Affordable, flexible pricing structure. Nifty Touch Bar integration. Robust collection of servers. P2P and BitTorrent allowed. Supports OpenVPN. Information-dense client.
Lackluster overall speed performance. App Store version far better than downloadable version from KeepSolid's website.
- Bottom Line
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is a solid service with unparalleled flexible pricing, and robust security technology, but its interface feels clunky for a Mac app, and its speed tests results were only fair.
To keep spies, advertisers, and other ne'er-do-wells from snooping on your internet traffic, you need a virtual private network, or VPN. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is a strong offering, with a robust number of servers and server locations, as well as the most flexible pricing plans I've seen for a VPN. It also offers robust network security tools for macOS. A clunky interface and sub-par speed test scores hold its Mac client, back, however. It's still a worthy choice, but if it's a robust, low-cost macOS VPN you're looking for, I suggest Private Internet Access, one of our Editors' Choice winners.
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What Is a VPN?
Because the foundations of the internet were laid by university academics who valued openness, privacy and security were largely ignored. A VPN is a tool to protect your web traffic from observation and interception, a tool that should have been built into the internet in the first place. When you activate it, a VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server controlled by the VPN.
On its way to that server, no one can see your web traffic within the tunnel. That's great for using public Wi-Fi networks, where other users or even the operator of the network could potentially spy on your activities. It also protects your data from being observed by your ISP. That last point is a particularly good thing, considering that Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has given those companies the green light to start selling user data.
Because your web traffic appears to come from the VPN server, your IP address is effectively hidden. Anyone watching will instead see the VPN server's IP address. That's handy, since advertisers and spies can use IP addresses to track your movements between websites. It also lets you spoof your location and circumvent government censorship. Journalists and political activists in repressive countries have used VPNs to connect with blocked websites.
When you connect to a VPN server in a different country, it appears as if you are within that country. That's handy for unlocking region-locked content, such as BBC video streams, but streaming services aren't fans. Streaming video services in particular are often aggressive about blocking VPN services. It can, for example, be hard to find VPNs that work with Netflix.
It's important to remember that while VPNs are powerful, they're not perfect. Some claim to block malware, but they can't outperform standalone antivirus software on your computer. Using layers of security, starting at the network level with a VPN and going down to on-device encryption, is the best way to stay safe.
Pricing and Features
I cover KeepSolid VPN Unlimited's features and pricing structure extensively in my review of KeepSolid VPN Unlimited for Windows, and I recommend you read that review. I'll summarize below, however.
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited offers a subscription for $8.99 per month, which is less than the average for my top-rated VPN services. You can purchase your subscription using major credit cards, online payment platforms such as PayPal, and the anonymous Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The KeepSolid website also lists an annual plan for $39.99 and a lifetime plan for $149.99. If you purchase a subscription from within the app itself, you get many more options, starting at $3.99 per week. This level of flexibility is unmatched among VPN services, and one of VPN Unlimited's best features. KeepSolid does not offer a free version of its VPN service, but there are many excellent free VPNs out there.
A KeepSolid VPN Unlimited subscription lets you use up to five devices at a time, and you can add more devices for additional fees. That's in line with other services I've reviewed. KeepSolid offers Android and iPhone VPNs, as well as clients and plug-ins for Chrome, Firefox, Linux, macOS, and Windows. The company also offers static IP addresses and other add-ons for its subscriptions.
VPN Unlimited uses the OpenVPN protocol in its Android, Linux, and Windows clients. The iOS and macOS clients use IKEv1, IPSEC, and OpenVPN, as well the proprietary KeepSolid Wise. This last option disguises encrypted VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic, making it harder for anyone trying to block access to information via a VPN connection. TunnelBear and other services provide similar, branded tools, the use of which is generally recommended for people under government internet restrictions. I much prefer OpenVPN, which is newer, faster, and picked over by volunteers examining its open source code.
The number and location of servers is an important differentiator among VPN services. More servers means you're less likely to be stuffed into an overcrowded server and have to share the bandwidth with a crowd of neighbors. More server locations means you are more likely to find a server nearby when traveling, and it also gives you more options for location spoofing. KeepSolid offers more than 1,200 servers and an impressive 80-plus server locations. These include servers in areas known for a repressive stance on internet access, such as China, Russia, and Turkey. That's good, but I would also like to see the company offer more locations in Africa, the Middle East, and South America.
Its server count puts KeepSolid VPN Unlimited among the best VPNs, although it's a far cry from the 3,000-some servers offered by Private Internet Access, the most robust VPN service I've yet tested. NordVPN has some unique server offerings, with specialized servers for accessing the Tor anonymization network via VPN, or applying double encryption to your traffic.
Hands On With KeepSolid
I tested the KeepSolid VPN Unlimited app on a 15-inch 2016 MacBook Pro running the latest version of macOS Sierra. While VPN Unlimited does have a macOS client available for download from its website, it requires you to install a VPN profile every time you connect with a server. It also didn't perform very well in my speed tests, but more on that later. I highly recommend KeepSolid subscribers download the client from the Apple App Store. This version worked much better in my testing than the version I downloaded from the KeepSolid website, and it didn't require multiple reauthorizations to install VPN profiles. It's unfortunate that KeepSolid presents this confusing arrangement to its customers.
On its face, the KeepSolid VPN Unlimited macOS client is identical to its Windows counterpart. That's disappointing. NordVPN, by contrast, uses its core template and adds Apple-style flourishes that make it feel very much at home in the operating system, while retaining a consistent design across platforms. To its credit, however, VPN Unlimited takes full advantage of the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar, adding a toggle switch for the VPN connection, quick access to favorite servers, and a scrollable list of all available servers. It's a surprisingly engaging peek at what we might come to expect as more developers continue experimenting with this new piece of hardware.
The VPN Unlimited client consists of a single window with options down the side for various features and settings. A toggle button at the top activates or deactivates your VPN connection. This can also be controlled from the menu bar, which contains shortcuts to server lists and other important features. It's very easy to get up and running quickly, unlike PureVPN. That service has lots of useful scenarios to help you find the right VPN server to meet your needs, but it makes getting secured quickly somewhat of a chore.
The app prominently features a map of KeepSolid VPN Unlimited's available servers, and it places your actual location on the map, too. When you activate the VPN, it displays information about the server you've connected to, along with your real and apparent IP addresses. I really like maps as an interface for VPNs, but this one leaves me wanting. You can't zoom, pan, or click on any part of it. It's confusing, since the app presents the map first but has you make server selection elsewhere.
Despite my initial confusion with VPN Unlimited's map view, the client is otherwise straightforward. It certainly looks better than the bare bones Private Internet Access, but it isn't nearly as polished as NordVPN nor as friendly as TunnelBear. If you're looking for a superb user experience, I recommend either of those two.
The list of servers in the client is in the left tray. The servers are listed alphabetically, with a search bar at the top. Next to the name of each server is a percentage indicating the workload on that particular server, making it simple to avoid one that's overtaxed. VPN servers that allow BitTorrent are clearly marked, and two specialized servers for optimal performance and video streaming are at the top of the list. I like the amount of information this packs into one simple screen.
Confusingly, the Account section contains some of the most important settings; I expected it to only be the place for managing my payment options. Here you can configure the VPN Unlimited app to activate on startup, and select a different VPN protocol.
VPN Unlimited includes a DNS firewall, which aims to stop malware, advertising trackers, and ads at the network level. You can choose from several options, the least of which just provides VPN protection and the highest of which enables all the available tools. A blacklist and whitelist for this feature give you greater control over how KeepSolid behaves as you browse. I like that this is integrated directly into the client, but users keen on these specific features may want to consider TunnelBear. That service includes a standalone browser plug-in for ad and tracker blocking, one that has numerous options for what to block and when. While I always happy to see VPNs adding more protection for customers, I would never say that the malware blocking features of any VPN service could take the place of a stand-alone antivirus app, even on a Mac.
KeepSolid recently launched a Censorship Test tool that scans your internet connection to see which, if any, of 40-some websites are blocked in your region. It's useful information, and in exchange for sharing it with KeepSolid, the company will add one free day to your subscription for each test result.
Speed Test Results
Using a VPN adds more fiber and machines to the normal route your data must travel, and that generally means increasing your latency while decreasing the speed of your uploads and downloads. I try to get a sense for that impact by calculating the percent change between tests run using a VPN and those run without it, based on aggregate data I collected with the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.)
I do two rounds of speed testing on each VPN. My first test focuses on getting the best speeds, so I connect to whatever server the VPN client automatically selects. Generally, it's the server closest to my actual location. My second test is all about location spoofing. For this one, I stress test the VPN service by comparing speeds using a VPN server in Australia and an Ookla test server in Anchorage, Alaska.
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited gave me quite a bit of trouble in testing. I initially used the client available from the KeepSolid website, but the client wasn't able to complete my testing. A representative from KeepSolid informed me that the client available from the Apple App Store is the preferred option. I started my testing over and found that the App Store version worked fine. That said, it raises the question of why KeepSolid has a nonfunctional product available for download on its site.
In my domestic VPN testing, I found that KeepSolid VPN Unlimited increased latency by 16.7 percent. Private Internet Access had the least impact in this test, increasing latency by just 8.1 percent. Things took a turn for the worse in the download test, for which VPN Unlimited reduced download speeds by 21.1 percent—by far the least impressive score I've yet seen on a Mac. TunnelBear, on the other hand, actually improved download speeds by 22.1 percent. Things did not improve in the upload test, where VPN Unlimited reduced speeds by 11.5 percent. Private Internet Access again had the best score here, reducing upload speeds by 6.1 percent.
Interestingly, VPN Unlimited fared better in the international testing, which is generally the more difficult of the two tests. It increased latency by only 273.4 percent, which is in line with PureVPN and not far behind TunnelBear's 244.4 percent increase. In the download test, VPN Unlimited actually snuck into first place, reducing download speeds by a mere 11 percent. It had a good showing in the upload test, too, reducing speeds by 34.1 percent. PureVPN had the best score in this test, where it reduced speeds by 23.5 percent.
Overall, I would say that KeepSolid VPN Unlimited's performance in these tests was fair, with some surprising success in the international test undercut by poor domestic performance. Keep in mind, however, that my tests are just a snapshot in time, so your mileage may vary. Also, I highly discourage people from looking at speed as the deciding factor between VPNs. Overall value, design, and advanced features are far more important.
Finally while the effect of a VPN on your internet connection tends to be negative, that's not always the case. In my Windows testing, I found that PureVPN actually improved download speeds for two years running, and by significant amounts—between 300 and 400 percent. With that history of stellar performance, it takes the title of fastest VPN and has earned an Editors' Choice award. Sadly, it hasn't managed to repeat that success on other platforms. As of this writing, TunnelBear is the best choice for macOS users concerned about speed.
Good Under the Hood
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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