VPNArea is a popular and well-established VPN run by the Bulgarian-based firm Offshore Security EOOD.
The service has a lengthy list of appealing features. It covers around 70 countries across the globe, has support for six simultaneous connections, P2P, a kill switch to protect your identity if the service fails, and a clear ‘no logs’ claim.
VPNArea claims to block DNS, WebRTC and even IPv6 privacy leaks. The company has its own DNS servers to help make this happen, too – it's not solely relying on third-party services like Google DNS or OpenDNS (although you can use those, too).
The company offers custom clients for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, which usually makes for easier setup (there's an in-depth look at the Windows client here). It also indicates a provider with some resources behind it, as opposed to just being some guy reselling servers from his bedroom.
Prices are reasonable at around $9.90 (£7.50) for a month, $8.33 (£6.20) a month if you pay for six months upfront, or $4.92 (£3.60) a month with an annual contract.
- Want to try VPNArea? Check out the website here
The company has a ‘dedicated IP’ option which provides your own private VPN server from $15 (£11) a year extra. A whole server? We suspect there's a catch somewhere, or maybe something has got lost in translation, but even if it's just a dedicated IP, that's a good price.
There's no trial, but VPNArea does offer a 7-day refund. This isn't automatic – you have to request it by sending an email – and as usual with VPNs, you're not covered if you've previously claimed a refund from the company. But otherwise there are no sneaky ‘can't have used more than x amount of bandwidth’-type exclusions, and VPNArea's website states "we have never refused a refund request", not a claim we remember seeing elsewhere.
Unusually, VPNArea plans don't auto-renew. This could be a hassle if you're with the company for a long time, as it means you must manually renew your plan at the end of each billing period. But it also means VPNArea won't keep taking money if you don't need the service, or just forget about it, and on balance we prefer that approach.
"We do not monitor, record or store logs for any single customer's VPN activity. We do not monitor, record or store any login dates, timestamps, incoming and outgoing IP addresses, bandwidth statistics or any other identifiable data of any VPN users using our VPN servers."
While this sounds comprehensive, we suspect it's not quite the full story. VPNArea limits users to a maximum of six simultaneous connections, for example, which means it has to monitor logins and associate them with accounts. Is this a critical issue? Almost certainly not. But we'd prefer VPN providers to spell out all these details, so that customers fully understand what's going on.
VPNArea's policy on disclosure of personal information is encouraging. Many other providers say they'll hand it over if they believe it to be a legal requirement, which could just mean they're persuaded by whoever is asking. VPNArea says it won't do anything until it gets a court order, and will "fight every legal request for compliance with the law". Although as the company also says it hasn't received any requests yet, it doesn't seem like much of a risk.
Elsewhere, VPNArea's strongest privacy plus is its signup form. While other companies often demand a physical address, and sometimes even your phone number, here you can get started with nothing more than your email.
While scouring the small print we also noticed that VPNArea allows account sharing with friends, family or colleagues, something explicitly forbidden by most providers. The company also says it recommends no more than two users connect at the same time, and although it probably won't accept both of you downloading torrents 24/7, this is still much more flexibility than you'll usually see elsewhere.
Choosing your VPNArea plan is unusually easy, as the company crams everything onto a single page: a comparison table for the various plans, the form for creating a user account, a choice of payment details (card, PayPal, Bitcoin), even a FAQ to clarify some important product issues.
This makes for a lot of vertical scrolling, but it's much better than some other providers, where you don't even get to see the demand to enter your phone number (or whatever) until you're several steps into the purchase process.
This mostly worked as expected, although we were disappointed to see there's no support for using symbols in passwords. It's surely not that difficult to implement, and not the kind of issue we'd expect from a security company.
After we'd paid, the website displayed a clear page with our username, registered email address, and a link to the Members Area where we could log in. Within seconds an excellent welcome email arrived with extra details including links to the main clients and advice on where we could go for support.
VPNArea's Windows client was easy to set up. A detailed guide explains every single step, as well as covering other key settings you might want to tweak.
The opening interface is much like many other VPN clients – just a simple list of servers. Use the Search box to find whatever you need, double-click a server to connect, or jump straight to one of your favorites from a list of recently used connections.
Some server names include keywords that tell you more about their function. 'USA-0-NFLX' should be able to connect to Netflix. 'UnitedKingdom-BBCiPlayer' gets you access to the BBC's streaming player. 'P2P' means – well, you get the idea.
Once you understand how the system works, this is straightforward to use. Type something like P2P in the search box to get an instant list of compatible servers, double-click your best option, and it's added to the Favorites list for instant recall later.
A Show Dashboard button switches to a far more complex interface, crammed with advanced features. You can view extra details on servers (IP address, protocol, port), check server load, run speed and download tests. There's a kill switch to protect your identity if the connection drops, an auto-IP changer, DNS leak protection and more.
The two interfaces aren't integrated, which seems confusing. You might build a list of favorites in the simple version, but that's not accessible in the dashboard, and switching back is awkward (we had to close the dashboard, then reopen VPNArea from the system tray icon). We like the simplicity of the first interface and the power of the second, but it should be easier to use them together.
Running performance tests* on VPNArea gave us mixed results. UK to UK connections managed a speedy 30Mbps with barely any drop in latency, Germany a reasonable 25Mbps, but France barely reached 5Mbps. It was a similar story in the US, where Los Angeles gave us 20Mbps and more, but some New York servers were closer to 5-10Mbps. This suggests you'll have to spend time learning which locations deliver the best speeds, although once you've done that, performance should be acceptable.
We completed our evaluation with some privacy tests, and these were more successful. VPNArea correctly shielded our identity at all times, blocking DNS and WebRTC leaks without any extra effort on our part.
It takes a while to find your way around VPNArea's client, and figure out which servers deliver the best performance. But if you can live with that, the service is worth a try, especially for experts who'll appreciate its many configuration options.
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*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.
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