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StrongVPN review

Simple and secure with Netflix unblocking, too

New Hero
(Image: © StrongVPN)

Our Verdict

StrongVPN isn't a great VPN, but it covers the basics, and the ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously might appeal to some.

For

  • Supports up to 12 simultaneous connections
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Fast connection times
  • Limited phone support

Against

  • Basic Windows app
  • Vague privacy policy
  • Few features
  • No trial

While many VPNs try to win you over with gimmicks and feature overload (‘8000 locations!’, ‘$3 a month if you subscribe for 7 years!’), StrongVPN offers a simpler service which focuses on the fundamentals.

There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, for instance, and setup instructions for routers, Fire TV, Kodi and more. 950+ servers in 46 cities across 26 countries. You can connect via L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, there's 24/7 customer support and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Nothing amazing, but not bad specs, either, and adequate for many people.

The service does have a few surprises, too, including the company's own secure DNS system, limited phone support (9am - 5pm Monday to Friday, CT) and the unusual ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously. We'd hazard a guess that's more than you need, but it's there if you need it.

New features since our last review include support for the secure and very fast WireGuard protocol. It's only in beta and not yet supported by the clients, but all users can try it right now.

Pricing is a reasonable $10 a month billed monthly, but only drops to $5.83 on the annual plan (CyberGhost, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, Surfshark and others all have plans for under $3 a month, though typically you'll have to sign up for two or more years to get them.) Still, overall, there's more than enough here to justify a closer look.

Website

StrongVPN says it doesn't keep logs on its users but fails to provide more details on what records it does keep

(Image credit: StrongVPN)

Privacy

StrongVPN's Privacy Policy is a lengthy document, more than 1,600 words long, and if you're looking to wade through the small print, there are five other documents to read.

The company tries to help a little by summarizing its privacy position up-front, with these points:

  • We are a zero-logging VPN service, meaning we’ll never track or store your data while connected to our VPN service.
  • The only personal information we collect from you is used for your account setup, such as an email address and payment information.
  • We will never sell your personal information to third parties.
  • We use cookies on our Site to provide basic functionality and understand Site activity in aggregate. You can disable cookies on our Site at any time.

Unfortunately, there's none of the extra detail you'll often see elsewhere. Does the company log connections to its service? Which details are included, and how long are they kept? Does the service prioritize or penalize any protocol above another? We've no idea.

Overall, StrongVPN's core terms of service deliver essentially what you'd expect, with no logging of how you make use of the VPN. But the lack of detail makes us wonder whether there might be any lesser issues here. It's also worth noting that the service is based in the US, so doesn't have quite as much legal and privacy protection as you'll sometimes get elsewhere.

StrongVPN really needs to do more to make its procedures clear, though, especially as big-name competitors (NordVPN, TunnelBear, VyprVPN, more) are now going as far as having their systems publicly audited to prove their privacy credentials. Just saying 'we don't do bad stuff, honest' is no longer enough.

Getting started

With no trial available, you must pay for at least a month of StrongVPN service before you can try the service (although there is a 30-day money-back guarantee.) 

We parted with our cash, and the site presented us with buttons to download the Windows, Mac, iOS and Android clients. 

The website has more manual setup guides than we've ever seen. There are 30 tutorials for Windows alone, for instance, covering L2TP, PPTP, SSTP, IVEv2 and OpenVPN on Windows versions going right back to Windows Vista.

StrongVPN also has detailed manual setup instructions covering routers, Kodi, Linux, Chrome OS, Amazon Kindle and more.

If you're happy with the standard apps, though, you probably won't need any special documentation. We installed the Windows client and mobile apps in the usual way and without any hassles, and were ready to go within seconds.

Apps

Our Windows client opened with our current location highlighted on a small map, displayed our external IP address, and enabled connecting to our nearest server with a click.

A basic location picker lists servers in their countries and cities, but doesn't include server load or ping time figures, or give you the option to save commonly used locations as favorites.

Locations

StrongVPN lets you choose your location from a list of servers

(Image credit: StrongVPN)

Oddly, the client consistently displayed its locations in reverse alphabetical order (United States at the top, Australia at the bottom.) We could change the sort order at the top of the window, but the client switched it back when we next reopened the list.

There are none of the convenient shortcuts you'll often see elsewhere. You can't double-click a location to connect immediately, for instance. There's no way to switch locations until you manually close the current connection. And you can't connect to a particular location from the StrongVPN system icon's right-click menu.

Even the client's map is just a fixed graphic, with no option to zoom or pan it, to view the city name of the current location or connect to anything else.

This does keep the client very easy to use, of course. There's nothing to learn, all you have to do is choose a location, click Connect when you're ready, Disconnect when you're done.

Connection times are a major plus. IKEv2 connections took barely a second to all but the most distant servers, OpenVPN managed around 7 seconds from the UK to the US-- competitors often take two to three times as long. That may sound trivial, but if you're regularly connecting and disconnecting, it makes the service feel far more convenient to use.

Settings

You can enable a kill switch from StrongVPN's settings but you can't specify the OpenVPN connection type

(Image credit: StrongVPN)

The Settings dialog has some advantages of its own. A Kill switch blocks your internet connection if the VPN connection fails; you can specify the OpenVPN connection type (UDP or TCP) and port; a Scramble function might help you bypass VPN blocking; there's more diagnostic help than usual in a built-in connection log, and, on Windows, an option to reinstall the TAP driver (the virtual network interface commonly used by VPNs to get online.)

There are none of the more advanced features you might expect elsewhere, though, such as DNS leak or configuration options, or the ability to auto-connect when accessing insecure wireless hotspots.

Testing the kill switch produced mixed results. The feature did its core job, blocking internet access when we forcibly closed the VPN and automatically reconnecting. But with 'auto reconnect' enabled, the client didn't display any notification that the connection had dropped, perhaps leaving the user wondering why their internet had gone down.

The kill switch didn't work consistently for all protocols, either. If we manually disconnected from an OpenVPN connection, the client correctly blocked internet traffic immediately. Use IKEv2, and we found traffic was exposed for around the time it took to disconnect. That's only a very few seconds so any risk is minimal, but it still represents a small hole in StrongVPN's privacy protection.

Small bugs and interface design issues aside, StrongVPN's Windows client more than covered the basics, and performed its core functions well. Connection times were speedy, its OpenVPN setup used very secure AES-256-CBC encryption, and there were no DNS or WebRTC leaks.

StrongVPN's mobile apps look and feel much the same as the desktop clients. There are a few small issues - the Android app only supports OpenVPN, the iOS build has only seen one update in the past 11 months - but again, they're easy to use and handle the basics well.

Netflix

StrongVPN was able to unblock US Netflix in our tests

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix

The StrongVPN website claims it's the 'Best Streaming VPN', and suggests services including Netflix, Hulu, ABC, HBO and Sky Go are all supported.

BBC iPlayer wasn't on the list, and testing showed why: it was blocked on all six of StrongVPN's UK servers.

Viewing US-only YouTube content is so easy that almost every VPN in the world can do it, but we tried it anyway, and sure enough, StrongVPN passed the test.

Netflix is the real measure of a VPN's unblocking ability, of course, but StrongVPN managed that, too, allowing us to stream content from Netflix US and Japan (Canada, France and UK were all blocked, though.)

SpeedTest.net

Ookla's SpeedTest is one of the services we used to test StrongVPN's performance

(Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Our performance tests got off to a positive start, with our closest UK servers averaging a decent 65Mbps on our 75Mbps test connection, only 6% less than our regular speeds with the VPN turned off.

We also checked speeds from a US location via a very fast 475Mbps test line, and this gave us reasonable results, with median speeds ranging from 130 to 215Mbps. (Another group of tests only averaged around 5Mbps, but we're discounting that as it's possibly down to some local or ISP issue.)

Although this can't touch the best of the competition - Private Internet Access' lowest median speed was 314Mbps - it's also more than fast enough for most devices and tasks. 

If you're not so lucky, StrongVPN's support site has some tutorials and troubleshooting guides. There's not a lot of content, and some of it is seriously out of date (the Windows Troubleshooting section has just four articles, one of which relates to the previous client). But there is also some useful information here, and live chat is available if you need more.

Final verdict

StrongVPN doesn't have many features, but it handles the VPN basics well enough, and if being able to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously appeals, it might be worth checking out.

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