Would you be chill if someone leaked your entire search history to the government? How about if your internet provider made it so that one episode of The Office took an hour to load? If you’ve had a crisis about anything like this, you’ve probably considered investing in a VPN.
We know you’ve probably seen absolutely loads of VPN reviews from experts across the board, but if you wanted a raw opinion — or thousands of them — from people with absolutely no filter, there’s only one place to go: Reddit.
You know it makes sense.
What is a VPN, and why should you consider investing?
The bottom line is simple: People don’t want other people watching what they’re doing online, even if they’re not doing anything wrong.
A VPN (virtual private network) is an internet security subscription that basically allows you to make up your own internet rules. It acts as a bodyguard between you and your internet service provider (and hackers, and other third-party weirdos) by hollowing out a personal security tunnel through which you perform all of your internet activities. A VPN’s job is to plug the holes that could be making your data vulnerable to nefarious eyeballs, like creeps scouring public WiFi networks for personal information that could be used to steal your identity. VPNs are as wise of a precaution as antivirus software or a password manager (yes, this applies to Macs too).
Hackers love free WiFi for the same reason you do: Connecting to the internet requires no authentication. That network is littered with unsecured devices, many times belonging to working professionals with bank accounts and business credentials that have phishers frothing at the mouth. Often, the easiest thing for hackers to do is slide in between your device and the connection point. This Man-in-the-Middle situation is like eavesdropping, but on emails, credit card info, and work logins. Other hackers users public WiFi to unleash malware to all of the suckers using the network without protection.
Many people avoid the public WiFi risk by recruiting their phone’s hotspot. But on the flip side, data limits might be an issue — setting up a situation where both a laptop and phone need VPN protection. Many Reddit users suggest using something like EasyTether to share the VPN connection. Just download and enable a proxy app on your phone, configure it on your laptop, and you can enjoy a sort of reverse hotspot VPN-style.
Does a VPN help with streaming?
The convenience factor also plays a big role. VPNs also provide a way for people to get around internet roadblocks and censors. These can be location-based or around blocks to certain websites set by, say, your workplace.
All decent VPNs offer a wide selection of servers based in multiple geographic locations. Picking one of those essentially tricks your ISP into thinking your device is based there, maneuvering around geoblocks and opening the door to international content, like another country’s Netflix or Prime Video library.
What do Redditors think you should look for in a VPN?
The specs that Reddit users care about in a VPN are easy to tally when the same ones pop up in countless subreddits throughout the year. These are the ones that were mentioned the most:
Streaming dependability — Lots of people want a VPN solely to watch content from other countries, so a VPN’s ability to bypass geoblocks and get around a streaming site’s VPN blocks is crucial. The speed at which that content streams matters, too (a fast VPN should be able to upscale to HD without lag). Connection speed and location spoofing are dependent on the number of servers and where they’re located — more servers means less people hogging a single server’s capacity, and various locations means more streaming libraries from around the world. Free VPNs typically don’t have the funds to support a robust menu of servers.
For obvious reasons, most big streaming services aren’t happy about the idea of VPN usage and will probably mention it in their terms and conditions. If they happen to sniff out your VPN-ridden IP address, you’re not necessarily in trouble. The most likely repercussions would be the inability to access the streaming platform (even if it just worked the day before), but there have been instances of steaming services terminating subscriptions associated with spoofing.
Split tunnelling — VPNs that support split tunnelling let you route some of your traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel while bouncing other traffic over the internet directly. One might choose to separate less demanding but high-security activities like web browsing from high-bandwidth but low-security activities like streaming or playing video games. Advantages include reduced traffic on corporate networks, better speeds and reduced latency for the chosen tasks, and more customised privacy. If you’re looking to tunnel to specific apps, look for an SSL VPN.
No DNS leaking — This is a good test of a VPN’s trustworthiness. Think of a DNS (Domain Name Service) as the internet’s phonebook: It’s the service that transfers host names for humans to understand (like Mashable.com) to IP addresses for computers to understand. A leaked DNS essentially blabs your browsing history to whoever’s watching on the other end — thus totally defeating the purpose of a VPN.
A kill switch — This cuts your connection to the internet if a secure connection to your VPN drops without notice. This is less likely on a high-quality VPN with a hefty roster of servers that can balance the traffic of millions of users, but far from impossible. By default, your device will switch back to your personal IP address or, worse, a public one. The speedy end-all action performed by a kill switch essentially ensures that you aren’t unknowingly operating on a weak IP address. Some kill switches operate in the form of a firewall.
App compatibility — Not all VPNs run equally smoothly on every device. Before you sign up, make sure that the VPN app doesn’t have major bugs on your operating system. For instance, some mobile VPN apps don’t play as well on iPhone as Android, or an app might keep getting killed depending on other apps sucking your phone’s battery.
Do you need to pay for a VPN?
Reddit users will let you know that comparing free VPNs to paid VPNs just doesn’t make sense. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, and you’ll almost definitely be skimping on some crucial features by opting out of paying. Proof isn’t always provided, but many Redditors are convinced that free VPNs don’t follow a true no-log policy or sell your data to third parties. “Free” is sometimes synonymous with “slow” due to fewer servers in fewer locations.
The general consensus seems to be to only use a free VPN to test the waters, then cough up the credit card info. Most times, this can be done through a trusted paid VPN that has a free tier to experiment with, or via a free trial, which many services offer. However, free VPNs can step up to the job for more temporary endeavors — like having access to your home country’s streaming services while going abroad for a semester or keeping up with a certain sport for a season. Because paid VPNs only really get affordable when a one or two-year subscription is met, it may not make sense to pay £10 per month for the few months that you need a VPN.
What is the best VPN according to the Reddit community?
There are a lot of VPN providers out there offering similar packages and sets of features, so it’s difficult to pick a favourite. We’ve tried to help you make an informed decision by picking the brains of well-informed Redditors.
We actually dug through Reddit threads of users discussing their experiences with VPNs, and lined up a selection of the best services based on those conversations. This list includes popular services like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost VPN, and NordVPN.
These are the best VPNs according to the Reddit community in 2021.
Unlimited bandwidth • Can unblock geo-locked channels • Speedy • Works with Netflix
Pricier than other options
If you’re a regular torrenter who loves entertainment and needs great security, unlimited bandwidth and fast speeds, this could be your pick
ExpressVPNOffers fast download speeds, great security, and global reach.
If you do a Reddit search on any other VPN, someone in the comments will say Express is better. At first glance, it already looks a lot more user friendly and a lot more trustworthy than PureVPN.
It’s also notable that ExpressVPN is able to gain access to Netflix, which some (like PureVPN) are not able to do reliably. Like PureVPN, ExpressVPN is one of the best for getting around roadblocks in China (though there are only servers in 94 countries), and has up to 256 bit encryption.
You will probably be paying more per month compared to any other VPN, but the quality is definitely there — and if you’re really not happy, you can get your money back within the first 30 days.
Great for Netflix • Easy interface • Mega security
Security features can lower speed
If you’re all about security, NordVPN is probably the pick for you
NordVPNNordVPN gets high ratings for security features, its easy to use interface, and Netflix streaming capabilities.
Another appealing factor is its smooth, well-designed user interface and super easy setup across all devices: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and more. Reddit users put emphasis on how strong the Windows application is compared to competitors like PrivateInternetAccess.
Reddit users give Nord praise because it actually seems trustworthy, especially compared to other VPNs that may hand over information to the wrong people. Nord is also equipped with the ability to connect to a Double VPN, which encrypts your traffic twice for double the protection. One NordVPN fan on Reddit, Sacredkeep, even mentioned that NordVPN solved the problems that PureVPN and PIA gave them. Plus if you have any issues, Nord offers a 24/7 live chat. If you want a no frills, no worries situation, NordVPN is the simple, smooth operator that has your back.
Speedy • Compatible with loads of devices • Free trial
Some Reddit users find it shady • No Netflix
If you’re looking for speed and use on multiple devices, it might be worth it to try PureVPN for a month to see if the Reddit haters are wrong
PureVPNPureVPN gets high marks for speed and versatility, but some Reddit users think something shady is going on.
Compared to other VPNs that get the same speed (like Astrill), it’s considerably more affordable. PureVPN has more than 500 servers spanning across 140 countries and impeccable access in China — and may be the only option available in some places.
Pure VPN is also extremely accessible when it comes to devices: It’s compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox, as well as apps for media streaming devices like Android TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Kodi. So, if nothing else, it’s one of the most versatile of the bunch.
Reddit users insist that it is not a trustworthy choice. Multiple Redditors claim that PureVPN lies to users about not logging their information or search history when they really do. Some also believe that PureVPN uses spammers and claim that a lot of positive feedback about PureVPN on Reddit are from fake accounts.
PureVPN is one of the cheapest services, so if you want to try it for a month to see if they’ve been trolling Reddit or not, it won’t cost you too much.
Ranks in the top 3 on Reddit • 30-day money back guarantee • Works with Netflix
Because of its high ranking but reported issues, this might be a good one to try with that 30-day money back guarantee
CyberGhost VPNCyberGhost VPN ranks well on Reddit, but some users report issues.
However, after looking through Reddit threads, we’re not really sure how this ranked well. The biggest thing: This is not the VPN to get if you’re looking to torrent or stream, as it’s known to be pretty slow.
We did see some positive comments from users mentioning that they didn’t have these problems. Others also mentioned that it’s a good idea to test out every VPN service with a money-back guarantee just to see how they work, because why not? Unless you’re in China — CyberGhost servers are apparently not the greatest there.
Ranked high for features, reliability, and speed • Very affordable
The user interface is not great
If you’re looking for speed and reliability and don’t mind a crappy user interface, this could be your pick
Private Internet Access VPNA great choice if a good-looking user interface means nothing to you, but you want speed and reliability.
It comes with a heap of user-friendly features and doesn’t kill your device to install. However, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing interface of the bunch, and some users mention that they had to switch VPNs simply because of that. But if you don’t care about the looks so much as server reliability, variety of features, and speed, it’s a good choice.
For all of the good reviews it gets, it’s surprising that subscriptions are so affordable (but we’re not complaining).