If you’ve ever used an unsecured Wi-Fi network, you have unwittingly risked passing your personal information to crooks. Network security is a tricky thing, even on an iPhone, but using a virtual private network, or VPN, like IPVanish VPN goes a long way toward making your web surfing safer and more secure. IPVanish allows P2P and BitTorrent traffic on all its servers, though this feature is more important on desktops than on mobile devices. However, some of its advanced features aren’t available on iOS, it’s a bit more expensive than much of the competition, and its interface could be better. For an even better all-around experience, we recommend KeepSolid VPN Unlimited or NordVPN, both of which bundle strong, flexible security into user-friendly, affordable VPN services.
What Is a VPN?
Wi-Fi is everywhere, but secure Wi-Fi is uncommon. If you want a secure connection, use a VPN! All your web traffic goes to the VPN server through a secure, encrypted connection. This means that nobody can see your activities, not even a lurker on the same network, or the owner of that network. Furthermore, government snoops and advertisers won’t be to see your true IP address while you browse the web. Even your ISP will have a hard time gathering and selling your data when you use a VPN.
People concerned about security use VPNs every day. Journalists and activists in countries with restrictive internet policies have used VPNs to keep in contact with the rest of the world and access content banned by the government. You might be breaking local laws by doing so, however.
While most of us won’t have to worry about oppressive regimes, the average person can get more than just additional security from using a VPN. You can also use a VPN service’s numerous servers to spoof your location and watch region-locked streaming content. But be advised: some media companies are getting wise. In fact, being able to view Netflix with a VPN is becoming a rare experience. Be aware that using a VPN with some services may break terms of service that you’ve agreed to.
There’s a good chance that you may have never laid hands on a VPN before. If that’s the case, don’t worry! We’ve got a whole feature on how to set up and use a VPN.
Features and Pricing
IPVanish has a simple pricing scheme with just three options, depending on how often you’re billed. All have the same feature set. The service costs $11.99 per month, $35.97 billed every three months, or $143.88 billed annually. As is the case with most VPN services, IPVanish offers an ever-changing variety of special deals and discounts.
That price is above the current average for a VPN service; there are many more affordable options out there. Private Internet Access costs $6.95 per month, and Editors’ Choice KeepSolid VPN Unlimited goes for $9.99 per month. If price is a major concern, consider looking at a free VPN instead.
You can pay for IPVanish with any major credit card, or via PayPal. If you’re looking to use Bitcoin, prepaid gift cards, or some other anonymous method of payment, you’re out of luck with IPVanish. TorGuard VPN (for iPhone), on the other hand, allows many anonymous payment options. If you ever wanted to use a Subway gift card to buy a VPN subscription, for example, TorGuard is a good option.
IPVanish boasts over 1,000 VPN servers spread across 60 countries. It’s a robust list, with servers in Africa, Asia (including China), Central and South America, North America, Europe, India, and the Middle East. In terms of geographic diversity, only a few of the best services can boast a list of servers this large and complete, Editors’ Choice winner NordVPN (for iPhone) among them, with more than 3,400 servers. Private Internet Access and TorGuard also boast more than 3,000 servers the world over.
You won’t find any IPVanish servers in Russia, though. The company recently suspended operations in Russia, as local law conflicts with the company’s zero-log policy. Other VPN companies, including Private Internet Access have done the same. As part of that zero-log policy, IPVanish maintains its headquarters in the US, which does not have mandatory data retention laws.
In addition to the iPhone app reviewed here, IPVanish offers native apps for Android, ChromeOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. You can even install it on your home network’s router. Putting a VPN on your router might sound strange, but doing so secures all the traffic flowing through the router, including devices like the PlayStation 4, which can’t have VPN software installed locally. If you’re interested in having a VPN router, but you don’t want to set it up yourself, IPVanish has partnered with retailers to provide routers with the necessary software already installed. And of course, once you’re out and about with your mobile device, you get no protection from that router.
Users can enroll up to five devices with IPVanish. That’s on par with other VPN services, though NordVPN offers six devices, CyberGhost gives you seven, and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited (for iPhone) lets you add devices for an incremental cost.
Many VPNs that allow the use of BitTorrent restrict the activity to specific servers. NordVPN is one such service, and TorGuard is another. Most heavy downloaders hoover up content on their desktops, not their mobile devices. However, if you’re that rare person who downloads tons of torrents to the iPhone, you’re sure to appreciate the freedom and flexibility of IPVanish, which doesn’t restrict BitTorrent at all.
One thing you won’t get with IPVanish is ad blocking. For that, you’ll have to look elsewhere, perhaps to Private Internet Access VPN (for iPhone) or Hotspot Shield.
Your Privacy With IPVanish
Your VPN has as much insight into your internet activity as your ISP. That’s why it’s important to understand the information any VPN service may collect and how they use it. In general, the best VPN services collect as little as possible, and share even less.
Some VPN services have been known to inject ads into your web browsing to earn a bit more cash. A representative for IPVanish assures us that the company does not use this practice.
One section regarding IPVanish’s use of aggregate data, however, does note that the company uses third parties to perform research on “aggregate or non-personally identifiable information” for internal marketing purposes. That’s not unusual, and the policy goes on to note that “we do not share your personal information with any third parties for their own marketing, advertising or research purposes.” However, we would like to see greater clarity about what this aggregate information contains.
Last, the legal jurisdiction under which the VPN company operates can dictate some of the company’s policies regarding personal information. In the case of IPVanish, it maintains its headquarters in the US, which does not have mandatory data retention laws. Some users, however, may be concerned about using products from the US after the ongoing revelations about mass spying operations carried out by US intelligence. It’s worth noting, however, that much of those intelligence operations were carried out at the network level, so using a VPN would secure against some of this spying.
In general, we don’t feel qualified to make a judgment about the security implications of a VPN being based in a particular country. Instead, we encourage readers to educate themselves on the issues and go with a product with which they feel comfortable.
Hands On With IPVanish
IPVanish installed without a hitch on the Apple iPhone SE that we used for testing. A minimal tutorial helps get you started, and it proved useful. Without the tutorial, we wouldn’t have realized that you can swipe right on an item from the server list to the left to mark it as a favorite.
The blocky main window features a big Connect button at the bottom. Your actual IP address and location appear at the top, while the middle of the window simply informs you that “You are not connected.” It’s practically brutalist, compared to the whimsical interface of TunnelBear VPN (for iPhone) or Hide My Ass.
By default, tapping the button connects with the best available server in the best available city in your country. You can tap the country, city, or server button to make your own selections. Tapping those three items lists all countries, cities, or servers, respectively, but these lists are ridiculously long, and still not searchable.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to choose a server. Just tap Servers from the menu. Now you get a useful list of cities and their countries, with the number of servers in each city. Tap that number for a list of servers, along with the ping latency and load percent of each. Choosing one with a low load means a better chance for a fast connection.
A search box narrows the list with every character you type, showing only server names that match what you’ve typed so far. You can also filter the list by country, or have it show only servers with a ping latency below a threshold you specify. The Windows app also lets you search by available protocols; that’s not a feature under iOS.
When you’re connected through the VPN, it displays a moving graph of traffic to and from the server. At the time of our last review, it used an angular, awkward line graph. The latest edition uses a smoother, more pleasing graph style.
IPVanish offers settings not found in most of its competitors, but they’re awkwardly implemented. You can set it to always use VPN when logged in to specific Wi-Fi hotspots, but you must type in the SSIDs yourself. We’d be happier if it let you save a list of trusted hotspots, and kick in automatically for any hotspot not on the list, the way VPN Unlimited and a few others do. You can also set it to turn on for specific domains, typing in the domains yourself. The average user just doesn’t need that. It’s much easier to just enable On Demand VPN connection.
IPVanish uses the IKEv2 protocol by default, as do most iOS VPNs. We prefer OpenVPN, but Apple requires additional vetting for any app that wants to connect using OpenVPN. Most companies don’t bother. OpenVPN is the default for IPVanish’s Windows edition.
IPVanish VPN on Windows has a number of advanced features, among them automatic changing of your IP address, automatic launch at startup, and a Kill Switch that blocks all apps from web access unless the VPN is active. Apple’s tight control over what apps can do means that implementing a Kill Switch is difficult under iOS; you won’t find that feature on your iPhone.
In the past, we’ve been able to access Netflix even with IPVanish running, but only on Windows. In our latest Windows-based test, it seems that Netflix has caught up; streaming didn’t work. On the iPhone, attempting to stream video just triggered a network error message. With the VPN turned off, streaming worked just fine.
VPN Speed Tests
VPN services generally impact your web browsing. Usually, this means slower download speeds, slower upload speeds, and increased latency. This is especially true when connecting to servers in far-flung locales.
To get a feel for the impact a VPN makes on web browsing, we take a series of speed measurements using Ookla’s internet speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.) We then compare the average results without a VPN to results collected while the VPN is running and calculate the difference as a percentage. For these tests, we disable the unpredictable cellular connection by turning on airplane mode, then re-enable the Wi-Fi connection.
Routing your internet traffic through an additional server, even a nearby one, tends to increase latency. That’s the time it takes for your device to ping a server and get a response. In our testing, IPVanish increased latency by 79.5 percent. That’s the biggest increase in our latest round of testing, but it’s vastly lower than the worst scores in previous testing, with one product increasing latency by over 600 percent.
Latency is most critical when your online activity is time-sensitive, perhaps an online fighting game. If you’re worried about lag, CyberGhost or PureVPN may be better for you. CyberGhost increased latency by just 3.7 percent, and PureVPN (for iPhone) by 6.1 percent.
IPVanish also slowed downloads significantly, by 47.4 percent. TunnelBear turned in the next-lowest score of 34.4 percent. In the opposite direction, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite (for iPhone) managed to speed up downloads by 76.1 percent. My Ookla contact confirmed that they’re aware of the techniques Hotspot Shield uses to speed up downloads, and that this figure doesn’t represent some form of gaming the test.
All of the current products except for Hotspot Shield slowed upload, but none by very much. The worst slowdown, achieved by Private Internet Access and TorGuard, was just 8.5 percent. IPVanish slowed uploads by a piddling 3.3 percent, which is excellent. However, for most users fast downloads are a lot more important than fast uploads.
Keep in mind that networks can change depending on the time of day, the number of people connected, and a host of other variables. You may find that your experience just doesn’t match our testing. But our testing does suggest that IPVanish on an iPhone has more of an impact on download speed and latency than many of its competitors.
One for the Experts
IPVanish crams a lot of surprising, advanced tools into its service. Its pricing is on the high side, though, and those using it strictly on iOS devices may not be willing to pay for the unfettered, encrypted access to BitTorrent and P2P services. While its speed test scores aren’t stunning, they do show that using IPVanish won’t make your life miserable. IPVanish is a solid service, though its high cost and clunky interface mean it won’t unseat our Editors’ Choice iPhone VPN apps, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited and NordVPN.