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, Android and Amazon Fire TV, for instance, a Chrome browser extension, and setup guides for routers, Fire TV, Kodi and more. StrongVPN provides 950+ P2P-friendly servers in 46 cities across 35+ countries. You can connect via L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 and now even WireGuard protocols, there’s 24/7 customer support via email plus live chat 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 a SmartDNS system to help unblock streaming services, and support for connecting up to 12 devices simultaneously. We’re guessing that’s more than most people need, but the capacity is there if you can figure out how to use it.
The ‘What’s New’ list is, well, a little short. As we write, the iOS app hasn’t been updated in more than a year, the last Android addition was an option to connect when your device starts (which should have been included already), and the StrongVPN blog has only five posts in the last five months, each about ‘routine server maintenance.’
Headline prices are low, but that’s mostly because there are some big introductory discounts, and they jump up later. Monthly billing costs $3.50 for the first month, for instance, $10 after that. The first year of the annual plan is a seriously cheap $2.33 a month, rising to $6.67 on renewal.
That’s not the end of the story, though. The annual plan also includes 250GB of SugarSync secure cloud storage, a service which costs $9.99 a month if you buy it direct.
We’re not going to attempt to review SugarSync here, but in our experience it works very well. Add files or folders to your account from the right-click menu of a Windows system, for instance, 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.
If you’ll use the SugarSync space, that looks like an excellent deal. However, if cloud storage isn’t a priority, don’t be distracted by the marketing: focus instead on the core VPN features you need.
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.
That’s a good start, but we wanted to know more. 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? The rest of the document doesn’t say, and instead mostly focuses on the website and more general privacy issues (GDPR and so forth), so we’ve really no idea.
Overall, StrongVPN is saying the right things, but without any of the detail which might help back it up. And that’s important with a service based in the US, which doesn’t have quite as much 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 others) 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.
With no trial available, you must pay for at least a month of StrongVPN before you can try the service (although there is a 30-day money-back guarantee).
That should have been simple, we thought, but apparently not. We logged into our account, tried to pay for a single month, and the site told us (without further explanation) that this had failed. There was no offer to immediately retry, or use another payment method; instead we were offered a link to pay the invoice manually.
Clicking the link then took us to a page showing the URL ‘https://whm.reliablehosting.com/whmcs/index.php’ in our address bar, though with a StrongVPN logo. This isn’t as dubious as it looks – WHMCS is the account management platform used by StrongVPN – but a novice user might easily assume the website was hacked, or there was some other kind of scam involved, and gone elsewhere.
As the https://whm.reliablehosting.com/whmcs/index.php version of the site was less than helpful – check the screenshot of it offering us domain registration – we manually pointed our browser at StrongVPN.com, logged into our account billing area and paid the invoice from there. It wasn’t difficult, but this isn’t the kind of hassle you expect from a professional company.
Once we finally reached StrongVPN’s own website, life got much easier.
A clear Setup page link presented us with buttons to download the Windows, Mac, iOS and Android apps.
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.
The Windows VPN 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.
A Search box speeds up the process of finding the locations you need, though. And you can opt to sort the list by city rather than country name, if you prefer.
The app is short on many of the convenient usability 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 tray 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 make 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.
Connection times are quick, too, from just a couple of seconds for IKEv2 and WireGuard. Desktop notifications keep you informed when the VPN connects and disconnects.
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, and there’s valuable troubleshooting help in a built-in connection log.
The client is short on some of the more advanced features we often see with other providers, 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 a previous review. If the connection drops, the client warns users with a desktop notification. And the switch now works properly for all protocols (including 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 are speedy, its OpenVPN setup uses the industry-standard AES-256-CBC encryption, IKEv2/L2TP/SSTP connections are set up using the most secure settings, and we found no DNS or WebRTC leaks.
StrongVPN’s mobile apps have a very similar interface to the desktop clients. Some elements are rearranged to fit the different form factor, but once you’ve used one, you’ll immediately be able to find your way around the others.
You don’t get quite as many options and settings, most significantly the lack of a kill switch (although you can still use Android’s system-level kill switch), but otherwise the apps generally perform well.
The Android app doesn’t support the L2TP or SSTP protocols, for instance, but you still get a choice of OpenVPN, IKEv2 or WireGuard; much better than many competitors. And these support all the low-level tweaks available on the desktop, including the OpenVPN port, UDP or TCP connections, and the Scramble option to bypass some VPN blocking.
There are one or two extras on the mobile apps, too, including a Split Tunnel option which enables choosing apps whose traffic you’d like to bypass the VPN.
Overall, then, StrongVPN’s mobile offerings are easy to use, handle the basics well, and do have some valuable extras. Well worth a look.
Netflix and streaming
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 six UK servers.
The company scored with Netflix, though, getting us access from all three of our test US locations.
The good news continued on the streaming front, with StrongVPN allowing us to watch Disney+ content from three further US locations. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the service unblocked Amazon Prime Video, too.
That’s a good performance, but a few vendors do better. In recent testing, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, Ivacy and NordVPN all unblocked 100% of our test platforms.
We checked StrongVPN speeds from a US location and a UK data center, each with fast 1Gbps connections, hoping to see just what the service could do.
After using StrongVPN’s Windows client to connect to our nearest location, we checked our download speed at least five times using performance-testing services like SpeedTest (the website and command line app), Netflix’s Fast.com and TestMy.net. We ran every test again using multiple protocols, and then repeated every test once more in an evening session.
US OpenVPN download speeds reached 190-220Mbps, which is acceptable but not leading-edge (ExpressVPN raced to 270-280Mbps, HideMyAss! hit 300-330Mbps).
US IKEv2 speeds jumped to 260-280Mbps, though. Only ExpressVPN’s 300-310Mbps beat that in recent testing.
But if you’re looking for real turbocharged performance, just turn on WireGuard. We saw speeds reach 590-600Mbps in the US, and 650-660Mbps in the UK. That’s a spectacular result, although we’ve seen marginally higher peak speeds from a handful of vendors, including NordVPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN and Hide.me.
If you don’t see these levels of performance on your system, or run into 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, and we found live chat got us speedy and helpful support when we needed it.
StrongVPN review: Final verdict
StrongVPN doesn’t have many features, and our signup issues are a concern. WireGuard connections are very fast, though, and the service looks like great value if you’ll use the SugarSync cloud storage. Worth checking out.
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