StrongVPN review | TechRadar

StrongVPN review | TechRadar



Today’s best StrongVPN price plan deals:

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 and Android, for instance, and setup guides for routers, Fire TV, Kodi and more. StrongVPN provides 950+ servers in 59 cities across 35 countries (that’s up from 46 cities in 26 countries only a year ago). You can connect via L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 and now even WireGuard, there’s 24/7 customer support 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 limited phone support (9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, CT) and the unusual ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously. We’d hazard a guess that’s more than you require, but it’s there if you need it.

The ‘What’s New’ list is a little short, with only a few changes since our last review. The Android app now supports IKEv2; StrongVPN shut down its Hong Kong servers following China’s introduction of new internet regulations on the region; and the app release notes have some vague talk about bug fixes and general improvements, but few details on exactly what this means.

At first glance, StrongVPN prices look a little above average at $10 a month billed monthly, dropping to $5.83 on the annual plan. Private Internet Access asks only $3.33 a month with a one-year subscription, and sign up for two years with Surfshark and you’ll pay only $2.49 a month for the first term.

StrongVPN now gives users 250GB of cloud storage from SugarSync when they sign up (Image credit: StrongVPN)

There’s an unusual bonus, though in the shape of 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. Although be sure to check out IPVanish, too – it also has a SugarSync bundle, though it’s fractionally more expensive ($10 billed monthly, $6.49 on the annual plan).

However, if cloud storage isn’t a priority, don’t be distracted by the marketing: focus instead on the core VPN features you need.

StrongVPN says it doesn’t keep logs on its users but fails to provide more details on what records it does keep (Image credit: StrongVPN)Privacy

StrongVPN’s privacy policy is a lengthy document, more than 2,300 words long, and if you’re looking to wade through the small print, there are four other documents to read.

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.

Unfortunately, there’s none of the extra detail you’ll often see elsewhere (the market-leading ExpressVPN, for example). 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? We’ve no idea.

Overall, StrongVPN’s core terms of service deliver essentially what you’d expect, with no logging of how you make use of the VPN. But the lack of detail makes us wonder whether there might be any lesser issues here. It’s also worth noting that the service is based in the US, so 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 more) 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.

We encountered some unfortunate technical hitches while signing up (Image credit: StrongVPN)Getting started

With no trial available, you must pay for at least a month of StrongVPN service before you can try the service (although there is a 30-day money-back guarantee).

We parted with our cash, but the site complained that there was a ‘problem with our order’, and we should click a link to deal with this right now.

And here we thought we were signing up for a VPN service (Image credit: StrongVPN)

What was the problem? The link didn’t say. Worse still, although it took us to a StrongVPN-branded page, this was on a web hosting URL (https://whm.reliablehosting.com/whmcs/clientarea.php). So, our payment at StrongVPN.com unexpectedly failed, and we were redirected to a different domain, and asked to go through the payment process again? There’s nothing dubious going on here – this really was our StrongVPN billing page – but it’s easy to see how users might be suspicious.

An email arrived explaining that billing had failed because ‘we don’t have your credit card details on file.’ That made no sense, as we’d tried to pay by PayPal, not card.

The email asked us to view and pay the invoice by clicking the link https://whm.reliablehosting.com/whmcs/viewinvoice.php?id=xxxxxx, which again looks odd. We followed the link, though, and this time successfully purchased a one-month plan. 

That wasn’t the end of our problems. When we manually switched back to our real web dashboard at strongvpn.com, an alert warned us that ‘if you are a OpenVPN SSL user and notice poor speeds, you should try to change your port to TCP connection.’ Switching to TCP rather than UDP typically cuts speeds rather than improve them, but as the alert included a ‘click here for more information’ link, we tried to follow it, but were presented with a ‘404 – page can’t be found’ error.

StrongVPN’s website could certainly use some work (Image credit: StrongVPN)

This article is supposed to be about the VPN, not StrongVPN’s website, but when we notice this many clumsy issues, they begin to raise red flags. If you’re trusting your most confidential information to a company, you’re entitled to expect more technical expertise and attention to detail than this.

Setup

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.

This is the user interface of StrongVPN’s Windows client (Image credit: StrongVPN)Apps

The Windows 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.

StrongVPN lets you choose your location from a list of servers (Image credit: StrongVPN)

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 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 keep 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.

The Windows app supports WireGuard and many other protocols (Image credit: StrongVPN)

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 the new 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 feature a similar interface to their desktop counterparts (Image credit: StrongVPN)Mobile apps

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, 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.

StrongVPN claims to work with many streaming sites and platforms (Image credit: StrongVPN)Netflix

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 UK servers.

Viewing US-only YouTube content is so easy that almost every VPN in the world can do it, but we tried it anyway, and sure enough, StrongVPN passed the test.

Netflix is the real measure of a VPN’s unblocking ability, of course, but StrongVPN managed that, too, allowing us to stream content from Netflix US and Japan (Canada, France and UK were all blocked, though).

The good news continued to the end of our unblocking tests, with StrongVPN allowing us to stream Disney+ content and watch US Amazon Prime Video while connected to StrongVPN’s US servers.

Ookla’s SpeedTest is one of the services we used to test StrongVPN’s performance (Image credit: Ookla)Performance

Our performance tests got off to a positive start, with our closest UK servers averaging 140-160Mbps when connecting from a local data center.

We also checked OpenVPN speeds from a US location via a very fast 600Mbps test line, but the results were relatively disappointing, with speeds approximately halving to around 60-80Mbps.

We’ve seen unusual US speed results from StrongVPN before. Average speeds ranged from 40-45Mbps to 210-220Mbps in our last review, for instance, and from a terrible 5Mbps to 130-215Mbps in the preceding tests. We’ve yet to pin down a cause, but occasionally overloaded servers are high on our list of likely candidates.

StrongVPN’s decent UK performance showed the service can deliver worthwhile speeds, though, and these first results were just the start. When we switched to the WireGuard protocol, StrongVPN’s UK performance increased to 190-330Mbps. That’s close to the speeds we saw from NordVPN’s NordLynx (although at 340-350Mbps, it was considerably more consistent.)

StrongVPN is capable of spectacular speeds, then, but you may see very different results depending who you are and how and when you use the service. Keep this in mind if you sign up, and run your own speed tests with different locations, at various times of day, to see how it works for you.

If you have 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.

Final verdict

StrongVPN doesn’t have many features, and our signup and performance issues were a concern. It’s great value if you’ll use the SugarSync cloud storage, though, and WireGuard support along with the ability to connect up to 12 devices simultaneously are also appealing. Worth checking out.

We’ve also highlighted the best VPN services of 2020

Compare the best overall VPN services spec-by-spec:

Everything – the #1 best VPN

Balance of options and ease of use

DownloadDisc

DownloadDisc

DownloadDisc

DownloadDisc


StrongVPN review | TechRadar

Post Comment