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.
You get servers in 44 cities across 22 countries, for instance. There’s automatic setup for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android – plus a 5-day money-back guarantee rather than a trial. Nothing amazing, but not bad specs, either, and more than adequate for most people.
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The service does also have some standout points for more technical users, including wide protocol support (PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN and IPSec), up to 2048-bit encryption, and the company's own free StrongDNS service (no risk of DNS leaks here).
There's also an unusual degree of control over server speed testing. Instead of making do with some very basic ping times, StrongVPN can run detailed tests on the servers you select, helping you locate the fastest possible connection.
We were less impressed by the service's miserly limit of two simultaneous device connections. And the single month cost is an expensive $10 (around £8, AU$14), although if you pay for a full year that drops to a more reasonable $5.83 (around £5, AU$8). But overall, there's more than enough here to justify a closer look.
StrongVPN's contracts and policies are aimed more at lawyers than regular users – the Terms of Service page is more than 3500 words all on its own, and there are four other documents to read.
The company tries to help a little by displaying its core statement up front, and in bold: ‘StrongVPN does not collect or log any traffic or use of its Virtual Private Network service.’
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 ‘not collect or log’ statement rule out packet inspection, under any circumstances? Does the service prioritise or penalise 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.
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StrongVPN only has clients for the most popular platforms – PCs, Macs, iOS, Android – but the website has detailed manual setup instructions covering many more: Linux, Windows Mobile, Chrome OS, Amazon Kindle Fire, routers and more.
Our Windows client was a little awkward to use. It selected a server in South Korea, for some reason (we were testing from the UK), and changing this took several steps: click Change Location > choose By Server > Next > choose a city from the list > optionally click Test to check its speed > click Next > click Switch > click OK > click Connect. This isn't difficult, but it's certainly tedious, and there's no favourites system to speed up server selection next time.
Once we got online and conducted our tests* the service became much more appealing. We were connected quickly, and over short distances our latency, upload and download speeds were only marginally worse than usual (typically around 20%). Latency more than doubled on the long-distance tests, but upload speeds were broadly unchanged and downloads were anything up to 50% faster than our regular connection.
StrongVPN's Windows client could be easier to use, the two connection limit is low and the service is a little overpriced. But once you're set up, the connections seem fast and reliable, and the bundled DNS service is a plus. This one is worth considering for experienced users who need its more technical features.
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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.