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Windscribe has too many privacy features for only $4 per month, so where are the strings? After a week of testing, here’s what we found.
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What if you could turn your laptop into a Wi-Fi hotspot with your VPN? Pretty cool, right? Well, what if, with a little more tinkering, you could let any other device on your network connect to your VPN app-free? Like your 8-year-old’s Chromebook or the Smart TV in your bedroom? And what if, depending on your needs, you could get all of that for free?
Is that making you giddy with VPN joy? Then you should probably check out Toronto-based Windscribe VPN’s pricing plans right now. Even if you’ve never peeked under your network’s hood, Windscribe VPN is still worth a test drive. In fact, Windscribe’s sophisticated but easy-to-use privacy features may change the way you approach digital security forever.
So, yes, Windscribe has a lot to offer everyone, and, yes, I tested it all for this hands-on Windscribe VPN review. But before we get into the nitty-gritty (there’s plenty), here’s a quick breakdown of what’s great and not-so-great about the Windscribe VPN experience.
FYI: VPNs can be a little confusing. We get it — you’re not a computer scientist. That’s why we’ve written a guide to VPNs where you’ll learn all about the ins and outs of these vitally-important digital privacy services.
It says something about Windscribe that the most prominent link on their website leads to software, not a payment screen. The message is loud and clear: try this stuff out and worry about the rest later.
“The rest” wasn’t much actually. When it was time to sign up and pay for my pro account, Windscribe was pretty hands-off. They didn’t even make me give them an email, though they warned me that if I lost my password or username, I was going to be in trouble.
One other thing Windscribe didn’t do is tell me about their awesome free plan. (It’s nowhere on the website. I really had to dig to find it.) But, technically speaking, if I wanted, I could have downloaded the Windscribe app, logged in with just my username, and gotten started with 2 GB of free data per month (10 GB if I handed over an email, and 15 GB if I tweeted about it).
Interestingly, besides that data limit, Windscribe’s free plan includes everything I’m getting with the Pro plan. Compare that to ProtonVPN’s limited (but cheap) basic plan or Hotspot Shield’s molasses-slow free plan. So tempting, yes, but to really see how Windscribe handled heavy loads, I needed unlimited data, so I signed up for a month of the Pro plan for $9.
Thankfully, paying for Windscribe VPN was completely straightforward, and I had plenty of payment options: credit card, Paypal, crypto, or Paymentwall, the SF-based payments platform. I paid by card, noting that my subscription was on automatic renewal.
My feelings on Windscribe’s registration setup as a whole? Signing up for my Windscribe Pro plan was smooth enough, though it would have been even smoother if Windscribe had shouted a little louder about their attractive free plan. Did they make it all good again when my email address confirmation came with a Chuck Norris GIF? 100 percent.
Windscribe picked out my browser and desktop OS for me: Firefox and Mac. Downloading the desktop client was quick. Installation and launch took another 40 seconds.
As soon as I logged in, Windscribe reminded me to install the Firefox browser extension. I’m glad they did. Without the extension, I couldn’t use Windscribe’s sophisticated ad- and malware-blocker, R.O.B.E.R.T. (More on that in a sec.) Setting up Windscribe on my Android phone was even quicker than the desktop installation. Now I was ready to connect.
Pro Tip: Browser extensions let you control your VPN straight from your browser. If you live in your browser, like a lot of us do these days, this could be a convenient alternative to running the desktop client.
As far as I know, no VPN app has ever taken home a Webby Award for design excellence. Windscribe’s blocky Transformers aesthetic is a case in point. Behind the ‘80s robot vibe, though, Windscribe’s app is really smooth with a handy slide-out hamburger menu for the desktop app (you can access all your features there), not an awkward preferences tab. Whatever points Windscribe lost for looking like Megatron’s smartwatch, they earn back for this bit of functionality.
Speaking of functionality …
I just want to make this very clear up front. Using Windscribe on my desktop and phone was a piece of cake. I just clicked on “locations,” found one I liked, and then chose a city: Denver Hops. I could have chosen Seattle Cobain, Dallas BBQ, or LA Dogg — and for that I’m giving Windscribe another two points because very few VPNs have a sense of humor about their servers. (One exception is Canadian TunnelBear. When I reviewed TunnelBear, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of cuteness everywhere, considering how serious they are about security.)
After that, I just pressed the big green power button. In seconds, I was browsing safely and anonymously with Windscribe.
If all you’re looking for is a private internet connection, you can do the same. Though, as your expert VPN guide, I’d really recommend making the following two basic tweaks I made before I connected.
First off, I toggled on auto-connect so I wouldn’t have to manually connect if my VPN connection dropped. I also said yes to notifications and left location order by country, not latency. (If you’re a latency person, go for it.)
Pro Tip: Most VPN mobile apps and many desktop clients give you the option to auto-connect if your VPN fails. As a rule of thumb, this is one feature you should always toggle on. Why? If you forget to enable your kill switch, and auto-connect doesn’t kick in, you’ll be browsing the open web in your birthday suit.
Then I toggled on Windscribe’s firewall (the switch to the left of your IP address). Notice that I didn’t toggle on a “kill switch.” That’s because the engineers at Windscribe are purists. Kill switches are for amateurs, they say, because they pop into action only after the fact (and put you at risk for a split second or two). A firewall, on the other hand, simply doesn’t let you connect outside your tunnel. Either way, if privacy is the reason you invested in a VPN, you should use the firewall, especially when you’re out of the house.
More to the point, Windscribe’s firewall worked every time I tested it. Conveniently, I also got one push notification when Windscribe cut my connection and another when I was back on again.
That’s all you really need to get started with Windscribe on your desktop. As a side note, I’ve been running Windscribe quietly in the background for three days and counting without any interruptions or weirdness.
Did You Know: Engineers put flame-proof, concrete slabs in key locations in buildings to stop fires from spreading. They call them firewalls. When systems engineers had the idea to place their own barriers in between protected networks and the open web, they borrowed the name.
Windscribe VPN built their desktop app out of the mobile app so I didn’t find any big differences in day-to-day use. If anything, the mobile app was a little slicker.
For instance — and I know this is going to sound geeky — I liked the fact that I could display latency as bars or milliseconds. (I also liked that there was a light mode, but couldn’t get it to work.) With the exception of those two tweaks, and a neat GPS spoofing feature, Windscribe’s mobile app is pretty much identical to the desktop app.
GPS spoofing, by the way, just means fooling your browser into thinking you’re actually where your VPN is. And, yes, this feature works, but I can’t say Google Maps was very happy finding the best route from Cleveland to the Panama Canal (4,128 miles via I-71 S.)
Final verdict? Windscribe’s apps are smooth and steady with quick connections and a faultless firewall, if that’s all you’re looking for. But there’s also some heavy equipment under Windscribe’s hood worth a gander.
FYI: Ever miss the latest Android system update because you were living somewhere where they hadn’t rolled it out yet? With Windscribe’s GPS spoofing feature, you can actually fool your phone into downloading and installing it.
Getting to the bottom of all of Windscribe’s special features would take an advanced degree in VPN Science. I’m going to stick to the everyday features and leave the “rainy day” features, like Wi-Fi Hotspot (yes, you can actually do this), for a day when we’ve got a few hours to kill scouring Windscribe on Reddit. These options are the same across all Windscribe’s apps.
When I first opened up Windscribe’s connection tab, I was pretty amazed to find six different protocols and a handful of ports to choose from: OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2, Stealth, WStunnel, and WireGuard. Besides the usual suspects and the big guns (WireGuard), you’ll probably notice the Stealth protocol.
Windscribe’s Stealth protocol is a clever way of making your VPN traffic look like normal traffic to outsmart web and VPN restrictions. Windscribe says this could come in handy if you’re connecting from China, but it could also help you out if you’re trying to get around Netflix’s pretty robust geoblocking.
Did You Know: Protocols give your VPN tunnels their operating instructions and determine how they’re encrypted. OpenVPN was the industry standard for many years. It’s reliable and safe. But it’s also become kind of bloated at over 10,000 lines of code. WireGuard, the new kid on the block, uses less than 4,000.
Split tunneling lets you choose the apps (or IPs) you want to exclude from your VPN tunnel. Normally, you’d use this to avoid complications with temperamental apps that don’t run smoothly (or at all) with VPNs. Finding them is kind of trial and error.
I whitelist apps all the time when testing VPNs. I wanted to see what would happen if I whitelisted an IP address like, say, dnsleaktest.com. Would Windscribe catch it?
Windscribe worked like a charm. My ISP’s IP address appeared instantly (not a great feeling). When I took dnsleaktest.com off my whitelist, by the way, I had to empty my browser cache before my VPN’s IP appeared again.
You’ll also probably notice Windscribe offers network whitelisting. Nice to have, but in practice, you probably don’t need to worry about this. In fact, if I can offer you any advice here, it’s to always err on the side of your VPN. The less open connections you make, the safer you’ll be from cyber attacks. Seeing that malware skyrocketed by 358 percent in 20201 — and only 5 percent of the companies we use every day are prepared to deal with it — you’ll be sleeping easier at night that way.
Did You Know: In 2019, Cybercrime cost the world $2,900,000 every minute.2 The bill for large companies came out to $36,000 per day.
Windscribe’s ad- and malware-blocker is one of the most configurable I’ve ever seen. It also uses DNS, or content filtering, so it’s powerful, and it’s really simple to use.
Windscribe basically breaks online nuisances and dangers down into a handful of content categories, ranging from pornography and gambling to fake news and social networks — and it blocks them off at the root. Inside each category, you also have the option to fine-tune your list by choosing custom exceptions, both blacklisting (blocking) and whitelisting (approving). Nice, right? But does R.O.B.E.R.T. actually work?
I don’t spend any screen time engaged in nefarious activities, but I do hang out on Twitter from time to time. Toggling on the blanket social network block locked me out of Twitter instantly. So, yep, R.O.B.E.R.T. does work.
Pro Tip: When you use Domain Name System (DNS), or content filtering, you’re telling your devices not to connect to categories of websites that could be potentially dangerous because they’re known to harbor malware. Gambling websites is one category, social networks like Facebook is another. Together with a rock solid VPN and a password manager, DNS filtering goes a long way towards spotless digital hygiene.
The truth is, you probably don’t need to lock yourself out of your social feeds, even if there’s a cottage industry3 in productivity-based website blockers. But I think we can all agree you definitely don’t want to be bombarded by dangerous content. R.O.B.E.R.T. will keep those intrusions at bay.
Typically, every time you connect to your VPN, you have a different IP address. This is great for anonymity, but sometimes it makes websites suspicious, especially if you’re sharing an IP address with hundreds of other “friends” around the world.
If you’re already using a VPN, you may have noticed that when you’re connected, you get stopped by the CAPTCHA police more frequently. You may have actually gotten kicked off websites, like Netflix. Having a static IP to fall back on here could be very convenient.
However, there are some cases where you may actually need a static IP, like if you work from home and your company network won’t let you in if your IP address keeps changing. Which explains why a growing number of VPN services are offering static IP addresses these days. (Check out my NordVPN review for the complete lowdown on static IPs and why you might need one.)
Windscribe’s static IPs start at $2 per month. That’s not quite the free static IP service you get with Surfshark’s two-year plan, but it’s a chunk cheaper than NordVPN ($3.62 per month) or CyberGhost ($5 per month). Those last two, incidentally, are dedicated (unique) IPs, which Windscribe doesn’t do.
Did You Know: NordVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, CyberGhost in Romania. Both these countries have no data-sharing agreements with the U.S. or Europe, so even if someone asked for user info tying a dedicated IP to a specific user account, they’re not legally obliged to hand it over. Canada-based Windscribe, on the other hand, is. For that reason, Windscribe has decided on principle not to offer dedicated IP addresses.
You can do more with Windscribe’s browser extensions (available for Chrome, Opera, Edge, and Firefox) than you can do with most VPN apps. If you’re like me and practically live in your browser, that should be welcome news.
FYI: Websites use data collected by your browser to display optimally: your screen resolution, operating system, location, etc. Trackers can take that personal data and piece together a unique digital “fingerprint” to map your online activity. How unique? Let’s just say that a careful eye could pick your device out of a crowd of millions of other users.4
After my nitro-fast, 300 Mbps Hotspot Shield VPN speed tests, I was really curious about how much heavy lifting Windscribe could do. As it turns out, not much.
Those numbers aren’t everything, but they don’t lie. Speed varies according to server load, distance, and time of day, among other things, yes. (Here, it also looks like Windscribe connected me to Philly via Kansas. That’s a double hop.) These factors could have influenced Windscribe’s performance.
Just to be sure it wasn’t a fluke, I tried connecting to a server in Europe. On a U.S.-to-Milan connection, Windscribe was significantly (2x) speedier on the download, but my upload speed took a bad hit. So not a game changer.
You don’t have to compare those numbers to my Hotspot Shield numbers (306 Mbps on a U.S.-to-U.S. connection) to get the picture. Even VyprVPN, which is no powerhouse, pulled 148 Mbps (download) on a 168 Mbps U.S. line using WireGuard. The degradation there was about 12 percent, not 85 percent.
Bottom line? Windscribe is not a VPN for heavy lifting.
So here’s where Windscribe stands. Windscribe knows a few things about you, like the servers you connect to, when you connect, how much bandwidth you use, and how many devices you’re using (just to make sure you’re not supplying your whole block with a VPN). It collects that info, and then forgets it as soon as your session is over.
FYI: RAM servers like Windscribe’s bypass hard drives entirely, so user data isn’t stored until it’s written over. It’s wiped clean every time the server powers down.
Other than that, Windscribe doesn’t log IPs, timestamps or browsing history, which makes it a pretty sterling zero-logs policy. Zero logs, by the way, is what all top-tier VPN providers aspire to: zero collection of user data. Would it be nice to see Windscribe put those claims to a third-party audit? Definitely.
As far as leaks on any of Windscribe’s privately owned, diskless servers go, I couldn’t find any. I went through the usual battery of tests. My Winsdcribe VPN connection was airtight on dnsleaktest.com and ipleak.net, on multiple connections.
When Don Corleone made his offer in “The Godfather,” there was only one viable choice. Windscribe makes three pretty good offers.
Windscribe’s free plan gives you 2 GB of data per month and 11 countries. If you give Windscribe your email, which isn’t a bad idea, you get 10 GB. That’s not too shabby when you compare it to, say, TunnelBear’s free plan, which only gives you 500 MB of free data per month.
Windscribe also offers an à la carte plan that costs $1 per location (with 10 GB of data). Add another buck and you get unlimited data. So say you just want to connect within the U.S. For $2 per month, you’d be set. And that’s half the price of the pro plan ($4.08 per month paid yearly). Pretty fantastic.
Did You Know: A lot of people assume Surfshark is the cheapest top-tier VPN on the market at $2.25 per month every two years. It isn’t. VyprVPN’s three-year plans take the cake at $1.61 per month. But is it worth it? After a week testing VyprVPN, I’d say yes, every penny.
Speaking of Windscribe’s Pro plan, at $4.08 per month Windscribe’s yearly plan is way cheaper than practically all the other feature-heavy, all-in-one VPN services on the market. NordVPN costs $9.82 per month (after the honeymoon period), for example. ExpressVPN’s pricing is a little less, but at $8.32 per month, it’s still double what you’d pay for a month of Windscribe.
Even Hotspot Shield, another very powerful VPN that made our top 10 best VPN services this year, can’t compete at $7.99 per month. (Add a static IP for work at $2 per month and Windscribe is still cheaper.)
If you’re still on the fence, you can try Windscribe for free. Literally, you don’t have to commit to anything. Just download the app, create a username and password, and log in.
Did You Know: According to IBM,6 by 2022 chatbots should be able to answer 40-80 percent of our basic support questions.
If you want human support, first you have to get past Garry, Windscribe’s bumbling chatbot. Be forewarned: That human support will come in the form of a ticket delivered via email. (My own VIP Pro plan ticket was resolved within an hour, by the way, so that was very good.)
You can also try the /r/Windscribe subreddit, where I’ll go out on a limb and say you’ll probably find answers to a lot of your technical questions. This is great out-of-the-box thinking on Windscribe’s part and totally in keeping with their tech-first approach.
Right out of the gate, I was blown away by all the features I got with my Windscribe Pro plan. I also really liked Windscribe’s privacy stance: simple and direct with airtight software and secure, privately owned, physical servers (so no server sharing or virtual servers).
Plus, I could connect as many devices as I wanted with Windscribe, a huge relief for my busy household. Incidentally, this sets Windscribe apart from many other top-notch VPN services on the market that throttle usage by limiting devices.
I also felt that my privacy was in good hands with Windscribe’s DNS filtering feature, R.O.B.E.R.T., an unusually powerful tool that didn’t just protect me from all manner of malicious cyberthreats. I actually used R.O.B.E.R.T. as a DIY permissions panel to manage my 7-year-old’s browsing. Better me than Google, right?
FYI: Wondering what R.O.B.E.R.T. actually means? So was I. According to Windscribe, those initials stand for Remote Omnidirectional Badware Eliminating Robotic Tool.
Finally, at $4.08 per month on the yearly plan, Windscribe is half the price of other comparable all-in-one VPN plans I’ve found.
The only roadblocks I found with Windscribe? The apps are easy to use, but tricky to master. If you want to turn your desktop into a proxy gateway for your Xbox or Android TV, for instance, you’re probably going to have to spend some time on r/Windscribe figuring out how to do it.
Then there’s Windscribe’s speeds. Using Windscribe really slowed my line down. If I relied on a sturdy connection to move heavy files, I’d have to think twice about those 65 Mbps download / 17 Mbps upload numbers.
On the other hand, if you’re just browsing or streaming and want a reliable, very affordable VPN that’s maniacal about protecting your privacy from every manner of cyber threat under the sun, I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a blast with Windscribe VPN.
Windscribe is super easy to install and use. I was up and running in minutes. That said, it’s got plenty of advanced features that will stretch your VPN know-how thin.
At $4.08 per month yearly Windscribe is significantly cheaper than other all-in-one VPN plans we’ve looked at, though it’s not in the Surfshark ($2.25) range.
Yes, it can. Windscribe is hands-off about peer-to-peer (P2P) connections, but it doesn’t recommend servers based on them, so you’ll have to find the best connections yourself.
Windscribe unblocked Netflix faster than I could say, “Where is ‘Schitts Creek?’” (Not available on Netflix Down Under, apparently.)
In a word: Garry. If you want live chat, Garry, Windscribe’s kind but sort of dumb (sorry, Garry) chatbot is the best you’ll do. Human email support is fast, at least for Pro users. Online documentation is bare bones.
Brooks, Chuck. (2021, Mar 2). Alarming Cybersecurity Stats: What You Need To Know For 2021. Forbes.
Risk IQ. (2019). The Evil Internet Minute 2019.
Dempsey, Alexandria. (2018, Aug 8). 8 Website Blockers For Studying, Productivity, & Focus. Freedom.
Briz, Nick. (2018, July 26). This is Your Digital Fingerprint. Mozilla.
Litman-Navarro, Kevin. (2019, June 12). We Read 150 Privacy Policies. They Were an Incomprehensible Disaster. New York Times.
Reddy, Trips. (2017, Oct 17). How chatbots can help reduce customer service costs by 30%. IBM.