SpyOFF SpyOFF is a San Marino provider that proudly claims to be “the fastest VPN alive” (presumably as opposed to all those dead or zombie VPNs – ed).
We browsed SpyOFF’sSpyOFF’s website for background details on its performance, but all we found were more dubious claims. When asked “Will the VPN slow down my… internet connection?”, for example, the FAQ page responded: “No. You will usually not notice any difference in speed.” That simply isn’t true.
Most of the other features listed on the website were more generic, the kind of claims you’ll get with any VPN: SSL encryption, no logging, unlimited server changes and the ability to access geo-blocked sites, for instance.
We kept looking, and did find some more concrete information. SpyOFF’s network is an average size, with 395 servers spread across 25 locations. Most are in Europe and North America, although there are a few elsewhere: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Brazil.
The company offers custom clients for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac. We noticed that the mobile clients had only average 3.5-star ratings and very mixed reviews on the app stores, but they should at least make it easier to set up the service.
SpyOFF states that you can use the service with multiple devices at the same time, but doesn’t specify a figure. Presumably that means there’s no limit, but we would be more confident if the website explicitly said that.
The price seems high, even if you do get support for unlimited devices. SpyOFF’s Starter plan costs £9.99 per month ($12.50), while the Premium plan is £6.99 ($8.70) a month billed annually. To put that into perspective, even a top name like Private Internet Access will give you a full year for much less than half that price, at $3.33 (£2.66) a month.
SpyOFF does have one significant plus in its 15-day trial period. Although you must enter your payment details upfront, you’re not billed immediately, and if you cancel within 14 days you won’t be charged.
The SpyOFF website claims that there’s “no logging” when you’re connected to the VPN, later expanding this to “we do not record any usage data or connection logs.”
A separate Data Logging page tries to give more information. This isn’t always successful, we suspect because it’s been machine-translated from the original German. Here’s how it begins:
“Data logging is carried out by a process-controlled memory unit, a data logger. This data logger records data via an interface with a certain rhythm and places this data in another storage medium, such as a log file.”
We’re not sure that’s going to help anyone very much, but fortunately the document does get more detailed later, stating that the VPN “does not log any of your activities… cannot trace which server you are currently using, nor which activities you are carrying out on the internet.”
SpyOFF explains that its policy is partly due to a 2007 judgement by the Berlin District Court, which “declared that the logging of the IP addresses of the users of an internet portal without their consent was prohibited.”
This appears to suggest there’s no activity or session logging, which is better than many other providers. Still, we did spot an interesting detail tucked away in the terms of service.
“For the customer’s protection, the provider stores the IP address of the internet connection from which the direct debit authorisation was granted during registration.”
Your IP address is recorded, as well as your email address, when you sign up. As you’re handing over your payment details anyway, this probably won’t matter very much, but it’s still an extra check we’ve rarely seen elsewhere.
SpyOFF’s signup form looks much like any other: choose a username and password, select your country and enter an email address. Simple, right? Maybe not.
We submitted our details and the page refreshed, drew a red line around the password box and displayed an uninformative error message: ‘pattern’. After a little trial and error we found the service didn’t accept the @ symbol as a password, so we switched it for $ and our login was accepted.
While this only took a few minutes to figure out, it still creates a poor impression. Websites ideally need to be able to accept all symbols to ensure they’ll work with password generators, and we would hope a security company would realize that. The fact that SpyOFF doesn’t clearly tell users this, or explain the problem in an error message, also isn’t encouraging.
The next page asked for our credit card, PayPal or BitPay details. You won’t be charged if you cancel within the trial period, but it’s important to read the small print as there are a couple of catches.
First, despite the website flagging the trial as ’15 days’, the terms of service suggests you have to cancel at least 24 hours before it ends – meaning it’s effectively 14 days.
Second, if for example you sign up for the monthly plan, you’re agreeing to this clause:
“If I do not cancel up to at least 7 days before the end of the contract, the contract is extended by at most one further month.”
That ‘up to at least’ is clumsy, but presumably it means if you cancel a contract in the last 7 days of its term, it gets renewed anyway. Keep that in mind if you try the service out.
We took the PayPal option and a webpage opened with a download link for the SpyOFF client. An email arrived moments later with more information.
The Windows client installed without any problems. On launch it displayed a message in German (‘Bitte Wahlen Sie eine Sprache’), which was a little confusing, but once we chose the ‘English’ language option it displayed as expected.
The SpyOFF interface is extremely basic. Forget server maps, load data, filtering, search tools or Favorites systems; all SpyOFF gives you is a list of locations. This isn’t sorted, so you’re left scrolling through an apparently random sequence – France, Singapore, Belgium, USA – until you find whatever you need. There’s no ‘auto-select’ option to choose the nearest server to your location, either.
We chose ‘Germany’, clicked ‘Connect’, and… Nothing happened. No ‘Connecting…’ message, no warning, nothing at all.
Connecting to the United Kingdom seemed to work, but we were given an IP address in Germany.
We enabled an option to manually choose the server ourselves. Selecting ‘United Kingdom’ now displayed a list of more than 130 servers, along with their ping times. We were able to sort the list to find the fastest server, and connect in a couple of clicks, but still found that some servers were reported as UK IP addresses, some as German.
The ‘manual selection’ fix appeared to solve our problems with the real German servers, though. We were able to choose and connect to any server on the list, and they all returned German IPs.
The client has buttons to easily switch between OpenVPN, L2TP or PPTP protocols. That’s undeniably convenient, although the labelling – PPTP is captioned ‘HighSpeed’ – might tempt users to select it, even though it’s much less secure.
SpyOFF provides some settings, but the defaults are questionable and you can’t always do what you want. The client doesn’t set itself up to load with Windows, for instance, and although you can enable that, there’s no way to connect automatically.
Even worse, if the VPN connection is lost, SpyOFF’s default action is to do nothing at all. There are other options – use a kill switch to lock down your network, retry automatically using custom settings – but you have to find and apply these yourself.
We ran our usual performance tests*, and initially the results seemed reasonable. Connecting to our nearest server in the UK gave us download speeds of around 15 to 20Mbps, which isn’t outstanding, but will be enough to handle most applications.
Unfortunately, this was as good as the service got, and speeds tailed off drastically as we moved to more distant servers. UK to Europe connections gave us a well-below-average 6 to 12Mbps. North America peaked at around 5Mbps, when even an average service might give us 15Mbps – and Asia struggled to about 1Mbps.
We tried more countries and more servers within each country, but the results were very consistent. Despite its “fastest VPN alive” headline, SpyOFF’s performance was well below par just about everywhere.
The service scored a final small victory in our privacy tests, successfully blocking WebRTC and DNS leaks. Apparently some Windows users have still reported problems, but SpyOFF has provided an extra ‘enhanced DNS leak protection’ feature for those who need it.
SpyOFF makes big claims on its website, but couldn’t live up to them during testing. The Windows client is poorly designed, speeds are below average, we encountered several odd glitches and issues, and overall the service just isn’t worth the asking price.
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we’ve reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.