Picking a free VPN is not as easy as you think! There are several criteria to be met and we are here to lead you through. First, you have to understand that it is not only about the few bucks you save, but also about the online privacy and data security. Bearing this in mind, we have compiled up the must-have features and listed top 3 VPNs accordingly.
By choosing our top picks, you will both encrypt your online data and enjoy plenty of paid VPN features for free. Yet! There is always a catch. No matter these VPN services are free, servers, maintenance, Apps and bandwidth cost money to the developers. Therefore, at one point you will be limited. Either you ignore the limitation or try inexpensive VPN services.
Free VPN features
- Log policy
- Devices you can use the service with.
- Speed performance
- Server limitations
- Bandwidth limitation
- Blocker for Ad/Trackers
- No activity logs
- PC, Smartphones, Browsers
- No activity logs
- PC, Smartphones, Browsers
- Super fast
- No limitation
- No activity logs
- PC, Smartphones, Browsers, Routers +
How we evaluated listing?
There are hundreds of free VPN providers in the market. Some of them caught selling browser history to the advertisement companies. Some are vulnerable to DNS leaks or some do have super crowded servers. Being aware of all of these problems, we piled up some critical features and listed top 3 companies in the market.
Here is our checklist
Privacy does not come along with letters but jurisdiction (company location), encryption, log policy as well as well-functioning software. We are aware of the importance of these features and they are our top priorities for the listing.
Providing a free VPN service for several different platforms is a big deal and it takes lots of effort to maintain all software and apps. “Compatibility” is important as you may not want to use different free providers for each device you have. That is why we focus on the providers that work on as many platforms as possible.
Performance and limitations
Privacy and compatibility are fine to some extent. But we also need reliable speed performance. Otherwise, our browsing experience would be a disaster.
We evaluated the free providers and tried to pick the ones with the best performance possible.
As we have also mentioned in the introduction, we will be limited at one point. It would be either the simultaneous connection, bandwidth usage or premium features like unblocking Netflix abroad. That is the actual cost of the “free”. Yet, our picks are the most generous ones.
Preventing tracking and blocking ads
Even if the main purpose of the VPNs is to stay anonymous, they can help us prevent getting tracked by the third parties and block unwanted ads. These features are additional layers to our privacy and they work.
Top 3 VPN service providers
Under the lights of these checkpoints, here are our top 3 picks
Windscribe is a leading free VPN service operating in Canada. The company has a strict minimum user log as well as no activity log policy.
Normally it would not be wise to suggest a provider from 5 eyes jurisdiction but Windscribe has such a strong commitment to the user privacy that they have a clear transparency report page depicting no info was given away to authorities. Your data is safe!
Now that we do not have any trust issues with the company, it is time to focus on the privacy from software end.
Windscribe uses AES 256 bit encryption (Advanced Encryption Standard) along with OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols. The software is super easy to use and has cool features like the firewall (kill switch) and stealth mode (to establish a connection where VPNs are blocked). What is cooler is that all of these are offered totally for free.
Windscribe device compatibility
We are fully aware that the number of platforms where we do need privacy has drastically increased. It used to be just our PCs but now, smartphones, routers, browsers, and the list goes on and on.
You would not expect a free service to work in so many different devices yet it is not true. Windscribe is fully compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux; Android and iOS devices; Google Chrome and Firefox. If these platforms are your preferred VPN areas, then Windscribe will meet your expectation.
Windscribe limitations and performance
Do not let the number of the supported devices excite you. As you are a free user, you have to cope with the limitations. First of all, you are limited to 10 servers out of 50 all around the world. You can use one device at a time with 10GB/month cap. So far, 10 different servers, 10GB permission is the most generous free offer in the market. But! How about the speed performance?
If you are not a download or streaming geek, 10GB will be enough throughout the month. Surely only if the speed is bearable!
We randomly picked three VPN locations and ran a speed test with our 50 Mbit download/upload 4.5G connection. Here is what we got…
USA: 2.02 download – 2.79 upload
Netherland: 3.65 download – 2.79 upload
Germany: 1.52 download – 0.38 upload.
With the speed performance given above, you can use Windscribe for reading newspapers, accessing social media contents, watching videos 480p and below. However, the speed is not good enough for watching HD videos; downloading and uploading torrent files quickly or any other live streaming activities. That is the point when you need to upgrade the Pro plan.
Windscribe has neat looking browser extensions for Google Chrome and Firefox. They are designed to add an additional security layer to your privacy. Taking Google Chrome extension as an example, Windscribe disables social media buttons, block all trackers and ads, even delete all cookies when you close the browser tab.
Keep all data to yourself. Do not let trackers steal your browser data!
Another well-known free VPN provider operating in Canada. TunnelBear is an exclusive VPN service in a way that it offers premium features with the free version as well.
TunnelBear collects plenty of data and gives us an explanation of why they do that in this page… Furthermore, they have a clear assurance that they do not collect any activity logs:
TunnelBear does NOT store users’ originating IP addresses when connected to our service and thus cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers. Additionally, we cannot disclose information about the applications, services, or websites our users consume while connected to our Services; as TunnelBear does NOT store this information.
The fact that your IP address is not identifiable by the system, they have nothing to give back to authorities. Now! We have a clear piece of mind with privacy, we can move on to the encryption.
Just like the Windscribe, TunnelBear also offers 256-bit encryption by default. This type of encryption capable of keeping the privacy at the finest level with the best speed performance possible. But where can we make use of it?
TunnelBear is compatible with Windows, Mac; iOS, Android; Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. You will have plenty of space where you can enjoy online privacy for free! We have tried all platforms and they all work fine! Check our experience here.
TunnelBear limitations and performance
One and the only thing we did not like about TunnelBear is the limitation cap. The company offers 500MB/Month bandwidth for free. At one point, it is okay for very few activities. Yet, if you like to spend so much time on social media, or download torrent files, then you have to go for the paid plan only 5$/month.
Other than the bandwidth problem, there are no other limitations to the free users.
Like any other provider, we have tested TunnelBear server performances and here are the results:
USA: 21.99 Mbit download – 2.9 upload
Netherland: 32.48 download – 7.54 upload
Japan: 7.26 download – 1.07 upload
Such great values can help you enjoy any online activities… You can even watch 4k videos on Youtube. Except for the fact that you are limited to 500MB/month, you will get the best performance possible in the free VPN market. Period!
TunnelBear blocker for Chrome
Are you tired of getting tracked by Google Chrome cookies? TunnelBear has the most advanced blocker in the market. Not only it blocks the ads, but also it eliminates flash, social media, pixel tracking technologies.
Unlike other VPN services, you need to install the TunnelBear tracker separately. So, if you like to change your IP address and increase your online privacy level, then you need to install another Chrome extension. In the future, we would like to see the “blocker” embed into the browser proxy extensions.
Here comes our third pick. Hide.me operates under off-shore jurisdiction in Labuan, an autonomous region of Malaysia. With an assertive claim “Fastest And Most Secure Offshore VPN”, Hide.me looks like a promising VPN provider. Yet, you already know that we are here not about claims but facts.
…We do NOT keep logs of your VPN sessions, browsing behaviour, websites you visit or any activity related to your VPN connection. In addition we NEVER store VPN connection logs and timestamps that match your incoming and outgoing IP address or session duration….
Furthermore, they are one of the rarest providers in the market approved by a professional as a “no log provider”.
As for the software, Hide.me is bundled with basic security features for the free users. The software will help you encrypt the data with standard OpenVPN or Softether protocols. Both of them are eligible for providing advanced encryption with great speed performance. But where can you use these features?
Contrary to other free providers above, Hide.me also offers free service for many other platforms like routers, Linux, Fedora, blackberry and windows phones. If you are using one of these rare platforms, then you are lucky.
We have used Windows, Mac software as well as iOS and Android apps. The service works like a charm. However, like any other free services, we encountered three big challenges.
Hide.me limitations and performance
Hide.me brings about three important limitations to the user end. First, you can only use the service on a single device, second is the bandwidth cap of 2GB/month. Lastly, you can use the service only in three different locations (Canada, Netherland, Singapore).
Who does not like fast internet surfing?
Amsterdam: 4.05 download – 38.58 upload
Canada: 8.81 download – 8.81 upload
Singapore: 35.15 download – 4.55 upload
I am pretty sure that you are surprised by the speed performance above. Hide.me keeps its promise by ensuring the high-grade speed performance available even for the free users.
If you enjoy the ultimate freedom with Hide.me, you can also upgrade to pro plan for as low as 9.99$/month and unlock premium features like 5 simultaneous connections, unlimited data transfer, premium support, and 45+ locations.
What not to expect from free VPNs
So far we focused on the shiny sides of the free VPNs but there are several other key points to depict. For a clearer statement, we created a follow-up list:
- Free VPN servers can be loaded up with thousands of people which may end up the terrible user experience. Our picks are the ones with the best performance available in the market with the performance guarantee.
- Some users may get the VPN IP addresses blacklisted. Therefore, you may have some difficulties and get denied by the websites.
- Free VPNs do not guarantee you accessing geo-blocked contents like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hulu etc. This applies to our picks as well.
- Under the lights of our torrenting test, free VPNs will fall behind our top VPN picks for torrenting because of the stability and bandwidth limit issues.
While free VPNs help us save some bucks, they also limit us in many ways. Keeping this in mind we tried to pick the most generous free VPN providers in the market. However, we also know that generosity has to be mingled with privacy, compatibility, greater server performance, and satisfactory bandwidth limits.
VPN providers like Windscribe, TunnelBear and Hide.me adopts no activity log policy and they offer plenty of premium features for free.
If you just like to surf the internet and need lots of free traffic, then you should go after Windscribe. Furthermore, TunnelBear will help you enjoy lighting fast VPN performance and access Netflix abroad with 1.5GB limitations. Last but not least, Hide.me offers premium and uncapped speed performance for its free users. Still, you are bound to 2 GB limitation/month.
While free VPNs have so much to offer, they lack providing dedicated torrent, and streaming experience because of the limitations. If you want to get yourself set free of the chains, make sure to check our detailed VPN comparison article and treat yourself an unlimited VPN service.