Avira Phantom’s free plan is a secure choice for VPN newbies who want to use a VPN for general browsing – anything more than that and you’ll struggle due to the 1GB monthly data cap. If you choose not to register with your email address, you’ll be restricted to just 500MB. Local downloads are just quick enough for HD streaming, and you can access Netflix, but you’ll only be able to stream one or two shows a month. Simple custom apps are available for four popular platforms but there are no manual workarounds for other devices.
Avira offers strong encryption, first-party DNS servers, and a minimal logging policy. However, it lacks any other security features including a VPN kill switch, which means it’s not well-suited for privacy-sensitive tasks such as torrenting. Customer support is reserved for paying customers, which is very disappointing. There are a few basic FAQs online but more technical issues will be left unanswered.
We’d like to clarify that this review refers to the free version of Avira Phantom – you can read our review of Avira Phantom premium here.
Speed & Reliability
Avira Phantom’s free plan offers speeds that are mediocre at best and unusable at worst. Local downloads are just fast enough for HD streaming on a single device, but if your aim is super fast multiple downloads, Avira’s free plan isn’t going to cut it. The restrictive 1GB monthly limit is a further hindrance – to give you an idea of how far the data will go, we were only able to run a few speed tests before our monthly allocation ran out. Uploads and latency are decent, but nothing to shout about.
Local downloads peaked at an unimpressive 31Mbps in the Netherlands and 28Mbps in the UK (we test from London). Disappointingly, Germany dropped to just 19Mbps, but this could be due to server maintenance. Connecting out to the US East Coast was decent at 24Mbps, but more distant connections, such as Europe to Australia, even struggled to reach an almost unusable 2Mbps.
We found latency to be lower than what we’ve seen from other free services. Same-country connections were as low as 7ms, which will be snappy enough for most but might cause enough lag to frustrate gamers.
Connection times were fairly slow on the desktop apps, taking around 15-20 seconds each time. Mobile apps were generally much quicker, at just a few seconds. While we experienced no connection drops during our testing, the fact that there’s no kill switch feature means your IP address could still be exposed while the app connects to a new server.
Uploads weren’t much better than downloads, clocking in at 39Mbps in the Netherlands. Connecting to the UK it struggled to reach 30Mbps, and once more Germany was even worse at 20Mbps. The US was actually the quickest at 43Mbps, which may sound appealing to torrenters, but the data cap will quickly put that to a stop.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
Avira Phantom offers the same 25 countries to its free users as it does to its premium ones. While this is a decent number of locations for a free service, it’s not a patch on the networks offered by premium providers, such as HideMyAss! with over 190 countries.
We were pleasantly surprised by the choice of 12 US cities, offering coast-to-coast coverage. This is great for those who want to pinpoint their location for improved performance in the country, but unfortunately, city-level servers aren’t available in any other locations.
Like many providers, the majority of servers are located in Europe and North America, but Avira does offer users in other regions some choice. Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Singapore cover the Asia-Pacific and those located in South or Central America can connect to Brazil or Mexico respectively. There are no servers locations in Africa.
Platforms & Devices
Avira Phantom offers the same range of custom apps for free users as it does for premium, including four popular platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. You can use the VPN on an unlimited amount of devices simultaneously.
Due to a lack of manual workarounds, those are the only devices you can use the VPN on. It’s not even compatible with routers, which can protect all internet devices in your home if configured with the VPN software. Even if it were, the data cap would be a huge obstacle and wouldn’t be worth the effort. This means that Avira is a no-go for those looking to protect their streaming devices or games consoles.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that Avira Phantom offers a browser extension for Google Chrome. Unlike many other VPNs, free or premium, Avira’s extension uses full VPN encryption, rather than a less secure proxy connection. While it only offers a handful of popular server locations for free users, there’s not a data cap in sight. This is great news for heavy browser users who want a lightweight alternative to the desktop app. However, we recommend using it alongside the main apps to protect any non-browser-related activity too.
Streaming & Torrenting
If you’re a streaming fan, Avira Phantom’s free plan is not for you. While you can access Netflix on a few of the US servers, the 1GB monthly data cap will severely restrict how many shows you can watch – don’t expect to stream for more than half an hour in HD. We also found BBC iPlayer to be blocked, so it’s definitely not a good choice for fans of the service. We’d suggest choosing a VPN with no data caps and dedicated streaming servers instead – SaferVPN is a great option.
The stingy data cap also makes the free plan a bad choice for torrenters. Avira doesn’t mention anything about P2P activity on their website, but our tests found that torrenting is possible. However, you won’t get very far with just 1GB of data per month.
Encryption & Security
The free version of Avira Phantom offers strong encryption but lacks the extra features required for the highest levels of privacy. There is no explicit mention of which VPN protocol is used for each app, but Avira told us it’s OpenVPN for all except iOS (and MacOS when downloaded from the App Store), which uses IKEv2. OpenVPN is our preferred protocol as it offers the best balance between performance and privacy. Encryption is via ‘unbreakable’ cipher AES-256.
We were also pleased to find that Avira uses first-party DNS servers and includes DNS leak protection for free users – we didn’t experience any leaks during our tests. These features ensure that your traffic won’t be routed through any less secure third-party servers, which is a huge privacy plus.
Unfortunately, the free apps lack the all-important VPN kill switch, which is available for premium users. This feature is designed to block internet traffic in the case of a VPN connection drop, preventing your IP address from being exposed to your ISP and other third parties. The fact that those on the free plan aren’t covered by this is concerning. If you will be using a VPN to access privacy-sensitive data, we’d recommend opting for a provider that offers a full suite of security features such as Astrill – click the link to read our full Astrill review.
- OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
- DNS Leak Blocking
- First-party DNS
Due to the recent crackdowns on VPN providers in China, we wouldn’t recommend Avira Phantom to anyone who wants to connect out from the country. The Great Firewall can detect and block OpenVPN traffic, so the fact that Avira doesn’t offer any obfuscation tools means that it most likely won’t get past the censors. There are far more reliable options out there, such as those included in our dedicated roundup.
Avira Phantom isn’t a great choice for those connecting out from other high censorship countries either due to its very small server network. You may be left with no option but to connect to a faraway server, which would result in poor performance.
The policy clearly states the Avira doesn’t track:
- The websites you visit or any of your online activities
- The virtual locations you use
- Your originating IP address
It does collect the following information:
- Diagnostic data (e.g. if bugs were encountered) – you can opt out of sending this data within the apps
- Whether you are a free or a paid user
- The amount of data you use while connected
We’d like to see a link from the Avira Phantom homepage to the logging policy and some more clarity surrounding data storage periods, but we are satisfied that none of the collected data can be used to personally identify users.
Ease of Use
Avira Phantom offers simple, one-click solutions for VPN beginners, but will likely fail to satisfy more experienced users due to a lack of configurable options. The apps include a big on/off button, which turns green to indicate that it’s successfully connected. It also shows you how much data you’ve used so you can easily keep track. Once the data limit is up, the app gives you five minutes before it cuts the VPN connection, which is a useful privacy backup.
You can find the server locations by clicking the link next to ‘Virtual Location’ below the connect button. These are listed in alphabetical order, and there’s also a search function within the desktop apps to make it even easier to find the right one. Next to each location it tells you the expected ping time, but we’d rather it showed download speeds for a better indication of performance.
The settings can be found behind the cog symbol in the top right but these are incredibly minimal. We’d suggest turning off ‘Send diagnostic data’ for privacy reasons, but that’s about all you can do within this menu. The kill switch feature is visible but blocked as it’s a premium feature. Avira offers a good connect-and-forget solution for beginners, but it’s definitely not for those who want to tweak loads of settings. At least there are no annoying ads commonly found with free VPN services.
Downloading and installing Avira Phantom is quick and easy – simple enough for complete beginners. It’s as straightforward as downloading the relevant software from Avira’s website and following a couple of simple installation prompts. Once the installation is complete, you can register a free account to double the monthly data cap from 500MB to 1GB.
Avira Phantom fails to offer free users a sufficient level of support. The online knowledge base is threadbare, including some very basic FAQs and a community forum where many questions are left unanswered. If you have a more technical issue, you probably won’t find answers on the website.
We were even more disappointed to discover that tech support is limited to paying customers. This means that you’ll be left in the dark if you have a query that can’t be answered by Avira’s very limited online resources. Even for a free service, we’d expect at least an email address, but Avira fails to provide one.
The Bottom Line
- Simple custom apps for four popular devices
- Offers VPN browser extension for Chrome
- Uses strong encryption
- Minimal logging policy
- Connect securely to 25 countries
- Speeds are unimpressive
- Limited server network
- 1GB data cap per month
- No VPN kill switch
- Customer support limited to paying customers
Avira Phantom is a basic and secure free VPN that’s best suited to beginners who mainly want to browse the web. Speeds are nothing special, but fast enough for streaming in HD on one device. Netflix is also accessible through some US servers. The real issue comes with the 1GB monthly data cap, which severely restricts what you can do online. P2P activity is possible, and uploads are decent, but the data cap will be an issue. – and the same goes for gaming.
Avira Phantom offers a decent level of privacy, with a minimal logging policy and solid encryption. First-party DNS servers and DNS leak protection are a welcome bonus, but the lack of a VPN kill switch is concerning and may be an issue for those wanting to access privacy-sensitive data.
There are user-friendly custom apps available for four popular platforms, but it’s not possible to manually install the VPN on any other devices, including routers. More experienced users may miss configurable options as there are none. Customer service is practically non-existent for free users, as contacting support is limited to paying customers. The few FAQs available on the website aren’t much help either. Avira Phantom’s free plan is good enough for accessing emails and browsing the web, but it’s not a great choice for anything else.