Impressive ease of use. Excellent app and website. Geographically diverse servers. Choice of encryption protocols. Unlimited device installs.
Lackluster speed test scores. Expensive. No custom servers. Limited simultaneous connections.
- Bottom Line
TotalVPN is that rare VPN service that combines security and convenience. It offers excellent apps and an impressive selection of servers around the world. But it lacks some high-end features and was slow in our tests.
By Max Eddy
Editors' Note: TotalVPN is no longer accepting new subscribers and the free version is only partially functional. The company's help desk informed us that there are no plans to allow new subscriptions in the future. What follows below is the original review of TotalVPN from June 17, 2016.
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Whenever a security company tells me that they don't believe that users should have to choose between security and ease of use, I roll my eyes. Not because I disagree; people shouldn't have to make that choice. But experience has taught me that in the security world, the fancy tools come first and the usable interface dead last. TotalVPN is a surprising exception, one that has the best and friendliest interface of any virtual private network service I've yet tested. It's among the best VPNs in that regard, but its price tag and performance aren't nearly as impressive. I'll stick with Editors' Choice winners Private Internet Access and NordVPN.
What Is a VPN?
When you browse the Web, your computer is firing off requests that are answered by servers close by and far away. This process can be observed by an outsider, letting him steal your information or even inject his own. If you've ever used the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop without VPN protection, you've run this risk.
With a VPN, your network traffic is protected by an encrypted tunnel connecting your computer and the VPN server of your choice. Hackers and government snoops can't obtain the data moving through this pipe. When your data leaves the VPN server, it enters the open Internet but without your IP Address attached. Advertisers and government snoops won't be able to tell whose data they're looking at.
The encrypted tunnel and anonymizing abilities of VPNs mean that journalists and political dissidents operating in countries with restrictive Internet policies often use them. And you can also use the same tool to access region-locked content. Note, however, that some services like Netflix are cracking down on users that connect via VPN. Whatever reason you personally might have for trying a VPN service, you should definitely be aware of the local laws regarding their use.
Pricing and Features
TotalVPN offers discounts for the initial subscription term. Be aware that, according to the fine prinet, once that period has elapsed, the service automatically renews at the higher full rate. A premium subscription for TotalVPN begins at $7.49 for the monthly rate, and the the regular price is $14.97 per month. You can also opt for a one-year subscription for $5.99 per month or a two-year subscription for $4.99 per month. Once those terms are up, the full prices are $11.97 per month for one-year contract, and $9.97 per month for two years. Getting the annual or two-year plan is a smart move, because it locks in that introductory rate for longer. Monthly plans will be billed at the full rate starting the second month. Promotions aside, that's a hefty price tag. NordVPN can be had for $8.00 a month, and Spotflux Premium VPN for $4.99.
I'm pleased, however, to see that TotalVPN also offers a free version of the service. Free VPNs are fairly rare, but not unheard of. Hotspot Shield Elite, for example, uses an ad-supported model. For this review, I tested the Premium version of TotalVPN on a Dell Latitude E7250 laptop running Windows 8.1.
When you sign up for TotalVPN, you have the option to purchase some upgrades in addition to your base plan. Priority support costs $19.90 a year, SuperCharge—which connects you to higher-speed servers—costs $49.90 a year, and there's even Staying Safe Online eBook available for a one-time payment of $9.95. You can also add additional simultaneous connections to your plan for $29.99 per year. I'm not a big fan of upselling, but I do appreciate flexibility in pricing. If that's important to you, consider TorVPN, which lets you choose lots of features, such as data limit, subscription duration, number of servers, and number of licenses.
TotalVPN accepts credit cards and PayPal, which is adequate but PureVPN goes a step farther by accepting Bitcoin and even prepaid gift cards. At last, a use for my Starbucks cards!
I was a little confused when signing up for TotalVPN, because the price was listed in two different places at two different rates. There's also a fair amount of small print you need to read to understand the pricing structure. This is especially surprising when you consider that the TotalVPN site is otherwise excellent and obviously focused on fostering a positive customer experience. For example, the site is well designed but also includes extensive contact information in case you select the wrong billing plan. That's excellent.
A premium subscription lets you access all of TotalVPN's 30 servers spread across six continents. This includes cities in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Notably, TotalVPN has servers in Russia, South Africa, and China, all of which are rarely seen among VPN providers.
In addition to using geographically diverse servers, Premium subscribers can browse without restrictions to bandwidth and data. They can also connect up to three different devices simultaneously, which is average for a VPN service. TotalVPN does not limit the number of devices that you enroll with the service, just how many connect at one time to TotalVPN. That should meet the needs of most users, but it's notable that Hostwinds VPN has no limit on the number of devices you add use, nor how many of them connect at a time.
Other services, such as NordVPN, effectively limit the number of connections by only providing customers with five or six licenses. The delightfully named Hide My Ass VPN requires an entirely separate subscription to enroll a mobile device in addition to your desktop subscription. TotalVPN's approach is not only simpler, but it will also probably save you money, too.
The free version of TotalVPN does come with a few restrictions. Free users can only connect to servers in Amsterdam, Iceland, or Singapore. If you live in the US and hope to get better speeds by choosing a domestic server, you're out of luck. TotalVPN also limits the amount of data you can use in the free version, and it only allows one connection at a time.
Regardless of whether you open your wallet to TotalVPN, you can choose which VPN protocol to use. TotalVPN currently supports PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and IkeV2. Choice is a good thing, but I'm disappointed that the service currently defaults to the older and less secure PPTP. OpenVPN is a better choice.
Hands-On With TotalVPN
TotalVPN puts its best foot forward with an excellent website, and continues to make a good impression with a stellar local client. You can download TotalVPN's software for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. The company notes that you can also install its software on game consoles and streaming boxes, but I couldn't discern how. TorGuard, on the other hand, sells routers and streaming boxes with its software preinstalled, ready to protect every device on your network. Yes, that includes your smart fridge.
The Windows client is very cleanly designed, with available servers down the left rail, topped with a search box. The large right panel shows location of the server you select on a world map, and sports a large Connect button. I especially like that you can add a star to your favorite servers, and toggle the view to only show your favorites. NordVPN also has a great client, but it's cluttered and VPN novices might be put off at how many advanced features it crams into the main window. The TotalVPN client is also very fast and responsive—much more so than the PureVPN client, for example.
If you're not into the whole app thing, you can connect and disconnect from the VPN using an icon in the system tray. I really like that your favorite servers list is mirrored here, for easy access.
What you won't find in the TotalVPN app are specialized servers and configurations. NordVPN and TorVPN, on the other hand, let you connect to the Tor anonymization network with additional VPN protection. And TorGuard has servers set aside for peer-to-peer downloading. In fact, such activities are specifically banned on TotalVPN. And while TotalVPN does show how crowded servers are at the moment on its online dashboard, that information is woefully missing from the Windows app.
Regardless of which VPN service you choose, you'll experience some change in your network performance, and probably not for the better. That's just the price you pay for bouncing your connection around the world. Note, however, that my tests found that PureVPN can actually speed up your Internet connection in some cases.
I stress-test VPNs with the Ookla Speedtest benchmark, which is owned by the parent company of PCMag. For this test, I select a VPN server in Australia and then select an Ookla test server in Fairbanks, Alaska. This should simulate network performance for extreme conditions. I found that TotalVPN increased latency by 305.9 percent. That's not the biggest increase in latency I've observed, but TotalVPN's impact is still on the higher end of the spectrum. HotSpot Shield Elite offers the lowest-latency international connection I've yet seen, at an increase of just 127 percent.
My testing also showed that TotalVPN decreased download speeds by 76.3 percent and upload speeds by 59.2 percent. That's a fairly significant slowdown. HideIPVPN reduced download speeds by only 7.4 percent, and NordVPN reduced upload speeds by only 31.1 percent.
For best performance, it's better to select a local server. I test this by selecting a New York VPN server and then running the Speedof.me speed test. This benchmark automatically selects the nearest server, so it gives you a better idea of the impact of using the VPN under normal circumstances. This is a newer test; I've only tested three VPNs this way, but the results are still interesting.
Speedof.me reported a 10.5 percent rise in latency for TotalVPN. That's a good score, compared with HostWinds' local score of 122.9 percent increase in latency. I also found a 6.4 percent decrease in download speeds with TotalVPN, and a 9.4 percent decrease in upload speeds. These are strong numbers, but not the best I've seen; Hostwinds decreased download speeds by 5.8 percent and NordVPN decreased upload speeds by 5.6 percent.
Of course, these are just numbers. The actual experience of using the Internet over the VPN is also very important, if anecdotal. While browsing the Web with TotalVPN connected to an Australian server, I found that media-heavy sites loaded quite slowly and sites that are mainly text based loaded only slightly faster. YouTube videos loaded quickly, but did not default to HD quality. Videos in 4K resolution simply did not load at all. If you're spoofing your location with TotalVPN, you'll definitely notice a decrease in performance.
The Total Package
TotalVPN has a lot going for it. The purchase and usage experience is excellent, and the geographical diversity of servers means it will meet the needs of just about anyone. Its international servers do have a significant impact on browsing speed, but its US servers are surprisingly fast.
Where TotalVPN falters is in its pricing and features. NordVPN is cheaper, and offers specific servers for high-speed video streaming and others for peer-to-peer downloads. Several other competing services offer similar options. It's a tough call, since the TotalVPN user experience is excellent. If TotalVPN's feature mix is right for you, it's definitely a service worth investigating. For the best all-around VPN experience, however, turn to Editors' Choice winners Private Internet Access and NordVPN.
By Max Eddy Software Analyst
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote for the International Digital Times, The International Science Times, and The Mary Sue. He has also been known to write for Geek.com. You can follow him on… More »
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