Last update: 09.07.2018
Summary of our Betternet Review: when you try to use a free soccer goal net to keep mosquitoes out of your home and then upgrade to double thread density, only to still get bitten.
Betternet emerged on the global VPN stage only 3 years ago (2015), yet they claim to be “the fastest, most secure VPN experience on the web.” We always take such claims with a grain of salt. Betternet also boasts that it has become the “#1 VPN app in the Google Play Store” in less than a year. That’s a bit misleading since it only shows the merit of 10 million downloads and may have nothing to do with the user experience and usefulness.
But does this ranking make this VPN service #1 in any other sense? Is Betternet the best VPN?
Betternet has both a free version and a “premium,” or rather, paid one. No wonder how they can have more than 38 million users across the world after just a few years. And again, does this make this VPN any good at all? That’s what we are trying to figure out in our Betternet review. Buckle up ‘cause you may fall off your chair.
Security & Privacy: Is Betternet safe to use?
A VPN should be mostly about online security and privacy, right? Okay, you could argue that some users only install a VPN service for unblocking geo-restricted material, i.e., to access websites that are otherwise unavailable for them at their current location. Still, unless you’re a total newbie in the VPN and cybersecurity arena, you would definitely want to know that your online privacy and anonymity are protected with utmost care by the VPN service provider.
So, let’s see how good it is doing as a VPN for security and privacy as per our Betternet review.
Gmail privacy issue may affect Betternet VPN
We need to break the flow of our Betternet review at this point due to an unnerving privacy issue related to Gmail. The popular Google mail service has been found sharing your private emails with third-party app developers, which is an obvious breach of your privacy; there’s no other way to put it. Unfortunately, many VPNs use the Gmail service in their user communications, which might result in possible leaks.
How this Gmail privacy issue may relate to Betternet and why are we sounding the foghorn? Read our full report for more details.
And the beat goes on
This service provider has a very underwhelming VPN server coverage of 10 countries (17 server locations), including the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Japan. From an online security point of view, you may want to know that, practically, all of these countries are members of or connected to the Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes global surveillance alliances.
Well, if Betternet doesn’t want to leave a bitter taste in more privacy-conscious users’ mouth, they will have to work on the legal documents to be clear on the most important parts.
But, there are other security-related issues as well.
Using Betternet for privacy could be like walking on a landmine field. The most worrisome missing features we have found are the following: no kill switch, no DNS leak protection, and no cloaking. The lack of these major true IP address protection features can result in disasters. Long story short, your physical location can be traced by retrieving your real IP address due to leaks. Sounds like fun? We didn’t think so; not when you want to use Betternet VPN for utmost security.
But that’s not all. Third party advertisers can install cookies onto your devices to track your clicks and preferences. This, again, can provide a base for major privacy and security breaches.
We also don’t like the fact that Betternet is not too clear on their VPN protocols and how and when they use them. There is only a blog post on their site where we found information about this (which is from 2015), and it claims that OpenVPN with AES-256 encryption and L2TP/IPsec are applied.
Let’s put some icing on this not-so-tasty cake, shall we? In an academic study (2017) Betternet finished #4 on the list of the 10 worst VPNs regarding security, with a shocking VirusTotal rank of 13. Are you still there in your chair?
So, let’s recap quickly: Is Betternet safe to use for security and privacy? Hell, no! That pretty much sums up what we think.
Speed: Another fastest wannabe bites the dust?
Somehow almost all major VPN players claim the same things nowadays. Somehow the superlatives like “the fastest VPN” and “the most secure VPN” have begun to mean “one of the” instead of “THE only one at the top.” At least, when we look at VPN speed test results, certain VPN reviews, we are usually not convinced what these labels mean anymore.
This is true for the “premium” version of Betternet as well, not to mention the limited free Betternet VPN.
With 10 countries (17 server locations) altogether you can’t really expect mind-blowing speeds; not when there are over 38 million users to stream the hell out of these few servers. It is quite possible that you can’t even connect to certain servers because they may be overloaded.
Tests indicate that there are major drops when accessing servers farther away from your physical locations. However, uploading speeds seem to do a lot better. In other words, it is possible that you can actually watch streaming HD videos with both, the Betternet free VPN and the paid version, but we wouldn’t get our hopes too high when using the free app.
Betternet is still good for browsing content relatively safely or unblocking websites that are not available at your location.
How to download and install it
There are basically two ways for you to get your client. First, you can use the Platforms menu, select your desired platform, and click the Get the App button on the respective page. You may get redirected to the Mac App Store or the Google Play Store depending on your choice. It’s also possible to download Betternet from Cnet.com.
Second, you can also click the Download App button in the top right corner of the official website.
The installation is pretty straightforward unless you want the mobile versions, which are only available as a 7-day trial version for a start. This also means that you have to sign up first, i.e., give all your banking details and accept the fact that you are signing up for an automated monthly charge until you cancel it or change plans.
When you install the Windows or Mac version, however, you can cancel the “premium” and free trial options, and just use it for free without any registration. You can always “go premium” from within the application if you so decide.
How to use Betternet
Similarly to our Avast SecureLine VPN review, we can announce one of the easiest-to-use VPN clients. If you are using the free Betternet VPN client, you simply click the Connect button and you will be connected to a US VPN server automatically. Unfortunately, there’s not much to customize in the free version. You either connect to or disconnect an automatically assigned VPN server. It can’t get any simpler; well, until mind-reading apps rule the virtual world.
If you are using the “premium” version, you can click the Select Virtual Location button and choose from the 10 available countries. There are also 7 server locations in the US to select from. With the Betternet VPN client you don’t even need to disconnect before choosing another server; simply change the location and the replacement takes place automatically.
Well, from a certain angle, we could say that this is a real plus for Betternet. This VPN app is really easy to use. On the other hand, though, let’s not forget about the more tech-savvy users and hackers who would definitely like more control over their privacy. For them, we advise finding a more serious premium VPN service provider.
Betternet for Netflix
There’s no long story to cut short here: Our simple answer is no, you can’t use Betternet for Netflix. In fact, you can’t really use a lot of VPN services as their IP addresses and servers keep getting detected and banned by Netflix. Obviously, this major media streaming service has its own agenda to keep copyright laws and uphold their end of the deal. This is why they are so tough on geo-restricted content and try to shut out all possible VPN users from their networks.
There are, of course, a number of real premium VPN services that can avert detection by Netflix. You can comfortably and reliably use, for example, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and VyprVPN for Netflix with a great level of online security as well.
Betternet for Torrenting
Betternet VPN is not the best for P2P file sharing and torrenting. And, this is an understatement. We can’t really recommend either the free or the “premium” version for torrenting. Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it; VPN speeds are not an exact science and miracles can actually happen in the Virtual Kingdom. You can go ahead and sign up for the free trial version and see whether it works smoothly for you.
We believe that the low number of servers (which can also be overloaded with traffic from the free users) and their speeds are just not enough to use Betternet VPN for torrenting or any other large P2P file sharing.
Another major issue to consider here is your security and privacy when downloading or uploading files using BitTorrent. Without the use of a proper and secure VPN service activated on your device, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) as well as third parties, including government agencies, may also peep into your internet traffic and even trace it all back to you, i.e., to your physical location. Now, this is not what you want, in fact, the opposite. No wonder why we advise you to look for a decent premium VPN service provider to use for torrenting.
Live chat support
At this point, we are starting to feel a bit bad about writing this Betternet review. It’s never our initial goal to smash any VPN provider (but this one feels like it’s asking for it). Instead, we try to be sort of objective; however, we can’t be blind at the same time and pretend that everything is hunky-dory.
When it comes to VPN services, your privacy is on the line, nothing less.
To be blunt, there’s no live chat support, no 24/7 friendly and knowledgeable customer service, nada. Not even a toll-free phone number to call day or night. Like there are no technical and other issues with Betternet, right? You wish!
The “better not ask us directly” approach is quite clear anyway. First, there is no help or support center menu at the top of the official site. Actually, you need to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to find two tiny links there: Help Center and FAQ. Unless, of course, you have the paid version client and then, can access the Contact Us menu by clicking the 3-Bar icon in the top left corner.
The Help Center itself is quite poor. It is more than likely that you won’t find any solution to your issues there. If you give up reading FAQs and help pages, you can still try to Submit a request (Ticket Support) by clicking the related link in the top right corner of the Help Center page. However, you may not be better off.
The support team may take their time and whatever you will get as “help” may not really help you at all. In fact, lots of users complain about this.
Yet another option for you to try to get some help is to contact them through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). But don’t have too high expectations.
All in all, we must say that this is an area that needs some serious attention from Betternet. Or, sooner or later, it will be a bit hard to keep 38 million users happy.
Apps and extensions
All the basic platforms are available for download. So, you can use Betternet for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox. With that said, we must add right away that you shouldn’t rush downloading any of these just yet. Hear us out first. Why? Because there can be major differences between these clients.
Let’s start with the worst possible, the Mozilla Firefox browser extension. It’s a plain disaster, the “Betternet bitter nut,” so to speak. It really seems that this provider only included this extension to be able to boast having this section covered. The Google Chrome extension is not much better, either. Unfortunately, it may have DNS and WebRTC leaks.
The mobile apps can only be started with a 7-day free trial and you need to figure out how to cancel it to only use the free version without being charged for the $11.99 monthly payment.
You may also miss the router or Smart TV support. Well, you may not, actually, unless you are either a total beginner on the field of online privacy or a hardcore risk lover to want to use Betternet VPN for anything other than unblocking geo-restricted websites.
Pricing: The PR-Icing on the VPN cake
In a way, this is one of cheapest VPN services since Betternet offers a 100% free version. Even though this free VPN is somewhat limited (to only one country and automatically assigned servers), you can’t change servers manually, and the speeds are rather slow, too, it could still be good for a lot of users who simply want to access geo-blocked web content (e.g., YouTube from China) with a spoofed IP.
How can Betternet be free? Well, it has quite a transparent model, in fact. When an application or service is free, though, there is always a different kind of price you’ll have to pay. In this case, it is either annoying third-party ads or you can choose to watch a short video before connecting.
There are two options within the Betternet client: “Install an App” and “Watch a video and connect.” Whenever you click these buttons and the related ads, Betternet gets a commission. But, this also comes at a very steep price because these third-party advertisers may use tracking techniques and record information connected to you. This is obviously a security and privacy risk you may not want to take if you want anonymity in the virtual world.
If you would like to try the “premium” (or paid) version without the annoying ads and with more servers, you still have an opportunity not to invest at all. Betternet has a 7-day free trial option. Actually, this is your only option when you want to install one of the mobile device clients (Android or iOS).
However, we must warn you about this 7-day free trial version. There’s been plenty of issues reported by customers that they couldn’t opt out in time, so they got automatically charged for the first month. This monthly charge ($11.99) is actually one of the most expensive ones on the VPN market. So, before you sign up for the “premium” version, make sure you know exactly how you can cancel your subscription.
Apart from the rather high monthly plan, Betternet offers one of the cheapest VPN services:
- 1-month plan: $11.99 per month
- 6-month plan: $3.99 per month
- 1-year plan: $2.99 per month
And, all this with a 30-day money-back guarantee. BUT, again, you need to be very careful if you want a full refund. This is possibly the most ridiculous (in a sad way) money-back guarantee we’ve ever read or heard of. Why? Because there is a 50MB traffic limit. In other words, if you use more than 50MB for downloading or uploading, you won’t get your money back. Period.
Of course, the 6-month and 1-year price tags are very low and may seem tempting. But please consider what you get for these prices. If your online privacy is of utmost importance to you, it would be best to reconsider your options.
Bottom line of our Betternet review: Don’t waste your money on this free VPN
The best way to describe how the conclusion of our Betternet review makes us feel right now without being too dramatic is to quote from the famous comedy action movie, Rush Hour.
In a scene with Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan is trying to sing the evergreen Edwin Starr hit, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” Well, we believe there’s not much to add here if you take your online security and privacy seriously.
If you simply want to gain access to geo-blocked web content, the free version of Betternet might be good enough for you. Let’s say you travel to or live in China and want to read or watch content that is not available at your location.
But, if you wouldn’t like the Chinese government or any other VPN-unfriendly Orwellian control maniacs to pry on you and figure out who you really are along with your true IP and physical location, well, you’d be better off using a trustworthy VPN service provider.
What you can do for us all
Have you ever tried to use Betternet or any other VPN apps before? What are your impressions? Remember, sharing is caring! Please feel free to leave your comment below.