Good speed-test scores. Wide selection of features. Many servers.
Limited, overly simple app. Confusing server information. Does not automatically select fastest server.
- Bottom Line
TorGuard's VPN service is among the most comprehensive available, and it earns decent scores in our speed tests. Its user interface could use an update, however.
Your first line of defense against online data snooping, even on an iPhone, should be a virtual private network, or VPN. The TorGuard service is first rate, offering numerous servers across the globe and plenty of flexible, advanced options. But the app itself is not the best choice for beginners. TorGuard, as a service, gets a high score, but our Editors' Choice selections for iPhone VPN apps remain NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, both of which offer a better user experience.
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What Is a VPN?
Your home network is (probably) safe, but what about when you're out and about with your iPhone? The public Wi-Fi at the coffee shop is just that—public. Anyone else on the network could be snooping on your traffic. Worse, your phone may automatically connect to what it thinks is a safe and familiar network, but is actually a specially configured, malicious device. If that happens, an attacker can play man-in-the-middle with your data without your even knowing it.
To protect against these threats and more, you need a VPN. When active, the VPN routes your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. This means that no one on the network can sneak peeks at your data, not even the network's owner. Your data then travels through the encrypted tunnel and exits on to the public internet from a server operated by the VPN. This has the benefit of disguising your IP address and actual location, since any spies or advertisers out on the Web will only see the IP address of the VPN server.
Journalists and political activists use VPNs every day to access the public Internet when operating out of places with repressive Internet policies. On the lighter side, you can use VPNs to unlock region-locked content, such as free streams of BBC TV shows or MLB games.
Note that Apple requires that apps wishing to use the open-source OpenVPN protocol undergo additional vetting. As a result, most VPN companies opt not to include OpenVPN as an option in their iPhone apps, even if the service supports it elsewhere. KeepSolid is one of the few that supports OpenVPN under iOS. TorGuard users can choose from the well-known IPSec protocol or the newer IKEv2 protocol.
Unlike Wi-Fi, your cellular signals are harder to intercept. But interception isn't impossible. A dedicated attacker can jam the LTE and 3G bands, and trick your phone into connecting to a portable cell tower (called a femtocell) over 2G, which uses weak encryption. For maximum security, consider using your VPN even when you're connecting to a cellular network rather than Wi-Fi.
Pricing and Features
TorGuard's app is available for free through the Apple App Store. We had no trouble installing it on an Apple iPhone 7. You can purchase a subscription via Apple Pay on your phone, or you can pay on the TorGuard website, which accepts credit cards and PayPal as well as anonymous options including Bitcoin and prepaid gift cards.
A one-month subscription with TorGuard costs $9.99, which is about the industry average. A three-month subscription is $19.99 and a six-month subscription is $29.99. An entire year of coverage costs $59.99. Note, however, that nearly every VPN offers lots of discounts and promotions, so you can likely purchase a plan for even less. The only difference between the tiers is duration, so even the most affordable level offers all the features of the most expensive. That's great.
That said, you can get effective VPN protection at a lower price. A subscription with the Private Internet Access iPhone VPN app, for example, costs only $6.99 per month, and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for iPhone) is also $6.99 per month. TorGuard is more affordable than NordVPN, which costs $11.95 a month, but that service has other advantages, as we'll explain.
That subscription lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously to the TorGuard network, which is average for the industry. TorGuard boasts more than 1,600 servers across some 51 countries. Note that these numbers change often, usually in an upward direction. TorGuard offers server locations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, India, and the Middle East, as well as Central, North, and South America. Many VPNs don't have much coverage in Africa or the Middle East, so we're glad to see TorGuard's presence in these regions. TorGuard notably offers servers in China and Russia, too. That's a great showing, bettered only by Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone), which claims over 3,000 servers in more locations, and Hotspot Shield Elite, with more than 2,000 servers.
A large number of diversely distributed servers is important for two reasons. First, it gives you lots of options to choose an exit point for your internet traffic. Second, and more importantly, the availability of many servers means you're more likely to find a server nearby if you are traveling. The closer the server, the better the performance. If you're traveling in Africa and the closest server is in England, you can imagine that forcing your traffic to travel thousands of additional miles would degrade your internet experience.
NordVPN (for iPhone) offers specific servers for specific activities, which is a feature we like. If you want to stream video, use the high-speed video server. If you want to use P2P or BitTorrent, use the appropriate server for the best results. TorGuard doesn't provide this clarity from its iPhone app. If you want to see how crowded a server is, or whether or not it allows P2P, you have to go to TorGuard's website. That's sure to be confusing for beginning users, and it's not the best experience even for seasoned VPN experts.
Unlike Android, iOS allows developers to dabble with ad-blocking apps. These only limit ads appearing in the Safari browser, so even Editors' Choice winner 1Blocker (for iPhone) won't filter ads while you're browsing with the Firefox app. TorGuard and Private Internet Access are among the few VPN services that can filter out unwanted advertisements at the network level. However, there's no simple switch to enable ad-blocking in TorGuard. Rather, you must configure the iPhone to use TorGuard's DNS servers.
One of the most remarkable things about TorGuard is the level of customization it offers for a subscription. A shared, static IP address is included, but you can opt for a dedicated IP address in the region of your choice for an additional fee. Other perks include additional licenses, allowing more devices to use TorGuard simultaneously, and access to a 10Gbps premium network. We'll spare you the details of these options, since it's handled outside the iPhone app. Be sure to look at our review of TorGuard VPN on Windows for a more complete look at everything TorGuard has to offer in this regard.
Interestingly, you cannot access the Tor anonymization network through TorGuard. If you're looking for that feature, you're better off with NordVPN. Instead, the "Tor" in "TorGuard" refers to BitTorrent, as the company operates many servers that allow torrenting.
Note that TorGuard is based in the US, a country without mandatory data-retention laws. Data rentention can be an issue if you're worried about the VPN holding on to information that might be subject to subpoena someday. It shouldn't be a problem with TorGuard. Also, some VPN companies used to inject ads into users' web traffic in order to monetize their users. A representative from TorGuard confirms that the company does not use this tactic saying, "It's not something we would even consider."
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Hands On With TorGuard
The TorGuard iPhone app is mostly confined to a single screen. Here, you can select the server of your choice from the drop-down menu. It's a lengthy list, organized by country, with little information about the actual servers. To see the server's status or whether BitTorrent is allowed, you must log in to the TorGuard website. The app also doesn't help with server selection, which is disappointing. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and most other iPhone VPNs do a good job of finding the nearest available server. NordVPN also breaks down its server listing by purpose, making it more accessible for new users.
Tapping the Connect button prompts you to log in to the TorGuard service. You can save your login credentials, but even then, you still have to tap again to actually activate the VPN. It's not a big deal, but NordVPN and other services have more elegant interfaces.
Settings are few and far between in the simple TorGuard VPN app, but it does let you choose between IPSec and IKEv2 VPN protocols. The TorGuard service also supports L2TP, OpenVPN, PPTP, and SSTP, but those protocols are not included in the iPhone app.
We can always appreciate a minimalist app, but we think TorGuard's is so minimal as to actually be confusing. NordVPN is far more user-friendly and more like other mainstream apps, which we think helps new users grasp how to use VPN services. TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone) and Hide My Ass go beyond friendly to whimsical, without losing sight of their purpose. TorGuard would do well to freshen up its iPhone offering's interface.
VPN Speed Test Scores
Using a VPN service usually degrades the quality of your internet connection. Adding miles (sometimes, thousands of miles) of cable and at least one extra server to the path your Web traffic must travel usually slows downloads and uploads, and increases latency. TorGuard is no exception, though its impact on connection speeds is lower than many.
To test VPN performance, we run several speed tests with the Ookla speed test app. (PCMag's parent company, Ziff Davis, also owns Ookla.) We then compare the average of the tests performed without the VPN active to the average of tests performed with the VPN active, and calculate a percentage change. Networks are very finicky things, so your mileage may vary.
TorGuard on iPhone increased latency by 108.3 percent. That's not so bad compared to the 601.4 percent slowdown exhibited by TunnelBear, or 483.3 percent by AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone). NordVPN had the least effect on latency in our recent tests, just 22.5 percent, and KeepSolid was close with 31.1 percent.
TorGuard's effect on download speed was small; it slowed downloads by 8.2 percent. That's certainly better than the 60.9 percent slowdown caused by TunnelBear. However, Golden Frog VyprVPN (for iPhone) and Hotspot Shield actually improved download speed, if only a percent or two. With PureVPN, downloads went 6.8 percent faster, and with Hide My Ass, 10.1 percent faster.
All recent iPhone VPNs had some effect on upload speed, from 3.5 percent by IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) to 13 percent by Private Internet Access. TorGuard's 6.6 percent slowdown falls roughly in the middle of the pack.
In our testing, browsing the web with TorGuard active didn't seem noticeably faster than without, but it certainly wasn't worse, and that's important. Even pages with numerous media elements loaded as quickly as we would expect. Testing TorGuard VPN on Windows, we managed to stream videos without hitting Netflix's guardian algorithms. That proved not to be the case with the iPhone edition. Trying to stream with the VPN active just yielded a network error.
Like Private Internet Access, TorGuard doesn't place a premium on user experience or elegant design. The TorGuard app is spare to the point of being Spartan, and the act of simply turning a VPN connection on takes more steps than it should. But, also like Private Internet Access, it has a robust infrastructure, with more than 1,600 servers across the globe. The service did rack up decent speed test scores, and it's a highly functional app. In the meanwhile, if you're looking for a more friendly, easy-to-use experience, look our Editors' Choice selections for iPhone VPN apps, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited 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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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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