Hundreds of servers around the globe. Allows BitTorrenting. Can choose Always On VPN.
Unattractive, unwelcoming interface. Some slowdown in VPN speed tests. Relatively expensive.
- Bottom Line
VPN service IPVanish secures your iPhone's web traffic from prying eyes. It's not for newbies, nor is it cheap, but it does pack some powerful features for experienced VPN users.
If you've ever used an unsecured Wi-Fi network, you have unwittingly risked passing your personal information to crooks. Network security is a tricky thing, even on an iPhone, but using a virtual private network (VPN) like IPVanish VPN goes a long way toward making your web surfing safer and more secure. IPVanish allows P2P and BitTorrent traffic on all its servers, though this feature is more important on desktops than on mobile devices. And not all of its advanced features are available on iOS. It's a bit more expensive than much of the competition, and its interface could be better. For an even better all-around experience, we recommend KeepSolid VPN Unlimited or NordVPN, both of which bundle strong, flexible security into user-friendly, affordable VPN services.
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What Is a VPN?
Wi-Fi is everywhere, but secure Wi-Fi is uncommon. If you want a secure connection, use a VPN! All your web traffic goes to the VPN server through a secure, encrypted tunnel. This means that someone spying on your local network, say at a coffee shop, won't be able to see your activities. Furthermore, government snoops and advertisers won't be to see your true IP address while you browse the web. Even your ISP will have a hard time gathering and selling your data when you use a VPN.
People concerned about security use VPNs every day. Journalists and activists in countries with restrictive internet policies have used VPNs to keep in contact with the rest of the world and access content banned by the government.
While most of us won't have to worry about oppressive regimes, the average person can get more than just additional security from using a VPN. You can also use a VPN service's numerous servers to spoof your location and watch region-locked streaming content. But be advised: some media companies are getting wise. In fact, being able to view Netflix with a VPN is becoming a rare experience.
Features and Pricing
IPVanish has a simple pricing scheme with just three options, depending on how often you're billed. All have the same feature set. The service costs $11.99 per month, $35.97 billed every three months, or $143.88 billed annually. As is the case with most VPN services, IPVanish offers an ever-changing variety of special deals and discounts.
That price is above the average for a VPN; there are many more affordable options out there. Both Private Internet Access and Editors' Choice KeepSolid VPN Unlimited have monthly plans under $7.00. If price is a major concern, consider looking at a free VPN instead.
You can pay for IPVanish with any major credit card, as well as via PayPal, Boleto, GiroPay, iDeal, and, of course, Bitcoin. The last is a good option if you're concerned about keeping your payments anonymous. Some other VPN services, such as TorGuard VPN (for iPhone), allow you to use prepaid cards from other merchants for anonymous payments. If you ever wanted to use a Subway gift card to buy a VPN subscription, TorGuard is a good option.
IPVanish boasts over 750 VPN servers spread across 61 countries. It's a robust list, including servers in Africa, Asia (including China), Central and South America, North America, Europe, India, and the Middle East. In terms of geographic diversity, only a few of the best services can boast a list of servers this large and complete, Editors' Choice winner NordVPN among them. Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone), goes even further, with more than 3,000 servers the world over, making it the most globe-girdling VPN service we've seen.
You won't find any IPVanish servers in Russia, though. The company recently suspended operations in Russia, as local law conflicts with the company's zero-log policy. Other VPN companies, including Private Internet Access have done the same. As part of that zero-log policy, IPVanish maintains its headquarters in the US, which does not have mandatory data retention laws.
In addition to the iPhone app reviewed here, IPVanish offers native apps for Android, ChromeOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. You can even install it on your home network's router. Putting a VPN on your router might sound strange, but doing so secures all the traffic flowing through the router, including devices like the PlayStation 4, which can't have VPN software installed locally. If you're interested in having a VPN router, but you don't want to set it up yourself, IPVanish has partnered with retailers to provide routers with the necessary software already installed. TorVPN has a similar offering, but has fewer features as a VPN service. And of course, once you're out and about with your mobile device, you get no protection from that router.
Users can enroll up to five devices with IPVanish. That's on par with other VPN services, though offers six devices, and VPN Unlimited lets you add devices for an incremental cost. Also, some VPN services have been known to inject ads into your web browsing to earn a bit more cash. A representative for IPVanish assures us that the company does not use this practice.
Only a few VPNs allow the use of BitTorrent for any purpose, and most that do restrict the activity to specific servers. NordVPN (for iPhone) is one such service, and TorGuard is another. Most heavy downloaders hoover up content on their desktops, not their mobile devices. However, if you're that rare person who downloads tons of torrents to the iPhone, you're sure to appreciate the freedom and flexibility of IPVanish, which doesn't restrict BitTorrent at all.
One thing you won't get with IPVanish is ad-blocking. For that, you'll have to look elsewhere, perhaps to Private Internet Access or AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone).
Hands On With IPVanish
IPVanish installed without a hitch on the Apple iPhone 7 that we used for testing. A minimal tutorial helps get you started, and it proved useful. Without the tutorial, we wouldn't have realized that you can slide an item from the server list to the left to mark it as a favorite.
The blocky main window features a big Connect button at the bottom. Your actual IP address and location appear at the top, while the middle of the window simply informs you that "You are not connected." It's practically brutalist, compared to the whimsical interface of TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone) or Hide My Ass.
By default, tapping the button connects with the best available server in the best available city in your country. You can tap the country, city, or server button to make your own selections. Tapping those three items lists all countries, cities, or servers, respectively, but these lists are ridiculously long, and not searchable. Fortunately, there's a better way to choose a server. Just tap Servers from the menu. Now you get a useful list of cities and their countries, with the number of servers in each city. Tap that number for a list of servers, along with the ping latency and load percent of each. Choosing one with a low load means a better chance for a fast connection.
A search box narrows the list with every character you type, showing only server names that match what you've typed so far. You can also filter the list by country, or have it show only servers with a ping latency below a threshold you specify. The Windows app also lets you search by available protocols; that's not a feature under iOS.
IPVanish offers settings not found in most of its competitors, but they're awkwardly implemented. You can set it to always use VPN when logged in to specific Wi-Fi hotspots, but you must type in the SSIDs yourself. We'd be happier if it let you save a list of trusted hotspots, and kick in automatically for any hotspot not on the list, the way KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for iPhone) and a few others do. You can also set it to turn on for specific domains, typing in the domains yourself. The average user just doesn't need that. It's much easier to just enable Always On VPN connection.
IPVanish uses the IKEv2 protocol by default, as do most iOS VPNs. We prefer OpenVPN, but Apple requires additional vetting for any app that wants to connect using OpenVPN. Most companies don't bother. OpenVPN is the default for IPVanish's Windows edition.
IPVanish VPN on Windows has a few other features not found in the iOS edition. In particular, the Kill Switch blocks all apps from web access unless the VPN is active. Apple's tight control over what apps can do means that implementing this feature is difficult under iOS.
While using IPVanish on Windows, we managed to access Netflix while connected to a US-based VPN server. It seems that Netflix has caught up, though. On the iPhone, attempting to stream video just triggered a network error message. With the VPN turned off, streaming worked just fine.
While we were putting IPVanish through our testing, the iPhone spontaneously rebooted several times. That's not something we've ever seen an iOS device do. There's no proof IPVanish is responsible, but it was a surprising experience nonetheless.
VPN Speed Tests
VPN services generally impact your web browsing. Usually, this means slower download speeds, slower upload speeds, and increased latency. This is especially true when connecting to servers in far-flung locales. A notable exception is PureVPN on Windows, which greatly improved browsing speeds in our testing. It has been the fastest VPN for two years running.
To get a feel for the impact a VPN makes on web browsing, we take a series of speed measurements using Ookla's speedtest tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.) We then compare the average results without a VPN to results collected while the VPN is running and calculate the difference as a percentage. For these tests, we disable the unpredictable cellular connection by turning on airplane mode, then re-enable the Wi-Fi connection.
Routing your internet traffic through an additional server, even a nearby one, tends to increase latency. That's the time it takes for your device to ping a server and get a response. In our testing, IPVanish increased latency by 329.2 percent. That's quite a bit, but with Hotspot Shield latency grew by 483.3 percent, and TunnelBear raised latency by a whopping 601.4 percent.
Latency is most critical when your online activity is time-sensitive, perhaps an online fighting game. If you're worried about lag, NordVPN or VPN Unlimited may be better for you. NordVPN increased latency by just 22.5 percent, and VPN Unlimited by 31.1 percent.
All of the recently tested iPhone VPNs slowed uploads, but not by a huge amount. The biggest slowdown, earned by Private Internet Access, was just 13 percent. With a mere 3.5 percent drag, IPVanish has the best score in this test.
Before you start applauding, we must point out that IPVanish slowed downloads by 21.7 percent, the second-worst score. Download speed actually improved with several products in this group. With PureVPN (for iPhone), downloads went 6.8 percent faster, and with Hide My Ass, download speed increased by 10 percent.
Keep in mind that networks can change depending on the time of day, the number of people connected, and a host of other variables. You may find that your experience just doesn't match our testing. But our testing does suggest that IPVanish on an iPhone has more of an impact on download speed and latency than many of its competitors.
One for the Experts
IPVanish crams a lot of surprising, advanced tools into its service. Its pricing is on the high side, though, and those using it strictly on iOS devices may not be willing to pay for the unfettered, encrypted access to BitTorrent and P2P services. While its speed test scores aren't stunning, they do show that using IPVanish won't make your life miserable. IPVanish is a solid service, though its high cost and clunky interface mean it won't unseat our Editors' Choice iPhone VPN apps, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited and NordVPN.
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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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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