Sign up for any of Bitdefender’s excellent security packages – Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, Total Security or its mobile apps – and you’ll also get a bundled VPN. Sounds great, until you realize there’s no option to choose a location (the app automatically picks the nearest server), and you spot the tiny data transfer limit of 200MB a day.
Fortunately, there’s another option. Buying a Bitdefender Premium VPN license gets you unlimited traffic and full access to 1,300+ servers in 48 countries (that’s up from 30 in our last review). And you no longer need to use any other Bitdefender app – it’ll happily run standalone, whatever security software you’re using.
If you’re wondering why you should trust an antivirus company to deliver a quality VPN, that’s a good question. The answer is that you’re not, at least not really: Bitdefender VPN is actually powered by the excellent Hotspot Shield, a strong indicator that you’re going to get a decent service.
- Want to try Bitdefender Premium VPN? Check out the website here
You get access to help from Bitdefender’s existing support team, too, via live chat, email and phone. Works for us, although in our experience, the antivirus companies selling VPNs as extras don’t deliver the same level of support you’ll see with ExpressVPN, NordVPN and the best specialist providers.
Platform support is reasonable, with apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and the service can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously. That’s probably enough for most people (and better than NordVPN’s 6, or CyberGhost’s 7), but providers including ZenMate and Windscribe have no limits at all.
The apps now use Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra protocol rather than OpenVPN. This usually means better download speeds, but there’s a catch. You can only use it via the official apps (there’s no support for manually setting up the service to run on routers or other platforms which don’t have apps).
Don’t expect much more in the way of features; Premium VPN is aimed at regular users looking for something simple, not experts who need to fine-tune every detail. It includes the core essentials, though, with P2P support on offer and a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops, and it should cover you in most situations.
Bitdefender Premium VPN pricing
It’s good to see Bitdefender has added a monthly billing option since our last review. It looked great value, too, at $6.99 (many competitors ask $10-$13 for their monthly plans), but the website described this as ‘billed $6.99 for the first month.’ Did this mean it increased on renewal?
We couldn’t see a renewal price or a link to find out, so we opened a live chat window with support. Despite telling us we were #1 in the queue and would be talking to someone in 1-3 minutes, we actually waited for 10 minutes. Although our question was purely about the product, the agent insisted on looking up our account details, which took another six minutes. But finally, they told us there was no increase on renewal. Monthly billing is as good value as it looks.
The annual plan does have a special introductory price of $2.49 a month for year one, $4.17 on renewal. You can pay by card, PayPal or bank transfer, and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee if the service doesn’t work out for you.
That’s notably cheaper than the VPN heavyweights of ExpressVPN and NordVPN, although there are better deals around, especially if you’re willing to sign up for a longer contract. Private Internet Access charges only $2.19 a month on its’ three-year plan, for instance, and throws in simple antivirus for free.
Privacy and logging
Bitdefender Premium VPN appears to be a solely Bitdefender product – you pay them to use the service, it’s powered by their software – but it works by connecting to Hotspot Shield servers and using the Hotspot Shield network. That doesn’t matter at all when you’re using the service, but it’s relevant when you’re trying to figure out the service logging policy, because that isn’t under Bitdefender’s control.
“We collect for this service only randomly generated or hashed user and device IDs, IP addresses and randomly generated tokens to establish VPN connection for the sole purpose of providing the VPN service. For this service, we use AnchorFree as data processor who processes data on behalf of Bitdefender in accordance with Bitdefender’s instructions and for the sole purpose of providing VPN services to users.”
Not exactly helpful. But as Hotspot Shield is processing the data, we checked its website for more information.
On the encryption front, Bitdefender’s use of the Catapult Hydra protocol means it’s not as clear how you’re protected as if, say, you’re using the open source OpenVPN. Bitdefender has published the default cipher suites used by Hydra, though, and they’re much the same mix of AES-128/256 GCM as you’ll see with other VPNs, with the server refusing to connect if there’s anything weaker. (If you’re curious, there’s a little more detail in this user manual download [PDF] on the Bitdefender site.)
There are some Bitdefender privacy topics where we can be clear, though. When we rounded off this part of the review with some privacy checks, they brought good news, as multiple test sites were unable to spot any DNS, WebRTC or other leaks.
Bitdefender’s Windows app is simple and mostly straightforward, but with one or two surprises under the hood.
The interface is familiar, with its large blue Connect button, the name of your currently selected location, and, if you click it, a list of others to choose from. This is about as basic as a location list gets, though; there’s a Search box, but no cities listed (countries only), and no server load figures or ping times to help you choose.
Useful settings include options to connect when Windows starts, take fine-tuned control over product notifications, and enable a kill switch to block internet traffic if the VPN drops.
A simple split tunneling system enables choosing websites which you don’t want to be directed through the VPN. Could be handy, but it only works for websites – with most VPNs, there’s split tunneling for apps.
Bitdefender Premium VPN gets more interesting in the Auto-connect menu. In a click or two you can set Premium VPN to connect automatically when you launch a P2P app (or any other application you like), if you visit a specific website, or even one of several categories of site (Financial, Online Payments, Health, File Sharing, Online Dating, Mature Content). These are genuinely useful features, and although we’ve seen one or two of them elsewhere – CyberGhost’s App Protection can automatically connect when you launch certain apps – no one else has the full set.
The client also supports a Dark Mode, and is available in some 20 languages.
It’s all very simple, and the core system worked mostly as we hoped. Connection times were speedy at 3-4 seconds, the client allows switching locations without having to close the current connection, and desktop notifications tell you when you’re protected, and when you’re not.
As you’d expect from Bitdefender and Hotspot Shield, there’s a quality engine under the hood. No matter what sneaky tricks we employed to close the VPN connection, the client blocked our internet traffic immediately and raised an alert.
It’s a likeable setup, but we still noticed one or two minor issues. The location list has no Favorites or Recently Used servers, for instance, for faster reconnection to these.
Connect using the default Automatic mode to choose the fastest location, and the app won’t tell you which country it’s chosen (the display just shows ‘Automatic’). That matters, as we regularly see VPNs choose countries far away from our real location. To find out, you must open the location list, scroll down and look for the country marked ‘Connected’; hardly convenient.
The previous option to automatically reconnect if the VPN drops has gone, too. The client warns you if the VPN fails, and the kill switch should kick in if you’ve enabled it, but you’ll have to reconnect manually.
There’s a little room for improvement, then. But, realistically, if these are the most significant issues we can find in an app, it’s doing very well.
Bitdefender VPN’s iOS app looks and feels much the same as its desktop cousin. That means it’s just as easy to use, but shares the same issues: a basic location list, no cities, little server information, and no Favorites system to help cut down on the scrolling.
A handful of worthwhile settings includes automatic connection when you access public Wi-Fi, split tunneling for websites and a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops. But notification control is more basic (see all notifications, or none), and you don’t get any of the clever ‘auto-connect if I access a dating site’ stuff.
Even the built-in features are a little underpowered. The ‘auto-connect on public Wi-Fi’ option is a simple on/off switch, for instance. The best apps also support whitelisting networks you know are safe, so the VPN doesn’t kick in when you’re at work, or your parent’s house, say.
The Android app is a near clone of the iOS version, but with a couple of welcome extras. Split tunneling for apps as well as websites enables setting some apps to use the VPN, and others to use your normal internet connection. If it’s arrived on Android, maybe it’ll appear on other platforms soon.
You get the option to access devices on your local network when you’re using the VPN, too. That won’t matter to a lot of users, but it will be a real convenience for some.
The mobile apps are fine for basic tasks, which is probably why they get exceptionally high user ratings (4.6 on Google Play, 4.7 on the Apple App Store, one of the highest combined scores right now). But we think there’s a lot of work to do before they match the best of the competition.
Netflix and streaming
Bitdefender sells Premium VPN mostly for its encryption and anonymity benefits, but the website claims it can also ‘unlock media, videos and messaging from all over the world.’
We connected to the UK server, tried BBC iPlayer, and streamed content without difficulty. We reconnected and tried again with two more IP addresses, and they all got us in.
Bitdefender wasn’t able to unblock US or UK-specific Netflix content, though. Disappointing, as the VPN worked perfectly during our last review.
And the bad news continued with our final checks, as Bitdefender VPN also failed with Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus.
Bitdefender Premium used to be powered by the standard OpenVPN protocol, but that’s now been replaced by Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra, which experience tells us can make a big difference.
We ran our speed tests from UK and US locations with a 1Gbps line, then checked our performance using multiple benchmarking sites and technologies, including SpeedTest.net’s website and official command line client, nPerf and SpeedOfme. All tests were run in morning and evening sessions, then we worked through the data to calculate median speeds.
UK results were below average at 150-160Mbps, but US speeds hit a much more acceptable 350-410Mbps. We can’t tell you exactly what you’ll see, but the higher figure looks more realistic to us. It’s almost identical to the speed we saw in the last review (340-410Mbps), and in the same ballpark as Hotspot Shield’s current figures (400-410Mbps). We’d say that confirms Bitdefender Premium VPN isn’t some cut-down offering of the service; it really does give you the same Hotspot Shield-level of performance.
Although that’s good news, Bitdefender still lags behind the best of the WireGuard-equipped VPNs. CyberGhost, IPVanish, NordVPN and Mozilla all managed downloads of 750Mbps and above.
Bitdefender Premium VPN review: Final verdict
Bitdefender Premium VPN is Hotspot Shield’s little brother: it has very few features, managed a relatively poor unblocking performance, has a much smaller network, but potentially very similar performance for a far lower price. It doesn’t have the power for demanding users, but if your requirements list is essentially ‘cheap, fast enough and a familiar name’, it’s a must-see.
- Also check out our roundup of the best VPN services