified rating aggregators.

Customer Rating
4.2 / 5
8,264 Ratings
good
We analyzed the reviews and ratings from various portals and found 8,264 ratings with an overall rating of 4.2 out of 5 .
Show sources

Alternatives

Perhaps you're searching for a VPN that out-performs PrivateVPN while costing less for a two-year subscription? Look no further than our overall winner, NordVPN, which also took first place in our speed ranking. The provider offers split tunneling and regularly undergoes external audits.

On the other hand, both ProtonVPN and Windscribe are worth trying out if you're in the market for a free VPN.

The best alternatives to PrivateVPN can be found here:

Best Overall 2021
NordVPN Test
NordVPN
(637,937)
5400+ servers, 60 countries
Excellent performance
No logs
6 devices simultaneously
Inexpensive 2-year package
NordVPN combines speed, user-friendliness and functionality into a coherent overall package that is also fairly affordable.
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
6
Protocols
5
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
NordVPN 2-year plan
$3.71
monthly price
Visit Website »
30 days money-back guarantee
Best Overall
4.7 / 5
excellent
ExpressVPN Test
ExpressVPN
(373,098)
3000+ Server
160 cities in 94 countries
Excellent performance
Saves no logs
30-day money-back guarantee
ExpressVPN impresses with strong performance, a huge server network and excellently designed applications, but this quality also comes at a higher price.
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
3
Protocols
7
Contract Period
1 - 12 months
ExpressVPN 12 Months
$8.33
monthly price
Visit Website »
30 days money-back guarantee
Review Score
4.7 / 5
excellent
Best Value for Money
Surfshark VPN Test
Surfshark VPN
(68,806)
3200+ servers in 65 countries
Unlimited number of devices
Many apps (Linux, FireTV, ...)
Saves no logs
Very cheap on the 24-month plan
Surfshark is one of the cheapest providers on the market, but besides the price also impresses with strong protection, many features and a great support with 24/7 live chat.
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
unlimited
Protocols
3
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
Surfshark 24 months
$2.49
monthly price
Visit Website »
Get 83% Discount
Review Score
4.4 / 5
good
ProtonVPN Test
ProtonVPN
(25,728)
Strong focus on security
1200+ servers in 55 countries
Headquarters in Switzerland
Solid performance
Open Source & external audits
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
1 - 10
Protocols
3
Contract Period
0 - 24 months
ProtonVPN Free
$0.00
monthly price
Visit Website »
30 days money-back guarantee
Review Score
4.3 / 5
good
HideMyAss! VPN Test
HideMyAss! VPN
(73,324)
1100+ servers
290 locations in 210 countries
7 days free trial
Excellent performance
Unreliable for streaming
Data volume
unlimited
Devices
5
Protocols
1
Contract Period
1 - 24 months
HideMyAss! 36 month
$2.99
monthly price
Visit Website »
30 days money-back guarantee
Review Score
4.3 / 5
good
Author (German Version): Martin Gschwentner
Martin Gschwentner majored in American Studies and Media Studies in Germany, the USA and France and works as a freelance editor in Paris. He is a doctoral student at the Institute for English and American Studies at the University of Paris Diderot, where he is researching the influence of money on US politics. On EXPERTE.com he writes about IT security, data protection and software for the self-employed and small businesses.
English Translator & Editor: D Bare
Other languages:
Deutsch 
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