Encrypt.me

Encrypt.me is the new name for StackPath's popular and easy-to-use Cloak VPN.

There's a shiny new logo and an improved look and feel, but Encrypt.me makes solid practical improvements, too. The service now offers more than 20 locations around the world, the Android app is out of beta, there's an initial Windows app available, and you can also download updated clients for iOS and Mac.

Encrypt.me's main focus is on simplicity. It watches your activities, and automatically connects to the fastest VPN location whenever you access an insecure network. Users don't need to understand any of the underlying technical details: it just works.

If you need a new location, choose it from a list, and connect – it's simple. There are servers strategically positioned around North America and Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, Nigeria and South Africa. It's not the largest selection of cities, but they're spread more widely than you'll usually see elsewhere.

If you're a VPN expert and would like to know more about the underlying technology, Encrypt.me has some very in-depth information on its website. The page is getting a little out-of-date – it still talks about only supporting OS X and iOS – but there's still plenty of interesting detail for experts to explore.

The service doesn't support torrents, but that sometimes has its advantages. It means less users hogging large amounts of bandwidth for themselves, and maybe there will be more left for you.

Prices are very reasonable, and there's a lot of flexibility. $4 (£3.20) gets you unlimited data for a week, for instance, while $10 (£8) covers you for a month, dropping to an effective $8.33 (£6.70) if you pay annually. Each plan supports connecting as many devices as you need for your own personal use.

Encrypt.me's real bargain is probably its Family Plan, which covers up to five family members for only $12.50 (£10) a month, paid annually. Every user gets unlimited data and can use an unlimited number of devices, cutting costs to as little as $2.50 (£2) each. Now that's impressive.

Privacy

Finding out what a VPN provider does with your data can be a struggle. We often plough through thousands of words of small print, FAQs, support pages and more, and we still don’t come up with any real answers. But Encrypt.me does things differently, with perhaps the clearest and most detailed privacy policy we've ever seen.

Headings are simple, with no complicated legalese. Individual sections are short, typically under 100 words, so they're not intimidating to read. And the content is precise and detailed, telling you exactly what you want to know.

Take logging, for example. The company explains that although it doesn't monitor where you're going online, a record is maintained of your last 16 days of session data: the incoming IP address, the virtual IP, the bytes sent and received, the time you're connected, and the source port of each outgoing connection, with start and end times. (The last one records the existence of a connection, but not where it's going.)

Why? The company says it allows them to respond to complaints. If someone's used Encrypt.me to send spam and hack a system, having session records enable them to find the offender, pass along the complaint to them, or maybe take some further action (not ‘call the police’, more like ‘terminate the account’) if the offense is serious.

The real-world privacy impact of this is relatively small. If you are doing something dubious, and someone detects that, and they can get a legally enforceable court order demanding records, and that's delivered to Encrypt.me in the 16-day window before the data is deleted, they may be able to link the original connection to your account (this still only shows that you accessed an internet resource, not any detail of what you did). Otherwise it's business as usual.

This isn't an ideal situation. More records are never a good thing, and a few VPNs say they don't keep session data at all (Mullvad, IVPN). But it's unlikely to affect many people, and we have to applaud Encrypt.me's transparency in explaining what it’s doing and why (get the full story in this blog post). We suspect many providers do something very similar, too. They just don't tell you about it.

The rest of the privacy policy is straightforward. The company uses Google Analytics on its website, collects your email address when you sign up, and stores your billing information with a separate company. Again, not ideal, but much the same as most other VPN providers.

Performance

Getting started with Encrypt.me is unusually easy. There's a generous 14-day trial with no credit card details required, and all you need to do is provide an email address, choose a password and install the app.

By default Encrypt.me runs in the background, monitoring your network activity. If you connect to Ethernet or password-protected Wi-Fi networks, it does nothing. Access an insecure Wi-Fi system, though, and the service kicks in immediately, by default connecting you to the fastest location.

A 'Transporter' feature enables selecting a new default location in a couple of clicks.

There are a few configuration options. If you want the VPN to protect you on all networks, clear a few checkboxes and that's exactly what it will do. You can also create a whitelist of trusted networks where Encrypt.me won't be required. Whatever rules you create will then be followed automatically.

Encrypt.me's original Mac and iOS clients are simple and straightforward. Would the new Windows beta client match up? We grabbed a copy to take a look, and quickly got our answer: no.

The app opens with a tiny status window. We tapped 'Secure my connection', and noticed the app told us it was connecting to our current wireless network, rather than its preferred VPN location. It doesn't provide any information on the new location or IP address, and if you close the app window, there's no desktop notification to tell you whether you're connected, or not.

Right-clicking the icon gives you a 'Transporter' menu with a list of VPN locations. This should be simple, but for some reason the app doesn't display the locations in any sensible order. The first 19 are arranged alphabetically, but then it's Sweden, Poland, Norway, USA, Spain, another USA location – you get the idea.

Suppose you've connected anyway, but want to change locations. In theory you can right-click the icon, select Transporter, choose your country and Encrypt.me will connect for you. But in practice, if it can't reach your chosen server, Encrypt.me drops the connection, and doesn't even display a desktop notification as a warning. Your identity is left completely unprotected, and you may not even notice.

We also found Encrypt.me sometimes disabled our network connection and left us with no internet connectivity at all. We could fix this easily by re-launching the program, connecting and disconnecting again, but none of that should be necessary.

While this is very poor, it's important to keep things in perspective. The Windows client is still a beta, it will doubtless be better soon – maybe by the time you read this – and the other clients (macOS, iOS, Android) are much more professional. So you’d hope the Windows effort will eventually match these standards.

We moved on to our speed tests*, and found results were variable. UK and near European servers gave us an excellent 30 to 35Mbps, often with very little change in latency. UK-US download speeds were relatively poor at 10 to 20 Mbps, with some servers regularly failing to connect. But long-distance locations were better than we expected, including a consistent 10Mbps from the UK to Australia.

Whatever its other issues, our leak tests showed Encrypt.me's software does an excellent privacy-preserving job. There were no DNS or WebRTC leaks to compromise our identity, and our browsing was protected at all times.

Final verdict

Encrypt.me is easy-to-use and can work well for undemanding users. But issues relating to performance, the poor Windows client and the difficulty of reaching some locations make it hard to fully recommend.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.

Mike Williams
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