A popular free VPN proxy client (so never likely to challenge the very best VPN providers) Turbo VPN is available for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac. Google Play alone reports that the app has had more than 100 million installs, and it's easy to see why. The free service gives you access to eight servers across North America, Europe and Asia, and there are no bandwidth limits or restrictions to hold you back.
Download and install the app and you'll find it includes ads, but that's no surprise – if the service is going to be of any use, then money has to change hands at some point.
- Want to try Turbo VPN? Check out the website here
There's no P2P support with the free or paid plans, but that's not really a surprise, either. Bandwidth is going to be in short supply for any provider with an unlimited free plan.
Turbo VPN's website has very few details about the service. Supported protocols? Nope. Encrypted DNA? Don't ask us. Kill switch? The company isn't saying. This is a product aimed at folks who'll use it solely because it's free; if you're interested in the fine detail – or any details at all, really – you're going to be disappointed and may as well divert your attention to somebody like NordVPN straight away.
Upgrading to a VIP Account (not available on Windows) drops the ads, gets you faster speeds, more servers, and allows connecting up to five devices simultaneously. The 1-month plan isn't cheap at $11.99 a month, but sign up for a year and the price plummets to an effective $3 (that's $36 upfront). You might save money with longer-term plans elsewhere – Surfshark's two-year plan is just $1.99 a month – but Turbo VPN still looks cheap. At first glance, anyway.
So, for example, Turbo VPN has a detailed summary of its logging policy here: 'We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries. We also never store connection logs, i.e., no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration.'
But ExpressVPN's summary is only a word away from being identical: 'We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries. We also never store connection logs, meaning no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration.'
Maybe Turbo VPN just happens to run its network identically to ExpressVPN, and so felt it was safe to use the same description? Or maybe it decided to copy and paste someone else's reassuring words, because it couldn't be bothered to come up with some of its own, or perhaps there's no way you'd use the service if you knew what it was really doing. We'll leave you to decide.
'Our VPN APP is a non-obligatory log network', one section boasts; good to know.
It goes on (deep breath): 'Innovative are not available for the information related to the personal information of users, including but not limited to names (subscriber names, user names and screen names), addresses (including mailing addresses, residential address, business addresses) and telephones, unless the data you provide depending on the context of your interactions with us and the choices you make, including your privacy settings, and the products and features you use for the purpose of administering your subscription and for the purpose to enjoy our VPN services. Except for the limited exceptions, we don't automatically collect any Personal Information from you.'
Got that? Great.
Turbo VPN's Windows app installed without difficulty, and there was no need to provide an email address or any other details – it was ready to go within a few seconds.
The interface is as simple as we've seen. The app selects the nearest server by default, or you can choose from eight others with a click; there's a single button to connect or disconnect, and that's basically it.
Settings? What settings? Okay, you can choose an interface language – English, Russian, Spanish, Ukraine – but there's nothing VPN-related, no autostart, no protocol tweaks or anything else.
Peeking under the hood, we found Turbo VPN connecting via OpenVPN, using AES-128-CBC encryption and 160-bit SHA1 for HMAC authentication, and with a certificate signed by QuickBird, a now-defunct Chinese company. It was also setting us up to use Google DNS, rather than its own.
That's way behind leading VPNs – ExpressVPN has its own encrypted DNA, uses AES-256-GCM and SHA-512 with a 4096-bit key – but is still enough to prevent casual snoopers intercepting your activities on public Wi-Fi.
Connections are made using a custom version of OpenVPN. There are also some binaries from Project V, a tool which enables managing multiple incoming and outgoing proxies, each using any of multiple protocols (Socks, HTTP, Shadowsocks, VMess), each from the same system.
The client sets up incoming rules for these binaries in the firewall, too, ensuring they'll be able to reach your system (and these rules are left behind when you uninstall). We monitored these for a while and saw no sign of anything dubious going on, but the files don't seem necessary for a simple client. We don't know why they're included with the installation, and as Turbo VPN gives us no reason to trust it, that's a concern.
In real-world use, we found connection times could be a problem. Occasionally they were just a few seconds, but often we'd be waiting a minute or more, and sometimes then we would be told the connection had failed, and to try again. That's very frustrating, but it's not uncommon with free VPNs, where servers are often overloaded with users.
The client's choice of 'optimal location' wasn't always as expected. When we connected from the UK, for instance, Turbo VPN often assigned us an IP from the Netherlands. We had to manually choose the UK location to guarantee a UK IP.
The client doesn't have a kill switch, but we were hoping it might at least detect a dropped VPN and try to reconnect. But no: when we closed our connection, the client didn't notice at all, and continued to tell us we were protected when our traffic was fully exposed. That's probably worse than not using a VPN at all, as it gives you a false sense of security; you might feel you're safe enough to do your online banking now, instead of later, when the reality is very different.
We checked out the Android app, too, but found no surprises. The interface has two tabs for its location lists – one titled All, the other Recommended – but otherwise it's very much the same look and feel, and there are still no settings or bonus features of any kind.
The Android app doesn't have a kill switch, either. You can at least use Android's own, though, making you better protected than Windows users.
Turbo VPN hadn't exactly impressed us with its technical expertise at this point in the review, and we weren't expecting much from our unblocking tests. But then it got off to a surprisingly good start, not only getting us into US-only YouTube content (an easy target), but also allowing us to stream BBC iPlayer content without difficulty. That's with the free version of Turbo VPN, too – many commercial VPNs can't do the same.
That was just the start, as Turbo VPN successfully unblocked both US Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for us. Okay, the service failed with Disney+, but so does most of the competition.
What could be more of an issue here is the terrible performance levels (more on that below). It sometimes took so long to load a movie on Amazon that the site asked us if we wanted to keep waiting, and streaming was only possible at the lowest quality level.
Overall, though, the service did a great unblocking job. This can change at any time as content platforms work to block new VPNs, but as Turbo VPN's baseline service is free, that's not a problem; just download and try it, see what works for you.
Bandwidth is expensive, and there's no way a free VPN can compete with a paid service. We're very aware of that, but it was still a surprise to see it so graphically spelled out, when Turbo VPN's free product managed just 0.5-4Mbps on our 75Mbps UK test line.
We switched to a US location with 600Mbps of available bandwidth, but Turbo VPN's free product remained stubbornly slow at 1-2Mbps. That's just about enough for very minimal streaming, but you'll need to use the lowest possible quality, and might still see regular glitches.
Upgrading to the commercial version is supposed to improve performance, but it made a minimal difference for us, with speeds still restricted to 5-10Mbps.
To put that in perspective, the lowest individual US speed we recorded in our recent Hotspot Shield test was 447Mbps, and median speeds ranged from 470-580Mbps.
We ran our tests in late April 2020, when much of the world was tied up in coronavirus-inspired lockdown, and it's possible that all the extra internet and VPN use has affected Turbo VPN's results.
It's unlikely to have made this much difference, though, and even in the middle of a pandemic, most of the other VPNs we've reviewed recently have been in the order of 10-20 times faster than Turbo VPN.
Turbo VPN could work as a simple free service for very basic site unblocking and low-res video streaming needs. It doesn't have the speed, platform support or privacy features to compete with the big-name VPNs like ExpressVPN, though, and we wouldn't even think of trusting it with anything confidential or sensitive.
- We've also highlighted the best VPNs of 2020