Avast, Avira, Bitdefender, Kaspersky - it seems like every big antivirus company has a VPN in its lineup, these days, and BullGuard is the latest to join the party.
BullGuard VPN is a straightforward service which is based around the excellent NordVPN network, but uses BullGuard's own simplified clients to make the technology more accessible and easier to use.
The VPN is very much about the essentials only. The network is small at just 16 countries, for instance, including only two outside of Europe and North America: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.
BullGuard is quiet about P2P, but as NordVPN supports the technology, and qBitTorrent worked for us when we tested it, you're probably not going to experience any problems.
There are apps available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, but no browser extensions, and no support for manual setup on routers or anything else. You can only get connected by using the official software.
There's good news, too. The apps can be set up to automatically load when they start, and connect to your choice of location. A kill switch blocks internet access if your VPN drops. And BullGuard VPN supports up to six simultaneous connections, a step up on most of the competition (ExpressVPN only allows three.)
BullGuard VPN does drop a few of the more advanced NordVPN features. No CyberSec to block malware, no options to bypass VPN blocking, no Double VPN, and no Onion support. BullGuard is probably right, the average user won't care much about any of that, but more technical types might have some regrets.
BullGuard customers (that is, anyone with an active subscription to any software or service) get a 25% discount on the one-year plan, cutting that price to an effective $4.94.
For comparison, NordVPN is priced at $6.95 spread over a year, $3.99 on the two-year plan, or $2.99 over three years.
BullGuard’s one year plan offers a decent saving, especially for existing BullGuard customers, but otherwise there’s little difference. NordVPN still wins out overall as it has considerably more features, but if you're a BullGuard fan, or you prefer a simpler approach to VPNs, BullGuard VPN could still be a smart choice.
Privacy and logging
The BullGuard VPN website explains that the service 'does not log what you’re doing online, or keep records of the websites you visit, ensuring you have complete online privacy and security.'
A separate statement notes: 'we have a clear no logs policy for all of our BullGuard VPN apps. We do not collect nor do we store personal identifiable data.'
What's interesting here is that, unlike most VPNs, you don't have to take these words on trust. That's because in November 2018 NordVPN hired Price Waterhouse Cooper to run an independent audit on its infrastructure and services, and the report confirmed that the company lives up to its no-logging promises. (Read more in our full NordVPN review.) That's a level of reassurance you won't get with most of the competition.
BullGuard says ease of use is its top VPN priority, and this was clear from the moment we launched the Windows client. A Quick Connect button gets you connected to your nearest server; a simple list of alternative locations lives in a side panel, and a clearly-labelled Settings button gives you access to a few tweaks. Even the greenest of VPN newbies will figure this out in no time at all.
The client spoils the effect a little by displaying its locations in an apparently random order: Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Australia, France, Switzerland, and so on. We're struggling to see why anyone would prefer this to sorting them alphabetically.
With only sixteen locations, though, it doesn't take long to scroll the list and find what you need. And a simple Favorites system enables moving your most commonly-used servers to the top of the list, making them even easier to find and access.
Connection times were disappointing, at least on our test device and network (keep reading for better news from the Android app). The Windows client typically took 15 seconds to connect to our nearest UK server before a desktop notification told us it had succeeded, but even then, the client spent up to another 15 seconds telling it was 'resolving' our IP address. (We found we could use the connection and see our new IP address as soon as the desktop notification appears, and before the DNS warning, so it might be possible to simply ignore the second message.)
For comparison, we tried the ExpressVPN client on the same system. It connected to its UK server in around 4-5 seconds, and even Australia took only 7 seconds to connect. If you only connect once or twice a day, BullGuard's extra 10 second wait isn't going to matter, or perhaps even be noticeable, but if you're regularly switching servers, it might be annoying.
BullGuard's Windows client settings include some useful features, with some you'll rarely see elsewhere. You can have the client launch when Windows starts and automatically connect to your preferred location, for instance. There's both a system-wide and an app-based kill switch, giving you extra privacy protection if the VPN unexpectedly goes down. If you don't want to use BullGuard VPN's own DNS, you can use another, perhaps to add extra functionality like malware or ad blocking.
There's still some room for improvement. The client doesn't support NordVPN's Obfuscated Servers feature to help you get online in countries which block VPNs. There's no way to change or tweak your protocol (it's OpenVPN-only, though you can choose UDP or TCP), and no option to auto-connect when you access an insecure wifi network. But, to be fair, BullGuard's client is more capable than many (and NordVPN's Windows app doesn't enable changing your protocol or automatically protecting specific networks, either.)
BullGuard VPN's Android app has a very similar interface to the Windows edition, with just a little tweaking to adapt it for mobile devices: the main body of the screen has a Quick Connect button which will connect to the selected server, or you can swipe up for your Favorites and the full location list.
Connection times via the Android app were just as we'd expected, perhaps even faster, at around 3-5 seconds. This tells us that our slow Windows connection times were likely to be a client or network issue, not a wider problem with BullGuard's servers, and it's possible you may not experience them on your devices.
The app's Settings were also a little different to the desktop edition.
On the plus side, there's a new option to automatically connect whenever you use wifi or mobile networks, handy to ensure you're protected while you're out and about.
As a minor down side, the app doesn't have a built-in kill switch. This isn't fatal, as you can manually set up a kill switch from within Android's VPN settings (the Support site even explains how to do this from its Settings page), but this doesn't really fit with BullGuard's focus on ease of use.
Overall, BullGuard VPN's apps are straightforward, easy to use, and cover the core features most users are likely to need. The long connection times on our Windows device were a concern, but may not affect everybody. Overall, and for a relatively new service, BullGuard is off to a good start.
BullGuard sells its VPN on privacy and security more than website unblocking, and the company doesn't make any big claims about giving you access to Netflix, Hulu or anything else.
We tested the service, anyway, by trying to view BBC iPlayer while connected to BullGuard VPN's UK location. The site often displayed a ‘this content doesn’t seem to be working’ message, but after hitting Retry a few times it generally disappeared and we were able to stream content. That’s not as smooth as we would have ideally liked, but as we’re unsure about the cause, and BullGuard VPN had shown it was capable of bypassing iPlayer’s VPN detection, we’re going to count that as a victory for the service.
We had more straightforward results with YouTube, where BullGuard VPN's US servers got us instant access to US-only content.
Better still, BullGuard even got us access to US Netflix, bypassing its heavy-duty VPN-blocking technologies and allowing us to browse and stream whatever we liked. We didn't check any other platforms, but if BullGuard VPN can unblock Netflix, it should work with most sites.
BullGuard uses the powerful NordVPN network to provide its locations, and our own NordVPN review suggests that's a guarantee of good performance.
The service got off to an excellent start, with Netflix Fast.com and the Speedtest.net website reporting downloads of 68-70Mbps on a 75Mbps test line when connected to our nearest UK server.
Switching to BullGuard's European connections made little difference. Download speeds averaged 60-70Mbps, with 55Mbps as our absolute lowest result across multiple tests (and even that could have been due to some temporary local network issue.)
Connecting to the BullGuard US server saw speeds fall a little to 50-65Mbps. That's a wider range than we see with some of the competition, but that may be because BullGuard doesn't allow city-level server locations, and you can be allocated servers across the country. (We found our locations might be in New York one day, San Francisco the next.)
BullGuard only offers a couple of locations outside Europe and North America, but they both performed well, with Singapore reaching an excellent 46-54Mbps, while Australia averaged 22-26Mbps.
Put it all together and BullGuard VPN delivers better speeds than most of the competition, but there is still one potential catch. If you're based in, or trying to access a country which isn't on BullGuard's very short US and Europe-focused location list, that's likely to reduce your performance.
BullGuard lists its 'renowned premier 24/7 live support' as one of the reasons you should choose BullGuard VPN, but how does the service work in real life?
The BullGuard VPN apps all include a Help link which opens the support site in a browser window. We expected this to present us with some very obvious VPN-related content or categories, but, well, no. There's no mention of the term 'VPN' anywhere on the opening page, and although some of the links take you to BullGuard VPN advice, most do not.
For example, the support site's first category displays three links: First Install, Reinstall and Settings. You might easily turn to any of these for VPN help, but the first of these contains nothing more than download links for the apps, and the Reinstall and Settings pages are focused on BullGuard's security apps, and don't reference the VPN at all.
You could try searching for knowledgebase for keywords, but that doesn't help, either. When we searched for 'VPN', the site gave us only five articles, and even those were brief and distinctly short on detail.
The picture improved when we manually searched the support site for help. The Product Guides section included some simple tutorials which covered the basics on all platforms, and will help novice users. We'd like to see them better highlighted and accessible from the Search box, though, so users can find them more easily.
In the meantime, if you can't find what you need on the website, you can always contact the support team 24/7 via Live Chat or email.
We raised a question by email, asking how many servers BullGuard VPN had, and how many of its locations supported P2P. These seemed like simple questions to us, but the reply didn't answer either, and seemed more like a general-purpose template:
"Our VPN solution is designed to work as-is without any complicated setup. Everything from routing to scaling happens in the background based on a complex algorithm.
If you have difficulties with your connection or traffic, let us know and we will advise."
We opened a live chat session, instead, and asked a question about our lengthy Windows connection times. We thought the support agent might walk us through a diagnostic or troubleshooting process, but instead he told us these connection times were normal because "the connection BullGuard VPN makes for a Windows computer... [is using a]... much more complicated algorithm than the connection on Mobile devices."
We followed this up by asking the agent whether the VPN supported P2P, and the agent explained that '[this] option is not yet available, however, it should be introduced with future updates.' This was a surprise to us as P2P is supported on NordVPN's servers, and we were able to download torrents while connected to BullGuard VPN's UK server.
It's difficult to know what to conclude from this. None of these answers were as we expected, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong. Maybe there is some legitimate reason that Windows connections take longer than usual, for instance, and perhaps there are some background issues with P2P.
What we can say is that BullGuard VPN didn't give us the quality of support we would expect from a specialist VPN provider. But that's no surprise for a brand-new service from a company where VPN isn't its core business, and we've seen the same issue with other antivirus vendors who have branched out into the VPN business. What we have seen is that the support these companies offer improves drastically as they learn from experience, and we would hope to see the same to happen with BullGuard VPN. In the meantime, if support is a priority for you, post a couple of test questions during your first 30 days and check the responses you get.
BullGuard VPN's speed and simplicity will appeal to its target audience of novice VPN users. It's short on features, but the service could still be worth a look, especially for existing BullGuard customers who will benefit from the initial discount.
- We've also highlighted the best VPN in this roundup