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Windscribe VPN review

A feature-packed VPN with one of the best free plans around

Windscribe
(Image: © Windscribe)

Our Verdict

Windscribe doesn't have the best support, but that won't be an issue for everyone. Mostly it's a great VPN, and a generous free plan makes it easy to try the service for yourself. Go check it out immediately.

For

  • 10GB free data allowance
  • Effective kill switch
  • Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, more
  • Good value with very flexible plans

Against

  • No 24/7 support
  • No live chat
  • Can sometimes take a while to update apps

Windscribe is a very interesting VPN which piles on the features, yet remains easy to use, with some great value commercial products, and one of the most generous free plans around.

A decent-sized network provides locations in 110 cities spread across 62 countries. Windscribe claims its servers really are in these locations, too, rather than, we quote, 'some competitors who have most of their servers in US and Europe, and simply fake the location with false IP WHOIS data to make it appear that it's elsewhere.'

An array of apps means you're covered on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux. Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions give you even more ways to connect and stacks of privacy-related extras, and the website has guides to help you set up the service on routers, Kodi, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, and via any OpenVPN-compatible software or device.

IKEv2 and OpenVPN support with strong AES-256 encryption keeps all your tunnel traffic safe from snoopers, while stealth technologies try to obfuscate your VPN usage, perhaps allowing you to get online even in countries which actively block VPN traffic.

Windscribe

R.O.B.E.R.T is Windscribe's DNS-backed tool to help users block ads, malware, trackers and more (Image credit: Windscribe)

ROBERT is a DNS-based tool for blocking ads, malware, trackers and various internet content types (gambling, 'fake news and clickbait', and so on). This goes way beyond the basic DNS blacklist you'll get with other providers, and gives you more power and configurability than even many desktop applications deliver.

Unusual Windscribe account options include purchasing a static IP address. Adding a residential IP address costs $8 a month, for example (data center IPs are $2), but should greatly improve your chances of accessing any blocked sites. (Once you have a static IP, you can also enable port forwarding in the Windscribe web console).

Support is available via ticket, if you need it, but it's not 24/7 and there's no live chat. Still, there's an unusual bonus in Windscribe's own subreddit with many new posts every day. That's valuable as it allows potential customers to see what real Windscribe users are talking about, the questions they have and the issues they're facing – a level of transparency you rarely see with other VPNs.

Windscribe doesn't exactly update its software often – our Windows client version was more than 14 months old – but the company has been busy, and a lot has happened since our last review.

New features include major updates for the mobile apps. A shiny new iOS app supports network whitelisting, has IKEv2 and OpenVPN support, and includes Siri shortcuts. The Android app also supports IKEv2 and OpenVPN, and offers split tunneling to define which apps use the tunnel, and which don't. A major interface update sees a stylish new look applied across the range.

Brand new more comprehensive browser extensions support city-level location selection, block malware and phishing sites, and add a host of privacy boosting extras, including WebRTC blocking, location API spoofing and website notification blocking.

Then there's faster connections, improved streaming support which blocks almost everything, and the ad-blocking ROBERT is now available for free users, too. Works for us.

Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.

  • A new location has been added for free users - Turkey. (April 2020)
  • ROBERT now fully supports blocking of CNAME cloaked trackers on all servers. (April 2020)

Plans

In addition to paid plans, Windscribe also offers a very generous free plan (Image credit: Windscribe)

Plans and pricing

Windscribe's free plan offers a generous 10GB of data transfer a month if you register with your email address, 2GB if you don't. You're limited to just 10 servers – North America, Europe and Hong Kong – but that's still better than you'll get with many services ('sorry, our free app only connects to Brunei, is that a problem?').

Upgrading to a commercial plan gets you unlimited data, access to all 110 locations, and the ability to generate custom OpenVPN, IKEv2 and SOCKS5 configurations.

There are no annoying limits on simultaneous connections, either. You can set up and use the service wherever you like, as long as the devices are yours (the small print forbids sharing your account with others).

Prices are low. Monthly billing is only $9, for instance – many top VPNs charge $12-$13. Pay for a year upfront and the price plummets to an equivalent $4.08. That's well below most VPN providers' annual plans (ExpressVPN asks $8.32, HideMyAss $6.99, CyberGhost $5.99), but there are cheaper deals around. Private Internet Access and Ivacy's annual plans are priced at $3.33, for instance, and at $1.99 a month, you can get a two-year Surfshark plan for less than one year with Windscribe.

That's not the end of the story, though. Windscribe's 'Build a Plan' scheme might allow you to save money by choosing just the locations you need, for $1 each. Each location adds 10GB to your free bandwidth allowance, and your plan must have a minimum of two locations.

For example, if you register with your email address, you'll get 10GB data allowance a month. Build a plan with the US and UK locations, and you'll get 30GB of data for $2 a month. You can upgrade to unlimited data for another $1, or a total of just $3 a month, billed monthly.

If you don't want to sign up long-term, that looks like a great deal. Surfshark's monthly plan is four times as expensive at $12, for instance – okay, that's the full service with all the locations, but if you don't need them, who cares?

Another option, ScribeForce, enables signing up a group of users (a business, a family) with the same account. There's a five-user minimum, but you'll pay just $3 each, billed monthly, for access to the full and unrestricted service.

Whatever your preference, Windscribe gives you a wider than usual choice of payment options, which include card, PayPal, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies via CoinPayments.net, along with gift cards and assorted other options via Paymentwall.

Windscribe doesn't have the lowest headline prices, then, but it's monthly-billed plans are as cheap as you'll get, the others are fairly priced for the features you get, and its flexibility is a major plus.

If you don't require a full service all the time, the free plan may be enough for casual use, and you could, say, buy three months of unlimited bandwidth a year for a total of $9, with no lengthy contract required. Most VPNs charge more than that for a single month.

Windscribe

Windscribe protects your privacy with AES-256 encryption and doesn't keep logs (Image credit: Windscribe)

Privacy and logging

Windscribe's privacy features start with its industrial-strength AES-256 encryption, with SHA512 authentication, a 4096-bit RSA key and support for perfect forward secrecy (keys aren't re-used, so even if a snooper gets hold of a private key, it will only allow them to view data within one session).

The apps use multiple techniques to reduce the chance of data leaks, limiting IPv6 traffic, redirecting DNS requests through the tunnel to be handled by the VPN server, and optionally using a firewall to block all internet access if the connection drops.

We checked Windscribe's performance on a Windows 10 system using the websites IPLeak, DNSLeakTest and DoILeak, and found no DNS or other leaks.

We enabled the Windows client's kill switch (which Windows calls a firewall) and forcibly closed the VPN connection to see how it would behave. The results were almost perfect: our internet access was immediately blocked, the client interface updated to show there was a problem, then it immediately began reconnecting, and displayed a Windows desktop notification once we were online again.

We'd like to have seen a desktop notification to tell us when the connection had dropped, but otherwise the client and kill switch worked exactly as they should, protecting our privacy at all times.

Windscribe's logging policy is covered in a clearly written and refreshingly short privacy policy which explains what the company does and doesn't collect.

There's a tiny amount of long-term logging, but it's limited to the total bandwidth you've used in a month (essential to manage usage on the free plan), and a timestamp of your last activity on the service to allow identifying inactive accounts.

The system does briefly collect some connection details – username, VPN server connected to, time of connection, bandwidth used during the session, number of devices connected – but these are held in the VPN server's RAM only, and are lost when the session closes.

Other than that, there is no logging of connections, IPs, timestamps or browsing history. Or as the privacy policy puts it, 'we do not store any logs on who used what IP address, so we cannot tie user activity to any single user.'

As there is no data on your activities, Windscribe points out that there's nothing to share. This is backed up by a transparency report which covers the numbers of DMCA and Law Enforcement data requests over the year, and in both cases states that: 'Exactly zero requests were complied with due to lack of relevant data.'

This is all good, but we would like to see Windscribe go further. Competitors such as TunnelBear and VyprVPN have had their systems publicly audited to check for logging or other privacy issues, and that gives far more reassurance to potential customers than comforting words on a website. We hope that Windscribe (and other VPN providers for that matter) will soon do the same.

In the meantime, it's worth remembering that Windscribe will give you 2GB of data per month, for free, without requiring an email address or any other personal data. The data limit will be an issue for streaming users and heavy downloaders, but if you're just looking to protect email and basic browsing, this automatically gets you more guaranteed anonymity than you'll have with almost everyone else.

TestMy.net

Speed testing is an important part of any VPN review (Image credit: TestMy.net)

Performance

To test VPN performance, we first use an automated tool to log into a sample group of servers – UK, Europe, US, rest of the world – and check the connection time, look for latency issues, and use geolocation to verify that each server is in the advertised country.

We were able to connect to all Windscribe servers first time, without a single connection error. OpenVPN connection times were average at a typical 12 seconds, but if that's an issue, using the default IKEv2 protocol keeps this down to 3-4 seconds.

Once we were connected, our other initial checks went well. There were no latency problems, and all servers appeared to be in their promised locations.

Our download speed tests began by connecting to the nearest servers from UK and US locations, using the Windscribe client, then measuring download performance using the benchmarking sites TestMy.net and SpeedTest.

UK results were good, with downloads reaching an average 67-68Mbps on our 75Mbps connection.

US speeds were more difficult to assess than usual, though most likely that wasn't the fault of Windscribe. SpeedTest results were very inconsistent, most likely because we were testing in mid-March 2020, when large numbers of people were staying at home, streaming Netflix and generally using way more data than usual.

That's why we use multiple websites, though, and TestMy.net's results were impressive, with average download speeds of 240-260Mbps. Even our lowest recorded speed was excellent at 199Mbs. Not bad performance, considering the circumstances. If you need a VPN which should cope even during a major global crisis, it looks like Windscribe could be a great option.

There are lots of factors that will influence speeds and as ever your mileage may vary. Still, that's where we have to (once again) applaud Windscribe’s transparency. While other providers don't even have trials any more, Windscribe gives you up to 10GB a month for free, with access to plenty of locations and full-speed servers. If performance is your top priority, that gives you plenty of time to try out the service before you buy and see how it performs for you.

Netflix

Windscribe was able to unblock Netflix in our tests, so we didn't see any pesky error messages (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix

Connecting to a VPN server in another country may, in theory, allow you to access content you wouldn't be able to see (viewing US-only YouTube clips, for instance).

Unfortunately, it's not always that simple, as many content providers now attempt to detect and block visitors they think are using a VPN.

To test a VPN's unblocking abilities, we log in to various US and UK locations and attempt to view US YouTube, US Netflix and BBC iPlayer streams.

YouTube is usually the easiest to access, as it appears to do very few, if any, VPN checks. Sure enough, Windscribe allowed us to view US-only content without any issues, even with its free plan.

BBC iPlayer has more in-depth connection checking, and Windscribe wasn't able to unblock it during the last review. We had a few technical problems this time, including player errors, but it's possible they were website issues. What really matters is iPlayer didn't detect our VPN use, and most of the time we were able to view whatever content we liked.

Switching to Amazon Prime Video, we tried connecting to Windscribe's US streaming server and were able to view content from the US Amazon.com using our UK Amazon account.

Netflix is normally the most difficult site to unblock, which is why most VPN providers take care not to mention it specifically. They know that even if they can deliver Netflix access today, it could be blocked tomorrow.

Windscribe is far more confident, so much so that its paid plans include a virtual location called Windflix US, which allows customers to access Netflix without having to manually try different servers until they find one which works. We tried this and it worked just fine, enabling us to freely stream whatever content we liked.

That's not all. Unlike many competitors, Windscribe also has virtual servers to access Netflix in the UK, Japan and Canada, and they worked perfectly for us.

Note: The company tells us that users are now able to stream content from the other locations, too, making the Windflix locations unnecessary. We tried this with a small number of test servers and it seems to be correct.

Torrents

Windscribe fully supports P2P and torrenting (Image credit: uTorrent)

Torrents

VPN providers generally don't boast about their torrent support, and it can be a challenge to figure out what you're allowed to do. (TunnelBear was so quiet about its P2P policy that we had to email tech support to ask.)

Windscribe is much more open and transparent. Just point your browser at the company's Status page and you'll see its full list of locations, which of them support P2P (most) and which of them don't (India, Lithuania, Russia and South Africa, at the time of writing).

Your options are just as clear in the Windscribe apps. Locations where torrents aren't allowed are marked with the same crossed-out 'P2P', but select anything else and you can download whatever and whenever you like.

Factor in Windscribe's free plan and various anonymous payment options (cryptocurrencies, gift cards), along with its decent performance levels, and the company makes a great torrenting choice.

Client setup

Windscribe offers clients for most major platforms (Image credit: Windscribe)

Client setup

Tapping the Get Started button on the Windscribe site took us to the Download page. The website detected and highlighted the best choice for our laptop – the Windows client and Chrome extension – but there were also links to downloads for Mac, Android and iOS, extensions for Firefox and iOS, and guides to cover setup on routers, Linux, Kodi, Amazon Fire TV and more.

There's an unusual extra touch in direct links to old versions of the Windows and Mac apps. You may not care about that as a new user, but being able to rewind to a previous version could be very helpful if you find the latest build doesn't work on one of your computers, or an app update turns out to be buggy.

Installing the Windows app was easy. You're able to create an account just by entering a username and password, which gets you 2GB of data a month. Hand over your email, too, and you get 10GB. Tweet about Windscribe and you get an excellent 15GB.

To put all that in perspective, Avira Phantom VPN's free package gives you a monthly 500MB.

Manually setting up other devices can be more difficult, particularly if they're using OpenVPN. You're asked to manually define some low-level connection details, including type (TCP or UDP?) and port. You must repeat this for every server you'd like to download, and you can only do this at all if you have a paid plan (this feature is not available to free users).

This is a more awkward approach than you'll see with some of the competition, where often you're able to download perhaps hundreds of server setup files in an archive, then unzip and use them all immediately.

This kind of configuration generator does give you great flexibility, though. For example, you could have some locations use OpenVPN UDP for speed, and others use TCP for reliability. And, unusually, Windscribe has similar web tools to generate IVEv2 and SOCKS5 configurations, giving you the ability to fine-tune all your manual VPN connections.

Windows client

This is the user interface of Windscribe's Windows client (Image credit: Windscribe)

Windows client

Windscribe's Windows client looks very basic, at least initially: a small grey window with a location list, an On/Off button, a little status information (current IP, data allowance left for free users) and not much else. Begin exploring, though, and it's hard not to be impressed.

Tapping the default location displays the full list, for instance. This opens with a list of countries, but you can also expand any of these to view its available servers, complete with fun names (London server names include Tea and Crumpets, while you can connect to Los Angeles locations including Dogg, Pac and Lamar).

Each server has a latency indicator to help you find the fastest option. You can also mark countries as Favorites, displaying them at the top of the list for zero-scroll reconnections later.

Users on the free plan can only access a few of the servers and countries (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Romania, Hong Kong). Everything else is marked with a star to indicate it's for paying customers only, and those locations aren't selectable.

The client does a good job of keeping users up-to-date, displaying a Windows desktop notification when you're connecting, and changing the interface from its original grey to a more cheerful blue (a simple way to ensure you can see whether you're protected at a glance).

One standout feature is that Windscribe's desktop clients can import custom OpenVPN configuration files from other providers, and then display those servers alongside its own. That could allow you to use Windscribe's client as a frontend for multiple free VPN providers, for instance, making it easier and more convenient to switch service if your data allowance runs out.

Windows preferences

Windscribe's Windows client gives you a great deal of control over your connection options (Image credit: Windscribe)

A comprehensive Preferences dialog gives you an array of connection options. You can choose your preferred protocol (IKEv2, OpenVPN TCP/UDP, Stealth or WSTunnel to try and bypass VPN blocking), use a special API Resolution system to remove the need for DNS (useful for bypassing some types of VPN blocking), and set up a proxy (HTTP or SOCKS).

The client also supports setting up your system as a secure wireless hotspot (if your network adapter supports this) or a proxy gateway. Other devices on your network which support Wi-Fi or proxies can then connect to you and take advantage of Windscribe, without requiring any special VPN setup or software of their own.

There are unexpected but welcome extras everywhere you look. You can sort the location list by continent and country, alphabetically or by latency, for instance. A local View Log option gives a detailed view of recent program actions, great news for anyone trying to troubleshoot an awkward issue. And experts can choose their preferred TAP driver and OpenVPN version, or add custom OpenVPN parameters, giving a lot of extra control over how connections work.

Windscribe

We had a quick look round the incoming version 2.0 of the Windows client (Image credit: Windscribe)

Windows beta

Windscribe's current Windows client is good, but it's about to get a whole lot better with the release of version 2.0.

We didn't focus on this for the main review, as it's far from finished, but the company gave us access to a beta release and we took a quick look around.

The interface has far more visual panache, with rounded corners and classy flag backgrounds (check the screenshot above) to highlight your current location.

There are practical benefits, too, including more status information on your current connection (you can now see the selected protocol, for instance).

New Wintun OpenVPN driver support could bring a 2-3x speed improvement for some users, the company told us. If it can achieve a fraction of that, we'll be very happy.

Windscribe

There are some smart new features incorporated with the beta client, including privacy-protecting MAC spoofing (Image credit: Windscribe)

Some of the new additions – split tunneling, network whitelisting, a choice of app DNS (system default, OpenDNS, Cloudflare, Google) – are relatively familiar. That doesn't make them any less welcome, though, and there are some surprises, too. Looking for some privacy-protecting MAC spoofing, for instance? Assistance is just a click away.

We didn't test any of these in depth, as the client is still in beta. Windscribe's current client performs very well, though, and we've no reason to think the next release will be any different. Once it's released, check out the free Windscribe plan to see how it works for you.

Windscribe

The mobile apps are impressive (Image credit: Windscribe)

Mobile apps

If you can't wait to try out Windscribe's Windows beta, check out the latest mobile apps instead. They're currently ahead of the desktop builds in many areas, and already have most of the new features.

The main status display is much like the Windows beta, for instance. The gorgeous background flag, the big On/Off button, details on your new IP and preferred protocol.

A list of countries (expandable to city level) makes it easy to find the server you need. As with the last release, you can switch to lists of Favorites and dedicated Streaming locations. And there's now even a Custom Config list, maybe enabling using other VPN servers with Windscribe's interface and features.

A comprehensive Preferences screen comes absolutely stuffed with features. The Connection panel alone enables choosing between OpenVPN UDP, TCP, IKEv2 or Stealth, or selecting your preferred port, and indeed choosing which apps use the VPN, and which don't (split tunneling). It also provides integration with Android's Always-On feature to let you set up a system-wide kill switch, or to enable GPS spoofing, define a packet size, allow or block local network traffic, and more.

A Network Whitelisting tool enables automatically connecting to Windscribe whenever untrusted networks are accessed, while ignoring others. So, for instance, you could have the service automatically connect to protect you in the library or coffee shop, while staying offline when you're at home or work.

iOS users are often short-changed by VPN providers, but not here. Windscribe's iOS offering has all the core features of its other apps, including some options you'll rarely find elsewhere. Can your desktop VPN client use a custom OpenVPN configuration to access a server from another provider, for instance, or set a preferred protocol depending on your current network? No? Didn't think so.

Windscribe

Windscribe even offers browser extensions for most popular browsers  (Image credit: Windscribe)

Browser extensions

Windscribe's Chrome, Opera and Firefox extensions provide a quick and easy way to connect to the VPN from your browser. This has its limitations – they're simple proxies and only protect your browser traffic – but if you only need the VPN for basic browsing tasks, they're your most convenient and straightforward option.

The extensions have seen a major update since our last review, with a revamped and more stylish interface along the lines of the new mobile apps and the Windows UI.

Basic operations work much as they always did. Autopilot mode enables connecting to the best location with a click, you're able to choose countries or individual cities from a list, and set your most commonly used cities as Favorites.

One major improvement sees the ad and malware-blocking ROBERT now available to free users. Known malicious and phishing sites, bandwidth sapping ads, trackers, social media widgets and more can all be exterminated in a click or two.

Windscribe

There are some nifty privacy features with the extensions (Image credit: Windscribe)

Need more? The extension can block WebRTC leaks, fake your GPS location and time zone to match your chosen Windscribe server, or maybe keep switching your browser user agent to make you more difficult to track.

This doesn't always work quite as you'd expect. On opening, the extension displayed a greyed-out panel complaining that it 'couldn't get tab info', for instance. A Windows tab suggested we install the desktop app to send our traffic 'through two connections with double hop mode', even though it was installed already. The icons weren't always intuitive.

None of these issues turned out to be important, though. The 'tab info' error only happened on our new tabs, and disappeared once we began browsing. The 'install the desktop app' message didn't happen when the Windscribe app was running, and we figured out everything else in under five minutes.

Put it all together and this is a very capable extension which delivers far more than you'll get with other VPN providers, and even many standalone Chrome privacy extensions. Don't just take our word for it: the excellent 4.7 rating on the Chrome store suggests most users agree.

Support

Windscribe's knowledgebase has many helpful articles (Image credit: Windscribe)

Support

If you have any technical troubles, Windscribe's support site is a good place to begin looking for answers.

Resources start with an array of setup guides for a very long list of platforms and devices (desktops, mobiles, routers, NAS, smart TVs, torrent clients and more).

These tutorials don't have the same range and depth that you'll see from the best VPN providers, but there are interesting touches.

For example, NordVPN has setup guides for Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 10, for instance, using its app, OpenVPN or IKEv2. Windscribe's Windows setup section only covers its app, Windows 10 and IKEv2, but in an unusual touch, it shows how you can install the client using PowerShell (it's easier than you think).

The Android guides also give you more choice than usual, with advice on how to get connected via IKEv2 using the Strongswan app, or via OpenVPN with OpenVPN for Android.

Other areas are, well, not so great. Keen on learning about the shiny new browser extensions, for instance? The support pages have links to 'setup guides' for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, but clicking on these takes you to YouTube videos dated July 2016. Comments are enabled and there are a few people asking questions, but most go unanswered.

If all else fails, you can contact support directly. There's no direct live chat (though apparently a simple support chatbot will sometimes escalate queries to a human support agent) and you can't just send an email, but the website does have a form you can fill in to raise a ticket.

Exactly how long it'll take to get a reply isn't clear, and a Windscribe blog post explains why: 'As we're a relatively small company (13 employees), we're unable to provide support 24/7, and since we provide support to all users, including millions of free accounts, things can be a bit overwhelming.'

But on the plus side, Windscribe points out that it does all its support in-house, rather than using 'outsourced minimal wage workers on the other side of the planet who are reading off a script.'

You might have to wait a little longer for a reply, then, but with genuine in-house expertise involved, it's much more likely to be worth the wait.

Final verdict

Windscribe is a likeable VPN and represents good value, with a host of useful privacy protecting extras, and one of the most generous free VPN plans around. We have some reservations – such as the lack of 24/7 support, and long gaps between updates with the Windows app – but these won't affect everyone, and so we'd recommend you install the free version in order to see how it works for you.