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Mullvad VPN review: Not fast or cheap enough to stand out

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
4.38
/mth, inc VAT

With mediocre speeds and a clunky app, this well-intentioned VPN doesn’t justify its price

Pros 
Good range of privacy features
Excellent corporate transparency
Cons 
One of the slowest VPNs we’ve tested
Didn’t work with most streaming sites
Flat monthly pricing is only competitive for short-term use
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Mullvad means “mole” in Swedish, and this Scandi VPN can make your internet connection pop up in locations all over the world. As with all VPNs, your real location and identity are disguised, and strong encryption ensures your ISP can’t tell which sites you’re accessing. It’s a big boost for your online privacy, and a VPN can often also be used to unblock region-restricted services, such as US-based video streaming sites.

Mullvad operates secure servers in 39 countries, mostly in Europe and North America. Coverage is limited in Asia and South America, and Mullvad doesn’t offer any servers at all in Africa, but there’s enough geographical spread to cover most people’s needs. Those seeking the widest choice of VPN locations should consider CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, HMA or Surfshark, all of which have presences in more than 90 nations.

One thing that’s very unusual about Mullvad is its pricing model. Rather than offering a range of deals for different subscription lengths or features, this VPN charges a flat fee of €5 a month for five devices, equivalent to £4.38 at the time of writing.

Over a short stretch it’s a bargain – most rival VPNs charge £8 and upwards for a month’s service. However, those services also offer steep discounts for longer commitments: Atlas VPN, CyberGhost and PIA work out to less than £2 a month if you prepay for three years of service. As a long-term VPN, Mullvad isn’t competitive at all.

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Mullvad VPN review: What’s it like to use?

Mullvad offers native apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, plus installers for Debian- and Fedora-based Linux distributions. The Mullvad network supports both WireGuard and OpenVPN, so you can additionally connect to it from compatible routers and other appliances.

We tested the Windows app and found it usable, but not exactly smart. The app opens in the lower-right corner of your screen, showing your currently detected location on a map and two main buttons – one to change your location, the other to connect and disconnect the VPN.

Clicking the former switches the view to a list of all available countries. You can click a drop-down arrow next to each to drill down to individual cities, but this is often pointless as 30 of the 39 nations listed only have servers in a single city. There’s a further option to select individual servers within a city, but since no information is provided about load or latency this is a total crapshoot. There’s no way to sort, search or mark individual locations as favourites, nor can you ask the software to connect you to the fastest available server.

When the app window is hidden you can control the VPN via the system tray icon – a blocky and, frankly, ugly padlock icon. The context menu lets you connect to the currently selected server or terminate a connection, but switching servers must be done in the main app window.

There are a few additional settings to tweak: you can tell Mullvad to block adverts, tracking technologies, malware, porn and gambling content; turn the static window into a floating pane that can be dragged about on the desktop; and configure split tunnelling to exclude specific apps from the VPN.

Buried inside the advanced Wireguard settings you’ll find a switch to enable multi-hop mode.

If you turn this on, the next time you open the list view you’ll be prompted to pick two different servers for your traffic to pass through – though again, you get no guidance in selecting these. To return to single-server connections, you have to revert to settings and turn the multi-hop option off again.

The Android client has a very similar design to the desktop app, only instead of the map there’s just a big blank space. The server list works in the same way, with the same limitations, and you can once again configure split tunnelling to exclude certain apps from the VPN. The content-blocking options haven’t been ported across, however, and multi-hop connections aren’t supported.

It's disappointing to note that, unlike the big VPN names, Mullvad doesn’t offer interactive support. If you need help with something that isn’t covered on the website, you have to send off an email and wait to hear back – although, to be fair, when we tried this we received a helpful response in minutes.

READ NEXT: Our full roundup of the best VPNs available

Mullvad VPN review: How fast is it?

All VPN services slow your internet connection to some extent, but the precise impact can vary considerably depending on the underlying infrastructure. We tested Mullvad VPN on a Windows 11 laptop, connected via Wi-Fi 6 to a domestic Virgin Media fibre broadband line.

With the VPN disconnected, the Google Speed Test tool reported an average download speed of 335Mbits/sec over our broadband line, but as soon as we connected to a Mullvad server in London this dropped sharply to 138Mbits/sec. That’s a fall of almost 60% – far more than we’d normally expect to see for a short-range connection.

Speeds fell even further when we picked a server in New York: this time Google measured a download rate of only 97Mbits/sec. That’s not quite the slowest performance we’ve seen in this test (that was StrongVPN’s 79Mbits/sec), but most VPNs we’ve tested have delivered upwards of 170Mbits/sec.

We then repeated the tests with the Mullvad Android client, running on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet. On this device we measured a download speed of 235Mbits/sec with the VPN disconnected; again, connecting to a server in London caused this to plummet, this time to 112Mbits/sec, while the New York server averaged 83Mbits/sec.

In Mullvad’s defence, all of these tests provided ample bandwidth for most things you’re likely to be doing through a VPN. Websites will be fast and responsive at these speeds, and you can even happily stream 4K HDR video (the recommended minimum is 25Mbits/sec). Split tunnelling also enables you to send only specific apps over the VPN, while everything else keeps running through your ISP at full speed.

Even so, over a protected connection you’re getting a lot less than the full broadband speed you pay for – and if you want to run Mullvad on a router with multiple devices sharing a single connection, things could quickly start to feel sluggish.

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Mullvad VPN review: What’s it like for BitTorrent and streaming?

Sweden is the birthplace of Pirate Bay, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Mullvad has a relaxed attitude to file-sharing. BitTorrent is permitted via all servers, and the website even points you towards a free online tool that you can use to confirm that your torrenting client isn’t leaking information.

Video streaming, however, doesn’t appear to be a priority. The website doesn’t make any claims about unblocking region-restricted services, and in our tests we saw mixed results. With our Windows 11 laptop connected to Mullvad’s New York server, we could watch US Netflix and log into Hulu, but the Disney+ website refused to open. And British content was off the menu entirely: BBC iPlayer, BritBox and Now TV all refused to play through a UK-based server.

Switching to Android didn’t help. The Netflix and Disney+ mobile apps weren’t fooled by our US VPN connection and continued to present their UK libraries, while the British streaming apps remained resolutely blocked. If you’re looking for a VPN to open up international streaming options, look elsewhere.

READ NEXT: Best VPNs that offer a free trial

Mullvad VPN review: Is it secure?

The fact that Mullvad is based in Sweden means it’s within legal reach of the western authorities and corporate interests. It’s also inside the multinational “Fourteen Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance.

That’s not necessarily cause for panic, however. The company’s website includes a rundown of its legal situation, and a zero-logging policy promises that Mullvad won’t store or share any of your personal information.

Indeed, the company goes further than most to avoid collecting your personal details: rather than using an email address as your user identifier, Mullvad gives you a randomly generated 16-digit number, which you can ditch and refresh as often as you like. There’s even a 10% discount if you pay for the service with anonymous cryptocurrency – you can even stick cash in an envelope and post it to the company HQ in Gothenburg.

The client apps also contain a few features aimed at safeguarding your identity. The kill switch in the desktop app is permanently enabled, which makes sense, and while the multi-hop option isn’t very helpfully implemented, it’s reassuring to have the option. However, we would have liked to see more sophisticated auto-connect options: you can tell Mullvad to connect on startup, but it will just revert to whichever server you were using last and won’t automatically engage when you connect to an untrusted network.

For additional peace of mind, the Mullvad Blog details recent third-party audits of the company’s servers and client apps. The provider is up front about who manages its infrastructure, too, with the online server list detailing which servers are owned and operated by Mullvad itself, and which are outsourced.

Mullvad VPN review: Should you buy it?

Every VPN service has good and bad points, but in our view Mullvad’s shortcomings outweigh its strengths. It’s comparatively slow, it doesn’t unblock most streaming services, its global coverage is quite limited, and if you’re looking for a long-term solution it’s dreadful value.

On a more basic level, we simply didn’t enjoy using the software. The server selection interface is a drag to work with, while the auto-connect feature is rudimentary and the mobile app lacks the full feature set.

Mullvad deserves credit for the efforts it makes to provide a transparent and trustworthy service. It goes further than most VPNs to protect your anonymity and keep you informed. Even so, we’re instinctively uneasy about any VPN based inside the EU, and when you compare Mullvad’s performance and feature set to its rivals, it’s very hard to recommend.

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Mullvad VPN review: Quick facts

Based in:Sweden
Cheapest price:£4.38/month
Money-back guarantee:30 days
Devices (simultaneous)5
Servers:870
Speed:Medium
24/7 customer support:N
US Netflix and Disney+:Y/N
BBC iPlayer:N
Torrenting allowed:Y
Killswitch:Y
Multihop:Y
DNS leaks:N
Activity logging:N

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