Offering a range of powerful clients, encryption and protocols that compare with elite VPNs, fast speeds, and reliable unblocking, SmartyDNS makes a very good first impression. And there’s no doubt some people will find that this relatively small VPN is exactly what they need. But beware. Underneath the surface, there could be issues regarding logging, jurisdiction and information sharing, and torrenters may want to head elsewhere. So let’s learn more about whether this VPN is one to put on your possibles pile, or a provider to discard.
Security and privacy
As security is the number one concern for any VPN user, it makes sense to start our SmartyDNS review here. To kick things off, here’s a brief summary of the security and privacy features this provider has to offer:
- Protocols include L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, OpenVPN, IKEv2 and SoftEther. All use 256-bit AES encryption.
- PPTP is also available, with 128-bit MPPE
- Kill switch included
- DNS leak protection and Smart DNS
- Strict no-logging policy
This suite of security features is pretty comprehensive. It’s good to see OpenVPN and 256-bit AES encryption, which is the gold standard for mass market VPNs. Smart DNS is useful for bypassing surveillance, and there’s a Kill Switch as well, which is handy for torrenting and streaming. At the same time, SmartyDNS offers users a good level of flexibility within the client, allowing them to choose their protocol and other settings. The addition of PPTP isn’t a problem, either. As long as users understand its security limitations, it’s a good option for using temporarily when faster download speeds are required.
What’s missing? Well, there’s no Double VPN facility, which would allow users to conceal the fact they are using a VPN. And there’s no in-client ad-blocking or malware interception, so users may be exposed to malicious attacks. But those are relatively minor issues. Overall, this is a solid offering and a good start.
Does SmartyDNS VPN log your data?
Short answer: some.
Smarty DNS clearly states that it has a zero logging policy, which is very welcome. But as we all know, many VPNs make big promises about data collection, while actually offering plenty of loopholes to gather customer data. Is this the case here?
When it comes to information sharing, there are other questionable practices. For example, instead of operating a blanket ban on sharing personal data with third parties, SmartyDNS leaves it to customers to consent – which often means concealing data harvesting behind confusing permissions.
Moreover, the policy states that “We reserve the right to collect and use Personal Data when this is necessary to protect our rights in court.” So the interests of the company seem to trump data integrity.
None of this is necessarily a reason to avoid this VPN. However, provisions like this aren’t present with all providers, and it looks like Smarty DNS operates a very loose “no logging” policy. Customers need to be aware of that when judging whether it’s the privacy tool they require.
Additionally, the company isn’t very open about who is behind it, or where it is based. The “About Us” section of its website tells us nothing about the jurisdiction, and this really matters for VPN users.
The best we could do was to check the Google Play listing, which shows an address in Romania. Romania isn’t a bad jurisdiction as far as privacy is concerned, being home to leading operators like CyberGhost.
But the effort Smarty have gone to conceal their location suggests that its infrastructure may be based elsewhere. In any case, we’d prefer honesty and openness.
Speed and performance
Speed matters when it comes to VPNs, and SmartyDNS makes the right noises in this area. It advertises fast 1 Gbps servers and unlimited bandwidth, as well as “unlimited speeds” (so no throttling).
When we carried out a speed test for the PC version, those claims almost stood up. With OpenVPN and 256-bit AES, our download speeds took a 30% hit, and our upload speed was similar. If we tried a more distant server, the drop wasn’t massive, and that’s good to see. However, we noted a couple of connection drops while the VPN was engaged, which isn’t so positive. When we switched to PPTP, speeds naturally picked up, and it was reassuring to see the difference. That’s solid evidence that encryption is being applied.
While speed is a positive aspect of the Smarty DNS package, the same can’t really be said about server coverage. The company offers servers in the following locations: the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Poland, and the UK. The choice is heavily skewed towards richer countries, making the app less appealing for Indian, Latin American, or Chinese users.
Ease of use and multiplatform support
SmartyDNS users can download the VPN on the following platforms:
That’s not a bad spread for a relatively small VPN. There’s no router support and no service for PC users who rely on Linux, but the inclusion of FireTV is interesting. When you download the client, few problems should arise. This can be done via the VPN’s website or app libraries like iTunes or Google Play.
The PC app downloaded without a hitch, and proved very easy to configure. Free users just need to supply an email address to start the 3 day trial, which we did. When the client booted up, everything seemed to be accessible and surprisingly powerful. Users can sort the fastest servers, easily see which servers are torrent-friendly, switch between protocols, customize the Smart DNS to access blocked websites, and toggle how often they are assigned a new IP address. And, under all of that, the Kill Switch provides peace of mind should the VPN connection fail.
Overall, we were impressed by how easy to use the app was, and how many features it included. So that’s another positive feature of the SmartyDNS package.
Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms
Smarty explicitly promises to “unblock geo-restricted websites” but it doesn’t mention any of those sites by name. So there’s no commitment to allow users to access their favorite Netflix TV show, or the Hulu movie archive.
That’s strange because had few issues with Netflix access. We tried a few European servers, and managed to open up plenty of hidden TV episodes, while BBC geo-blocking wasn’t an issue.
It’s also good to see a FireTV client. This should allow Firestick users to load Smarty DNS onto their streaming devices, and a Roku installation should be possible as well. We didn’t get that far, but it’s good to see an affordable VPN making space for smart streaming accessories.
P2P and torrenting
Not many VPNs offer secure torrenting at viable speeds, but SmartyDNS is one of them. The company has allocated two servers in the Netherlands and Germany where users can establish an encrypted P2P connection. We found the uTorrent speeds were slow, but not terrible, so this is definitely a client to consider for safe torrent downloads.
However, be aware that the Smarty DNS terms and conditions clearly spell out the company’s stance on copyright infringement. It also states that “SmartyDNS is required by law to remove or block access to customer content upon receipt of a proper notice of copyright infringement laws” – so this isn’t a torrenter’s paradise by any means.
Online censorship in China and elsewhere
Beating censorship is a core feature of good VPNs, especially for users in China, where the Great Firewall dramatically limits the availability of content from outside the country. There’s good and bad news here for users in repressive countries.
On one hand, Smarty’s solid encryption insulates it from all but the most intrusive online surveillance. On the other, the terms and conditions include an amazing clause which prohibits “Any Other Illegal Activities” – which could include accessing censored websites. That’s not a comforting statement for those in Saudi Arabia or China. So we can’t really bracket this VPN among the anti-censorship elite.
Strong customer support is essential for any reputable VPN, and Smarty DNS does fairly well on this front. Here are the main ways that customers can contact service staff to handle troubleshooting inquiries:
- A well-compiled knowledge base with FAQs on numerous subjects
- In person support via the VPN’s Client Area, where users can raise concerns via individual tickets
- Social media contact via Twitter and Facebook
The email ticketing system is usually fairly prompt (although there are reports online of delays over 24 hours). So if you run into problems, help should be at hand. However, there are some missing support options that we would prefer to see. Live chat isn’t an option, and there’s no phone support either. When you have serious privacy concerns, it’s nice to be able to speak to a specialist for reassurance, but that’s not an option here.
SmartyDNS operates the following pricing system:
- A 3 day free trial with all premium features
- 1 month for $4.86/month
- 3 months for $3.85/month
- 1 year for $2.91/month
The 3-day trial is good to see, particularly as it includes all of the VPN’s functions. However, it’s not really long enough to get a feel for download speeds or uptime. We would be happier with a 14-day trial or longer. That said, the prices for the Premium VPN aren’t too bad. They compare with other popular paid VPNs like CyberGhost or PIA, but there’s no extended 3 year contract (as with NordVPN). That would be a handy option for loyal customers.
Payment options include the usual (VISA, MasterCard and American Express), as well as PayPal, AliPay, BitCoin, Discover, Webmoney, Yandex, Boleto Bancario, and Qiwi. So quite a few lesser known cryptocurrencies and e-wallets are catered for.
The company also operates a pretty clear refund policy. Customers can claim a money-back guarantee up to 30 days after purchase. There are some quite extensive exclusions, though. For instance, Smarty DNS won’t pay out if users cannot access a site that isn’t featured in its “list of unblocked websites.” And anyone accused of breaching the T&Cs can be excluded from a refund, too. Still, there’s a very good chance that users can retrieve their money should the VPN fail to measure up.
Sometimes, VPNs fall somewhere in the middle, and this is definitely one of those occasions. SmartyDNSoffers some genuinely appealing features. Its encryption and choice of protocols is great, speeds measure up, Netflix unblocking is excellent, and Smart DNS should ensure reliable unblocking of censored websites as well. However, issues surrounding torrenting and a deceptive logging policy count against this VPN, which almost makes the top rank, but hasn’t quite got there yet.