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DotVPN review: A fast, free VPN alternative

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
3.80
per month, or free

A cheap, high-speed proxy service — but it’s not as versatile as a real VPN

Pros 
Pricing
Good speeds
Cons 
Browser-only service at the moment
Not many server locations
Existing server locations don't seem trustworthy
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“Say hello to the better way to VPN,” says DotVPN’s homepage. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a VPN at all, but it promises similar benefits – namely protecting your privacy, encrypting your connection and disguising your identity and location.

It does all this via a browser-based proxy service, which installs as an extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It’s slick, quick and easy to use, and even free users get unlimited bandwidth. There are limitations to what it can do, however, so it’s not quite the bargain it might appear to be.

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DotVPN review: Setup and basic use

DotVPN couldn’t be much easier to set up. You simply download the extension for your browser (either via the DotVPN website or directly from your browser’s own web store), install it and provide a username and password. To activate the proxy you then click on the little icon in your browser toolbar and pick a country from the panel of locations. Each gets a little image illustrating its location – Great Britain gets a scene of grey streets, red phone boxes and umbrellas – and an indication of the ping time.

Once you’ve connected, a further panel appears showing your new IP address, a speed-test result and details of how long you’ve spent using the service, along with how many ads and trackers DotVPN has blocked. The extension also includes a bandwidth saver that compresses images, and what DotVPN calls a “cloud firewall” – although this seems to mean merely that inbound connections are filtered as they reach DotVPN’s servers.  

There are no advanced configuration options, and no kill switch to freeze all traffic should the VPN get disconnected. That’s a potential concern, and it’s also vital to remember is that since DotVPN is a browser proxy, it only works for websites. Email apps, social media clients, games and other software will still be using your native, unprotected internet connection.

READ NEXT: The best VPNs you can buy

DotVPN review: Server locations

DotVPN’s free plan gives you a pretty miserly choice of locations: there’s just one server in Paris, one in the Netherlands and one in New York. To get more you need to go premium, but even then the location list isn’t particularly extensive, with only two or three locations in most regions outside western Europe.

We must also mention that we saw some unexpected results when we tried to verify that DotVPN’s servers were indeed located in their advertised locations. After we’d chosen to connect to a US server, DoILeak.com identified us as being in Singapore, while the Ookla speed test determined that Ghana was the nearest test server to use. This may be just an oddity of the way the service works, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

DotVPN review: Performance

Even on the free tier, DotVPN’s speeds aren’t bad. The extension reported a connection speed of 11Mbits/sec via the Paris server, and our own tests reported a not too dissimilar 8.5Mbits/sec. Indeed, when we connected via New York we actually did better than expected, seeing 11.2Mbits/sec when the DotVPN software reported only 9.9Mbits/sec. To be sure, there are faster free VPNs, but these speeds are fine for browsing and streaming video.

Switch to the paid tier and you can do even better. We got 96% of our usual downstream bandwidth through a UK VPN, and 97% through one based in the Netherlands. Connecting across the Atlantic barely hindered performance either, leaving us a healthy 89% of our regular bandwidth.

DotVPN review: Pricing

Obviously, you can’t get cheaper than free, but even if you switch to the premium tier, the pricing structure still undercuts most “real” VPN networks. Prices start at $4.99 a month (converting to £3.80 at time of writing), and if you sign on for a full year that falls to $2.99 a month (£2.28). For a three-year subscription, you’re looking at just $59 (£44.97) –  equivalent to around $1.60 (£1.22) per month. 

READ NEXT: The best VPNs for watching Netflix

DotVPN review: Privacy and security

DotVPN is based in Hong Kong, out of reach of the Five Eyes and Seven Eyes security alliances – although, of course, within the jurisdiction of the Chinese authorities. The operator states that it stores IP addresses for 24 hours every time you use the service, but beyond this, it claims to have a strict no-logging policy.

DotVPN review: Verdict

DotVPN’s pricing is undeniably attractive, but the service is somewhat limited compared to a proper VPN. You’re only protected while you’re working in your browser, the feature set is basic and we’re not wholly confident that all of DotVPN’s servers are based where the company says they are. It’s worth a look as long as you understand what you’re getting, but for more comprehensive protection we’d recommend paying the extra for a real VPN.

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