StrongVPN Review 2017: Find out if they’re any good

StrongVPN
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

StrongVPN are one of the longest running VPN services with thousands of customers.

Pros

  •  No logs policy.
  •  Broad range of servers.
  •  Five simultaneous connections.
  •  5-day money-back guarantee.
  •  Superb Customer Support.

Cons

  •  Not the easiest VPN service to use.
  •  Frustrating random VPN protocol allocation.
  •  Hit and miss speeds.
3.8

StrongVPN is a US-based VPN provider which operates a little bit under the radar compared to some of their more high-profile competitors.

That is something which tends to work to their advantage though as they have become a popular option for users who want to access services like Netflix which try to block many of the big-name VPNs. It is also a reason why they have long been one of the VPNs of choice for users in China.

StrongVPN has a reputation for offering “military-grade” security and privacy, fast connection speeds, and having the best tech support around. But it is not without one or two flaws either, so how did it fair in our 2017 review?

The Packages:

Pricing is always a good place to start when reviewing a VPN because, like it or not, for many customers it is the most decisive factor they consider. StrongVPN has the choice of three subscription packages to choose from.

A one-month package is available for $10 (£7.40) a month. There is also a 3-month package which works out slightly cheaper at $8 (£5.90) a month. However, their annual package is priced at the equivalent of just $5.83 (£4.30) a month and offers the best value for money by some distance.

StrongVPN also has a 5-day money-back guarantee. This is considerably less than some of their competitors, with 30-days increasingly being seen as the norm. But nonetheless, it should be sufficient for most customers to put the service through its paces and see if it is the right one for them.

All subscription packages come with the same content, which includes a free smart Domain Name System (DNS) application. Payment is accepted by all the usual methods, with Bitcoin included for the most privacy-conscious users and Alipay also in there as a nod to the inroads StrongVPN has made in the Chinese market.

Overall, StrongVPN is not the cheapest service around. But they are not the most expensive either and this mid-range pricing perhaps reflects the mix of great features and minor issues that exist with their service.

The Service:

StrongVPN is available through dedicated apps on Windows and Mac computers as well as any device operating on Android or iOS operating systems. Manual installation is also available for Linux, Ubuntu, and Chromium OS operating systems, while it can also be used on all routers running DD-WRT, Tomato, and Sabai router operating systems.

With 5 simultaneous connections available with each subscription, it is possible to use StrongVPN on all of your connected devices, which is really handy.

The signing up process is a simple one thanks to their clean and easy-to-navigate website. Just click on the package you want to sign up for, enter an email address, and then choose your preferred payment method.

However, after payment has been completed, you will then have to verify your identity via an email sent to you. This email will contain links to download the relevant app for your device as well as your password, which you will need to log in.

Custom Software & Apps

Installing the software is easy enough too, just follow the onscreen instructions from their Install Wizard, which is available in English and German. However, once you have created your account, you will then be allocated a default ‘home’ server. This process is apparently done completely at random but can be problematic if you are not assigned a good server.

Some StrongVPN servers operate on different VPN protocols. Most VPN users will opt for the OpenVPN protocol because it is the most secure. There is, however, a chance that you could be allocated a server which uses another protocol.

If you are unfortunate enough to fall victim for this, you are likely to face some considerable time in negotiations with customer support to get the allocation undone. Fortunately, each time I installed the software, I got lucky and was allocated a decent OpenVPN server. It was however always located in the USA. Despite this, the whole process seemed problematic and frankly unnecessary.

I mostly used the StrongVPN Windows client which was a little small on the screen, but simple enough to navigate on face value. Clicking on the Change Connection option pops up a window where you can choose between selecting a country and being allocated a server at random or manually choosing your server.

StrongVPN Windows client

StrongVPN Windows client.

I didn’t like the fact that you have to manually disconnect before StrongVPN will allow you to reconnect to another server. Most other VPNs will disconnect automatically when the request to connect to a new server is made, which is much easy for users.

If you choose to connect to a country, you then have to test the servers before you can choose one which can take ages. Yet for some reason, this is the recommended option to choose. It is much easier to choose a server manually, but even this process is far more convoluted than it should be.

Meanwhile, the advanced tab pops up a window akin to the Advanced settings often found on other Windows apps. It is here that StrongVPN’s additional features are managed, but frankly, it is very complicated to navigate, I would advise all be the most tech-savvy of users to steer clear altogether.

StrongVPN Advanced Settings

StrongVPN Advanced Settings

Overall, while StrongVPN does what it is supposed to, it makes the process needlessly complicated and this is likely to alienate some users, especially if they are new to VPNs, which is a pity.

Server Locations

StrongVPN’s list of available servers is a pretty decent one. It is not the most comprehensive available, but it does cater for all the most popular markets, especially the US and the UK well.

In total, they have more than 500 servers available in 24 countries and 47 cities around the world. This includes no fewer than 12 different cities in the USA and 7 in the UK. But as these are the most popular server destinations and StrongVPN is a US provider, that shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

StrongVPN Servers

Perhaps more of a surprise is the relative lack of servers in the countries surrounding China, given its strength in that market. With just 3 servers in Hong Kong, 3 in Japan, and 2 in Singapore, they appear a little underserviced.

Malaysia does also appear on the menu’s, but at the time of testing, there were no servers listed to connect to. But on the plus side, all of these servers appear to be fast and functional and their popularity in China suggests this lack of servers has not hit their business in the region.

Features

As well as the core VPN service, there are a few additional features available with StrongVPN regardless of which package you sign up for. The most prominent is their free smart Domain Name System (DNS) application. This takes the form of a browser plugin for Google Chrome, so if that is not your browser of choice, you will be disappointed.

As well as their free Smart DNS, StrongVPN also has a built-in kill switch, which has to be activated through their almost impenetrable advanced settings page. There is also built-in IP Leak Protection, which is activated by default, so there is no need to worry about this one.

That’s pretty much it for features, but StrongVPN is not the sort of VPN provider to sell its service through the bells and whistles that come with it. Therefore, it is the core VPN service on which they should really be judged.

The Speeds:

In putting StrongVPN’s connections speeds to the test, I tried out their service from internet connections in the Far East and Europe, testing servers in the USA, UK, and Hong Kong. In each case, the connections were being made on an average internet connection and as would be expected, every connection slowed that connection down a little.

However, some servers were better than others. Of the four US-based servers, connection speeds on two were as good as would be expected, regardless of my actual location. But the other two were extremely variable. Sometimes their speed would be fine, but on other occasions, they slowed things right down. There didn’t appear to be any pattern or reason to this.

With the three UK-servers I tested, the same pattern was seen. Two servers appeared to operate well, but the third showed inconsistent speeds. Indeed, the only place where I enjoyed decent speeds 100% of the time was with the Hong Kong servers, regardless of where in the world I was.

This inconsistency was a little frustrating, but it must be said that for the most part connection speeds were good and when I did encounter a problem, switching to another server in the same location seemed to deal with it.

The Encryption, Policies & Support:

Encryption & Policies

StrongVPN offers encryption using 5 different protocols; OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, and SSTP. OpenVPN is the most commonly used of these and it employs AES with a 256-bit key, which is decent but not the strongest form of encryption around right now.

In general, the encryption settings are fine, but they do not exactly match up with StrongVPN’s ‘military grade’ claims. In their marketing materials, StrongVPN claim to offer “up to 2048-bit” encryption on OpenVPN. But this refers only to connection, which makes that claim a little misleading.

As for privacy, StrongVPN appears to get everything right. They have a no user logs policy, which on closer reading means that the company itself retains no information about your online activity or the metadata about your connection. StrongVPN does create a log on your own device, however, and changing the settings or managing the content of this requires you to penetrate the advanced settings page once more.

StrongVPN also employs shared IP Addresses as standard which adds an additional level of anonymity to the service, which is welcome. Their IP Addresses are also dynamic which means they change on a regular basis. This is one of the main reasons why StrongVPN is such a hard service for the likes of China and Netflix to block.

The only real note of caution about StrongVPNs privacy settings is that they are based in the USA, a country where the current administration has not appeared to be a big fan of online privacy and copyright trolls are working hard to make money from anyone who breaches online copyright.

Both of these make VPNs a potential target and while at the moment there is no obvious reason not to use a US-based VPN, this may not always be the case in the future.

Support

Customer Support is a real highlight of StrongVPN, which is good given how tricky it can be to use some aspects of the service. They offer a live chat service which is available around the clock all through the year. It is staffed by helpful and happy staff, who will respond well whether you are asking a simple question or getting angry with them over a service problem.

Their email ticket service is also fast and efficient, with one question I submitted receiving a reply in less than 5 minutes. There is also an FAQ section on the website, which is comprehensive and available in English Chinese, Russian, and Spanish.

StrongVPN customer service is, without doubt, one of the best in the business and they deserve full credit for maintaining that over a number of years now.

The Verdict:

It is difficult to know which side of the fence to fall on with StrongVPN. Sometimes their service can be unnecessarily complicated and frustratingly inconsistent, but most of the time it is without doubt up there with the best in the business.

Over several weeks of testing, I enjoyed a lot more positive experiences than negative ones.

Speeds were usually good, connections were reliable, and I was confident that my online activity was both secure and private. But just as you got comfortable with the service, you would connect to a duff server, or find yourself picking around the advanced settings and getting more and more cross.

I soon reached the conclusion that in the latter case, the best thing to do was to turn to their helpful customer support early on, rather than try and tackle the issue myself. This usually resolved the problem quickly and left me happy again, but of course, it doesn’t have to be like that.

A simplified, more user-friendly service and a tighter set of servers is all that is needed to make StrongVPN a real challenger to the best providers around. It shouldn’t be beyond them, but for now, we have to conclude that StrongVPN is frustratingly just short of the level of service they could offer.

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