After a short break from reviewing VPN services we’re kicking off our review season with an IVPN Review. IVPN are a well known brand in the VPN market based in Malta, a tiny island country located in the Mediterranean – I’ve been there, it’s lovely! Having been in existence since 2009 and recently launching a new website, many new servers and custom software things are definitely pushing forward for their service. I tested them for a 7 day period for a variety of tasks and compared their VPN service against the many previous reviews I have carried out in the past. Read on in the IVPN review to find out how they stacked up…
- The Website & Packages
- The Service
- The Speeds
- The Encryption & Policies
- The Support
- The Verdict aka tl;dr
The IVPN website within the past few months has recently undergone a complete revamp. This includes actual aesthetics of the site an usability. The website now sports what I would class the current popular website type style. This has grown in popularity amongst non VPN provider websites and also similar to a handful of other providers sites. From a purely eye candy perspective this makes the site fresh, new and modern.
The main page of the site explains the general gist of what a VPN service provides which is useful if you’re a beginner to the VPN service market and the way in which they make short but concise points will aid new users understand the benefits. For those who already know the general aspects of a VPN service the rest of the main page is useful in explaining more important aspects of the service such as the amount of devices that can be concurrently used, details about any limits and a section that warns you about your current lack of privacy by displaying your home ISP details.
Other important details can be accessed from the top right hand side of the site making pricing, server availability, how it works and other critical information easy to access. If you’re anything like myself there are a handful of important aspects of any VPN service I require to know before considering signing up and the new IVPN website has done a good job of quickly and easily answering them.
IVPN is similar to many providers in that they offer only one package which includes all the features, there are no differences on servers, concurrent device access or any other stipulation, one price gets you full access to the entire VPN service. It is standard practise for providers to offer 1 month, 6 months and 12 month packages but as an added addition IVPN go one step further and offer a Quarterly Package (3 months) which is good to see as it allows greater choice, the jump between 1 and 6 months can be too large for some users who only wish to commit to a shorter time period which is less than 6 months but greater than 1.
As with other providers the longer you commit the more savings can be made as the monthly price is reduced when taking a longer subscription length. Prices come in at US$15 for 1 month, US$40 for 3 months, US$70 for 6 months and US$100 for 12 months. One of the more peculiar aspects of the sign up pricing is all prices are based on a recurring system which means you will automatically be charged for each additional subscription length when your current period expires, although this can be cancelled anytime according to their website. The issue I had with this is they have a specific 1 month only package which is not charged in a recurring manner but there is a $5 premium for this making a 1 month one off package a whopping US$20. Rather expensive if you ask me.
I know many readers tend to test out a 1 month package before fully committing to anything further to see if the service is suitable for their needs. Those savvy (or shrewd) would opt for the $15 recurring package and then cancel before the month is up if one month is all that was needed.
Based on the lower length packages the prices are on the slightly higher end of the scale compared to the majority of providers although when taking a yearly package for example they are generally in line with many other VPN service providers. With a 44% saving to be made over the monthly price it may be worth considering paying more up front for bigger savings in the long run.
IVPN offer a range of payment options with one of the more obscure being cash payments. Although it would require mailing physical cash to Malta which can be a risky proposition when sending money through any postal system, it does allow a rather unique way of paying without being linked to any billing details online. This from a security and privacy point of view is excellent and will appeal to certain users who wish to remain as anonymous as possible when joining such a service.
With IVPN offering one package of varying lengths it means regardless of the length of package you signed up for all the features available are the same. IVPN offer OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec protocols and while I am not a fan of PPTP due to the lower end security aspect it is still a protocol that is in use by some users and certain older devices require connection to be made by it. Although I don’t make use of it myself if you require PPTP then you should be advised that PPTP is not available on the IVPN service.
Upon sign up IVPN email out a welcome email, an interesting feature of this is you must visit the website to set your VPN password. This is rather different to the majority of other providers out there and is slightly more secure. When considering email is sent via plain text and many providers send out your username and password via email there is a very slim to remote chance of those details being accessed by someone else, while nearly every provider recommends you change that password as soon as you’ve received it the likelihood of most users not changing it is high. The benefit of the system offered by IVPN is you are forced to visit the website to set your VPN password which in theory is slightly more secure than the earlier mentioned method in operation by most other VPN providers.
IVPN offers the ability to connect up to three devices (although this can be increased I’m told if you contact support) which is higher than some providers and lower than one or two others, however three devices is a good number allowing you the option to connect a PC, Tablet and Phone all from the one account, you can of course connect any three combinations of devices, for example 3 phones, it isn’t limited to a specific device. One nice feature I discovered when connecting devices is it is possible to connect two or more devices to the same server. In testing I connected both my PC and Phone to the UK server without issue. Whilst this may not seem overly surprising there are one or two other providers who disallow connection of more than one device to the same server so if you have a specific favourite location then this will be a bonus for your usage.
One of the features that have been introduced recently is the new range of both PC and Mac custom software, while they don’t currently have software for phone or tablet devices it is a good start to see custom desktop software. For those wondering, custom software allows you to get connected and surfing via the VPN service without any complicated set-up. While it’s still entirely possible to download OpenVPN configurations directly if you wish to make connection directly the custom software gives an added avenue of ease which will be especially useful to new users and those who want to make connection quickly without the hassle of configuration. The PC software allows connection to be made via OpenVPN, so those looking for L2TP/IPSec support will be disappointed and have to continue using manual set-up.
The PC custom software is actually rather good, pretty simplistic and easy to use especially from the main screen. There are further bonus features tucked away in the settings areas. The main panel consists of the absolute basics so any new users won’t get bogged down or confused by masses of options. From the main screen there is a section to enter your login/password with the ability to save it and a drop down selector to pick the server you wish to connect to. All that is required after selection of server is to press “Connect” and the software will carry out the rest of connection automatically. One minor but smart feature is once connected the software automatically minimises to your task bar which displays the time connected, while not on the surface an overly huge feature it shows that small attention to detail has been considered when developing the software.
Connection status can be easily viewed in the notification area with Red, Amber and Green icons signifying the corresponding connection status. A variety of options are available such as launch on boot, automatically connect from boot or to connect automatically when using unsecured wifi. All handy features that are sometimes ignored on some other providers more basic software. A further section dedicated to more advanced options allows various fixes for specific issues that some users can face when connecting or disconnecting from a VPN service along with the ability to disable some of the inbuilt features.
DNS leak protection is built in to the custom software as standard and appears to be working fine when tested with the various DNS leak testing websites, this can be disabled if required although it is a pleasing aspect of the software and one I’m glad IVPN opted to build in. Often DNS leaking is overlooked by new users and not being aware of the privacy impacts of a DNS leak it is good to know these areas have been automatically covered.
One troubling aspect of the software which could be due to my own personal system is it had trouble after second use in that connection would not be made to any server, the only way to resolve this was to manually kill the process, sometimes twice and reload the software. Contacting IVPN via their support system to raise the issue was met with genuine concern and I was assured this issue would be looked in to within the coming month when their software development team return. Again, this could of been a system specific issue to my Win 8.1 system which is already heavily loaded down with VPN related tools from a mass of providers. As IVPN had not been aware of this issue previously that is most likely to be the case although it may be a consideration if the issue is more widespread if you are going to rely solely on the custom software.
Overall the custom software was easy to use and aside from the one specific bug it was equally as good as other providers and better than some with the added features.
Port Forwarding is possible via the IVPN web panel which can be considered a bonus feature and goes some way to justify the slightly higher price tag than some other providers. While it is available from certain providers the option to enable port forwarding is not always a standard feature and is a plus for the IVPN service. Enabling the option is hassle free and provides you with a bank of 14 ports and the external IP address so that you can allow services in to your system via the VPN service.
Other notable features include shared IPs which in VPN circles are considered the more privacy specific type meaning that many users can be making use of the same IP address at any given time making tracing your personal actions an awful lot harder than if you were assigned a specific IP address upon connection. Thumbs up for IVPN for being pro-privacy in this regard. P2P is allowed on all servers bar their US servers which is standard practise for providers that allow P2P use across their network. While some providers do allow P2P on US servers it is rather more standard to see such services blocked on those heavily DMCA’ed located ones (ie; US) bringing IVPN in line with usual industry practise. A service often overlooked but enabled on IVPN is SMTP which allows those who use desktop email clients to send email without an issue. I have started to see more and more providers allow SMTP in recent months but it is still widely blocked across various providers networks making another nice feature on the service of IVPN.
IVPN have been expanding server wise over the past few years to now include 14 locations across 9 countries. While not a massive amount all the regular countries with a few less regular ones are included with North America and Europe well covered. Access points are available in Texas – US, California – US, Utah – US, New Jersey – US, Toronto – Canada, London – UK, Amsterdam – Netherlands, Frankfurt – Germany, Bucharest – Romania, Paris – France, Zurich – Switzerland and Hong Kong. Additional multi hop servers are available which add that extra layer of security, upon testing these seemed rather fast and will be useful for those concerned about their privacy to this extent. Multi hop servers are available from Amsterdam – Texas, Amsterdam – London, Texas – London, Texas – Amsterdam, London – Texas and London – Amsterdam.
IVPN performed exceptionally well through day to day use but one concern lately for many users who are only interested specifically in accessing Hulu is the recent spout of VPN blocks by Hulu. This issue is not provider specific and in the past few months many VPN providers have been hit by these blocks meaning that across many providers it is impossible to now access Hulu outside the US. For those of you who specifically want to make use of the Hulu service I checked all 4 of IVPN’s US servers to determine if they work with Hulu. Unfortunately or “fortunately” depending on how you look at it, 3 out of 4 servers are blocked for accessing Hulu. The only server which as of the date of this review that is working with Hulu is their Los Angeles, California server. Food for thought should this be a major consideration for your usage.
Usual testing procedure applied for testing the IVPN service. I made use of general every day web browsing which included bulk hour periods of staying connected and making use of a variety of services such as web browsing, Skype, content streaming etc. General web browsing was fast across the range of European servers I used on a regular basis and I had no issues with connection or connection drops. Making use of the range of UK TV streaming services such as iPlayer as well as the others gave no issues and I was able to stream BBC iPlayer programs in the highest quality. Although Hulu is blocked on 3 of 4 IVPN US servers I was still able to watch in full available quality when connecting to their Californian server which from the UK is some distance but provided streaming without issue.
With all our reviews we select a handful of servers available to check for the maximum download speed achievable. For maximum through put we use a download manager with the full amount of concurrent connections available to download a 1GB test file from a well known British website. As we are based in the UK results may vary for yourselves so these speeds should be only taken as an indication of what was achieved for ourselves and you may find you can achieve better or worse results based on your location and other factors. Our test internet connection is 152 Mb/s and as such would be the maximum available speed.
The servers tested in order are Canada, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands, Paris, Romania, Switzerland, UK, Texas – US and Utah – US.
On the evening I tested the German server I struggled heavily achieving a poor 9 Mb/s, I raised this concern with IVPN who informed me the server was functioning correctly. So I retested the German server the following evening at roughly a similar time and managed to achieve 22 Mb/s. While not overly fast it was a vast improvement on the previous evening and with an off peak speed of 82 Mb/s it seems a little hit and miss.
IVPN are at the higher end when it comes to encryption which is always good to see. It only further proves that with a decent provider high encryption does not always mean a need to compromise on speed when using a desktop system.
The Data channel cipher in use is AES-256-CBC with a 256 bit key. Control channel makes use of TLSv1/SSLv3 DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA with a very pleasing 4096 bit RSA key. Again at the higher end of the scale in line with some providers but far out performing others which for the security concious should make the decision to opt for IVPN easier to make.
IVPN’s policies are clear and well written with the required information you’re likely to question before signing up for a service. One extremely pleasing aspects of the service is when you sign up you are required to only provide an email address and a password, no other details are necessary. This is rather unique and although there are one or two other providers who require such little detail they are far and few between making IVPN a positive experience for those concerned about the privacy of their details. Add this to the fact you can pay in cash if you are overly cautious, it adds up to a very impressive privacy centric company.
IVPN claim to log no connection data which means that when DMCA requests are made they purposely have no way to tie such events to a particular user which will be pleasing to those who download material from P2P networks, torrents and the like. A system is in place that has the ability to capture email spammers but this is trigged based on certain flags and not by way of any type of logging.
Upon reading the various policies they seem rather robust and exceptionally refreshing and centred around the privacy of their users. If IVPN stick to their word then there are very few providers who can compete on such a basis. IVPN claim like many other providers that if required by law to compromise the safety of their users they would opt to close or move. IVPN are currently based in Malta which is an EU country although often considered off-shore for financial institutes.
There is an extensive FAQ section on the website of IVPN although those that want to contact a human directly will have to make do with opening a support ticket. While that is not necessarily an issue, if you’re after swift support via such things as a live chat system then you’ll be sorely disappointed. A direct dial phone number in Malta is listed elsewhere on the site but not under support so it is unlikely that sales or tech support can be reached by such means.
Ticket systems are one of the most popular methods of contacting VPN providers for sales or support reasons although it is always nice when more options are provided which is the case at some other providers but not so at IVPN.
Although lacking on a multitude of contact methods luckily support is rather fast even on weekends and evenings. I contacted IVPN on three separate occasions with varying questions. The first instance I contacted on a Thursday at 20:51 BST and received a response 13 minutes later. The second occasion was on a Saturday evening at 20:07 BST which received the slowest response early on Sunday morning at 10:34 BST. Possibly a one off but if you assume you’ll need support at less than sociable hours then it may be a consideration for you, although granted it is unlikely. The third occasion I contacted on a Wednesday at 22:26 BST and received a response at 00:01 BST on Thursday morning, 1 hour and 35 minutes later.
As you can ascertain from the response times IVPN are actually rather prompt and aside from a slower weekend response it was pleasing to see that answers are still received even on a Sunday which is a bonus as 7 day a week support isn’t always found at all providers and I have known it to be the case with some other providers to ask a query late on a Friday and not receive a response until Monday. High praise indeed for IVPN.
IVPN offer a very reliable and solid service, I had no trouble with disconnects and used their service daily for a variety of tasks without any issues. General internet use such as web browsing and other daily tasks was effortless and no lag or speed issues were noticeable. Speeds were generally acceptable with some blistering speeds even on servers across the Atlantic which was impressive although on a more negative side they seemed a little inconsistent compared to other providers. Although speeds were reasonable for everyday use the fluctuations in speeds between off-peak and peak times and across the range of servers appeared uneven.
European users are well catered for and with a wealth of countries it is easy to swap between a server that is exceptionally fast if you find yourself on one that is only moderately fast. Although if you have specific need for a server in for example Germany then the speeds achieved were far less favourable than one, in say, Romania. For those who don’t mind a bit of server hopping to find the fastest then the service is without issue and speeds of 119 Mb/s on the UK server, 90 Mb/s on the Romanian server and an outstanding 93 Mb/s on the Canadian server were achieved. For those looking to push super fast broadband connections swapping servers would be a requirement but for the majority on slower to mid range connections nearly all servers achieved a rather high speed through put.
Encryption and cipher usage is on the higher end of the scale with AES-256-CBC in operation and a 4096 bit RSA key for handshaking putting them in the upper sphere in comparison to many other providers. Higher end encryption is always a positive and with speeds achieved it goes to show how a reliable provider can operate and provide superior encryption at the same time.
Support was fast and reliable, although IVPN only offer a contact method via support ticket it was extremely reliable in both speed of response and actual response content. No poor English responses here and genuine concern appeared to be shown when answering my queries or requesting further information to resolve them in a positive manner.
IVPN have been pushing ahead with custom software for PC and Mac and from testing I found their PC software to be easy to use and understand, it would be nice to see support for mobile devices and tablets such as Android and iOS in the future to make it that bit easier for new users. Uneven speed results while still highly acceptable created the issue of swapping servers to find which was best suited for my needs, although apart from the German server speeds achieved were more than acceptable and for regular and daily use the service would be ideal.
Pricing of IVPN being slightly on the higher end of the scale may initially put users off. While their yearly package is competitive with most providers their lower end length services are slightly more higher priced than others around them. Although an extremely good service is to be found from IVPN if it warrants the extra dollars on the shorter length package is yet to be seen. If considering IVPN it would be my opinion to consider opting for the longer length service package as especially the one off month only seems rather expensive when a similar quality service can be had for a cheaper month only price elsewhere.
Overall IVPN provide an extremely easy to use, reliable and robust service. I would be more than happy to use them for my daily VPN use and found it a very pleasant experience with only minor niggles in a handful of areas. Apart from that there would be no reason not to consider their service if their features are suitable for your needs.
|Price:||(3.5 / 5)|
|Reliability:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Speed:||(3.5 / 5)|
|Servers:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Policy:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Support:||(3.5 / 5)|
|Average:||(3.9 / 5)|
- Lots of features.
- Fast on certain servers.
- Great policy.
- Cash accepted.
- Speeds hit and miss across network.
- Expensive on short term packages.
- No custom mobile support.