Thunder VPN isn’t at the bottom of the free VPN pile, but it has a lot of improvement to undertake before it cracks the market.
Sure it has a fun design and streams BBC iPlayer content, but these pleasures come with considerable risks in security and privacy.
Speed & Reliability
Not exactly lightning fast, Thunder VPN underwhelmed in our speed tests.
Particularly when it came to downloads, it struggled to get over a meagre 2Mbps. Only Germany performed such a feat, earning a respectable average of 28Mbps, an inexplicable leap from the rest.
Uploads were much better: 51Mbps for UK (our base of operations) and decent averages for other tested servers – 36Mbps for Germany, 51Mbps for France and 27Mbps for Canada.
But ping times were poor – 19ms for UK. With a good VPN you’d be looking at a digit closer to 10ms or below when connecting from your base, especially if you were a gamer keen for a smooth playing experience. A VPN like Hotspot Shield performs at 8ms locally.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
Thunder VPN presents 10 server locations but some of these are illusionary. The Netherlands, as far as we could tell, isn’t actually available as a server. When connecting to that server we only ever got a French IP.
It is the same with the Japan server, which connects you to China. This means Thunder VPN is a terrible choice for VPN users in Asia, seeing as there are no available servers that exist in a privacy-friendly nation close-by.
There are also no city-level options, with the exception of the US that has options for East and West.
Platforms & Devices
Thunder VPN operates with Android mobile devices only. There’s a VPN of the same name on the iOS app store, but iPhone users should beware that it is an unrelated product that we are yet to test.
Streaming & Torrenting
Thunder VPN provided unimpeded access to BBC iPlayer, which is good news for fans of the streaming service. There was little buffer time required (four or five seconds) but the content streamed at good quality.
The same, however, cannot be said for Netflix, as it failed to bypass its proxy detection.
The app also claims to work for torrenting on services like BitTorrent, but that wasn’t the case when we tested it.
Encryption & Security
There is very little information about the measures and protocols taken to protect user data by Thunder VPN. On the FAQ page it reads, “we use SSL to encrypt your internet data.”
That may sounds impressive, but SSL is an archaic and sub-standard protection compared to something like OpenVPN. We contacted Thunder VPN to acquire further details but haven’t heard back.
A kill switch would help to alleviate concerns as a result of these security flaws, but that’s isn’t a feature available.
Surprisingly, Thunder VPN passed our leak tests, which is one positive among a load of negatives.
- SSL VPN
In an internet-censored nation like China VPNs are banned and there are very few that actually circumvent the Great Firewall. Whether Thunder VPN has the obfuscation features required to crack the wall remains unclear without testing it there, and there are no details available on the provider’s website.
It claims a “strict no-logging policy” on the Google Play Store listing and reiterates this claim on its FAQ. A no-logs policy would involve not storing the details of the user in question, including their IP address. Only a few lines down from these promises and it reads: “When you use our app we may collect the following information: IP address, Internet service provider, OS version, language of the device, app identifier, app version, independent deice [sic] identifier, ad identifier, devide [sic] manufacturer and model, email address, the time zone and the network state (WiFi and so on), times when connected to our service, choice of server location, and the total amount of data transferred per day, etc.” This directly contradicts its prior assurance to the point of dishonest practice.
Like most providers who collect swathes of data, it is done in the name of a ‘better service’. This isn’t entirely untrue, as premium VPNs such as HideMyAss! collect a considerable amount of information and sit near the top of our VPN rankings.
Even still, some of the best VPN services around don’t require this trove of information, so just why the free Thunder VPN requires it makes us suspicious.
The geographical location of a VPN service is important to know, as they are obliged to follow the laws of that region – laws that can differ greatly in relation to a free internet.
The address on the playstore lists a US location in Arkansas, but the zip code is actually based in California. This would be a cause for concern to those who want a VPN to prevent unwarranted snooping, as the US has a surveillance apparatus quite unfriendly towards citizen privacy.
Either way, as our free VPN investigation revealed, the company behind Thunder VPM, Signal Lab, only uses the listed US location for payment purposes and is in actuality “independent developers from Hong Kong.” This means ties to China, which is the worst possible place for a VPN provider to be located.
Rather confusingly, though, there are no registered companies in Hong Kong called Signal Lab. This lack of transparency doesn’t inspire confidence.
Ease of Use
Thunder VPN is a pleasant app with a functional design. The main page features an adolescent Thor who suddenly jumps into action when connecting to a server.
While this is hardly the god of VPNs, this shows a degree of care in design and branding that elevates it above some of the more lazily produced free providers.
As is the way with free VPNs, there are pop-up ads throughout. It’s more annoying than usual here as a lot of ads run for a minimum duration before the option to exit. It’s usually about five seconds, which doesn’t sound long – but certainly feels it.
It’s also worth mentioning that some customers have reported connections cutting out randomly, or when the phone is asleep. Added security like a kill switch would help with that flaw, but that’s not an available feature.
One interesting feature of Thunder VPN is a list of apps that are good for use with the VPN (210 in total), something we don’t come across too often. However, considering BitTorrent didn’t work when it’s included on the list we have to question just how many of these apps will actually cooperate.
You can download the service via the Google Play Store. If you’re not put off by multiple typos and grammatical errors when reading the product description, you can go ahead and install.
Thunder VPN has an FAQ for customer support, which is welcome but hardly exhaustive. If you don’t find an answer in here there is a contact email, but it can’t be seen on the app. Head to the website and you can contact an unprofessional Gmail account, the same one it uses for an identical VPN service called Secure VPN.
The website itself is a bare-bones operation, a mere landing page with little to discover. It’s more than a lot of other free VPNs offer (many don’t have websites), but with such little help or information to be gained, you wonder why Thunder VPN even bothered.
The Bottom Line
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Access to BBC iPlayer
- Likeable app design
- Amateurish website and unprofessional email
- Opaque jurisdiction
- No Netflix or torrenting
- No customer support
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice – and we certainly won’t be using Thunder VPN a second time. It’s potential links to China are enough to prevent a recommendation from us, but there are a lot of far more transparent shortcomings, including poor speed and zero customer support.
It’s not completely defunct when you consider BBC iPlayer is available for streaming and the app doesn’t look bad at all but, beyond the most basic functions, Thunder VPN isn’t the VPN for your every need.