Spotflux Premium is a paid VPN service that is simple to use and demystifies the process of encrypting online activity. For users feeling jittery in the post-Snowden world and wondering how they can ensure their activities aren’t being intercepted by government eavesdroppers and criminal malfeasants, Spotflux Premium is a one-click VPN program that gets them started quickly and securely.
Spotflux offers its VPN service in three flavors—an ad-supported free VPN service, a “mobile only” version for $5.99 a year which supports iOS devices and Android devices running Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and higher, and the Premium version for $29.95 a year. Spotflux is different from other companies who offer both free and paid versions of their VPN services because regardless of which version of Spotflux you are using, there is no difference in network performance. Considering that network performance is a VPN service’s core feature, it seems like a boneheaded move to cripple the functionality in a free edition. Good on Spotflux for not penalizing users on the basics.
The money for the annual subscription is for other features, such as multidevice and multiplatform support. You can use Premium on up to five devices, whether they are Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, or Android 4. Premium also provides malware protection, by preventing malicious files from being downloaded, as well as ad-blocking. If you have to worry about how much bandwidth you are using (say on a mobile device), the fact that ads are blocked is a Very Good Thing. Along with spoofing your IP address, Premium also blocks tracking cookies so sites and data collectors can’t track you as you move around the Web.
I tested Spotflux Premium by upgrading the free version I already had installed on a Windows 7 laptop and a Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.4 (KitKat).
There are many paid VPN services on the market and Spotflux Premium tracked very closely to Symantec’s Norton Hotspot Privacy, one of our Editors’ Choice products for paid VPN service. Spotflux Premium and Norton Hotspot Privacy both provide multi-device support, an easy to use interface, and decent network performance. Spotflux Premium is significantly cheaper and less intrusive. However, Norton Hotspot Privacy gives users some control over what server to connect to, and Spotflux Premium doesn’t. While this would appeal to the class of users who want a set-it-and-forget-it VPN service, I think most users would prefer a choice. However, I have no difficulty recommending this up-and-coming service and plan to keep an eye on it as the service grows.
A Refresher on How VPN Services Work
Your computer has an IP address assigned by your ISP, which can be used to figure out the geographic location of your ISP’s data center. For many of us, it’s pretty close to our actual geographic location. When you use a VPN service, the IP address of the data center you are connected to overwrites the IP address assigned by your ISP. This is a great way to access region-specific sites, such as accessing Facebook from China, loading Netflix from outside the U.S., and watching YouTube from Germany. Many people use VPN services to tunnel past government censors in countries where Internet access is restricted.
Even if you aren’t trying to hide your location, using a VPN service makes a lot of sense because it encrypts all online traffic and ensures data remains hidden from third parties when on an open wireless network. When I looked at the network traffic via Wireshark, I saw my online traffic was encrypted. Like other VPN services, Spotflux is not intended to replace my corporate VPN to log into my work-related applications, but it can still be useful for protecting my overall online activity. However, data is protected only in transit. If the destination site is not using HTTPS, that part of the connection remains unencrypted, and attackers can use complicated timing algorithms to intercept and identify data at that point.
Spotflux Premium is one of the easiest-to-use and least intrusive VPN programs I’ve reviewed. I downloaded the installer file from the Spotflux website and began the installation. When the process finished, it launched Spotflux, and automatically connected me to Spotflux servers. I clicked on the “upgrade” banner on the software screen and it walked me through the registration process. Once I was logged into the Web portal, the software immediately “paired” itself to my account and I was done. There was nothing to configure and nothing to click on or type.
On a second laptop, I logged into the portal, and then clicked on the download link to get the software installer. By “pairing” devices, I didn’t have to worry about keeping my login information current on each installation. From the portal, I could revoke devices I no longer was using.
Spotflux Premium offers access to only U.S.-based servers at this time. So if you are looking to spoof your geographic location to a region other than the United States, you are out of luck. If you want to have some control over which servers to connect to, you can’t do that, either. Spotflux Premium uses a latency-based approach to connect to servers, which basically means that the software pings available servers and then connects to the one that has the shortest ping time. For that reason, I kept alternating between servers in Manassas, VA and San Jose, Calif. for my tests.
What Spotflux Does
The program’s interface is very basic. The main window just has one button—”enable” when you are not connected, and “disable” when you are. A small field displays the status, such as connecting to the server, obtaining IP address, and being connected. When connected, the window automatically minimizes the to system tray. You can right-click on the system tray icon to open up the settings, enable/disable the service, and open up the main window. When connected, the icon is green. If disabled, it’s an empty box—
Next: Spotflux Premium Performance Results
Spotflux also scrubs the traffic as it passes through its servers, removing ads, tracking cookies, and malware. I navigated to a few places that I knew had malware and the software blocked bad sites and malicious downloads. This layer of protection is unique among VPN services, and it’s quite handy.
Spotflux offers a “privacy test” that checks to see whether online tracking by advertisers, employers, nation-states, ISPs and digital media companies are being blocked. It checks a long list of trackers, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, InsightExpress, Quantcast, DoubleClick, Advertising.com, and Site Meter, to name a few.
Simply changing the IP address isn’t sufficient to stop these popular tracking networks from tracking you. The networks use other factors to connect different IP addresses to keep track of your activity. This test checks to see if the VPN service you are using—regardless of which one you have—is protecting you from being tracked by these tracking networks. With Spotflux Premium enabled, I could see all these trackers were blocked.
Speed and Performance
I connected to each location using our two test networks, one of which uses DSL and the other of which uses WiMAX. I also attempted to connect to each location from the public library’s free wireless and the wireless network at a local Starbucks. I had no difficulties setting up a connection at any of the locations. Finally, I tried the tests in the late afternoon (4:30 p.m.), early evening (7:30 p.m.), late night (1:45 a.m.), and early morning (6:15 a.m.) and still had no difficulties.
I didn’t notice any discernible lag with Spotflux Premium while viewing videos online or surfing the Web. There are no bandwidth restrictions, so I could stream Netflix and download torrents.
To measure network speed, I usually run the speed tests available on SpeedTest.net to measure download and upload speeds when connecting to different cities. Since I couldn’t connect to servers other than Manassas, I just ran the test twice while connected to the VPN service, and twice while not connected. The figures below are over a wired connection, not wireless.
The performance is not shabby at all, and is comparable to other paid services such as Norton Hotspot Privacy and VPN Direct. You can see the comparisons to other services by clicking on the performance tests icon.
An Up-And-Coming Service
Spotflux Premium is an up-and-coming VPN service that makes me excited about this space. It takes the guesswork out of using a VPN, especially for newbie and less tech-savvy users. However, as a new service, it is still growing. A bit more geographic diversity and the option to have some user control would be nice. For now, Norton Hotspot Privacy remains our Editors’ Choice for paid VPN services, but Spotflux Premium is fast closing the gap.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc