A virtual private network, or VPN, adds an additional layer of security to your internet connection. Avast SecureLine VPN has the pedigree of a leading antivirus company behind it, and it produced some impressive speed test scores in testing. But it comes up short of the best VPNs thanks to an expensive and inflexible pricing plan and unimpressive server infrastructure. It has the core of a good service, but one that needs fleshing out. Instead, I recommend Editors’ Choice winner NordVPN, which offers a powerful yet friendly product, and co-winner Private Internet Access, which has the most robust VPN collection of VPN servers I’ve yet reviewed.
What Is a VPN?
When you’re connected to a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN company’s server. This is why you need a VPN. Information sent through this tunnel is unreadable to anyone who tries to intercept or spy on it. If you’re using the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, for example, you won’t have to worry about the owner of the network or bad guys lurking on the network stealing your data.
That encrypted tunnel also masks your web activities from your internet service provider. That’s handy, especially since Congress recently gave the green light for ISPs to start selling anonymized user data.
VPNs can also be used to circumvent internet restrictions, either imposed by oppressive governments or, say, the BBC making sure that only UK citizens can stream videos. That’s because a VPN can connect to servers located in places other than your actual, physical location. If your local government blocks certain websites, a VPN will tunnel out to another country where you can access the internet freely. A VPN also hides your IP address, since your web traffic appears to be coming from the VPN server and not your computer. Note that it’s up to you to research local laws and terms of service before using a VPN.
All that said, using a VPN doesn’t guard against all dangers. Malicious ads, malware, and other network attacks can still harm your computer and steal personal information. I highly recommend using antivirus software to keep your computer protected from all angles.
Pricing and Features
When I first looked at SecureLine, I was dismayed to find that it didn’t offer a multi-device pricing tier. Thankfully, Avast has since loosened up and rolled out a pricing scheme that is far better for consumers. For $79.99 a year, you can secure up to five devices on any platform. At checkout, you can also select a two- or three-year plan for $149.99 or $219.99, respectively. It’s not until the checkout screen that you also see a monthly billing option for $8.99.
If you don’t feel the need to secure all the devices in your house, you can settle for Avast’s device-specific plans. It costs $5.99 per month to secure one PC with Avast, or $59.99 per year. To secure five PCs, which is the industry average, you’ll have to pay $79.99 per year. There are other combinations of PCs and billing cycles to explore.
The Mac-only version costs $59.99 per year, or $7.99 per month, to secure five devices. The Android-only package is $19.99 per year, or $2.99 per month, for five devices. The iOS-only version similarly costs $19.99 per year, or $2.99 per month, for five devices. Interestingly, if you opt to add Android VPN, iOS VPN, or Mac VPN plans to your PC plan, they cost only $9.99 per year or $2.99 per month. If you select the Mac version, mobile plans are still full price but the PC version is reduced to $29.99.
While I appreciate the variety of pricing options Avast allows, it can be a challenge to understand. Most other services are more flexible—with twice yearly or even quarterly subscriptions—and easier to understand. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is the most flexible, even offering a low-cost $3.99 weekly plan that’s ideal for vacations.
If you’re not willing to pay up right away, SecureLine has a seven-day free trial period that is mercifully ad-free and mostly free of irritating upsell reminders. However, there are totally free VPN services out there, such as the browser plug-in for Hotspot Shield Elite. I noticed that if I tried to buy a subscription through the SecureLine client after my trial period ended, the price was a specially discounted $39.99.
The average monthly price among the ten best VPN services fluctuates, but is between $10 and $11. Editors’ Choice Winner Private Internet Access comes in significantly below that threshold, at $6.95 per month. NordVPN, on the other hand, is also an Editors’ Choice winner but costs $11.95 per month. It justifies that expense with unique features like double encryption servers and access to the Tor anonymization network via VPN.
While I am glad to see Avast make the pricing for SecureLine competitive, I am a bit irked at how it pushes annual plans. The finicky nature of networks means a VPN that’s fast and useful one day could be fatally hamstrung the next. Consumers also aren’t used to paying large, up-front costs for internet services, making these annual fees look less attractive than flexible monthly plans.
Also, Avast follows the lead of other antivirus companies and doesn’t include a VPN subscription in any of its omnibus security suites. That’s really unfortunate, considering that a one-year subscription to Avast SecureLine is pretty close to the price of a Avast Internet Security 2017 subscription.
If you want to secure more than phones and PCs, other VPNs have you covered. TorGuard offers routers with its software already installed, providing protection to each device that uses the router to connect to the internet. This includes smart fridges and dumb video game consoles. TorGuard also lets you purchase subscription add-ons, such as additional licenses, access to a super-fast network, and static IP addresses. SecureLine, by comparison, is a bare-bones service.
Despite the change in pricing, I still expected more features from SecureLine. There’s no option to change VPN protocols, and the protocol used by the service is not easily discoverable on its website. According to Avast, SecureLine uses the OpenVPN protocol on Windows and Android devices. Mac and iOS users use IPSec instead. Avast also pointed out that SecureLine fixes a DNS leak issue, providing customers with improved security. SecureLine does not, however, provide ad-blocking, which was once rare in the VPN space but is becoming more common. TunnelBear, in particular, provides a standalone ad-blocking browser plug-in that looks and works great.
Avast SecureLine grants access to a mere 29 VPN servers spread across 21 countries. These cover several cities across the US, as well as Central and South America, China, Eastern and Western Europe, Russia, and Turkey. Notably missing altogether are African servers, though that’s not unusual among VPN services. The best VPN services have significantly more robust networks, however. Foremost among them is Private Internet Access VPN; that service has more than 3,000 servers available for users.
These numbers matter. The more server locations a VPN company provides, the more likely you are to find a faster, nearby server while traveling. It also means you have more options for location spoofing. Furthermore, the more servers available, the less likely you are to be crammed into an overcrowded server and get a smaller piece of the bandwidth pie.
If you’re keen on P2P filesharing and BitTorrent, you’re in luck: Avast SecureLine allows file sharing traffic on its servers. That said, TorGuard has built its business on serving torrenters. That company offers several subscription add-ons, such as access to a high-bandwidth network and static IP addresses, that are sure to appeal to file sharing aficionados.
Hands On With SecureLine
SecureLine’s presence on your computer is minimal. You can access some of its key functions through a system tray icon, but you’ll probably use the main app. This is a small, single window that provides access to all of SecureLine’s features with ease. I tested the Windows client on a Lenovo ThinkPad T460s laptop running Windows 10.
You can select a server from a pull-down menu, or let SecureLine choose the closest (and probably fastest) server. That’s simple, but I would prefer a search box to make finding specific servers easier. Also, I really like the way NordVPN shows the popularity and latency of each server, making it easier to choose a good one.
On one hand, SecureLine presents a clean and simple design. On the other, it’s not the most friendly experience I’ve had with a VPN. TunnelBear, with its bright colors and cute bears, is definitely the most engaging. SecureLine is simple because it doesn’t have much to offer. Its settings menu is mostly bare, aside from a toggle to automatically activate when connecting to an unknown network. That’s a handy feature, but TunnelBear and PureVPN also include the option to route specific traffic outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel.
Using a VPN is great for security, but it can make some basic things really tedious. For example, Netflix blocks VPNs in order to prevent people from spoofing their location and watching videos that aren’t available in their real location. Surprisingly, I had no trouble watching Netflix while connected to SecureLine, but that could change at a moment’s notice.
With rare exception, using a VPN will slow down your internet connection. That’s because your traffic has to go through more fiber and more machines to complete its journey. I try to get a sense of the impact each VPN makes by running a series of tests using both domestic and international servers on Ookla’s speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.)
First, I run a series of speed tests using a nearby VPN server with and without the VPN active. I discard the highest and lowest results, average what’s left, and find a percent change for latency, download speed, and upload speed between the two sets of results. This test puts an emphasis on speed, since the server I’m using is nearby. Second, I simulate connecting to a VPN server that’s further afield by connecting with an Ookla test server in Anchorage, Alaska, and a VPN server in Australia.
In the domestic testing, SecureLine made a surprise early showing by improving latency by 29.9 percent. That means there was almost 30 percent less latency with SecureLine than without, a feat I’ve yet to see duplicated. But keep in mind that latency is really only important if you’re doing intensive online gaming. SecureLine also managed minimal impact on download speeds, slowing downloads by only 6.3 percent. That’s one of the better scores I’ve seen, but it pales in comparison to PureVPN, which actually increased download speeds by an unprecedented 346.4 percent. Notably, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite is the only other VPN to improve download speeds in this test, by a respectable 45 percent. In the upload test, SecureLine also had strong performance. It slowed uploads by only 4.1 percent, the second-best score behind VPNArea, which reduced upload speeds by just 3.2 percent.
My international testing always yields worse performance results due to the distances involved, and Avast SecureLine is no exception. I found that it increased latency by 360.8 percent. That’s significantly more than leader Hotspot Shield Elite, which increased latency by just 155.4 percent. SecureLine’s download performance was middling in this round of testing. It reduced download speeds by 14.4 percent, which is a smidge worse than the competition. PureVPN dominates this test, improving download speeds by 403.8 percent. TunnelBear and Buffered VPN also improved download speeds, by 98.9 percent and 10 percent, respectively. SecureLine fared better in the upload test, where it reduced speeds by 3.3 percent, one of the better scores for this test. HotSpot Shield Elite pulled out a surprise win in this test; it’s the only VPN to improve upload speeds that I’ve yet seen, even if it’s only by 1.4 percent.
In general, Avast SecureLine managed above-average scores, particularly for downloads. When I look for the fastest VPNs, download speeds are my main consideration. But PureVPN is still the king of the speed heap for two years running, and has earned an Editors’ Choice award for its trouble.
A Line, Secured
Avast SecureLine has a strong pedigree from its antivirus roots and notches some successes in its own right, especially in speed tests, where SecureLine managed above average results. It also plays nice with Netflix and allows BitTorrent and P2P. Unfortunately, SecureLine has a tiny number of servers and server locations, making it a tough sell in a crowded space. I’m happy to see the SecureLine pricing become more competitive, but it’s still tricky to understand for the average consumer.
I’ll continue to recommend my Editors’ Choice winners KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and PureVPN. All of these services offer more robust networks, more advanced features, and simple, flexible pricing.