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A powerful, budget-friendly VPN for the casual user
Consider just how much of our lives are spent online these days. We shop online. We bank online. We work online. We entertain ourselves online. We socialize online. The one thing many of us don’t do, though, is protect ourselves online.
The truth is, most folks think cybersecurity is beyond their grasp, or they take a gamble with the numbers game, hoping they don’t fall victim. But Cyberthreats are rampant these days. In 2020 alone, there were 1.38 million cases of identity theft. And those are just the ones that were reported to the Federal Trade Commission.1
So today we’re going to be looking at Atlas VPN, a virtual private network that might fit the bill and protect you online. Atlas VPN is a relatively new service — it’s only been around since January 2020 — but it’s already making waves in the industry as one of the best free VPNs available.
We’re going to get into all the details here in a bit, but before we do that, let’s take a quick look at their pros and cons.
This list looks pretty promising, but how much is this going to cost? The honest answer? Not much.
Atlas is one of the more affordable VPNs around, and they even offer a free version — although it’s somewhat limited in scope and capped at 2 gigs of data per day. Their premium service, which is what we’re testing here, has three subscription plans available. Here’s how it breaks down:
|Subscription term||1 Month||1 Year||3 Years|
|Cost per month||$10||$2||$1.39|
|Savings||N/A||75 percent||86 percent|
Now that we know how much everything costs, let’s talk about the process of securing our subscription.
Right off the bat, you can tell Atlas is going out of its way to be extremely user-friendly. Their site is well designed, jargon-free, and it heavily features their mascot, a happy anthropomorphic little blob.
There are no intimidating techy terms here; only plenty of resources and frequently asked questions. Honestly, it reminded us a lot of when we reviewed TunnelBear — another easily accessible and affordable option for newcomers to the VPN world.
Pro Tip: If you’re still unsure about what exactly a VPN is or how they work, we recommend reading our VPN buyers guide to get up to speed.
As we expected from our initial impression, the purchasing process couldn’t have been easier. Select your plan, enter your email address, enter your credit card number, download the software for your preferred operating system, and boom … you’re all set.
A quick note on that, though: Atlas is headquartered in Delaware, meaning they are in the United States jurisdiction regarding data-sharing with authorities and government agencies. While they have been audited by third-party pentester VerSprite for exploits that could put their “data privacy, authenticity, integrity, and overall business reputation” at risk, this organization was looking for exploits, not cooperation.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, there have been a handful of VPNs that claim to be “no log” that have — when push comes to shove — shared their user data with authorities.2 Does this mean Atlas would do the same? We’re certainly not saying that — and their security audit does put us more at ease — but we still prefer a more privacy-friendly jurisdiction like we saw in our ProtonVPN review, or a service that uses hardware that’s physically incapable of storing data like we experienced in our analysis of ExpressVPN.
FYI: ExpressVPN and a handful of others use RAM-only servers. RAM requires power to store memory, so once the servers are reset, any data they were storing is lost forever. This is currently the gold standard of security in the VPN industry.
This might seem like splitting hairs to you, though. If it does, fair enough. Not everyone is interested in James Bond-level security. Some folks just want to add a little oomph to their cybersecurity posture. Does Atlas stand up to scrutiny in that regard? Let’s find out.
Like we said above, Atlas is nothing if not user-friendly. Their dashboard is extremely easy to navigate, and it’s one of those set-it-and-forget-it services. While their network isn’t huge at only 700 servers, things moved fast enough that we hardly noticed Atlas happily running in the background while we worked and surfed.
Pro Tip: If you’re craving speed, you should check out our NordVPN review. With over 5,000 servers, Nord is easily one of the fastest VPNs we’ve ever tested.
One thing to note, however: Do you see anything missing here?
That’s right, on macOS, it appears there are no optimized servers for file sharing, only streaming. The streaming functionality works well. In fact, we were able to watch Netflix and Disney Plus while using Atlas, but we were a little miffed that we were promised something that didn’t ultimately show up.
In fact, there are a few things missing from the macOS version of Atlas. The ability to use WireGuard is nowhere to be found, even though it’s advertised on their site pretty heavily, and the split tunneling feature is also conspicuously absent.
Is this a dealbreaker? Not really. We’re used to seeing stripped-down versions of VPNs that are missing services on macOS, but it would be nice to know before purchasing what will and won’t be available. If you’re in the same boat, you might want to head over to our guide to the best VPNs for Mac. There you’ll find some services with fully fleshed out functionality not only reserved for Windows users.
What you will find, though, is Atlas VPN’s marquee security feature — SafeSwap. What exactly is SafeSwap? Glad you asked.
To understand SafeSwap, you need to understand how a traditional VPN works. When you connect using a regular VPN, your data is routed through your VPN provider’s network rather than your internet service provider. This means that you’re assigned a new IP address. This makes it far more difficult for the folks who are so inclined — for legitimate or nefarious reasons — to track your activity.
SafeSwap takes things a little further. You’ll actually be assigned multiple IP addresses that will change continuously as you browse the internet. This is similar to the multi-hop functionally we saw in our review of Surfshark, only continuously randomized for additional privacy.
Another bonus is that when we were using this feature, we didn’t really notice any interruption in connection continuity or speed, which is pretty uncommon. Usually these elevated security features are performance drains, and you don’t really want to keep them on unless you really need them. So kudos to Atlas VPN here.
This actually brings us to our next point. Speed is pretty important when you’re running a VPN. By their nature, most of the time they’re going to slow you down a bit. The size and sophistication of the provider’s network, however, will determine whether or not this degradation is noticeable. So how’d Atlas do in regard to speeds? Let’s get into it.
Anecdotally, during our test period we never noticed any significant slowdowns when using Atlas; that’s a good thing. But we wanted to make sure we had the numbers to back that experience up. Without the VPN, our point-in-time speed was about 135 Mbps down and 52.2 Mbps up. Not so bad for the middle of the workday in this area.
When we switched on Atlas, we didn’t see much of a decrease at all, and certainly not enough to notice while going about our day-to-day business.
Keep in mind though, this was a point in time test from one area of the country using one specific connection on one specific computer. Your mileage may vary.
So A+ on the speed test — good for you, Atlas. But what’s all that speed without security? As we mentioned above, Altas VPN has been penetration-tested and passed with only very minor issues, but we wanted to make sure for ourselves.
Again, no complaints here. We ran various tests throughout the review period, and no security issues were ever detected.
So another piece of good news there. And while we’re on the topic of security, let’s quickly touch on Atlas’ encryption standards.
Most VPNs on the market use 128-bit encryption because it’s fast and plenty secure. We’d say this is pretty much industry standard. Atlas, however, uses 256-bit encryption. What’s the difference? Essentially it’s the length of the digital key it takes to unlock your data. If 128-bit encryption is your standard bank vault, 256-bit is Fort Knox.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for solid encryption but Atlas isn’t really floating your boat, check out Ivacy VPN review. They also offer 256-bit encryption coupled with some other great features.
Let’s put it another way — to brute force attack at a piece of data that has been encoded with 128-bit encryption, it would take about a billion years using the most advanced supercomputers we have available.3 For 256-bit, though? We’d experience the heat death of the universe a few times over.
So yes, in a nutshell, Atlas is an extremely secure service with great speeds. However, we have one last thing to talk about before we give you the final verdict on this provider and that is its mobile client.
Given how well the desktop client performed, we had high hopes for the Atlas VPN mobile app. We have to say, it didn’t disappoint. The UI is based on the desktop version so everything is familiar, and it had the same user-friendly feel we were used to.
We also noticed that on the iPhone app, we were able to toggle between WireGuard and IKEv2 as our protocol of choice, which we really like to see. Now if they would just bring that over to macOS, we’d be all set.
If we were pressed to find something to complain about, we might say that at times the app felt a tad bit non-responsive, but that’s if we’re really looking to poke holes in something. Overall, Atlas provides a great mobile client that’ll keep you protected when you’re on the go with little-to-no hassle.
So that’s about all there is to know about Atlas VPN. It’s easy to use, fast, and secure. That’s three major boxes checked right there. So what’s the takeaway here? Would we recommend Atlas as your VPN provider?
There’s a lot to like about Atlas VPN, and for most folks, we think they’d be more than satisfied with the services offered. As previously mentioned, they’re a user-friendly service that offers elevated security features and exceptional speeds at an affordable price. Those items alone cover a lot of ground for us.
Where Atlas falls a bit short, though, is on the customizability side. There’s not a whole lot of features to play around with to optimize your experience. They also miss the mark for us with all the features that aren’t available on macOS. If you’re not a Mac user, you’re not likely to care about the latter, and unless you want to do some serious tinkering under the hood, you won’t be too troubled with the former. Overall, Atlas VPN is a great beginner-to-intermediate VPN that won’t break the bank.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for nearly unlimited customizability, look no further than our breakdown of Private Internet Access. They’ve got levers to pull and knobs to fiddle with for days.
That said, you should always take a look at a couple of options before settling on one specific service. Even if Atlas checks all your boxes, you should still head over to our list of the best VPNs of 2023 to make sure you’re not missing anything.
While Atlas does offer a pretty substantial free version of it’s product, it’s subject to data caps and other limitations. We suggest upgrading to a premium account.
While Atlas doesn’t offer some of the more advanced features of higher-end VPN providers, they’re still an extremely solid service and will satisfy most customers’ needs.
No, Atlas is one of the more affordable VPNs on the market, and they even offer a free version for you to try them out.
Yes, Atlas has a significant section of their server network optimized for streaming.
Yes, Atlas offers mobile clients for both iOS and Android devices.
Schulte, T. (2021, July 15). IDENTITY THEFT AND CREDIT CARD FRAUD STATISTICS 2021 Define Financial.
Taylor, S. (2018, June 5). “No Logs” IPVanish Embroiled in Logging Scandal Restore Privacy.
Idera. (2021). AES 128-bit Encryption