Last update: 12.13.2018
When OMG and WTF become your first and second thought at every turn, and you just want to bang your head into a firewall. Read our VPN Gate review to find out why!
We’ll try to cut this VPN service some slack since it’s the child of an academic experiment from the University of Tsukuba (Japan). Nevertheless, our VPN Gate review needs to serve its purpose: to help you find out whether it’s the kind of VPN service that fits your needs. And, we mainly mean your expectancy of online security and privacy.
Ever since the Watergate scandal exploded in the collective mind, any word with a “-gate” ending has been assigned a scandalous tone. No wonder why VPN Gate sounds a bit sinister to us. And, when it comes to your anonymity and security, well, you’ll see shortly what we mean.
This is a volunteer-run VPN network, the child project of SoftEther VPN. In other words, it’s an extended plug-in for the SoftEther VPN software. This is an absolutely free VPN service. Since the whole network of VPN servers is provided by volunteers, the IP addresses are totally dynamic and the number of servers may constantly fluctuate.
Usually, you may find anything from 5,000 up to 9,200+ public VPN relay servers in about 230+ countries available for your private browsing experience. This is huge coverage globally. However, the connection speeds can be downright horrible or, in other words, good for nothing. Of course, the closer you are physically to the fastest servers (which are supposed to be in South-East Asia), the better speeds you may reach.
On the whole, you can try to use this application as an anti-censorship tool to access geo-restricted web content. If you’re lucky, you may also be able to stream YouTube videos without major lags and buffering. But, if your main concern is your internet security and privacy, you may still want to read our VPN Gate review to have some OMG and WTF moments.
Security and privacy: is VPN Gate safe to use?
You must be joking, right? Have you read the Overview section? Because if you have, you wouldn’t consider VPN Gate safe to use at all; well, depending on your needs, of course.
A little history
The first version of SoftEther VPN saw the light of day back in 2004. The Japanese Government considered it as a “dangerous tool for both computer-security and the existing commercial VPN vendors’ industry.” As a consequence, the distribution of SoftEther 1.0 as freeware had to stop, and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation stepped in as the seller for 10 years. This contract expired in 2014 and since then, both, “father and child” have been available for free as per the wishes of the founders.
The main goal of this research and development project has always been the ability to break through government firewalls to browse restricted websites like YouTube and Facebook in China. Another goal was to disguise your true IP address. So far so good.
VPN Gate logging
You need to understand that due to the nature of this project, this service records extensive logs, including:
- The date and time of your connection
- The IP address and the hostname of the destination VPN server
- Your true IP address and hostname
- And so on
What’s more, every single volunteer can log anything they want and even spy on your traffic if it’s not HTTPS.
Extensive logs can easily identify you.
While most of these VPN servers seem to delete logs every two weeks, some keep them permanently. So, do you think it’s safe to use VPN Gate if you want to remain anonymous on the web?
This service provider is also more than willing to cooperate with the police and other government authorities when asked to share user logs. We thought in our Hola VPN review that things couldn’t get worse than that. Well, life proves you wrong every time you challenge it. Although, to be fair, VPN Gate at least has some security features.
These decent Japanese developers did think of your online security and privacy. This VPN comes with a wide range of protocols: SSL-VPN (SoftEther VPN), L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, and Microsoft SSTP. Well, no PPTP support, but it’s still a nice variety.
This VPN uses the SSL/TLS encryption and TCP port 443, which makes it impossible to distinguish the traffic from normal secure HTTPS traffic. This is why it’s hard for firewalls to block it. And, this is also why this VPN is best used against VPN blocks (e.g., in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) and as an anti-censorship tool.
But let’s not forget that this app has no kill switch. Sensitive data may leak if a connection drops. And, this VPN is infamous for cutting connections.
Since this service is free, you have nothing to lose to try it as long as you remain within the lawful range. If online anonymity and security are your main concerns, you should read our Best VPN Services post to see our top 10 ranking VPNs.
Is VPN Gate fast? Sure, in a world where snails are the fastest land animals and where kiwis and penguins can fly.
Apart from security and privacy, it’s usually speed that you’ll need in order to enjoy your online experience. Whether it’s gaming, P2P file sharing (torrenting), or streaming videos from media centers (Netflix), you want decent speeds without connection drops.
Our VPN Gate review team has found that VPN Gate speeds can vary considerably. Well, it’s not like a Nobel prize worthy discovery. Since all the servers are operated by volunteers, it’s only logical that you won’t get consistent results.
We set out to test this VPN without any prejudice and expectations – well, sort of. Before setting up our VPN Gate connection, we had these baseline speeds:
In all fairness, if you’re physically close to a fast server in South Korea, for example, you may be able to watch HD videos from YouTube. However, if you’re less lucky, you may end up connecting to a “VPN server” that provides you with horrible speeds.
Let us show you what we mean by “horrible.”
Before we go on, we need to tell you this. It took us a couple of hours of testing to be able to connect to these above locations and finally run the speed tests.
It’s not unusual to end up with the following error message on your screen when testing VPN Gate:
And then, we went on exploring other areas like India. We almost cracked a smile that we managed to connect from the first try and the speed test worked too.
These speeds could already be fine for HD video streaming. Wow! “So let’s play a YouTube video,” our VPN Gate review guys thought. Well, after a minute or so our video streaming adventure ended abruptly due to a connection drop. Truth be told, it was too good to be true.
But then, we got lucky again.
Here comes the shocker: we managed to watch Netflix Thailand too.
Well, we had to try. Nevertheless, after traveling the globe with VPN Gate, we had this intuitive feeling to try a US location again. Just in case. And, were we in for a surprise!
All in all, we can say that we had a terrible experience trying to connect to the volunteer servers and using them for anything really. It’s quite likely that you’ll find around 9 out of 10 servers not working. Then, there’s the question of speed. When you finally can connect to a server, it could be so slow that you need to redefine the word “slow.”
Let’s not forget that this VPN service comes from Japan, the homeland of Zen. So, it may be another tool for you to learn about patience and the appreciation of even the slow pace your traffic is traveling with.
How to download and install it
It seems that right now only the Windows platform is supported with a native app. But you can find “How to Connect” guides for other common platforms like Mac, iPhone/iPad, and Android. This isn’t the range we’re used to in the case of commercial and premium VPN services.
It quite easy to download the Windows client installer. Select the Download menu on the official website. On the Download page, click the “Download SoftEther VPN Client + VPN Gate Client Plugin” link. That’s all really.
For the Mac, iPhone, and Android platforms, you need to choose the How to Connect tab and then your platform. The VPN Gate website offers you detailed instructions about how to install them manually.
We can’t claim in this VPN Gate review that the installation of the clients is fully user-friendly. The whole website and the software also feel like they were designed for advanced computer programmers. Instead of an executable installer, you download a ZIP archive (it may take a minute), which you need to extract.
Once done, simply run the .exe file and go through the installation wizard.
How to use VPN Gate
Well, if the download and installation were a bit complicated for you, it may be a nightmare to use VPN Gate.
The whole interface reminds us of programs from 20 years ago. Very plain design with a robust menu system. It feels like this VPN application was built for IT pros. Lots of technical settings, which may look like a maze for users who have nothing to do with IT.
We believe that to explore all the potentials of this application you need to have a deep understanding of VPNs and internet technology. If you simply want to use it as an anti-censorship tool, double-click the VPN Gate Public VPN Relay Servers line in the app (see the Windows client below).
Now, the list of available servers comes up. You can reorder this list by clicking any of the column headers, such as Line Speed and Ping. There’s a lot of information you can read about each server, including their individual logging policy.
But, before you could connect to any VPN Gate server, there are a couple of pop-up windows and warnings to cut through. It’s very annoying and too much to read anyway if you simply want to spoof your IP address and access geo-blocked information on the web.
The menu system resembles software from the ’90s. Way too complicated for the common internet user.
If you’re a coder or hacker, you may find it appealing – well, in a weird way.
What we found weird was that in comparison to this robust menu, there are basically no settings to tweak:
The Keep Alive Internet Connection Functions option may actually make sense. It’s possible that you won’t experience so many connection drops otherwise.
We won’t even bother this time to go into details about the client’s menu in this VPN Gate review. It’s just way too much and complicated when compared to what we have been used to.
Still, we need to mention yet another option that may come in handy. Because you can change the operation mode to have an “easy-to-use” interface. Go to the Tools tab and select the Switch Operation Mode option. Then, choose Easy Mode and click OK. Now you should see this interface:
Seems a bit too easy to use. We found it totally useless. Of course, maybe you need to create VPN connections to see the list here to choose from.
However, our review team simply did what a first-time beginner user would do. Even though we did create a VPN connection in Normal Mode (which is rather an Expert Mode), it failed to show up in Easy Mode. Since there’s no option on this interface to do anything really, you can switch back to Normal Mode or close it.
To be honest, we dislike this interface and not only because it takes time, luck, and patience to finally connect to a working server (see below).
Strangely enough, when we seemingly (and at long last) managed to connect to a UK or US “server,” our IP leak tests showed that we are in Tokyo, Japan. And, not once; quite consistently. Other times, when we finally found locations that actually showed up real in our leak tests, unfortunately, we also found our true location in the list. Yes, that’s a huge IP leak right there.
It’s also possible to install and configure OpenVPN with VPN Gate. But, to be frank, we haven’t mustered enough will to do a decent test of that. Maybe in another update round. After we have recovered from this one.
No-ad VPN or not
Well, VPN Gate is supposed to be all free and without ads, right? That’s what we thought too. And then, we started to see our default browser popping up with all kinds of local third-party websites. Basically, almost every time we connected to a server, a browser window came up with one or two webpages. Rather annoying, to be frank.
If you want to treat yourself, please read our other reviews where you can find more professional, user-friendly, and easy-to-use VPN applications. VPN Gate left our mouth with a mixture of an OMG and WTF taste, for sure.
VPN Gate for Netflix
In theory, it’s possible to use VPN Gate for Netflix due to the huge number of volunteer VPN servers and the dynamic IPs. So, it’s mainly a question of your connection speed and consistency this time.
But have you read the Speed section of our VPN Gate review? Then we don’t need to explain again how your connection speeds can be catastrophic at times. Well, most of the time in our case. In fact, some servers are so slow that you can’t even browse the web properly. So, imagine using it for Netflix, streaming HD or 4K videos from YouTube, or online gaming.
In all fairness, we must add that you could get lucky and find a close-by, fast server so you can actually enjoy your VPN experience. Until the next connection drop that is.
After hours of testing this service for our VPN Gater review, we did manage to stream Netflix. Yes, one of those “Hallelujah” moments.
We also had to run a dedicated test to believe our eyes:
Well, not the worst and not the best speed we’ve seen. Yet, you can possibly enjoy HD Netflix streaming with this.
And, this was our speed while connecting to a Thailand location:
But these results can be misleading. Since you may experience annoying disruptions like connection drops, your whole streaming experience can be ruined.
If you really want to find the best VPN for Netflix, you need to read our related post.
VPN Gate for torrenting
Please don’t try this at home.
Unless you want to be found guilty for copyright infringement, we don’t advise you to use VPN Gate for torrenting or any other P2P file sharing either. As a matter of fact, this VPN works similarly to Hola VPN. Your web traffic will appear to come through peers’ IP addresses.
But the same is true for other peers: their online activities will seem to come from you. Therefore, you can burn yourself by either using it for torrenting or others torrenting through your IP. You can easily incriminate yourself and other users as well. Let’s not forget that your activities are logged. In other words, it doesn’t matter that you spoof your IP when your true IP can be linked to your web traffic anyway.
So, you may want to find the best VPN for torrenting instead.
VPN Gate for China?
Well, this project was originally all about averting government-level censorship and firewalls. So, it makes sense that VPN Gate used to work in China just fine. Until the day the Queen of censorship (still talking about China) decided to block all VPN services that didn’t gain Her majesty’s approval.
User reports and comments indicate that lots of people used to unblock censored sites with VPN Gate. These users also realized that this service wasn’t safe or operating beyond the Great Firewall anymore. The main reason is that the main VPN protocols, TCP and UDP as well as OpenVPN, are simply blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Additionally, specific ports are also blocked, which are commonly used for VPN traffic.
Since this VPN has no obfuscation or Stealth VPN option, even if it worked in China through some workaround, you could get busted and fined for using an unapproved service.
If you live or work in China, you’ll find our Best VPN for China post very helpful.
Live chat support
It being an experimental free VPN project, our VPN Gate review team didn’t really expect it to have live chat support. In fact, it doesn’t really have any kind of support in the general sense – no ticket system or email support whatsoever.
What you have though is the VPN Gate Users’ Forum and the FAQ section. But you still may not find your answers as you could expect in the case of a commercial VPN like NordVPN.
The cheapest VPN on the planet.
As we’ve already stated in this VPN Gate review, this application and its parent, SoftEther VPN, are absolutely free, and will certainly remain so.
Since it simply can’t get any cheaper, the only question is whether this VPN service can satisfy your needs or not.
If you’re looking for a professional, top-notch, premium VPN, you may have to pay $3-$5 per month for a 1 or 2-year plan. But you can’t compare the quality of the services and the security features included.
Although some users may go as far as calling this the best free VPN, we beg to differ. We experienced terrible speeds, which made this VPN completely useless for anything really. With that said, we also managed to find some servers that gave us enough speed to even watch HD videos.
So, if you have time to go through hundreds of servers to pick the right one, be our guest. Of course, you can get lucky by reordering the server list according to Line Speed or Ping. Not that it really helped us. Unfortunately, you may fail most of the time trying to connect to a server. Also, your connection can drop at any time.
While this service offers fast and secure protocols for your traffic, it also logs a lot of information about you and your activity. And so do all individual volunteer server owners. If your anonymity and security aren’t of great concern, you can give this VPN service a shot. You may be able to unblock governmental censorship and stream videos from geo-restricted websites.
In summary of our VPN Gate review, we must say that we do appreciate the hard work these Japanese developers have put into this experimental project. But we certainly don’t feel that this application could be a danger to commercial VPNs, not just yet – if ever.
How about learning from other VPN users?
Do you have any related questions? Have you ever tried to use VPN Gate or any other VPN apps before? Maybe you have written your own VPN Gate review? What are your impressions?
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