Many security vendors VPN service - Avast's SecureLine, Kaspersky's Secure Connection, Avira's PhantomVPN - and Norton Secure VPN (the product formerly known as Norton WiFi Privacy) is the company's entry into this field.
We were interested to see how the service compared with the specialist competition, but NortonLifeLock's website didn't make any real effort to tell us.
Norton Secure VPN offers 30 countries, for instance - but which ones? Any cities? How many servers? All a secret, apparently.
The service 'adds bank grade encryption', the site boasts. Which algorithms? Good question.
Okay, what protocols are supported, do you get a kill switch, does Secure VPN unblock Netflix? No, sorry, you won't find information like that here.
- Want to try Norton Secure VPN? Check out the website here
The site does give a few details; you can access 30 countries; there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and tracker blocking is thrown in for free.
Later, after installing the service, we found out the network has a fair spread of locations covering North America and Europe, with other locations including Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.
The service uses the speedy and secure IKEv2 platform, but doesn't provide any guidance on how to get it working manually on other devices. It works on the apps only.
Beyond the tracker blocking, there are no other special features or configurations, which leaves the service looking a little underpowered.
Still, if you're not interested in the technical terminology you'll often see with other VPNs, this could have a lot of appeal, and the near total absence of features certainly makes Secure VPN easy to learn.
Plans and pricing
Norton Secure VPN is available as a stand-alone product, but it also comes bundled with some editions of the Norton 360 security suite, and the pricing structure makes it clear that's what NortonLifeLock wants you to buy.
Secure VPN's monthly plan is reasonably priced at $7.99, for instance, and its annual plan looks cheap at an equivalent $3.33 a month. At least, until you realize that's only because you get a 50% introductory discount, and the price rises to a steep $6.66 on renewal.
To put that into perspective, Norton Secure VPN asks you to pay $40 for the first year of service, $80 every year after that; pay the far more powerful Surfshark just $47.76 and you'll get two years of coverage instantly.
But wait: there's another way. Buy Norton Secure VPN as a bundle with Norton 360 Deluxe and you'll get antivirus for up to 5 PCs, Macs, mobiles and tablets; a firewall for PC and Mac; parental controls, a password manager, 50GB cloud backup space and more. But it's only very marginally more expensive than the stand-alone VPN at $50 (an equivalent $4.17 a month) for year one, $100 on renewal.
Compare that with Bitdefender's similar Total Security 2020, for instance, and Bitdefender is very fractionally cheaper ($45 year one, $90 on renewal), but only includes a limited 200Mb per day per device VPN. Getting the full VPN requires an upgrade to Bitdefender Premium Security at a chunky $90 in year one, $180 on renewal, making the Norton bundle look like a very good deal.
There's a free trial available if you sign up on a mobile device, and even if you decide to buy, you're protected by an unusually generous sixty-day money-back guarantee. Well, that's the idea, anyway - the exact rules vary depending on where and how you buy the product. The best advice here is to carefully read the small print.
Privacy and logging
The Secure VPN website claims the service provides a "no-log virtual private network that doesn’t track or store your activity." That's a good start, although there's no more detail on the front page.
A 'What is a no-log VPN?' support article vaguely states that the service 'collects subscriber information for communication purposes, mobile device data, and aggregate bandwidth usage', although it 'does not log information about where you go on the internet.'
There are no major surprises here. Locations are collected or accessed, but not associated with your account, apparently to help the Secure VPN app choose the nearest server to you. And although it's possible the service collects enough data to identify a particular device, if it doesn't associate that device with a session (connection dates and times, incoming and outgoing IPs, and so on), that information can't compromise your privacy.
While that's all good news, Norton Secure VPN hasn't put itself through a security audit, unlike some of the competition, and so you're left to take its words on trust. Although we've no reason to doubt the company, having its systems publicly audited would help to reassure potential customers.
Signing up for a service via PayPal usually means you don't have to provide your full name and address, but not with Norton Secure VPN: you must hand over all your details, whether you're paying by PayPal or card.
After parting with our cash, the website offered us a chance to download an app for our current device, or to send a download link to any other (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS.)
We installed and launched the Windows client. This essentially uses the same bulky My Norton interface as the security suites, and although it's not difficult to use, it wastes maybe 5x more screen real estate than the average VPN app.
If you're looking for features or configurability, prepare to be disappointed. There's a plain text list of locations, with no server load information or Favorites system, a checkbox to turn tracker blocking on or off, and, nope, there is no 'and' - that's it.
Norton Secure VPN isn't advertised as including a kill switch on Windows, but we decided to stress test the client, anyway, find out what happened if the VPN connection dropped.
The answer turned out to be almost nothing, unfortunately. The client interface updated almost immediately to tell us we were disconnected, but if we'd minimized that, or it was covered by another window, there's no desktop or other notification to warn that our traffic was now unprotected.
Unusually, there's a little more power with the mobile apps. The Android offering enables automatically connecting to the VPN when you access an insecure network, for instance, and had just added support for a kill switch as we started this review.
For the most part, though, it's the same story: Norton's Secure VPN apps are stripped back and distinctly short on features, but undeniably easy to use.
Norton Secure VPN is mostly sold on its ability to protect your details from cybercriminals when you're using wifi, and the website doesn't make any big claims (or even small ones) about unblocking big-name streaming platforms.
Often that means the VPN can't unblock very much, and Secure VPN got off to a bad start when it failed to get us in to BBC iPlayer.
There was no success with Disney+, either - we didn't get a geolocation error, but the site refused to load, an issue we've seen with many VPNs.
Norton Secure VPN wasn't finished yet, though, and it immediately unblocked US Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for us, no problems at all.
That's not leading-edge unblocking performance, but it's better than we expected, and a better result than we've seen with many competitors
Norton Secure VPN scored very mixed results in our UK-based performance. A peak median speed of 66.2Mbps on a 75Mbs connection wasn't bad at all, but the service was very inconsistent, and other test sessions averaged from 38-59Mbps.
VPN speed testing is a tricky business, so we cross-checked our figures by running second check in a US location with a 600Mbps test line. Daytime speeds were marginally better than the UK at 50-85Mbps, but a drastic evening slowdown saw this plummet to 10-15Mbps.
We ran our tests during the coronavirus lockdown of April and May 2020, when internet and internet and VPN traffic was well above normal, and it's possible that had an effect on our results.
That can't be a complete explanation, though, as other VPNs we've tested in recent weeks have routinely hit 100Mbps, 200Mbps and more, and the current speed champion, Hotspot Shield, averaged 490-575Mbps. Now that really is fast.
If you run into problems with Norton Secure VPN then you could head off to the support site, but we'd recommend you keep your expectations low. There are a small number of FAQs, mostly very short on detail, and if you've any VPN experience we suspect you could produce better content in an afternoon.
The chances are you'll contact the support team direct, then. Especially as Norton makes it so easy, with 24/7 live chat and phone options.
The results you'll get are, well, variable. In our experience, Norton's front line support agents aren't VPN specialists. They can answer basic product spec and setup questions, but ask them to diagnose anything more complicated and you might run into trouble. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be left alone - they can escalate major issues to more knowledgeable staff, and use remote access to see exactly what's going on - but we think you'll generally get better support from a specialist VPN provider.
If your VPN needs are simple and you can use a security suite then Norton Secure VPN's back-to-basics approach might appeal. Experts will be frustrated by the lack of features, though, speeds are poor, and there are many more capable, faster and cheaper VPNs around.
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