Betternet is yet another free VPN that disappoints on both privacy and performance. Custom apps are available for Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, but they all suffer from awful speeds and substandard security. You can’t even pick the server location as it automatically connects you to the US.
There are only a handful of free VPNs we recommend, and this is not one of them.
Speed & Reliability
Expect awful performance from Betternet if you live anywhere but North America, as the only servers available to free users are located in the US.
Even taking into consideration that we test from the UK, performance out to the US East Coast was well below average, struggling to reach 5Mbps up and down. This is just enough for casual browsing but prepare for a lot of buffering while watching videos and don’t bother downloading large files.
Latency was high, coming in at 153ms. If you’re a keen gamer living outside of the US, this just isn’t going to cut it and you’re best looking for a provider that offers nearby servers.
Betternet free users aren’t given the luxury of choosing a preferred server location and instead are forced to connect to the US. While this might not be an issue for those in North America, anyone in Europe or Asia will notice a significant drop in performance.
We don’t like that this restriction isn’t made clear on the website, with just one mention of it hidden within the Help Center. It’s also made worse by the fact that a server list with 10 locations is given within the app, but it prompts you to upgrade to a premium subscription when you attempt to connect to any of them.
Platforms & Devices
Betternet offers custom apps for four popular platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. It doesn’t offer any manual workarounds for any other devices, such as Linux. Due to its poor performance, we wouldn’t recommend using it for any streaming devices or games consoles even if it were possible.
Betternet offers a browser extension for Google Chrome, which allows you to connect to four locations: Canada, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands. However, it comes with some concerning flaws.
Firstly, the extension leaks DNS requests to your ISP (and anyone sniffing traffic between you and the DNS provider). It also originates IPv6 requests from a different country to the one you’re connecting to with IPv4. This means that you could potentially struggle to access content specific to the country the VPN is supposed to be connected to. In short, don’t use it.
If you want a secure, fully-encrypted suite of extensions then take a look at our ExpressVPN review.
Streaming & Torrenting
Betternet definitely isn’t a streaming-friendly VPN. On some occasions, we could access Netflix – even if it took a really long time to buffer – but on others, we found it blocked. It completely depends on the server Betternet connects you to, and you have no choice in the matter.
If you’re looking for access to BBC iPlayer the story is even worse as the free app connects to US servers only, making it impossible to watch your favorite British shows.
The app isn’t for torrenters either, even if Betternet states that ‘Bitorrent and generally P2P are allowed’. The level of performance and security on offer just isn’t worth your time or the privacy risk. There are far better providers for torrenting – IPVanish is one of the best.
Encryption & Security
Betternet uses strong encryption – at the expense of performance – but it doesn’t provide the levels of privacy we expect from a VPN provider. In fact, a recent academic report on VPNs revealed something very concerning about the Android app, stating that Betternet was riddled with malware.
Betternet uses a proprietary protocol used by other AnchorFree VPNs (Hotspot Shield). It’s called Catapult Hydra, and there is no technical information about it available to the public, so we have no way of knowing how secure it really is. Encryption is via either AES-128 or AES-256, but it’s unclear under which circumstances each is used.
Betternet uses third-party DNS servers, meaning that your web traffic could be routed through insecure servers. We experienced no leaks during our tests, except when using the Chrome extension, which leaked DNS requests.
Within the Windows app, there is a feature called ‘Prevent IP leaks’, which is switched on as default. While it didn’t leak our IP when the function was switched off, we found the app routed DNS requests through many different servers. In contrast, it only routed them through one server when the switch was activated. Betternet failed to reply to us regarding our question about how this function prevents IP leaks exactly, but we’d recommend keeping it switched on.
Another thumbs down for privacy is the lack of a VPN kill switch, which is an essential feature that blocks internet traffic should the VPN connection drop. This prevents your IP address and online activities from being exposed to your ISP or other snooping third parties.
Betternet isn’t the best choice for those connecting out from China or other high-censorship countries due to the fact that the only servers available to free users are located in the US, meaning that performance will likely be too slow to do anything. The levels of privacy and security offered aren’t up to scratch for use in those countries either.
A representative from AnchorFree (the company that owns Betternet) informed us that the apps do work in China, but we’ve seen mixed user reviews – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There are much better options out there – you can read about our top picks for China here.
Like the majority of providers, Betternet claims it doesn’t log your online activities but it does collect aggregate data about websites visited through its servers. While this isn’t ideal, these can’t be linked back to individual users so it isn’t too concerning.
Betternet also collects your originating IP address (in encrypted form) for the duration of your VPN session and deletes it straight after. This can be used to derive the city you are connecting out from, and we don’t like that Betternet may pass this information onto advertisers. Another concern is that Betternet’s service providers ‘may collect IP addresses for marketing attribution purposes’.
Before you connect to the VPN, Betternet and its third-party service providers collect device-specific information including your unique mobile ID, hardware model, operating system version, language, and network information. It claims that this information is used for troubleshooting purposes and improvement of the service, but it again doesn’t sit well with us from a privacy point of view.
Users of the Android app are also forced to ‘permit usage access’ so that Betternet can monitor the other apps you use and often. This function also allows Betternet to identify your service provider, language settings, and other usage data. It seems that there is no way to connect to the VPN without authorizing usage access.
It’s important to know that AnchorFree, the company that owns Betternet, has faced controversies in the past when it comes to their free VPN apps. You can read more about these on our Hotspot Shield Free review.
Betternet is incorporated in the US – one of the most privacy-unfriendly jurisdictions around.
With intrusive data laws and international intelligence-sharing agreement, it’s not the ideal location for a VPN company. Betternet also states that it will share user information if ‘required to do so by law’.
The fact that Betternet doesn’t store IP addresses beyond the length of your VPN session means that this isn’t too much of a concern, though.
Ease of Use
Betternet is one of the simplest VPN apps around – but that’s not necessarily a good thing. You can’t miss the big connect button in the middle, but it fails to mention which server location you are connected to or what your new IP address is.
When you click on ‘Select Virtual Location’ below the connect button, the app presents you with a list of 10 server locations. It then prompts you to upgrade to a premium subscription when you try to connect to any of them, which is more than a little misleading.
The settings found in the top left corner are far too minimal for our liking. One notable setting within the Windows app is the baffling ‘Prevent IP Leaks’ toggle, which we’d recommend leaving switched on for obvious reasons.
The rest of the apps are similarly simple, if not more so, but with the added annoyance of intrusive pop-ups.
Setting up Betternet on any of the supported devices is quick and simple. However, we don’t like that it immediately tries to sign you up to the seven-day free trial for the premium version, requiring your payment details in the process.
To install the app, all you need to do is go to the website and download the relevant software. Android and iOS users will need to go through the app store. Then just follow the installation prompts, say ‘no’ to the free trial, and connect.
Customer support for free users of Betternet is practically non-existent. The knowledge base on the website is threadbare, albeit fairly well-organized into sections for each supported device.
There are no setup guides, only some basic troubleshooting tips and the link to the FAQs page is broken.
There’s no live chat, so we tried emailing support only to receive the following message: ‘Sorry but we can’t respond personally.’ The short email explained that support is reserved for premium subscribers, leaving us in the dark. Other VPNs, such as Hide.me, offer free users the same level of support as premium.
The Bottom Line
- Easy setup on four popular devices
- Several security and privacy flaws
- Speeds struggle to reach 5Mbps
- Can’t choose a server location
- Intrusive pop-up ads on mobile apps
- No customer support for free users