McAfee Safe Connect is an accessible, entry-level VPN that’s pitched at users who aren’t in the market for a complex security solution. Available for multiple platforms, and not too expensive, Safe Connect gets a few things right, and it also benefits from McAfee’s wider support services. But the picture isn’t all that positive when you start to dig deeper.
There may be a catch for Netflix users, while information about key security features could be a lot more extensive. So it’s a mixed bag. Our McAfee Safe Connect review will look in more detail at why we came to that conclusion, and assess whether this is the VPN you need.
Security and privacy
Encryption-wise, Safe Connect boasts “bank-grade” protection, which usually means AES-256. However, that’s all the information the company provides about encryption, which is disappointing. There’s no specific information about handshake methods, different settings, or even the protocols available for users. That’s very poor for a product that sets out to be a high-level VPN. Still, “bank-grade” should be a strong level of protection.
There’s also very little about IP address anonymization and leak protection. McAfee doesn’t spell out what’s available in these areas, only promising that the app “hides your IP address.” The client also simply gives you a “green light” for protection, and a “red light” when protection hasn’t been engaged. It’s a bit of a black box as far as privacy goes, and users are left to trust the developers. We don’t like that at all.
As we stated earlier, Safe Connect is a stripped-down VPN, so there are very few additional security features. There’s no Stealth VPN or integrated malware scanner, and – importantly – we couldn’t find any evidence of a kill switch. This really matters. Without a kill switch, you won’t know when your VPN coverage drops, potentially leaving you open to cyberattacks and surveillance (and compromising the ability to work around geo-blockers). It’s a huge miss.
Finally, McAfee is an American company, with all that entails. If you’re concerned about NSA surveillance or malicious P2P lawsuits, it’s not a safe VPN to download.
Does McAfee Safe Connect keep logs?
Short answer: yes.
Speed and performance
Bank-grade encryption and some degree of IP anonymization could potentially make Safe Connect worth using, if the connection speed is top of the range. With a lightweight VPN from a major company like McAfee, this really should be the case. But it isn’t.
In speed test comparisons, Safe Connect performs relatively poorly. Download speeds tend to cut 65% off our standard speeds, and rarely get above 40Mbps. These speeds also vary massively between server locations. This could be really frustrating for travelers, or for people seeking access to European streaming sites.
Upload speed levels tend to be slightly better, averaging around 60Mbps. That’s decent, but not stellar. We also found that lag times were far too long for multiplayer gaming – another big negative for many VPN users.
As with every other aspect of Safe Connect, McAfee doesn’t provide us with enough information to make a definitive judgment about server coverage.
We know that servers are located in 18 countries, which provides almost global coverage. But that’s really a tiny community of servers compared with other top paid VPNs, providing users with very few choices.
Again, this is an area where Safe Connect simply fails to match the industry leaders. It’s actually pretty pathetic.
Ease of use and multiplatform support
Users can download client apps for:
There’s no service for Mac, and no service for Linux users.
You can’t install it on Kodi or streaming devices like Amazon Fire Stick, and there’s no router implementation. It really does the bare minimum, as far as platforms are concerned.
However, the apps that are available are very simple and easy to use. The mobile app is simple to install and quick to master, mainly due to the lack of features to mess around with. It adds a neat lock icon to your status bar, letting you know when protection is in place, and doesn’t take up much memory.
When you download the VPN, you can also use it across 5 devices. So you can add protection to PCs and smartphones if needed. You can also pay extra for additional devices, which provides a degree of flexibility you don’t get from all VPNs.
Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms
Many users will head straight for this section, as using VPNs to unblock Netflix is one of the must-haves for any effective provider.
Sadly, McAfee fails miserably on the Netflix front.
When using this VPN we had very little luck breaching the streaming platform’s geo-blockers. So if you want to watch your favorite TV show abroad, or you just want to maximize your options, choose a different tool to beat geo-restrction policies.
The same applies to other platforms like Hulu or BBC iPlayer. And, as noted earlier, Safe Connect isn’t compatible with streaming devices or platforms like Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick. So Amazon Fire users will definitely want to look at other options.
Check out our list of Best VPNs for Netflix.
P2P and torrenting
McAfee doesn’t mention torrent downloads on the Safe Connect website, and secure torrenting isn’t a selling point of the VPN. However, that doesn’t always mean providers can’t deliver decent speeds.
Sadly, that’s not the case with Secure Connect. We struggled to get any kind of P2P connection, and there’s no SOCKS5 proxy option, either. The absence of a kill switch as well makes it a total washout for torrenters.
Check out our list of Best VPNs for Torrenting.
Bypassing online censorship in China and elsewhere
McAfee has a strong commitment to beating censorship. That’s one of the company’s most appealing features. But does it deliver for those in countries like China?
Feedback online suggests that Safe Connect struggles to defeat China’s online surveillance. However, there is hope. In 2018, McAfee purchased VPN provider TunnelBear, and TunnelBear does have a decent track record in China.
There’s no sure sign that Safe Connect has integrated TunnelBear’s technology (it doesn’t use the TunnelBear server network, for example), but this may change. Right now though, Safe Connect isn’t a great option for those trying to defeat censorship.
For a large IT corporation, McAfee provides very little help via its FAQ, which must be one of the least informative we’ve seen. However, customers using Safe Connect do benefit from McAfee’s broader customer support services.
- Live support via phone
- Live chat functions
- Email tickets
- Social media teams
So getting in touch shouldn’t be that hard, but the absence of a dedicated Safe Connect support service is odd. There’s no sign of a dedicated phone support line for VPN users. That would be handy, particularly for a service pitched at entry-level users.
McAfee Safe Connect comes in a couple of packages:
- Free: comes as a 7 day free trial, which does not automatically reset onto a paid plan. Features a 250MB/month limit, allows only 1 device, and offers a single server location.
- Premium: charged at $7.99/month or around $48/year, features no monthly data limit, allows 5 simultaneous devices, and offers the full 18-server portfolio. Slightly enhanced support features are also available.
Both packages feature “bank-grade” encryption, while the premium version promises to “access geo-blocking content.” It isn’t clear why the free version would fail to unblock such content, and we saw few signs that the premium version was actually able to handle the blocks imposed by companies like Netflix.
There’s also no clear refund policy or money-back guarantee. Users can apparently apply for refunds, but this isn’t spelled out on the Safe Connect website, suggesting that McAfee isn’t that keen for customers to seek redress.
In summary, the verdict of our McAfee Safe Connect review is: stay away, unless you just want a very basic VPN service. McAfee’s entry-level VPN is unreliable, misses core security features, isn’t that fast, delivers poor performance for streaming fans, and isn’t all that cheap either.
Add in the lack of information about how it works, and we can’t recommend it to most users.