VPN services protect your internet connections from prying eyes, such as those of your internet service provider, hotel staff or even the person sitting next to you at Starbucks. They also can help you watch video streams from faraway lands.
Windscribe was only an average performer among VPN services, but it does a good job of providing private internet connections. Its free service gives you 10GB of usage per month, but the paid Pro service has 300 connection servers worldwide, no data cap and many more setup options. The software includes a firewall for extra protection.
While you can sign up and pay for Windscribe nearly anonymously, and the Canadian company is theoretically beyond the reach of American jurisdiction, you can't customize the service's most important protocol and encryption settings.
Windscribe has hardware in 50 countries. With a connection point in Russia (but not China) and a wide variety of both popular and offbeat server locations, it is a good service for travelers.
Costs and What's Covered
At $9 per month, Windscribe Pro sounds expensive, but if you sign up for its $49 annual plan, the monthly cost drops to $4.08. That's just a little bit more than Private Internet Access' (PIA) $3.33 per month.
Through StackSocial, Windscribe offers an inexpensive lifetime subscription for $69 — one of the industry's best bargains. You can also get five years of Windscribe Pro at StackSocial for only $40, which doesn't make sense when subscribing through Windscribe's own site costs so much more. (Windscribe told us StackSocial helps it reach many more potential subscribers.)
You don't need to use your real name to sign up for Windscribe, or even provide an email address. You can make subscription payments with credit cards, PayPal or Paymentwall. Those who want a bit more anonymity can use bitcoin.
Windscribe's free VPN service is perfect for occasional travelers. It lets you connect to servers in 11 countries and use up to 10GB of encrypted data per month. While the free service includes Windscribe's firewall, it doesn't let you use third-party client applications or set up "native" support without any client software at all — you've got to stick with the Windscribe client software.
Both service tiers allow an unlimited number of simultaneous VPN sessions on a single account. Most other VPN services allow only five (or fewer) concurrent connections.
Windscribe's dedicated Windflix servers try to make U.S. and U.K. Netflix content accessible from anywhere, anytime.
This feature makes Windscribe perfect for customers with large families, or small businesses. But such customers might do even better by paying for Windscribe Pro and setting up VPN service on their routers, which protects all devices on the network with a single external connection.
Windscribe's paid Pro service has VPN infrastructure in 50 countries and 90 cities, slightly fewer than CyberGhost's 52 nations. On the downside, Windscribe's collection of 300 connection servers is a fraction of the more than 3,000 PIA offers. But Windscribe says that its servers really are spread across the globe, while some competing VPN services "simply fake the location with false IP WHOIS data."
Netflix has been cracking down on customers using VPNs to disguise their locations and watch Netflix content available only in other countries. But Windscribe's dedicated "Windflix" servers try to make U.S. and U.K. Netflix content accessible from anywhere, anytime. Still, there are no guarantees.
Client Software and Options
Windscribe's VPN client software supports PCs (Windows XP through Windows 10), Macs (OSX 10.8 or newer) and Linux systems (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and CentOS). If you're really hard-core, you can download Linux .deb or .rpm binaries, which will let you set up the software on other Linux distributions.
There are Windscribe mobile apps for iPhones and iPads (iOS 8 or newer) and Android devices (version 4.2.2 or newer), including Amazon Fire devices.
You can use Windscribe's VPN browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera, which include ad- and tracker-blocking. But each will encrypt only data handled by a single browser, leaving other online applications unprotected.
The Amazon Fire TV can use the Amazon fork of the Windscribe Android app, while the Nvidia Shield set-top box and Android-based Kodi devices can use the regular Google Play store app. Windscribe told us that smart TVs running Android should be able to use the app, too.
Linux-based Kodi devices can use either an open-source VPN manager posted on Github, or one of the regular Linux clients.
To set up a router with Windscribe, you need to be a Pro subscriber. The setup scripts work with DD-WRT and Tomato open-source firmware, as well as with regular Asus routers. Windscribe even sells a preconfigured DD-WRT Netgear Nighthawk R7800 X4S router for $350, about $150 more than the router would cost without the free firmware.
Pro users can provision Synology and QNAP network-attached-storage (NAS) drives with Windscribe VPN connections. Anyone with a Windscribe account can set up a Windscribe SOCKS5 proxy in a BitTorrent client to disguise his or her location.
Windscribe uses the very secure OpenVPN protocol by default for its Windows, Mac and Android client software. On iOS, it uses IKEv2/IPSec, a somewhat newer VPN protocol, and it plans to soon roll out IKEv2 support for its Mac and Windows clients.
Windscribe doesn't support the ancient, unsecure PPTP protocol at all — which is no great loss. However, it doesn't support L2TP/IPSec, either, which still sees wide use and is fairly easy to set up "natively" (without a client application) on most operating systems.
For native support, Windscribe Pro subscribers can get configuration scripts and login instructions to set up IKEv2 connections in Windows and macOS. Ubuntu Linux users can get native support with OpenVPN.
Mobile users can run third-party apps with a Windscribe Pro subscription. Android users can set up either IKEv2 or OpenVPN apps. iOS users can also employ an OpenVPN third-party app. Even Windows Phone users can manually set up their devices to use Windscribe.
Features and Interface
Windscribe has a small interface for the PC and Mac. While the Mac has a "W" icon in the Menu bar, the PC version has a system tray item.
The dark-blue window that pops up when you click either of these items takes up about one-twentieth of the screen. You can move it around, but you can't enlarge it. It has a prominent on/off button on the right for connecting and disconnecting.
This button opens up the program's main window, which is only slightly larger but includes a world map and connection details. The window is tight, and squeezes in your IP address.
Click on your current location, and the window doubles in length to show a roll-down menu of connection possibilities, organized by geography.
The three-line hamburger-shaped icon in the upper left of the small main interface window leads to the Preferences section, where you can customize Windscribe. You can set the service to launch when the system starts, or choose either automatic protocol selection or manual selection between UDP and TCP data-transfer protocols. But there's no way to customize the encryption techniques used.
The Proxy tab lets you set up an unencrypted server connection for streaming video or music, while the Share section is where you create a proxy server. The Debug tab lets you examine the program's log file, disable IPv6 and choose between a generic TAP driver (essential for VPN connections) and Windscribe's own driver.
For those who think this sounds a little too tech-heavy, the interface has explainers for most of the jargon, and they do a good job of describing what each item does.
Both the iOS and Android Windscribe mobile apps have on/off buttons and list connection points. Oddly, one server (Windflix, U.K.) showed up as inactive on the Android interface but worked just fine for iPads and iPhones.
The Preferences section is different on each mobile platform. The Android app is deeper, with the ability to pick between UDP and TCP, as well as to select a port. On iOS, you can do these tasks in the VPN section of Settings.
Android users can choose between always being connected or turning on VPN connections manually to save battery power.
Windscribe lets you create an account directly on its website. You need to make up a username, but you don't have to submit an email address.
Unlike PIA, Windscribe won't let you change the encryption methods it uses. But Windscribe's default configuration is very strong, using a SHA-512 cipher for authentication and a 4096-bit RSA protocol for the "handshake" that sets up the secure connection. All transferred data uses AES-256 encryption.
The PC and Mac Windscribe clients add a software firewall to eliminate data leaks. It augments the default Windows firewall and has three modes: Automatic (which kicks in when you connect to a VPN server), Manual (to toggle it on and off) and Always On.
Windscribe doesn't have a kill switch, which would disconnect all internet-enabled applications should the VPN connection be lost. The service's website explains that Windscribe's firewall works better than a kill switch.
With headquarters in the Toronto suburbs, Windscribe is theoretically out of the reach of American authorities. But if you remember the old adage about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka the Mounties, they always get their man (or woman).
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. That One Privacy Site generally approves of Windscribe, except for its Canadian location and the fact that it logs user bandwidth usage (as most commercial VPN providers do).
Speaking of user logs, Windscribe insists that user bandwidth usage is the only user activity it tracks and that it deletes those logs every month.
Some VPN services are owned by shell companies in offshore tax havens, and getting information about who really owns and runs them is difficult. That's great if you're a customer trying to evade the law, but it doesn't tell you who you're actually dealing with or who's seeing your data.
Windscribe isn't that evasive, but it isn't quite transparent, either. The Windscribe website lists Windscribe Ltd. as the company name, with a location as Richmond Hill, Ontario, but it doesn't provide a mailing address. Googling the name and city revealed a street address of 9251 Yonge St., Richmond Hill, Ontario, L4C 9T3 and a phone number of (647) 715-2124.
The company website doesn't mention any executives, but there's a Canadian tech-investment profile that lists Yegor Sak and Alex Paguis as the founders. Both men also have LinkedIn pages, so they're not living in hiding.
Sak authors many of the blog posts on the Windscribe website, and he personally responded to questions Tom's Guide sent to a generic Windscribe contact email address.
Over the course of a month, I tested seven VPN services — CyberGhost, Hotspot Shield, Mullvad, Private Internet Access, TunnelBear, VPN Unlimited and Windscribe — while traveling from the New York City area to the Netherlands, Germany and Azerbaijan.
I found Windscribe to be a mediocre performer whether I connected from offices, coffee shops or hotel rooms.
I found Windscribe to be a mediocre performer whether I connected from offices, coffee shops or hotel rooms. When I got to Azerbaijan, I was heartened to find a local Windscribe connection point, but its performance lagged behind those of other VPN services that connected to servers hundreds of miles away.
At 21.3 seconds, Windscribe's average connection time was near the bottom and more than six times that of PIA. You'll need to be patient while logging on. Only VPN Unlimited had a worse connection time.
On the other hand, Windscribe's average network latency was good, at 35 milliseconds. That's just behind PIA's 33.5 ms; others services, like VPN Unlimited and Mullvad, had latency readings three times higher.
(Network latency indicates how long a single packet of data takes to travel between endpoints; our particular test measures a round-trip from our device to a far-off endpoint and back again.)
Once I connected to a Windscribe VPN server, the average download speed of 25.9 megabits per second (Mbps) was 56 percent slower than pretest levels. This put the program smack in the middle of the pack of seven VPN services that I tested, but well behind PIA's 7-percent decline.
Uploads were slightly better, at 10.6 Mbps (off 20 percent), ranking third of seven. I was able to download a 780MB video file from Archive.org at 1.47 Mbps — 49 percent slower than without any VPN turned on and, again, right in the middle of the pack of seven. (CyberGhost won this test with a speed decline of only 35 percent.)
Windscribe couldn't maintain a 12-hour constant connection, requiring one reconnection along the way. Some other services, such as PIA and Mullvad, had no such problems. In every locale, Windscribe let music and video files stream to a phone and iPad faithfully, without skips or stutters.
Like PIA, Windscribe had intermittent driver problems, which prevented VPN connections on two occasions. Rather than reinstalling the software, you can just go to the Network Connections section of Windows and click to enable the Windscribe VPN. It takes about 10 seconds and worked when I needed to fix it.
Setup and Customer Support
Windscribe doesn't care to know who you are, and you can use and pay for the program nearly anonymously. Unlike PIA and Mullvad, Windscribe lets you set your own easy-to-remember username.
The first step in getting Windscribe up and running is to download and run the 16MB installer file. After selecting your preferred language and accepting the service's license, you'll need to set up an account and type in your username and password. Providing an email address is optional.
Finally, pick your plan and arrange for payment. All told, it took me a little more than 4 minutes to get my first secure connection with Windscribe.
Windscribe has a good variety of resources on its website, including setup guides, FAQs and an extensive Knowledge Base of advice for problems you may encounter. There's a link within each interface for help. The website lets you email questions, talk to a chat app named Garry, submit a support ticket and even pose questions in a Windscribe-dedicated Reddit forum.
Windscribe allows an unlimited number of secure connections at once, has a wide range of setup options for many platforms and offers an enticing free service that should be ideal for casual users and infrequent travelers.
The paid service is inexpensive if you buy a full year at once, and you can set it up and pay for it anonymously. Based in Toronto, Windscribe is technically beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities.
Windscribe has connection points in about 50 countries, but its array of only 300 servers is a small fraction of some other services' deployments, and its network performance was decent but unspectacular. The service includes a firewall, but there aren't many protocol or encryption settings to customize.
Overall, Windscribe's unlimited connections make it an enticing VPN, and the generous free service is ideal for people who don't need a VPN for day-to-day purposes. But among paid services, Private Internet Access is cheaper, faster and more reliable, and it has more servers throughout the world.
Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux; Chrome, Firefox and Opera extensions
Supported protocols: IKEv2, OpenVPN
Number of servers: 300
Number of countries: 50
Country of registration: Canada
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, bitcoin, Paymentwall
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. number of simultaneously connected devices: Unlimited
Customer support: Email
Credit: Tom's Guide