As a VPN service, Encrypt.me makes a strong argument for itself based on value. A below-average monthly fee plus the unlimited simultaneous connections means you can fit any number of people and devices onto an account for less than most other VPN services. The service’s excellent speed test results add to its appeal. What holds it back from a higher score is a poor client experience on Windows, few server locations, and a complicated relationship with P2P services.
(Editors’ Note: Encrypt.me is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
What Is a VPN?
When you switch on a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between you and a remote server controlled by the VPN company. All your web traffic travels through that tunnel, hiding it from anyone on your network and your ISP—which is good, because they can sell your data to advertisers now. From the web, your traffic is mixed in with all the other users on a particular VPN server, making it harder to see who is doing what. You also appear to have the IP address of the VPN server, further protecting your privacy.
VPNs are great tools, but they won’t protect against every threat. Using two-factor authentication, antivirus software, and a password manager will go a long way to securing you online. If you need even more anonymity, you’ll be better served by using Tor, or a VPN that can access the Tor network.
Pricing and Features
A monthly subscription with Encrypt.me costs $9.99. According to my research, the average price of the ten best VPNs I’ve reviewed is about $10.80 per month, making Encrypt.me an affordable option. For comparison, NordVPN costs $11.95, ProtonVPN costs $10, and TunnelBear costs $9.99.
As with most VPN services, Encrypt.me offers longer-term subscriptions at a discount. A year of service costs $99.99 with Encrypt.me. NordVPN, on the other hand, costs $83.88 per year, ProtonVPN costs $96, and TunnelBear undercuts them all at only $59.88 per year. That all being said, I recommend that people avoid long term subscriptions at first. It’s better to try out a VPN to see if it fits your life before forking over cash for a long-term subscription.
With either the monthly or annual subscription, Encrypt.me lets you use an unlimited number of devices simultaneously. Most companies allow up to five simultaneous connections on one account, but many are starting to offer more. NordVPN lets you use six devices simultaneously, and Private Internet Access allows 10. Along with Encrypt.me, Avira Phantom VPN, SurfShark, and Windscribe all place no limit on the number of connections.
This is where it gets confusing: Encrypt.me also offers a variety of other subscription plans and passes. In general, I actually really like VPN services that have flexibility in their pricing, but Encrypt.me spreads out its offerings across several pages and links. I’d much rather have all the options lined up so I can compare them and make the choice that works for me, especially when there are as many choices as Encrypt.me offers.
An example of Encrypt.me’s arcane pricing structure is that it offers both “plans” and “passes.” The difference is that plans are ongoing and renew automatically. Passes, on the other hand, are one-offs. Both allow unlimited data. You can opt for a $3.99 weekly pass, a $9.99 monthly pass, and a $99.99 year-long pass. I really like services that offer flexible pricing like this. The week-long pass, for instance, is a great choice if you’re traveling or are looking for an ephemeral “burner” experience for whatever reason.
There’s also a Teams option, which is geared towards corporate customers and charges more the bigger the team. Pricing starts at $15.98 per month for two accounts and goes up to $1,491.51 per month for 249 accounts. Encrypt.me says that larger accounts are available.
If you like the idea of members of your family having individual accounts, you can opt for the Families option. For $12.99 per month or $149.99 per year, you get five Encrypt.me accounts for your family, each with unlimited data and an unlimited number of devices. That’s all well and good, but if you can already use an unlimited number of devices on a single account, it’s much cheaper to simply hand out those credentials to every person in your family. I’m not sure this option makes sense.
If you want to go even cheaper, Encrypt.me has a $2.99 per month Mini Plan that limits you to 5GB of data. Notably, ProtonVPN offers a $5 per month plan with no data limit.
Encrypt.me deserves credit for its 14-day free trial, which you can use without providing your credit card information. If you’re considering this service, I highly recommend you start here and make sure it works for you.
There’s been a lot of bad press around free VPNs, but some companies offer excellent free services. TunnelBear, for example, offers 500MB of data per month, which can be upgraded to 1GB per month if you post about the company on social media. ProtonVPN, however, has the best free plan I’ve seen, which places no limit on the amount of data you can use but does restrict you to three servers and one device. Still, it’s hard to beat free.
While the Encrypt.me free trial does not require a credit card, major credit cards are the only payment option with Encrypt.me. Other services allow anonymous payment options, like cryptocurrency or gift cards.
The company also has a complicated relationship with BitTorrent and other P2P services. Encrypt.me tells me that all P2P activity is blocked in the free trial, and must be manually unlocked by contacting support after you’ve purchased a subscription. I’m glad that the company allows P2P and BitTorrent for its paid members, but that’s a tedious process that needs to be improved. TorGuard VPN, by contrast, is a service built around serving the needs of seeders and leechers.
A unique feature Encrypt.me offers is Private End-Points, which lets you roll your own VPN. You simply deploy Encrypt.me’s software on your own server, or a cloud-based option like Amazon AWS. There are other self-hosted VPN options, such as Jigsaw’s Outline or Algo. “Simply,” is, of course, a relative term. Self-hosting provides a lot of assurance and control, but also requires some foreknowledge and a DIY attitude. I’d advise against tackling this unless you are already comfortable with the technologies and services involved.
There are many ways to create a VPN connection. I prefer OpenVPN, which has a reputation for speed and reliability, as well as being open-source. That means its code has been picked over and audited for any potential vulnerabilities. WireGuard, another open-source protocol, is likely the future of VPNs, but it’s still experimental and hasn’t seen widespread adoption.
I’m pleased to see that Encrypt.me uses OpenVPN in its Android and macOS apps. The iOS and Windows apps from Encrypt.me use IKEv2, another strong option.
Servers and Server Locations
While more is always better, the correlation between the total number of servers provided by a VPN and the quality of service is not as strong as you might expect. When I reviewed ProtonVPN, I found that its lower-tier options with fewer available servers actually delivered better performance. As I show later in this review, Encrypt.me earned excellent speed test results despite having only 131 servers. That said, many more servers offer customers more options to find one that works for them. NordVPN, for instance, has over 5,200 servers available, while CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard all offer over 3,000 servers respectively.
The number of server locations and their distribution is also an important consideration. While VPN companies will focus their efforts in the regions that earn them the most customers, more locations means that customers have more choices for spoofing their location. Encrypt.me offers servers in a respectable 43 countries. Most of these are in Europe, with only a single server for the entire continent of Africa and two for all of South America. I appreciate that Encrypt.me provides any support for these regions, as they’re often overlooked, but I would like to see more.
Virtual servers are software-defined servers, meaning that one hardware server can play host to many virtual ones, which themselves can be configured to appear as if they are somewhere other than their hardware host. Many VPN companies use virtual servers to accommodate sudden surges in traffic, while others use them to provide coverage for potentially dangerous regions by placing the physical host in a more secure area. This could also be a potential privacy concern, since virtual servers obscure where your data is actually headed. Encrypt.me tells me that it doesn’t use any virtual locations, and that each server is exactly where it claims to be.
Your Privacy With Encrypt.me
When you use a VPN, you’re giving that company the ability to monitor and intercept all your online activities. That’s why it’s important to understand each company’s position on privacy before you sign up. Encrypt.me has clearly worked hard to make its privacy policies easy to understand, and it deserves credit for the effort. The company clearly states:
We will never share your personally identifiable information with any third party, for any reason, ever.
We will never sell your anonymous session data to any third party, for any reason, ever.
A representative for the company told me that Encrypt.me’s only source of revenue is VPN subscriptions. That’s great, since a VPN company shouldn’t profit from user data.
Cloak Holdings, LLC, and the parent company NetProtect own Encrypt.me. The company has been acquired by J2 Global, which owns PCMag’s publisher ZiffMedia.
Encrypt.me is based in the US, and is subject to US law. The company goes on to outline its policies for responding to legal requests.
[…] we would only respond to a legally binding request. This means that the request would have to come from a United States federal, state, or local authority. Second, our data collection and retention policies are quite specific; in practice, there is likely to be little or no valuable data that we could share with law enforcement.
It is, overall, a good policy, but I would like it to be stronger. Other VPNs use their location outside the US to shield customers from legal requests for information. Encrypt.me also does not have a transparency report, which would outline how many requests for information the company had received, and how it had responded.
Importantly, Encrypt.me does not log your activity while connected to its service. It does, however, log some information:
- The number of bytes sent and received,
- The length of time connected,
- The IP address connected from and the (virtual) IP they assign, and
- The source port of the outgoing connection with start and end times.
To its credit, Encrypt.me rightly identifies this as extremely sensitive information and says that it deletes this information after 16 days. Other VPN companies, such as AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, can manage accounts without logging origin IP addresses at all. I’d like to see Encrypt.me gathering even less information.
Several VPN companies have begun releasing the results of third-party audits, in order to establish their privacy bona fides. A representative for Encrypt.me tells me that it was audited in 2016, and will be undergoing a second audit in September 2019. The results of this next audit will be “available for any interested parties.” That’s a good step in the right direction. TunnelBear similarly committed to releasing annual security audits, and does so publicly. Encrypt.me has not participated in the Center for Democracy and Technology’s VPN questionnaire.
It can be difficult to draw definitive judgments about a VPN’s security and privacy practices, as those are hidden from reviewers and customers alike. As is the case with most security products, trust is key. If, for whatever reason, you do not feel you can trust a particular company, there are many other options to explore.
Hands On With Encrypt.me
When I went to install the Encrypt.me client on my test computer, a noble Lenovo ThinkPad T460S, I was surprised to find that the Windows app was labeled as a beta. As a rule, PCMag doesn’t review beta software, but a final version was released days later. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the beta client, and am disappointed that the final application showed no substantive improvements.
On Windows, the Encrypt.me app lives in your system tray. When you click the icon, a window appears that vanishes whenever you click away. Is it too small? Too hard to see? Too bad, it’s bolted to that spot on your screen and there’s nothing you can do about it. The app’s single window also looks rather antiquated on Windows 10. Something about it reminds me of HTML tables.
I do appreciate the simplicity of Encrypt.me’s design. With a single button to start your connection and defaulting to the fastest server available, it’s super simple to get started. I can even overlook an ugly client (Private Internet Access had a truly awful user experience for years) but there’s a lot of strange decisions in this app. For one thing, the giant connect button says Encrypt Me to start a connection and Stop Encrypting to disconnect. Sure, that gets the branding on there, but I can’t imagine that customers are going to think about the product in those terms. Another odd choice: while using the app, I saw references to “transporters,” which was very confusing. Am I on Star Trek? Popular action film franchise The Transporter?
It turns out that “transporter” is what Encrypt.me calls its servers. The company can call them whatever it likes, I suppose, but it would help if it were clear to the user. It didn’t help that the so-called “transporters” are tucked away in a drop-down menu. I like that Encrypt.me includes a full and detailed list of locations, but I much prefer VPN apps that make their
transporters servers searchable and sortable. Encrypt.me also doesn’t include information about its servers beyond location. There’s no way to tell if the Cleveland server is more crowded or higher latency than the Chicago server, so why bother telling me they’re different servers? I much prefer interfaces like NordVPN, which let you choose a broad location from a map, or drill down to specific servers with information about each. TunnelBear goes in a different direction, with a fully graphical interface built around a map, but that is also easier to use than Encrypt.me.
Clicking Settings opens a new window with precious few options. You can, for instance, manage a whitelist of trusted Wi-Fi networks. An odd feature is that the app trusts cellular and ethernet connections by default, which doesn’t seem like the best choice to me.
I was surprised to find that in the Account tab that I was currently enrolled under the A Plan. Is that short for “annual?” Is there a B Plan somewhere? Not that I saw. This is a tiny point, but it’s indicative of the confusing design choices in the Encrypt.me app. You could argue that such minimalism is in service of a “set and forget” model, but I would counter that unless I understand what to set I won’t feel comfortable enough to forget. Encrypt.me needs to sort this out.
When you use a VPN, you expect that it won’t leak information about you or your online activities. I confirmed that Encrypt.me did indeed change my IP address and successfully obscured my ISP information. Using the DNS leak test tool, I also confirmed that Encrypt.me redirected my DNS requests from my ISP.
Encrypt.me and Netflix
Using a VPN is a great way to improve your privacy online, but not all sites appreciate it. Some banks, for instance, will block VPN use on the grounds that it looks suspicious. Streaming services, such as Netflix, also tend to block VPN traffic because you can use a VPN to spoof your location and access content that’s not supposed to be available in your locale.
That’s the case with Encrypt.me. When I tested the service, I was unable to stream Netflix content while connected to a VPN server in the US. Keep in mind that this might change at any time, as VPN companies and Netflix are locked in cat-and-mouse combat.
The VPN space is increasingly crowded, which has driven some companies to pack in more features in order to stand out. TunnelBear, for example, offers a stand-alone ad blocker for your browser, as well as the Remembear password manager.
Currently, Encrypt.me does not offer any add-ons or additional features beyond VPN protection. A company representative tells me that, in the future, Encrypt.me will offer ad-blocking and content filtering to customers.
Speed and Performance
Using a VPN adds distance and complexity to your already complex internet connection, which usually results in higher latency and lower download and upload speeds. To get a sense of how much an impact each VPN makes, I run a series of tests using the Ookla speed test tool and find a percent change between when a VPN is active and when it is not. These tests probably won’t reflect your experience, but allow me to compare between all the VPNs I’ve reviewed.
(Editors’ Note: Ookla Speedtest is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
I am shocked by the results from Encrypt.me’s tests. It increased latency by only 21.9 percent, which is not the lowest but still quite good. Encrypt.me set a new best upload score, reducing upload speed results by only 49.3 percent. It reduced download speed results by 59.7 percent, a hair’s breadth from beating the current best score.
You can see how Encrypt.me compares in the chart below, which shows the ten best results from among the three dozen VPNs I’ve tested.
Previously, HideIPVPN held the title of fastest VPN. It had the best upload and download scores, but was way off in terms of latency. Encrypt.me sneaks in a best upload score, comes very close with is download score, and far outperforms HideIPVPN in terms of latency. Even though it only has the best score in one category, it outperforms the previous winner in two categories, making it the fastest VPN I’ve yet reviewed.
All that being said, I always caution against purchasing a VPN on speed alone. For one thing, your results will almost certainly be different from mine. For another, I consider design, pricing, value, and technical excellence to be far more important factors than mere speed.
Encrypt.me on Other Platforms
Encrypt.me currently offers first-party apps for Android, iOS,
I couldn’t find instructions for using Encrypt.me with Linux on the company’s website. I also couldn’t find any information on how to manually configure an operating system to use Encrypt.me. Both are, admittedly, fairly minor considerations, but likely important for some.
Speed Isn’t Everything
Encrypt.me checks a lot of boxes I am looking for in a VPN. It offers flexible, affordable pricing and supports all the major device platforms with a simple, usable client. The fact that it has remarkable speed test scores is gravy. That said, there is a general lack of clarity that permeates Encrypt.me, making its simple app hard to use and its flexible pricing difficult to understand. The fact that it logs IP addresses, while temporary, is also disappointing. With a little tidying, and tweaks to how it handles sensitive information, it could compete, but we continue to recommend our Editors’ Choice winners: NordVPN, Private Internet Access, ProtonVPN, and TunnelBear.