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Courtesy of Betternet
It’s entirely free to use
There’s no sign-up process
Unlimited data allowance
Simple user interface for newcomers
Support for most operating systems
Slow service at times
No Netflix support
Not great for torrenting
Limited options for advanced users
No kill-switch feature
Betternet is a free VPN proxy that’s convenient but it’s not aimed at avid downloaders or streamers.
Canadian-based VPN service provider, Betternet is one of the less well-known names in the field. Established in 2015, its strongest selling point is that it's entirely free, albeit ad-supported and with a premium subscription plan also available.
We tested Betternet extensively to see what it offers, how well it performs with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as how fast it was to browse through, and how secure it is. It's clear that you get what you pay for, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some benefits to using Betternet.
At first, Betternet's client isn't the easiest of apps to use. It heavily pushes you into the direction of a premium subscription by placing an overlay advertising the service over the free part of the app. Far from intuitive, users may initially think that Betternet isn't actually free, but if you click the X in the top right corner, the sales pitch is hidden and you can get started with the Betternet VPN proxy.
Once you dispense with the advertisement, Betternet is very simple to use. Simply click the Connect button, and a smiley face emoji changes color to indicate that you're connected to a virtual server somewhere in the world. The free version doesn't allow you to choose your location although there is a suggestion that the app finds the optimal location for you. Elsewhere in the app, you can browse which servers are available for Premium subscribers, but there aren't any extensive options or statistics to browse here.
Betternet doesn't require any form of registration or account setup. Simply download the app and you're good to go with a free account. That makes it ideal for newcomers or people who are dabbling in VPN proxy clients, as you don't have to worry about handing over your personal details in exchange for an account. It's also ideal if you simply need a VPN for a brief amount of time rather than as a long term commitment.
Betternet's biggest selling point is that it doesn't require you to complete a sign-up process.
Betternet works with quite a number of different devices. There are separate apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, as well as an extension for Google Chrome. There's no support for Linux or other browsers like Firefox or Opera. Also, there's no router support at this time. All that seems like a reasonable trade-off for a free VPN service, however, as rarely do free products offer the same options as a paid subscription.
The free version of Betternet means you can't choose which server you connect to, and your service is limited to U.S. virtual servers only. This immediately makes speed a bit of an issue. Compared to other free VPNs, it's reasonable (and there are no bandwidth limits to contend with) but if you expect the download speeds of premium services like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, you'll be disappointed.
We found when browsing websites that there's a noticeable pause as websites load, although it's not hugely irritating in the long term. Similarly, downloading files can take a while compared to your usual ISP speeds with our average download speeds working out at about half their usual rate.
There are also reports that the service doesn’t work in China, although we haven’t been able to confirm this for ourselves.
It's not all bad news for Betternet though. We were pleasantly surprised to find that streaming videos through YouTube didn't seem noticeably slower than usual. There was little buffering to contend with and it was hard to tell the difference when the Betternet proxy was implemented.
If you're looking for a VPN proxy that Netflix doesn't detect, Betternet isn't it. While you can browse content on Netflix U.S., as soon as you try to stream any of it, the service detects that you're using a VPN. Similarly, Amazon Prime will let you watch its worldwide content but it won't highlight U.S.-based shows and movies to watch. That’s a shame as Betternet’s unlimited data allowance could have been perfect for avid streamers if the services worked with it.
However, Betternet's free service is ad-supported, which means you may see extra ads while browsing online. These are purported to be generic but if you're extra privacy-conscious, you may feel understandably uneasy about how things play out.
If privacy is everything for you, such mixed messages may leave you feeling a little uncertain about what to do. In theory, though, Betternet shouldn't ever possess enough information to hand over in the case of legal action (which is a possibility given its Canadian location).
Betternet uses a number of commonly used and secure protocols to keep your data safe. However, don't expect to be able to change many settings as it's mostly done in the background by Betternet. Also, there's inexplicably no kill switch feature, so if your VPN connection drops, your internet connection will remain steady rather than give you a heads up about being vulnerable.
Betternet's security features include:
Betternet won't release your details to anyone making a legal request, which is useful for avid torrenters. Nor does it block torrenting or other P2P file sharing. However, it's pretty slow compared to your regular internet connection. For a free VPN where you simply want to download files occasionally, the speed is there, but any time you find yourself wanting to download substantial amounts of data, you'll be frustrated by the limits in place.
The lack of a kill switch feature is also an issue here as no one wants their VPN connection to drop while they're downloading files. Still, the no data logs or the need for an account is certainly a welcome one.
Torrenting is pretty slow compared to your regular internet connection.
Betternet's greatest strength is its price tag, because it doesn't really have one. The free service is fine if your expectations are tempered accordingly. If you opt to subscribe to the premium service, it costs $11.99 per month after a seven-day free trial. For the price, you get more servers to choose from which inevitably means greater speed, but you still shouldn’t expect streaming services like Netflix to work alongside it.
Free VPN proxies are frequently a very mixed bag but the one closest to Betternet is Hotspot Shield Free.
Based in the U.S., it doesn't offer the flexibility of Betternet but it does offer better compatibility. Hotspot Shield Free restricts its users to a 500MB daily allowance via military-grade encryption methods. That means it's ideal if you want the strongest security but only for occasional browsing.
However, it will also work with Netflix streaming — not that you'll get far with the low daily allowance.
There are also issues with setting up Hotspot Shield Free. You need to sign up to a trial of the premium version before canceling it to revert to the free version. It's only a minor bit of hassle, but it does mean you have to hand over your card details to get anywhere.
For those keen to enjoy the most privacy, Betternet is the superior option, although neither is ideal for avid users.
Betternet is a prime example of "you get what you pay for." It's easy to use after initial setup issues, but its features are quite limited, and it's far from ideal for anything more than simple web browsing. However, if you need a VPN solely for dealing with public Wi-Fi or when accessing your online banking, it's appealing that Betternet requires no setup and has no data restriction limits.
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