Psiphon is a free censorship circumvention tool that’s great for users in countries such as China and Iran. The majority of their servers are proxies, which will cap your speeds at 2Mbps, however there is the option to connect via VPN for unlimited bandwidth – the one downside of this is that you can’t select a specific country to connect to.
Psiphon constantly reminds potential users that it shouldn’t be used as an online privacy tool, but rather its primary purpose is to access blocked content. It’s a fairly solid app with a good logging policy, but those looking to access streaming services (or encrypt their browser traffic in general) will find nothing worth their time here.
Pricing & Deals
Psiphon is free to download and use on Windows, Android and iOS devices, however mobile users have the option of ‘upgrading’ to an ad-free version that isn’t capped at 2Mbps. The cost of this varies by device and type of subscription – you can either opt for a 5Mbps data cap or unlimited bandwidth.
For Android users, the ad-free plan capped at 5Mbps costs $4.99 per month, while unlimited bandwidth will set you back $9.99 on a monthly basis. Ad-free unlimited bandwidth is also available on a seven-day pass ($4.99), 30 day pass ($9.99) or a 360-day pass ($119.99). iOS users can upgrade to ad-free unlimited bandwidth for $2.99 per week, $9.99 per month or $99.99 for one year.
Psiphon Pricing & Deals
Psiphon is primarily a free service but offers a 30-day free trial to those who choose to sign up to Psiphon Pro for iOS or Android. Because this is done in-app, just be sure to cancel via the App Store or Google Play Store before the end of the 30 days to avoid being charged. This is a great way to run a few speed tests and investigate whether or not the performance boost is worth spending a little bit extra on each month.
Psiphon has also recently launched a new way to enjoy subscription benefits for iOS called PsiCash, which users can spend on a temporary speed boost. PsiCash is earned simply by using the application or by opting in to watch a short video – it’ll be rolled out to Android in the near future as well.
Android and iOS users wishing to upgrade to Psiphon Pro are limited to the payment options offered by the App Store and Google Play Store. These include most major credit and debit cards and PayPal, but unfortunately there’s no way of paying with cryptocurrencies or using any international methods such as AliPay or UnionPay.
Speed & Reliability
Psiphon doesn’t allow you to select a specific country to connect to when you’re using the VPN service, so we were only able to test performance on the server they automatically selected for us, which was located in London, UK. When you’re just using the proxy you’re able to choose one of 20 different countries, however unless you’ve upgraded to one of the Pro plans on mobile, your speed is capped at a ridiculously low 2Mbps. This is fine for just general browsing, but you’ll struggle to do much more than that.
Usually we’d conduct all of our speed tests over our preferred protocol OpenVPN, but as this wasn’t an option we were forced to connect via L2TP/IPsec. Psiphon connected us to a VPN server close to our true physical location in London, and downloads averaged around 65Mbps, which is pretty impressive for a free service. As it isn’t possible to choose which server you connect to, we can only presume that performance on other local connections will be around the 60Mbps mark, but unfortunately there’s no way of us knowing for sure. If this is the case, you’ll be able to stream in HD across multiple devices without any problems.
As we expected, latency was nothing special, coming in at a pretty laggy 14ms on the UK server. We wouldn’t recommend Psiphon to gamers because of this, as especially if they’re just going to be connecting via the proxy servers, ping was ridiculously high. Look for providers with latency of 5ms or less for a smooth, lag-free experience.
Upload speeds on our closest server weren’t very impressive at a shade under 40Mbps, however again this isn’t to be sniffed at, especially considering you’re not paying for it. Proxy servers are capped at 2Mbps so probably not the best choice for hardcore torrenters, however it could be worth a try if you don’t mind connecting via L2TP/IPSec.
Once we were connected, we found performance to be overall pretty reliable, however the lack of killswitch is a little unnerving, and we found ourselves constantly checking to make sure we were still protected. A major plus point is Psiphon’s incredibly quick connection time, taking just a matter of seconds to get you up and running on your chosen server.
It’s clear that performance isn’t Psiphon’s top priority, and while we don’t like the fact that you can’t connect via OpenVPN, local speeds weren’t too bad. If you’re not going to be connecting to the VPN and are primarily going to be using the proxy, we’d recommend upgrading to the Pro plan, as 2Mbps of bandwidth isn’t going to be enough if you want to do anything more than just general browsing. Torrenters and gamers should look elsewhere.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
If you choose to connect via one of Psiphon’s VPN servers, it isn’t possible to select a specific one, but rather you are assigned the ‘fastest server’ in proximity to your physical location. Proxy users have a choice of 19 different server locations, which is a very small network in comparison to top-tier providers, but most popular countries are covered.
14 out of the 19 proxy locations on offer are in Europe, including the usual choices such as the UK, France and the Netherlands. Users can also connect to the US and Canada, however there is no way of drilling down to city-specific servers, which could be frustrating for those who wish to pinpoint a specific state. The Asia Pacific region is limited to India, Singapore and Japan, and we were very surprised not to see any options in Australia or New Zealand. There’s no server choice at all in Africa or South America, so users looking to connect out from these countries should look elsewhere. Many other providers offer full VPN connections to many more countries- HideMyAss! offers over 190 if you need coverage in more exotic locations.
The size of Psiphon’s server network is hardly surprising considering they market themselves as an anti-censorship tool above all else. European VPN users shouldn’t have any issues using the ‘fastest country’ option in order to get the best possible performance, but if you’re located anywhere else in the world we’d recommend opting for a provider with a more diverse server network. That being said, due to performance on the proxy servers being capped at 2Mbps on the basic plan, it won’t really make a lot of difference whether you connect locally or internationally.
Platforms & Devices
Psiphon is currently only supported on Microsoft Windows, iOS and Android devices. These are available to download from Psiphon’s website, the App Store, Google Play Store, or can be emailed to you if you live in a country that prohibits access to the site. There are some basic setup guides you can refer to but nothing comprehensive – this is hardly surprising considering the software is free to use.
In the future it would be great to see increased compatibility across a wider range of platforms, perhaps including devices such as Mac and Linux. It would be particularly handy to be able to install Psiphon at router level, therefore protecting all of the devices in your home, however the 2Mbps speed cap would be nowhere near quick enough for this.
Psiphon doesn’t currently offer any browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Safari. Considering the lack of native apps for popular devices such as Mac and Linux, we did expect this, and it probably won’t be a problem for most everyday users. If you’re a heavy browser user looking for a more lightweight solution, you might want to look at a provider such as ExpressVPN, which offers full-featured VPN extensions for all popular browsers.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Considering Psiphon can’t be manually configured to work at router level you won’t be able to get it to work with any of your games consoles or streaming devices – Psiphone even admits to as much on its website.
It may cost you a fairly small subscription fee, but if you want to cover all your devices there are few providers we would recommend ahead of CyberGhost.
Streaming & Torrenting
Psiphon isn’t a good choice for those seeking quick, hassle-free access to popular streaming sites such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer, as this simply isn’t what it’s designed to do. The only option would be to connect via one of their proxy servers, considering you can’t choose a specific country using the VPN, but we tried this without any success.
If you’re looking for reliable access to these kinds of sites, you’re better off opting for a provider with lots of city-level choice in countries such as the US and UK, or, even better, dedicated streaming servers, like those offered by SaferVPN. Psiphon’s main purpose is to provide people in high-censorship countries with access to blocked content, so we wouldn’t expect compatibility with Netflix and iPlayer to be at the top of their list of priorities.
Encryption & Security
Psiphon states on their website that the software “does not increase your online privacy, and should not be considered or used as an online security tool”, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s not much to say in terms of encryption and security. The VPN operates exclusively on L2TP/IPSec rather than our preferred protocol OpenVPN, however this is still pretty secure when used with top cipher AES-256. After speaking to Psiphon, we can confirm that they do use this combination, although for censorship circumvention reasons the same algorithm is not always used.
Because their main goal is to access blocked content, the Psiphon app doesn’t offer many advanced privacy settings at all. We’d like to see a kill switch feature introduced in the near future, as it would save us having to keep checking the app to make sure we were still protected. We do like the split tunneling feature, which tunnels server requests made within your home country outside of Psiphon’s servers, giving you faster access to these sites and reducing ISP data usage costs. However, this can only be used with the proxy servers and isn’t an option if you’re using the VPN.
We like how transparent Psiphon is about online privacy, stating that it “is not specifically designed for anti-surveillance purposes…if you require anonymity over the internet then you should use Tor instead of Psiphon”. It’ll do the job for masking your IP address when connecting to public WiFi hotspots, but we wouldn’t advise using it as a complete VPN replacement – there are cheap options out there that offer a far more reliable service.
- Split Tunneling
Seeing as the main aim of Psiphon is to help users in high-censorship countries access government-blocked content, it does pretty well in countries such as China, Turkey and Iran. However, the only way to connect out from these locations is using Psiphon’s proxy servers, as they offer additional layers of obfuscation, whereas connecting via the VPN you’re far more likely to be blocked. This means that users seeking high levels of privacy should steer clear, as although using a proxy will grant you access to censored content, it won’t encrypt any of your web traffic, meaning the pages you visit will still be able to see your true IP address.
Psiphon openly states that it isn’t designed to increase your online privacy, and shouldn’t be considered or used as an online security tool, therefore it’s a great option for those who aren’t concerned about these things and simply want to access content that would otherwise be blocked in their country. In China this means sites such as Google, Wikipedia and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
According to Michael Hull, president of Psiphon, there are 200,00 daily active users of the service in China, so clearly it’s an effective solution for some. While we’d wholeheartedly recommend it to those who just need to unblock censored content, if online anonymity is what you’re looking for, you’re far better off using the Tor browser, which is also free of charge and will hide your identity from the Chinese government.
- Connection timestamps
- Region codes (country and city)
- Chosen connection protocol
- Session count and duration
- Total bytes transferred and bytes transferred for some specific domains
It should be noted that they don’t collect user IP addresses so it would be very difficult to trace your online activity back to you as an individual. They do, however, share statistics with sponsors so they can see, for example, how often their sites are visited through Psiphon and from which countries. These are further aggregated by date, sponsor and region.
All of the data Psiphon collects is discarded after 60 days, which is a little longer than we’d like but still not too bad. It’s used mainly for troubleshooting purposes and to ‘determine the nature of major censorship events’, where sites and services can be suddenly blocked without warning. They specifically state that they will not give detailed or ‘potentially user-identifying information’ to partners or any other third parties, which is reassuring.
Psiphon is based in Ontario, Canada, making it subject to highly intrusive surveillance laws and intelligence-sharing agreements with other countries such as the UK and USA. Thankfully the fact that they don’t collect any logs that could easily be used to personally identify you means this isn’t too much of a concern, however we would prefer it if these logs were deleted more often than every 60 days.
When sharing information with third parties, Psiphon ‘only ever provides coarse, aggregate domain-bytes statistics’ – they never share per-session information or any other information that could link your online activity back to you. This means that even if a law enforcement agency were to request your personal details, Psiphon would not be able to hand them over.
Ease of Use
The Psiphon app is incredibly simple but has a few annoying features that could catch you out if you don’t know what to look out for. The main screen displays absolutely nothing apart from a big connection button – we would have liked to see some more information here, such as our new IP address or how long we’ve been connected for. Instead of showing this on the main screen, when you connect you’re redirected to a new tab that informs you of your virtual IP address and server location. This is a little impractical but does the job.
Before you connect to the internet, you need to make sure you go to ‘Transport Mode’ in the settings tab along the left-hand side and toggle on L2TP/IPSec mode. The app defaults on startup to a proxy connection, as its primary use is to circumvent censorship measures and VPNs are far more easily detected, however only connecting via a proxy server won’t encrypt your web traffic or provide you with as much security as a VPN connection.
The client will auto-select the “fastest country” for you, and if you opt to connect via L2TP/IPSec this is actually your only option. If you choose to connect via proxy you have a choice of 20 countries that you can select from a drop-down list. There’s also a split tunneling feature hidden in the settings menu, where you can choose not to proxy websites within your own country – again, this isn’t available if you’re using the VPN service. Overall the app is simple enough and the contextual help within the settings should be really helpful for VPN newbies.
The download and installation process for Psiphon is the quickest we’ve ever seen due to the fact that you don’t have to create an account to use the VPN. This means that all you have to do is click the relevant button in the ‘downloads’ section of the site, open the file and you’re good to go. There are some installation guides on the website but we doubt that you’ll need them as the process really is as simple as starting the download and then pressing connect.
You can create a shortcut by dragging the Psiphon icon from your downloads folder to your desktop – this will make it easier to find when you want to use it.
Psiphon’s customer support is incredibly limited, which is hardly surprising considering it’s a free product. There are some FAQs on the website which will cover basic troubleshooting issues, app compatibility and a few other potential problems but not much else. There are installation guides for Windows, Android and iOS devices too.
The only way to get in contact with the Psiphon support team is via the email address we found on the website. We sent them a few queries and thankfully they did reply pretty quickly with a very comprehensive, helpful response, which was far better than we expected. In all honesty, this VPN is so self-explanatory that it’s highly unlikely you’ll need to any support at all, and the website should have you covered regarding most common issues.
The Bottom Line
- Local downloads of up to 66Mbps
- Works well to unblock content in China
- User-friendly apps for Windows, iOS and Android
- No email address required on signup
- Open-source software
- Mainly a proxy service, not a VPN
- Tiny server network
- Can't select country to connect to via VPN
- Basically no customer support
- No apps for Mac or Linux
Psiphon is a good choice for users in high-censorship countries that prioritize unrestricted access over online privacy. The basic software is free to download but iOS and Android users can upgrade to a faster, ad-free version for a reasonable extra monthly cost. Performance is capped at 2Mbps on proxy servers but was decent on the VPN – the only downside here is that you can’t connect to a specific server. We like the one-click apps that require no personal details on signup, but no access to Netflix or iPlayer will put off streaming fans.
Unfortunately Psiphon is currently only supported on Windows, iOS and Android with no way of manually configuring those devices lacking native apps. This means that it won’t work with any games consoles or streaming devices as it can’t be installed at router level.
In terms of privacy, Psiphon openly states that it is by no means the best tool to use if you’re looking to protect your identity online. The VPN connects via L2TP/IPSec, which is the most secure protocol after OpenVPN, and encryption is via top cipher AES-256. If you connect via one of the proxy servers however, none of your traffic is encrypted, so it’s great for spoofing you IP in order to access blocked content but not much else. Customer support is non-existent but we did get a response via email when we submitted a few simple questions.