WiTopia PersonalVPN review | TechRadar


PersonalVPN is a small but capable VPN service run by the US-based security company WiTopia.

Signing up gets you access to a decent-sized network of 68 locations in 42 countries. A secure DNS service hides your internet activities, stealth modes including Tor support may help you avoid VPN blocking, there’s support for up to 8 simultaneous connections, and live chat is available if you run into trouble.

PersonalVPN has apps for Windows and Mac, but nothing for mobile devices, making it a little more difficult to set up. The support site has some detailed tutorials, though, and it’s likely you’ll be up and running within five minutes.

PersonalVPN’s Basic plan gives you the core VPN essentials only: access to all network locations, but native protocols only (IVEv2, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP), and no OpenVPN or Tor support. There’s nothing surprising here, but the price is right at $5.99 billed monthly, $4.17 on the annual plan, dropping to $3.08 over three years.

The Pro plan adds OpenVPN support, allowing you to use the service with more clients and devices, and throws in a Tor-based stealth mode. There’s no monthly plan, but pricing is still reasonable, ranging from $6.66 on the 6-month plan, $5.83 over a year, and $4.44 over three years.

Opting for the top-of-the-range Premier plan gets you support for up to 8 simultaneous connections, adds extra VPN router setup tools, and throws in a free encrypted email account from WiTopia’s SecureMyEmail service. If you don’t need secure email, that’s beginning to look expensive, with prices starting at around $10 a month over six months, falling to $5.83 over three years. Competitors like CyberGhost and NordVPN give you excellent service for under $3 a month on their longest subscriptions.

There’s no free trial and no refund available for the monthly plan. Still, everything else includes an unconditional 30-day money-back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to see how the service works for you.

Privacy

PersonalVPN keeps no logs on its users activity (Image credit: WiTopia)

(Image: © Image credit: WiTopia)

Privacy

The PersonalVPN website doesn’t have much to say about logging, but it still manages to cover the basics. In just a sentence or two, the company explains that there’s no logging of a user’s internet activities, browsing, content, websites, DNS or metadata, and as a result, ‘there are no logs that would allow any person or entity to match an IP address and a timestamp to a user of our VPN service.’

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While this is clear and straightforward, there’s no way for a potential customer to know if PersonalVPN is living up to these no-logging promises. Competitors including TunnelBear and VyprVPN have gone through public audits to verify their privacy credentials, and although that’s not in any way essential, it does give users more reassurance that their information will be handled properly.

WiTopia does have other privacy pluses, including its encrypted DNS and optional Tor support. Perhaps best of all, its ultra-configurable OpenVPN provides a per-user 4096-bit certificate, and enables experts to choose their preferred ports and ciphers, as well as choosing to make UDP or TCP connections.

Apps

PersonalVPN offers desktop clients for Windows and Mac (Image credit: WiTopia)

(Image: © Image credit: WiTopia)

Apps

WiTopia makes big claims about protecting your privacy, but the company then spoiled things when we signed up, demanding our full name and physical address, as well as our email. 

We filled in the form anyway, verified our email address when asked, and were taken to WiTopia’s web dashboard. A ‘My Services’ page summarized our plan, told us how many days service we had left, and provided convenient download links for the Windows and Mac clients.  Setup instructions and an archive of OpenVPN setup files are on hand to help you configure anything else.

The Windows client looks good, but its chunky interface makes poor use of space, with unnecessary graphics, massive icons, and a lot of information you’re unlikely to need.

It looks simple enough: launch, click Quick Connect, and watch as the app connects to the nearest server and its location appears on a detailed map.

Choosing a location, though, is much more hassle. It takes two clicks to display a basic list of locations, with no Favorites system to speed up access, and another click to choose a server. Selecting a protocol takes another two clicks (and you have to do this every time you change locations), and the sixth click finally gets you connected. Meanwhile, on many clients, the server list is displayed on the main console, and getting online takes as little as a quick double-click.

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The process is a little simpler if you work from WiTopia’s system tray icon. Right-click, select Gateways, and locations are organized into separate menus for each continent. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t display any notifications to tell you its connection status, beyond changing the color of its icon. 

Apps 2

You can easily change your VPN protocol from PersonalVPN’s settings menu (Image credit: WiTopia)

The client does support some useful configuration options. It can automatically connect when your PC starts, or kick in whenever you connect to an insecure wireless network. There’s full control of DNS, including an option to use custom settings of your own. Experts can tweak MTU or disable IPv6 to avoid privacy leaks. There’s even the ability to add ‘custom gateways’, a way to use other VPN connections from the WiTopia client.

What you don’t get is a kill switch to block internet access if the VPN drops. To test this, we forcibly closed a connection, and watched. After a few seconds, the client updated its interface to show that it was disconnected, but didn’t display any other notification. If the client is minimized or obscured by another app, there’s no way for a user to know they’re now giving away their real IP address with every action.

Performance

We test the performance of every VPN we review with OpenSpeedTest (Image credit: OpenSpeedTest)

Performance

WiTopia’s clear privacy policy did a lot to win us over, but the company rather spoiled things when we signed up, demanding our full name, physical address and phone number.

We filled in the form anyway, verified our email address when asked, and were taken to WiTopia’s web dashboard. A ‘My Services’ page summarized our plan, told us how many days service we had left, and provided convenient download links for the Windows and Mac clients.  Setup instructions and an archive of OpenVPN setup files are on hand to help you configure anything else.

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The Windows client looks good, with gorgeous high-res icons and big buttons. It can be very simple, too: launch, click Quick Connect, and watch as the app connects to the nearest server and its location appears on a detailed map.

Try to choose a custom connection and issues begin to appear. The locations are displayed on a static list, with no information on server load and no sorting options. There’s no favorites system to save frequently-used locations. Most bizarrely, the client doesn’t give you a default protocol. You have to manually select your preferred option (OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP, IPSec), which means a pointless extra two clicks every time you choose a location.

The process works better if you work from WiTopia’s system tray icon. Right-click, select Gateways, and locations are organized into separate menus for each continent. You can also launch a handy desktop gadget for displaying connection status, IP address, network traffic history graphs and more.

The range of configuration options is another highlight. You can have the client automatically connect when your PC starts, or when you connect to an insecure wireless network. There’s full control of DNS, including an option to use custom settings of your own. Experts can tweak MTU or disable IPv6 to avoid privacy leaks. There’s even the ability to add ‘custom gateways’, a way to use other VPN connections from the WiTopia client.

Performance was impressive, too. In our tests, UK-UK connections averaged around 70Mbps on a 75Mbps fibre broadband line. Switching to nearby European servers saw latency increase from 20ms to 40-70ms, but speeds remained high at 60-70Mbps. UK to US traffic managed a similar 60Mbps, and even long-distance trips like UK-Australia achieved a creditable 12-25Mbps.

We completed our testing with the usual privacy checks, and they also went well: the service gave us a new IP address in the promised location each time, and there were absolutely no DNS or WebRTC leaks.

Final verdict

With a poor Windows client, no mobile apps and assorted smaller hassles and irritations, PersonalVPN has plenty of room for improvement. But its speedy servers and lengthy feature list could still appeal, especially if you’re happy to set it up manually or use other apps.



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