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Not long ago, during a routine meeting with a friend, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he had become a VPN convert. I say surprised because, prior to that meeting, he had always taken any conversation we had had about online threats rather lightly.
He’d smirk at mentions of phishing scams, identity theft, hacks, malware, and whatnot, dismissing them as the predicaments of unsavvy internet users. He believed that, with enough personal vigilance, he’d be safe from such plights.
The Hack that Broke the Camel’s Back
But along came the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And although it did not affect him personally, it made him realize how easily he could have been exposed, and, more importantly, how utterly powerless we can all be sometimes.
See the problem was that you did not need to do anything wrong yourself to be exposed – Cambridge Analytica did not require your express consent, it did not need to trick you, all it needed was to be granted permissions from any of your Facebook friends to get to your data.
This made him realize how exposed he was. So the core of his new approach was to “minimize risk whenever possible.”
Inspired by this meeting. I have decided to write a series of VPN reviews to help newcomers make a choice.
BulletVPN was the first VPN service he had ever used. Could it be the one?
While security concerns were what guided him to VPNs, they offer so much more. As a very quick recap, a VPN encrypts your data, hides your IP from web services and your online activity from your ISP. For a thorough explanation, make sure to check out our Beginners’ Guide to VPNs.
There are a number of things to consider when choosing your VPN, starting with…
As we’ve mentioned, security is a prime reason to use VPNs. In this regard, there are several factors to look at.
Protocols refer to the technologies VPNs employ to transmit and encrypt your data. There are a number of VPN protocols currently in use, with varying degrees of efficiency and security levels.
BulletVPN offers you the choice between PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, IKEv1, and IKEv2. OpenVPN and IKEv2 are your best bet when it comes to security. For a detailed analysis of what each VPN protocol entails, be sure to check out our analysis of the 5 Most Secure VPN Protocols.
2. Logging Policy:
Logging policy refers to the practice of maintaining records of users’ information and activities. The most secure policy is a no logs policy; if nothing is being recorded, nothing can be leaked.
We must note that all VPNs do keep some sort of record, but logs containing very basic information, such as your username and subscription plan, can be classified under a no-logs policy.
Some keep logs for a very short period of time, around 48 hours, for the purpose of improving the service. Others are required by law to keep them for much longer. BulletVPN does not keep logs.
“BulletVPN does not collect logs of any user activity, nor can it link any other collected information to any specific user. We do not collect any logs of user browsing history, connection history, traffic and data transfer, or DNS queries, nor do we store VPN connection logs of any type.”
3. Headquarters Location:
There are two considerations when it comes to the headquarters location: local laws and 14 Eyes. As we mentioned above, VPNs are subject to local laws, such as retention laws – laws that force service providers to keep records on their customers.
“14 Eyes” refers to a surveillance alliance made up of 14 countries that share intelligence – you can read more about 14 Eyes in our explanatory article.
BulletVPN’s headquarters are in Estonia, a country outside of 14 Eyes. Estonia is also an EU country, which has very strict laws regarding data retention: it is generally unlawful, with few strict exceptions.
The Estonian government however still has retention laws in place. It must be also noted that despite the fact that Estonia is not a 14 Eyes country, BulletVPN runs servers located within such countries. It’s not as worrying as being headquartered in a 14 Eyes country, but still worth keeping in mind.
A VPN does not qualify as “credible” if it doesn’t provide excellent services and features. Well, BulletVPN falls into the mix of top VPN providers for a reason. Or should I say, six features:
1. Platforms & Simultaneous Connections
BulletVPN supports apps for all major platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. This flexibility is particularly useful when you consider that BulletVPN allows for 3 simultaneous connections, meaning that you could be running it on your Windows laptop, iOS phone, and Android tablet at the same time.
BulletVPN also offers apps for Amazon Fire TV or Amazon Fire Stick
2. Server Network:
Similarly, a VPN wouldn’t be worth much if it didn’t allow you to connect through a good number of locations. BulletVPN has 51 servers scattered in 41 countries around the world.
What’s more, it allows you to switch between servers as often as you like (unlike some other services that put a cap on the number of times you can switch). The countries are:
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Ireland, France, Finland, Romania, Netherlands, Norway, Greece, Poland, United Kingdom, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey
- North America: Canada, Mexico, USA
- South America: Brazil
- Asia/Oceania: India, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, The Philippines
- Africa: Algeria, South Africa, Egypt
3. Access to Blocked Platforms:
The main reason a VPN service runs a network of servers around the world is to help you access geo-blocked content. Using BulletVPN I was able to access US Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Fox, and Amazon Prime.
Services like Netflix apply one heck of a strict VPN block. I’ve tried several VPNs before, most of them are free, and I wasn’t able to access the channel’s content in any way. You see, Netflix can figure out whether you’re using a VPN or not. If it does, you’ll get the following message:
“You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.”
When I connected to a BulletVPN server in the US, neither the location error nor the VPN blocking error showed up. That means the provider is more than capable of unblocking Netflix US. I directly checked for Star-Crossed as it’s only available in the United States. Found the title and hit play. Here are the results.
Using its servers in the UK I was able to watch the BBC iPlayer and ITV. When it comes to sports, I was able to watch games streamed on from the MLB, NFL, and ESPN. Finally, for music enthusiasts, I was able to create accounts on Spotify and Pandora.
4. Kill Switch:
A kill switch is a feature that turns off your connection if the network drops. This is important because VPN services that do not have a kill switch could get you exposed. Without a kill switch, your device would automatically switch back to your default IP when your VPN connection fails.
5. Bullet Shield
BulletVPN is another great privacy feature that adds an extra layer of protection to your browsing activities. However, this technology does not work alone. It’s an add-on to the Kill Switch feature.
As I mentioned, a kill switch terminates your internet access if a sudden drop occurs. On the other hand, Bullet Shield doesn’t allow you to connect to the internet, to begin with, unless you’re connected to a BulletVPN server.
6. Smart DNS proxy:
Some popular devices that support streaming do not support any native VPN clients; gaming consoles, such as PS4 and Xbox One, Apple TV, and Smart TVs, to name some.
One way to get around geoblocking would be to use Smart DNS proxies. Luckily for BulletVPN users, it offers users a Smart DNS proxy service at no extra cost.
You should bear in mind that a smart DNS proxy will help you get around regional restrictions, but does not offer the other benefits of using a VPN, such as hiding your IP or encrypting your data.
I ran speed tests to be able to assess the impact of BulletVPN on the connection. Bear in mind that any VPN will reduce your speed, simply because your data is traveling a longer route. Here’s what my regular speed looks like:
And here are the speeds using VPN servers in Amsterdam, Chicago, and the UK respectively
The download speed was reduced by 8.6%, 13.1%, and 22.2% respectively.
The upload speed decreased by 11%, 7.4%, and 9.7% respectively.
It must also be noted that connecting through BulletVPN is quite fast. After clicking the connect button, it will take an average of 3 seconds to connect to your desired server. I tried Madrid, London, New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt, and Sao Paolo; the fasted connection happened in less than a second, the slowest, Sao Paolo, took about 7.
The User Interface
There’s really little to say here, and that’s a good thing. BulletVPN’s apps are clean, simple, straightforward, and easy to use.
There are four tabs to the mobile app: Account, Connect, Search, and Settings. The connect page carries a huge connect button; below it you can the location of the server you are connecting through.
Clicking on the location in the Connect tab will take you to the Search tab. In it, you will see a list of the countries available; clicking on a country will reveal the servers available in those countries.
After choosing a server, you will be shown back to the Connect tab. Next to each server revealed in the Search tab you can click to favorite a server.
You can see your Favorite servers in the Search tab: in the middle at the center, you can choose to view all servers or favorited servers. There’s also a locations search bar up top, and clicking the top right Sort button will let you sort the servers either by country (the default setting) or by load.
You may notice that three vertical lines are shown next to each server, that indicator represents the load of each respective server. Green bars indicate that the load is minimal, yellow means that the load on that server is ‘average’, so to speak, while read means that the server is experiencing a heavy load. The heavier the load, the slower your connection will be. It is therefore recommended to switch to a lighter load server when possible.
I came across one minor design hiccup during my use of the app, an extra unnecessary step. If you go to the Search tab and pick a server to connect to while the app is already connected, you will be prompted with a message that asks you to disconnect first before connecting to the newly chosen server.
The Account tab reveals some basic information, including your full name, the email you used to register, your subscription plan, a button to contact support, and a sign out button.
Finally, the Settings tab includes a toggle to enable the VPN to connect on startup, a button that allows you to choose your protocol and a one to activate the kill switch and Bullet Shield features.
Clicking the Contact Support button will show a very clean form that includes a subject line and a space to jot down your complaint. I had trouble accessing Hulu using the app. I contacted the support team, bot via the app and using the chat feature on the website.
The response on chat was very prompt, practically instant. The person handling my complaint was friendly and resolved my issue within minutes.
I also tried solving my issue through the app. After typing in my complaint and sending it, the same response came within 20 minutes.
The first rule of thumb when it comes to VPNs is to avoid free ones. Since one of the major reasons to use a VPN is to protect your data, the adage “if you’re not paying for it, you become the product” becomes particularly relevant in this context. As such, the price was the first thing I looked at.
BulletVPN has three subscription packets. You can purchase one month at a time, 6 months, or a whole year; those retail for $10.98, $54.98, and $89.98 respectively. Evidently, the longer the subscription, the more money you save: you could be paying $10.98 a month, $9.16 a month, or $7.5 a month respectively.
Right now there is limited time offer: you get a whole free year if you purchase the yearly plan, which translates into a mere $3.75 a month. That’s a pretty good bargain.
But should you invest in a yearly plan without having thoroughly tested the service? Well, VPNs typically come with a money-back guaranteed trial period. BulletVPN’s money-back period is 30 days. That’s plenty of time to get acquainted with the service and decide whether you want to stick to it or not.
After spending a few days with BulletVPN as my default VPN app, I felt assured that my friend wouldn’t falter from his newfound online security zeal: First impressions matter most, and luckily for him, his first encounter with a VPN must have been very satisfactory. The price is slightly above average, but BulletVPN is a fast, extremely easy to use, and versatile service.