Some VPN companies market themselves on features, others on price, but AirVPN heads its website with a plea for your trust, claiming to be "operated by activists and hacktivists in defence of net neutrality, privacy and against censorship."
Anyone can say they're different, but AirVPN shows it, too. The company ‘only’ has servers in around 19 countries, for instance, but its status page lists them all up-front, displays their current load, and lists details like the top 10 users’ speeds and session traffic.
A gimmick? It doesn't look that way. The company has enough confidence in its network to quote a minimum allocated bandwidth of 4Mbps download and 4Mbps upload. There's even a forum on the website so you can see what existing users are talking about.
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AirVPN's core product delivers on all the basics: no traffic or time limits, 3 simultaneous connections, P2P supported, OpenVPN available, and everything looks very configurable.
Even the pricing scheme looks better than most, with plans covering 3 days (1 Euro, £0.90, $1.05, AU$1.40), a month (7 Euros, £6.15, $7.40, AU$9.90), 3 months (15 Euros, £13, $16, AU$21), six months (30 Euros, £26, $31, AU$43) or a year (54 Euros, £47, $57, AU$77) and just about every payment option you could need, including Bitcoin.
AirVPN is up-front about its no-logging policy, stating clearly that it doesn't monitor or track any of your online activities. The company also states that it complies with European Union privacy directives, and any servers located outside the EU will treat your data with the same or higher levels of privacy and data protection.
The only clause you really need to understand is AirVPN's refund policy. The company will refund your payment without insisting on an explanation, but you have to make the request within the first three days and you mustn't have violated the terms of service, or used more than 5GB of traffic.
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Signing up with AirVPN wasn't as convenient as we'd like, as we had to hop around the website ourselves rather than follow a directed process, but it wasn't difficult and we figured it out within a minute or two.
It was a similar story with the Windows client. It doesn't have the same ‘click-a-flag-and-connect’ simplicity of other tools, and an awkward interface doesn't help. But once you've explored, noticed the load and ‘number of users’ figures for each server, and worked out how you can filter the list to see only what you need (just USA, Canada and Germany, say), life gets much easier.
In our tests*, transfer speeds to a local UK server were very impressive. Upload speeds were halved compared to our normal rate, dipping to around 9Mbps, but latency wasn't measurably changed, and download speeds averaged 35Mbps, 85-90% of what we’d normally get with no VPN.
Switching to a Los Angeles server saw download rates plummet to around 10Mbps, with uploads also falling to 2Mbps. Hunting around gave us some improvement – 15Mbps on a New Jersey IP – but no dramatic changes.
We certainly couldn't fault AirVPN's privacy, though. IPLeak.net neatly presented us with the same address for our IP, WebRTC and DNS, keeping our real identity safely hidden at all times.
AirVPN is a likeable service – open, transparent, reasonably priced and with some very fast servers (not all of them are, though). Expert users in particular will love its advanced settings, and the 3-day plan offers a convenient, low-priced way to try it out.
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*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.