While free VPN service Betternet claims to provide a safe and secure experience, free VPNs have a habit of collecting your data, showing lots of ads and compromising your security.
That being said, Betternet claims that it doesn’t do any of that and instead protects your privacy and secures you better than any other free VPN service out there. Can it differentiate itself from the notoriety of other free VPNs?
Is Betternet a good choice for protecting your internet activities?
Launched in 2015, they have been growing rapidly. Being free sounds like a great price for users, but there are some catches.
Betternet makes its money using affiliate apps and videos displayed through their app. It clearly works, because Betternet is still going strong after 3 years. There’s also a premium version available that provides more locations, 24/7 support, and dedicated servers.
We’re going into detail here, so let’s get down to business in the actual review.
Logging Policy: Betternet doesn’t log anything
This means that they can’t share any information with the authorities, even if they receive something such as a DMCA notice.
Pricing: Pricing is surprisingly cheap when paid annually
Obviously, Betternet is free—this is the main attraction surrounding the VPN. In terms of their premium plans though, pricing is competitive:
A whole year will set you back just $36 or so; not bad at all.
It’s just a shame their service falls well short of the mark in most other areas (strap in for a rough ride, folks, it’s going to get bumpy).
Sign-Up Process: A simple painless process
Downloading and launching the Betternet app takes less than a minute and you can be online and browsing in next to no time. You don’t even have to create an account unless you want to purchase their premium plan.
It’s also very easy to use:
Just hit connect and off you go! Unfortunately, on the free plan at least, you have no choice to where you will be connecting–Betternet does it automatically. This can mean that you end up on a server that isn’t suitable for your needs.
Device compatibility: Standard device compatibility
Betternet offers compatibility with the following devices:
There are Android and iOS devices available for download through the Google Play Store and App Store. There’s no support for devices such as games consoles or dedicated router support, which is disappointing given that many more people are starting to use VPNs with such systems.
So, “every platform” doesn’t really mean every platform.
Encryption and Protocols: Ambiguous, but still strong
Betternet uses OpenVPN which is now the industry standard for VPNs. It stops people from spying on your connection and prevents your ISP from throttling your connection (though given how slow Betternet is, this isn’t a concern) and lots of other things. They also use IPSec, a different VPN protocol.
It’s not really clear when Betternet uses OpenVPN over IPSec, but it’s not much of an issue given that both are pretty secure protocols.
Support: It’s… okay
Betternet offers 24/7 customer support for premium members and tries to respond to non-premium members within a reasonable timescale. There’s no live chat option on the website which isn’t a deal breaker, but it’d be nice to see it.
Twitter seems to be a good place to get Betternet’s attention as they are often active on there. They do tend to redirect questions to customer support, however.
To put it simply, there are far worse examples of customer support out there. Still, this is definitely a neutral for us; no live chat is disappointing, and free users don’t see any support.
Product Documentation: Good enough for most users
All Betternet offers in the way of product documentation is a straightforward FAQs section on their website. For anything else, consult Google or customer support.
Servers & Locations: 10 locations
Although having lots of servers and locations available is great, it’s better to have quality and not simply quantity. That said, we don’t know how many servers Betternet has; as of now, they offer 10 country offerings, but don’t specify how many servers they offer.
With a premium membership, you can select and connect to each location yourself. If you aren’t a premium member, you’ll have to press the “Connect” button and use whatever is given to you.
This can mean that you end up connected to a server that isn’t suitable for you, and you won’t be able to do anything about it other than try and disconnect and re-connect in the hope that you are placed somewhere else. This is disappointing, really, because even the most basic VPNs offer the ability to switch between some servers.
Honestly, the lack of selection for us is a major con; and there it shall remain until Betternet improves its offering here.
Pretty Bad Speed and Overall Performance
When you use a VPN, you can’t expect the same speeds your ISP delivers when you are not connected to a VPN. All VPNs will, to some degree, slow down your download and upload speeds, but the better the VPN the less this happens.
Betternet delivers very slow speeds; however, it’s worth remembering we’re using a free service – it’s still slow, but we’re not paying anything, so we can cut them some slack. With the premium subscription you do get access to dedicated servers and can choose what servers to connect to, but we can’t imagine that this would make a huge difference to speed and performance (since they’re the same servers, as far as we’re aware).
Unfortunately, we could only manage to get connected to one location when testing Betternet. We have an internet connection of 100Mbps on average and this was the result:
That’s not great. Sorry Betternet, free or not, your speeds suck.
Netflix: Far too slow for Netflix
Which leads us nicely onto our next point; Betternet is way too slow for streaming. One of the main reasons why somebody would use a VPN if not for private browsing is so that they can access geo-blocked content that isn’t available in their home country.
For years, you could use any old VPN to access Netflix, but they have since wised up and now it’s getting a lot harder to find VPN servers that work with Netflix.
At the moment, all of Betternet’s servers have been blocked by Netflix so there is no way for you to access it with Betternet, unfortunately.
Torrenting: Far too slow for torrenting
Betternet does allow torrenting, however, it is far too slow for a serious torrent lover to use.
What’s more, Betternet has openly admitted that they will comply with a warrant or court order if served with one.
Payment Methods: No bitcoin, no cash
Your one choice is to pay via a credit or debit card.
No PayPal. No Bitcoin. No check. No cash. All payments are processed through the Betternet app itself rather than through their website.
We don’t see why, especially in today’s digital age, that VPN providers like Betternet aren’t taking crypto payments, especially when they can deliver a huge return on investment as values fluctuate. Not to mention how much more secure it is for customers to make a payment through Bitcoin rather than by divulging their credit card or PayPal information.
IP and DNS Leak Test: Uh-oh
Even for the best VPN, a leak can be fatal. Whether it’s a DNS leak or WebRTC leak, the end result is the same—your privacy and anonymity are put at great risk and this is something that should be a deal breaker if you are looking for complete privacy. They uncover your original IP address and the game is over.
We run tests on every VPN we review to uncover leaks. Betternet failed. Even failing one leak test is bad, so two really isn’t great.
- browserleaks.com – failed
- perfect-privacy.com/check-ip – failed
Kill Switch: Zilch, zero, nothing
A kill switch is something that you should always check for when looking for a VPN service.
To put it simply, a kill switch will protect you if your connection to a VPN drops. When this happens and there is no kill switch, your IP (and your identity) is at risk of being exposed, however, a kill switch completely kills your connection to a site and stops anything from leaking.
Unfortunately, Betternet has no kill switch, not even for premium members. This is disappointing.
The main draw to Betternet is the fact that it’s free, and although they offer good encryption and protocols, ease of use and competitive pricing, the free version of Betternet does nothing more than protect your IP address (and it doesn’t even do that well).
If you need a free VPN service though, there are worse examples out there than Betternet and so it’s a good solution for some people not too concerned with finding a premium experience.
Netflix doesn’t work and torrenting is, due to the slow speeds, virtually impossible. There’s no kill switch either, and this nullifies the strong encryption, and let’s not forget the leaks we detected.
They say you get what you pay for in this world, and this certainly rings true here.