Windscribe is a very interesting VPN which piles on the features, yet remains easy to use, with some great value commercial products, and one of the most generous free plans around.
A decent-sized network provides locations in 110 cities spread across 63 countries, with Peru, Panama and Macedonia added since our last review. Windscribe claims its servers really are in these locations, too, rather than, the company suggests, ‘some competitors who have most of their servers in US and Europe, and simply fake the location with false IP WHOIS data to make it appear that it’s elsewhere.’
An array of apps means you’re covered on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux. Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions give you even more ways to connect and stacks of privacy-related extras, and the website has guides to help you set up the service on routers, Kodi, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, and via any OpenVPN-compatible software or device.
IKEv2 and OpenVPN support with strong AES-256 encryption keeps all your tunnel traffic safe from snoopers, while stealth technologies try to obfuscate your VPN usage, perhaps allowing you to get online even in countries which actively block VPN traffic.
R.O.B.E.R.T is Windscribe’s DNS-backed tool to help users block ads, malware, trackers and more (Image credit: Windscribe)
ROBERT is a DNS-based tool for blocking ads, malware, trackers and various internet content types (gambling, ‘fake news and clickbait’, and so on). This goes way beyond the basic DNS blacklist you’ll get with other providers, and gives you more power and configurability than even many desktop applications deliver.
Unusual Windscribe account options include purchasing a static IP address. Adding a residential IP address costs $8 a month, for example (data center IPs are $2), but should greatly improve your chances of accessing any blocked sites, and enable connecting to IP-restricted business and other networks. (Once you have a static IP, you can also enable port forwarding in the Windscribe web console).
Support is available via ticket, if you need it, but it’s not 24/7 and there’s no live chat. Still, there’s an unusual bonus in Windscribe’s own subreddit with many new posts every day. That’s valuable as it allows potential customers to see what real Windscribe users are talking about, the questions they have and the issues they’re facing – a level of transparency you rarely see with other VPNs.
New features since our last review are mostly for the mobile apps. Top of the list is WireGuard support on Android and iOS, as well as a configuration generator on the website for manual configurations. The iOS app has some other worthwhile additions, too, including haptic feedback and support for two factor authentication.
The desktop apps are looking a little neglected, by comparison – our Windows client executable was dated January 2019 – but reportedly that’s about to change. Windscribe tells us WireGuard support is due on the desktop imminently, and there’s also a spectacular beta with a stack of new features.
Elsewhere, Windscribe’s ROBERT can now block stealthy CNAME-cloaked trackers, and Windscribe’s free plan has gained a new location: Turkey.
In addition to paid plans, Windscribe also offers a very generous free plan (Image credit: Windscribe)
Plans and pricing
Today’s Windscribe price plan deals:
Windscribe’s free plan offers a generous 10GB of data transfer a month if you register with your email address, 2GB if you don’t. You’re limited to eleven countries – North America, Europe and Hong Kong – but that’s still far better than you’ll get with many free services (‘sorry, our free app only connects to Brunei, is that a problem?’).
Upgrading to a commercial plan gets you unlimited data, access to all 110 locations, and the ability to generate custom OpenVPN, IKEv2 and SOCKS5 configurations.
There are no annoying limits on simultaneous connections, either. You can set up and use the service wherever you like, as long as the devices are yours (the small print forbids sharing your account with others).
Prices are low. Monthly billing is only $9, for instance – many top VPNs charge $12-$13. Pay for a year upfront and the price plummets to an equivalent $4.08. That’s well below most VPN providers’ annual plans (ExpressVPN asks $8.32, HideMyAss $6.99, CyberGhost $5.99), but there are cheaper deals around. Private Internet Access’ annual plan is priced at $3.33, Surfshark’s two-year plan is $2.49 for the first term, and as we write, Ivacy has a five-year deal priced at $1.16 a month. Or to put that in perspective, one year of Windscribe is $49, while five years at Ivacy costs $70.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Windscribe’s ‘Build a Plan’ scheme might allow you to save money by choosing just the locations you need, for $1 each. Each location adds 10GB to your free bandwidth allowance, and your plan must have a minimum of two locations.
For example, if you register with your email address, you’ll get 10GB data allowance a month. Build a plan with the US and UK locations, and you’ll get 30GB of data for $2 a month. You can upgrade to unlimited data for another $1, or a total of just $3 a month, billed monthly.
If you only use a VPN for occasional short trips, say, that looks like a great deal. Surfshark’s monthly plan is more than four times as expensive at $13, for instance – okay, that’s the full service with all the locations, but if you don’t need them, who cares?
Another option, ScribeForce, enables signing up a group of users (a business, a family) with the same account. There’s a five-user minimum, but you’ll pay just $3 each, billed monthly, for access to the full and unrestricted service.
Whatever your preference, Windscribe gives you a wider than usual choice of payment options, which include card, PayPal, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies via CoinPayments.net, along with gift cards and assorted other options via Paymentwall.
Windscribe doesn’t have the lowest headline prices, then, but it’s monthly-billed plans are as cheap as you’ll get, the others are fairly priced for the features you get, and its flexibility is a major plus.
If you don’t require a full service all the time, the free plan may be enough for casual use, and you could, say, buy three months of unlimited bandwidth a year for a total of $9, with no lengthy contract required. Most VPNs charge more than that for a single month.
Windscribe protects your privacy with AES-256 encryption and doesn’t keep logs (Image credit: Windscribe)
Privacy and logging
Windscribe’s privacy features start with its industrial-strength AES-256 encryption, with SHA512 authentication, a 4096-bit RSA key and support for perfect forward secrecy (keys aren’t re-used, so even if a snooper gets hold of a private key, it will only allow them to view data within one session).
The apps use multiple techniques to reduce the chance of data leaks, limiting IPv6 traffic, redirecting DNS requests through the tunnel to be handled by the VPN server, and optionally using a firewall to block all internet access if the connection drops.
We checked Windscribe’s performance on a Windows 10 system using the websites IPLeak, DNSLeakTest and DoILeak, and found no DNS or other leaks.
We enabled the Windows client’s kill switch (which Windscribe calls a firewall) and forcibly closed the VPN connection to see how it would behave. The results were almost perfect: our internet access was immediately blocked, the client interface updated to show there was a problem, then it immediately began reconnecting, and displayed a Windows desktop notification once we were online again.
We’d like to have seen a desktop notification to tell us when the connection had dropped, but that’s just a usability issue; if the firewall kicks in and the client is minimized, the user is left to guess why their internet access has died. Normally you should be reconnected within a few seconds, though, so this isn’t a major problem. And in privacy terms, the client worked perfectly, handling every oddball situation we through at it and protecting our traffic at all times.
There’s a tiny amount of long-term logging, but it’s limited to the total bandwidth you’ve used in a month (essential to manage usage on the free plan), and a timestamp of your last activity on the service to allow identifying inactive accounts.
The system does briefly collect some connection details – username, VPN server connected to, time of connection, bandwidth used during the session, number of devices connected – but these are held in the VPN server’s RAM only, and are lost when the session closes.
As there is no data on your activities, Windscribe points out that there’s nothing to share. This is backed up by a transparency report which covers the numbers of DMCA and Law Enforcement data requests over the year, and in both cases states that: ‘Exactly zero requests were complied with due to lack of relevant data.’
This is all good, but we would like to see Windscribe go further. Competitors such as TunnelBear and VyprVPN have had their systems publicly audited to check for logging or other privacy issues, and that gives far more reassurance to potential customers than comforting words on a website. We hope that Windscribe (and other VPN providers for that matter) will soon do the same.
In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that Windscribe will give you 2GB of data per month, for free, without requiring an email address or any other personal data. The data limit will be an issue for streaming users and heavy downloaders, but if you’re just looking to protect email and basic browsing, this automatically gets you more guaranteed anonymity than you’ll have with almost everyone else.
Speed testing is an important part of any VPN review (Image credit: Ookla)
Our performance tests began by connecting to the nearest servers from a UK data center and US location with a 600Mbps test line, and we then measured download speeds using the benchmarking sites TestMy.net and SpeedTest.
UK results were good, with downloads averaging 220-260Mbps. That tramples all over Surfshark (a 150Mbps peak in our last test) and CyberGhost (180Mbps at best), and compares well with many others, but can’t match NordVPN’s latest results (310-380Mbps.)
US speeds were relatively disappointing at 60-80Mbps. We ran our tests twice and saw little change, but when we connected from the UK to the US, speeds jumped to an average 210Mbps. It’s not clear why there was such a significant improvement when connecting over a greater distance, but even if we take the worst case for Windscribe – our US-based testing environment connected to an overloaded server – there’s a chance you could get much better speeds by changing locations.
Keep in mind, too, that these tests used OpenVPN connections. WireGuard is already available on mobile apps and Windscribe says it’ll be available on the desktop imminently, so it’s possible you’ll see much better speeds than we achieved.
You don’t have to take our word for it, or buy a one-month account to check it out. The free plan gives you up to 10GB a month, with access to plenty of locations and full-speed servers. If performance is your top priority, that gives you plenty of time to try out the service before you buy and see how it works for you.
Windscribe was able to unblock Netflix in our tests (Image credit: Netflix)
Connecting to a VPN server in another country may, in theory, allow you to access content you wouldn’t be able to see (viewing US-only YouTube clips, for instance).
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, as many content providers now attempt to detect and block visitors they think are using a VPN.
To test a VPN’s unblocking abilities, we log in to various US and UK locations and attempt to view US YouTube, US Netflix and BBC iPlayer streams.
YouTube is usually the easiest to access, as it appears to do very few, if any, VPN checks. Sure enough, Windscribe allowed us to view US-only content without any issues, even with its free plan.
BBC iPlayer has more in-depth connection checking, and we’ve seen Windscribe have some issues with it in previous reviews. But not this time: iPlayer didn’t detect our VPN use, and we were able to browse and view whatever content we liked.
Switching to Amazon Prime Video, we had no difficulty viewing content from US Amazon.com using our UK Amazon account.
Netflix is normally the most difficult site to unblock, but not here: Windscribe got us into US Netflix from all our test locations (three per country.)
That’s not all. Unlike many competitors, Windscribe also has virtual servers to access Netflix in the UK, Japan and Canada, and they worked perfectly for us.
The good news continued as Windscribe allowed to us view Disney+, too, giving it a perfect 100% score in our unblocking tests.
Windscribe fully supports P2P and torrenting (Image credit: BitTorrent)
VPN providers generally don’t boast about their torrent support, and it can be a challenge to figure out what you’re allowed to do. (TunnelBear was so quiet about its P2P policy that we had to email tech support to ask.)
Windscribe is much more open and transparent. Just point your browser at the company’s Status page [https://windscribe.com/status] and you’ll see its full list of locations, which of them support P2P (most) and which of them don’t (India, Lithuania, Russia and South Africa, at the time of writing).
Your options are just as clear in the Windscribe apps. Locations where torrents aren’t allowed are marked with the same crossed-out ‘P2P’, but select anything else and you can download whatever and whenever you like.
Factor in Windscribe’s free plan and various anonymous payment options (cryptocurrencies, gift cards), along with its decent performance levels, and the company makes a great torrenting choice.
Windscribe offers clients for most major platforms (Image credit: Windscribe)
Tapping the Get Started button on the Windscribe site took us to the Download page. The website detected and highlighted the best choice for our laptop – the Windows client and Chrome extension – but there were also links to downloads for Mac, Android and iOS, extensions for Firefox and iOS, and guides to cover setup on routers, Linux, Kodi, Amazon Fire TV and more.
There’s an unusual extra touch in direct links to old versions of the Windows and Mac apps. You may not care about that as a new user, but being able to rewind to a previous version could be very helpful if you find the latest build doesn’t work on one of your computers, or an app update turns out to be buggy.
Installing the Windows app was easy. You’re able to create an account just by entering a username and password, which gets you 2GB of data a month. Hand over your email, too, and you get 10GB. Tweet about Windscribe and you get an excellent 15GB.
To put all that in perspective, Avira Phantom VPN’s free package gives you a tiny 500MB.
If you’re hoping to manually set up other devices, Windscribe’s web control panel has tools to generate configuration files for OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2 or SOCKS5 connections. This is more complicated than you’ll see with some of the competition, where often you’re able to download perhaps hundreds of server setup files in an archive, then unzip and use them all immediately. But it’s also far more flexible, as for instance you can define your preferred OpenVPN connection type (UDP, TCP), cipher (AES-CBC, AES-GCM) or port for every location.
This is the user interface of Windscribe’s Windows client (Image credit: Windscribe)
Windscribe’s Windows client looks very basic, at least initially: a small grey window with a location list, an On/Off button, a little status information (current IP, data allowance left for free users) and not much else. Begin exploring, though, and it’s hard not to be impressed.
Tapping the default location displays the full list, for instance. This opens with a list of countries, but you can also expand any of these to view its available servers, complete with fun names (London server names include Tea and Crumpets, while you can connect to Los Angeles locations including Dogg, Pac and Lamar).
Each server has a latency indicator to help you find the fastest option. You can also mark countries as Favorites, displaying them at the top of the list for zero-scroll reconnections later.
Users on the free plan can only access a few of the servers and countries (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Romania, Turkey, Hong Kong). Everything else is marked with a star to indicate it’s for paying customers only, and those locations aren’t selectable.
The client does a good job of keeping users up-to-date, displaying a Windows desktop notification when you’re connecting, and changing the interface from its original grey to a more cheerful blue (a simple way to ensure you can see whether you’re protected at a glance).
One standout feature is that Windscribe’s desktop clients can import custom OpenVPN configuration files from other providers, and then display those servers alongside its own. That could allow you to use Windscribe’s client as a frontend for multiple free VPN providers, for instance, making it easier and more convenient to switch service if your data allowance runs out.
Windscribe’s Windows client gives you a great deal of control over your connection options (Image credit: Windscribe)
A comprehensive Preferences dialog gives you an array of connection options. You can choose your preferred protocol (IKEv2, OpenVPN TCP/UDP, Stealth or WSTunnel to try and bypass VPN blocking), use a special API Resolution system to remove the need for DNS (useful for bypassing some types of VPN blocking), and set up a proxy (HTTP or SOCKS).
The client also supports setting up your system as a secure wireless hotspot (if your network adapter supports this) or a proxy gateway. Other devices on your network which support Wi-Fi or proxies can then connect to you and take advantage of Windscribe, without requiring any special VPN setup or software of their own.
There are unexpected but welcome extras everywhere you look. You can sort the location list by continent and country, alphabetically or by latency, for instance. A local View Log option gives a detailed view of recent program actions, great news for anyone trying to troubleshoot an awkward issue. And experts can choose their preferred TAP driver and OpenVPN version, or add custom OpenVPN parameters, giving a lot of extra control over how connections work.
We had a quick look round the incoming version 2.0 of the Windows client (Image credit: Windscribe)
Windscribe’s current Windows client is good, but it’s going to get a whole lot better with the release of version 2.0.
We didn’t focus on this for the main review, as it’s still in beta, but a quick look suggests there’s a lot to like.
The interface has far more visual panache, with rounded corners and classy flag backgrounds (check the screenshot above) to highlight your current location.
There are practical benefits, too, including more status information on your current connection (you can now see the selected protocol, for instance).
New Wintun OpenVPN driver support could bring a 2-3x speed improvement for some users, the company told us. If it can achieve a fraction of that, we’ll be very happy.
Some of the new additions – split tunneling, network whitelisting, a choice of app DNS (system default, OpenDNS, Cloudflare, Google) – are relatively familiar. That doesn’t make them any less welcome, though, and there are some surprises, too. Looking for some privacy-protecting MAC spoofing, for instance? Assistance is just a click away.
We didn’t test any of these in depth, as the client isn’t yet finished. Windscribe’s current client performs very well, though, and we’ve no reason to think the next release will be any different. Once it’s released, check out the free Windscribe plan to see how it works for you.
The mobile apps are impressive (Image credit: Windscribe)
If you can’t wait to try out Windscribe’s Windows beta, check out the latest mobile apps instead. They’re currently ahead of the desktop builds in many areas, and already have most of the new features, and even more (WireGuard.)
The main Android status display is much like the Windows beta, for instance. The gorgeous background flag, the big On/Off button, details on your new IP and preferred protocol.
A list of countries (expandable to city level) makes it easy to find the server you need. As with the last release, you can switch to lists of Favorites and dedicated Streaming locations. And there’s now even a Custom Config list, maybe enabling using other VPN servers with Windscribe’s interface and features.
A comprehensive Preferences screen comes absolutely stuffed with features. The Connection panel alone enables choosing between OpenVPN UDP, TCP, IKEv2 or Stealth, or selecting your preferred port, and indeed choosing which apps use the VPN, and which don’t (split tunneling). It also provides integration with Android’s Always-On feature to let you set up a system-wide kill switch, or to enable GPS spoofing, define a packet size, allow or block local network traffic, and more.
A Network Whitelisting tool enables automatically connecting to Windscribe whenever untrusted networks are accessed, while ignoring others. So, for instance, you could have the service automatically connect to protect you in the library or coffee shop, while staying offline when you’re at home or work.
iOS users are often short-changed by VPN providers, but not here. Windscribe’s iOS offering has all the core features of its other apps, including some options you’ll rarely find elsewhere. Can your desktop VPN client use a custom OpenVPN configuration to access a server from another provider, for instance, or set a preferred protocol depending on your current network? No? Didn’t think so.
Windscribe even offers browser extensions for most popular browsers (Image credit: Windscribe)
Windscribe’s Chrome, Opera and Firefox extensions provide a quick and easy way to connect to the VPN from your browser. This has its limitations – they’re simple proxies and only protect your browser traffic – but if you only need the VPN for basic browsing tasks, they’re your most convenient and straightforward option.
The extensions make an immediate positive impression, courtesy of a stylish interface along the lines of the new mobile apps and the beta Windows UI.
Basic operations work much as you’d expect. Autopilot mode enables connecting to the best location with a click, you’re able to choose countries or individual cities from a list, and set your most commonly used cities as Favorites.
One welcome recent improvement sees the ad and malware-blocking ROBERT now available to free users. Known malicious and phishing sites, bandwidth sapping ads, trackers, social media widgets and more can all be exterminated in a click or two.
There are some nifty privacy features with the extensions (Image credit: Windscribe)
Need more? The extension can block WebRTC leaks, fake your GPS location and time zone to match your chosen Windscribe server, or maybe keep switching your browser user agent to make you more difficult to track.
Put it all together and this is a very capable extension which delivers far more than you’ll get with other VPN providers, and even many standalone Chrome privacy extensions. Don’t just take our word for it: the excellent 4.7 rating on the Chrome store suggests most users agree.
Windscribe has a knowledgebase though it does not have lots of good articles (Image credit: Windscribe)
If you have any technical troubles, Windscribe’s support site is a good place to begin looking for answers.
Resources start with an array of setup guides for a very long list of platforms and devices (desktops, mobiles, routers, NAS, smart TVs, torrent clients and more).
These tutorials don’t have the same range and depth that you’ll see from the best VPN providers, but there are interesting touches.
NordVPN has setup guides for Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 10, for instance, using its app, OpenVPN or IKEv2. Windscribe’s Windows setup section only covers its app, Windows 10 and IKEv2, but, unusually, it shows how you can install the client using PowerShell (it’s easier than you think).
The Android guides also give you more choice than we expected, with bonus advice on how to get connected via IKEv2 using the StrongSwan app, or via OpenVPN with OpenVPN for Android.
Other areas are, well, not so great. Keen on learning about the shiny new browser extensions, for instance? The support pages have links to ‘setup guides’ for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, but clicking on these takes you to YouTube videos dated July 2016. Comments are enabled and there are a few people asking questions, but most go unanswered.
You could go hunting in the FAQs and Knowledgebase, but there’s not a lot of content there, either.
If all else fails, you can contact support directly. There’s no direct live chat (though apparently a simple support chatbot will sometimes escalate queries to a human support agent) and you can’t just send an email, but the website does have a form you can fill in to raise a ticket.
Exactly how long it’ll take to get a reply isn’t clear, and a Windscribe blog post explains why: ‘As we’re a relatively small company (13 employees), we’re unable to provide support 24/7, and since we provide support to all users, including millions of free accounts, things can be a bit overwhelming.’
But on the plus side, Windscribe points out that it does all its support in-house, rather than using ‘outsourced minimal wage workers on the other side of the planet who are reading off a script.’
You might have to wait a little longer for a reply, then, but with genuine in-house expertise involved, it’s much more likely to be worth the wait.
Windscribe is a likeable VPN and represents good value, with a host of useful privacy protecting extras, and one of the most generous free VPN plans around. We have some reservations – such as the lack of 24/7 support, some speed test concerns and long gaps between updates with the Windows app – but these won’t affect everyone, and so we’d recommend you install the free version in order to see how it works for you.
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This article originally appeared on https://www.techradar.com/reviews/windscribe