This VPN buying guide contains the very best VPNs based on our VPN reviews.
We test every VPN in several key areas, and use this data to calculate an overall rating.
In every top VPN service, we look for:
- Fast download speeds, upload speeds, and latency around the world.
- AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN functionality, and additional security.
- Streaming capabilities and torrenting support.
- How easy the app is to set up and use on a range of devices.
- The quality of the customer support and online help guides.
In our reviews, you may have also noticed ratings awarded in two other areas: ‘Price & Value for Money’ and ‘Bypassing Censorship’.
We don’t factor in ‘Price & Value for Money’ on this page. We consider overall quality regardless of price. You can decide for yourself if the price of a VPN is one you’re happy to pay.
‘Bypassing Censorship’ makes up a small portion of the ‘Features, Encryption & Security’ category. Learn exactly how this process works by reading our VPN testing process.
Below is a more detailed breakdown of the VPN criteria we test, and how much of the overall rating each category accounts for:
1. Privacy & Logging Policy: 30%
Minimum Requirement: Doesn’t retain any identifying web data, with servers regularly wiped.
We Recommend: No logs retained whatsoever. Truly ‘zero logs’.
You should not use a VPN that logs data that could identify you or tie you to your internet activity.
We take a very harsh stance against VPNs that admit to logging your IP address, DNS requests, or connection metadata.
Anonymous or aggregated usage data is acceptable. This can include the total data used in a month, your total number of monthly logins, or the number of users concurrently connected to a server.
We are more lenient towards VPN services that delete the data collected either at the end of your session or within 24 hours.
Moreover, we look at a VPN’s history and company ownership to determine whether or not you should trust it.
2. Speed & Reliability: 25%
Minimum Requirement: Fast enough for HD streaming on local connections.
We Recommend: Less than 20% speed loss on local connections or 40% on distant ones.
We use two different types of speed test to work out how fast a VPN is: manual and automatic.
Our manual speed tests involve running the VPN on a controlled, dedicated testing network. We connect to several servers around the world and record how much they reduce our connection speed.
Our automated tests are based on our in-house speed test tool, which runs on 11 of our own servers located around the world.
Each day, our automated speed test tool tests 16 of the most popular VPNs, updating speed data every six hours.
While our automated results are perhaps less relatable than our manual ones, they’re more consistent due to their frequency and scale.
We look at the download speeds, upload speeds, and ping from both sets of tests before we apply our formula and award a speed rating.
3. Features, Encryption & Security: 20%
Minimum Requirement: AES-128 encryption, 100 servers, and an internet kill switch.
We Recommend: AES-256, OpenVPN or similar, and obfuscation tools.
Almost every VPN we test uses some form of AES encryption cipher. AES-128 is perfectly secure, but we look for AES-256 for maximum security.
VPN Protocols is another key security feature we factor in. Most VPNs offer OpenVPN as a default protocol choice, as it best balances speed with security.
More VPNs are now offering WireGuard, or their own bespoke protocol, both of which we rate highly. Don’t worry, we never recommend a proprietary protocol without inspecting and testing it first.
The number of servers a VPN service provides is also important. However, it’s hard to say exactly how many VPN servers is the right number.
We make sure a VPN has a wide and global spread of servers, before recommending it.
Equally, we verify there are enough VPN servers in the most popular locations to avoid lag and traffic congestion even under high load.
The very best VPNs also provide some form of obfuscation. This is essential technology if you’re looking to bypass censorship, whether it’s from your employer, school, or government.
We own a server located in China which we use to test each VPN’s ability to beat the strictest of web censorship.
4. Streaming & Torrenting: 15%
Minimum Requirement: Can access US Netflix and allows torrenting on most servers.
We Recommend: Accesses multiple streaming libraries and allows P2P on all servers.
We have active subscriptions to the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max and BBC iPlayer.
We spend hours each month testing every VPN by connecting to a VPN server, and seeing whether we can stream the content we want.
Every premium VPN should be able to access the US Netflix library, at least.
As for torrenting, a paid-for VPN should never restrict torrenting too harshly. You should also be free to torrent on almost any server you choose.
We also test and record P2P bitrates for the best torrenting VPNs, to see if there’s any difference between that and regular download speeds.
5. Ease of Use: 5%
Minimum Requirement: Easy installation and intuitive apps across major platforms.
We Recommend: All of the above, plus clear in-app labels and apps for unusual platforms.
Unless a VPN is mobile-only, we make sure every VPN we test has native apps for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and iOS, and Google Android at the very least.
These apps should be clearly labeled for beginners. It should never take more than a few taps or clicks to connect to a server, and the server list should be well-organized and easy to navigate.
We highly rate VPNs that offer a well-designed app for Amazon Fire TV, a GUI for Linux, or an effective Smart DNS tool for streaming devices and consoles.
We also consider a service’s online installation manuals for more niche platforms in our evaluations.
6. Customer Support: 5%
Minimum Requirement: A support email address and online troubleshooting guides.
We Recommend: All of the above, plus 24/7 live chat support and in-depth FAQs.
After years testing VPNs, we’ve come to appreciate one thing: the very best VPNs separate themselves with the quality of their customer support.
The highest-rated VPNs offer 24/7 live chat support and in-depth how-to guides to make troubleshooting a much less painful experience.
At the very least, you should accept no less than a prompt and helpful email support service, plus some basic online FAQs.