Good geographic diversity of VPN servers. Allows P2P and BitTorrent. Plays nice with Netflix.
Pricey. No free version. Lacks advanced features. Ad-blocking is not an option. Uneven hands-on performance.
- Bottom Line
Buffered VPN offers strong international speed test scores and a colorful client, but it's expensive and doesn't offer much in the way of advanced features.
By Max Eddy
The internet is an old thing based on old ideas, one of them being that security isn't an issue because there are no bad guys online. This might have been true in the days of ARPANET, but it's far from true anymore, which is why virtual private networks (or VPNs) like Buffered VPN are so important. With Buffered VPN, you can rest assured that your data is safe and your privacy protected. The service earns good scores in our speed tests, but it's held back by its comparatively high price and middling hands-on performance. It will protect you, but we prefer our Editors' Choice winners, such as the feature-rich NordVPN as well as the affordable and powerful Private Internet Access.
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What Is a VPN?
When you surf the web, there are several places where your information could be intercepted or your movements tracked. If you're using a public internet connection—wired or Wi-Fi—the owner of that network could potentially see everything you're doing. They might even be able to insert themselves into your data, potentially serving you bogus websites. You need a VPN because they can help mitigate many of those threats by placing your web traffic in an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server run by the VPN company.
Even at home, on your trusty network, there are risks. While it's unlikely that an attacker will bother meddling with your router, your ISP has eyes on your movements. Recent changes by the US government have given ISPs a green light to sell anonymized user data to third parties. Using a VPN can help keep your activities out of those bundles.
There are other threats out on the web, too. Many websites will note your IP address, helping them sense your movements across the web to send you targeted advertisements. When you use a VPN, websites, advertisers, and three-letter agencies will see the VPN server's IP address, and not yours.
If it's speed you're after, you're usually better off connecting to the nearest VPN server the company offers. But if you choose a far-flung server, your traffic will appear to originate from that location. Journalists and political activists have used this technology for years, and you too can get in on the location spoofing action. It's particularly useful for viewing region-locked content, such as free MLB and BBC streams. Note, however, that companies like Netflix and Hulu are starting to get wise and have begun actively blocking VPN users.
Pricing and Features
Like most VPN services, Buffered VPN uses a subscription model. A one-month subscription will run you $12.99, a six-month subscription $59.94, and an annual subscription $99.00. The company accepts major credit cards and PayPal, but it doesn't offer untraceable options like Bitcoin or gift cards. If you're looking for that additional layer of anonymity, consider Editors' Choice winner Private Internet Access.
Buffered VPN also charges significantly more than the average VPN service. Private Internet Access costs just $6.95 per month, and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited $6.99 per month. In general, if a VPN service is going to charge more than $10 per month, it needs to offer something extra special to justify that cost. While Buffered VPN is a fine service, it isn't the best value.
With a subscription, up to five of your devices can use Buffered VPN's services, which is average for the industry. The company has VPN clients for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows, so you'll have no trouble protecting all your devices. If you want to extend that protection to your smart home devices (be they fridges or PlayStations), you can also purchase a router with Buffered VPN's software preinstalled. With such a router, every device on your network would have VPN protection, even if they can't run the software themselves. Many other services offer router software, but I like that Buffered VPN lets you just buy the preconfigured hardware.
Buffered VPN has a fairly robust service, offering hundreds of servers in 37 countries. These include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia. Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK, and the US. Many VPN companies ignore the middle east, Africa, and regions with repressive laws regarding internet access, such as China, Russia, and Turkey. Buffered VPN declined to share an exact figure on how many servers it offers in total, but did confirm that it was over 500.
Despite its offering, Buffered VPN cannot compare with Private Internet Access, which has over 3,200 servers in about 25 locations across the globe. NordVPN, another service with a robust server offering, has about 730 servers in 58 locations. These numbers matter. Numerous servers mean it's more likely you'll find one that's not overcrowded with users, who can suck down precious bandwidth and slow the service. Furthermore, lots of server locations means more choices for location spoofing. More importantly, it also makes it easier to find a nearby server no matter where you go. Closer servers generally mean better performance and a more reliable connection.
One restriction that Buffered VPN users won't have to worry about is P2P or BitTorrent blocking. You can use these services on any Buffered VPN server. That's unusual; NordVPN and other services that allow such protocols limit their uses to specific servers. TorGuard, however, has more in-depth offerings for avid torrenters, including static IP addresses and high-speed network access.
Buffered VPN does not offer ad-blocking, unfortunately. TunnelBear has an excellent ad-blocking and tracker-blocking tool for users, which it presents with its trademark tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.
While some VPN companies might want to store as little information as possible, local law occasionally requires that they store and provide specific information. Buffered VPN recently changed its operational location from Hungary to Gibraltar. A company representative told me the move means better privacy protection for consumers, as Gibraltar has no mandatory data retention laws.
In the past, I've seen VPN companies that used their privileged position for profit, either by selling user data or even by injecting ads into users' web traffic. A Buffered VPN representative assures me this is not the case with the company.
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Hands On With Buffered VPN
I had no trouble installing the Buffered VPN client on to my Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running Windows 10. The app installed swiftly, and I was soon up and running.
The Buffered VPN app looks very much like an Android app. It's long and thin with an overflow menu in the corner. You click this menu to access some of the app's less pressing features, like a firewall test that determines which ports are available for use. Irritatingly, the overflow menu is semi-transparent, making it difficult to read. It's not a bad-looking app by any stretch, but isn't nearly as friendly or functional as UI standouts like NordVPN and TunnelBear.
The main page consists of a list, showing all the countries where Buffered VPN has servers. If you frequently use the same server, you can mark it with a star and it moves to the top of the page. It's simple, but not particularly elegant or a pleasure to look at. Most of the settings are found elsewhere, although you probably won't need most of them.
Many of the VPNs I have tested include a kill switch feature that prevents your apps from communicating in the clear should your VPN temporarily disconnect. I couldn't find such a feature Buffered VPN.
Settings, Advanced and Otherwise (Mostly Otherwise)
The most advanced option Buffered VPN offers is letting users choose which port to use. There's also an option to display a ping test on the main page, which lets you know how much latency is on each server. I like this feature, but NordVPN goes further, with additional stats on server health, as well as specialized servers for activities like accessing Tor or streaming video. Buffered VPN does include a download speed test tool, but it's only accessible after you've connected to that server. That doesn't really help much.
You won't find any advanced features in Buffered VPN. While most users probably won't notice, the more seasoned security wonk will be frustrated. One feature I am disappointed not to see is a tool for automatically switching on the VPN when connecting to an insecure network. TunnelBear has this. Another useful feature not found in Buffered VPN is a whitelist of applications that don't have to use the VPN connection, which can be handy for gaming or other high-bandwidth activities. PureVPN does offer this feature.
Note that Buffered VPN only uses the open-source OpenVPN protocol to secure your traffic. I prefer services that use OpenVPN, since it generally performs better and has the benefit of open-source support. That said, some users may chafe at having no choice about which protocol to use.
If you're a heavy Netflix user (and who isn't at this point?), you'll be pleased to know that Netflix is accessible even when Buffered VPN is active. That said, Netflix works hard to block VPN users, so who knows how long this will last.
Speed Test Results
Speed isn't everything, but it is the number-one question I get about VPNs. Using a VPN puts more steps between you and the internet, and that generally means a slower internet browsing experience. Some VPNs, such as Editors' Choice winner PureVPN, buck this trend and actually improve speeds, but they are few and far between. To see which VPNs deliver the best speeds, you can read my roundup of the fastest VPNs.
I test VPNs using the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.) First, I compare the average results without the VPN to the results taken when connected to a nearby VPN server. This test puts an emphasis on speed and reliability, and it is probably similar to the way most people will use the product. In a second round of testing, I compare the average results when the VPN is connected to a server in Australia and an Ookla test server in Anchorage, Alaska. This is a stress test, and gives insight into how the service performs over great distances. Note that these tests are just a snapshot of performance, and your mileage will certainly vary.
In the domestic test, I found that Buffered VPN increased latency by 40 percent, which is significantly higher than most other services I've tested. The lowest latency connection in my testing came from Hide My Ass VPN. Buffered VPN fared better in the download test, where it slowed downloads by only 5.7 percent. Still, it was outdone by PureVPN, which actually improved download speeds by 346.4 percent. In the upload speed test, Buffered VPN reduced speeds by only 6.2 percent, barely behind the best score of 4.9 percent from PureVPN.
The international speed test presented more varied results. Buffered VPN is the dubious holder of the worst latency score, increasing latency by 390.3 percent. Of course, latency is measured in milliseconds, and even a large increase may go unnoticed by many users. Buffered VPN did, however, manage to eke out a 9.9 percent improvement to download speeds. Only TunnelBear and PureVPN managed to do the same, although by significantly larger margins—98.9 percent and 403.8 percent, respectively. Buffered VPN's upload test results were decidedly average, slowing upload speeds by 7.7 percent. AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite holds the record in this test, improving speeds by 1.4 percent.
As always, the results only tell a part of the story. I always spend time using each VPN to gather some anecdotal results about what it's like to actually use each service. I found Buffered VPN rather touchy in my testing. It frequently had trouble connecting to servers, and it often spontaneously disconnected. I felt that Buffered VPN had a noticeably negative impact on my web browsing experience.
Needs Buffing and Polishing
Buffered VPN clearly understands what makes a good VPN service. It uses an excellent protocol and has numerous servers available around the world. There's obviously an effort to create a simple, enjoyable user experience in the client, and the service performed well in a few speed tests. But its showing in my hands-on testing was less impressive, with frequent dropped connections. Buffered VPN also costs significantly more than most other VPNs I've tested. Buffered VPN has potential, but for now I continue to recommend our Editors' Choice winners, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and PureVPN.
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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