Atlas VPN is a capable VPN provider which offers a decent all-round service for some of the lowest prices around.
There’s support for the speedy WireGuard protocol, for instance. You get apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops, and the service allows unlimited simultaneous connections.
A SafeSwap feature changes your IP address regularly while you’re connected to the same server, maximizing your anonymity.
Bonus features include ad, tracker and malware blocking, while data breach monitoring alerts you if any of your personal details are found on the dark web.
Atlas VPN’s network is smaller than some, with 750 servers spread across 40 locations in 27 countries. It’ll be enough for most users, though, and P2P is supported everywhere.
The really interesting news here came in October 2021, when Nord Security (the company behind NordVPN) announced it had acquired Atlas VPN. That tells you, all on its own, that Atlas isn’t just another identikit VPN provider: there’s some substance here, something worth buying. And although Atlas VPN will continue as an independent provider, it’ll surely benefit in future from Nord Security’s resources and experience.
Atlas VPN pricing
Atlas VPN’s free no-registration-required plan gives you an easy way to try out the service, albeit with some restrictions.
The Mac app has an exceptionally generous 2GB a day data limit. The Windows free plan now has a 10GB a month data limit, replacing the previous 400MB a day. That’s a little less overall (12GB vs 10GB), but also far more flexible, as you’re now able to have lengthy browsing or streaming sessions if you prefer.
The free plan only supports three locations: Amsterdam, New York and Los Angeles. That’s not bad, and outperforms the free competition in some areas.
Avira’s Phantom VPN limits you to 500MB a month, for instance. Avast One’s VPN has a generous 5GB a week data allowance, but doesn’t support changing locations. ProtonVPN’s free offering still wins out for its unlimited data and 12 locations.
Opting for a paid plan drops the data and location limits. Prices start at an average $9.99 for monthly billing ($10.99 on renewal), and you can pay by card, PayPal and Google Pay. Upgrade to an annual account and the price drops to $3.29 a month, while the three-year plan is just $1.99 a month. (Okay, it switches to the annual plan and $3.29 a month on renewal, but that still looks like a good deal to us).
Too good to be true? We’ll check that later, but if you sign up and are unhappy, you’re protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Beware, though: plans automatically renew when you sign up, and there’s no way to change this or cancel your account from the control panel. You must email support and ask for help.
Atlas VPN has the privacy basics covered with its WireGuard support, AES-256 encryption, kill switch and private DNS system.
Unusual extras like rotating IP addresses along with ad and tracker-blocking bring extra privacy protection.
Atlas VPN’s own policies aren’t as impressive. Access its website for the first time and its cookie disclaimer only has an ‘Accept’ option, for instance. If you give the company your email address, you’re opted in to receive marketing emails unless you specifically say otherwise. And the Blacklight Privacy Inspector found the site used Google Analytics, Facebook and assorted other tracking technologies.
(Don’t take our or Blacklight’s word for it – even Atlas VPN’s anti-tracker technology decided it was best to block three trackers on its own website.)
Atlas VPN has been through what it calls an independent security audit, but this is just about as limited as we’ve seen.
The exercise only covered the iOS app, for instance. It was a black box review, which means the auditors tested the functionality of the app, but didn’t see the source code. And although Atlas VPN quoted some of the results in a blog post, it hasn’t published the full report, so there’s no way to judge it for ourselves.
Okay, this is better than nothing, but only just, and it can’t match the best of the competition. TunnelBear has annual audits of its apps, servers and backend infrastructure, for instance, and publishes the results for everyone to see.
Atlas VPN claims to have a ‘solid no-logs policy’, saying ‘we do not collect details on our users’ activities, DNS queries, or other data that could be linked to our users.’
It also mentions using ‘attribution analytics to track install source and traffic source’, and ‘advertising IDs to measure performance of our campaigns.’
Put it all together and there’s nothing to indicate Atlas VPN logs any of your online activities. It does have enough data to build user profiles, though, including details on user devices, when they connect and the amount of data they use. And as Atlas VPN hasn’t had its no logging claims audited, there’s no independent evidence to tell us if the company is living up to its promises.
Atlas VPN’s Windows app is simple, and covers the VPN basics. Getting started is as easy as choosing a city or country, and hitting the Connect button. A handful of settings includes a ‘Start on launch’ option, an On/Off toggle for the kill switch, and a choice of WireGuard or IKEv2 protocols.
There are some usability issues. The app doesn’t have a Favorites or Recently Used system, for instance, so you must scroll to whatever location you need. And that’s more awkward than it sounds, because although countries are grouped by continent, they’re not sorted in any order we could recognize. (‘France, Norway, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Finland’ is a part of the sequence – can you see any pattern?)
Our connection attempts failed sometimes with the free Atlas servers, perhaps a sign that they’re overloaded. But this wasn’t an issue once we upgraded, and connection times were excellent at around a couple of seconds for WireGuard.
There’s optional ad and tracker-blocking. This does deliver an extra layer of privacy protection, but it’s not very configurable, and we saw far better results by installing the free uBlock Origin.
New since our last review, a Data Breach Monitor raises an alert if your email address appears in a data breach. This works as advertised, and it’s good to see you can search for as many email addresses as you like (you’re sometimes limited to just one). But you can do much the same for free by entering your emails at haveibeenpwned.com. If you’re looking for real dark web monitoring, you’re still better off with a security suite such as Norton 360.
SafeSwap and MultiHop VPN
The SafeSwap system is more interesting. Choose from three locations (Singapore, Netherlands or United States) and the company says you’re able to ‘access the internet from several IP addresses at a time, further boosting your anonymity online.’
This is a slightly misleading description – your IP changes regularly, rather than using several IPs simultaneously – but we tried it, and the system works as promised. It’s not going to be essential for most people, and the fact that it’s three-locations-only is a problem, but if you’re looking for the maximum privacy, SafeSwap can help a little.
Atlas VPN also supports a very basic form of MultiHop VPN. This routes your traffic through more than one server before passing on to its destination, making it even more difficult for anyone to connect you to your internet actions.
The app gives you very little control over how this works. Other providers supporting this feature (NordVPN, Surfshark, Hide.me, Windscribe, ProtonVPN) allow you to choose both the entrance and exit servers: connect to the UK and get routed to Germany, for instance. But Atlas VPN only gives you a choice of two locations (Europe and North America), and decides everything else itself.
This is more limited than we’d like, but still, it could be handy if anonymity is top of your priority list.
Our kill switch tests began with us simulating a dropped VPN. The good news is the kill switch immediately blocked our internet, ensuring we couldn’t use the unprotected connection. But there were a couple of issues, too.
The kill switch doesn’t just kick in if the VPN connection fails, for instance. It blocks all internet access unless the VPN is active. If you don’t want to be connected to the VPN all the time, you must disable the kill switch when you’ve finished one session, and enable it when you start a new one: hardly convenient.
There’s no automatic reconnect if a connection fails, either – you must switch to the app and click Connect again. That only takes a moment, but again, it’s inconvenient, and most apps do this all on their own.
Still, this is a big improvement on the issues we noticed in our last review. Overall, the kill switch delivered on its core function, successfully blocking our internet to protect us from dropped VPN connections.
Atlas VPN’s Mac app looks and feels much the same as the Windows edition, with one or two small visual improvements (the Mac location list is sorted alphabetically, for instance).
Installing the app automatically gives you a generous 2GB of data a day, far better than the 10GB a month elsewhere.
There are almost as many features as we saw on Windows. The app comes with the SafeSwap system, WireGuard and IKEv2 support, kill switch and the Safebrowse Plus ad and malware-blocker. The only missing items we noticed were Atlas VPN’s MultiHop feature and its data breach monitor.
Unfortunately, the Mac app is also missing some of the more common features we see elsewhere. There’s no Favorites system, for instance, or no Recently Used list, and no ‘auto-connect on accessing Wi-Fi.’
Still, although this isn’t the best Mac offering we’ve seen, it’s a little above average, and 2GB of free data per day might persuade you to forgive its occasional hassles.
Desktop VPN apps normally beat their Android VPN cousins for features, but not here. Atlas VPN’s Android offering outperforms its Windows product in several areas.
The most significant of these is probably support for split tunneling, a handy feature which enables defining apps which won’t use the VPN, even when you’re connected.
There’s a smaller bonus in optional haptic feedback, where your device vibrates when the VPN connects and disconnects. And it’s good to see a location list sorted alphabetically, too.
Other features are much the same as Windows, with a kill switch, WireGuard, and support for SafeSwap, MultiHop VPN, the tracker blocker and data breach monitor.
Atlas VPN’s iOS app is surprisingly capable, too, especially as it’s gained WireGuard since our last review. We noticed one small usability issue in the location list, which is randomly sorted again (and in a different order to the Windows app, bizarrely). But hopefully that’ll be fixed soon, and otherwise it has an almost identical feature set to Android.
As on the Mac, that’s not entirely good news. Yes, they’re consistent, but that means they’re also missing the Favorites system and ‘auto-connect on Wi-Fi access’ features we often see elsewhere. Still, these are likeable mobile apps with a lot of functionality, and the generous free data allowance gives you a risk-free way to try them out.
Atlas VPN’s support website has gained a lot of content since our last review, and now at least tries to cover basic installation, usage and troubleshooting issues. But it’s still a long way behind the best of the competition.
Choose the Windows Installation article, for instance, and you’ll see a guide to installing its Windows app, which you can probably do, anyway. Check out ExpressVPN’s Windows setup page and you’ll also find six separate Windows guides covering the app, manual L2TP setup, OpenVPN setup, Microsoft Surface and Windows MediaStreamer. Atlas VPN can’t begin to compete, and the difference is even more obvious in the other support areas.
If you can’t find what you need, though, Atlas does now have 24/7 live chat support. This gave us very generic advice for our test ‘can’t connect’ question – uninstall the app, download and install the latest version – but we can’t complain about the speed: an agent replied to us within seconds of posting our message.
Netflix and streaming
Atlas VPN’s apps provide a separate list of locations optimized for streaming. If you’ve connected to a regular location, that could mean you must disconnect, switch to the streaming list and choose a new location before you can unblock a streaming site, which is a little inconvenient. But if you can be sure the streaming servers always work, you’ll save time overall (there’s none of the ‘try every possible city until you find one that works’ approach you’ll see with some other providers).
Atlas VPN certainly got off to a great unblocking start by getting us into BBC iPlayer.
The service couldn’t get us into US Netflix last time, but it seems to have solved that problem, and we were able to stream US-only Netflix content without difficulty.
Amazon Prime Video can be a serious VPN challenge, but not here: Atlas allowed us to stream US content right away. We moved on to Disney Plus and were able to access that site, too – a perfect 100% score.
That’s a great result, although we’ve also seen several other VPNs deliver the same top-notch performance. CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, NordVPN, ProtonVPN, Surfshark and others all unblocked 100% of our test platforms in recent tests.
We measure VPN performance by running several benchmarking services – SpeedTest’s website and command line app, SpeedOf.me, nPerf – from both a UK data center and a US residential location. We run each benchmark five times using WireGuard and OpenVPN (where available), run them a second time several hours later (that’s a minimum of 120 tests), then analyze the data to see what’s going on.
Atlas VPN doesn’t support OpenVPN, but its IKEv2 speeds were reasonable at a mid-range 200-225Mbps in the UK.
Switching to WireGuard made a big difference, though, with speeds reaching 770Mbps in the UK, and a similar 730-780Mbps in the US.
That’s not quite a performance leader – CyberGhost peaked at 850Mbps, IPVanish 890Mbps, TorGuard at 950Mbps – but it still beat top names like NordVPN (760Mbps), ProtonVPN (670Mbps) and TunnelBear (380Mbps).
Atlas VPN review: Final verdict
Atlas VPN may not have the best network, or apps, or support site – for those, you’d have to go for a more established provider like ExpressVPN. But low prices, high speeds and excellent unblocking results mean it’s already better than many VPNs, and we suspect there’s a lot more to come.
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