Mullvad is a Sweden-based virtual private network that markets itself primarily as a means of fighting internet censorship. Whether you’re worried about people snooping on your activities while on public WiFi or trying to circumvent surveillance by corporations or governments, Mullvad has a suite of features aiming to protect you.
It may not have the geographical coverage, the speed or the easy configurability of a service like ExpressVPN (see our ExpressVPN review) but we think that for the price it’s one of the best VPN options out there, offering a good all round service that combines speed, security and an ability to get into geoblocked content.
- Gets into Netflix
- Good speeds on some servers
- No DNS leaks
- Good client interface
- Accepts cash payment
- Poor speeds on some servers
- Can’t get into BBC iPlayer
- Mediocre server spread
- Trial is 3 hours
Mullvad software is open source, and if you’re a connoisseur of such things you can link to the code on GitHub from its download page. This makes it one of those VPN services that seem aimed at techies as much as Netflix addicts.
This impression is reinforced when you see the trouble it has taken to be configurable by the geeks among you, but also to explain to ordinary users what these features mean. If you have ambitions to understand VPN software, Mullvad’s guides offer a kind of tutorial in the finer points of VPN technology.
It has a standard, mobile-sized client, even for desktops, that is attached to the icon at the top of your screen, allowing you to see your connection status and your settings, and to choose a country and a connection type in a few clicks.
However, it doesn’t give you a lot of encryption options within the interface, and comparing the earlier and later versions, it seems to be gradually moving towards a more user-friendly, less technically demanding experience for ordinary customers.
Mullvad has an automatically enabled killswitch that disconnects your internet if you lose your connection to the VPN, ensuring that nobody catches a glimpse of your IP address while you’re unprotected. This is a now common security feature on the VPN market and something that distinguishes the VPN services that are more serious about security.
Another such feature is split tunneling which you can configure using Tunnelblick, a free open source software. Split tunneling allows you to choose which apps on your computer go through the VPN server, and helps you optimize your connection speed if you’re using the VPN for gaming or torrenting.
A final notable feature is that Mullvad can be used in a range of thirteen languages. In addition to the main European languages, you’re given the option of Turkish, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.
Mullvad has one pricing option of 5 euros per month, which is equivalent to the price of most mid-range VPN services if you pay for a year’s subscription. Month to month it’s a lot cheaper and therefore it’s good value for money given that it has no DNS leaks, gets into Netflix and has good technical support (though we will admit that it’s not one of our best VPN for Netflix picks).
If you want to try it out before paying for it you can get a three-hour trial, which is long enough to get the hang of its basic suite of features, if not to test some of the more advanced technical configurations that are available within it. If you do want to test its advanced options you can get a generous 30-day money-back guarantee.
Mullvad accepts bitcoin, cash, bank wire, credit card, PayPal and Swish. Its 30-day-money-back guarantee doesn’t apply if you pay cash. You can pay any amount of cash and Mullvad will match a period of service to it: 17 euros, for example, will get you 100 days of usage.
We have to admit that this sets Mullvad apart from not only VPNs, but pretty much all online software, period. Though it may seem anachronistic to stuff an envelope full of bills and get a subscription period in return, we do admire this plucky service’s dedication to anonymity.
Mullvad is easy to download but we found that installing it was a bit of an adventure. It detects what kind of computer you’re on and offers you the appropriate software when you click on “download client.” However, we found that the version first offered to us wouldn’t open and we had to go back in the archive looking for the appropriate download.
The version we then downloaded and installed couldn’t connect to the VPN and so we had to start again with the most recent version which worked after a few tries. On a more positive note, however, the most recent version has a much more attractive client interface than the earlier one.
The client is in line with the standard mobile sized clients found with ExpressVPN or VyprVPN (read our VyprVPN review). In this case it’s attached to the icon in the application bar of your computer and disappears when you click elsewhere on your screen. If you use a Mac it doesn’t show up in your dock automatically, an unnecessary feature with some VPN services.
Once you have downloaded the client it prompts you to sign up for a three-hour trial. Once you’ve done so it gives you an account number that you enter in a window in the client and it connects you immediately. If you decide to subscribe to the service you can do this directly from a button on the client.
The client is very intuitive and nicely designed, comparable to the one described in our ZenMate review. Unlike the ZenMate client all the features on this one are fully functional. We particularly liked the way the server list was set up, giving you an alphabetical list of countries and then a list of servers within countries if you click on the country name.
The client contains a settings wheel that opens a suite of options, one of which is “preferences,” but when you choose this it only contains a single switch to enable local network sharing. This seems to be part of its ongoing effort to make itself appealing to ordinary users.
However, if you’re technically proficient you can click on the “guides” button which will bring you to a webpage where you can learn how to configure the client to your own needs by adding more sophisticated options. It does warn you, though, that this may run the risk of interfering with default settings that you may not intend to change.
Separating the technical and basic functionalities seems a sensible development in this VPN because it prevents non-technical users from making changes in the software that they may not understand, and it makes this client in its default form among the most user-friendly and well-designed VPN clients that we’ve seen recently.
When the killswitch is activated Mullvad registers the fact with a little red dot on the icon in the menu bar. This is a much less obtrusive way of doing it than having an information bar slide out from the side of the screen while you’re watching Netflix and is a design feature we’d like to see more VPN services adopting.
Mullvad supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices. Its default download for Mac works on iOS Mavericks and later, but it has an archive of all its previous versions, so if you have an earlier version of the Mac OS you can find an earlier compatible version of Mullvad, but it’s not clear how many of these earlier versions actually work.
While it’s an unusual feature in a VPN to offer all its earlier versions, this is in part because many VPNs don’t require users to know which version of their operating system they’re running to download their clients. This may be a factor in deciding whether to purchase Mullvad for users who prefer a service that does everything for you like ExpressVPN.
MullvadVPN appears at first to be one of the better services out there when it comes to server numbers: it has 138 of them. You’ll soon realize, however, that they are in fact concentrated in relatively few countries. It has multiple servers in Sweden, the UK, the U.S. and Canada, which is good, but then it has nothing in Africa and only one South American server.
You can change countries without disconnecting from the one you’re currently connected to, which is a surprisingly rare feature in VPN clients. However, it will choose for you the server within a country and if you have another preference you have to click on that server to override the automatic choice it makes for you.
Having servers in 32 countries is better than some other VPN services like TunnelBear (see our TunnelBear review for more details) but is a far cry from the coverage provided by the best VPN services like NordVPN (check out our NordVPN review for its pretty server map).
Mullvad is quite inconsistent in its speeds. The Swedish servers were very fast, and Denmark and the U.S. weren’t bad, but Brazil and Japan were quite erratic and sometimes slow. If speed is of the essence for you, we recommend you instead check out our article on the fastest VPN or go straight to our PIA review.
Perhaps these erratic speeds have to do with the inconsistency of Mullvad’s efforts to mitigate blocking and throttling. It claims it wraps “the traffic in a layer of obfuscation (with the help of SSH tunneling, Shadowsocks, Stunnel) that makes it harder for the provider to identify and block it.”
On the MullvadVPN homepage there’s a button called “am.i.mullvad” which takes you to a screen containing information about your location, who can see your IP address, and whether your IP address has been blacklisted. This is obviously an attempt to get you to sign up for its service, but also a graphic demonstration of what it offers to protect you from.
We did DNS leak tests on its U.S., Swedish and Spanish servers and it passed on each occasion, unlike so many VPN services that promise this but don’t deliver (looking at you, ZenMate). This was the leak test we did while connected to its Swedish server:
Many users want a VPN primarily for watching geoblocked content on Netflix. Our first attempt to connect to Netflix USA failed, but when we switched from a TCP to UDP connection which you can do easily from the main client, we got in straight away.
It red flagged our vulnerability to DNS leaks because of the use of WebRTC on our browser, and gave us a link to the browser add on that disables WebRTC. This didn’t make any difference to our ability to get into geoblocked content however.
We didn’t have any success with BBC iPlayer, unfortunately, though we tried on both its London and Manchester servers, using several different UDP ports, with and without the WebRTC blocker. Mullvad is no different from many other VPNs in its ability to get into Netflix but not the BBC (check out our article on the best VPN for BBC iPlayer for ones that do).
Mullvad uses 256-bit AES encryption but it doesn’t give ordinary users the ability to switch encryption protocols without doing some extra configuration of the client by themselves. Its default encryption protocol is OpenVPN.
It also has a no logs policy, and it only uses two cookies, one that keeps you logged in to your account and one that remembers your language preference.
The cash payment option should be mentioned under “security and privacy” as a unique feature for people who want to remain completely anonymous. You get a code number on the website that you send to Mullvad with your money and it will have no means of connecting you to the activities you’ve engaged in online using that number.
When we had trouble with the initial sign up and were using an earlier version of Mullvad, we sent a bug report to the tech staff about it. Their response was prompt and they fixed the problem for us immediately.
In the most recent version of the software it’s easier to contact them through the client, and the process contains less exposure to forbidding amounts of technical detail. If you want to see the technical detail, however, you can click on “view app logs” and see real time updates about what your VPN is doing.
When we contacted the support staff from the client with a question about whether Mullvad can be configured for split tunneling their response was slower, which has been the case with other VPN services whose staff don’t seem to have as quick responses to this question as they do to questions about pricing and initial installation.
Mullvad’s knowledgebase is divided into two components: FAQs and Guides. Its FAQs deal with basic information about pricing, and with known problems people have had in downloading and installing its software. Guides on the other hand are technical instructions to help you configure the software to your own specifications.
Mullvad is idealistic in its mission to protect users’ privacy from prying ISPs without being terribly earnest or cute about it, unlike some North American competitors we could name. It has good security features, and good configurability, while remaining user friendly, and we appreciated that it didn’t describe its standard encryption as “military grade” for a change.
It’s competitively priced, and has a well-designed interface. The speeds weren’t “lightning fast” as some of its slower competitors like to claim about themselves, but they were fast enough that we weren’t seriously slowed down in anything we tried to do with it, though if you want the best VPN for torrenting you should probably look first at our best VPN for torrenting piece.
All in all, we’re happy to give Mullvad a decent spot among our other VPN reviews and wish it godspeed. What are your experiences with Mullvad? Do you like it? Let us know in the comments below and thank you for reading.