Can we talk
for a minute? I know: Sounds about as exciting as talking about tax law, but it’s important.
For starters, based on an informal Twitter poll I ran over the weekend, nearly half of Cheapskate readers either don’t use one or don’t know what a VPN is.
Let me tackle the latter issue as succinctly as I can: A virtual private network is a combination of software and service that effectively makes your internet connection invisible. Why is that important? Because when you connect your phone or laptop to a public Wi-Fi network — like, say, the one at Starbucks or a hotel — hackers have a field day.
If you’re not using one, maybe it’s because of the cost? Yet another monthly or annual subscription? I feel you. So today I bring you three affordable VPN options, with lifetime-subscription prices ranging from $15 to $40 and a 3-year option priced at $99. You can think of them as good, better and best.
Why not a freebie VPN? Because I agree with David Gerwitz, who recently wrote that even the best free VPNs aren’t a risk worth taking. Yes, even I, the Cheapskate, paid for a VPN. I consider it one of the costs of enjoying the online life.
All three of these deals come from StackSocial. For a couple years, now, the company has delivered some of the best VPN prices I’ve seen anywhere. Take note, however: Your only refund option is store credit, and that’s assuming you haven’t redeemed your license. If you have: No refunds, period. This isn’t an unusual policy, I just want to make sure you’re aware of it.
Get a lifetime RA4W VPN subscription for $15
If you’re primarily looking for a VPN to protect your Windows laptop, US-based RA4W VPN is an option worth considering. It’s already one of the cheapest services at $29.99 for a lifetime subscription, but StackSocial currently has that same RA4W lifetime subscription for $14.99.
Get it at StackSocial
It offers servers in over 20 countries (six in the US alone) and includes 24/7 technical support (though it’s not live support; you reach the company via email, support ticket or social media).
Of particular importance, RA4W says it encrypts all communication and keeps no logs. You can use it on platforms other than Windows, but it requires some hoop-jumping. (Read the setup guide if you want to learn more.) An iOS client has been promised for a long while but is still listed as “coming soon.”
Get a lifetime VPN Unlimited subscription for $40
I’ve shared this deal many times before, and in fact it’s the one I bought for myself. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not perfect, but a lifetime VPN Unlimited subscription for $39.99 is hard to pass up — especially considering that it would normally run you $150.
Get it at StackSocial
Among the highlights: Support for five simultaneous connections per account, client software for pretty much every platform and browser extensions if you’d rather not install a desktop client.
So what’s the ding on VPN Unlimited? Speed. And while pretty much all VPNs have a speed hit — routing traffic through extra routers does take its toll — reviewers frequently note that VPN Unlimited is among the slower VPNs. In my experience, it does seem like web pages take a bit longer to appear, but actual throughput (as measured by Speedtest.net) is still plenty fast. Your mileage may vary.
Get a 3-year NordVPN subscription for $99
Finally, we come to NordVPN, which earned(which hasn’t reviewed the other two products here) and equal enthusiasm from PCMag.
The company doesn’t offer a lifetime plan, and in fact the best deal you can get from NordVPN proper is two years for $79. You can do a little better, however, with StackSocial’s 3-year NordVPN subscription for $99.
Get it at StackSocial
The service offers a whopping 4,800 servers worldwide and supports up to six simultaneous devices. It can also block ads and certain kinds of malware, plus it maintains a blacklist of phishing sites.
It’s hard for me to say which of these three VPNs you should get, or even if you should choose one of these three in particular. What I will say is this: If you connect to public Wi-Fi, ever, you should definitely use some kind of VPN.
Bonus deal: I’m a big fan of anything that makes your phone easier to grip. Perhaps the best-known product in that category: PopSocket, a small plastic disc that sticks to the back of your phone and “pops” out for easier (and safer) one-handed holding. With an optional clip, you can also use it as a phone mount — two big thumbs-up from me on that.
But $10-15 plus shipping? That’s a little rich. So check this out: For a limited time, A4C has a selection of PopSockets for $6.98 each with promo code CNET50 — and shipping is free!
Get it at A4C
There are about a dozen colorful styles available (though PopSockets proper offers about a zillion, including custom options). If you’re not sure whether you’ll like the grip, find a nearby teenager — chances are good he or she has a PopSocket and will let you try it out.
I wouldn’t pay $15 for one of these, but $7 out the door? Yeah, absolutely. (Alas, the stick-on car mount runs about $10, which is also kind of obnoxious for a 37-cent piece of plastic, but… I’m 100-percent in favor of car mounts, so suck it up and stick it on.)
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