Sign up for any of Bitdefender's excellent security packages - Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, Total Security or its mobile apps - and you'll now also get a bundled VPN. Sounds great, until you realize there's no option to choose a location (the app automatically picks the nearest server), and you spot the tiny data transfer limit of 200MB a day.
Buying an additional Bitdefender Premium VPN license gets you unlimited traffic and full access to all service locations. (Bitdefender VPN is powered by and using Hotspot Shield's high-end VPN technology, a strong indicator that you're going to get a decent service.)
- Want to try Bitdefender Premium VPN? Check out the website here
Prices are reasonable at $6.99 billed monthly, or an equivalent $3.33 a month for year one on the annual plan, $4.17 on renewal. That's a significant saving on Hotspot Shield's regular annual price of an equivalent $5.99, good to know if you might have purchased it anyway. Although real Hotspot Shield fans who sign up for three years will pay only $3.49, making a small saving over time.
One potential issue to consider is that you'll only be able to use the VPN on the number of devices covered by your Bitdefender security software license.
If you've bought Bitdefender Antivirus Plus for a single device, for instance, then you'll only be able to use the VPN on that device, perhaps a problem.
But if you've purchased a Total Security License covering ten devices, then you'll be able to use the VPN on all of these for the same price, a much better deal.
There's no trial of the full service, unfortunately, and the 200MB-a-day free product won't give you much of an idea of how it really works (that's not even enough bandwidth to run a single web-based speed test.)
Bitdefender does provide a 30-day money-back guarantee, though, so you should be able to get a refund if the service doesn't work out for you.
Privacy and logging
Bitdefender Premium VPN appears to be a solely Bitdefender product - you pay them to use the service, it's powered by their software - but it works by connecting to Hotspot Shield servers and using the Hotspot Shield network. That doesn't matter at all when you're using the service, but it's relevant when you're trying to figure out the service logging policy, because that isn't under Bitdefender's control.
"we collect for this service only randomly generated or hashed user and device IDs, IP addresses and randomly generated tokens to establish VPN connection for the sole purpose of providing the VPN service. For this service, we use AnchorFree as data processor who processes data on behalf of Bitdefender in accordance with Bitdefender's instructions and for the sole purpose of providing VPN services to users."
Not exactly helpful.
What we can say is that Bitdefender knows the devices where you've installed the VPN, as this will have its security software (you can't run the VPN stand-alone.) To manage a 200MB per day limit on the free plan, Bitdefender must be able to maintain at least a running total of the bandwidth used per device. But it can't see the websites you're visiting, or the content of your web traffic, as that's being encrypted by the VPN.
Life isn't quite that simple, and the small print explains that device IDs and IP addresses can be collected in a few situations. These are far less significant than we've seen with many commercial VPNs, and we see no major issues, but check out our full Hotspot Shield review if you're interested.
To try Bitdefender VPN, you must first install one of Bitdefender's security applications. If you don't have one yet, you can usually install a free trial, so for example there's a 30-day trial version of Bitdefender Total Security available for Windows. But keep in mind that the suite only includes the limited 200MB per day version of the VPN, and you won't get a real idea of the VPN's abilities until you've handed over some cash.
Bitdefender's client is very, very basic, with the bare minimum of features. A large blue Connect button will by default connect you to your nearest server; you're able to choose another location from a simple list; and there are settings to launch Bitdefender VPN along with Windows, and automatically connect whenever you access an insecure wireless network.
There are very few of the other features we would normally hope to see. The client doesn't display a desktop notification when you connect; you can't change servers until you've manually closed the existing connection; there's no Favorites or Recently Used list to speed up accessing commonly-used servers; there's no kill switch to block internet access if the connection drops; there's no option to change protocol, or tweak your connection in any way.
There are some plus points. The client is so easy to use that even total beginners probably won't need any support, and it handles unexpected situations with ease. When we made the VPN connection drop by forcibly closing the openvpn.exe process - a very aggressive step which is most unlikely to happen in real life - the client warned us immediately with a desktop alert, then automatically reconnected within seconds.
If you're looking to buy Bitdefender Premium VPN as a cheaper route to access Hotspot Shield, though, it's worth noting that Hotspot Shield's own Windows client has a few extra features, including a kill switch, extra leak protection and finer control over when the VPN will automatically connect. If you think you might need this extra power, Hotspot Shield's free trial gives you 7 days to check out the service.
Bitdefender sells Premium VPN mostly for its encryption and anonymity benefits, but the website claims it can also 'unlock media, videos & messaging from all over the world.'
That wasn't true for BBC iPlayer, unfortunately. When we tried to stream content while connected to the UK server, iPlayer told us 'this content is not available in your location.'
Premium VPN did successfully unblock US-only YouTube content, but then so does almost every other VPN we've ever reviewed.
Unblocking US Netflix is the biggest challenge of all, but Premium failed there, too, with the website displaying the 'streaming error' message you'll see whenever it spots a VPN.
Our speed tests got off to an unimpressive start, with Bitdefender Premium VPN's nearest UK server giving us download speeds of around 45-50Mbps on a 75Mbps test connection. That's more than enough for most internet activities, but top VPNs might be 10-15Mbps faster.
We expected speeds to drop a little with European servers, but most achieved the same 45-50Mbps as the UK, a very solid performance.
This got even more interesting when we tried connecting to the US, and still got the same 45-50Mbps. Was the service throttling our connection to a maximum of around 50Mbps? Maybe. (It wasn't our test environment; turning the VPN off saw download speeds jump to 65Mbps and more, while switching to ExpressVPN got us download speeds of over 60Mbps.)
Could the VPN maintain this level of performance over the most distant connections, we wondered? No, not even close. Switching to Australia and Singapore saw speeds struggle to a dire 1-3Mbps. Maybe we were just unlucky, but if you're hoping to use the VPN over very long distance connections, we'd recommend you run in-depth speed tests of your own to understand the performance you're likely to get.
Bitdefender Premium VPN works well as a simple way for Bitdefender users to secure their network connections when they're out and about, but the service doesn't have the power, the features or the configurability to attract more demanding types.
- Also check out our roundup of the best VPNs