VPNArea is a popular and well-established VPN run by the Bulgarian-based firm Offshore Security EOOD.
The service has a lengthy list of appealing features. It covers 60+ countries all around the world, has support for six simultaneous connections, DNS and WebRTC leak blocking, P2P support and a clear ‘no logs’ claim.
The company offers custom clients for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, which usually makes for easier setup. It also indicates a provider with some resources behind it, as opposed to just being some guy reselling servers from his bedroom.
Prices are reasonable at around $10 (£8) for a month, $8.33 (£6.66) a month if you pay for six months upfront, or $4.92 (£3.94) a month with an annual contract.
The company has a ‘dedicated IP’ option which it says gets you your own private VPN server from $15 (£12) a year extra. We’d guess there’s a catch somewhere, but even if it’s just a dedicated IP, that’s a good price.
There’s no trial, but VPNArea does offer a seven-day refund. This isn’t automatic – you have to request it by sending an email – and as usual with VPNs, you’re not covered if you’ve previously claimed a refund from the company. But otherwise there are no sneaky ‘can’t have used more than x amount of bandwidth’-type exclusions, and VPNArea’s website states “we have never refused a refund request”, not a claim we remember seeing elsewhere.
VPNArea’s website highlights the fact that it doesn’t keep logs, and the company FAQ page provides a little more detail.
“Our hosting is based in Switzerland. Our company is registered in Bulgaria. Since we’re not an internet provider we do not fall under the data-retention laws in the country where the company is registered. Therefore we do not keep logs of your activity.”
The company doesn’t tell us whether it logs or retains session data: login dates, times, incoming and outgoing IP addresses, bandwidth used and so on. That’s not a critical issue, but we prefer VPN providers that spell out these details, too.
VPNArea’s policy on disclosure of personal information is more encouraging. Many other providers say they’ll hand it over if they believe it to be a legal requirement, which could just mean they’re persuaded by whoever is asking. VPNArea says it won’t do anything until it gets a court order, and will “fight every legal request for compliance with the law”. Although as the company also says it hasn’t received any requests yet, it doesn’t seem like much of a risk.
Elsewhere, VPNArea’s strongest privacy plus is its signup form. While other companies often demand a physical address, and sometimes even your phone number, here you can get started with nothing more than your email.
While scouring the small print we also noticed that VPNArea allows account sharing with friends, family or colleagues, something explicitly forbidden by most providers. The company also says it recommends no more than two users connect at the same time, and it probably won’t accept both of you downloading torrents 24/7, but this is still much more flexibility than you’ll usually see elsewhere.
Choosing your VPNArea plan is unusually easy, as the company crams everything onto a single page: a comparison table for the various plans, the form for creating a user account, a choice of payment details (card, PayPal, Bitcoin), even a FAQ to clarify some important product issues. This makes for a lot of vertical scrolling, but it’s much better than some other providers, where you don’t even get to see the demand to enter your phone number (or whatever) until you’re several steps into the purchase process.
This mostly worked as expected, although we were a little disappointed to see the password field didn’t support symbols. It’s surely not that difficult to implement, and not the kind of issue we’d expect from a security company.
After we’d paid, the website displayed a clear page with our username, registered email address, and a link to the Members Area where we could log in. Within seconds an excellent welcome email arrived with extra details including links to the main clients and advice on where we could go for support.
VPNArea’s Windows client is more complex than most. While others strip even desktop clients to a minimum – click a flag and connect right away – VPNArea crams in as many details as it can.
The servers and speed tab lists servers by city, for instance, not just by country. It’s a very long list, and there’s no Favourites system to bypass it. But there are also useful extras, like the ability to select multiple servers and run speed tests on them in a couple of clicks.
We ran a few tests – and came across a worrying problem. Almost whenever we ran the regular Flash applet at Speedtest.net, VPNArea’s log pane reported an error message (Authenticate/Decrypt packet error: bad packet ID) and dropped the connection. The client doesn’t display any notification of this, not even an audio warning, and if you carry on working online you’ll be giving away your real IP.
We’re no idea how common this might be (it didn’t happen with any other site, or at any other time), or whether it affects other platforms. At any rate, you can guard against this issue by enabling the ‘kill switch’, which shuts off web traffic if your connection drops. But it’s still a concern that you can lose the connection without any notification beyond the client window, which will probably be minimised and out of sight.
Once we figured out how to run performance tests*, VPNArea gave us mixed results. UK and near-European connections delivered a reasonable 20-30Mbps, but head overseas and the picture isn’t clear. Some US connections were good, for instance – 25Mbps to Miami, 22Mbps to Los Angeles – but speeds elsewhere fell to 5Mbps from one New York server, 12Mbps in New Jersey. This suggests you should get acceptable performance most of the time, but might have to switch servers occasionally.
We completed our evaluation with some privacy tests, and these were more successful. VPNArea correctly shielded our identity at all times, blocking DNS and WebRTC leaks without any extra effort on our part.
VPNArea’s connection drops were annoying, but if you can avoid them there’s a lot to like here. Overall, this provider is worth a try, especially for experts who’ll appreciate the configuration options here, but be sure to test the service carefully.
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we’ve reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.