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Packages & Pricing
AceVPN offers two subscription plans: "Premium" and "Ultimate." Premium allows connections to servers in just three locations; the UK, the USA, and France. It can only be installed and used on a single device. This explains the lower subscription cost of just $3.89 per month (which is actually hugely expensive all things considered). The "free" Unblock TV service (smart DNS) comes with every subscription (but is hardly a saving grace).
The Ultimate plan permits P2P connections for torrenting, which the cheaper Premium plan does not. It also provides access to servers in 27 countries, which is better. However, closer inspection at 'Ultimate' left us feeling cold, because in reality it is what you get with a normal plan with any of its competitors. And, AceVPN only lets you use the service on two devices.
This is frustrating because the 'Ultimate' plan costs a whopping $11.67 per month – and that only if you commit for three years! A single month subscription to the Premium plan costs $5.95, while a single month to the Ultimate plan costs a somewhat unbelievable $15.
That is insanely expensive when compared to its competitors. Especially when you consider that this service is lacking live chat support – and has fewer server locations than just about every other premium VPN on the market.
At $165 for a single year, we consider this one of the most expensive VPNs on the market, in fact, for that kind of cost, we would expect the VPN to do our shopping for us, or to walk the dog. All joking aside, the VPN does provide a 7-day money-back guarantee, so you could test it yourself to see whether you enjoy the service.
However, overall we must say that this VPN is far too lacking on the Premium plan to make it worth investing in. And it is ludicrously expensive on the Ultimate plan, which makes purchasing this VPN impossible in our opinion.
Where payment is concerned, users can elect to pay either via PayPal or by sending money in the post. This gives users the option to sign up anonymously if they want to. However, it is impossible to pay using a credit or debit card, which is unusual. For those wondering, this VPN does not accept Bitcoin payments.
AceVPN encourage their customers to use their support forum for technical queries, in the interests of building up a detailed knowledge base "for the benefit of the community."
We were initially concerned at the lack of support options. However, we sent a test query to the email address provided, and were very impressed to receive a response in less than two minutes.
Even so, it's worth pointing out that although our experience was good, there is hardly a wealth of support options here. The use of a forum community for support is another reason to see AceVPN as a service for the enthusiast and not one for the novice.
We were unable to find a phone number for telephone support.
Security and Privacy
Although the AceVPN website is rather dense on text, we weren't actually able to get much information about how its OpenVPN encryption is implemented. This is frustrating because it is an incredibly important factor that the VPN could publish transparently.
We were eventually able to find out that AceVPN supports both 128 and 256-bit encryption. It also claims to use DHE for Perfect Forward Secrecy. This would appear to reveal that encryption is implemented securely. However, we would prefer to know how the authorization and handshake are handled (on both the data and control channels) to be absolutely sure.
When it comes to privacy, AceVPN states that it does not monitor service usage or "spy on their users." However, they do not make it clear whether they maintain connection logs and they do state that they "reserve the right to notify law enforcement agencies," if they suspect their service is being used illegally. This may make you avoid the service depending on your personal threat model (especially considering this is a US-based service that could be served a warrant and gag order).
All in all, we would have to say that if you are looking for watertight privacy it is probably a good idea to shop elsewhere. There are plenty of no logs VPNs on the market that provide absolute transparency over how they implement their encryption. And, those services can be purchased for less.
We decided to sign up to the Premium service on a monthly subscription in order to test out the service.
We found the signup process rather convoluted, with recalculations of the price based on the commitment period.
Once we had added our choice to our "basket," we were then prompted to register with the payment provider, before being redirected to PayPal to conclude the transaction. A Google checkout option was also available.
Immediately after finishing our PayPal transaction we received the usual selection of receipts and welcome emails and were told we may have to wait up to 30 minutes before the servers would accept our newly-provided login details.
While we had no major problems with the signup procedure, we had certainly enjoyed smoother experiences elsewhere.
Installation and Configuration
Once our account was set up, we accessed the "Install Guides" section of the Knowledge Base to ascertain how to get the service up and running on our test machine, a MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.
Here, things started to get tricky. For a start, we could see that a non-technical user wouldn't know which of the links to click on. As techies, we knew that Tunnelblick is a third-party client for OpenVPN. We had a quick look at the setup instructions for it, to see how they faired. To be frank, the instructions are far from user-friendly.
Even for us, clicking on the link to download Tunnelblick led to us being told that the software doesn't fully support Mountain Lion, and that we should use a beta version.We were not prepared to play around with beta software to get a "paid for" service working, so we clicked the "Back" button, and instead looked at the L2TP setup instructions.
This was a little simpler and, thankfully, used our Mac's built-in VPN capabilities. We began to use the screenshots to guide us through the process.
Sadly this documentation left something to be desired as well. In the fourth step, a seemingly simple instruction to "Input Server Address and your Acevpn vpn account username," left us wondering where to find the server addresses.
Ten minutes later, we were starting to get annoyed. We had searched the main site and knowledge base for "servers" and "server addresses," checked back on our welcome emails, and even looked at the iOS instructions for the addresses. The iOS instructions said we'd find them in the configuration file. The link to it diverted us to the members area. Then, the file we downloaded was an archive (.zip) file, which in turn contained a load of OpenVPN config files.
All we wanted was the information we needed to complete AceVPN's instructions, but instead we had a plethora of open browser tabs and an air of frustration around the office.
We finally found a server name within the Windows instructions.
We also found the instruction to use an IP address if the server name is "blocked in your country." As previously stated, we had been unable to find the server's IP address details, but we did find a forum post where someone stated that the support department had provided them with one. We fired off an email to request this.
The server name we found allowed us to proceed a little further through the instructions. Then we arrived at more confusing instructions.
Instructing us to "input Google or OpenDNS IP addresses" is all very well, but the provider neglected to tell us what these are or where to find them. As techies, we knew what to put in here, but these IP addresses are hardly likely to be known by the average consumer. By now, we were starting to wonder whether AceVPN were actually trying to make it difficult to get the service properly configured!
Anyway, with the settings finally input, we were able to connect. We did an IP address lookup and found we now had an IP based in the USA. We were able to browse to a US-specific streaming media site and access content.
Thanks to AceVPN's super-quick support department, we also now had an answer to our request for a server list. Unfortunately, the support team simply sent the same archive file we had been able to access from the member's area, with a vague suggestion to "open the files using TextEdit" to gain the server details for other countries. This seemed unnecessarily obstructive - why could they not simply supply us with the information?
The "Unblock TV" Service
AceVPN include "Unblock TV" with their VPN packages. This, essentially, is an alternative way of viewing streaming media content such as "catch-up" TV services, without having to connect to the VPN.
Instead, you change your computer's DNS settings so that requests to access these region-locked sites are rerouted to hide your location. AceVPN supply a list of services that this solution works with.
Testing Unblock TV was another process that raised our frustration levels. Clicking "Get Unblock TV now" took us back to the initial order page; following the instructions required us to go to the members area and take note of IP addresses to complete the setup; the whole process required us to reboot our Mac.
While the service worked, we were again frustrated by how unnecessarily complex the setup process was.
Connection Speeds and reliability
We decided to keep things simple with our speed testing.
As usual, we used the Speedtest.net website to gain a benchmark download speed for our test Internet connection:
We then connected to the AceVPN service via L2TP and ran the test again.
The results were extremely disappointing - being connected to AceVPN resulted in our download speed being reduced by more than half.
In fairness, we should point out that AceVPN's performance may be better whilst connected via OpenVPN, but the almost impenetrable instructions combined with the fact that the company use third-party connectivity software that was not yet "ready" for our Mac at the time of writing meant we didn't get to put this to the test.
AceVPN offer plenty of compatibility options. Mobile users can get this VPN for Android, iOS and Windows phones. It is important to note that the iPhone VPN app does not support OpenVPN, you will need to download a thrid party app, such as Tunnelblick, in order to use this encryption protocol. VPNArea also offer a VPN for Windows, Mac and Linux although the Linux VPN client doesn't have a GUI.
Based on our experience on the Mac VPN, we wouldn't count on any of these platforms being particularly easy to configure. However, enthusiasts and techies would probably manage it.
AceVPN's customer area offers a fairly standard range of functionality. It shows your VPN username and password (which differs from your account username and password), and the status of your subscription. In our case, as we had chosen the Premium subscription, we also had the option of upgrading to the Ultimate package.
The customer area also provides the ability to download the aforementioned "config files" and control settings related to the Unblock TV service.
- Wide compatibility list that may appeal to enthusiasts
- Very rapid answers to support queries
We weren’t so sure about
- Long-winded sign-up procedure
- Unclear usage logging policy
- Poor performance
- Some of the least user-friendly setup instructions we have seen
- Lack of clear access to server details
- Highly frustrating configuration experience
AceVPN clearly sets out to be widely compatible with a range of devices. However, we find the service too complicated to be a good option for VPN beginners. For techy users, the VPN isn't an option, either. While it does provide stealth connections, a choice of protocols, and the option to select ports, it is massively lacking in other areas and is hugely over priced.
Its website is filled with guides for setting up the VPN on various routers and platforms, and while there is no live chat support the VPN does seem to make every effort to help its users. The VPN also gives its service away for free to activists and journalists, as long as they explain who they are and why they need access to the service. This we can give it a thumbs up for.
However, servers in 26 countries is not as widespread as you get with other premium services. And we aren't particularly keen on its US-base. Finally, we really aren't impressed with the way it is claiming that a perfectly average VPN subscription is somehow 'Ultimate' and worth an inordinately high subscription cot. This is nothing short of chicanery. Please shop elsewhere.