StrongVPN has a lot going for it when it comes to the tech behind it, but a user-unfriendly interface plus some minor niggles keep it from breaking through to the upper regions of our VPN rankings. Read our StrongVPN review to find out if it's for you or if it deserves a pass.
Based in Lake Tahoe, on the border between California and Nevada, StrongVPN is a discreet presence on the VPN market. The company has been around since 1995 and in the VPN business since 2005. It doesn’t have as high a profile as some of our other best VPN providers, though it offers a service that’s comparable in ways to the top players in the market.
Here at Cloudwards.net we think it’s an interesting alternative to the market leaders: it offers a slightly different combination of features than most, but it may be right for you if you’re up for a bit of tinkering. It’s not the most user-friendly app, but it has other virtues which help explain why it has remained competitive for this long.
- Mobile app
- DNS proxy
- Speed test
- 24/7 live chat
- 7-day refund policy
- Unlimited connections
- Gets into U.S. Netflix
- No killswitch for Mac
- User interface is too technical
- No split tunneling
- Changing servers is complicated
The user interface follows the now standard model of the mobile-sized window that you can position at the edge of your desktop screen. It doesn’t keep you updated on connection speed, but does tell you how long you’ve been connected for, as well as your current IP address, your account number and which encryption protocol you’re using. Some of this information seems like it doesn’t need to be available at a glance and might be better placed elsewhere in the app.
If you get disconnected a tab slides out from the side of your screen and a dialogue box opens on screen that you have to respond to manually. When you’re dealing with frequent disconnects this becomes more than a little annoying, although it reconnects automatically and the Netflix stream isn’t interrupted.
For some reason StrongVPN also varies the message being relayed by the dialogue boxes, though the information is basically the same, and this forces you to repeatedly read things you don’t need to read. These are not the best conditions for watching your favorite TV show (read our article on the best VPN for Netflix for a better experience).
In the StrongVPN interface there’s also an option called “diagnostics” that logs technical information about data packets being transmitted across the network, and allows you to copy that information to your clipboard if you need a record of it. Why they chose to put this at the front of the interface is unclear, unless StrongVPN is aimed primarily at engineers (which it might be).
StrongVPN Features Overview
All the StrongVPN plans have the same features, and the different prices only reflect the subscription period.
|Plan||One Month||One Year|
$ 10 00monthly
$ 69 96yearly
|Bandwidth||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
It’s is on the cheaper side among its nearest high-end competitors. It costs $5.83 per month if you get a years’ subscription, compared to $8.32 for ExpressVPN and $5.00 for VyprVPN (read our ExpressVPN review and VyprVPN review for more on this). On its webpage it makes much of the fact that this price is reduced from $10 if you pay month by month.
This represents a recent rise in its cost, and perhaps an attempt to position itself as a premium service at a cut-rate price. It doesn’t, in fact, offer premium options and subscribers to any of its plans get all the same stuff. Actually, that’s not quite true: there are small differences based on whether you’re using Windows or Mac, which we’ll discuss later.
Unlike AirVPN, StrongVPN does not offer a free trial, because it says this kind of offer tends to be abused (read our AirVPN review if a trial is a priority for you). Perhaps a certain amount of paranoia is reassuring in a VPN provider that you’ll be trusting to protect you from prying ISPs who want to sell your information to advertisers.
Despite not offering a free trial, it does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. It should be noted that it auto-renews your purchase; this is stated clearly in the FAQ, but we would have appreciated it had that information been more front and center. If you want to cancel the service and get your money back you must contact the company directly. There isn’t a simple cancel switch on the dashboard.
StrongVPN accepts payment with bitcoin as well as credit card or PayPal, and if you pay with bitcoin the auto-renewal issue doesn’t apply. There is a warning that failure to pay at renewal time will result in cancellation of service. It’s a good option if anonymity is of the first importance for you.
StrongVPN assigns you a server automatically when you subscribe and not always the one closest to you. There are several servers on a single network and no improvement in speed is gained by switching between them. You have to switch network, sometimes within a single city, in order to gain a speed advantage.
The StrongVPN encryption protocols don’t all work on every server, so you have to disconnect and change your settings, a much more complicated process than with some other VPN services. However, you can ask it to automatically choose a server that is compatible with your preferred protocol, and it seems to have these at all of its locations.
Changing server locations involves logging into the website and going to the “account settings” tab. There you can choose a country, a city and a server from different dropdown menus. But it also changes your login information which is a nuisance, despite maybe being reassuring to the security conscious. There should be a simpler option available.
It’s actually much easier to change location from the user interface on the mobile app, which doesn’t mirror the desktop client at all in this respect. This is far less efficient compared to some other services that allow you to choose servers from the main desktop client and see at a glance how they’re distributed geographically.
Although it might be argued that there are advantages to knowing exactly what’s going on in Chicago or Amsterdam when you switch servers, it won’t suit everybody to have to think about these things on a regular basis.
In fact, it often seems that features which should be adjustable on the interface are buried deep in StrongVPN’s dashboard while technical information that most of us don’t want to know is at the surface.
Despite being quite unfriendly to the general user in several respects, StrongVPN is easy to install on your computer once you sign up. It sends you an email instructing you to sign in using your email address as a username and assigns you a password. You have to log in separately to its VPN service and to the DNS service that comes as part of the package.
To install it on your mobile device you download the app and when prompted log in using the same login information. Then follow the three-step instructions and you’re good to go.
StrongVPN has automatic set up applications for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. However not every feature works on all devices: there’s no killswitch for Mac users.
StrongVPN claims it offers 87,000 dynamic and static IPs, over more than 650 servers in 47 cities in 26 countries, and has been installed up to half a million times by computer users. Its spread of locations could improve: it has no Middle Eastern sites apart from Israel, very few locations in Central or South America and nothing at all in Africa.
In contrast, as you can read in our NordVPN review, NordVPN only covers a few Asian and African countries, but still has servers in more than three times as many countries worldwide. This represents a significant shortcoming in StrongVPN.
Connecting from Russia, we were automatically linked to a Chicago server rather than any of those in Central Europe, but the speeds were very satisfactory when using the PPTP protocol. There were some holdups with the more secure protocols, however. It beats the Netflix VPN ban with most of its protocols, but couldn’t get in with OpenVPN.
This is Russian Netflix without a VPN:
This was the speed using L2PT from Frankfurt on Netflix:
This is Fox News from Sao Paulo using OpenVPN. Netflix was on to us at this point after multiple international logins:
StrongVPN advertises itself as having military grade levels of security, and is the VPN of choice for those trying to circumvent the Great Firewall. For the general user its lesser name recognition might be part of the reason that its servers haven’t been individually blocked by Netflix, so if you can put up with the constant notifications, you can watch it for your streaming pleasure.
StrongVPN says it doesn’t log any of your information and thus couldn’t give it away under legal duress if it wanted to. This is important because an American company is arguably more vulnerable to legal pressure than a competitor like VyprVPN that’s based in Switzerland.
StrongVPN uses five different encryption protocols, with the default being the less-than-secure PPTN. This is also the fastest so it’s your choice if you want to make the trade-off between speed and security. The others are L2TP, SSTP, IPSec and, of course, OpenVPN.
However, the IPSec protocol was visible but disabled on our account and when asked about it the support staff said it was not available on our plan. This was confusing as the main page indicates that the plans only differ in price according to how long you subscribe for. This is another sign of a VPN service that’s currently evolving, despite being around since 2005.
StrongVPN doesn’t offer a killswitch option to Mac users. A killswitch is useful feature — that many VPNs now offer — which severs the connection if your VPN fails, which happened plenty during our tests.
This is only partially made up for by the fact that StrongVPN offers a DNS service as part of the package. The DNS is operated from a different site that you log into separately. There were no DNS leaks logged in any of the international locations we checked, like Brazil:
The difference between a VPN and a DNS service is that the latter doesn’t assign you a new IP address. Instead it logs you into sites from a remote proxy server and doesn’t encrypt your information. It’s helpful for getting into geoblocked content but doesn’t solve all your privacy and security issues. It’s not a good option for certain streaming activities.
It also caused problems with the VPN-blocking in certain public buildings, where we couldn’t connect to the internet even with the VPN switched off because the DNS IP address was detected. After each time we logged in to StrongVPN we had to manually remove the DNS addresses from the computer’s log to get it to work in the same public building.
After 13 years StrongVPN has a good knowledgebase; its FAQs are front and center in the customer support section. The prominence of FAQs rather than live chat doesn’t at first inspire confidence in its commitment to helping people with the complexities of its interface, but staff do respond quickly. This is good because not all of the FAQs are up-to-date.
For example the FAQs about pricing don’t reflect the most current information on the main webpage. Not only has it raised the price for a one-month subscription since 2017, on its landing page it gives a three-month pricing option, but in the FAQs it says this isn’t available.
Support staff respond to emails quickly. Still, it can be a slower option than live chat when you’re troubleshooting a problem like repeated disconnects. Live chat works well at non-peak times and staff answered most of our questions efficiently. However, the limit of their technical know-how was quickly reached when asked about split tunnelling.
Split tunnelling is a feature offered by services like ExpressVPN and PureVPN (read our PureVPN review to find out why that’s one of the few redeeming features of this mediocre service) that allows you to choose which apps on your computer use the VPN and which don’t. For example, there may be no need for your computer’s communication with its printer to go through a server in Tokyo.
Tech support said we could configure split tunnelling, but sent us to Google for information about how to do it. This was an interesting feature of a VPN that claims to have the best tech support out there.
StrongVPN is both fast and relatively cheap if you buy the yearly subscription, while providing possibly the best levels of security against hackers and data-gathering ISPs so that “no-one can decode what you’re doing.” This can make life very complicated at times because you have to do manually things that are automatic on other VPNs.
Those other VPN services arm themselves with manifestos about net neutrality but this service has a more industrial feel, and seems geared more towards people with advanced technical knowledge who might want the ability to make frequent fine adjustments in their VPN service.
For anyone else, you may be better off with ExpressVPN or NordVPN, depending on your needs and level of technical knowhow. If you feel there’s a strong case to be made for StrongVPN, let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.