WHAT’S IN THIS REVIEW?
Whether you’re looking for a free provider, or you’re interested in learning more about one of the cheapest deals you’ll find, Atlas VPN is likely to have popped up on your radar. How does it compare to more established names like NordVPN and ExpressVPN, and is it worth downloading?
Here’s what we thought of both the Free and Paid versions of Atlas VPN, as we take an in-depth look at exactly what the new kid on the block has to offer.
The problem with free VPNs is that there’s usually a catch. There will be a significant cap on bandwidth, or they’ll limit your speeds to a snail’s pace. Others take it even further, selling the user data they’ve been tasked with looking after.
Atlas VPN was launched with a clear aim to provide a reliable service within the cybersecurity market, and it comes with a free plan that manages to cover the basics.
Read on to find out what we thought of Atlas VPN.
About Atlas VPN
Launched in 2020, Atlas VPN is one of the more recent providers to make it onto the market. It’s owned and operated by Peakstar Technologies Inc., and the CEO is Jim Roberts. Aside from that, there’s not much information about the company available online.
One thing that is clear is that Peakstar Technologies Inc. is based in the US and that makes it slightly concerning from a privacy point of view, given the jurisdictional issues that crop up in the country. However, Altas VPN has been audited, even if their blog is more focused on ‘big picture’ concepts, rather than mentioning many new features they’re planning to add over the coming year.
It can’t have been easy to launch the product with Covid-19 lurking in the background, and the service is still lacking in terms of getting itself out there. It’s slightly worrying, especially as their free app is sure to get lots of use thanks to no bandwidth restrictions and basic streaming capabilities. For some users, though, this is enough.
Pros & Cons
As a budget option, Atlas VPN works well in many respects. There are also a number of flaws, so here’s a rundown with some of the main pros and cons we found during testing.
Atlas VPN has a handful of distinct advantages that should attract users on a budget:
- Offers a free tier that doesn’t have many limits
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Highly affordable premium tier, one of the cheapest VPN providers out there
- Unblocked most streaming platforms
- Audited software
- P2P support
- 30-day money-back guarantee
A freemium VPN service is nice for covering your bases. But if you’re in need of a strong solution online, you’ll want to take these cons into consideration:
- Based in the US
- Couldn’t load the iPlayer website the first time
- Mixed results in terms of speeds
- You have to give an email address to sign up
- Basic native apps
- Lack of protocol options
- Smaller server network
Given their relative youth compared to many providers, it’s no surprise to find that they don’t have a host of additional features that would probably be helpful for the average user. Instead, they rely on being able to unblock streaming services such as Netflix, along with offering P2P support, and decent speeds.
The app itself is basic, lacking any information about server speeds or their current load. It does have a Kill Switch, which will keep your connection safe if the VPN is disrupted unexpectedly. There are a couple of features that we’ll get into below, but Atlas VPN mainly focuses on their free software.
The Free Tier
The feature that truly helps to set Altas VPN apart from the norm is their Free tier. Speeds are slower, but there’s no cap on the amount of data you can use. They’re already amassing a large number of users on mobile platforms, and the majority of reviews are extremely positive.
In comparison, the premium version will provide the user with faster server connection speeds and gives access to additional server locations. The Free version has three locations, split between the US and the Netherlands.
Their free VPN is a great piece of software if you’d like to unblock a website, and it means you won’t have to commit before giving it a try for yourself.
As the name implies, SafeBrowse is a simple feature that will prevent a user from ‘entering malicious services’, as well as blocking adverts. You’ll find similar levels of protection from any ad-blocker, while a browser like Brave will also help with trackers. SafeBrowse is a nice addition, but it’s not going to make a real difference for anyone with basic knowledge of internet safety.
- One month: $9.99 per month
- 12 months: $2.49 per month
- 36 months: $1.39 per month
With a capable free tier, Atlas VPN has their work cut out if they want to persuade users to start paying a fee for quicker speeds and a few more server locations.
One method they use is to heavily incentivize longer contracts via massive savings. For example, a single month will cost $9.99, while one year will set you back by a one-time payment of $29.88 every 12 months. That’s cheaper than the vast majority of VPN providers, and it’s something to consider if you’re hoping to get the best value for money. Then there’s a 36-month deal that works out to just $1.39 per month.
Another notable difference from the norm is that Atlas VPN does not impose any limits on the number of devices connected to one premium account. This means it’ll work on all compatible and internet-connected devices. Most providers are limited to 5 or 10 simultaneous devices at most, so it’s another plus in terms of making it worth your money.
It’s a great value proposition that will allow the service to boost user numbers following its release in January 2020. They operate with a simple 30-day money-back guarantee, although you’ll have to contact Apple for purchases made through their App Store.
There’s no way to pay anonymously, as methods are limited to credit cards, Google Pay, and PayPal.
Altas VPN can’t be beaten for price, and the free version is ideal if you’re determined not to spend a dime.
“We are no-logs VPN: we do not collect your real IP address and we do not store any information that identifies what you browse, view, or do online via that VPN connection. The only information collected is basic analytics, to ensure great service to all our users. This also means that we do not have any data to share with law enforcement and government agencies who make requests for information about what you were doing through a VPN connection.”
A watertight logging policy is the least you’d expect from a provider released in 2020, when transparency and privacy appear to be at the forefront of their marketing campaigns. However, they do go on to note;
“We use a random identifier, which we generate for you, and a signed token that is held by your device. This limited technical data sometimes could be regarded as personal data. We may ask you to verify your email address as an additional measure in certain cases (for example, in order to avoid abuses).”
What does that mean? You’ll find an explanation of how they can use your personal data under a tab labeled ‘Collected Information’:
“We may collect basic application usage data (app events). We use basic app analytics to measure the performance of our app. That collects data on such app events as changing the application settings, opening the settings screen, or starting a trial of Atlas VPN Premium. We process these data in order to ensure the smooth functioning of our Services, and to improve the application itself.”
Further still, they collect detailed information about the user in other ways, which are listed below;
“Basic device data such as device type, model, brand name (e.g. Samsung, Apple), OS version, device ID, language, time zone, coarse location (city scale). As standard on the Internet we use attribution analytics to track install source and traffic source. We may also use advertising IDs to measure performance of our campaigns.”
That’s a heap of personal information, so there is a tradeoff if you decide to make an account with the service.
They recently completed their first-ever audit to allay any fears. According to the Head of Offensive Security at VerSprite “The black box analysis during the Application Penetration Test of the Atlas VPN iOS client and its public backend components highlighted just a few Medium-to-Low risk issues, which proved fruitless to compromise the privacy of the users. I recommend Atlas VPN for their transparency in sharing their findings with their customers”.
Connection speeds are always important for any potential VPN user. Will the service have a significant impact on load times, or will they be able to offer seamless 4K streaming?
As always, I headed over to speedtest.net to get a better idea of just how fast Atlas VPN is. I checked out my normal connection stats first, which can be found below:
Nothing was out of the ordinary, so I switched to the Premium version of Atlas VPN. At first, none of the AtlasVPN servers would connect to the site for an hour or so, giving me the following error message:
After a while, I was able to connect to Atlas VPN servers located in London for the speed test. Results are found below:
Ping had almost doubled, and the download speed decreased to 227 Mbps, but that’s not a bad result considering the low asking price. It’s certainly quick enough to stream content without having to worry about lag.
Next up, I connected to one of their US servers.
The ping went up by a factor of 10, while download speeds were down to roughly a third. It’s a significant hit, and it was notable when loading websites. Once again, it’s not bad when you factor in the lower price tag.
The truth is, speeds were slow at times while connected to Atlas VPN. That could be due to fewer servers than the norm, so we’ll take a look at their network below.
Server Locations & Network
Atlas VPN currently has servers in the following locations:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, United Kingdom, United States.
The US is the only region that has multiple server locations, which are found in Dallas, Las Vegas, LA, Miami, New Jersey, New York, and Phoenix
It’s a tiny network compared to the biggest names in the game, with some providers offering 70+ countries to choose from. They claim to have 700+ servers, and that might sound like a lot. However, it’s minuscule compared to a provider like ExpressVPN, which boasts of 3,000+ VPN servers in 160 VPN server locations in 94 countries.
Results differed depending on the time of day, which would indicate some server strain at peak times. This is understandable as they only released the software last year, and Atlas VPN is sure to add more locations and servers in the coming months and years. However, the current iteration leaves a lot to be desired.
Streaming & Torrenting
According to Atlas VPN, every single one of their servers is ‘optimized for streaming’. That’s not really how it works, but I decided to give it a go anyway. I was pleasantly surprised, following a few teething issues at first.
The UK servers weren’t especially helpful when I first tried them out. iPlayer refused to load entirely, which is another first for me during testing.
I gave it an hour or so, and BBC iPlayer started working as advertised. The same is true for Amazon Prime, Disney +, and international versions of Netflix. In this case, Atlas VPN does deliver in most respects, which makes it a decent streaming VPN.
Despite advocating for their ability to work in P2P scenarios, their terms of service make a note of the following when it comes to copyright-protected materials:
“Atlas VPN reserves the right to terminate in appropriate circumstances the accounts of subscribers who infringe the copyrights of others. You may not upload, download, post, publish, transmit, reproduce, or distribute in any way, files, material, information, software, or other material obtained through the System that is protected by copyright or other proprietary right or derivative works with respect thereto, without obtaining permission of the copyright owner or other right holder.”
If you plan to use Atlas VPN for P2P activities, it’s worth keeping in mind.
It’s hard to judge Atlas VPN in terms of censorship unless you’re willing to take their claims at face value. They say:
“Altas VPN believes that everyone should have the right to use the internet without censorship and surveillance. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the few tools that can enable these human rights online. To support people affected by these and similar laws, Atlas VPN offers a free-for-use VPN.”
Furthermore, they note that they have recently launched a server in Singapore, allowing users from Hong Kong to get ‘lightning-fast browsing speeds’. While it is locked behind the Premium paywall, they point to premium subscription prices that ‘have been drastically reduced’.
We’ll have to wait and see how Atlas VPN deals with censorship, if any, when they get put under any public pressure.
Platforms & Devices
- Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android
As you can see from the screenshot, the desktop version is basic, while it’s no different for the mobile version. Additional features and information are likely to be added in due course, but it’s extremely barebones in the here and now.
Consider the platforms they offer native apps for. Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android are pretty much the bare minimum, and there’s no support for Linux. Additional platforms aren’t supported, and they offer no guides for router setup. They do plan to offer Chrome support in the near future.
There’s no way to check server speeds, and the Settings tab contains nothing of note aside from the Kill Switch and a button to turn on SafeBrowse.
The majority of their customers probably use one of the free mobile versions, but it does feel a little neglected overall. Once again, it’s understandable considering they only launched just over a year ago.
Encryption & Security
Atlas VPN uses an industry-standard combination for encryption and encapsulation of web traffic: AES-256 and IPSec/IKEv2. However, there is no support for additional protocols, which is going to be disappointing for advanced users.
For example, WireGuard support would be welcomed, given the protocol is seen as the future of the industry. Most providers also support the use of the OpenVPN protocol, which is also missing.
“WireGuard is something that we could not ignore. Its brilliance in boosting performance is undeniable. Thus, we have been working on our WireGuard project for quite some time. However, perfecting a new feature takes time, and we wish to address and resolve all concerns surrounding WireGuard.”
They haven’t been audited publicly, so there’s no way to tell if it all works as it should, but it does unblock streaming sites and will fool most online services into thinking you’re located elsewhere. (Streaming platforms tend to be some of the most stringent in terms of blocking the use of VPNs.)
Additional features such as a kill switch and ad blocking have been mentioned above and can be combined to provide another thin layer of security. It’s not the most elaborate package, but it still works.
You’d expect a newer VPN to come with the latest protocols, and they could certainly do more to provide additional security measures in the future.
Overall, Atlas VPN is a middle-of-the-pack service. Their server network is tiny, and wouldn’t be out of place if I was conducting this review a decade ago. The app is simple, and therefore usable, but there’s not much there aside from the basic framework.
The free edition is decent, although the full-fat version pales in comparison to any premium provider on many counts. Thankfully, price isn’t one of them, and it’s highly affordable in a competitive market.
There are other positives to consider. Connection speeds were good for the most part, and there aren’t many budget VPNs that can match Atlas when it comes to unblocking platforms like Netflix. When I emailed their customer service team I received a response in roughly 20 minutes, which is pretty fast.
Atlas VPN has a good platform to build from, but it’s hard to recommend the premium version in its current state. It’s still worth testing out the free software for yourself, while the recent audit certainly helped to boost their credibility.
You can do far worse than Atlas VPN, and they have the makings of a decent service on their hands. Server numbers continue to increase each month, while they promise support for features like WireGuard and improved browser compatibility in the future.