You get what you pay for when it comes to Betternet’s service
Canadian-based VPN service provider Betternet is one of the lesser known names in the field. Established in 2015, its strongest selling point is that the basic service is entirely free, albeit ad-supported and with a premium subscription plan also available.
What We Like
- It’s entirely free to use
- There’s no sign-up process
- Free version has large data allowance
- Simple user interface for newcomers
- Support for most operating systems
What We Don’t Like
- Slow service at times
- No Netflix support
- Not great for torrenting
- Limited options for advanced users
- No kill-switch feature
We tested Betternet extensively to see what it offers, how well it performs with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as how fast it was to browse through, and how secure it is. It’s clear that you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some benefits to using Betternet.
Setup Process: Incredibly fast
Betternet doesn’t require any form of registration or account setup. Simply download the app and you’re good to go with a free account. That makes it ideal for newcomers or people who are new to VPN services, as you don’t have to worry about handing over your personal details in exchange for an account. It’s also ideal if you simply need a VPN for a brief amount of time rather than as a long term commitment.
Betternet’s biggest selling point is that it doesn’t require you to complete a sign-up process.
Design: A little confusing
At first, Betternet’s client isn’t the easiest of apps to use. It pushes you heavily toward a premium subscription by placing an overlay advertising the service over the free part of the app.
Far from intuitive or user-friendly, the advertisement overlay may fool some users into thinking that Betternet isn’t actually free, but you can click the X in the top right corner to hide the sales pitch and get started with the free VPN.
Once you dispense with the advertisement, Betternet is very simple to use. Simply click the Connect button, and a smiley face emoji changes color to indicate that you’re connected to a virtual server somewhere in the world.
The free version doesn’t allow you to choose your location, although there is an assurance that the app will automatically find the optimal location for you. Elsewhere in the app, you can browse which servers are available for premium subscribers, but there aren’t any extensive options or statistics to dig into.
Betternet works with quite a number of different devices. There are separate apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, as well as an extension for Google Chrome.
There’s no support for Linux or other browsers like Firefox or Opera. Also, there’s no router support at this time. All that seems like a reasonable trade-off for a free VPN service, however, as rarely do free products offer the same options as a paid subscription.
Performance: Patchy service unless you pay
The free version of Betternet prevents you from choosing which server you connect to, and your service is limited to US servers only. This immediately makes speed a bit of an issue. It isn’t out of line with other free VPNs, and the bandwidth caps are generous, but if you expect the download speeds of premium services like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, you’ll be disappointed.
We found when browsing websites that there’s a noticeable pause as websites load, although it’s not hugely irritating in the long term. Similarly, downloading files can take a while compared to your usual ISP speeds with our average download speeds working out at about half their usual rate.
The free version of Betternet prevents you from choosing which server you connect to, and your service is limited to US servers only.
There are also reports that the service doesn’t work in China, although we haven’t been able to confirm this for ourselves.
If you subscribe to the premium version of the service, the picture changes quite a bit. Betternet transformed from a sluggish VPN into one of the speediest that we have tested, with a maximum tested download speed of 321.68 Mbps, no observed packet loss, and very little jitter. With numbers like those, the premium version of Betternet is even suitable for most types of gaming.
Streaming: Limited options
If you’re looking for a VPN proxy that Netflix doesn’t detect, Betternet isn’t it. We were unable to stream anything on Netflix via any of the servers we tested in the US, United Kingdom, Japan, or elsewhere. Hulu and BBC iPlayer also detected the presence of a VPN, and Amazon Prime allowed us to watch some worldwide content without any US-based shows and movies.
Betternet provides plenty of speed to stream video, and we were able to watch video content on sites like YouTube and CNN, but you’ll have to switch this VPN off if you want to watch streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
Betternet’s biggest selling point is that it doesn’t require you to complete a sign-up process. You don’t need to register an e-mail address or provide any other details about yourself to use the service. Download the software, install it, and you’re ready to start surfing from behind a VPN.
The issue is that Betternet’s free service is ad-supported, which means you may see extra ads while browsing online. These are purported to be generic but if you’re extra privacy-conscious, this is definitely a point of concern.
If privacy is your number one concern, these mixed messages may leave you feeling a little uncertain about what to do. There is a clear trade off between privacy and cost, and premium VPN services will always provide a higher level of confidence.
Security Features: Reliable if basic security
Betternet uses a number of commonly used and secure encryption methods to keep your data safe, but their Catapult Hydra VPN protocol is entirely proprietary and opaque. They say it’s just as secure as OpenVPN, but there’s no way to verify that.
An additional concern is the inexplicable lack of a kill switch feature. That means your identity could be revealed if your connection to Betternet drops at the wrong time.
Betternet’s security features include:
- 128-bit encryption over IPSec: IPSec is an older form of protocol but it’s still fairly strong and secure. It’s good enough for the average user.
- 256-bit AES encryption over Catapult Hydra: A military-grade level of encryption, this is typical of many VPNs. It’s reassuring to see it in a free VPN client although there’s no indication of when Betternet uses this or when it favors IPSec.
- Auto-Connect: For Premium users, there’s an option to automatically turn Betternet on any time you access an insecure wireless hotspot. For most users, they’ll simply remember to do this manually.
Torrenting: It works, but slowly
Betternet doesn’t block P2P file sharing, and their logging policy is also geared toward maintaining privacy while torrenting. However, we found it to be pretty slow compared to torrenting over our regular internet connection.
For a free VPN where you simply want to download files occasionally, the speed is there, but any time you find yourself wanting to download substantial amounts of data, you’ll be frustrated by the limits in place.
The lack of a kill switch feature is also a huge issue, and we don’t recommend torrenting over any VPN that doesn’t have a kill switch. The issue here is that if you lose connection to Betternet while torrenting, your real IP address will be revealed to any seeds or peers that you are connected to at the time.
The lack of a kill switch feature is also a huge issue, and we don’t recommend torrenting over any VPN that doesn’t have a kill switch.
Ad Blocking: No ad blocker
Some VPN services include an ad blocker, which provides a nice extra level of security if the blocker is enacted at the DNS level. Since Betternet has no built-in ad blocker, you run the risk of invasive ad trackers gleaning some level of information about your system and connection.
Customer Service: Sluggish ticket system
Betternet offers customer support through a ticket system, and there is no option to speak to a live agent over the phone or through web chat. You are able to support your request for help through the ticket system, and then you have to wait.
If your experience is anything like ours, you should expect to wait a while for any kind of resolution. In our handful of interactions with support, it typically took between three and hour hours to receive a reply.
Price: Too expensive for the feature set
Betternet’s greatest strength is its price tag, because it doesn’t really have one. The free service is fine if your expectations are tempered accordingly. If you opt to subscribe to the premium service, it costs $12.99 per month after a seven-day free trial. For that price, you get more servers to choose from which inevitably means greater speed, but you still shouldn’t expect streaming services like Netflix to work just because you’re paying extra.
Competition: Betternet vs Hotspot Shield Free
Free VPN services vary widely in terms of connection speeds, server availability, and data caps, but Hotpot Shield Free is the competitor that comes the closest to matching Betternet in terms of features and usability. The similarities should come as no surprise, since both services are owned by AnchorFree.
Hotspot Shield and Betternet are both located in 5 Eyes countries, with Hotspot Shield in the United States and Betternet in Canada, and they both provide 500 MB of data per day to free users. They offer similar levels of encryption, and they both use AnchorFree’s proprietary Catapult Hydra technology.
The main difference is that Hotspot Shield’s servers are better at tricking Netflix and other streaming services. In our testing, we were able to access both Netflix and BBC iPlayer through Hotspot Shield.
The other big difference is that you have to sign up for a trial of the premium version of Hotspot Shield to get started, while Betternet allows you to jump right into their free version without providing any contact or billing information. It’s only a minor hassle, but it does mean you have to hand over your card details to get anywhere.
For those keen to enjoy the most privacy, Betternet is the superior option, although neither service is really ideal.
Pretty basic with a decent amount of restrictions.
Betternet is a prime example of “you get what you pay for.” It’s easy to use after initial setup issues, but its features are quite limited, and it’s far from ideal for anything more than simple web browsing. However, if you need a VPN solely for dealing with public Wi-Fi or when accessing your online banking, it’s appealing that Betternet requires no setup and has no data restriction limits.
- Product Name: Betternet
- Speed (Fastest Observed): 323.36 (Tested on a 1Gbps connection)
- Operating Systems: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS
- Devices: Six devices at a time
- Server Locations: 11 Countries
- Number of Servers: Unspecified
- Streaming: No
- Torrenting: Yes (No kill switch)
- Encryption: AES-256, Catapult Hydra (proprietary)
- Logging: Some data logging, no transparency reports
- Jurisdiction: Canada (owned by AnchorFree, a US-based company)