We’re impressed by improved speeds and video support, but this well-intentioned VPN still struggles to justify its price
- Great speeds
- Good range of privacy features
- Now unblocks most streaming sites
- No live support
- Pricing is only competitive for short-term use
Mullvad means “mole” in Swedish, and this Scandi VPN can make your internet connection pop up in locations all over the world. As with all VPNs, your real location and identity are disguised, and strong encryption ensures your ISP can’t determine the sites you’re accessing. That’s a big boost for your online privacy, and a VPN can also be used to unblock region-restricted services, such as US-based video-streaming sites.
Mullvad operates secure servers in 39 countries, mostly in Europe and North America; there are only a few servers in Asia, Africa and South America, but the selection should cover most people’s needs. If you need a wider choice of VPN locations, consider CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, HMA or Surfshark, which all offer exit nodes in more than 90 countries.
One thing that’s unique about Mullvad is its pricing model. Rather than offering a range of deals, this VPN charges a flat fee of €5/mth for up to five devices, equivalent to £4.33 at the time of writing.
For a short stretch it’s a bargain – many rival VPNs demand £10 and upwards for a month’s service. However, those providers also offer steep discounts for longer commitments: Atlas VPN, CyberGhost and PIA work out to less than £2/mth if you pre-pay for three years of service. Over the long haul, Mullvad works out to be one of the most expensive VPNs around.
Mullvad VPN review: What’s it like to use?
Mullvad offers native apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, plus installers for Debian- and Fedora-based Linux distributions. The Mullvad network supports both OpenVPN and WireGuard, so you can also connect to it from compatible routers and other appliances.
We tested the Windows app and found it simple and user-friendly, if not exactly feature-rich. The app opens in the lower-right corner of your screen, showing your current (or virtual) location on a map along with two main buttons – one to select a server, the other to connect, disconnect or reconnect the VPN.
Clicking the former opens up a list of all countries where Mullvad has a presence. A drop-down arrow next to each one lets you drill down to individual cities, but don’t get your hopes up too much – of the 39 nations listed, only nine offer more than a single server site. There’s a further option to select individual servers within a city, but since no information is provided about load or latency, this is something of a crapshoot.
On the plus side, you can quickly select a server by starting to type the name of a country or city into the search field at the top of the window, and if you’re concerned about trustworthiness then you can click the filter button to show only servers owned by Mullvad, or ones operated by specific providers. Oddly, there’s no other way to sort servers, nor can you mark locations as favourites or automatically select the fastest available server.
The Settings page offers a few interesting options, including Lockdown mode, which disables internet access at all times when the VPN isn’t active, and DNS-based content filtering, which lets you block adverts, tracking technologies, malware, porn and gambling content. You can flick a switch to turn the pop-up app pane into a regular draggable window, and configure split tunnelling to exclude specific programs from the VPN. Hidden away in the WireGuard settings, there’s also a switch to enable multihop mode. It’s a decent set of features, although we would have welcomed an option to automatically activate the VPN when you connect to particular networks, or to unknown ones.
The Android client has a similar design to the desktop app, but instead of the map the front page just shows a big blank space, which looks rather unpolished. The server list works in the same way as on Windows, minus the ownership and provider filters, and on the Settings page you can once again configure split tunnelling. It’s good to see that DNS-based content blocking is also now available for mobile users, since this was missing when we first tested Mullvad last year. However, the multihop option hasn’t yet made it to Android.
It’s all clear and intuitive enough that you’re unlikely to run into difficulties, but if you do need help then you may be frustrated to learn that Mullvad doesn’t offer live support. If you want assistance with something that isn’t covered on the website, you have to fire off an email and wait to hear back – although, in fairness, when we tried this we received a helpful response in minutes.
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Mullvad VPN review: How fast is it?
All VPN services slow down your internet connection to some extent, but the precise impact can vary considerably depending on the underlying infrastructure. We tested Mullvad VPN on a Windows 11 laptop, connected via Wi-Fi 6 to a domestic Virgin Media fibre broadband line.
With the VPN disconnected, the Google Speed Test tool reported an average download speed of 367Mbits/sec over our broadband line; connecting to a Mullvad server in London made very little difference, causing our speeds to fall only to 354Mbits/sec. That’s a huge improvement on last year’s results, when Mullvad slashed our download speeds by almost 60%. Indeed, it makes this one of the fastest VPNs around for short-range connections.
Mullvad has also raised its game with transatlantic connections. While connecting via New York naturally isn’t quite as speedy as a London-based server, we were very happy to see an average download speed of 236Mbits/sec. That’s one of the best performances we’ve seen in this test, with only NordVPN and Surfshark achieving faster downloads.
We repeated our tests with the Mullvad Android client, on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet running Android 13. Once again, we saw a very good speed from Mullvad’s London server, averaging 314Mbits/sec; the New York server suffered a little more, but still provided a solid 147Mbits/sec.
All of these scores represent big improvements on the speeds we saw when we first tested Mullvad: it seems the company has made a creditable investment in upgrading its network. There’s enough bandwidth here to ensure that all your online activities are fast and responsive, and you can happily stream as many 4K HDR videos as you like over the VPN.
Mullvad VPN review: Is it good for file sharing and video streaming?
Sweden is the birthplace of Pirate Bay, so it’s no surprise that Mullvad has a relaxed attitude to file sharing. BitTorrent is permitted via all servers, and the website even points you towards a free online tool that you can use to confirm that your torrenting client isn’t leaking information.
The video streaming situation has improved, too. Last year, we had little success using Mullvad to access region-restricted services, but this time around we had a smoother ride. We were happily able to watch BBC iPlayer, ITVX and Channel 4 via Mullvad’s London server, regardless of whether we were using a browser on Windows or native apps on our Android tablet. We also experienced no problems using the New York server to watch US content from Netflix, and we were able to get Disney+ to show its US library using the Android app.
It wasn’t quite a clean sweep, however: no matter which server or device we were using, we couldn’t get into Hulu or Now TV.
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Mullvad VPN review: Is it secure?
Being based inside the EU, Mullvad is within legal reach of the Western authorities and corporate interests. Sweden is also part of the multinational “Fourteen Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance.
That isn’t necessarily cause for panic, however. A zero-logging policy promises that Mullvad won’t store or share any of your personal information – and, for additional peace of mind, the Mullvad blog details recent third-party audits of the company’s servers and client apps.
Indeed, the company goes further than most to avoid collecting your personal details. Rather than using an email address as your user identifier, Mullvad gives you a randomly generated 16-digit number, which you can ditch and refresh as often as you like, so almost no identifiable information about you is ever stored. There’s even a 10% discount if you pay for the service with anonymous cryptocurrency – or you can stick cash in an envelope and post it to the company HQ in Gothenburg.
It’s encouraging, too, to note that the kill switch in the desktop app is automatically enabled, and while the multihop option isn’t well exposed, it’s good to have the option. As we’ve mentioned, though, we would have liked to see more sophisticated auto-connect options, to ensure you don’t accidentally end up accessing sensitive sites over an untrusted network.
Mullvad VPN review: Should you buy it?
We’ve been critical of Mullvad in the past, but it now offers quite respectable speeds and streaming capabilities. It also goes further than most VPNs to protect your anonymity and keep you informed, while its straightforward pricing model makes no attempt to suck you into long commitments.
Sadly, some important shortcomings remain. Global coverage is limited, the lack of live support is a disappointment, and that flat monthly fee gets less and less competitive over time. Perhaps the biggest issue is that it’s difficult to be wholly confident in any VPN based inside the EU. Mullvad has grown into a real contender when it comes to performance and features, but it’s still a hard sell when you can choose a VPN in a more out-of-the-way location for a lower overall cost.