It has a few rough edges and missing features, but this deliciously affordable VPN ticks the important boxes
- Unbeatable three-year pricing
- Excellent privacy-protection features
- Free option for occasional use
- User interface isn’t perfectly intuitive
- No support for routers or other appliances
- Fewer servers than many rivals
Atlas VPN is a relative newcomer to the VPN market, and it brings some fresh thinking, with an unusual free offering and some unique privacy-protection features.
Behind the scenes, Atlas VPN is owned by the same company as NordVPN, but while NordVPN boasts servers in more than 50 countries, Atlas VPN offers a modest 35. Those include just a handful of locations in Asia and none at all in Africa – but since Europe and North America are well covered, the list should meet most people’s needs.
Another difference is app compatibility. While NordVPN runs on almost every platform imaginable, Atlas VPN is currently limited to the big four desktop and mobile operating systems. There’s currently no router option either, nor any extensions for conveniently controlling the VPN from your browser.
These limitations are offset by very keen pricing. In fact, as we’ve mentioned, you can use the service completely for free, with up to two simultaneous connections to servers in Amsterdam, Los Angeles and New York. There are no speed restrictions, and you can transfer up to 5GB of data per month – including BitTorrent and US streaming services, if you wish.
A paid subscription removes all restrictions, allowing you to use the full set of servers with unlimited connections and no data cap. The monthly service costs £8.09, which isn’t too bad, but the price tumbles if you go for a longer commitment: a 12-month deal is £29.02, while the 39-month bundle costs a mere £52.36, equivalent to £1.35 a month. That’s the cheapest rate we’ve seen anywhere, for any VPN.
You can also get access to premium services by sharing your referral code with friends – but you only get seven days per person who signs up, so unless you’re a real party animal this probably isn’t a long-term solution. And if you pay up and then decide you’re not happy with the service, you can take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Atlas VPN review: What’s it like to use?
The Atlas VPN Windows app looks nicely clean and simple. The home page opens with a list of servers in the middle and a big, unmissable switch in the right-hand pane to turn the VPN on and off.
It can be a little bit frustrating to use, however. The list of servers doesn’t offer any information about each server’s ping time or latency; actually, it doesn’t even tell you which city you’re connecting to until after the connection is established (only the United States gives you an up-front choice of seven different cities).
You’ll also be disappointed if you go looking for information about your external IP address or upload and download statistics. There would be plenty of space for such information above and below the connection button, but it’s just left empty and wasted.
Another thing that’s missing is an option to mark particular servers as favourites, although your last three connections appear at the top of the list, so if there’s a server you use a lot, a shortcut to it will probably appear here. Otherwise you can type to search, or click to show servers optimised for streaming or enhanced security. If you just flick the switch without selecting a location, it will connect to the fastest available server. This also happens if you connect via the system-tray icon: it would have been nice to get a choice of recent servers here.
There’s not much more to the app. The navigation bar at the side lets you switch to the Assistant view, where you can enable and configure DNS-level blocking against adverts and malware, and access a built-in data-breach monitoring tool. Under Settings you can enable auto-launch, choose between the WireGuard or IPSec/IKEv2 protocols, and configure the big quick-connect switch to seek out servers that are optimised for streaming or other purposes.
We also tried the Atlas VPN Android app. This is laid out similarly to the Windows client, but the server list is hidden at the bottom of the screen, and only appears when tapped: this might be a necessary accommodation for smaller screens, but it makes it just a little bit more awkward to get connected. Dig into the settings and you’ll find that the tracker blocker and data-breach monitoring tools are faithfully replicated from the Windows client, and Android users even get a split tunnelling feature that isn’t offered for other platforms.
In all it feels like Atlas VPN is still working towards a properly friendly and intuitive interface, but it’s usable as it is, and has a fair set of features. If you get stuck you can make use of email support or 24/7 live chat.
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Atlas VPN review: How fast is it?
It’s a fact of life that using a VPN slows down your internet connection, but some services are faster than others. We tested Atlas VPN on a Windows 11 laptop connected to a 200Mbits/sec Virgin Media broadband connection, using the default WireGuard protocol.
With the VPN disengaged, the Google Speed Test tool reported an average download speed of 214Mbits/sec over our broadband line. After we’d connected to an Atlas VPN server in the UK, this fell only slightly to 201Mbits/sec – a small drop that won’t be noticeable in daily use.
Atlas VPN held up almost as well when we then tried connecting to a server in New York, with an average download rate of 181Mbits/sec. That’s not far off the best performance we’ve seen in this test – that being 196Mbits/sec from stablemate NordVPN.
We also tested Atlas VPN on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet running Android 12. This time we measured download speeds of 183Mbits/sec from the London server and 110Mbits/sec from New York.
All of these scores are very competitive – various VPNs have proved a little faster in individual tests, but overall we’d say the difference in performance between Atlas VPN and pricier, more established services is negligible.
We’ve just one caveat regarding download speeds: since split tunnelling is only available in the Android client, desktop and laptop users can’t pick and choose which applications go through the VPN – it’s all or nothing. That’s not too hard to live with, though, as the performance penalty isn’t huge.
Atlas VPN review: What’s it like for BitTorrent and streaming?
Atlas VPN supports the use of BitTorrent on all servers. While the website makes clear that only legal activities are condoned, there’s nothing stopping you using a server in a country such as Switzerland, where downloading copyrighted material is permitted for personal use.
As for streaming, we’ve seen that Atlas VPN is fast enough that it won’t interfere with your video services, and the Android app will run happily on an Amazon Fire TV stick. We were pleased to find that the service did a good job of unblocking content that isn’t normally available in the UK. Once we’d connected to the New York server on our Windows 11 laptop we were easily able to access US content on Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu. The Disney+ app on our Android tablet also happily served up the American library, although the Netflix and Hulu apps weren’t fooled.
For those travelling outside of the UK, Atlas VPN does an equally respectable job of unblocking British streaming services. We were able to watch BBC iPlayer on both Windows and Android while connected to a UK server, and the BritBox website was also available on Windows. The only service we couldn’t access at all was Now TV – neither the desktop browser nor the Android app would display any programmes until we disengaged the VPN.
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Atlas VPN review: Is it secure?
The Atlas VPN network also has numerous features aimed at protecting your privacy and security. One that’s unique, as far as we know, is the SafeSwap function, which lets you browse from a continually rotating pool of IP addresses, making it effectively impossible for anyone to track your activity across sites and sessions, even anonymously. This can even be combined with multi-hop routing for a really extreme level of concealment.
As we’ve noted, the VPN also includes a kill switch and a tracker blocker, which filters out ads, malware and other unwanted content while the VPN is active, and even warns you if your passwords have been compromised. Incidentally, that’s not something you need to worry about with Atlas VPN itself – the service doesn’t use passwords, but rather logs you in using a one-time link or code that’s sent to your email address.
The one thing that’s missing is a smart auto-connect feature: you can set Atlas VPN to connect as soon as it launches, but you can’t tell it to automatically engage when you join specified networks, or unrecognised ones. We’d also note that the company hasn’t yet put itself through a full independent audit, like ExpressVPN and NordVPN have – although its iOS app was independently tested in 2021 by security specialist VerSprite.
Atlas VPN review: Should you buy it?
Compared to some of its long-established rivals, Atlas VPN feels a little like a work in progress. The app is a bit clunky, especially when it comes to server management, with not many locations to choose from and minimal information about your connection. The lack of auto-connect options is a shame too – and with only two protocols and a very short list of supported platforms, it’s hardly a versatile VPN.
Those things may well be addressed as the software matures, however. And if you can live with them for now, Atlas VPN has plenty of saving graces: performance is very good, it does a decent job of unblocking region-locked streaming services, and its privacy protections are a cut above most rivals.
Consider the almost nugatory cost of a 39-month subscription and it’s really a terrific deal. Networking aficionados may be happier with one of the bigger names, but for everyday VPN duties Atlas VPN does a great job at a great price.
Atlas VPN review: Quick facts
|Cheapest price:||£1.35/month (39-month subscription)|
|Money-back guarantee:||30 days|
|24/7 customer support:||Y|
|Netflix and Disney+:||Y|