By Max Eddy
Just because someone isn’t looking over your shoulder and reading your screen doesn’t mean your online activities are safe or private.
But with a virtual private network (or VPN), such as VPN Unlimited from KeepSolid, you can rest assured that your browsing is encrypted and anonymous.
This service offers inexpensive, flexible subscriptions and many of the features we usually see in far more expensive products.
Throw in solid speed scores, and VPN Unlimited looks like a very attractive deal.
It’s our latest Editors’ Choice winner for VPN services.
What Is a VPN?
A VPN is a lot more than just something you need in order to access your work files. When you switch on your VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN server that will foil hackers or government snoops trying to eavesdrop on your activities.
From the server, your Web traffic travels off into the public Internet, but your actual IP address remains hidden.
Data-hungry website advertisers see the IP address of the VPN server instead of your own.
We recommend using a VPN as often as you can, but especially when your PC is connected to a public Wi-Fi network. When you hop on an unsecured network at the airport or coffee shop, you have no way of knowing whether the network is what it claims to be.
Instead of a convenience offered to thirsty customers and weary travelers, the network could have been created by a hacker looking to intercept your data.
VPNs can also be used to disguise your actual location, which is why these services are often used by journalists and political activists operating in countries with restrictive Internet controls.
This has a fringe benefit for the average user: You can use a VPN to unlock region-locked streaming media content, such as the latest TV shows from the BBC. Unfortunately, some streaming services, including Netflix have gotten wise and begun blocking annonymization and location spoofing services.
Pricing and FeaturesVPN Unlimited offers six pricing plans, giving you lots of choice over how much you want to pay and how often you’ll be billed.
The cheapest plan, Vacation, is intended for those quick jaunts away from home and costs $1.99 for seven days.
The Economy plan ups this to a monthlong subscription for only $4.99 per month, the Standard is $8.99 for three months, and the Professional is $24.99 every year. Note that all prices are charged in full at time of billing, and a seven-day money back guarantee is included along with a 10-day free trial.
That monthly price puts VPN Unlimited in the same price class as Spotflux VPN and FrootVPN.
That puts the cost of VPN Unlimited down among the cheapest services.
If you need to go cheaper, you’ll probably have to look at free VPN services instead.
Although VPN Unlimited may cost the same or less, it has many more features and options than even its higher-priced competition.
For example, VPN Unlimited sports 50 servers across a very geographically diverse 38 countries.
These include many oft-overlooked locales, such as Russia, China, Mexico, South America, Africa, and the Isle of Man, to name a few.
It’s vitally important that a VPN service provide many or at least geographically diverse servers.
FrootVPN only offers five servers, putting it at the bottom of the heap. Private Internet Access, on the other hand, has thousands of servers.
If you’re really happy with VPN Unlimited and want to hedge your bets about Internet access in the afterlife, you can opt for the Infinity Plan, which is a 100-year subscription for $499 (currently on sale for $129). KeepSolid, the developer behind VPN Unlimited, kindly notes that the company will “gladly extend this period by your request.”
KeepSolid also offers two suites that bundle VPN access with the company’s To-Do Checklist app for $33.99 a year, or a very nice $69.99 for three years. You can buy these, or any of VPN Unlimited’s other plans with PayPal, credit cards, Amazon Pay, Bitcoin, and Payment Wall.
Unlike TorGuard VPN, which is designed for BitTorrent and P2P services, VPN Unlimited only allows file sharing on four servers.
That’s still more than most other VPN services, which simply ban the practice outright.
VPN Unlimited also has a special Streaming server, available specifically for high-speed video streaming.
Co-Editors’ Choice NordVPN also offers a video streaming server, but goes further with a VPN server that also connects to the Tor anonymization network and a double-encrypted server.
Power users looking for a personal VPN server in the country of their choice or a static IP address that is (allegedly) not associated with proxy services will be pleased to know that VPN Unlimited offers these rare options for $80 a year and $6.69 per month, respectively. Nice.
TorGuard also offers static IP addresses, but only in Romania.
So far, VPN Unlimited is the only service that offers server rental.
Also in the category of rare features is something called KeepSolid Wise, which disguises VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic.
The goal is to allow people living in countries with tools in place to block the use of proxies.
For the rest of us Android, Windows, and Linux users, VPN Unlimited uses the OpenVPN protocol, but IPSec, PPTP for OS X users.
I’d really like to see VPN Unlimited add OpenVPN support for OS X machines.
Thankfully, iOS devices use the iPSec protocol by default, but can be reconfigured to use OpenVPN.
Hands-On With VPN UnlimitedRegardless of your platform, VPN Unlimited has you covered with native clients for OS X, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, and (shockingly) Windows Phone.
In my testing, I used a Dell Latitude E7250 laptop running Windows 8.1. Like most leading VPN services, you can connect up to five devices simultaneously.
I had no trouble installing VPN Unlimited, which uses a typical installer and setup tool.
The only wrinkle is that it needs to install the Microsoft C++ 2013 Redistributable environment.
That’s a minor inconvenience.
FrootVPN, for example, required me to use arcane Windows applications and manually reconfigure my system to connect to a different server.
VPN Unlimited has an excellently designed client application.
All of the features are easily explained with an overlay that points out each element and what it does.
A toggle at the top of the screen turns the VPN connection on and off, although I found that VPN Unlimited took quite a while to connect and disconnect, but that’s my only complaint with the client.
Buttons down the left show your account information and give you quick access to available servers.
The right panel lists all the available servers, with a handy search box at the top.
Each server lists its country of origin, how crowded the server currently is, and whether or not torrenting is allowed on that server.
VPN Unlimited also has a high-speed server dedicated to video streaming and an Optimal option that connects you to what it believes is the best server available.
Speed TestRegardless of the VPN service you choose, you’re certain to see some kind of impact on your Web browsing experience. Usually, more latency and decreased upload and download speeds.
This is especially true when connecting to a far-flung VPN server—but not always.
In my testing, I found that PureVPN actually improved Web performance quite remarkably.
To test VPN speed, I use the benchmarks from Speedof.me and Ookla’s Speedtest.net.
To stress-test the service, I connect to a VPN server in Australia and then select an Ookla test server in Fairbanks, Alaska.
After performing several tests, I average the results and compare this to a baseline test without VPN, performed immediately after the VPN tests. Networks can be fickle things, after all.
According to Ookla’s benchmarks, VPN Unlimited increases latency by 355 percent, going from 135 milliseconds to 614.3 ms. While variations in latency probably won’t be noticeable to the average user, that’s still a significant increase. Hotspot Shield Elite had the least impact, with latency being 127.1 percent higher with that service.
Ookla also reported that download speeds were 31.26 percent lower with VPN Unlimited, going from 2.79 Mbps to 1.92 Mbps. Upload speeds were also 42.7 percent lower, dropping from 0.71Mbps to 0.41Mbps with VPN Unlimited. HideIPVPN had the least impact download performance, with speeds 7.38 percent lower. Meanwhile, TorVPN had the least impact on uploads, with speeds 27.1 percent lower.
But most people are going to use a VPN server close by, in order to reap the benefits of security and anonymization without dramatically degrading performance.
This test is identical to the Ookla test, except I connect to a US server and use the Speedof.me test, which automatically detects the nearest server.
When VPN Unlimited is active, I found latency was 102 percent higher, going from 32.6ms to 66ms.
That’s a pretty significant increase; TotalVPN, for example, registers only a 10.5-percent increase.
Using local servers, I found download speeds are 5.2 percent lower with VPN unlimited, dropping from 3.1Mbps to 2.93Mbps.
FrootVPN had the least impact on download speeds, although it had fewer servers to choose from. Upload speeds were worse off with VPN Unlimited, at 7.3 percent lower, going from 0.77Mbps to 0.72Mbps. NordVPN is far easier on uploads, reducing speeds by only 5.6 percent.
Benchmarks are useful, but they only tell part of the story.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that websites loaded fast, even media-heavy websites.
Videos even loaded in YouTube in 720p, which is very unusual when using any VPN.
That said, 4K video still took a very long time to load, and played back only in starts and stops.
Unlimited GloryWhen we test VPN services, we’re looking for speed, flexibility, and features.
VPN Unlimited does well in all three categories.
Its pricing scheme is low-cost at the usual monthly subscription cycle, and with subscription periods as short as one week, VPN Unlimited can be available whenever you need it.
Its speed test results are solid, especially in the US, and most users will barely notice it’s running.
Add to that P2P support, a well-designed client, specific streaming servers, and other advanced features, and you’re looking at an all-around winner.
For all of this, VPN Unlimited earns a top score, along with our Editors’ Choice award.
It shares this glorious honor with NordVPN and Private Internet Access.