To further counteract the relative small scale of its business, CactusVPN offers six security protocols, covering your usual ones like OpenVPN, PPTP or L2TP/IPSec or rarer options like SoftEther and IKEv2. Add in a smart DNS service, the Application Killer function, and the chance to establish a connection on a couple of uncommon devices and things begin to look even brighter. The intriguing extras don’t stop there, either, with several European servers designed to allow to torrenting, proving that even small packages can be mighty.
Finding and installing the CactusVPN client is a quick and easy process. Convenience is a core characteristic of the service, best seen in the connection page that is purposefully simple. This means that establishing a connection does not require you to be a tech expert, any information is presented in an obvious and clear manner. It’ll take no time at all to familiarize yourself with the client, nor to adapt its behavior to your personal tastes.
Among the advanced settings are options to connect to a server instantly on launch, automatic reconnection and, most importantly, DNS leak protection. Since all accounts use a shared static IP address, protecting your only source is vital.
Another strong feature is the Application Killer, which automatically shuts down a selected list of programs alongside the VPN client. Also, if your connection is dropped or disrupted, the client will automatically restart once your internet signal is established again. This is highly beneficial if you are planning to use torrents or similar software, as the Application Killer will make your online activities a lot safer.
This is enhanced by the fact that your CactusVPN account can be shared with up to five devices simultaneously, particularly handy for families or small business teams. Furthermore, all packages offer unlimited bandwidth – a standard addition, but important to state nonetheless. It’s hard not to be satisfied with the available feature set on the whole, especially since there are a few extra features to help serve the security of your server connection.
Unlike other services where the smart DNS is jammed into higher tier pricing plans in a bid to squeeze more out of the customers, here it is a standalone purchase. Even better, the package that provides the full experience does not cost significantly more than regular plans. The smart DNS service helps in accessing websites and streaming content that is restricted outside of the borders of your current location. This is especially useful when accessing the U.S. and the UK, where a pretty sizeable list of sites will be unlocked for you. Furthermore, the unblocked content goes beyond the available VPN locations, so you may also view additional sites only accessible in Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.
CactusVPN provides virtual shelter in 14 countries, covering key locations around the globe. The U.S. is naturally the best represented from the list, as is the UK; these two are the prime countries for streaming. Canada, France and Australia are less popular, but avid travelers and sport fanatics will surely welcome their addition. Asia is well-represented as well, with servers located in Singapore, Japan and South Korea. As for Europe, there are choices to connect to servers in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Poland, Switzerland and Romania, with most of them supporting P2P torrenting.
Yet one of the most notable features of CactusVPN is the availability of six different connection protocols. While it’s common to see protocols like OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP, CactusVPN manages to take the win by providing SSTP, IKEv2 and the open-sourced VPN protocol SoftEther.
The speeds of CactusVPN are also impressive, with very little lost even when connecting to distant countries. It’s clear that the company chooses quality over quantity by ensuring its small number of servers perform at optimum capacity.
Security is perhaps CactusVPN’s biggest concern and offers 256-bit AES encryption with a 2048-bit key under OpenVPN, meaning that wrongdoers will have a hard time bypassing the military-grade protection of a CactusVPN connection. SoftEther and the rest of the security protocols offer similarly tight protection but produce faster connection speeds. It’s worthwhile trying out each of them to find out which fits your needs, except maybe PPTP since it is becoming obsolete thanks to its weaker level of protection.
It’s also worth highlighting the importance of Moldova as a location for headquarters. The country is not a member of the EU (even though it aspires to be one), meaning that the data retention laws present there cannot affect the VPN connections that CactusVPN has to offer. It is easy to draw parallels to countries like Bulgaria, Switzerland or Panama in this case: Moldova is a similarly favorable place in this matter.
OS, Device Support
At first glance it might seem like CactusVPN has only an average range of support for devices, but on closer inspection you’ll find that there are some hidden gems. For operating systems, Windows 10 through to XP are supported, as is macOS, Chromebook and Ubuntu Linux. As a nice little bonus, you can also extend the VPN shield to your smart TVs as well, because the company offers dedicated software for Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.
For mobile devices, the selection is equally familiar. Android and iOS platforms are supported (even extending to the iPod), but there is also the rarer addition of Windows Phone too. iOS and Android users can download a native app that provides just as pleasant an experience as the desktop software. However, there are some rather unusual platforms available, too, such as BoxeeBox or DD-WRT and Asus routers also being compatible with CactusVPN’s services.
And since there are extensive tutorials provided for each of these – even being divided by the security protocol you intend to use – it doesn’t matter which platform or what level of technical capabilities you have to make use of CactusVPN. There are even some additional guides available for certain specific topics, too, such as sharing a Windows 7 VPN using Wi-Fi, sharing a PPTP connection with Mac OS X, or bypassing specific websites.
CactusVPN’s pricing model might be irregular, but it’s also very smart. Since the company offers relatively few locations to connect to, there are packages based on which country you intend to make use of. This means that there are individual plans offered for connecting either to the U.S. or the UK, as well as a VPN + SmartDNS plan that not only unlocks all the available locations but also adds smart DNS into the mix. The UK and U.S. plans start at $4.99 on a monthly basis, but this already attractive price can be further reduced by opting for a longer subscription. Signing up for three months will reduce the monthly equivalent to $4.33, while choosing to stick with a whole year pushes the price tag down to $3.24 per month.
The VPN + SmartDNS plan is the only option that offers full access to every CactusVPN location coupled with the ability to connect to P2P-enabled servers. This is naturally more expensive as a result and comes in at a monthly cost of $6.99 for each renewal, but also benefits from price reductions for subscribing for longer terms.
If purchasing the smart DNS service as a standalone product then you’ll unblock a wide range of websites for $4.99 per month. Regardless of the chosen purchase, CactusVPN has a 30-day refund policy, but this is only valid if you cannot connect to any of their services. A 24-hour free trial of the complete VPN + SmartDNS package is available to anyone curious about trying CactusVPN.
CactusVPN’s customer service is ready to tackle any sort of question head-on. Besides the option to submit a ticket, customers are able to contact the helpdesk via live chat, which has an average response time of below 8 minutes. CactusVPN also has a very extensive knowledgebase that offers the whole range of information, from basic knowledge of the product to advanced settings of the client. The company also has a widespread social media presence – though this is only for providing news – and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedln.
CactusVPN is a pleasant surprise. At first the lack of locations was concerning, and it’s true that the service would benefit from having more in this regard. However, the company has made up for this in other areas, such as the range of device support or the fact that there are helpful guides to explain the installation for each of them – particularly useful for the unusual platforms. The kill switch function is always welcome, too, while the wide variety of common and uncommon security protocols means users can customize their privacy level. Still, the uncompromised connection speeds are undoubtedly the winning card in CactusVPN’s hand.
The unique pricing strategy is also a great selling point: the fact that individual locations are available as separate packages is a great idea since you can pick the one that is right for you without suffering any disadvantage. And as the full service is still available for only a marginally higher price but adds in smart DNS to the package, it’s hard not to be impressed. Coupled with the 30-day money-back guarantee or the (admittedly limited) free trial and it is clear that CactusVPN is a service definitely worth trying.
- Great speeds
- Kill switch
- Wide range of protocols
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 24-hour free trial
- Few locations
- Shared static IP