Review: Consider VPN services for hotspot protection

We review 7 low-cost VPN services for when you’re out of the office or out of the country.

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StrongVPN

StrongVPN has simplified its pricing scheme since it was originally reviewed. For example,  previously you had to choose between three levels of service with varying amounts of countries supported and each offered in a few different flavors and license lengths. 

Currently, however, it is offered as a one-year subscription for $5.83 per month, or as a monthly subscription for $10 per month. In addition to standard credit cards, they accept PayPal, Bitcoin, and Alipay. They offer a five-day money back guarantee.

We evaluated version 1.5.1 of the StrongVPN Windows client. The notification icon in the system tray of Windows is red when not connected to the VPN service and green when connected. You can right-click the icon to quickly connect or disconnect, or to access the properties or advanced settings.

After opening the application and signing in, you’ll find a relatively small window where you can choose the server location and connection method: UDP, TCP, or proxy. You can click the Change Location button to access a wizard to help find the fastest servers, and if you’ve chosen a subscription that supports both OpenVPN or PPTP, you can find a server that supports the protocol you prefer.

From the main window, you can click the Advanced button to access advanced stats, settings, and properties. The first tab, Information, gives you details on your StrongVPN account and client version, main system specs, and connection stats. On the Options tab, you can fine-tune some performance-related settings. On the Log and Service tab you can view connection logs and OpenVPN details for troubleshooting purposes. On the Port List tab you can view and change the ports used by the client.

On the main windows of the StrongVPN Windows client, you’ll also find a Help button, which takes you to their website. The help and documentation is presented in FAQ format with step-by-step tutorials for setting up client programs as well as the native clients on many other operating systems and devices. However, we weren’t able to find full documentation on their client programs, listing and describing all the features and settings.

We also evaluated the Android-based StrongVPN client, version 1.3.4. Unlike many of the other services, the connection status isn’t shown in the Android status bar and notification drawer unless you’re connected.

Once you open the app and sign-in, you can access the main screen. On the top you see your account name with a shortcut to the Settings on the right. Below that, you see the currently selected VPN server and location. Then there’s a big connect/disconnect button. On the bottom-right of the screen is a Get Support button that takes you to the same help page on their website as from the Windows client.

On the Settings screen, you can view and change the server location, protocol, and other connection details. You can also specify if the client should automatically reconnect after reboots.

StrongVPN provides a web portal that’s more functional than most other VPN providers. In addition to accessing help tickets and billing information, you can view and change your server details. This includes your desired server location, ports, and credentials.

SurfEasy

SurfEasy offers a limited free edition or a full-featured seven-day money-back guarantee. You can sign up for the limited free edition, which they call Starter VPN, via the mobile app. It enables you to use up to 500MBs of data on your computers and mobile devices, but more data can be earned. For the Premium plan, pricing starts at $6.49 per month for one year or $11.99 per month; each covers up to five computers or mobile devices. They accept standard credit cards and PayPal. They don’t publicize business plans or volume discounts, but you can contact them directly for more information.

We evaluated version 3.4.470 of the SurfEasy Windows client. The notification icon in the system tray of Windows is red when not connected to the VPN service and green when connected. You can right-click the icon to quickly connect or disconnect, change the server location, enable/disable the AD tracker blocking that stops websites from keeping tabs on your browsing, and enable/disable the Wi-Fi security feature that can automatically connect you to the VPN after connecting to a unsecure Wi-Fi hotspot. A regular left click on the system tray icon will pop-up the main window of the Windows client.

After opening the application and signing in, you find the client is a fairly small and simple pop-up windows in the lower-right corner of Windows. In the upper-right corner of the window are two drop-down menus. The glob icon drops down a menu for you to select the server location country and then it will automatically choose the exact server location in that country. The gear icon drops down the same tool menu as when right-clicking the system tray icon.

Below the pop-up down menu icons in the upper-right of the Windows client is a toggle button to connect/disconnect from the SurfEasy VPN service. Then below that are two tabs, the first of which shows your current VPN server location when connected along with your public IP and status of the AD tracker blocking. The AD Tracker Blocking tab shows a graph of how many times the service has blocked AD trackers over the past 30 days.

From both the menus given when right-clicking the system tray and clicking the gear icon on the main client window, there’s help shortcuts you can utilize when troubleshooting. One shortcut leads to the support section of their website, which has a FAQ look and feel. Though there’s step-by-step guides on using their clients, we didn’t find full documentation listing and describing all the client features and settings.

We also evaluated Android client for SurfEasy, version 3.10.2. After signing-in, you see a map similar to that shown on the Windows client, showing the current VPN server location when connected along with your public IP and status of the AD tracker blocking. Instead of a tab showing the AD tracker blocking stats, the number blocked today is shown on the bottom and you can tap in that area to bring up a graph showing number blocked in the past 30 days.

Tapping the gear icon in the upper-left of the Android client, slides out the menu where you can connect/disconnect, change the server region, enable/disable the AD tracker blocking and Wi-Fi security features, and access the support website, again displaying the help in a FAQ format.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer—keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity providing a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs providing Wi-Fi site surveying and other IT services.

This story, "Review: Consider VPN services for hotspot protection" was originally published by Network World.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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