“On. Off. On. Off. It’s that simple” states Avira Phantom VPN about the user-friendliness of its client. And they are true to their word: from start to finish, managing the VPN client is a piece of chocolate flavored cake . The free version can be downloaded from their website, and it doesn’t even require registration (although doing so rewards you with a doubled data cap). Phantom VPN is part of the Avira package, meaning it runs from the Avira launcher, where you find the other products of the company. Still, operating Phantom VPN doesn’t need any other Avira software.
The client interface is clean and simple. The main screen displays all the relevant information, such as the amount of data you used compared to the maximum monthly limit (in case you have the free version). It also shows whether you are connected or not. At the bottom you can see the currently set virtual location, followed by the large button prompting the connection. The settings menu is also minimalistic. You can switch between the 19 countries plus toggle the feedback and auto startup functions. And that’s basically it. There is an option that automatically secures untrusted Wi-Fi networks, but it’s a premium feature. Even though this approach might be attractive for less tech-savvy users who just want to boot up a VPN before a streaming session, hardcore privacy-fans would find these possibilities lacking.
International presence and a widespread coverage of all the continents is the backbone of a good VPN service. Avira Phantom VPN is still in an early phase of its world conquest, though. At the moment, they only established their network in Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia. In the case of Europe, you find some classic locations like Germany and Spain, accompanied by other countries, like the Czech Republic, Sweden and Romania. They also added Japan, China, Singapore and Mexico to the list, which shows their dedication and willingness to step up their game. The total sum of server locations kicks to 19, which is good for a beginner, but it’s still behind the competition. The current setout is more likely for an audience who wish to mask their IP while streaming, but otherwise not interested in connecting to exotic locations.
Our network speed tests resulted in a disappointing realization: while Avira has a sufficient enough variety, they don’t deliver true IP masking. On more than one occasion we found ourselves in a situation when we connected to a country (i.e. China), and while the system confirmed the successful connection, the speed test revealed that our actual virtual location was in the U.S. The same thing happened when we tried connecting to the UK, but ended up in Australia instead. As for the speed, European servers showed some real promise, but as distance grew, so did the ping.
Avira Phantom VPN is a bit cryptic when it comes to its privacy option. They don’t specify which protocol types they use and you won’t find a mention in the settings menu either. This is a bit worrying, as the lack of an ability to switch between available protocol types leaves no room to manually manage your own defenses. Judging from Avira’s promise of speed and their willingness to cater to the streaming community, our guess is that they only tunnel through parts of your data, and not all of it. For this reason Phantom VPN is closer to a smart DNS than being an actual VPN service. This means that the emphasis is more on unlocking geo-blocked content, and less on safeguarding your connection. To make up for this, Avira utilizes an AES 256-bit encryption, which is a great safety measure for your partially protected privacy.
OS, Device Support
Avira Phantom VPN sports a rather lacking device support. They perfected their service to satisfy the needs of PC and Mac users, and the client is downloadable for Android and iOS systems as well. The full-scale client support of the four major platforms is nice, but we miss their presence on other devices, like Linux, Chromebook, routers or smart TVs. Nowadays people prefer streaming their favorite series in their living room, as watching movies in front of your computer is a thing of the past. Avira itself boasts their fast speed is perfect for streaming and downloading. We also wish to comment on their simultaneous device usage. The company promises the freedom of connecting as many devices as you like. However, they specify on their forum that purchasing the service provides a license for only one connectable device, and you need to own multiple licenses to protect your family’s desktop computer and numerous smartphones at the same time.
The mobile applications deserve some praise, as Avira managed to keep their trademark user-friendly management while successfully creating a touch-based interface. The simplistic menu system resembles the desktop client a lot, with some minor tweaks here and there to make the swiping convenient for users. Both versions can be downloaded from their respected app stores, and if you are a premium user, you can access the free tech support right from your mobile.
Avira Phantom VPN is quite generous in terms of pricing. First of all, you are provided a means to enjoy the service for free. The basic account is completely complementary, and has access to all the core features. This, however, comes at the expense of some restrictions. Basically you can only transfer 500MB data each month. If you become a member with Avira, your registration yields an extended data cap up to 1GB. Upgrading to Avira Phantom Pro costs you a one-time $48.81, and you subscription lasts for a whole year. This means that you pay roughly $4 per month for your privacy protection, which is more than affordable. For your money you not only get to enjoy unlimited data usage, but the system automatically activates itself when connecting to a high-risk network, making it an ideal addition to smartphones that are constantly exposed to public Wi-Fi. Bear in mind that there are no other subscription options, and you are unable to commit yourself for shorter periods of time. Still, the 30-day money back guarantee that is valid for all Avira software purchases makes up for it. Sadly, your purchase grants just one license, thus you can only protect one device at a time.
Avira showcases a promising premise when it comes to customer aid, as they employ professional tech experts that you can contact to deal with your problem. This feature is kept for premium members, though. In case you use their software for free, your best shot is to visit the support center or ask for help on the forum. Even though Avira prompts the idea of consulting them via phone or email, the contact link leads straight to the support page, where no actual contact address is shared. Alternatively you may consider visiting their Facebook page, because their team is actively responding to any sort of issue posted there.
Avira’s Phantom VPN seemed to be a decent attempt for a blossoming service, at first. They have a strong presence in the USA and Europe, with the recent additions of some East-Asian countries. The software works like a charm, and even people outside the techie-circle can operate it without difficulties. And don’t forget the fact that Phantom VPN comes with a permanently free version, which can be upgraded to Pro for a whole year, costing only $48.81. The reasonable price and user-friendly client aside, the service has some serious flaws. The network size is still small, and focuses mainly on Europe. There are no noteworthy features, and they neglect the device support. The speed is average, and it goes down outside of Europe. And there are signs pointing out that the service leans towards being a smart DNS rather than a VPN.
- Free & no registration
- Easy to use
- Made for streaming
- One connection per license
- No real international presence
- Lack of device support