There’s nothing wrong with trying before buying. Most times it’s just reasonable, especially about computer programs – considering how widespread the idea of open-source software is.
One should have a pretty good reason to start paying for something that, probably, has a free alternative. If you take pride in this sort of common sense, read on. Here we’ll look closely on how to properly test a free VPN service before investing in it.
Face the truth: there are few free VPNs
Sadly, that’s just it. Very few companies offer any VPN service with no charge, even among the most renowned brands. This may come as a surprise, since there are extremely advanced IT systems available for free, like the whole family of Linux. Logically, a VPN must be a costly establishment. Why?
The short answer is: the need to maintain and support a cluster of servers spread around the globe. They need to run smoothly 24/7. Your electricity bill is also paid monthly because there is extensive infrastructure working to sustain it. Having stated that, let’s carry on.
What are free VPNs like?
You might find some online services claiming they’re 100% free VPNs. Be very careful with them! Such statements are too good to be true. They might actually be unprotected proxies. Or worse, just pure scams, collectors of people’s private data, but rather not real VPNs.
Still, some of the VPN providers are kind enough to offer free versions of a premium service. Obviously, restrictions apply. Most are time-limited trials with smaller data amount or speed. Some subscription plans require payment in advance, but guarantee a full money-back within a given time if you’re not satisfied. A specific VPN type called residential VPN reduces costs, too, allowing a time-unlimited free edition. You may check tuxlerVPN as an example.
So let’s assume you’ve already found a free or a trial version of a paid VPN to check it out. Now it gets more tricky. Luckily, we’re here to help you.
Which questions should one ask about a VPN?
Here follows a short list of questions to help you recognize a reliable VPN service, starting from the most relevant ones.
What are the security measures?
Safety always comes first. Every VPN is, by definition, a cybersecurity tool. Encryption algorithms are crucial. Those mathematical procedures safeguard billions of data transfers around the globe, daily. If a free service calls itself a VPN, then it must necessarily apply all the appropriate security measures that a paid version would. This isn’t negotiable. Limiting one’s safety is just out of the question.
If you wish to learn the specifics, check the provider’s website. A trustworthy entity openly claims what sort of ciphering its product applies. The names of rock-solid and very popular ciphers are AES-128 (or AES-256 for military-grade security) for symmetric encryption. Some apps use the Blowfish algorithm as an alternative to AES, but it’s less popular. RSA-2048 is standard in asymmetric encryption.
Is the connection stable?
Security is important, but in order for VPN to work, it must… not stop working. As explained above, every provider must take good care of the servers to prevent any downtimes. Another task is to control the congestion so that all the users can get satisfying transfers. The free users shouldn’t get neglected in this aspect. You need to check for yourself if your connection doesn’t get cut off from time to time.
This brings about another security measure: a killswitch. In case the link to the VPN server drops, the app uses it to shut down your device’s Internet connection so that you don’t get exposed unexpectedly. So, any failure should be visible to you instantly, and that’s alright. The point is they should occur extremely rarely.
How do you feel about the VPN app?
Do you know the amount of frustration when you seriously thought about throwing the computer out of the window? Even the most safe and stable VPN service won’t be any good without a good user experience. The app should be straightforward to install and run. Most times it ought to hide itself conveniently in the system tray. It’s like having an addition to an ordinary Internet connection. You wouldn’t want to be forced to configure it manually every time you open a computer or unblock a smartphone!
There is one thing that’s more bugging than anything in the online world: intrusive ads. VPNs are capable of showing popups, system notifications and even opening chosen websites by themselves in the browser. It doesn’t matter if it advertises switching to the premium or anything else. If commercials of this kind are annoying for you in the free edition, you’re more likely to get frustrated and quit than be encouraged to start paying.
What is better about the premium version?
That should be stated clearly on the provider’s website. It obviously will urge you to pay, but it should be simply worth it. There are several aspects in which premiums tend to be better:
- unlimited transfer speed,
- more locations to choose from,
- removed ads,
- more frequent location changes are allowed.
There might be more perks, but remember the security standards mustn’t be lowered in the free edition, making it insecure.
Does the provider answer your questions?
So many question marks so far. Were the answers easy to find? A responsible vendor should be transparent, that is: honest in revealing any details you could be interested in. Most put them on the main website or in a FAQ section.
A resourceful blog with articles on technical details is a plus. So is an easily accessible contact to customer service. The general advice is: don’t trust a VPN you can’t learn anything about in advance.
What about the transfer speed?
How come that’s the last point? After all, it is often advertised as a crucial parameter of any online service. But both data amount and the transfer speed are easy to control by a VPN app. Putting a daily or monthly limit on how much you can download sounds obsolete, but restricting the data rate is more understandable.
See, people could easily exploit a VPN provider who offers both safe and fast connection for free, forever. It would go bankrupt within months! That’s why you can’t (and shouldn’t) have it both ways. People’s hard work is worth appreciating with money instead of demanding everything to be just given.
When testing a VPN, you’re entitled to receive decent service. It mustn’t lack in security, but time or speed limits are expected. The app should work smoothly and automatically in the background.
The vendor’s openness is crucial. You should be able to easily find the answers to all the questions from this article or more. Use our tips to find the best VPN for you and browse safe!