Mullvad VPN review: Can this privacy-enthusiasts favorite compete with the big boys?
In the VPN universe, Mullvad is not among the biggest payers or best-known names. Instead, it’s a much smaller VPN in the industry. Nevertheless, it has a niche status. Some of the most enthusiastic privacy fans globally have embraced it as one of the best in the market. The features in Mullvad are robust, and security is good without compromising convenience. Additionally, the pricing structure is straightforward.
It’s been a while since I tried Mullvad. Back then, my daily VPN network was not working correctly with WireGuard (it’s not my provide anymore). So I thought of trying my setup with a different provider and see if it worked. It was Mullvad, and it did.
Mullvad worked exceedingly well, so I kept my membership active. I have it still because it’s always a good idea to have a backup VPN. So while NordVPN is my top choice and everyday VPN network, Mullvad is there, always available, for when I need a little extra help.
I decided to remain a Mullvad customer because it worked very well for me. But that’s a subjective, anecdotal assessment. So how good is Mullvad when I put it to the test, as I’ve done with other VPNs? Keep reading to find out.
Mullvad VPN’s summary
The protocol menu includes OpenVPN (the industry standard) and WireGuard (a favorite for high speeds). In addition, there is multiple server hop available through the Bridge feature. Other features include a kill switch and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Mullvad’s priority is privacy, and it excels at it with a strong focus on security features.
Mullvad’s general overview
If you’re in a rush and need to get the gist of this unbiased review of Mullvad VPN, here it is. I will discuss every aspect in further detail, but here are the essentials.
Here’s the good news: connections speeds are very good with most of the servers in the network. The VPN protocols include OpenVPN and WireGuard. The first one is the industry standard because it’s an open-source project that’s been thoroughly audited throughout the years and has a developing community that keeps it updated.
The second one is very efficient and allows for high transfer speeds. IPv6 support is on the menu. The network keeps no logs at all. The Bridge feature gives you the ability to have a multi-hop connection. There is a kill switch. And, last but not least, this is a VPN that works in China, a widespread but critical issue. This is the make-or-break feature for many users looking for a new VPN provider.
Not so good news: the customer service is not the best we at PrivacySavvy have seen. When many new VPN users are looking for a way to unblock streaming services, Mullvad will give mixed results. It unblocks Amazon Prime and Netflix, but if you have other streaming platforms in mind, you’ll find you can’t use them. Friendliness is not an advantage either.
If you want to use some features such as split tunneling or custom DNS queries, you’ll need a degree of expertise to activate them. The network doesn’t block any ads. The website could be a lot more useful.
So Mullvad is a good VPN indeed, but it’s far from perfect. Moreover, even this preliminary view puts it at a clear disadvantage relative to, say, NordVPN – my regular VPN provider.
Mullvast and connection speeds: How fast is it?
Before I tell you about the speeds in Mullvast, let me remind you of something: speeds in VPNs are a touchy issue. Too many factors come into play, such as your ISP provider, the operating system you use, hardware, physical location, etc. It’s informative to know how the speeds worked out for a reviewer, such as me. But keep in mind that your experience could be very different, depending on your situation. It could be much better! Or much worse.
The speed tests I performed on Mullvad’s servers were encouraging and predictable – a good thing in this context. Speeds go down as physical distances to the servers increase. I expected that. And the overall speed in my connection went down a bit. I also expected this. Tunneling your data through the VPN network to a server and encrypting everything decreases the speeds you can have.
It’s the price of doing business through a VPN. But these differences were noticeable only because I was testing thoroughly to find them. The loss in speed with Mullvad VPN is not something you’re likely to notice as a regular user.
I performed the tests using OpenVPN over UDP. I found the North American speed to reach 160 Mbps, the European connections to hit 77 Mbps, and the Asian ones, 34 Mbps. So far, so good.
An excellent feature in Mullvad is that you can set it up on your home router. In this way, all your home traffic goes through the VPN without setting it up on each device. The primary advantage of this is not the time it saves you. It’s that some devices in which you can’t configure a VPN or install a VPN app will get the network’s protection anyway.
I’m admittedly not much of a gamer. But when I launched my PS4 to try the handful of games I play regularly, it all went well. No lags, no freezing.
A good gaming experience is all about low latencies. Consequently, it’s always better to connect to the closest possible server in the network. That’s what I did for the most part, but I also pushed the envelope a bit by choosing increasingly distant servers from me. I did run into a few minor problems, but they are unlikely to be because of the VPN itself. Gaming with Mullvad VPN turned out to be a very smooth experience.
Mullvad VPN supported operating systems and platforms
The Mullvad VPN technical platform includes apps for all the major operating systems. Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android are in the mix. Additionally, you can configure a router to send all your traffic through the VPN (that will give you some extra protection).
There are no browser extensions for Mullvad. That’s fine as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always missed the point in browser extensions. The best choice is always to use the VPN’s protection on a system-wide basis.
Using a VPN to route and encrypt your browser traffic only is a waste and a risk. Of course, that could be just my bias speaking. But it’s based on genuine technical reasons. In any case, there are no Mullvad browser extensions.
A pleasant surprise was the Mullvad VPN Linux app. It has a whole graphical user interface, just like in Windows and macOS. Most VPNs that support Linux in the industry have no Linux app or only offer command-line software.
The Mullvad pricing structure
Pricing in Mullvad is convenient in every way. The structure is simple enough: there’s one plan available only, the monthly one. It’s 5 EUR per month. This is a very accessible price when you consider that the average fee in the market for a premium VPN service is around 10 USD.
So the pricing and the availability of the plans already set Mullvad apart from the competition. But that’s just the beginning. It’s the setup process that is really atypical in the industry. With most VPN providers, you need to provide at least a minimal amount of personal information to get started – a valid email, for instance. Not with Mullvad.
Mullvad will ask you for no identifiable information at all, except for a payment method. So you won’t even have a username or a password. Instead, the system will provide you with an account number (16 digits). The account number will act in the stead of a username and a password.
If you sign-up, renewal is automatic until you cancel it. You will have the option to get a new account number every month if you choose to make a one-time payment.
This very particular feature in Mullvad’s user management policy is unique. It makes this VPN a favorite among privacy enthusiasts. And it makes all the sense of the world! It’s cool, and it’s very private; it’s effective.
The payment options include credit cards and PayPal, which fit in with the automatic renewal policy. On the other hand, you can pay using those two methods and bank wires, Swish, Vouchers, Bitcoin Cash, and Bitcoin, if you are on the one-time payment camp.
Any VPN that accepts anonymous payments through cryptocurrencies is easily welcomed. It shows how serious the company is about privacy.
There is a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Every account is suitable for five simultaneous connections. If you take advantage of the ability to use Mullvad from your router, then every device at home will be connected simultaneously, regardless of the number.
The Mullvad VPN apps
Every mobile app on offer with Mullvad uses WireGuard. There is no choice. If you’re an OpenVPN fanatic, you can set it up using an additional app (OpenVPN Connect, for example), but not with the network’s apps.
The desktop apps will allow you to choose your VPN protocol, so you don’t need any additional work to pick OpenVPN.
Mullvad VPN made WireGuard available in 2017. It was the first provider in the industry to run with this protocol as a test service. Then it moved to full adoption.
The design of the desktop app is good. It’s easy to use and flexible enough. Even VPN newbies should easily find their way through the app to pick a server in the network and get a connection.
Advanced settings are there as well, and they could intimidate the less VPN-savvy users. More on that later.
As you launch the app, you’ll get the login page. This is where you provide your account number. Once you’re in, the app will give you a minimal (but useful) amount of information about your connection. It will show you your local city on a map. It will provide you with the name of the server you’re using as well as its IP address and your new public IP address. Other buttons include switch locations, disconnect, and a gear menu where you can see the app’s settings.
If you click on “Switch,” you’ll get a list of countries. Choosing a country will show you a list of cities. The cities are those in which a server is available for you to choose.
The Preferences let you decide if the app should auto-launch or auto-connect to the VPN network upon startup. In addition, you can choose to enable (or not) local network sharing. And the rest of the settings you’ll find there are pretty self-evident to understand.
Mullvad and routers
Mullvad VPN supports the following routers:
- OPNsense (unofficially, but it works with the pfSense settings, I tried it)
- Asus Merlin
As a Mullvad user, you will find the detailed guides you’ll need to set the VPN up on your router.
I’ve mentioned the advantages briefly in setting up your VPN in a router when possible. First, any device that connects to the Internet through the router will be protected by the VPN. Even those not supported directly with Mullvad apps – or that use an unsupported operating system. Second, the VPN sees the router as a single connection.
Your account gives you the right to connect five devices only. However, if you configure your router, then every computer, smartphone, and tablet you have at home (or gaming consoles and any other internet-enabled piece of hardware) will tunnel its traffic through the VPN while counting as a single connection.
Mullvad and Netflix, and other video streaming platforms
Netflix decided in January 2016 that it didn’t like VPN users anymore, so it started banning VPNs from the platform. The goal was to enforce the geo-location restrictions imposed by the content’s copyright owners. Netflix is under a legal obligation to respect its licensing agreements. So this measure solved the problem as far as Netflix was concerned. It is still a matter of debate about how intelligent it was to go for the jugular with this measure, but that’s how things stand.
However, as per PrivacySavvy observations, Netflix relaxed its VPN ban slightly not too long ago. According to this new information, Netflix is allowing VPN users to see videos that are not geo-restricted. That content includes shows produced by Netflix mainly.
So how can I know for sure if a VPN can unblock Netflix? I look for content that I know to be geo-restricted and find out if the VPN connection makes it available to me. So if you connect to Netflix and see some content, that doesn’t mean your VPN is giving you any advantages. As long as all you can see is a fraction of the site’s catalog, you’ve unlocked nothing. Netflix is giving you that access on purpose.
Mullvad’s marketing doesn’t sell the unblocking of any streaming service as a critical feature, which is a good, honest thing because it barely works in that regard. As I tested Mullvad’s against Netflix, I found that only a US-based server out of the entire server list could get me the full Netflix library.
If unblocking Netflix is a priority for you as you choose a VPN vendor, Mullvad is not the way to go. The chances of success are small, to say the least.
I was also able to run a successful test against Amazon Prime Video from US servers. But I failed with every other geo-restricted streaming video website.
Mullvad and BitTorrent
I have good news for the BitTorrent fanatics out there: every server in the Mullvad VPN network supports P2P networks. So you don’t need to find a dedicated server within the service. Instead, just regularly connect to the VPN and launch your torrents client.
Speeds were good enough, and the torrenting experience was smooth.
It’s safe to say that Mullvad is a good VPN for P2P file sharing, which is worth noting because it’s not an industry-standard in the VPN universe.
Mullvad VPN and split tunneling
“Split tunneling” is a feature also known as “selective routing.” It allows you to cherry-pick the portion of your traffic you want to route through the VPN. The rest uses your ISP’s regular, open connection.
Split tunneling is not a standard feature in the VPN market. As a result, few services offer it, usually the ones on the industry’s top. Mullvad has this feature, but it’s not too easy to set up. Also, it works if you’re on OpenVPN only, and you’ll need some additional third-party software to have it working correctly.
Mullvad VPN does provide clear instructions on how to configure this feature. But just reading them correctly takes some expertise. Also, it’s not friendly to new users, and some of them could be scared away from it.
This is a department in which Mullvad VPN has some room for improvement.
Log keeping, security, and privacy in Mullvad VPN
In any of Mullvad’s apps, you’ll find an “Advanced” section. As the name suggests, this is where you will find the advanced settings. You can use them to tweak and customize your VPN connection.
For example, you can do away with IPv6 support from here – Mullvad is one of the rare VPNs that offer full IPv6 support. You can also set the VPN to be always on. The “always-on” feature works in tandem with the kill switch, which is a feature that you can’t disable.
If you pick the “Always require VPN,” you’ll automatically get connected to the VPN whenever a set of packets tries to leave your computer. If your connection drops, it will try to reconnect as well. In either case, the kill switch will prevent any unencrypted packet from leaving your device until your traffic is back inside the safe tunnel.
This is also the section where you can choose the VPN protocol you prefer, the port to use, and enable the Bridge mode – the Bridge mode is Mullvad’s idiosyncratic name for server hops. If the setting is “automatic,” the Bridge mode will turn itself on after you fail to connect to a server three times in a row.
Also, this section allows you to generate your WireGuard keys.
Mullvad is in Sweden, as noted earlier. That’s not great news because this country, quite liberal regarding individual rights, belongs to the 14 eyes alliance. The member countries of that alliance share intelligence among them. That intelligence includes digital surveillance data. And that can consist of the online activities of its citizens and corporations. It goes without saying that this doesn’t bring peace to the heart of many VPN users.
As a general rule, I do prefer VPNs based in countries more friendly towards individual privacy. Plenty of the best VPNs in the market are based in Panama, for instance. And this matters because it means that your data lives, physically, in a jurisdiction that doesn’t want to seize it.
That being said, in practical terms, a VPN’s logging policy is more relevant to user privacy than the jurisdiction. For example, your VPN provider could be forced to turn its logs over to the authorities, thus spilling the beans on you.
If, however, your provider’s logs are empty as a matter of principle, they have no beans to spill, and your privacy will remain safe. So when you have to choose between a VPN because of its logging policy vs. its local jurisdiction, it’s the policy that’s critical while the jurisdiction is merely circumstantial.
Mullvad will not keep logs of your internet traffic, your DNS requests, connection timestamps, used bandwidth, IP address, or account activity. It only keeps track of the number of concurrent connections you have active at any given time because you are allowed only five.
The VPN also keeps payment information. That much is expected given the renewal policy. But the website informs you clearly about the data they hold in that regard and shows you some examples.
Following is the encryption configuration for Mullvad in OpenVPN:
- Server authentication through 4096 bit RSA certificates (with SHA512)
- Key exchange: 4096 bit Diffie-Hellman
- Perfect forward secrecy: DHE
- Default encryption: AES-256-GCM. This is the standard not only in the VPN environment but also for intelligence agencies the world over
- Re-keying: every 60 minutes
“Perfect Forward Secrecy” is a procedure that comes up with new encryption keys at fixed periods. This renders the data in past sessions unreadable because the current keys can’t decrypt them anymore.
WireGuard is also in Mullvad’s menu, and this is the configuration:
- Symmetric encryption is ChaCha20, with Poly1305 for authentication with RFC7539’s-AEAD construction
- ECDH is Curve 25519
- Hashing and keyed hashing are BLAKE2s
- Hashable keys: SipHash24
- Key derivation: HKDF
If you don’t understand in full the technical specifications I’ve shown for both OpenVPN and WireGuard, don’t worry. All you need to know is that every algorithm in use is among the best available. So encryption in Mullvad is state-of-the-art, robust, and reliable.
And notice this also: most VPNs do not offer that high degree of detailed information about the protocols and algorithms they use. This in itself is remarkable in the case of Mullvad VPN.
Mullvad doesn’t leak any IP information at all. The reported IP came from the Mullvad servers in every leakage test I ran, never from my ISP. This means that your actual IP address is hidden by the VPN and replaced by one assigned by its servers. And that’s one of the two most vital tasks that any VPN must perform for every user -the other one being encryption.
Mullvad and the Bridge feature (multihop servers)
Multihop means that your traffic goes through two or more servers in a VPN network instead of one. Mullvad supports this feature under the name of “Bridge.”
Why two servers, I hear you ask? Because the second server adds an additional encryption layer to your traffic. That will make it impossible to track by any meaningful standard.
There’s an extra benefit on Bridge. It helps you to bypass restrictive firewalls.
Suppose that you are connecting to the Internet from a jurisdiction that blocks access to the US. But you need to get some content that is only available in the US. So here’s what you can do: you use your VPN to connect to a location allowed by your country’s government. Then you set up the second connection to a US-based server. Thus, any surveillance of your activities by third parties will only see your first connection.
The Advanced section will require you to select both servers (entrance and exit) when you choose your location.
The Bridge feature is powerful and helpful; there’s no doubt about it. But before you go ahead and use it, keep in mind that the extra encryption and the additional server hop come at a cost. You will lose some of your speed. Also, the Bridge server list in the network is shorter than the regular list, so your options are more limited, bringing your speeds down.
The Mullvad VPN server network
Mullvad VPN provides a lot more information about its servers than most other VPNs.
The server page will give you the server address as well as its status. But it goes above and beyond by telling you which server is owned or rented. According to the “about our servers” page on the website, the rented ones are in charge of contractors. I can only praise this level of transparency, which is rare even among the best VPNs.
The truth is that most VPN vendors in the industry rent at least a fraction of the servers in their network. But very few recognize it publicly, let alone informing you which they are. Owned servers are a better choice as far as security is concerned because nobody outside the network has access to the server.
That’s not to say that renting servers is a bad idea. However, deploying a worldwide server network is expensive and labor-intensive. Furthermore, it’s unrealistic to expect every VPN in the market to own every single server it uses. Granted, that would be the perfect option in an ideal world. But consider VPNs that offer you thousands of servers in more than a hundred countries globally, and you’ll start to see why renting servers is a necessity.
With Mullvad, you can sort your servers by ownership, provider, city, country, hostname, or protocol.
Yet another virtue in Mullvad VPN is that they do not use virtual servers at all. Every node in the network is a physical computer that is exclusive to Mullvad. No virtual machines, virtual locations, or virtual servers.
Mullvad and the Great Chinese Firewall
A recurrent issue in VPN reviews is: will it work in China? The answer in Mullvad’s case is: probably.
I will give you a detailed answer, but before that, let me tell you that Mullvad’s website is not the best one I’ve seen in VPNs. While the service is undoubtedly feature-rich, those features are not even listed on the website’s main pages. If you need information from the “Help” section, you’ll find that it’s hard to navigate. Many times, you won’t even find the data you need because it’s not there.
But I digress. Let’s return to the issue at hand: Mullvad doesn’t claim to work in China. This in itself is meaningless. Advertising such a feature out in the open is tantamount to declaring the service blatantly illegal for use in China.
But does it work, regardless of the marketing?
The jury is still out on that. Some serious VPN testers have tried and failed to use Mulvad from China. Some others say that it does work. And there’s even a third group that says that it was able to make it work with a given set of servers that then became unavailable. And that’s why my answer to the question is “probably.”
No data is available that allows me to tell you that this VPN will never work from China. However, there is no guarantee, whether from the vendor itself or a solid group of expert users. It seems that this is a hit-and-miss issue with this VPN and this particular country.
Logic suggests that the Bridge feature should be beneficial in evading the Great Chinese Firewall. If your entrance server is in a “neutral” country and your “exit” server is in one of the forbidden ones, everything should work. Theoretically. In practice, I have not been able to confirm it.
Mullvad’s customer support
I attempted to find out the truth about the Chinese issue with the help of Mullvad’s customer support. That would also give me an idea of how good it is. And I was disappointed on both accounts.
I had already swept the support information available on Bridge and Shadowsocks proxy. It was a waste of time. All I learned from the website was that the available information is hardly helpful.
So I sent an email. I told them I wanted to understand how to work around the Chinese censorship apparatus. I described what I intended to do in full detail and asked them if it would work or not.
The answer I had was beyond useless. They sent me a link pointing to the help section on the website, which had already proven worthless.
There is no live chat option or phone customer service.
I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that customer service is not Mullvad’s most robust feature by any means. In fact, it’s terrible. That’s a terrible thing when you consider how many advanced features are available in the apps. Unexperienced VPN users are bound to need help with those features, and they will not get any from Mullvad.
Mullvad is a VPN network designed and operated with a clear purpose in mind: to offer a service that privacy enthusiasts will appreciate, especially if they have a degree of technical expertise about VPNs.
Privacy and anonymity features in Mullvad are robust, very flexible, and highly customizable.
And in addition to all those advantages, this is a relatively cheap VPN service, costing about half of the market’s average fee.
After examining Mullvad’s service in detail, it’s easy to see why so many privacy enthusiasts love it so much. Truthfully, it’s hard to find a better service than this one regarding privacy or anonymity.
With all that being said, this is not a VPN for all tasks. Yes, the security features are great, but this VPN offers those features by sacrificing other functionalities. Unblocking streaming services is a glaring example.
So this VPN will be good for those users who care most about keeping their anonymity and privacy safe, who are on a budget, have a high degree of expertise, and do not need or want a very versatile VPN. If that’s you, congratulations! You’ve found your match! But, on the other hand, if you need a better VPN capable of keeping you safe online but also of giving you additional advantages, keep reading.
Alternatives to Mullvad VPN
NordVPN is one of the best VPN services in the world. The network boasts more than 5,000 servers in 59 countries. The connections are high-speed, and the platform is user-friendly.
You can use NordVPN to see Netflix if you want, but you will get much more from it. Safety and anonymity are totals in NordVPN. Its features include Double VPN, Onion over VPN, malware blocking, just to name a few.
Yes, anonymity is better at Mullvad, but it’s a one-trick pony, while NordVPN can do anything any VPN in the market does, only better and in style.
If pricing seems like one of Mullvad’s most decisive advantages, think twice. Although the monthly fee at NordVPN is much higher if you go for the monthly plan, if you choose a more extended plan, you can end up paying about 3,30 USD every month, which is even less money than with Mullvad.
ExpressVPN‘s reputation is excellent in the VPN-verse. It’s almost as good as NordVPN.
Every server runs on a RAM hard drive, and it boots from a read-only disk. This makes all the information in every session very volatile. It fades into oblivion every time the server reboots. Also, it means that these servers are lighting-fast.
ExpressVPN is as versatile and as reliable as NordVPN. Unlike Mullvad, ExpressVPN is well-known to work in China, which is a critical feature if you need it.
SurfShark is a relative newcomer disrupting the VPN world by offering a service at the best level for a fraction of the price – you can have SurfShark for less than half the price of Mullvad, which is already low.
So why is it so cheap? What do you lose by opting for such a low price? Nothing. SurfShark is solid in every regard, including video streaming services and the all-important bypassing of the Chinese Great Firewall.