WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
With a strong emphasis on net neutrality, online privacy, and anti-censorship, AirVPN ticks many of the boxes if you’re looking for a trustworthy provider to look after your data.
Built using an open-source model, it’s compliant with current EU frameworks, and they commit to providing ‘technical tools aimed at enhancing and exercising the fundamental Right to Privacy’.
In that regard, they’ve definitely succeeded in their mission.
However, when matched up against many top-rated VPN providers, this VPN can be somewhat lacking, for reasons that we’ll explain thoroughly in this AirVPN review.
The AirVPN cause is certainly a noble one. As a VPN, it’s air-tight in terms of protecting your identity online. Yet, connection speeds weren’t quick enough with selected servers, and their network is relatively small.
From a user experience perspective, there were a number of performance-related issues we didn’t care for. Of course, aesthetic problems are forgivable when it secures your data as well as AirVPN does.
In spite of everything mentioned above, AirVPN is a capable piece of software, and it scores highly in terms of privacy and trustworthiness. Read on to find out exactly what we thought of AirVPN’s service!
AirVPN is an Italy-based provider that was originally released as free software back in 2010.
They soon realized that they need a commercial product to survive long-term, switching to a traditional payment model that is fairly affordable in the present day.
There’s no umbrella organization for the tech, as “the Air company exclusively operates AirVPN, and is involved only in AirVPN strictly related side projects about network neutrality and censorship circumvention.”
Political hacktivist Paolo Brini is named on their website, although there’s little found about him online.
Regardless, they do have a business address, and the company is very responsive if you wanted to drop them a message.
It’s a level of transparency that is necessary to build trust, especially in the murky world of VPN ownership. It’s in stark contrast to some offenders, and it ties into their purported value system.
AirVPN also has active forums packed with news and how-to’s, as well as general discussions for users.
AirVPN is a smaller provider in almost every sense of the word, but they punch above their weight in many respects. We outline just how below.
Pros & Cons
As we tested AirVPN for vulnerabilities and perks, we identified some of the main points to consider when choosing the right VPN for your needs.
Scoring high for privacy and security, AirVPN has plenty of positives:
- Secure servers in worldwide locations
- Comprehensive logging policy
- Cheap and flexible deals, including a three-day plan
- AirVPN has worked to combat censorship in the past
- Multiple anonymous payment methods, such as various forms of cryptocurrency
- P2P support
- Choice of protocols
- Port forwarding and network lock
- Transparent VPN service
While AirVPN appears promising, it isn’t without its own drawbacks. Here are a few that may deter UX aficionados or streamers looking to maintain their internet speeds:
- Far fewer servers than many established VPN providers
- Slower speeds than average which makes for poor a streaming experience
- Struggled to unblock some international streaming websites
- App user experience is bare-bones, slightly unpolished
- No third-party audit to back up claims
- Based in Italy, a member of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance
As a privacy-focused provider, AirVPN has a variety of security features that will be interesting for advanced users.
It might not be as shiny or colorful as some VPNs, but there’s no denying that they’ve worked to ensure you can remain anonymous while using the service.
That’s a feature in and of itself, complimented by the notable extras seen below.
Port forwarding is a useful feature that can improve torrent speeds, or be used to allow remote access to devices while you’re away from home. As AirVPN notes:
“Remote port forwarding” forwards traffic coming from the Internet to our VPN server ports to a specified local port of your client.”
It’s well known for many gamers, as a method used to improve connection speed, lobby wait times, and overall gameplay while using consoles or PCs.
Similar to a kill switch in some respects, the network lock prevents IPv4/IPv6 communications when your system is not connected to an AirVPN server. However, it’s more comprehensive than the average kill switch as it uses your firewall, rather than the app itself.
You won’t have to set it up yourself, as the network lock works automatically, and there’s a large button that prompts you to activate it on the main page of the AirVPN app.
For an additional layer of privacy, you can try using AirVPN with Tor.
The Tor browser is a tool that is designed to make the user anonymous online, although it does not encrypt any data. The name Tor derives from ‘The Onion Router,’ which is a custom browser that sends the user’s data through several anonymous servers.
AirVPN offers VPN over Tor. This means that the VPN server will not see your real IP address but the IP of the Tor exit node, masking your connection twice.
Overall, what Air VPN lacks in aesthetics it quickly makes up for in robust features.
- 1 Month: $8.36/mo.
- 12 Months: $4.88/mo. ($58.50 total)
- 3 Years: $3.28/mo. ($118.20 total)
There are no hidden fees with AirVPN, who have ensured that their pricing is easy to understand. Amounts are set in euro figures, but can easily be converted to a local currency of your choice on their payment page.
For example, one month of AirVPN works out to €7, or roughly $8.36 at the current time of writing.
It’s also worth mentioning that they’ve taken the time to offer great flexibility, from a short-term three-day deal, all the way to three years, packed with potential savings to be found.
Payment methods are numerous, be it via traditional methods such as PayPal or credit card, to multiple cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, or even Doge.
Trials and Refunds
In terms of the 30-day refund policy:
“AirVPN accepts only written refund requests sent to the addresses given in the Privacy Notice. You have the right to request a reimbursement without giving explanations. The right to be refunded is invalid if you have violated the Terms of Service and/or if you send the request after having used the Service for more than 30 days.”
Free trials are also available, although you will need to contact AirVPN directly in order to redeem. (This involves making an account, and creating a ticket.)
Air VPN is cheap, and they allow users to select exactly how long they would like to use it. Compared to other VPNs, it’s a top contender as far as price is concerned.
“Activity traffic and/or traffic content and/or IP addresses of the customers or users are not inspected, logged or stored into any mass storage device.”
Furthermore, they note that you can easily remain anonymous while using the service. After all, “users do not need to enter any personal data to access Air services.”
Many providers make a real email address mandatory, but you don’t have to with AirVPN.
This can be coupled with anonymous payment methods to allow a user to keep themselves hidden from the company.
Furthermore, they go on to say:
“Pressure from private actors to obtain any data is an illegal act and Air, in order to protect its business and the users’ privacy, reserves the right to inform the competent authorities and prosecute the private entities responsible for such illegal acts.”
“The key is that we must NOT know who you are (on the other hand, EU law prohibits us to investigate privately about your personal data and real identity, or to monitor your communications).”
It’s good advice, and AirVPN is one of the few providers that makes it easy to do so.
The lack of an audit is one minor cause for concern, and it’s important to get third-party verification that the software works as advertised in the near future. If AirVPN secured outside confirmation, their credibility would increase even more.
You’ll be able to check recent server speeds on their website, with accurate readings for the top user speeds recorded over the past few days. Numbers looked promising, so I decided to head to speedtest.net to see what AirVPN has to offer.
As always, I began by checking my baseline stats without connecting to the VPN servers. I recorded a healthy 328 Mbps download speed, with nothing else of note to mention.
To begin, I selected their recommended server, which happened to be in the Netherlands. (It makes sense, as they have a total of 68 servers in the country, the most of any in their network.)
Results are found below:
At roughly a third of my normal download speeds, it was a disappointing result for the optimal server location. The upload speeds also took a similar hit, suggesting it probably wasn’t going to be good news when I switched over to different countries.
As I’m based in the U.K., I loaded up the closest server to me, found in London. According to the app, latency was low, so it did seem to be working as promised.
Ping was improved, while the upload speed was back into the 30 Mbps range. However, the download speed struggled to stay over 100 Mbps, or under a third of what I’m used to.
Considering the popularity of their streaming services, I checked the U.S. next.
At 58 Mbps, it was slow enough to begin affecting the load times of web pages that struggled to load graphics with any sense of urgency.
My assumption is that it ties into their smaller server network, although some users had recorded decent speeds according to the website.
(This can depend on everything from the VPN setup to your distance from the server, but they were slow for me while using the recommended configurations.)
Server Locations & Network
AirVPN currently has a total of 243 servers, with the majority split between Europe (157), and North America (70).
Americas: Brazil, Canada, United States
Asia: Japan, Singapore
Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, UK
Oceania: New Zealand
It’s a paltry number compared to some of the bigger providers whose servers can number into the thousands. The reason behind the lack of server locations is laid out in their FAQ:
“Contrarily to some of our competitors, we don’t add locations just to have ‘one more country flag’, in disrespect of service quality and customers’ security. We take every care in order to provide a high quality of service and high security. The servers datacenters must comply to our requirements for privacy, bandwidth, traffic, peering, net neutrality and usage policy.”
That’s fair, especially as they don’t have any virtual servers, which are used to supplement the true number of countries on offer.
AirVPN argues that it’s a case of quality over quantity, and they have continued to add new locations and servers, even if it’s slower than average.
Of course, that isn’t helpful for users who want to access servers based in Africa, or even larger European countries such as France. Australia is another big name that has failed to make the list so far.
If your primary need for a VPN is to access geo-restricted content, you may need to look elsewhere if your show-of-choice isn’t within AirVPN’s country list.
Streaming & Torrenting
AirVPN doesn’t advertise a capability to unblock international streaming websites, and results were mixed.
Streaming can make or break a VPN service, especially for the average customer. Given it’s a privacy-first provider, it was unsurprising to see that many services were blocked while using the AirVPN app, such as BBC iPlayer.
As for U.S. Netflix, it’ll depend on the servers you’re connecting to and the IP address used, although it does work.
“AirVPN enables and allows you to use applications forbidden by your ISP and/or by your government. If you use the Service from a country, which forbids applications by law, and/or from an ISP that discriminates against services and/or protocols and/or applications and/or packet senders and/or packet receivers, you understand and accept that you operate under your own responsibility.”
Overall, it’s worth remembering that AirVPN wasn’t designed to unblock sites like US Netflix and Hulu.
Streaming services tend to ban a VPN’s IP address directly, leading to a constant need for additional servers with fresh IPs. It goes against the selective process AirVPN uses, which is why many of their servers were blocked while attempting to access geo-restricted websites.
AirVPN has worked extensively to combat censorship in a number of notable ways. For example; they’ve backed the likes of Wikileaks financially, along with Tor, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mastodon, and a number of smaller projects which are noted on their Mission page.
Almost every VPN will advocate for privacy and online security, but you won’t find many that are willing to actually spend their own money to do so.
Lastly, they offer free access to activists, journalists, relevant projects, and numerous others.
It’s hard to find fault with AirVPN when it comes to fighting censorship or protecting net neutrality.
Platforms & Devices
Compatibility is a must for any VPN service, and AirVPN covers all of the major bases with native app support for the following platforms:
It’s not the most robust list of client apps, but AirVPN will also work with a range of router models, including Tomato and DD-WRT.
As for the app, it’s a little rough around the edges on macOS, and you’ll have to work out how to get it started yourself. They’ve named the app ‘Eddie’, and it’s completely open-source.
There’s a lot of information on screen at any given time, including detailed real-time logs of what the app is up to in the background. There’s also an icon for the Network Lock found in the top left corner, so you’ll never be caught out unknowingly.
It lacks the refined graphics and user interface seen from top providers, but it’s obvious that a lot of work has gone into developing the app, especially for desktop platforms.
AirVPN is packed full of info and extra features, although it could be slightly overwhelming for new users.
On the other hand, you can always stick with the recommended settings, so it’s just a case of selecting a server to connect to.
Encryption & Security
AirVPN offers OpenVPN over SSH, SSL, or Tor as alternative connection methods.
You’ll be able to set up and use a variety of OpenVPN protocols/servers with AirVPN, with the full list of technical specs found here.
In terms of encryption they use:
- 4096 bit RSA keys size
- AES-256-GCM Data Channel
- HMAC SHA384 Control Channel
As it’s open-source software, the code is freely available, and they’re transparent about the current status of the service at any given time. It’s a contrast compared to the average VPN provider, as some don’t even bother to list their servers.
They also have a bounty program for any bugs relating to ‘the servers and the web, desktop and mobile applications programmed by AirVPN’.
There’s no doubting the expertise and effort that has gone into building AirVPN, evidenced by the additional security features, as well as the ability to customize your experience within the settings.
Operated by “activists, privacy, data protection, and security issues aware persons, and law experts,” AirVPN relies on transparency as a key selling point for their service. There are no red flags that I could find, aside from the lack of a third-party audit.
Their model is based on privacy and trust, and they score highly in both aspects. The work they’ve done in the sector is also notable, helping to fund some of the bigger projects over the years.
The app is going to be a bit overwhelming for the average customer. However, there are a couple of usable extras which will make a difference, and it’s worth getting to grips with long-term.
Every flaw mentioned in the review can be remedied with more funding, which will only happen as long as they continue to add new users.
For now, they’ve kept prices low, as well as allowing for more flexibility than the average provider. You don’t need to be locked in for 12 months, or even 30 days, and there’s no sense that they’re trying to hook people unsuspectingly.
Speeds were the biggest flaw, but they’re only going to improve over time. They’re faster than they were a year ago, and server locations are more numerous.
Overall, AirVPN passed our VPN test with flying colors due to its primary focus on privacy and security – the original purpose of a VPN. It’s also the perfect choice if you’d like to support a project that will give back to the community, although you may be left wanting if you’d prefer to watch international Netflix streams in 4K.