VPN Unlimited

KeepSolid is the New York-based company behind a range of products, from business planning and an electronic signature platform, to VPN Unlimited, a capable virtual private network.

The VPN seems a little smaller than some, with the company claiming to have only '400+ servers' (NordVPN claims over 5,000), but they're widely spread, with more than 70 locations worldwide.

Protocol support covers all the usual standards, including OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, and PPTP. There's also a bonus in the company's own KeepSolid Wise, which redirects traffic through the TCP 443 and UDP 33434 ports to theoretically make it more difficult to detect and block. 

KeepSolid suggests Wise is ideal for users in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and anywhere else which takes a dim view of VPNs and actively tries to block their use. It has to be worth a try, but if it doesn't work, there are other providers who offer detection-blocking ideas of their own (VyprVPN's Chameleon, IPVanish's Obfuscation switch.)

The service has an impressive list of apps, with downloads for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Windows Phone and Apple TV, and a handy collection of browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

VPN Unlimited supports up to 5 devices on one account, but that's a little more complicated than usual. While other providers typically support 5 simultaneous connections from any combination of devices, VPN Unlimited has 5 'slots' which are allocated to particular devices or browser extensions (a Windows client and Chrome extension on the same system will fill two slots) as you connect them.

Once those slots have been filled, you won't be able to connect with any new devices until you log into the website and delete one of the old devices. 

If anything goes wrong, KeepSolid has a web knowledgebase with troubleshooting advice, and a support team is on hand 24/7 to answer your questions via ticket and email.

Plans and pricing

Plans and pricing

KeepSolid's range starts with three fairly-priced plans. You can opt to pay monthly for $9.99 (£7.69), dropping to $5 (£3.85) a month if you pay for a year up-front, and $2.78 (£2.14) with its three-year plan.

Most VPN providers charge more (even the current 15-for-12-month special deal is priced at $6.67 (£5.13) a month), others charge a little less (Private Internet Access can cost as little as $2.91 (£2.24) on its two-year plan), but overall VPN Unlimited offers good value.

KeepSolid spoiled this positive first impression with a little pointless marketing trickery. Each plan has a 'Last Sold' tag, telling you how long ago it was last purchased, and in most cases this is somewhere between a few seconds and 5 minutes. Looks great, but we noticed that if we refreshed the page or visited it in another browser, we often got entirely different figures. The results are more consistent with them being generated randomly than being elapsed times since the last purchase.

As we write, the company also offers a lifetime of VPN usage for a one-off $199.99 (£154). That's the equivalent of $16.67 (£12.83) a month if you only use it for a year, $5.56 (£4.28) if you keep it for three years, $3.33 (£2.56) over five years - you get the idea.

While lifetime plans sound good in theory, based on current pricing, you'll need to use VPN Unlimited for approaching six years before it becomes cheaper per-month than Private Internet Access' 2-year plan. There's no way to be sure the company will be the best service for you, by then, or even whether it'll still exist, and on balance we wouldn't recommend committing to any more than the three-year plan.

Unusual bonus options include the ability to get a personal VPN server, with traffic dedicated just to you. This is much more expensive, with for example a New York location costing $24.99 (£19.23) a month. But you get 1TB of monthly data transfer and up to 1GB/s connection speeds, and with no-one else around to hog resources and overload the system, performance should be higher and much more consistent.

Privacy

Privacy

VPN Unlimited protects your privacy by using only the strongest VPN protocols. By default, that means OpenVPN, which is the standard protocol on both mobile and desktop apps. This uses AES-256 encryption for industry-standard levels of security. And if it doesn't suit your needs for some reason, no problem - IKEv2 is available with most clients as a capable fallback protocol. (The older L2TP and PPTP aren't supported.)

The apps also offer KeepSolid's own Wise technology. This takes the core OpenVPN protocol, scrambles and obfuscates it a little, and maybe routes it a little differently to a regular connection. While this might cut speeds a little, it should help you bypass VPN detection and blocking systems used in countries like China, allowing you to get connected almost anywhere.

What you can't do is tweak any of the underlying OpenVPN settings, at least not within the apps (you can download OpenVPN configuration files and adjust them manually.) That could be an issue for expert users who want to adjust ports or make other low-level tweaks to optimize the connection.

There's better news in the app's ability to automatically connect to the VPN whenever you access an untrusted network, ensuring you're protected at all times.

The Android and Mac apps also benefit from a kill switch to block your internet if the VPN drops. Unfortunately, this hasn't yet arrived for the Windows version. We tested this by forcing our OpenVPN connection to drop, and although the client noticed and reconnected almost immediately, our real IP was exposed to the outside world for a few seconds.

The Windows client doesn't have any specific 'DNS leak protection' settings, either, but these, at least, didn't seem to be necessary. We ran checks at IPLeak, DNS Leak Test, DoILeak and others, and found no sign of DNS, WebRTC or other data leak.

Logging

Logging

VPN providers understand that potential customers are curious about their logging policies, and most try to make this immediately clear on the website, leaving phrases like 'Zero Logging!' prominently displayed in reassuringly large fonts.

The VPN Unlimited website doesn't make such an effort to highlight its logging procedures, and its front page doesn't mention the issue at all.

Heading off to the Privacy Policy gives us a little more information, although it's difficult to interpret.

For instance, this sentence starts encouragingly: "KeepSolid Inc. does NOT collect and log any user activities while using any of their VPN services...", before adding "except the total amount of web traffic for each session and session dates." These aren't just stored by the company. If you log in to the VPN Unlimited web console, you can see the date and time each of your devices was connected to the service. We're not sure whether that helps you very much, but it could be a small privacy risk if someone else gains access to your account.

The Privacy Policy goes on to spell out further information it might collect:

"KeepSolid Inc. may ask you to provide us with some technical non-personal information which may be collected in the background by the client apps. The following information may be collected: the user’s KeepSolid ID; the connection attempt time; the connection type; the encryption type; the device type, etc. This information will be used strictly for technical purposes, such as overall system improvement and increase of user experience."

This is clarification that KeepSolid has some session logging, with records of the date and time of connections, the protocol and device type, and, thanks to that alarming vague 'etc', any other details the company might find useful.

Although the policy describes these details as "non-personal", there's more identifying data than we expected. The KeepSolid web console didn't just record that we had connected from a Windows 10 system, for instance. It stored both the computer name and the name of our Windows user account. Perhaps the company stores more, elsewhere - that 'etc' means we can't rule it out.

The company uses similarly non-specific language when it talks about when it might share data, saying:

"KeepSolid Inc. will never disclose any personal private data to third parties except when we must comply with laws that require such disclosure to law enforcement authorities or other government third party officials, such as subpoenas."

Who might 'other government third party officials' be? That 'such as' implies a subpoena is just one method of extracting data from VPN Unlimited, so what other options might work? A Privacy Policy should be very specific, but KeepSolid's very general language leaves its options very open.

What we can say is that KeepSolid admits to logging some session data (device details, connection date, time), and leaves open the possibility that it might record more. That doesn't mean they know anything about what you're doing online, but it's still notably more of an audit trail than many other VPNs.

Performance

Performance

To assess VPN Unlimited performance, we start with an automated test which connects to 68 separate locations, records the connection time, uses geolocation to check whether the server is where the company says it is, and runs a simple ping test to measure latency.

The connections were generally very reliable. We were able to connect to all but one server on our first test, and even that failure seems to have been due to some temporary issue (we accessed it on another run without difficulty.)

OpenVPN connect times seemed a little slower than average, with VPN Unlimited taking around 5 seconds longer to establish a connection than ExpressVPN's client on the same Windows system. But ping times were more reasonable, with minimal latency for nearby servers, increasing with distance, but always within a normal range.

There was good news with our location checks, too, as every server's official location was a close match to the position returned by our geolocation library. 

Download speeds weren't the best we'd seen, but they were very acceptable. Our closest UK servers managed 65Mbps on a 75Mbps fiber broadband line, while European countries ranged from 60Mbps for closer locations (Ireland, France, Denmark) to 30-40Mbps as we moved further away (Greece, Poland. 

US speeds were similar, ranging from 60Mbps on the east coast, down to 45Mbps on some more distant locations. 

Heading even further afield revealed a few issues. Some areas performed well (Japan averaged 48Mbps, Singapore hit 50Mbps), most were in an acceptable 25-40Mbps range, but others were so slow as to be almost unusable (Chile and Malaysia were sub 10Mbps during our testing.)

Overall, KeepSolid offers decent speeds, but inconsistent results with some locations and very poor performance from others suggests you should spend a lot of time testing your required servers before you buy.

Netflix

Netflix

A good VPN doesn't just give you a new virtual location, it ensures that identity is sufficiently undetectable that it gets you access to all kinds of geoblocked content.

To get a feel for a VPN's unblocking abilities, we connect to its UK and US servers, then check to see whether BBC iPlayer, US YouTube and US Netflix would allow us access to their content, or detect the VPN and display their usual "we know what you're doing" error message.

The VPN Unlimited apps simplify the process of server selection by highlighting recommended iPlayer, Netflix and Hulu locations on their regular server list. That's far more convenient than the average VPN, where you might have ten or more US servers to choose from, but be left to guess which (if any) works with your preferred content provider.

We chose the UK server recommended for accessing iPlayer, and it worked just fine. Out of curiosity, we tried the other UK server, and that let us in, too

Most VPNs allow access to US YouTube, and that was also the case here, with VPN Unlimited bypassing YouTube's geoblocking with all its servers.

Netflix is the gold standard for content unblocking, but again, VPN Unlimited passed the test without difficulty. Its recommended US server got us access to the service right away, and when we tried a handful of other US servers, they worked, too.

This situation can change week to week, even day-to-day, and there are no guarantees you'll see exactly the same results. But right now, KeepSolid does better at unblocking than many competitors, and even if problems do crop up in future, the ability of the client to highlight recommended servers will make it easier to find a location which works for you.

Torrents

Torrents

VPN Unlimited supports torrents, at least in theory, but the company isn't exactly enthusiastic about it. A support site FAQ asking 'is BitTorrent allowed on all servers?' is answered with a distinctly grumpy 'The primary use of KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is not to download torrents, but to offer online security.'

That's not all, with the answer going on to warn that 'There are limited cases when our technical team has to subside connection speeds due to torrenting.' Presumably this means cut, or throttle one or more user's speed. 

That compares poorly with VPNs who promise they'll never throttle connections. It also leaves us wondering how VPN Unlimited would know they have 'subsided' connection speeds 'due to torrenting.' Is VPN Unlimited monitoring user connections to identify the protocols they're using? If so, that's another black mark when compared to the top competition.

Even if you're unconcerned about that, there's more bad news in torrent support across the network. VPN Unlimited supports P2P on just a small fraction of its locations, five in total. They're well positioned for North American and European customers (Canada, USA, France, Luxembourg, Romania), but users elsewhere in the world may see disappointing download speeds, and it's another torrenting hassle you don't see with the best of the competition.

Clients

Client setup

Although they claim to be all about privacy, most VPNs will rush to demand your email address, payment details and more, then trust they'll be treated safely.

KeepSolid is surprisingly, and refreshingly different. You don't have to sign up on the website, for instance; we created a new account direct from the Windows client. This will ask you to enter an email address and password, and you'll be asked to confirm this, but that's not compulsory. Even if you don't confirm the email, you can still use the client for 24 hours, for free, before the account is deactivated.

If a day isn't enough, give the company an email address you can confirm and you'll get seven days to test the service. There are no payment details required, and a countdown within the app keeps you up-to-date with the time you have left.

The mechanics of the installation process didn't always run quite as smoothly. The Windows client warned us of an error installing its TAP adapter, for instance (a virtual network adapter used by VPN clients.) But this didn't cause any apparent issues, with the client working properly after we'd rebooted our system. We also tried installing the Android and iOS apps, as well as the browser extensions, and they had no setup issues at all.

Manually setting up OpenVPN GUI or other OpenVPN-compatible apps is more of a challenge. Unlike most VPNs, KeepSolid doesn't have a single archive with all the .ovpn configuration files you need. Instead you must generate them, one by one, from the website.

The company also requires that you generate different .ovpn files for each device, as they have separate logins. Oh, and if you're using them with OpenVPN GUI, or anything else which displays the file name, you'll want to rename every one, as KeepSolid uses a naming convention which is, well, inconvenient (try 3237FF6D3B9A7C7A7015B20312CEEB45_bg_openvpn.ovpn, for instance, vs. Belgium.ovpn for VyprVPN.) 

This isn't quite as dumb as it sounds. The standard .ovpn files used by other providers leave you needing to manually enter your user name and password to connect, or store them within your app. KeepSolid's more customized files are able to include your credentials, ensuring you'll never have to enter a login on any device. Still, manually generating files one-by-one is a tedious task, and KeepSolid should update the system to allow multiple server files to be set up in a single operation.

Windows client main

Windows client

The VPN Unlimited Windows client opens with a world map indicating its various locations, and an arrow indicating the location of your current IP. 

Although this looks good, you can't zoom in, pan around, click a location to log in, or perform any other actions. It's just a simple static image.

Server list

The real action takes place in a more conventional server list. Locations are organized alphabetically, each one with a Workload figure to help you make the best choice. Specialist servers (Netflix, Hulu, iPlayer, torrents) are highlighted. If you need more performance information, an optional ping test took only around 6 seconds to run on our test system, and added a latency figure to each location.

Scroll down, find a server which appeals and you can get connected with a click. 

There's a smarter location-picking feature in a Favorites list, which enables building a collection of your most-used servers for easy recall later.

Switching between servers is natural, too. Unlike some of the competition, you're not forced to manually close the connection before you can select another location. Just click a server from the list and the client will automatically disconnect and reconnect for you.

Windows client explained

A Settings box includes a very small number of useful options. 

You can manually switch protocols between OpenVPN, IKEv2 and KeepSolid's own Wise UDP and Wise TCP. 

A DNS leak feature reduces the chance of your DNS requests being sent outside the tunnel.

A Trusted Networks option enables building a whitelist of networks where the VPN will be deactivated. If you only use a VPN to protect your activities on public wireless hotspots, for instance, you could automatically turn the VPN off at home, or anywhere else you're sure you're safe.

Elsewhere, there's a basic Run on Startup option to run the client when Windows starts (but you can't define a startup connection), and a Password Protection feature which asks for your account password when it starts, preventing others using the service.

Individually, these features are welcome, but the client is more notable for the options you don't get. No kill switch; no direct L2TP support; no OpenVPN tweaks; no specific IPv6 leak protection; no control over notifications; no option to control whether you reconnect when the app starts, or which server to use.

Overall, KeepSolid's Windows offering handles the VPN basics reasonably well, but it doesn't have quite the power we'd expect from a top provider.

Android app

Android app

Much like the Windows client, KeepSolid's Android app opens with a world map showing its various locations. But unlike the Windows map, the Android version is dynamic, genuinely useful, rather than just basic eye candy.

You can zoom in and out with this map, for instance. Drag to pan around. Tapping one of the location markers displays its name, tapping again gets you connected, with a line flying from your current location to the new one to show the route. Maps still aren't our preferred way to navigate any VPN client, especially on a mobile screen - there's too much zooming in and out to access some servers - but this app has at least tried to make it work.

Tapping the country name at the top of the screen displays the more standard location list. This opens with a list of recommended servers which has similar functionality to the Windows client: a workload figure highlights the least and most-used servers, ping times are available if you need them, and there's a Favorites list to store your most commonly-used locations. Torrent-friendly and recommended streaming servers are highlighted, or you can view all the best streaming servers on a separate tab.

Android settings

A relatively sparse Settings dialog starts with an option to change protocols. You're able to choose OpenVPN or KeepSolid's Wise option, in either TCP or UDP forms.

The highlight here is a Reconnect Settings page, where you're able to define when the app connects to the service. There's plenty of control here, so for example you can have the app automatically connect to the VPN when you access any network, any cellular network, any wifi network, any open wifi network, or any network which isn't on your own predefined 'Trusted' list (this could be home, work, anywhere else you're 100% sure is safe.)

A small bonus extra enables controlling access to the app via fingerprint recognition, rather than a password. It's a neat touch, although we suspect most users won't bother (or need) to protect the app from others, and many of those who do will already have an app locker which can do the job.

We're not complaining, of course, and on balance KeepSolid's Android app is better designed than its Windows offering. It's still mostly about the basics, though (apart from the comprehensive Reconnect options), and we've seen more powerful Android apps available elsewhere.

iOS app

iOS app

KeepSolid's iOS app follows the same basic interface and operating rules as its Android cousin. 

A world map allows you to zoom in, pan around and select individual locations. It works, and it looks good, but as ever with map interfaces, it's a cumbersome way to operate a VPN.

A conventional list is more straightforward to use. You're able to scroll directly to the options you need, view server loads and ping times to identify the best choices, or save locations as Favorites for speedy recall later.

A Settings pane enables switching protocols as required. Unusually, the iOS app offers more protocols than Android: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and KeepSolid's own Wise TCP and Wise UDP.

Normal service was restored with the app's relatively basic auto-connect options. You can have it connect to the VPN when you access untrusted networks, or all wireless networks, but the Android app offers significantly more control.

Finally, anyone concerned about the risk of others accessing the app can now protect it via Touch ID Recognition.

That's a nice, umm, touch, but overall, KeepSolid's iOS app left us feeling much the same as the others in the range. It's capable, it does the job, it has one or two welcome ideas, but it's a little short on low-level tweaks and functionality and there are better VPN apps around.

Browser extensions

Browser extensions

Connecting to a VPN through an app will usually direct all your system traffic through the tunnel. That's great for protection, but it could also cause trouble, for example if some of your applications don't work with the VPN, or there's a noticeable drop in performance.

KeepSolid's Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions work as proxies, only protecting your browser traffic. That's not great for privacy, but it could be all you need for website unblocking, and a browser-based interface makes it very convenient to use.

The Chrome extension looks good and is easy to use. It opens by displaying your current location and IP address; you can connect to the fastest server (theoretically) with a click, or choose another as required. Connection times are slower than we've seen elsewhere, though.

The extension only has the most basic of location pickers. There's no server workload data, no ping times, no Favorites system, no filtering or search tools, just an alphabetical list of country names. Still, there's no doubt that keeps it easy to use.

There's a similar stripped-back look to the Settings box, where you'll find only two significant options: WebRTC leak protection, and the ability to automatically connect when your browser launches. These are both useful features, but some of the competition give you much more. Hotspot Shield's Chrome extension allows you choose which server to connect to when your browser starts; can define whether individual websites are accessed through the VPN, or not; and throws in basic ad, cookie, tracker and malware blocking, for free.

Would the Firefox extension give us any extra functionality? We installed it to check, and - no, it was identical to its Chrome cousin in every detail. (Full marks for consistency, even if we would have liked more power.)

KeepSolid's addons aren't bad, then, but they have no significant feature surprises which might win you over, either. They offer a basic way to access the service from within your browser, and that's it.

Support

Support

VPN Unlimited's first line of support is its web knowledgebase, where you'll find various installation guides and a scattering of FAQ pages. 

These articles are often short on detail and poorly structured. For example, the guide on how to use the Windows client wastes a bulleted list explaining what menu items like 'Follow us on Facebook', 'Check for update' and 'Support' mean, but can't find space to explain the available protocols or suggest when and why you might want to change them.

If you need real, live, human help, tapping the Support icon at the bottom right of the website displays what looks like a chat window, but actually it's just a contact form. Fill it in with your details and question, and the site tells you the support team will get back to you via email. (You can also send an email direct to support, which can sometimes be more helpful if you'd like to send screenshots, log files or other useful data.)

Although email support will never be as convenient as the live chat available with providers like ExpressVPN, KeepSolid got as close as we've ever seen, with its response arriving only four minutes after we posted our question. It was a detailed reply, too, with all the information we needed, and links to relevant support documents. We would still prefer live chat as an option, but if email responses can be this speedy, it's not a significant issue.

Final verdict

KeepSolid offers decent performance for a fair price, and apps that run on almost everything. The session logging and the lack of a Windows kill switch could be an issue for some, but if your needs are simple – unblocking websites, say – it could still be a good choice.



from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/software/utilities/keepsolid-vpn-unlimited-1325618/review