An antivirus legend launches a solo VPN for as many devices as you want.
Ad blockers, antivirus protection, virtual private networks — the list goes on. There are a lot of products and services that claim you won’t survive a day on the open web without them.
We need protection online. Judging from the most recent trends in online fraud,1 we need a lot more than we’re getting. The problem for all of us security-minded folks isn’t taking precautions. We do that already. The problem is juggling 10 different subscriptions from as many companies.
The good news is that digital security providers have gotten that memo. Many now offer security bundles: one subscription with all the tools you need to stay safe online. Norton LifeLock plans are probably the most well known, offering the whole kit and caboodle — from ID theft and malware protection to a VPN and secure cloud storage. But there are others.
Avira is primarily in the antivirus business. Its all-in-one plans go for an affordable $80 per year, but it also sells a stand-alone VPN for about six bucks a month. Is the VPN worth considering by itself? I spent a week testing Avira Phantom VPN — features, customer support, security, and privacy — so I’ll shed some light on whether it’s worth your time.
When companies specialize in one thing and then branch out into another, the second product sometimes feels like an afterthought. Kind of like Michael Jordan’s baseball career. It sounded like it should work — we all wanted it to work — but at the end of the day, baseball and basketball go together about as well as putt-putt golf and parasailing.
There is, of course, overlap between malware blockers and virtual private networks. They’re both in the business of keeping bad stuff off our devices and protecting our data, and VPN providers get this. That’s why plenty of the best VPNs now offer malware protection. Check out a NordVPN subscription or a Surfshark plan to see how it works.
Avira Phantom VPN is simple to use, it’s not too expensive, and it’s more or less secure with decent speeds. It definitely has a steep hill to climb to win over a happy NordVPN user, but Avira’s solo VPN isn’t necessarily a hard pass.
Did You Know? Avira has been around for a long time. The German company stretches all the way back to 1986.
|Mobile only monthly||Free||$3.95|
|All devices monthly||Free||$5.95|
|All devices yearly||Free||$47.95|
I went with Avira’s all-devices month-to-month option. There was no trial period, but I was only out $5.95 if I didn’t like Phantom VPN. I mentally bookmarked Avira’s $47.95 yearly subscription because that rate would save me two bucks per month if I decided its Phantom VPN was the VPN for me.
The big question: If I was serious about Avira, why wouldn’t I just swipe up its Prime combo package for the same yearly price? It comes with malware protection, a password manager, and a VPN.
If I hadn’t been testing the stand-alone VPN, that option would have made a lot of sense.
FYI: Most antivirus software has a database of dangerous bugs and periodically scans your devices for a match. If it detects an unwanted intruder, it shunts it off to a special quarantine folder and locks it up.
Signing up for and purchasing a VPN usually takes 10 minutes tops, and that’s if you run into a hitch. Paying for and downloading my Avira Phantom VPN license, on the other hand, was fascinatingly difficult. I don’t know what exactly went wrong, but I experienced two firsts.
One, I got locked out of my Pro subscription mid-test. Two, when I tried to repurchase my plan, my payment ended up on a very slow-moving conveyor belt of a payment system with a 24-hour processing lag.
Egads! When we’re testing VPNs, we’re looking for weak spots a thousandth of a second in diameter. Waiting 24 hours in VPN time was like waiting a year for a light to change from red to green.
The upshot? I forged ahead with the free plan. On the plus side, Mary at Avira customer support helped me out. Sympathizing with my plight, she gave me a whole gig of data to burn through. Thanks, Mary!
Pro Tip: Plenty of VPN providers boast awesome Trustpilot scores, but can we really trust Trustpilot? Word on the street is that online user reviews aren’t as trustworthy or useful as we think.2 Taking the time to read reviews written by experts is usually a safer route to reliable products.
The Phantom VPN app lives in your menu bar and drops down when you click on it. When you pay for the unlimited Pro plan, you shouldn’t see the data limit under the connection button like you see above.
There’s nothing much to report about the Phantom VPN dashboard. Compared to other minimal apps I’ve tested, Avira’s felt pretty bare. Check out VyprVPN’s apps to see how much design you can pack into a lean controller — and VyprVPN costs about the same as Phantom VPN. If you’re looking for something with a freemium option, TunnelBear is another VPN with serious design chops. Here’s a complete guide to TunnelBear’s plans and features.
On the plus side, the Avira Phantom app was hidden most of the time. That was one less piece of clutter on my desktop.
Did You Know? Generally speaking, I recommend downloading desktop VPN apps from your provider’s website. If you go through the App Store, for example, you may end up downloading a mobile version that doesn’t fully work on desktops. More importantly, your subscription will go through Apple, not your provider, where you want it to go.
The gear at the top of the Avira Phantom app, next to where my paid subscription should have been, opened up my settings panel. Inside the display settings, I could toggle on dark or light mode. Under that, I switched on Avira’s malware blocker. I was expecting something sophisticated given Avira’s antivirus background, but this was a complete black box with zero customization. Maybe the company saves that for its Prime package.
Server selection was basic with Phantom VPN. I didn’t find any dedicated video or gaming servers like I found when I tested NordVPN or any rocket-fueled 10 Gbps servers for handling rush-hour streaming traffic like the servers you’ll find in my Surfshark review. There was no way to save favorite servers either, and no connection data.
I’m not saying you need a CIA-type dashboard like TorGuard’s, but just a little info, such as connection durations and latencies (lags in connection), would have been nice.
When it came down to it, I didn’t even have any idea if Avira operated its own physical servers. The “select virtual location” at the top of the app suggested that the answer was no.
FYI: Notice the absence of a kill switch on my Phantom VPN app? So did I. The Mac app doesn’t come with one. Neither did my Android app. Kill switches seal off all internet traffic if your VPN is struggling to connect or reconnect. That’s incredibly important because it’s in those infinitesimally brief lags that cybercriminals find footholds onto our devices.
Phantom VPN’s Android app was a little slicker than its desktop counterpart, but just as feature-free. One extra I liked was a mobile auto-connect option. Connecting to your VPN automatically when you’re out and about and hopping from network to network comes in handy. I wouldn’t leave the house without it.
The WireGuard switch was another nice touch, but it also highlighted an issue with Phantom VPN we haven’t talked about yet: protocols.
Protocols are the rules your VPN gives your tunnels. They affect security and speed. You usually don’t have to worry about them since your VPN chooses the best one for you, but WireGuard is a nice protocol to have in your VPN’s quiver. It’s very fast and secure, so seeing the WireGuard option here was a big plus, but it made me wonder what protocols Phantom VPN was serving me while I was getting hands on with its desktop app. Avira’s black box philosophy made it impossible to know.
Did You Know? Microsoft is usually credited with inventing the first VPN in 1996. An engineer named Gurdeep Singh Pall led the project. Nearly 30 years ahead of his time, Pall’s objective was to allow Microsoft employees to work from home securely.3
There isn’t a VPN provider out there that isn’t touting total privacy. It’s in the fine print that you discover just how far they’re stretching the truth, if at all.
In my WebRTC leak test, however, I caught something. Phantom VPN appeared to be exposing my public IPv6 address. Let’s not get snowed under by technicalities, but IPv6 addresses are going to replace IPv4 addresses one day. For now, our internet service providers use both, but many websites use only IPv4. What happens to the unused IPv6 address when you request to access a website that doesn’t support it? It can “leak” outside your VPN’s tunnel, compromising your privacy. In this case, however, the IPv6 address didn’t belong to my ISP (I ran a reverse check), so I doubt it was a true leak.
Pro Tip: WebRTC (Real Time Communication) technology is what’s under the hood of most of the video applications we use on the web. Unprotected, WebRTC tech provides enticing backdoors onto our devices for cybercriminals.
Slapping Phantom VPN on top of a pretty blazing wired base connection of 580 Mbps connection (download) definitely cramped my style. I lost about 60 percent of my speed! Granted, that was a transatlantic connection.
Connecting to a server closer by, Phantom VPN cleared the 300 Mbps mark.
Bottom line? For heavy lifting, especially uploading, I would have been twiddling my thumbs for a while with Phantom VPN. For day-to-day work, browsing, and streaming, on the other hand, I was OK. If push came to shove, though, I’d have preferred a VPN that didn’t make off with half the speed I was paying for.
FYI: The most recent figures show that nearly 82 percent of U.S. households use antivirus software. To put that in perspective, 85 percent of U.S. households have the internet.4
In 2023, we all need a little help staying safe online. That help doesn’t come cheap, and most of the time we’re investing a drip here and a drop there. Those fees add up eventually, which is why finding a package deal to protect our whole digital world is so enticing.
Together with Avira’s complete security package, Phantom VPN’s bare-bones app may work. It’s pretty secure, reasonably fast, and not too expensive at $47.95 per year for everything.
But if you’re fine without antivirus software — modern security-focused browsers and email clients are getting better at weeding out incoming threats — for the same money or less, you can walk away with an IPVanish plan ($3.99) or any of the other midrange VPNs I already mentioned.
Yes, Phantom VPN has a pretty solid logging policy, even if the company, which is based in Germany, is under the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes surveillance pact. Leak tests didn’t indicate anything particularly suspicious either.
Phantom VPN costs $5.95 per month or $47.95 per year.
Phantom VPN doesn’t have a kill switch on Mac apps, but Windows apps have one.
Yes, but it has a limit of 500 MB.
Unusually, you can connect with as many devices as you like.
Federal Trade Commission. (2022, Dec 8). Who experiences scams? A story for all ages.
Beaton, Caroline. (2018, Jun 13). Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews. The New York Times.
VyprVPN. (2016, Jun 21). A Brief History of VPNs.
Security.org. (2021, Feb 3). Personal Antivirus Consumer Usage, Adoption & Shopping Study: 2021.
With a decade of experience as a journalist, Derek Prall has been covering cybersecurity for seven years. He has spent more than 1,000 hours researching digital privacy and has covered almost 100 topics related to VPN and identity theft protection. Previously, Derek has covered tech issues at American City & County magazine, where he won numerous national awards for his cybersecurity coverage. His areas of expertise included network security, big data analytics, and AI applications in public safety. Derek graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications from Furman University and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two cats.