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8 best free VPN services for safe browsing

How does one balance online security, performance and anonymity issues in today’s digital era? No solution can guarantee 100% confidence, although one of the options is a VPN. We took a 2-week dive into the world of virtual private networks, free and paid, to select best free VPN services.

As with any other free products, there’s no way around certain trade-offs to free VPNs. It may slow down one’s device, it may be full of ads, it may sell data to 3rd parties. Though, whether one wants to stay anonymous or secure an out-of-office wi-fi connection, you know what you’re getting into.

Benefits of VPN

This technology establishes a secure, i.e. encrypted, connection while using Internet. 2 common types of VPN are remote access (via public infrastructure, for remote users secure connection) and site-to-site (via a gateway device, for connection between specific networks in specific locations). Why do people use VPN?

  • It hides and/or changes an IP address
  • Encrypts sensitive data transfers (e.g. when using public wi-fi)
  • It hides user’s location / Connects to Internet from a country of choice
  • Grants access to websites not available in certain areas or blocked by governments
  • It hides user’s browsing activity
  • Costs less than a real private network for company’s employees

Best Free VPN services (Win/Mac/mobile)

Reviews of all the following VPNs were conducted on Acer Aspire laptop, with Windows 7 64-bit system, 3 GB RAM. All eight were downloaded as .exe files, installed and run for two days each. Let’s also stress one more time that we only tested free VPN versions. The following is the list of best free VPN in no particular order.

Windscribe VPN

best free vpn, windscribe

Windscribe grants its users 10GB data cap per month, which is astounding when comparing to any other free VPNs. That amount of traffic is more than enough for casual web browsing. In addition, it does not restrict the speed of free service and (!) it does not keep session logs. The latter is great for cases, say, when you use torrents and want protection. The only record is the data amount by free accounts.

Free Windscribe version features:

Bandwidth limit 10GB per month
Platforms Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry
Number of servers 100
Server locations (in free version) 15
Number of supported devices 1
Ads / Promotions No
Paid subscription $9 monthly

There are two Windscribe components: a desktop VPN app and a browser extension. The extension for browsers (Chrome, Opera, Firefox) is a “lite” VPN client, blocking other apps from using your ISP, ads, social widgets (e.g. Facebook “like” buttons, Twitter badges). It also renews browser’s user identity every time a browser is started, thus double-hiding online fingerprints and activities.

In Settings, one has plenty of adjustment options – from launch, notifications and Firewall, to connection mode (auto/manual), Proxy, view/send log.

Pros:

  • no registration required
  • logs for debugging
  • different versions of a client VPN
  • driver selection available
  • lots of traffic

Cons:

  • low speeds at times
  • frequent interruptions
  • unable to connect to some locations

Note: when you sign up for a desktop app and do not enter email address, you get monthly data amount reduction to 2GB. A user will see how much of it is left at all times on the main dash.

Speedify VPN

best free vpns, speedify

With Speedify VPN users are able to mask an IP address, change location, secure the connection. Free version does not require an account registration, although if one would wish to tweak some settings or upgrade it would be otherwise. As a nice bonus to basic functionality, Speedify offers additional features: setting connection priorities, redundant mode (for streaming, gaming, etc.), speed optimization.

Free Speedify version features:

Bandwidth limit 1GB per month
Platforms Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Number of servers 1,000
Server locations (in free version) 28
Number of supported devices 1
Ads / Promotions Yes
Paid subscription $9 monthly

For enterprise-level use Speedify also has some developer tools, including SDK, API, cloud, dedicated servers, as well as custom programs upon request. Concerning disadvantages to this VPN, there are several. Firstly, issues with installation connected to Windows updates, and initial setup screen might not appear in a language of your region. Secondly, while interface is undeniably awesome in a desktop app (showing networks, internet speed, data flow), strangely we found no browser extension.

Pros:

  • 28 locations
  • iOS 12 compatible
  • splitting networks
  • test speed feature
  • no session logs

Cons:

  • no browser extension
  • hard installation
  • default menu in Russian
  • affecting PC performance
  • only 1 device, even in $5 starter plan
  • users’ IP addresses collection

Hide.me VPN

free vpn software, Hide.me

Fast, easy and reliable, free version of Hide.me gives a user 2GB monthly cap to use, with 500MB daily limit. It is truly super-light and installation takes literally seconds – that was a real surprise when comparing to other VPNs. Of course, free service has its limitations, one of them being only three locations (Netherlands, Canada, Singapore) available.

This service does not log user information and does not pass it to other parties, and there are no ads besides Hide.me own promotion popups. There are also some “smart” features like split tunneling (assigning certain apps to use VPN), killswitch (to block the connection when interrupted), auto server (picking the fastest location).  

Free Hide.me version features:

Bandwidth limit 2GB per month / 500 MB per day
Platforms Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Number of servers 150
Server locations (in free version) 3
Number of supported devices 1
Ads / Promotions Yes
Paid subscription $5 monthly

A dozen languages in settings to choose from. Simple neat interface with plenty of options in Settings. You can tweak settings for the app, network, protocols, split tunneling, killswitch, connection logs.

free vpn download

It also has instructions on how to set up manual connections for routers, how to use protocols such as IKEv2/IPsec, IKEv1/IPsec, OpenVPN, SSTP, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, etc. Summarizing it all, we should day we didn’t experience any disconnections during numerous hours in use during our test.

Pros:

  • great design/UX, little of ads
  • manual DNS setup avaliable
  • manual protocol setup available
  • smooth instalation
  • plenty of extra features

Cons:

  • only three countries and one device in free version
  • almost 60% loss of speed
  • VPN is often slow to start in a browser

Hotspot Shield VPN

free vpn for pc

One of the most popular VPNs around, Hotspot Shield offers 15GB monthly traffic cap, on 500MB per user per day condition. Once you exceed that cap today, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow, there’s no possibility to use a monthly cap however you like. It, actually, is the first warning sign with HS. Unfortunately, while being a fine VPN service, the vendor makes all possible efforts to get users to pay (well, we all need to put food on a table).

From the first screen after setup, one seems to have the only option of starting the 7-day free trial and nothing else. However, try another angle of vision or look closer to the screen, and you’ll be able to find a small gray back-arrow in the upper left. By clicking it we access the free interface. It is pretty plain with nothing excessive – just click Connect. A user then sees the location (USA), data usage, virtual IP address and settings.

Free Hotspot Shield version features:

Bandwidth limit 500MB daily / 15GB per month
Platforms Mac, Windows, iOS, Android
Number of servers 2000 (all in USA)
Server locations (in free version) 25
Number of supported devices 5
Ads / Promotions Yes
Paid subscription $9 monthly

Now, to drawbacks. With installation there might be issues in regards with user’s device configuration – in our case Microsoft .NET Framework had to be upgraded, which took 15 whole minutes. Then, installation itself was quite lengthy. The other setback is that free version is essentially impossible to use. Only 7-day trial for free, plus all features that matter are paid: connect from another country – go Premium, use over 500 MB per day – go Premium, faster performance – go Premium.

top free vpn services

Finally, there are questions in relation to private data. HS collects “aggregate” data on websites and apps that  users visit. They claim to do so in order to place ads, gather analytics and improve the service. With all of the above in mind, we decided to also check HS browser extension. Hotspot Shield Chrome addon turned out to be a great free tool. Besides access-blocked-sites functionality, it offers extra goods, like ad/malware/cookie blocker or local network bypass.

Pros:

  • lots of bandwidth
  • nice design, plenty of settings
  • download/upload display
  • plenty of extra features

Cons:

  • 1-day wait in case of limit exceeding
  • too much pushing towards buying a subscription
  • issues with installation
  • only US-based servers
  • unclear privacy policy

ProtonVPN

best free vpn for windows, proton vpn

With flawless reputation and track record, unlimited data and strong privacy policy ProtonVPN is truly one of the best free VPN services. It is a provider from Switzerland where effective privacy laws are in play, and in addition the country is outside of EU/US jurisdiction. And that’s one of the biggest benefits of Proton – they do not track users’ activities, do not log any session, do not disclose any information.

Another huge bonus is no limit on data usage – something that no other free VPN has. And this is real, the only VPN without bandwidth limitations. This totally trumps free version restrictions such as 1 device only and 3 locations to use. And of course, speed is lower, which is we also experienced when trying out various locations, and it also slowed down other apps on a laptop.

Free ProtonVPN version features:

Bandwidth limit Unlimited
Platforms Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Number of servers 270
Server locations (in free version) 3
Number of supported devices 1
Ads / Promotions No
Paid subscription $8 monthly

When signing up for a free account, there was an issue with email verification, so it was also an opportunity to test ProtonVPN support. We wrote in a live help chat on a website and they’ve sent us direct invitation to email to create an account right away. Good stuff. Interface and design, performance, usability is nothing to complain about.

protonVPN review

Overall, a great VPN, where free version is very generous and close to paid one. When a user is ready to get a subscription, $4 basic or $8 best offer with full features is totally worth it.

Pros:

  • Swiss jurisdiction
  • traffic unlimited
  • nice design, no ads, lots of settings
  • 7-days of Pro trial
  • detailed support/guide materials

Cons:

  • only 3 countries avaliable
  • 50% device speed loss
  • high resourses consumption

SurfEasy VPN

free VPN chrome

To try a free version, one has to create an account by entering email address and a password. Then choose the installation file for a specific device from a web dashboard. SurfEasy is VPN from Canada allowing five devices at the same time within 600 MB monthly limit. This would be good for occasional use, and frankly, that use won’t be so user-friendly. Performance, anonymity, security is solid, though usability is terrible.

Free SurfEasy version features:

Bandwidth limit 600MB per month
Platforms Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Amazon
Number of servers 500
Server locations (in free version) 28
Number of supported devices 5
Ads / Promotions No
Paid subscription $12 monthly

On one hand, features like no-log policy, high-end encryption, ad blocker, positive uptime are all great – on paper. On the other hand, poor usability and design, lagging outweigh all the positives. For instance, installation resulted in some grey hair for sure, we found no possibility to change the app menu language, connection speeds were too slow.  

vpn download

In all honesty, we decided to review this VPN as many users seem to recommend it, but SurfEasy ain’t easy. Hint: maybe it has something to do with Opera browser?

Pros:

  • 5 devices support
  • plenty of locations/servers, good traffic, no ads
  • rewards program

Cons:

  • terrible usability
  • slow speeds
  • inaccurate data tracker
  • troubles with installation

PrivateTunnel VPN

free vpn client

Powered by OpenVPN, a US tech company producing open source software, this VPN is actually free only for 7 days as a trial. After that you either sign up and pay or leave. Right away, for the first time use after download and installation one has to sign up with email and password. Yet, free period has its perks, compared to other services: multi-user account or up to three devices use, 23 countries to choose from, data cap per session.  

Free PrivateTunnel version features:

Bandwidth limit 200MB per one session
Platforms Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Amazon
Number of servers 50
Server locations (in free version) 23
Number of supported devices 2
Ads / Promotions Yes
Paid subscription $6 monthly

PrivateTunnel covers key platforms like Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, although there are no browser extensions. Another not so pleasant drawback is that not only free trial is limited but even a paid subscription, as it seems. Paying customers reaching 200 Mb limit per session have to spend extra to use more data. Pretty strange model, losing out to competitors.

In regards to user data privacy, PT collects email addresses, phone numbers and credit card information from registered users. They claim to use it only for improving the service and not to disclose it to outside parties, except OpenVPN. All in all, this VPN performs solidly, has a simple interface and a bunch of locations. It is a good service to give it a try.  

Pros:

  • stable connection
  • plain design, many locations to select
  • “My portal” feature for user account on the web
  • part of OpenVPN

Cons:   

  • only 7 days trial for free
  • limited data cap
  • no browser extension
  • extensive gathering of user data

TunnelBear VPN

download a vpn

Very eye-catching top-notch design VPN with free version and paid subscriptions with only 500MB monthly data limit for free. This could be enough though, for casual use, email check, etc. Otherwise it is great – nice interface, big world map with countries as honey, data amount in the corner.

With 20 locations available to choose from, there’s also a “GhostBear” setting that also hides user’s activity of using VPN. You can also add a network to a list of “trusted networks” so it won’t hide it next time. Oh, and one more thing – you will need to create an account to start using TunnelBear.

Free TunnelBear version features:

Bandwidth limit 500MB per month
Platforms Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Number of servers 1700
Server locations (in free version) 22
Number of supported devices 1
Ads / Promotions No
Paid subscription $5 monthly

On the other hand, this free VPN has serious drawbacks. Installation wasn’t that easy and quick as promoted, and connections to various locations we’ve tried were desperately slow. Plus, there’s a grey area concerning company’s origin – claiming to be from Toronto, Canada, then rumors about acquisition by US antivirus McAfee, while system notifications received in Russian language.

best free vpn download

Pros:

  • nice design, no ads
  • “Ghostbear” feature
  • VPN for all platforms & browsers
  • ad blocker for Chrome
  • “Team wi-fi” feature to cover all company’s devices

Cons:

  • very very slow connections
  • too many interruptions
  • suspicious / unclear privacy policy
  • hard to install
  • unable to connect to some locations

Verdict: skilled in web-design, humor and internet swag, but less so in actual VPN.

Summary table

To finalize our review, the table with core parameters of those 8 free VPNs is due. Note: reminding once again, all the data below concerns free versions only, that often are lower than their public promotions, but fair to our topic.  

Windscribe Speedify Hide.me Hotspot Shield Proton
VPN
SurfEasy Private
Tunnel
Tunnel
Bear
# of servers 100 1000 150 2500 270 500 50 1700
# of locations 15 28 3 1 3 28 23 22
# of devices 1 1 1 5 1 5 3 5
Data cap 10 GB monthly 5 GB
monthly
2 GB monthly 500 MB daily Unlimited 600 MB monthly 200 MB
per session
500 MB monthly
Performance
rating (0-10)
8 7 8 2 8 6 7 1
Usability
(0-10)
8 8 9 3 8 5 8 9
Desktop/Mobile +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+
Privacy policy
(0-10)
10 6 9 5 10 5 9 3
Windows/MAC/
Linux
+/+/+ +/+/- +/+/- +/+/- +/+/+ +/+/- +/+/- +/+/-
Android/iOS +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+ +/+
Ads + + + + +
Paid subscription, monthly $9 $9 $5 $6 $8 $12 $6 $5
Encryption type AES 256
SHA512
4096 RSA
AES 256 AES 256 AES
28/256
AES 256
SHA256
2048 RSA
AES 256 AES 256 AES 256
Log in before use + + +
P2P + + +
Killswitch + + + + +
Customer
feedback (0-10)
8 5 8 7 7 5 5 4

In conclusion

Surely, with totally free VPNs there’s a significant risk of private data leaks, loss of bandwidth or unwanted ads. Providers listed and reviewed above are a relevant alternative, where users may install free versions by trusted names. All have limitations in data and/or speed, but at least you know what you pay for (or not in this case) to secure your online activities.

Certainly, not all networks out from those eight we would rank as the best free VPN. In our own humble rating the top-3 by far are Windscribe, ProtonVPN and Hide.me.

2 sharings

5 comments

anonymous-browser
14:14
05.10.2018

PureVPN is also good when it comes to streaming and security. I plan to stream UFC 229 live using purevpn

Martin Mastrix
12:22
03.10.2018

I also don’t get people who are trying to save cash on something that should provide a decent security service for their personal privacy. I don’t think you’d trust a free security guard watching your door, you’d be asking why is he doing this for free, right? Same with VPN providers. I pay for my NordVPN subscription and at least I know where they get their money from. That’s a business and business doesn’t work without any income. They must be doing something fishy if they provide their service for free. Selling your data? Working with government? I don’t know, but these questions are there to be answered.

Nick Boyle
16:52
01.10.2018

It’s a bad idea to use free vpn because you never know they would store your logs. Usually free vpns do not have any credibility. I prefer to use PureVPN and get their dedicated IP VPN for better security and stable connection and location everytime I connect.

Torsten Zimmer
08:51
25.09.2018

Nice list, but some facts were incorrect, especially when it comes to no-logs policy of some of your picks. All providers write “no-logs” on the front page now, that’s why you need to read their terms of service and privacy policy. Though I guess to expect absolutely no logs from a free provider is quite unrealistic. I had accounts with few of these but after more and more leaks coming from such big websites as Facebook I got worried enough to decide that few bucks a month is fair deal as long as you pick a good provider. I did spent 1 week longer than you did. We were picking between Surfshark, TunnelBear and hide.me in the end. I decided on getting Surfshark as it gave the best speeds in our network and gave access to restricted streaming sites. Hide.me was quite good but had undisclosed bandwidth limitations. My brother really liked TunnelBear, but I wanted to avoid NSA supporting jurisdictions.

    ThinkMobiles Team
    10:17
    25.09.2018

    Thanks for real input, Torsten. 1, total and honest no-logs is unrealistic, you’re right. 2, did your TunnelBear work well? because we’ve tried it on 2 devices, and on one the connection speed was unbearably lagging, on second it slowed other processes. 3, Maybe we’ll have to look into SurfShark as well ).