Norton WiFi Privacy VPN review

A beginner-friendly VPN for mobile and desktop users

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Our Verdict

Norton boasts some commendably easy-to-use clients, but limited configurability and a total lack of service details will put off experienced users.

For

  • Easy-to-use desktop and mobile clients
  • OpenVPN-powered connection engine
  • Ad blocker

Against

  • Base licence covers one device only
  • Very few product details available
  • Complicated pricing structure
  • No low-level settings or controls

Don't be fooled by the name – Norton WiFi Privacy isn't some clever patent-pending wireless-only technology. It's Symantec's VPN, and while it will keep you protected on wireless hotspots, it works just as well on whatever other network technologies you might use.

We were interested to know about what the service could do, but the website wasn't much help. It linked to a Norton blog post explaining the importance of checking a provider's network, saying: "Decide which server locations are important to you. If you want to appear as if you’re accessing the web from a certain locale, make sure there’s a server in that country." But the product page said nothing about Norton's own servers.

Out of curiosity we launched the sales live chat and asked for a list of WiFi Privacy's supported locations. The agent didn't know, which seemed odd. He'd never been asked before? Really? He went off to ask the technical team anyway, and this was the gem of a reply:

"Okay, this is what I got from the team: ‘I am sorry but for security reasons we do not release that information, however there are servers located all around the world.'"

We've no idea how giving away the locations of WiFi Privacy's servers is a security risk. Anyway, we browsed to the product FAQ and found that countries include the "United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, and Brazil." Checking the product itself later on gave us virtual IPs in 28 locations including the US, Europe, Australia, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa and more.

Figuring out the prices takes work, too, as the plans can vary greatly depending on where you look. 

The US site allows monthly subscriptions for a single device from $4 (£3.20), and when we checked had a 10 device, one-year bundle for $50 (£40), which is half the usual price.

Meanwhile the UK site has yearly-only plans starting at £20 ($25) for one device (a special offer which doubles on renewal), climbing to a chunky £80 ($100) for 10 devices with no initial discount.

In addition, both sites sell Norton WiFi Privacy in bundles with the Norton Security suite, which might also save you some money.

There's yet another issue to consider in Norton's money-back guarantee. You can get up to sixty days with this, but the exact rules vary depending on where and how you buy the product. The best advice here is to carefully read the small print.

Privacy

The WiFi Privacy website claims the service provides a "no-log virtual private network that doesn’t track or store your activity." Sounds good to us.

The company also says it doesn't store your location, which presumably means there's no session logging of your incoming IP address. That's welcome news if you're using the service on a mobile device, as otherwise it could log your physical movements throughout the day.

We wanted to know more, and were surprised to see the service doesn't have its own privacy policy, or any more specific details on logging. 

The closest thing to this was a clause on data collection which said that by using the service you're agreeing to share information including "personal information about you, your devices or systems or your usage of the Services". But this referenced another document which talked only about the policy on Norton's website, not the product. 

A secret server list, and no clear privacy policy? Norton WiFi Privacy clearly isn't very interested in transparency. Or, maybe more likely, Symantec is aiming the service at the average home user who isn't even faintly interested in the service details, and the company isn't too concerned about anyone else.

As an example, when we visited this privacy policy page a browser alert told us www.symantec.com wanted to ‘access our location’. They don't really get it, do they?

Performance

Signing up for Norton WiFi Privacy takes some thought, as there are several different options. Going via an app store covers you for that device only; choosing the UK website gives you options to cover more devices; choosing the US website gives you monthly as well as cheaper yearly payment terms. It all seems a little complicated.

However, setup is relatively straightforward. Norton's client is essentially a lightweight interface which bundles OpenVPN for its core communications, then throws in ad blocking as well.

We tapped the WiFi Privacy system tray icon on our Windows 10 PC and a simple window appeared. This isn't a regular application window – it can't be moved, and if you click somewhere else it disappears – but it looked good, clearly displaying our current IP address and location on a map.

The client is well-designed and easy-to-use. A Virtual Location tab displays a list of 20+ countries (not servers) across the US, Europe and elsewhere, and just tapping one of these automatically closes your current connection and connects you to the new server. That's far less tedious than the three-step process you're often required to use elsewhere (tap Disconnect, choose a location, tap Connect).

Performance in our tests* was mid-range, with downloads around 25Mbps in the UK, a little lower in most European locations, and around 15Mbps on US-UK connections. These figures aren't exceptional, but they're similar to what you'll see with many other VPNs, and perfectly adequate for many applications.

The built-in ad blocker should improve your surfing speeds a little, but there are no other extras or significant configuration features. You can't change protocols, ports, tweak a kill switch or do anything even slightly advanced. As is the general theme with WiFi Privacy, the program is targeted more at consumers than expert users.

For all its lack of technical extras, Norton WiFi Privacy remains a likeable tool which mostly works very well all on its own. The program may not give you settings for DNS or WebRTC leaks, for instance, but it handled both issues well in our tests, correctly shielding our identity and passing all our privacy tests without any problems at all.

Final verdict

If your VPN needs are simple then WiFi Privacy might appeal, especially if you're looking to cover a lot of devices, when it can be a particularly good value proposition. But experts will find it too basic, and the lack of detail on even basic product specs is a concern.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.