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StrongVPN review

Simple and secure with Netflix unblocking, too

StrongVPN
(Image: © StrongVPN)

Our Verdict

StrongVPN isn't a top-notch VPN, but WireGuard support and the ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously will appeal to many, and 250GB of SugarSync cloud storage is a seriously valuable extra.

For

  • Supports up to 12 simultaneous connections
  • Unblocks Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+
  • WireGuard supported on all apps
  • 250GB SugarSync storage included

Against

  • Few features
  • Doesn't unblock BBC iPlayer
  • Possible speed issues
  • Website problems

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 guides for routers, Fire TV, Kodi and more. StrongVPN provides 950+ servers in 59 cities across 35 countries (that's up from 46 cities in 26 countries only six months ago). You can connect via L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 and now even WireGuard, there's 24/7 customer support and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Nothing amazing, but not bad specs, either, and more than adequate for most 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 require, but it's there if you need it.

Improvements since our last review include full support for the secure and speedy WireGuard protocol, right across the range. It's not beta any more, and you don't miss out with the mobile apps – it's available everywhere.

The iOS app now includes integration with StrongVPN's knowledgebase and in-app chat support, making it easier to get help when you need it. There's support for Siri shortcuts to connect and disconnect, and new Light Mode and Dark Mode themes for iOS 13.

At first glance, pricing looks a little above average at $10 a month billed monthly, dropping to $5.83 on the annual plan. Private Internet Access asks only $3.33 a month with a one-year subscription, and sign up for two years with Surfshark and you'll pay the equivalent of $1.99.

But, wait – for some bizarre reason, the front page of the StrongVPN site is missing something very important. The Plans page explains that along with the VPN, you get 250GB of SugarSync secure cloud storage, normally priced at $9.99 a month if you buy direct. That's a fairly major extra which you might have thought StrongVPN would yell about, in very large fonts... but apparently not.

If you'll use the SugarSync space, that looks like an excellent deal. Although be sure to check out IPVanish, too – it also has a SugarSync deal, though it's fractionally more expensive ($10 billed monthly, $6.49 on the annual plan).

However, if cloud storage isn't a priority, don't be distracted by the marketing: focus instead on the core VPN features you need.

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 2,300 words long, and if you're looking to wade through the small print, there are four other documents to read.

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

  • We are a zero-logging VPN service, meaning we do not 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 do not 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 (the market-leading ExpressVPN, for example). 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, and 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.

StrongVPN

We encountered some unfortunate technical hitches while signing up (Image credit: StrongVPN)

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, but the site complained that there was a 'problem with our order', and we should click a link to deal with this right now.

What was the problem? The link didn't say. Worse still, although it took us to a StrongVPN-branded page, this was on a web hosting URL (https://whm.reliablehosting.com/whmcs/clientarea.php). So, our payment at StrongVPN.com unexpectedly failed, and we were redirected to a different domain, and asked to go through the payment process again? There's nothing dubious going on here – this really was our StrongVPN billing page – but it's easy to see how users might be suspicious.

An email arrived explaining that the email we'd used for the StrongVPN account didn't match our PayPal email, and that was the cause of the problem. It was, too – we paid via the account page and all was well.

That wasn't the end of our problems, though. StrongVPN uses WHMCS, a popular management platform commonly used by web hosts, and our account page still had several hosting-related options ('Buy a domain', 'Order hosting'), while others didn't work at all (clicking Get Support took us to a page saying: 'No support departments found. Please try again later'). Eventually we gave up and manually switched to StrongVPN.com, and all was well.

Thumbs up to StrongVPN for noticing the PayPal issue, but two thumbs down for poor handling on the website. It's not a problem most people will encounter, ever, and our financial or other details were never at any risk. It's a clumsy piece of web design, though, and if you're trusting your most confidential information to a company, you're entitled to expect more technical expertise than this.

Setup

Once we finally reached StrongVPN's own website, life got much easier.

A very obvious StrongVPN Clients link presented us with buttons to download the Windows, Mac, iOS and Android clients.

The website has a good range of manual setup guides encompassing just about every possible option. The Android section covers standard installation and sideloading of the app, for instance, as well as Android TV, manual IKEv2, and using the StrongSwan and OpenVPN GUI apps.

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)

A Search box speeds up the process of finding the locations you need, though. And the odd issue we noticed last time, where locations were displayed in reverse alphabetical order, has been fixed. It's now back to regular A-Z, just as you'd expect.

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.

StrongVPN

There is a great selection of protocols on offer, including WireGuard (Image credit: StrongVPN)

The Settings dialog has some welcome touches. An unusually wide choice of protocols, for instance, covers L2TP, IKEv2, SSTP, OpenVPN and WireGuard – that's about as good as it gets.

Elsewhere, a kill switch blocks your internet connection if the VPN connection fails. You can specify the OpenVPN connection type (UDP or TCP) and port, and a Scramble function might help you bypass VPN blocking. Also, 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.

Our tests found the kill switch has improved since our last review. If the connection drops, the client warns users with a desktop notification. And the switch now works properly for all protocols (including the new WireGuard); when we manually closed our connection, the client blocked internet traffic immediately, with no sign of our real IP being exposed.

We've got some issues with the client's interface and feature set, then, but StrongVPN's Windows client more than covers the basics, and performs 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

You get WireGuard support on mobile devices, too (Image credit: StrongVPN)

StrongVPN's mobile apps look and feel much the same as the desktop clients, and they've also resolved some of our issues from the previous review. Last time we looked at the iOS app, for instance, it had only seen one update in the past 11 months. However, since then, it's gained WireGuard support, new Light and Dark Mode themes, in-app help and chat features, and more.

Overall, they're easy to use, handle the basics well, and do have some valuable extras. Well worth a look.

StrongVPN

SugarSync is a useful extra for those looking for some cloud storage (Image credit: StrongVPN)

SugarSync

Apps checked, we began to wonder about our 250GB of SugarSync cloud storage. It wasn't mentioned in the 'Welcome' email from StrongVPN. We couldn't see any mention of it in our account pages, no indication of how to claim our space. What was going on?

We raised a support ticket, and a reply arrived in a speedy 40 minutes. Unfortunately, it didn't help: 'Log into your customer area, then you can see the SugarSync tab.' We fired back a reply – 'No, we can't' – along with a screenshot as evidence, and three hours later StrongVPN manually activated the service on our account. Apparently it should have been set up automatically, but for some reason that didn't happen.

We got our 250GB eventually, then, but it took some effort. And if we'd signed up from the front page of the site, where SugarSync wasn't even mentioned, we'd never have realized it was included with the service.

None of this has anything specifically to do with the VPN, of course, but it's still hugely unprofessional. And it leaves us wondering: if StrongVPN can get this so fundamentally wrong, what other issues might be lurking elsewhere?

If you can overlook these signup issues, though, SugarSync works very well. Add files or folders to your account from the right-click menu, then they're automatically uploaded to your web space and synced across your devices (PCs, Macs, iOS, Android). It's easy to share them with others, and remote wiping support enables removing synced files from a lost or stolen device.

This isn't a SugarSync review and we're not going to get into the low-level details now (we looked at the service here). If you need cloud storage, it's certainly worth looking at, especially considering the price you're paying here. But if you're unsure, keep in mind that SugarSync offers a 30-day free trial at its own website. Sign up for that, first, and you'll quickly find out if it's right for you.

Netflix

StrongVPN was able to unblock US Netflix in our tests, meaning we didn't see any frustrating errors (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 suggested why: we couldn't view it from any of StrongVPN's UK servers. (Our results weren't as conclusive as usual, though – we didn't get any error message, the player just wouldn't start – so it's possible you'll see different results.)

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).

The good news continued to the end of our unblocking tests, with StrongVPN allowing us to stream Disney+ content and watch US Amazon Prime Video while connected to StrongVPN's US servers.

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 68-69Mbps on our 75Mbps test connection, only around 6% less than our regular speeds with the VPN turned off.

We also checked speeds from a US location via a very fast 600Mbps test line, and this gave us hugely mixed results, with figures ranging from 210-220Mbps in one session to just 40-45Mbps in another.

One possible explanation is that our tests took place in late March 2020, when much of the world was in coronavirus lockdown, and internet and VPN traffic was significantly higher than usual.

But on the other hand, our last review also found very inconsistent speeds ranging from 130-215Mbps in one session, down to just 5Mbps in another. Perhaps the underlying problem is that some StrongVPN servers get overloaded sometimes, resulting in very inconsistent speeds.

We use OpenVPN for our speed tests, to make for a more reliable comparison between providers. WireGuard didn't make any significant difference during our UK tests, but the results may vary depending on your device and network, so it's possible you'll see better performance.

With coronavirus measures creating very unusual circumstances for speed testing, we're not going to count StrongVPN's inconsistent results as a major black mark against it this time. Keep them in mind if you sign up for the company, though, and run your own speed tests with different locations, at various times of day, to see how the service works for you.

If you have any technical difficulties, StrongVPN's support site has some tutorials and troubleshooting guides. The content has seen some updates since our last review, but it's still quite limited, poorly organized, and can't begin to compete with the best of the competition. Still, there is some useful information here, plus live chat and ticket-based support is available if you need more.

Final verdict

StrongVPN doesn't have many features, and our signup issues were a concern. It's great value if you'll use the SugarSync space, though, and WireGuard support along with the ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously are also appealing. Worth checking out.

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