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How we review VPNs: Our methodology for testing and rating virtual private networks

Our team of technology experts take great care to fully test and review VPNs. First and foremost, we want to ensure you get the best value VPN for your needs, but more than that, giving a recommendation to our readers for an online security product that isn’t up to scratch could have serious consequences, such as leaked or stolen information.

So, to make sure we’re being as thorough as possible with our VPN reviews, we track and measure 36 different data points; how well a provider performs in these data points determines its overall score and whether we recommend them or not.

Each of these data points sits within one of the following categories:

  • Performance and features
  • Privacy and security
  • Reputation and credibility
  • Customer experience
  • Plans and pricing value

We weight the scoring of each category relative to its importance in determining which is the best VPN. For example, we consider the level of privacy offered to be of higher value than customer service, so the privacy score will outweigh customer experience in the overall score. That’s not to say customer service isn’t important, it’s just that we would prefer that a VPN has better security protocols than a helpful website.

VPN review stats

data points measured
categories considered
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VPN reviews read

The VPN features we prioritise

We consider the most important factors that determine the quality of a VPN to be:

  • Experience and longevity
  • Privacy: Logging and independent audits
  • Performance: Download and upload speed, as well as latency
  • Geo-unblocking
  • App functionality and platform availability 
  • Support and documentation
  • Price and value for money

Experience and longevity

This refers to the length of time a VPN provider has been operating and the reputation it has in the business. VPN providers come and go, so if a provider has a certain amount of staying power, then that’s a good sign it’s doing something right. 

Other good pointers here are the size of the company in terms of employees, and customer reviews on Trustpilot, the Apple App Store, and Google Play. Lots of positive reviews over a good number of years is a plus, but a small number of middling reviews would be a red flag.

Privacy: Logging and independent audits

How a VPN provider treats its customers’ data is of utmost importance when it comes to determining if it offers a quality service. That is, after all, why you would subscribe to a VPN in the first place. At the very least, it should operate a no-log policy, which means it only keeps the bare minimum information about its users. To earn trust, its procedures should be independently verified by a third party through a VPN audit so you know it does what it says it does. 

Other things we look for include the location of a provider’s HQ, which determines how it is legally required to manage customer data. Some countries are better for protection than others – for example, Switzerland is good, China is bad. Don’t, whatever you do, sign up for a VPN if it’s headquartered in China. Your data won’t be yours for long.

We also place a high value on the level of encryption used by a provider. Fortunately, most use what is often called ‘military grade’ encryption, which basically means it uses AES-256 (advanced encryption standard). The 256 refers to the length of the security key needed to unlock the data, where the longer the key, the more secure it is. 

This means a hacker trying to guess the key would need to try 2²⁵⁶ different combinations to ensure the correct one is included. To put this in context, this number is larger than the number of all the atoms in the observable universe. This level of security is a must for any reputable VPN provider.

Performance: Speed and latency

All VPNs experience a reduction in broadband performance to some degree, it’s just a case of by how much.

Usually, this is directly related to the distance your computer or phone is from the server location – even though data travels at the speed of light, it still takes time to go from your phone via your mobile provider, through a telephone exchange, along the big internet wire buried under the Atlantic ocean, and then beamed via a satellite orbiting 35,000km above the Earth’s surface to a server on the other side of the world.

So when we test a VPN’s level of performance, we work out how much speed is lost in different use-cases and take an average. We also test each VPN multiple times per day to try and smooth out instances of peak internet traffic, such as lunchtime in the UK, when the US wakes up and logs in.

First, we take a base measurement of our broadband so we have data to compare to, and then test the VPN by using it locally – ie, a server in the UK – one internationally, usually the US, and then at the extreme end of things, usually a server in Australia.

We measure upload and download speed, as well as latency (important if you use a VPN for gaming), and then work out what percentage of base performance is retained overall – the higher the better.


Some websites – and the content on those sites – is restricted based on the location of the user. Anyone who’s tried to stream the latest episode of Love Island while on holiday abroad will know exactly what this is like. This is usually because of licensing rights in the home country: different countries have different content licensing deals in place, so restrictions are put in place to protect them.

A VPN can get around this by making it appear as though you’re in another country, ie, the one in which that content is available.

It’s not always as simple as that, and a provider may need to take extra steps to circumvent the protections put in place by content providers. This usually requires a number of special servers, dedicated to this purpose. The number of these types of servers, and the locations they are in, will determine how effective a provider is at geo-unblocking.

App functionality and platform availability

It’s important to us that a VPN should be both usable by someone with very little technical knowledge and should also offer functionality for more experienced and tech-savvy users, who want to maximise the potential of the technology.

Therefore, we test how easy it is to use the app (be it desktop or mobile), as well as the options available should someone want to optimise it for a specific use, such as for P2P torrenting. We also look at how many platforms an app is available for, which can include a VPN for Firestick, as a VPN for Chrome, and across multiple platforms such as Windows, macOS, Android, Linux, and so on.

Support and documentation

It’s always good to know that if something goes wrong, help is available, via an email or online chat. So when we test a VPN, we will judge the quality and accessibility of documentation on the provider’s web site, as well as the accessibility of the support team: we test how quickly its support team responds to and resolves an issue.

Price and value for money

Some VPNs are more expensive than others, so we want to make sure that when you sign up for a VPN, you’re getting value for money. So the price you pay and for which length of time is a major factor when determining how good a VPN service is. We also take into consideration how easy it is to cancel if and when you do need to.

You can read more about our commitment to editorial impartiality and our editorial code on our About Us page.

Nick Jones

Editor in Chief

Nick Jones is a highly experienced consumer journalist and editor, who has been writing and producing content for print and online media for over 25 years.

He has worked at some of the UK’s leading publishers including Future Publishing, Highbury Entertainment, and Imagine Publishing, with publications as diverse as Homebuilding & Renovating, TechRadar, and Creative Bloq, writing and editing content for audiences whose interests include history, computing, gaming, films, and science. He’s also produced a number of podcasts in the technology, science, gaming, and true crime genres.

Nick has also enjoyed a highly successful career in content marketing, working in a variety of topics such as health, technology, and finance, with market-leading global companies including Cisco, Pfizer, Santander, and Virgin Media.

Now the Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Advisor, Nick is involved in all aspects of the site’s content, where his expertise in finance, technology, and home products informs every article that’s published on-site. He takes a hands-on approach with our VPN content, penning a number of the articles himself, and verifying that everything we publish in this topic is accurate.

Whatever the area of interest he’s worked in, Nick has always been a consumer champion, helping people find the best deals and give them the information they need to make an informed buying decision.