Using a virtual private network is a great way to keep the bad guys, the three-letter agencies, and even your ISP from snooping on your web traffic. Golden Frog VyprVPN is a particularly competitive VPN service, and it shines on macOS with excellent speed scores and a strong offering of advanced features, as well as a smart tutorial for new users. It’s an excellent VPN for Mac, but it’s edged out by Editors’ Choice winners for macOS VPN: NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TunnelBear VPN.
What Is a VPN?
When you connect to the internet, your web traffic may not be as secure as you’d like. Your ISP, the NSA, anyone on the network, and whoever controls the Wi-Fi router you’re connected to can potentially monitor your activities or even redirect you to phishing pages. Consider this the next time you log on to the Wi-Fi network at Starbucks: how do you know Starbucks operates this particular hotspot? This is why you need a VPN.
When you switch on a VPN, it’s a different story. Doing so creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server operated by the VPN company. Your web traffic travels through the tunnel, secure from peeping eyes.
From the VPN server, your traffic heads off to your desired destination. That means anyone watching would see your traffic as emanating not from your computer, whose geographic location can be divined via IP address, but from the VPN server. That’s an additional layer of anonymity.
This may sound like paranoia, but reporting has revealed that the NSA has access to most internet traffic. Also, Congress gave the green light to ISPs to start selling anonymized user data. A VPN defeats, or at least greatly frustrates, these adversaries.
Pricing and Plans
Golden Frog offers VyprVPN for free for 30 days, after which you’ll need to start paying. Other VPN services have free options that stay free; AnchorFree Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear are two excellent examples. Most free VPNs have some kind of data limit or other restriction, however, though they generally perform well within those limits. Notably, the Opera browser now ships with a robust VPN built in, for free.
If you decide to spend money on VyprVPN, you’ll have to chose between the vanilla version and the higher-end plan. VyprVPN costs $9.95 per month, but only allows three simultaneous connections. That’s probably enough for one person living alone, but certainly not for someone whose family involves more people or gadgets. Those people will want to spring for VyprVPN Premium, which costs $12.95 per month; allows up to five connections; and grants access to two additional features, the Chameleon VPN protocol and VyprVPN Cloud.
That’s on the high side for a VPN service. Private Internet Access, which offers an extremely robust network of servers, costs only $6.95. TunnelBear VPN is just slightly more at $9.99 per month. Both have offerings comparable to VyprVPN’s.
The additional features that Golden Frog reserves for the highest VyprVPN tier require some explanation. The Chameleon VPN protocol is an encryption protocol that the company says is harder to detect as VPN traffic and therefore harder to block. The company recommends that users in China, or anywhere else that attempts to block access to certain parts of the internet, should use this protocol. If that’s not your thing, the macOS client also supports L2TP and IPsec, as well as my preferred option: OpenVPN. In addition to being open-source code—and therefore scrutinized for errors by a community of volunteers—OpenVPN also tends to be faster and more resistant to disconnection. Note that the VyprVPN app for iPhone only supports the IKEv2 protocol.
The other premium feature is VyprVPN Cloud. This is a specialty feature that allows you to access your cloud services on Amazon Web Services (AWS), DigitalOcean, and VirtualBox via the security of a VPN. It’s certainly a niche feature, and it’s a bit of an odd one at that.
Note that Golden Frog also offers Cyphr, a free encrypted chat app for Android and iOS, as well as Outfox, a VPN service specifically for gaming. NordVPN doesn’t offer a chat service, but it does have specialized servers for using BitTorrent, connecting via VPN to the Tor anonymization service, and more besides.
Features and Privacy
I go into detail about VyprVPN’s features and performance in my review of VyprVPN for Windows. I’ll summarize the important points here.
Golden Frog makes much of the fact that it owns all of the servers used for VyprVPN. There’s something to be said for this, since it gives the company far more control over the hardware customers rely on to keep them safe. This amounts to over 700 servers, which is comparatively few, however. Presumably, competitors are able to field more by using a mixed of owned and rented servers. Most VPN services offer over 1,000 servers and in the case of Private Internet Access, over 3,000. A surplus of servers means that you’re less likely to find yourself using an overcrowded server where each user gets a small slice of the bandwidth pie. The more servers, the fewer people per server; the fewer people per server, the better the performance.
VyprVPN does, however, have a respectable roster of server locations. These include some 70 cities and regions in six continents. I am pleased to see that in addition to such typical VPN locations as the US and Europe, VyprVPN also has several servers in regions often ignored by the industry, such as Africa and the Middle East. The company also offer servers in areas that tend to have repressive control over internet access: China and Russia, specifically.
A large number and diverse distribution of server locations means two things. First, that if you’re looking to spoof your location, you’ll have lots of options. Second, if you are a world traveler, you’ll have an easier time finding a nearby server. The distance between yourself and the VPN server has an important impact on performance.
The VyprVPN app comes loaded with some excellent advanced features. You can configure the VPN to connect automatically if you’re using an untrusted Wi-Fi network. You can also block local (LAN) traffic to your machine while connected to the VPN, ensuring that other infected devices aren’t sneaking peeks at your activity.
One thing that VyprVPN won’t do is block ads when running. That’s not a huge loss on a desktop computer where there are many excellent in-browser alternatives such as Privacy Badger—my ad-blocker of choice. It’s more of a detriment on Android because Google does not allow ad-blockers in its app store.
Note that if you are keen to use BitTorrent over VPN, you can do so with VyprVPN. However, keep in mind that downloading copyrighted material can still be detected through other means.
Hands On With VyprVPN
Golden Frog does not offer a VyprVPN client through the Apple App Store. Instead, you’ll have to download it from the Golden Frog site and install it yourself. Unlike other VPN clients, VyprVPN has a brief tutorial that points out major features and lets you configure some of the client’s core abilities. I like this approach, since many customers may not be aware of all VyprVPN has to offer.
The client itself is a single window, the top half of which shows your network traffic in a color-coded graph—blue when it’s secured by VyprVPN and red when it is not. It seems very much at home on macOS, although it did not take advantage of the Touch Bar on the 15-inch 2016 MacBook Pro I was using for testing. Three toggles let you configure VyprVPN to connect automatically on untrusted Wi-Fi, block malicious sites, and activate the app’s kill switch. This last feature automatically shuts down internet communications should your VPN disconnect accidentally.
The large button at the bottom connects you to the fastest available server by default. Typically, this is a server that’s geographically near to you. Click the map pin icon on the connect button to open the full server list in a separate window. Here, you can filter the servers by region and view the ones you have marked as favorites. A search box at the top lets you quickly cull the list, and the app shows ping times to the left of each entry.
While VyprVPN looks quite good against the macOS backdrop, Editors’ Choice winner TunnelBear is even better looking. This application is brightly colored and filled with friendly bears. It’s got a touch of whimsy, but is also extremely easy to use, which helps make it an Editors’ Choice winner.
Opening the Preferences window reveals more precise controls. You can, for example, designate apps that must use the VPN connection. That’s handy, as it can let you avoid slower speeds or outright blocking for certain activities. There’s also an option to block all LAN traffic, which is a rarely seen feature. The Advanced section is truly advanced, letting you set Route Delay time in seconds, Log Verbosity, and Maximum Transmission Units, among other options that the average person probably shouldn’t mess with.
By default, VyprVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol and VyprDNS. Both of these can be changed from the settings menu as well.
Netflix is not a fan of VPNs, since you can use them to spoof your location and access content locked for other regions. However, I had no trouble streaming movies when connected via VyprVPN. Keep in mind that this could change at a moment’s notice. If you’re concerned about losing access to Netflix, I suggest sticking with short-term VPN subscriptions.
Speed and Performance
When you’re using a VPN, your data jumps through more hoops than usual. The result is usually increased latency, as well as reduced upload and download speeds. But we have found through years of testing that not all VPNs are created equal, and that some have greater negative (or, surprisingly, positive) impact on performance.
To really determine the performance of a given VPN service, I would have to test multiple times a day at different locations and times over the course of many days. That’s not a viable option. Instead, I opt to take a snapshot, and then I compare the difference between average speeds and latency results and find a percent change.
I first run this test while connected to a nearby VPN server and using a nearby test server. I run the same tests again, but while connected to a VPN server in Australia and a test server in Anchorage, Alaska. This second test is to evaluate how the VPN performs when connected to far-flung international servers. All of my speed test data is gathered using the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.)
In my domestic VPN testing, I found that VyprVPN had the largest increase in latency among Mac VPNs, at 22.1 percent. To be fair, most other VPNs are clustered around the same figure, although Private Internet Access had the least impact, at only 8 percent. VyprVPN redeemed itself in the download speeds test, where it slowed downloads by just 6.9 percent. dragged downloads down by 21.1 percent, but TunnelBear actually improved downloads speeds by 22.1 percent — the only VPN to improve downloads I’ve yet seen for macOS. Unfortunately, VyprVPN dropped the ball in upload speeds, where it had the biggest impact among Mac VPNs. It reduced upload speeds by 33.2 percent. In this same test, Private Internet Access reduced uploads by only 6.1 percent.
VyprVPN fared a bit better in the international tests. Here, it increased latency by 171.4 percent—the best score I’ve yet recorded for macOS testing. It nearly beat KeepSolid VPN Unlimited in the download test; VPN Unlimited reduced download speeds by 11 percent and VyprVPN by only 13.2 percent. It continued doing well into the upload test, where it slowed uploads by 17.8 percent, another new record for macOS testing.
In general, you will almost certainly not notice any significant slowdown when using VyprVPN. In fact, you might even notice things run a little quicker in some circumstances! With its collection of top scores in some important areas, it’s a strong contender for speed on macOS. But then again, racked up truly outstanding numbers on Windows, where it improved downloads by over 400 percent in some cases.
PureVPN didn’t perform as well in my macOS testing. As such I consider it to be the fastest VPN service for Windows. I haven’t reviewed enough VPNs on macOS to make a similar judgment.
One for the Short List
Golden Frog offers an impressive service with VyprVPN, and it’s especially good on macOS. The client is equal parts understandable and powerful, with a tutorial for new users and powerful settings for those already comfortable with IT matters. While it lacks ad-blocking and has comparably few servers, it nevertheless earned several top speed test scores in our tests.
It’s an excellent choice for macOS users, but we continue to recommend our Editors’ Choice winners for macOS for their individual merits. NordVPN has an excellent collection of features, Private Internet Access has an unbeatably robust server roster, and TunnelBear VPN is the easiest and friendliest VPN for macOS.