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How to choose your VPN: look out for these 5 key features

how to choose VPN
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There are an almost unfathomable quantity of VPN options available out there, and choosing the right one can be overwhelming for people who have used them for years - let alone newcomers.

However, choosing a VPN is like buying any other service, and it does not need to be daunting. Simply figure out which features are important for your needs, and select the VPN that fulfils them best.

Not sure which features to look for? No problem, we got you covered, just check out the list below and you'll soon be equipped with the tools you need to choose a VPN.

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ExpressVPN is the best VPN in the world right now
If you don't have the time or energy to get stuck into comparing features and specs, then maybe you'll just want our #1 recommendation. Currently, ExpressVPN tops the list as our overall favorite, mainly thanks to its rapid speeds, varied server locations, friendly apps, brilliant customer support, ability to unblock loads of streaming services and the fact you can try it 100% risk free with the firm's no quibble 30-day money back guarantee.

1. User-friendly interface

Using a VPN involves installing, and controlling it via the software - whether that be on your laptop, mobile phone, or even your router or games console.

While years ago they were difficult to configure, these days, VPNs are really quite simple to get started with and operate. So be sure to look for a VPN that has a clean, and simple user interface, that makes it easy to use. Surfshark is a great example of this - from the moment you go to its website, it immediately feels 'friendly' and doesn't seek to overwhelm new users with lists of extra features they're never going to use.

Obviously one problem is that you're not likely to know what the interface is like without getting the software first. That's where VPNs with free trials can come in very useful, which will give you a much better idea of things than the rather limited free VPN options on the market.

2. Effective customer service

This really goes hand-in-hand with the above, but should not be overlooked. Even the most straightforward VPN experiences out there can throw up the odd difficulty and sooner or later some issues may occur. Whether that's purely on installation and use, or finding the right servers for your Netflix VPN session or unlocking blocked websites in the office or abroad.

So look for a VPN that offers excellent support. Ideally it should be available 24/7, and via a variety of methods like email, online portal and live chat. In our experience, ExpressVPN has really lead the way in this regard, and almost always has quick, reliable answers for any issue we throw at its customer support advisers.

3. Platform support

Once you're settled and get to using your VPN, you will undoubtedly want to protect yourself on each and every device you use - providers like Surfshark and IPVanish don't even limit the amount of devices you can connect simultaneously via their VPNs.

Therefore, be sure to find a VPN that supports all of your devices, including mobile apps for Android and iOS on your smartphones and tablets. Some better VPNs can provide protection to other devices, such as routers that can then protect the entire network, or dedicated gaming devices like the Xbox and PlayStation. 

4. Lots of available servers

VPNs often put in their marketing how many hundreds or even thousands of servers they have available. And smaller VPN provider may just not have enough servers. In this situation, at times the service can be potentially ‘oversold,’ which can result in congestion.

This situation may manifest as slow speeds, or in more extreme cases, there are difficulties when logging into the service. With a better VPN, the more plentiful servers will have room for all of its users, with plenty of throughput for everyone for a great experience. 

Of the biggest names in the business, CyberGhost comes out on top in terms of sheer server numbers - it has in excess of a jaw-dropping 6,000 spread across around 90 countries.

5. Integrated kill switch

A VPN functions via the creation of the encrypted tunnel that ensures privacy between the user and the VPN server. During your research to choose a VPN, you'll see a lot of claims about security features and arrays of VPN protocols

But there are times that the encrypted tunnel may get interrupted momentarily, which then leaves the data potentially exposed.

A feature to look for in a VPN is an integrated kill switch. This is a function built into the VPN software that can sense if the encrypted tunnel goes down, and then stops the transmission of data. This then prevents any data from being exposed, and preserves privacy. Most of the best providers include a kill switch on their mobile apps and it's a particularly crucial feature if you intend to use your VPN for torrenting - you don;t want to risk your connection going down and then your ISP seeing what you're up to.

Not all VPNs include this - at least not across all their apps - so be sure to look for one that does.

Jonas P. DeMuro

Dr. Jonas P. DeMuro graduated summa cum laude from St. John's University with a Bachelor's of Science in Biological Sciences, and a minor in the Philosophy of Science. He went on to receive his Doctorate in Medicine from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He has authored and coauthored numerous academic publications related to Surgery, Trauma, and Critical Care. When not leading the charge in the global pandemic, he has written for a number of notable publications, including TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Hardware, ITProPortal, Maximum PC, Top Ten Reviews and PC Gamer among others. He gets a kick out of seeing his work quoted and linked to in computing academic circles, as he recalls fondly that his last formal class on computing was in high school using the BASIC software language on a TRS-80 platform. How things have progressed!