Best VPN services: Top picks for speed, price, privacy, and more
PCWorld|January 2022
There are a lot of VPN options out there; we’ll help you cut through the clutter.
IAN PAUL
Chances are you’re considering a virtual private network (VPN) service for its ability to safeguard your identity, location, and activities online. That’s an important task, so you want to consider your VPN options carefully. For instance, a VPN should keep your internet usage private and secure but not sacrifice too much speed. If anonymity is a concern, you need to know a VPN’s data collection policies. It also behooves you to know the number of servers and country locations a VPN offers, and what, if any, useful extras are part of the service.

Our in-depth VPN reviews cover all these issues and more, to help you choose the best VPN service for your needs. Whether your primary concern is anonymity, streaming your favorite shows from another country, speeds, or price, we have a number of picks for each category. Below those recommendations you can find information about how we test and what things to look for when choosing a VPN.

BEST VPN OVERALL: EXPRESSVPN

Price: $6.67 per month (fave.co/3FefN6R)

It’s hard to select the best overall VPN. Some services are weaker on privacy, but are significantly easier to use, with tons of features, while others could stand to have an interface redesign.

For many years we chose the best VPN based purely on privacy, but that is no longer the sole concern of most people when choosing a VPN. Privacy is important, to be sure, but so are performance, extra features, a wide country selection, and ease of use. ExpressVPN has it all, making it our top choice for VPNs. ExpressVPN is one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested, and it has a very easy-to-use app. Its servers are all diskless, running everything in RAM—a welcome practice that’s become fairly standard these days. ExpressVPN also has wide device support, as well as a smart DNS feature for set-top boxes, consoles, and more.

It’s not the cheapest VPN out there, but you do get solid value for the price, and the service is regularly bringing in third-party auditors to bolster its privacy credentials.

BEST VPN OVERALL RUNNER-UP: NORDVPN

Price: $3.29 per month (fave.co/32jDzQn)

If you like ExpressVPN’s speeds and features, but want something a little different, NordVPN is also an excellent choice. Nord is arguably more feature-filled than ExpressVPN, and the service is just one part of a larger suite of privacyand security-focused products. The desktop app is very easy to use, and offers a lot of different features, including access to the TOR network over VPN, multi-hop VPNs, and ad-tracker and malware blocking.

NordVPN has gone a long way to bolster user trust. After years of not being transparent, the company is now upfront about who’s running the show. It also undergoes third-party audits, carries out vendor assessments, and uses diskless servers.

FASTEST VPN: HOTSPOT SHIELD

Price: $12.99 per month (fave.co/3slwaL7)

While our pick for best overall VPN, ExpressVPN (fave.co/3pdBfDk), boasts above-average speeds, Hotspot Shield is on another level. No other service comes close to hitting the speeds we’ve seen with this service. This isn’t just a one-off occurrence either; Hotspot Shield has consistently been at the top with speeds that are 12 to 15 percentage points above the competition. In our tests, Hotspot Shield maintained around 67 percent of the base speed. That’s substantially faster than you’ll see with most VPN services—though your experience may vary.

On the downside, Hotspot Shield doesn’t allow for a way to pay anonymously, and its privacy policy may not sit well with some.

Still, Hotspot Shield has excellent speeds, its desktop application is very nice, and as a bonus it works with U.S. Netflix.

BEST VPN FOR PRIVACY: MULLVAD

Price: ¤5 (around $5.65) per month (fave.co/32eblXt)

As Hotspot Shield is to speeds, so Mullvad is to privacy and anonymity. We’ve never seen another VPN that actively resists knowing who you are the way Mullvad does. Mullvad doesn’t ask for your email address, name, or anything else. Instead it assigns a random account number that acts as your identifier and login. Mullvad accepts payments using standard methods such as credit cards and PayPal, but you can also mail your payment in cash to remain as private as possible. Mullvad has a no-logging policy and doesn’t collect any identifying metadata from your usage.

Mullvad is also fast, ranking within our top five for speeds. Though oddly we did find that on Windows, Mullvad’s OpenVPN configuration was actually faster than its Wireguard implementation.

BEST VPN FOR PRIVACY RUNNER-UP: IVPN

Price: $6 per month (fave.co/3sq9ZU7)

Coming in behind Mullvad is IVPN. This Gibraltar-based VPN recently moved to dumping email-based identifiers and going with randomly assigned account numbers instead. Similar to Mullvad, it accepts a variety of payment options for privacy, including cash, as well as the standard credit cards, PayPal, and other options like Bitcoin and Monero. IVPN doesn’t rank as one of our fastest VPNs, but it does have acceptable speeds for most casual uses.

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