Your first line of defense against online data snooping, even on an iPhone, should be a virtual private network, or VPN. The TorGuard service is first rate, offering numerous servers across the globe and plenty of flexible, advanced options. But the app itself is not the best choice for beginners. TorGuard, as a service, gets a high score, but our Editors’ Choice selections for iPhone VPN apps remain NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, both of which offer a better user experience.
What Is a VPN?
Your home network is (probably) safe, but what about when you’re out with your iPhone? The public Wi-Fi at the coffee shop is just that—public. Anyone else on the network could be snooping on your traffic. Worse, your phone may automatically connect to what it thinks is a safe and familiar network, but is actually a specially configured, malicious device. If that happens, an attacker can play man-in-the-middle with your data without your even knowing it.
To protect against these threats and more, you need a VPN. When active, the VPN routes your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. This means that no one on the network can sneak peeks at your data, not even the network’s owner, and no server along the way can sniff out your private details. Your data then travels through the encrypted tunnel and exits on to the public internet from a server operated by the VPN. This has the benefit of disguising your IP address and actual location, since any spies or advertisers out on the Web will only see the IP address of the VPN server.
Journalists and political activists use VPNs every day to access the public Internet when operating out of places with repressive Internet policies. On the lighter side, you can use VPNs to unlock region-locked content, such as free streams of BBC TV shows or MLB games. It’s up to you to be aware of any terms of service—or even local laws—you might be breaking by using VPN in these ways, however.
Note that Apple requires that apps wishing to use the open-source OpenVPN protocol undergo additional vetting. As a result, most VPN companies opt not to include OpenVPN as an option in their iPhone apps, even if the service supports it elsewhere. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited’s iPhone app is one of the few that supports OpenVPN. TorGuard users can choose from the well-known IPSec protocol or the newer IKEv2 protocol.
Unlike Wi-Fi, your cellular signals are hard to intercept—hard, but not impossible. A dedicated attacker can jam the LTE and 3G bands, and trick your phone into connecting to a portable cell tower (called a femtocell) over 2G, which uses weak encryption. For maximum security, consider using your VPN even when you’re connecting to a cellular network rather than Wi-Fi.
Pricing and Features
TorGuard’s app is available for free through the Apple App Store. We had no trouble installing it on an Apple iPhone SE. The app is free, but network access requires a subscription. You can purchase a subscription via Apple Pay on your phone, or you can pay on the TorGuard website, which accepts credit cards and PayPal as well as anonymous options including Bitcoin and prepaid gift cards.
A one-month subscription with TorGuard costs $9.99, which is below the industry average of about $10.50. A three-month subscription is $19.99 and a six-month subscription is $29.99. An entire year of coverage costs $59.99, and $99.99 gets you two years of protection. Note, however, that nearly every VPN offers discounts and promotions, so you can likely purchase a plan for even less. The only difference between the tiers is duration, so even the most affordable level offers all the features of the most expensive. That’s excellent.
That said, you can get effective VPN protection at a lower price. A subscription with the Private Internet Access iPhone VPN app, for example, costs only $6.99 per month. TorGuard is more affordable than NordVPN (for iPhone), which costs $11.95 a month, but that service has other advantages, as we’ll explain.
A subscription lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously to the TorGuard network, which is average for the industry. TorGuard boasts more than 3,000 servers across some 55 countries. Note that these numbers change often, usually in an upward direction. TorGuard offers server locations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, India, and the Middle East, as well as Central, North, and South America. Many VPNs don’t have much coverage in Africa or the Middle East, so we’re glad to see TorGuard’s presence in these regions. TorGuard notably offers servers in China and Russia, too. That’s a strong showing, bettered only by Private Internet Access VPN, which claims over 3,200 servers in more locations, and NordVPN, with more than 3,400 servers.
Having plenty of diversely distributed servers is important for two reasons. First, it gives you lots of options to choose an exit point for your internet traffic. Second, and more importantly, the availability of many servers means you’re more likely to find a server nearby if you are traveling. The closer the server, the better the performance. If you’re traveling in Africa and the closest server is in England, you can imagine that forcing your traffic to travel thousands of additional miles would degrade your internet experience.
NordVPN offers specific servers for specific activities, which is a feature we like. If you want to stream video, use the high-speed video server. If you want to use P2P or BitTorrent, use the appropriate server for the best results. PureVPN and CyberGhost’s iPhone apps also help you select servers based on what you want to accomplish.
TorGuard doesn’t provide this clarity from its iPhone app. If you want to see how crowded a server is, or whether it allows P2P, you have to go to TorGuard’s website. That’s sure to be confusing for beginning users, and it’s not the best experience even for seasoned VPN experts.
Unlike Android, iOS allows developers to dabble with ad blocking apps. These only limit ads appearing in the Safari browser, so even Editors’ Choice winner 1Blocker (for iPhone) won’t filter ads while you’re browsing with the Firefox app. TorGuard and Private Internet Access are among the few VPN services that can filter out unwanted advertisements at the network level. However, there’s no simple switch to enable ad blocking in TorGuard. Rather, you must configure the iPhone to use TorGuard’s DNS servers.
One of the most remarkable things about TorGuard is the level of customization it offers with a subscription. A shared, static IP address is included, but you can opt for a dedicated IP address in the region of your choice for an additional fee. Other perks include additional licenses for a pro-rated fee, allowing more devices to use TorGuard simultaneously, and access to a 10Gbps premium network. We’ll spare you the details of these options, since they’re handled outside the iPhone app. Be sure to look at our review of TorGuard VPN on Windows for a more complete look at everything TorGuard has to offer in this regard.
Interestingly, you cannot access the Tor anonymization network through TorGuard. If you’re looking for that feature, you’re better off with NordVPN. Instead, the “Tor” in “TorGuard” refers to BitTorrent, as the company operates many VPN servers that allow torrenting.
Your Privacy With TorGuard
More important, the content of the policy is good for consumers. This section says it all: “TorGuard.net does not store or log any traffic or usage from its Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Proxy.” The company acknowledges that it does gather personally identifiable information for billing purposes, but keep in mind that it also allows the use of anonymous payment methods.
Better still, TorGuard says that it will not sell or transfer the information it has gathered to third parties. The only exception to this is if the company feels that legal action requires compliance.
That last point is something echoed by many VPN companies, which is why it’s important to know where these companies are located and under what legal jurisdiction they operate. Some countries have more privacy-friendly laws than others, after all. The company behind TorGuard is VPNetworks LLC, a US company. That company is, in turn, owned by parent company VPNetworks LTD, LLC, located on the Caribbean island of Nevis. We cannot speak to the legal framework of Nevis, but for its part the US has no specific laws requiring the retention of data.
In the past, some VPN companies used to inject ads into users’ web traffic in order to monetize their users. A representative from TorGuard confirms that the company does not use this tactic, saying, “It’s not something we would even consider.”
Hands On With TorGuard
Almost all your interaction with the TorGuard iPhone app happens on the main screen. Here, you can select the server of your choice from the drop-down menu. It’s a lengthy list, organized by country, with little information about the actual servers. To see the server’s status or whether it allows BitTorrent, you must log in to the TorGuard website. The app also doesn’t help with server selection, which is disappointing. NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and most other iPhone VPNs do a good job of finding the nearest available server. NordVPN also breaks down its server listing by purpose, making it more accessible for new users.
Unlike most competing products, TorGuard doesn’t attempt to find the closest or fastest server. If you ignore choosing a server and just jump straight to connecting, you’ll find yourself virtually in Australia, the first country on the list. That’s an oversight.
Tapping the Connect button prompts you to log in to the TorGuard service. You can save your login credentials, but even then, you still must tap again to activate the VPN. It’s not a big deal, but NordVPN and other services have more elegant interfaces.
Settings are few and far between in the simple TorGuard VPN app, but it does let you choose between IPSec and IKEv2 VPN protocols. The TorGuard service also supports L2TP, OpenVPN, PPTP, and SSTP, but those protocols don’t appear in the iPhone app. New since our last review, TorGuard offers what it calls On demand connection. When enabled, as it is by default, if the VPN loses its internet connection, it reestablishes the VPN connection as soon as the internet is once again available.
To connect to the selected server, you just tap the big green Connect button. At this point, the button title changes to Disconnect, but the button remains green, and the text is white on green. With most VPNs you can spot in an instant whether you’re connected; not TorGuard. The lock icon next to the product name closes when you’re connected, but it’s subtle.
We can appreciate a minimal app, but we think TorGuard’s is so minimal as to be confusing. NordVPN is far more user-friendly and more like other mainstream apps, which we think helps new users grasp how to use VPN services. TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone) and Hide My Ass go beyond friendly to whimsical, without losing sight of their purpose. TorGuard would do well to freshen up its iPhone offering’s interface.
VPN Speed Test Scores
Using a VPN service usually degrades the quality of your internet connection. Adding miles (sometimes, thousands of miles) of cable and at least one extra server to the path your Web traffic must travel usually slows downloads and uploads, and increases latency. TorGuard is no exception; in fact, it had more impact on speed than many competing products.
To test VPN performance, we run several speed tests with Ookla’s internet speed test tool. (PCMag’s parent company, Ziff Davis, also owns Ookla.) We then compare the average of the tests performed without the VPN active to the average of tests performed with the VPN active, and calculate a percentage change. Networks are very finicky things, so your mileage may vary.
TorGuard on iPhone increased latency by 73.5 percent in the current round of testing. Only IPVanish VPN (for iPhone) had a bigger impact, 79.5 percent. If it consistently exhibits that much impact on latency, that might suggest it’s a poor choice for gaming, where milliseconds make a difference. At the other end of the scale, with CyberGhost VPN (for iPhone) latency actually went down by 3.7 percent.
TorGuard’s effect on download speed was in the middle of the pack, 18.9 percent. CyberGhost only slowed downloads by 9.5 percent, and AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone) actually speeded up the download process by 76.1 percent. My contact at the company said that was expected, and described technologies that bear on the speedup. And my contact at Ookla confirmed that this acceleration is possible.
Hotspot Shield also sped uploads, by 4.3 percent. All the rest impacted upload speed, but even the worst only slowed things by 8.5 percent. TorGuard shares that low score with Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone).
In our latest Windows-based tests, TorGuard proved to be the fastest VPN. That wasn’t the case on the iPhone, but browsing the web with TorGuard active didn’t seem noticeably slower than without it.
As with the Windows version, we had no trouble streaming Netflix videos without hitting the algorithms Netflix uses to block VPN use. Not all VPNs work with Netflix, because the company does its best to block their use.
Like Private Internet Access, TorGuard doesn’t place a premium on user experience or elegant design. The TorGuard app is spare to the point of being Spartan, and the act of simply turning a VPN connection on takes more steps than it should. But, also like Private Internet Access, it has a robust infrastructure, with more than 3,000 servers across the globe. The service did rack up decent speed test scores, and it’s a functional app. But, if you’re looking for a more friendly, easy-to-use experience, look to our Editors’ Choice selections for iPhone VPN apps, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited and NordVPN.