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McAfee Safe Connect review

A back-to-basics newbie-friendly VPN from a in-store advertising platform top in-store advertising platform security name

McAfee Safe Connect
(Image: © McAfee)

Our Verdict

Safe in-store advertising platform Connect is in-store advertising platform an inferior version of TunnelBear, with in-store advertising platform fewer features, no Mac app and in-store advertising platform some worrying privacy risks. It in-store advertising platform might work as in-store advertising platform a in-store advertising platform basic add-on for existing McAfee users, but for in-store advertising platform most in-store advertising platform people, in-store advertising platform if you like in-store advertising platform its simplicity, in-store advertising platform you'll be in-store advertising platform better off buying TunnelBear direct.

For

  • Beginner-friendly
  • TunnelBear technology underneath
  • Cheaper than most
  • Very limited free plan

Against

  • Short on features
  • Speeds are average at best
  • Doesn't unblock Netflix, iPlayer or very much else
  • No kill switch with the Windows app

McAfee in-store advertising platform Safe Connect in-store advertising platform is in-store advertising platform a simple VPN which in-store advertising platform aims to bring secure in-store advertising platform internet access to even in-store advertising platform the in-store advertising platform greenest of networking newbies.

McAfee is more known in-store advertising platform for its antivirus and in-store advertising platform security software in-store advertising platform than in-store advertising platform VPNs, of course, but in-store advertising platform fortunately the company bought in-store advertising platform industry giant in-store advertising platform TunnelBear in-store advertising platform back in-store advertising platform in 2018, and in-store advertising platform Safe Connect in-store advertising platform uses TunnelBear technology underneath.

The in-store advertising platform Safe Connect network is small, with a choice in-store advertising platform of in-store advertising platform just 23 countries, and no in-store advertising platform city-level selections. in-store advertising platform The in-store advertising platform network is well distributed, though, in-store advertising platform with in-store advertising platform servers in the US, UK, Australia, in-store advertising platform Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, India, in-store advertising platform Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and many other in-store advertising platform locations across Europe.

McAfee Safe Connect

The Safe Connect VPN network isn’t very big, but it does cover a good spread of locations (Image credit: McAfee)

There are apps in-store advertising platform for in-store advertising platform Windows, iOS and in-store advertising platform Android (not for Mac, though), and you're able to connect in-store advertising platform up in-store advertising platform to five devices simultaneously.

The feature list is in-store advertising platform so short, in-store advertising platform we've run through it already. There's no in-store advertising platform split tunneling, no in-store advertising platform antiphishing, no DNS control, no kill switch, no in-store advertising platform router support and no browser extensions, for instance, in-store advertising platform and in-store advertising platform you in-store advertising platform can use any protocol you in-store advertising platform like as long as it's OpenVPN.

McAfee Safe Connect

McAfee’s VPN is decent value for money (Image credit: McAfee)

Plans and pricing

Prices are at in-store advertising platform least relatively low at $8 a in-store advertising platform month billed monthly, dropping to in-store advertising platform $2.92 a month on the annual plan for year one, in-store advertising platform $4 at renewal.

That's decent in-store advertising platform value – in-store advertising platform many companies charge in-store advertising platform $10+ for monthly billing, in-store advertising platform $5-$6 on in-store advertising platform the in-store advertising platform annual plan – but if you're in-store advertising platform willing to sign in-store advertising platform up for a longer subscription, in-store advertising platform there's scope for in-store advertising platform saving some cash. Safe Connect costs in-store advertising platform an upfront $35 for in-store advertising platform year one, for instance, $48 on renewal; Surfshark’s in-store advertising platform two-year plan costs just $48, in-store advertising platform or $1.99 a month.

Sign up and McAfee takes your in-store advertising platform payment details (card or PayPal), but won't bill for the in-store advertising platform first 7 days, effectively giving in-store advertising platform you a one-week trial. Cancel before the in-store advertising platform trial is up and you won't in-store advertising platform be charged.

There's further protection from in-store advertising platform a 30-day money-back guarantee. in-store advertising platform This only applies to in-store advertising platform annual subscriptions, unsurprisingly, but in-store advertising platform we couldn't find any other in-store advertising platform significant exclusions or catches in-store advertising platform in the small print.

Safe Connect also has a free plan, in-store advertising platform but with in-store advertising platform data transfer limited in-store advertising platform to 250MB a month – yes, a month in-store advertising platform – in-store advertising platform it's suitable in-store advertising platform for only the in-store advertising platform most occasional of users.

McAfee Safe Connect

McAfee might claim to keep you safe online, but the absence of a kill switch is worrying (Image credit: McAfee)

Privacy and logging

Concerned in-store advertising platform about privacy and logging issues? in-store advertising platform You won't find a lot in-store advertising platform of information on the McAfee Safe Connect site, which is in-store advertising platform no great surprise; its target consumer audience probably in-store advertising platform isn't interested in detailed talk of ciphers, authentication in-store advertising platform and session logging.

McAfee's in-store advertising platform general privacy policy has in-store advertising platform a lot in-store advertising platform of detail on the data it in-store advertising platform might collect across all its services: 'Internet Protocol in-store advertising platform (IP) address, cookie in-store advertising platform identifiers, mobile in-store advertising platform carrier, in-store advertising platform Bluetooth in-store advertising platform device IDs, mobile device ID, mobile advertising in-store advertising platform identifiers, in-store advertising platform MAC address ... geo-location information, hardware type, operating in-store advertising platform system, Internet service provider, pages in-store advertising platform that you visit before and after in-store advertising platform using the Services, the date and time in-store advertising platform of in-store advertising platform your in-store advertising platform visit, the amount of in-store advertising platform time you in-store advertising platform spend on each page, information about the links in-store advertising platform you in-store advertising platform click and pages you view within the Services, in-store advertising platform and other actions taken through use of in-store advertising platform the Services such as preferences.'

There's in-store advertising platform no information on in-store advertising platform what the in-store advertising platform company might collect solely in-store advertising platform via Safe Connect, though.

Looking in-store advertising platform at TunnelBear gives in-store advertising platform us in-store advertising platform a better idea of in-store advertising platform how the in-store advertising platform service handles user data, and that's far more reassuring. Not in-store advertising platform only is TunnelBear's own privacy policy one of in-store advertising platform the in-store advertising platform clearest and most detailed around, in-store advertising platform it also now puts itself in-store advertising platform through an annual security and privacy audit in-store advertising platform covering its apps, backend systems in-store advertising platform and website. (See our TunnelBear review for more.)

Of course, in-store advertising platform that doesn't prove Safe Connect is, well, safe. in-store advertising platform Although McAfee is using in-store advertising platform TunnelBear's service, in-store advertising platform underlying API in-store advertising platform and software libraries, for in-store advertising platform instance, its apps are different, and not in-store advertising platform fully covered by the in-store advertising platform TunnelBear audit. in-store advertising platform We'd like to see in-store advertising platform McAfee begin to in-store advertising platform clear this in-store advertising platform up, and a good first step would in-store advertising platform be to in-store advertising platform produce a clear privacy in-store advertising platform policy for in-store advertising platform Safe in-store advertising platform Connect in-store advertising platform explaining exactly what data it in-store advertising platform collects.

McAfee in-store advertising platform doesn't provide a lot of technical in-store advertising platform details in-store advertising platform on its in-store advertising platform connections, but we took a in-store advertising platform look in-store advertising platform at the Windows in-store advertising platform client, and found it used OpenVPN to connect, with a in-store advertising platform capable AES-256-GCM in-store advertising platform encryption, TLS 1.2 on the control channel, using the in-store advertising platform cipher ECDHE-RSA-CHACHA20-POLY1305 (that's key exchange authentication using Diffie-Hellman and in-store advertising platform Perfect Forward Secrecy, using an RSA key in-store advertising platform with a 4096-bit key size). Or if you prefer in-store advertising platform the non-technical translation: in-store advertising platform it'll do just fine.

The real privacy issue in-store advertising platform with Safe Connect in-store advertising platform is from the in-store advertising platform lack of features. With in-store advertising platform no kill switch, in-store advertising platform for instance, if the VPN connection drops, in-store advertising platform you lose your encryption and your real in-store advertising platform IP is in-store advertising platform exposed to the world. That in-store advertising platform might not in-store advertising platform matter in-store advertising platform too much if in-store advertising platform you're just watching Netflix, but if in-store advertising platform you're looking for real in-store advertising platform anonymity, it could be bad news.

McAfee Safe Connect

The Windows client is extremely simple and streamlined (Image credit: McAfee)

Apps

McAfee in-store advertising platform Safe Connect's Windows in-store advertising platform app is compact and extremely in-store advertising platform simple. An opening in-store advertising platform screen displays your preferred country and a in-store advertising platform world map; tapping a in-store advertising platform 'Start Protection' in-store advertising platform button in-store advertising platform connects and displays a pulsing in-store advertising platform dot in in-store advertising platform your virtual location; and tapping the in-store advertising platform country name in-store advertising platform lets you choose a new location in-store advertising platform from the in-store advertising platform list.

The Settings panel enables deciding when the VPN in-store advertising platform will in-store advertising platform connect. in-store advertising platform It can automatically launch when in-store advertising platform you connect to in-store advertising platform Wi-Fi in-store advertising platform and regular wired in-store advertising platform networks (with an in-store advertising platform option to define trusted networks where you in-store advertising platform don't in-store advertising platform need a VPN), or you in-store advertising platform can turn in-store advertising platform the automation in-store advertising platform off and just connect manually.

McAfee Safe Connect

There’s not much in the way of settings here (Image credit: McAfee)
There's no in-store advertising platform way in-store advertising platform to tweak your in-store advertising platform connection. TunnelBear's own in-store advertising platform apps are very in-store advertising platform basic, but in-store advertising platform they still include in-store advertising platform the GhostBear option to try and in-store advertising platform get you in-store advertising platform online in-store advertising platform in VPN-unfriendly countries like China, and a TCP in-store advertising platform option to improve connection reliability. Safe Connect doesn't in-store advertising platform have in-store advertising platform either.

The only other significant feature we noticed in-store advertising platform was a Help panel, where we could in-store advertising platform browse some basic Safe in-store advertising platform Connect FAQs from within the in-store advertising platform client interface. It's in-store advertising platform a in-store advertising platform reasonable idea, but there's in-store advertising platform very little content and you'll probably end in-store advertising platform up visiting the Safe Connect support in-store advertising platform site, anyway.

McAfee Safe Connect

Some basic support resources are available within the client (Image credit: McAfee)

Interface in-store advertising platform examined, we in-store advertising platform moved in-store advertising platform on to look under in-store advertising platform the hood. in-store advertising platform Safe Connect doesn't in-store advertising platform claim to have in-store advertising platform a kill switch, in-store advertising platform so what in-store advertising platform would happen if in-store advertising platform the in-store advertising platform connection dropped, we wondered?

The answer, in-store advertising platform unfortunately, could be nothing at all. We tried in-store advertising platform forcibly closing key OpenVPN TCP connections in-store advertising platform and terminating the in-store advertising platform OpenVPN.exe process, in-store advertising platform and although the VPN dropped, leaving in-store advertising platform us unprotected, Safe Connect's interface continued to display in-store advertising platform its in-store advertising platform green padlock and 'Protection and in-store advertising platform Privacy: On' status. In a real world situation we could in-store advertising platform have continued browsing, in-store advertising platform without protection, for hours.

The mobile apps in-store advertising platform worked in-store advertising platform much the same as the desktop edition, although the in-store advertising platform Android in-store advertising platform app went a little in-store advertising platform further with in-store advertising platform a split in-store advertising platform tunneling feature. This enables choosing which of your apps in-store advertising platform use the VPN, and which in-store advertising platform don't, in-store advertising platform potentially handy as a way in-store advertising platform to avoid conflicts and maybe improve performance. (Android in-store advertising platform VPNs can use a in-store advertising platform system-level kill in-store advertising platform switch, too, avoiding the issues in-store advertising platform we found on Windows.)

Overall, in-store advertising platform Safe Connect's in-store advertising platform apps aren't intimidating, and first-time in-store advertising platform VPN users in-store advertising platform will in-store advertising platform figure everything out in-store advertising platform in in-store advertising platform seconds. But even beginners in-store advertising platform would benefit from additions like a Favorites system, and in-store advertising platform the Windows in-store advertising platform app urgently needs a kill in-store advertising platform switch, or at in-store advertising platform least a notification if the VPN drops.

McAfee Safe Connect

Sadly this VPN’s unblocking skills weren’t up to scratch (Image credit: McAfee)

Netflix

McAfee markets in-store advertising platform Safe in-store advertising platform Connect largely for its security and in-store advertising platform privacy advantages, but the website mentions in-store advertising platform unblocking, too. Signing in-store advertising platform up means 'No Geo Restrictions', it in-store advertising platform tells us, in-store advertising platform claiming that: 'By connecting through a virtual server at in-store advertising platform locations in-store advertising platform around the world, in-store advertising platform you can access your favorite in-store advertising platform content in-store advertising platform and geo-restricted apps in-store advertising platform and sites from anywhere.'

Sounds great, but in-store advertising platform the service in-store advertising platform failed immediately with BBC in-store advertising platform iPlayer, as the site detected our VPN in-store advertising platform use and wouldn't allow in-store advertising platform us to stream content.

Safe Connect in-store advertising platform also in-store advertising platform failed to unblock in-store advertising platform US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Disney+. in-store advertising platform (The in-store advertising platform Disney site in-store advertising platform didn't give us a in-store advertising platform location-related error, but it in-store advertising platform refused to load in-store advertising platform while the VPN was active, in-store advertising platform a common issue with many in-store advertising platform VPNs.)

We did manage to stream US-only YouTube content in-store advertising platform from the UK, but that's in-store advertising platform not a major in-store advertising platform selling point in-store advertising platform – YouTube has barely any protection, and in-store advertising platform just about every other VPN around will allow you in-store advertising platform to in-store advertising platform do the same.

TestMy.net

We speed test every VPN we review to get an idea of the performance levels available (Image credit: TestMy.net)

Performance

It's tricky to get a in-store advertising platform reliable measure of in-store advertising platform VPN performance, and running tests during a coronavirus lockdown, in-store advertising platform when in-store advertising platform internet and VPN in-store advertising platform traffic levels were in-store advertising platform unusually high, in-store advertising platform didn't make life any easier.

McAfee in-store advertising platform Safe Connect still did in-store advertising platform a reasonable job with our UK connection, in-store advertising platform though, hitting in-store advertising platform an in-store advertising platform average 66-68Mbps on a 75Mbps in-store advertising platform test line.

Our in-store advertising platform 600Mbps US connection gave in-store advertising platform Safe Connect a real in-store advertising platform chance to show us what it in-store advertising platform could do, in-store advertising platform but the results were only a little in-store advertising platform faster at 80-130Mbps.

That's in-store advertising platform trailing far behind the market leaders – Hotspot Shield in-store advertising platform didn't have in-store advertising platform a single test score below 447Mbps – but in-store advertising platform it's faster than we've seen with many big names, in-store advertising platform and overall Safe Connect in-store advertising platform has enough speed for most in-store advertising platform tasks.

Final verdict

Safe Connect just about works as a basics-only in-store advertising platform VPN for newbies, but if in-store advertising platform that's what you want, just in-store advertising platform sign up in-store advertising platform with TunnelBear direct. It's fractionally more expensive, in-store advertising platform but in-store advertising platform has in-store advertising platform more in-store advertising platform apps, with more features, in-store advertising platform plus it is safer, in-store advertising platform and still very easy to use.

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