Review: Mullvad VPN 2021 – Insultingly Easy
When I set out to make The New Oil, one of my goals was to review various products and services in depth to help people make a decision about what tool is right for them. I haven’t done that in a very long while and I apologize. So to start fixing that, for the past month I have been using Mullvad VPN as my primary VPN provider to test it out. Here’s what I found.
Mullvad VPN is a popular name in the privacy community for a number of reasons. As I began to sign up for an account, several of those reasons immediately jumped out at me. They are based in Sweden, which is a 14-Eyes country, but that's certainly better than 5 or 9. Next, literally no information was required to sign up. Not even a username. They generate an account number for you, and that acts as your login. There’s no email, phone, or anything required. Next is payment. One thing that Mullvad did that I thought was super awesome was they give the option to make a one-time payment, so if you want to just check it out for one month like I did and not run the risk of forgetting to cancel, no worries. They also accept Bitcoin and Cash as payment options, as well as card, PayPal, bank wire, Swish, and vouchers. And of course, the price point is exceptionally reasonable for a VPN – $5/month. Period. No “Premium” plan or anything. $5 gets you everything.
Mullvad is incredibly easy to use. So much so it actually kind of stressed me out. There are no options in the account settings except the options to make a payment, and the apps are incredibly minimalist. They pretty much only offer options like “launch app on start-up” and “notifications.” Apps are available for all operating systems – including Debian and Fedora-based linux distros – and they even have instructions on how to set up the apps for Qubes and DD-WRT, which was fantastic for me as I use both daily.
Mullvad was also one of the first providers to support Wireguard – a new and highly celebrated VPN tunneling protocol that’s supposed to be faster, more efficient, and safer (because the code is smaller). But you can choose to go with OpenVPN if you prefer something more tested and true.
I didn’t run any kind of speed test, but I didn’t notice any sort of slower performance from Proton (my usual VPN choice) to Mullvad, both seem to function just fine in that sense both over internet and cell data. Torrenting seemed to work on any server.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Mullvad has a serious server problem. I went through every single Wireguard server in Dallas. Over half of them didn’t connect at all, of those that did a few claimed to be routing me through Utah (based on an IP check online). This is concerning, to say the least. When I brought this issue up to them, they admitted that they rent many of their servers (most VPN providers do so this wasn’t worrisome to me) and as such they often have a hard time keeping their lists up to date.
On that note, Mullvad’s lack of connectivity options was a bit disappointing. You can easily select individual servers or servers based on city or country, but you can’t – for example – say “just connect me to the fastest server.”
On iOS, I also found that Mullvad competes with Lockdown – my firewall app of choice – on VPN levels. With Proton – my usual VPN provider – I was able to run both Lockdown and ProtonVPN at the same time for maximum protection. With Mullvad, I had to pick between one or the other. On that note, I didn’t have a choice of connecting protocols either. I was forced to use Wireguard on mobile. If you’re not comfortable with Wireguard for any number of reasons, that’s not comforting.
I also dislike that split-tunneling was available on Android and Linux, but not Windows, Mac, or iOS (without some technical effort on the user end). Maybe this is a personal thing, but as a Qubes user I don’t worry about split tunneling. Perhaps the only thing easier in Qubes than any other OS is splitting up and configuring your routing any way you want. Rather, I wish I had that capability on Windows, which I use most often for things like Jitsi meetings or gaming.
For those value streaming, Mullvad seemed to be just like Proton in the sense of how services handle them. In my experience, Netflix is usually pretty VPN friendly – if a bit slow – while Hulu almost never works from behind a VPN. This experience held up with all the Mullvad servers I tried – once again meaning that if I wanted to watch something while working or gaming on Windows, I had to disable the app entirely as split tunneling is once again not available on Windows.
And while we’re looking for things to poke holes in, Mullvad’s subscription only accepts card and PayPal, meaning if you want to continue to use Bitcoin or Cash for privacy reasons, you can’t “set it and forget it.”
Honestly, Mullvad’s server consistency issues was a huge turn off to me. I live in Texas, and as such I like using Texas servers. In my experience, they tend to be faster because they’re closer, and I feel like it’s less suspicious if anyone – be it my bank or a troll – checks my IP. Maybe that’s just in my head, but still I like it. The fact that I can pick “Dallas” in the Mullvad app and still get an IP in Utah, that’s unsettling to me. To their defense, it worked no issue and I have no reason to believe that my traffic was ever unprotected at any time, but it still wasn’t a fun feeling.
Having said all that, my final verdict is that Mullvad is a solid choice for the average person. The service is shockingly easy to set up and use, you can be rolling in minutes, and the price is outstandingly low. The support was fantastic and helpful – if a bit slow at times. And the important VPN features that I would look for in a VPN client for any given person – kill switch, auto-start, etc – are all there. As with most privacy tools, this is purely a matter of what you need it to do and what you prefer. Personally I would say Mullvad is ideal for people who want something that “just works” or for people who want as much anonymity from their VPN provider as possible.
Click here to check out Mullvad for yourself.
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