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 more than 30 countries. And you no longer need to use any other Bitdefender app – it’ll happily run stand-alone, 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 powered by the excellent Hotspot Shield, a strong indicator that you’re going to get a decent service.
- Bitdefender Premium VPN subscription options:
- 12 month plan – $2.49 per month ($29.88 total cost)
You get access to support via 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 ten 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. That means you can’t manually set up the service to run on routers or other devices and platforms. But on the plus side, it does bring a major increase in performance (more on that, later.)
Small improvements since our last review include new locations in Belgium and Poland, and some worthwhile enhancements to the mobile apps (auto-connect on Wi-Fi for iOS, the VPN server IP is now displayed on iOS and Android.)
Don’t expect much more in the way of features; Premium VPN is aimed at regular users looking for something simple, not experts looking to fine-tune every detail. The service covers the basics, though, with P2P support on offer and kill switches to protect you if the VPN drops, and it should cover you in simple situations.
Bitdefender has dropped monthly billing since our last review, and now only offers an annual plan. It’s decent value, though, at just $2.49 a month for year one, $4.17 on renewal. You can pay by card, PayPal or bank transfer.
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. ZenMate’s three-year plan is priced at just $1.64 a month paid up-front, for instance, while Ivacy’s five-year deal is a bargain $1.33.
Hand over your email address to create a Bitdefender Central account and you’ll get a free 7-day Premium VPN trial, and there’s further protection from a 30-day money-back guarantee if the service doesn’t work out for you.
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 VPN, 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 on the Bitdefender site.)
Bitdefender offers many products and services, so it’s no great surprise that its web dashboard offers little VPN-specific help. After locating our license in the My Subscriptions section, we found options to download the app, email or text an installation link to another device, or view a PDF manual, but that was about it.
It’s much the same story on the Support site. The home page has precisely nothing on VPNs, and even when we searched with the keyword VPN, most of the top hits were less than relevant. (After a very brief VPN FAQ, the next articles were ‘How to disable all modules in Bitdefender’, ‘How to allow a printer or another device through Bitdefender firewall’ and ‘How to uninstall Bitdefender [for Windows or Mac].’
There’s more help if you go looking, including live chat, telephone and email support, so you’re not left on your own. But with Bitdefender’s wide product range, you’re just not going to get the level of immediate up-front support you’ll get with a specialist VPN provider.
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 with websites– unlike most VPNs, there’s no split tunneling for apps.
Bitdefender Premium VPN gets more interesting in the Autoconnect 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 around 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 Recent lists, for instance, for faster reconnection to commonly used servers.
Status information isn’t always presented well. If you connect using the default Automatic mode to choose the fastest location, it won’t tell you what that location is (the display just shows ‘Automatic.’) 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.
Installing the VPN gets you a separate Bitdefender Agent package, too. If you don’t notice that, and only uninstall Bitdefender Premium VPN from Settings or Control Panel, then Bitdefender Agent is left behind. It doesn’t use any significant resources (and if you do notice the app, you can remove it in seconds), but we still prefer software which properly cleans up after itself.
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.
We checked out the mobile apps, too, but they’re very much the same. The Android app has a very similar interface, for instance, with a kill switch (also available on iOS, unusually) and an ‘automatically connect on public wi-fi’ setting. It doesn’t have the option to auto-connect when you access particular sites or site categories, but it covers the basics, and once you’ve used Bitdefender Premium VPN on one platform, you’ll have no problem using it on another.
Bitdefender sells Premium VPN mostly for its encryption and anonymity benefits, but the website claims it can also ‘unlock media, videos & 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, but they all got us in, a welcome improvement on the fails we saw in the last review.
Switching to the US server, we had no issues accessing US Netflix content. Again, this worked as expected with three separate connections and IP addresses.
Unblocking iPlayer and Netflix was a good start, more than you’ll see with some of the competition. But it was also the testing highlight, as the service failed with Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
Premium used to be powered by the standard OpenVPN protocol, but that’s now been replaced by Hotspot Shield’s turbo-charged Catapult Hydra, which experience tells us makes a big difference.
We ran our speed tests from a US location with a 1Gbps line, then checked our performance using multiple benchmarking sites and technologies, including SpeedTest.net’s website and official command line client, Netflix’ Fast.com and TestMy.net. All tests were run in morning and evening sessions, then we worked through the data to calculate median speeds.
The results were excellent at 340-410Mbps. That lags behind ExpressVPN’s latest Lightway results of 490-630Mbps, but is in the same area as many big names, including CyberGhost (350-450Mbps), Ivacy (330-390Mbps) and TunnelBear (290-370Mbs.) It’s also broadly similar to the 360-380Mbps we saw from our latest Hotspot Shield results, and confirms Bitdefender isn’t some cut-down of the service; it really does give you the same Hotspot Shield-level of performance.
We rounded off the review with some privacy checks, and they brought more good news, as multiple test sites were unable to spot any DNS, WebRTC or other leaks.
Bitdefender Premium VPN is Hotspot Shield’s little brother: very few features, relatively poor unblocking performance and a much smaller network, but the same speedy performance for a far lower price. It doesn’t have the power for demanding users, but if your requirements list is essentially ‘cheap, fast and a familiar name’, it’s a must-see.
- Also check out our roundup of the best VPN services