Betternet Review

Let us start our Betternet review with the observation that they provide a free unlimited VPN service.  You can expect a substantial loss in Internet speed while using their service.  They offer their free service with a so-called “booster” sales model.  What this means is that you can use their service on a single device with the understanding that they will suggest apps for you to buy.  If you buy one of these apps through their app, then they make money from that sale.  Betternet also makes money from some videos that you have to watch while using their app as well.

Betternet Review

Pricing and Special Offers

In addition to the free VPN service provided by Betternet, they offer a Premium VPN.  Currently (3-10-2016), this is only available for their Android app but they mention that they are actively working on extending the premium service to iOS and Windows.  So what does their premium service offer versus the free VPN service?

  • Premium users can connect up to five simultaneous devices on a single account.
  • Premium users will be able to connect to dedicated servers that are only available to them which have less traffic and better speed.
  • Premium users are no longer exposed to the so-called app suggestions (ads) that free members endure.
  • Premium users can choose from eight different server locations:  the United States, The United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and Singapore.
  • Premium users will get priority technical support

In short, premium subscribers are promised a “no ads” policy, a better performing VPN connection, the ability to choose their server location, the option of using the service on five different devices at the same time, and priority technical support.

Betternet offers their premium service in two different plans that are based on term length.  They have a monthly plan for $4.99 and a yearly one for $29.99.  Like most VPN providers, they discount the longer term plan.  This means if you sign up for a year of their premium service, you can get it from just $2.50 a month.  This is like getting six months of their premium service for free.  Currently, the only way to sign up for the Betternet premium plan is through the Android mobile app.  Betternet only accepts payments through the Google Play Store and Apple Store, thus they do not store any credit card or related information on their servers.

Free Trial Period

Betternet wants you to try out their premium service for yourself so that you can compare it with their free service.   They offer a 30-day refund of the subscription price if you decide that their premium service is not suitable for your purpose.  There is a big limitation in their refund policy and that is that you cannot have used more than 50 MB for that period.  We think this is unrealistic for 30 days of testing the service as most people will likely exceed this in the first use.  We feel this detracts from having a 30-day refund policy and think the Betternet crew should reexamine this limitation.

The Betternet Free VPN Model

As we mentioned above, the Betternet model of a free VPN, operates by making you a booster for the company.  They do this in a few different ways.  First, in order to install their app you must enable allow in-app purcheses.  Next, you agree to let them suggest software apps.  If you install one of these apps then they make money.   Normally, the app will ask you to view a video when you start it up.  The first image below shows the client screen that greets you in this case.  The second two images are a couple of the videos that came up at two different times.   As you can see these cover everything from an IT security video to a lingerie video.  These are sometimes followed by suggested free apps.

Betternet Video Examples

At other times you will be prompted by different messages in the box below the connect button on the free software app.  On the first image above this asks, “Should I watch a video?”   Other messages that you might see follow.   The first image below shows the message you see most of the time, “Get a Free App”.   Tapping this will show you two or three software apps Betternet recommends that you install.

Betternet Messages

The middle image above shows the watch a video and connect screen again.  The image to the the right of it shows you the screen that results if you click on “Should I watch a video? in the center image.  The ad-supported model has been done before but the Betternet group seems to have somehow made it new again.  They have combined it with installing apps and have done something we did not believe was possible using such a model.  Made it relatively unobtrusive.  They have accomplished this by timing the messages and ads to correspond to start up of the app and times you are connecting or reconnecting in most cases.

We do have one concern that Betternet uses third-parties for advertisement. These third parties may use technologies to access some data including but not limited to cookies to estimate the effectiveness of their advertisements.  Peculiarly, Betternet disavows these tools as they pertain to their own privacy policy ie, how these third parties use the acquired information depends on their own privacy policies.  So, be aware that you are being tracked by their advertising partners when using their free VPN service.

Privacy and Security

Betternet is located in Canada.  They have a strict, No Log privacy policy.  They do not log any connection or usage data from their VPN users.  They keep only the information necessary to operate their service and it is never shared with third parties.  Their privacy policy explains how all data is handled as is shown below:

Betternet does not collect, log, store, share any identifiable personal information of Users. Betternet may collect the connection times to our Service and the total amount of data transferred per day. Betternet stores this to be able to deliver the best possible network experience to you.

At the same time they say that they work with partners and third parties to provide recommendations for apps for you to install but at the same time they take no responsibility for what these third parties do with the data they collect on you.

By using Betternet you acknowledge and consent that Betternet may display advertisement within the App, as a separate webpage in your browser, or in any manner that Betternet finds suitable. Betternet may use third party advertisement services with their own terms and conditions. By using Betternet you also agree the terms and conditions of those third party services and acknowledge and adhere that Betternet shall not take any responsibility nor liability for the contents shown on their behalf.

This sounds vaguely like customer beware.  So, beware.

After some research, we found that the Betternet service uses OpenVPN with AES256 encryption and 128 bit AES-CBC for IPSec.  We tried to find out more information on the size of the Betternet VPN network but were not successful.  Hopefully, in the future, the Betternet team will be more forthcoming with this information.

Hands-On Testing

We complete our Betternet review with some hands on testing of their Windows client software and Android app.  We would like to start by saying that free Betternet service dropped the speed of our ISP connection considerably more than we would have liked, as many of the free services do.  They have software clients for Windows, iOS, Android, and extensions for Chrome and Foxfire browsers.  The premium account can currently only be accessed using the Android app.

Connecting from Windows

You can obtain the Windows client download for the Betternet free VPN service by clicking on download in the menu of their website.  Once you complete this download, run the BetternetforWindows setup app to begin installing the Windows client on your computer.  Note, it may be necessary for the setup to install a version of Windows.NET framework on your machine before the actual client install begins.  This happened in our case.  The image below shows the first and last screens of the Betternet for Windows installation wizard.  Clicking on next in the first image below starts the installation process and clicking finish in the second completes the install and launches the client for the first time.

Betternet Windows Install

The client interface is very simple with not many selections for the user to make so it should be very easy for anyone to use regardless of your technical knowledge.  The first image shown below is what you will see once the client loads unconnected.  Notice the face is asleep and surrounded by a grey circle.  Depending on where you are located, you may see another country other than the United States.  By default, the Betternet service will connect you to the server closest to you with the least amount of users, thus providing you the with the server that they think gives you the best performance.

Betternet Windows Client

To connect to the service once the client is started, simply click on the connect button on the main screen.   The second image below shows what the main screen looks like once the connection is complete.  Notice the face is awake and the shield is surrounded in a blue circle.  The other thing to notice is the message box below the connect or disconnect buttons in the images.  This is where you are offered apps and videos to watch as well as like or tweet about the Betternet service and how they makes money off of you as their “booster”.

Betternet Windows Menu

The only user selection is the menu in the upper left corner of the first image above which will open a screen like the one shown on the right above.  This is the settings page.  The only option on this screen is to reconnect automatically if the connection drops.  The other buttons on this page will:

  • Contact us – open a support ticket
  • FAQ – open the FAQ on their website
  • Privacy policy – let you examine the Betternet privacy page on their website
  • How Betternet works? – show the Betternet model  on their website

As you can see, the Windows client is very basic but it does the job.

Connecting From Android

The only way to sign up for their subscription VPN service at this time is to first install their Android app from the Google Play store.  Once you have installed this app on your device you will see an image like the one shown below-left.  Pressing connect results in the middle screen below.  Finally, the screen on the right shows the Android app once it is fully connected.  You will see that it is very similar to the Windows client.

Betternet Android Connection

Selecting the menu icon (three horizontal bars) from the screenshot shown on the left above will bring up a settings screen like the one shown in the left image below.  On this screen, you can clearly see the green “go premium” button.  This is the button you tap to see the screen shown in the middle below which should show the pricing plans and allow you to buy the one that you want.

Betternet Upgrade

In our case it was having issues and the plans failed to load.  If it had loaded properly, we could have subscribed to their premium service.  The last screen is that which you would see if you are a premium member and you selected the “I’m already Premium” in the settings screen above (first image).  Notice all that you need to sign up for their premium service is a valid email address.  Once you have subscribed to the premium service you will be able to select the country you want to connect to by clicking on locations as shown in the first image below.  This will display the countries that you can connect to using the Betternet premium VPN.

Betternet Server Locations

The middle and last screen shown above show the current locations offered by their service.  Clicking on the yellow “go premium” reminds you that you must be a premium subscriber to select your own location.

Betternet Speed Test

Betternet was not one of the fastest VPN services we have tested on our speed tests as is the case with many free VPN services.  The speed of our Internet connection dropped by almost 78% when connected through the their servers in Atlanta, GA.

Betternet Speed Test

Some loss in connection speed is expected because of the extra security offered by the encrypted connection.  However 78% is a significant decrease and if you have a slow ISP speed to start with, this could make your Internet connection speeds nearly unusable.  It should be noted that they say their paid service is on dedicated servers and considerably faster that their free service.  Because of the inconsistencies in ISP speeds, your performance could vary so be sure to test it yourself.  Although no policy exists regarding P2P traffic, we do not recommend it because of the slow connection speed while using the their VPN service.

Betternet Review: Conclusion

Betternet is new to the privacy space and seems to be shaking out some of the bugs in their new service.  Their free service seems to function but is slow.  You would not want to use if if you use a VPN all the time but it is adequate for those who only occasionally use a VPN service.  The encryption used by their service is not the best but AES – 128 bit should be secure enough for most uses.

What we like about their service

  • It offers free unlimited use
  • Unobtrusive implementation of “boosting” both in reviewing videos and apps to install
  • Easy to use interface for Android users
  • Fast customer response (within a few hours)

Ideas to improve the service:

  • More technical details about their service and network on the website
  • Clarification of third party information usage
  • Premium service for the other platforms:  iOS, Windows, as well as the browsers they support.
  • Support for Mac OS X
  • Pricing for their premium service on their website

The Betternet free VPN service is slow.  Loss in connection speed through their network was typically 75%-85%.  Depending on your original ISP, this could slow your Internet to the point that it becomes almost unusable.  With the free VPN, you have no control of where you connect which limits the usefulness of their free service for unblocking streaming content or file sharing.  The paid subscription VPN will help you do this better if your goal is in one of the eight countries that they have servers in.  If you just want to secure your information at WI-Fi hotspots and be more anonymous in your daily Internet surfing, then the Betternet service could be a good choice for you.  Remember, they offer a 30-day money back guarantee as long as you use less than 50MB of bandwidth.  Be sure to test out their service for speed and make sure you are happy with it.

Visit Betternet