If you frequent the unsecured Wi-Fi in airports and coffee shops, your connection to the internet is not as safe as you might hope. With a virtual private network (or VPN), such as VPN Unlimited from KeepSolid, you can rest assured that your browsing is encrypted and private. This service offers inexpensive, flexible subscriptions, as well as many of the advanced security features we usually see in far more expensive products. Its iPhone incarnation is attractive and easy to use. When you add solid speed scores and a globe-spanning collection of servers, VPN Unlimited is a very attractive service. Along with NordVPN, it’s our Editors’ Choice winner for iPhone VPN apps.
What Is a VPN?
When you switch on your VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN server, which serves to foil hackers or even government snoops trying to eavesdrop on your activities. From the server, your web traffic travels off into the public internet, but your actual IP address remains hidden. Data-hungry website advertisers see the IP address of the VPN server instead of your own. A VPN can even help protect against your ISP harvesting your data—something new for us all to worry about.
You should use a VPN as often as you can, but especially when your iPhone is connected to a public Wi-Fi network. When you hop on an unsecured network at the airport or coffee shop, you have no way of knowing whether the network is what it claims to be. Your iPhone is constantly looking for known networks, and techniques are available to fool it into thinking it has found one. Instead of a convenience offered to thirsty customers and weary travelers, the network could be a trap, created by a hacker looking to intercept your data.
VPNs can also disguise your actual location, which is why these services are used by journalists and political activists operating in countries with restrictive internet controls. This has a fringe benefit for the average user: You can use a VPN to view region-locked streaming media content, such as the latest TV shows from the BBC. Note, however, that some streaming services like Netflix block VPN users.
Features and Pricing
VPN Unlimited offers six pricing plans, giving you lots of choice over how much you pay and how often you’re billed. The cheapest plan, Vacation, is intended for those quick jaunts away from home, and costs $3.99 for seven days. The Economy plan ups this to a month-long subscription for only $8.99 per month, about two dollars more than Private Internet Access. Most competing products start at $9.95 per month, or more. You can get a discount by paying for a longer period at once. It costs $16.99 for three months, $39.99 for a whole year, or $89.99 for three years. Note that you pay all fees in full at time of billing, and a seven-day money back guarantee is included.
If you’re thrilled with VPN Unlimited and want to hedge your bets about internet access in the afterlife, you can opt for the Infinity Plan, which is a 100-year subscription for $149. KeepSolid, the developer behind VPN Unlimited, kindly notes that the company will “gladly extend this period by your request.” You can buy these, or any of VPN Unlimited’s other plans, with credit cards as well as Amazon Pay, Bitcoin, Payment Wall, and PayPal. You can also pay through the iTunes store, of course.
Note, however, that KeepSolid only lists the monthly, yearly, and Infinity plans on its website. For the other options, you must download the free client and make your purchase there. It’s a bit tedious, but the flexibility of these plans makes it well worth the trouble. Even after a few small price increases, it’s still very affordable and the most flexible pricing of any VPN PCMag has yet tested.
Although VPN Unlimited is inexpensive, it has more features and options than most of its higher-priced competition. For example, VPN Unlimited sports 1,273 servers across a very geographically diverse 80 locations. These include many often-overlooked regions, such as Africa, China, the Isle of Man, Mexico, Russia, South America, and Turkey, to name a few. Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone) has well over 3,000 servers. By the numbers, it’s the most robust VPN service we’ve tested.
Want to go cheaper? There are numerous free VPNs available. Of particular note is TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone), which is extremely easy to set up and use. The free version maxes out at 500MB of traffic per month, however.
Unlike TorGuard VPN, which specifically aims to support BitTorrent and P2P services, VPN Unlimited only allows file sharing on five servers (California, France, Luxembourg, Ontario, and Romania). VPN Unlimited also has a special Streaming server, available specifically for high-speed video streaming. Co-Editors’ Choice NordVPN also offers a video streaming server, but goes further with a VPN server that also connects to the Tor anonymization network, as well as a double-encrypted server.
Power users looking for a personal VPN server in the country of their choice, or a static IP address that is (allegedly) not associated with proxy services will appreciate that VPN Unlimited offers these rare options. Personal IP addresses are available in Canada, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. An IP address in any of these locations costs $14.99.
A Personal Server offers users improved speeds, since you won’t be sharing it with other VPN users. Many of these cost $21.99 per month, and have a bandwidth limit of 1TB per month. You can also opt to purchase plans with more bandwidth. The advantage is that a “clean” IP address is less likely to be blocked by other services (such as Netflix). TorGuard also offers static IP addresses, and includes other add-ons such as access to a high-speed 10-gigabit network. VPN Unlimited is the only service we’ve seen that offers server rental.
Also in the category of rare features is something called KeepSolid Wise, which disguises VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic. This is designed for use in countries where access to the free internet isn’t available, and where the use of VPNs is blocked. TunnelBear has a similar feature. For Android, Windows, and Linux systems, VPN Unlimited uses the OpenVPN protocol, and uses IPsec on macOS. We’d really like to see VPN Unlimited add OpenVPN support for Macs. The iPhone edition, reviewed here, uses IPSec by default but offers OpenVPN as an option. That’s a rarity in iOS VPNs, because Apple applies extra vetting to apps using OpenVPN.
Not long ago, some VPN companies chose to make some extra dough by injecting ads into web traffic. A company representative confirmed to us that KeepSolid VPN Unlimited does not do this. Based in New York City, the company is not subject to any specific data retention laws. However, the representative pointed out that KeepSolid’s zero logging policy means it would have precious little information to retain or hand over to law enforcement.
KeepSolid goes beyond basic VPN protection in several more ways. Its Censorship Test checks for websites that are censored in your current location. It also offers browser extensions that provide VPN security from within Chrome and Firefox. For full details on these advanced features, see our review of KeepSolid VPN Unlimited.
Hands On With VPN Unlimited
In addition to the iPhone app reviewed here, VPN Unlimited supports Android, Linux, macOS, and Windows with native clients. As with most leading VPN services, VPN Unlimited lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously. You can add an additional device for 99 cents per month, five devices for $2.99 per month, or 10 devices for $5.99 per month. If you’ve got a big family or a lot of devices, it’s a great option.
Installing the app on an Apple iPhone 7 was quick and easy. Conveniently, the app preselected the best server for us. You can also view a list of recommended alternate servers, and KeepSolid displays the current load on each. For example, it recommended a server in Australia with 5.6 percent load. Our nearest server, in California, displayed at 71.4 percent load.
Like NordVPN (for iPhone), VPN Unlimited displays a world map showing its server locations (though it lacks the sailboats and submarines that brighten up NordVPN’s map). You can tap a dot on the map to view its precise location, and tap again to connect with that server.
The app doesn’t offer (or need) many settings. As noted, you can choose the OpenVPN or IPSec protocol, or the KeepSolid Wise feature that makes VPN traffic look like HTTPS traffic. But that’s about it for VPN settings.
When we tested KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for Android), the app proved unstable. It crashed frequently, and sometimes took a while to recover. We had no such trouble with the iPhone edition. Speed test results were also quite different, with the Android edition putting much more of a drag on connectivity than the iPhone edition.
As noted, Netflix does its best to block the use of VPNs for streaming content locked to another region. Indeed, when we tried to stream with the iPhone VPN active, Netflix simply returned a network error. Even after we enabled KeepSolid Wise, the feature that’s supposed to disguise VPN traffic, the error still appeared.
Good Speed Test Results
Regardless of the VPN service you choose, you’re certain to see an impact on your web browsing experience. More latency and decreased upload and download speeds are typical. This is especially true when connecting to a far-flung VPN server—but not always. In our testing, we found that PureVPN on Windows actually improved web performance.
When we test mobile VPN apps, we deactivate mobile data, and then connect to Wi-Fi. That’s because a Wi-Fi network offers more repeatable test results than a cellular network can, and because insecure or malicious Wi-Fi networks are much more prevalent threat than complex cellular attacks. Most people use a VPN to protect their Wi-Fi traffic.
To get a sense of the impact using a VPN will have on internet speeds, we perform a series of tests with Ookla’s speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.) We average these results and then find a percent change between when the VPN is in use and when it is not. Of course, networks are notoriously finicky things, so your mileage may vary.
VPN Unlimited turned in a sound performance in our tests. It increased latency (the time required to ping a remote computer and receive a response) by just 31.1 percent. Looking just at iPhone VPNs, only NordVPN did better, adding 22.5 percent to the latency time. Both did vastly better than TunnelBear, which increased latency by 601.4 percent. AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone) also had a major effect, raising latency by 483.3 percent.
Unless you’re playing an intense first-person shooter, you probably won’t notice any increased latency due to use of a VPN. A drag on download speed, on the other hand, could be a big problem. VPN Unlimited was one of several iPhone VPNs that actually improved download speed in testing, if only by 0.4 percent. Download speed improved by 6.8 percent with PureVPN and by 10 percent with Hide My Ass VPN (for iPhone). Tunnel Bear came out worst in this test, slowing downloads by 60 percent.
All of the recent products had some effect on upload speed, but none of them by a huge amount. VPN Unlimited slowed uploads by 10.5 percent, higher than most. Only Private Internet Access and Hotspot Shield had a bigger impact, 13 percent and 12.9 percent respectively. At the low end, IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) slowed uploads by just 3.5 percent, and TunnelBear by 4.9 percent. Fortunately for VPN Unlimited, upload speed is much less important than download speed for most users.
A Fine VPN
When we test VPN services, we’re looking for speed, flexibility, and balance between excellent performance and advanced features. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited does well in all these categories. Its pricing scheme is inexpensive at the usual monthly subscription cycle, and with subscription periods as short as one week, VPN Unlimited can be available whenever you need it. Add to that BitTorrent support, a well-designed client, specific streaming servers, browser clients, and advanced security features, and you’re looking at an all-around winner. For all of this, VPN Unlimited earns our Editors’ Choice award for iPhone VPN apps, an honor it shares with NordVPN.