Thunder VPN is free for life! Signal Lab, the company behind this app, claims to offer users online protection and other great perks without asking for a dime. This sounds ravishing, but we all know that free things sometimes come with hidden costs. So before you jump on the bandwagon, take notes here about what the VPN offers and what they claim to offer but don’t. Many VPNs are out there, but you should only go for VPNs that outperform the flock and give you value for money.
Thunder VPN is free, and there is also a VIP version with slightly upgraded features. The app is only usable on Android devices but can also be used on Windows, Mac, or Linux PCs with an Android emulator. It currently has 10 million downloads on the Google Play Store and 4.8-star ratings from more than 800,000 reviews. These statistics look impressive but also normal for a free app. When we get down to value and performance, however, things get a little twisted.
The only streaming services that Thunder VPN can unblock are Amazon Prime Video and YouTube US. You can’t unblock Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, iPlayer, or HBO Max. Using the app will reduce speeds by as much as 50%, which can impact streaming and gaming if you aren’t on a high bandwidth connection. There is no cap on VPN bandwidth, though.
Thunder VPN uses the SSL protocol which is less secure for VPNs as it doesn't verify clients like the IPSec protocol and therefore leaves users vulnerable to “man in the middle” cyber attacks. The problem is aggravated by the lack of a killswitch to prevent access to the internet when your device is not connected to the VPN.
Thunder VPN is actually intrusive and collects data through a vague log policy. Your privacy lies at their mercy. Annoying ads will pop up every single time you connect/disconnect from the free app version, which only confirms that commercial interests precede the vendor's promise of keeping you safe behind a firewall.
Testing this VPN app showed me there's more to it than meets the eye.
Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings
- Only works on Android 4.1 or above. See also what I found out about using it on other devices which are not Android.
- Unblocks Amazon Prime Video and YouTube US. It didn’t work on Netflix, Disney +, Hulu, iPlayer, and HBO Max streaming platforms. See all the streaming results here.
- Speeds: I lost on average 50% of my speeds when connected to their servers. I recorded major losses on the German servers while the UK servers performed best. The full speed test results can be found here.
- Servers: The free version has servers only in 8 countries, and the VIP version has servers in 104 countries though the actual number of servers is not known. Virtual servers are occasionally used when set to UK servers. See other key points about their servers.
- Security: The SSL encryption protocol used is more susceptible to attacks compared to common VPN protocols like OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 used in the industry. The app has no kill switch, and the free version has weak firewalls to allow for ads to show. It, however, passed IP, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests which I carried out.
- Privacy: Privacy is low. Their log policy allows for the collection of personal information including IP and email addresses as well as in-app data which can be shared with third parties. Signal Lab which is the company behind the app has a confusing corporate address and no means to be reached.
- Ease Of Use: Setting up and installing the app is very easy, and no configurations are necessary. The user interface is simple and professionally designed. The split-tunneling feature enables users to choose apps that should be routed through the VPN.
- Price: The free version is entirely free. The VIP version has highly-priced plans starting from $0/month. There's no trial period or money-back guarantee for the VIP version. See the plans here.
- Support: There is no support team or means provided to contact the vendors. The FAQ questions on the app are brief and mainly explain how to use the app. I checked all possible channels for reaching the support team
Thunder VPN Features — Updated in January 2023
Does VPN keep logs?
Number of servers
Number of devices per license
Based in country
Streaming — Works Only On A Few Platforms
You’ll find little success using Thunder VPN on streaming platforms. I could only bypass the geo-restrictions on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube US. Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer all blocked Thunder VPN.
Unblocked: Amazon Prime Video & YouTube
It's not surprising that Thunder VPN can unblock streaming on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. These are by far the easiest platforms to unblock for most VPNs. I used both the West and East United States servers to stream US exclusive shows The Boys and Sneaky Pete on Amazon Prime. YouTube, I would say, was a walk in the park to unblock.
Thunder VPN unblocked Amazon Prime Video and I watched the US-exclusive show ‘The Boys’
Blocked By: Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, iPlayer, HBO Max
Thunder VPN fails the ultimate streaming test as it cannot allow you to watch shows on Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, iPlayer, and HBO Max.
I connected to the US servers from my location in Nairobi and searched for Netflix shows only available to US viewers like Mystic Pizza, but the platform offered me none. When I repeated the process with a different VPN that I was certain works on Netflix, the shows were available to watch. This was enough proof that the VPN could not unblock Netflix.
Similarly, Disney+, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Max all blocked my attempts to use Thunder VPN to stream from their platforms.
Hulu and iPlayer blocked me from accessing the platform with Thunder VPN
Speeds — Lost An Average Of 50% Of My Internet Speeds
As with any VPN, I expected internet speeds would drop when I used Thunder VPN. In this case, however, I lost more than half of my initial speeds. Below are the results from my 30 Mbps Nairobi connection and the subsequent speed test readings from the UK, US, and German servers.
Baseline speed test results
Speed test readings from my location without Thunder VPN
UK Speed test
Speed test results with Thunder VPN connected to UK servers
Download speeds without VPN 33.23 Mbps
Download speeds with VPN on UK servers 20.74 Mbps
Speed loss of 37.58%
US Speed Test
Speed test results with Thunder VPN connected to US servers
Download speeds without VPN 33.23 Mbps
Download speeds with VPN on UK servers 16.80 Mbps
Speed loss of 49.44%
German Speed Test
Speed test results with Thunder VPN connected to German servers
Download speeds without VPN 33.23 Mbps
Download speeds with VPN on UK servers 15.67 Mbps
Speed loss of 52.83%
Are Thunder VPN’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? No
If your connection is bordering average then I would not recommend this VPN for gaming primarily because I lost nearly half of my baseline internet speeds on most servers I tested. If, however, you have a high bandwidth connection then you should have no problem with gaming or streaming in HD using Thunder VPN because download speeds as little as 4Mbps can do the job.
Server Network — Can Fail You Sometimes
Thunder VPN’s free version has a very limited server network with servers in only 8 countries including the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Singapore, Netherlands, and the United States which is split into Eastern and Western servers.
The VIP version is an improvement as it adds more countries to this server list to a total of 104. Among the additions are Australia, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Finland, India, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and the US South. The coverage in Asia is a major boost because previously, they have been criticized for being Euro-centric.
Thunder VPN’s free version has servers in 8 countries
As a rule of thumb, being closer to servers provided by a VPN provider offers you a better experience with their service as long as the server space is not overburdened by many users. Thunder is a free VPN with a high number of registered users and few servers, so you should expect their server networks to be slow at times.
It has done a good job by integrating a signal meter that shows the strength of each country's servers at a particular time and automatically connects you to the most optimized server based on your location. Sometimes, you will see none of the servers has a green signal, thus indicating that the server network is occasionally weak.
There aren’t any city-optimized servers showing ping rate, download, and upload speeds to help you choose the best intercity servers. The only country where they have made small efforts to create area-based servers is the US, where they have East, West, and South servers.
Another commendable feature of the app is that you can instantly switch between servers without getting disconnected from the VPN, as it happens with most VPNs. It takes only 2-3 seconds to change servers which I find to be impressive.
Once in a while, you might encounter incidents where Thunder VPN uses virtual servers. This means that you may set the app to UK servers, but if the servers there aren’t working, you may be assigned an IP in France. This is exactly what happened when I connected to Thunder VPN servers in the UK.
While connected to UK servers, I had a France IP and DNS servers in Belgium
I checked my IP and DNS more than once only to see they were French and Belgian addresses. Other servers I tested, like the US, Canada, Luxembourg, and Singapore, did not show the same results. My guess is perhaps this happens whenever the server network is down.
You can use Thunder VPN without worrying about exceeding their bandwidth cap because they do not have any limits on bandwidth.
Security — Better Than Nothing
You can’t take any risks on your security with free VPNs like Thunder VPN. There are a few impactful security issues with this VPN. I’ll start by saying it doesn’t have a killswitch as many standard VPNs provided in the market do. A killswitch is important for hiding your IP address because it will automatically stop your device from accessing the internet if you aren’t connected to their servers.
Another security issue to consider is that Thunder VPN uses the SSL encryption protocol for data transmissions. This protocol is not substandard per se. As a matter of fact, it has certain merits over the IPSec protocol, which is popular among today's VPN vendors.
The SSL protocol bypasses firewalls easily and can restrict access to specific apps by third parties. Thunder VPN has capitalized on this characteristic and integrated a split-tunneling feature that enables users to choose apps they want to route through the VPN and allows other apps a direct connection to the internet.
It is, however, easier for hackers to penetrate the SSL encryption protocol partly because it does not require any third-party software for authentication like the IPSec protocol. Coupled with other reasons like slower speeds, SSL does not compete well against the common VPN protocols like OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols. It is mostly used on browsers.
With the free version, you will see ads pop up every time you connect and disconnect from the app, which should ring bells that there are no strong firewalls in place. The lack of ad blockers also implies you could be an easier target for viruses and malware by using this app.
Having a strongly encrypted VPN is essential in the present modern world where the threat of cyberattacks is ever-looming, yet we still use public WiFi. The IP your VPN assigns you will be important in protecting you by showing potential attackers an address that is far from your location.
Proceeding on, I performed IP, DNS, WebRTC leak tests on Thunder VPN and did not find any major leaks even with the free version.
Privacy — You Get Very Little If Any
After reading their privacy and usage policies which are published in their Terms of Service, you can’t help but feel nervous about giving control of your data to anonymous people on the net. At first, they give this brief assurance about ‘not collecting log traffic data’ to just help you feel safe.
Just one paragraph after the above statement on their policy, they present a long list of information they collect from users, which include;
- IP address
- Email address
- OS Version
- Internet service provider
- App identifier
- Ad identifier
- Language of your device
- Device manufacturer and model
- Times when connected to the server
- Choice of server locations
- Time zone and network state (WiFi and so on)
- Amount of data transferred (etc.)
You know Thunder VPN takes away more of your privacy than they indicate if terms like ‘so on’ and ‘etc.’ are appended on their policy.
Another reason why I feel the app is intrusive is the statement on the policy that they store and analyze user information to help them deliver the best experience. This ‘best experience’ apparently includes throwing third-party ads to your face every single time you connect and disconnect from the app.
Interestingly, they add that you can log into their website and change your personal information. Their website is straight-up bland and does not have anywhere to log into, so this is just a misconstrued statement.
Thunder VPN's website is plain and unresponsive with only one working link to Google Play
Let’s briefly look into Signal Lab, the company behind Thunder VPN. It owns another free VPN app called Secure VPN which equally has more than a million downloads. They don’t have any website of their own or a professional email that users can use to contact them.
If you search the corporate address they have provided under both apps, you’ll see that the 91803 Zip Code provided is for Alhambra in Los Angeles, California, and not Arkansas as they have indicated.
I can’t argue whether the company is legit, but my concern is who takes responsibility if data breaches happen? It would be such a big mess, especially because they have so many subscribers.
Torrenting — You Can But It's Risky
You can use Thunder VPN on P2P sharing clients like BitTorrent, but is it really worth the risk? First, the SSL protocol is not that secure.
Secondly, the personal information collected through their log policy, which includes email and IP address, already means torrenting with the app is a risky affair.
Does Thunder VPN Work in China? No
Thunder VPN does not use obfuscated servers which can bypass tight censorship in China. Obfuscated servers prevent networks from detecting that you are using a VPN. They are mainly found in VPNs using the OpenVPN protocol.
With the SSL protocol, I highly doubt if you can use Thunder VPN in China even if you connect to their Hong Kong servers. I checked their site URL on The Great China Firewall and saw their servers are blocked in that country. They have no support team to ask about this issue, so I’ll stick to what I already know.
Simultaneous Device Connections — Only The Free Version Can Be Used on Several Devices
You can use the Thunder VPN free version on an infinite number of devices because no account registration is required. In the VIP version, however, the privileges you purchase can only be used on 1 device.
Device Compatibility — For Android Users Only
Thunder VPN works exclusively on devices with Android 4.1 or above OS versions.
Signal Lab hasn’t created any official apps for iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux, Xbox, PlayStation, Chrome, Firefox, Kindle Fire, or routers. You can, however, use the VPN on Windows, Mac, or Linux PCs via an Android emulator.
A word of caution here. There are suspicious vendors offering Chrome browser extensions for Thunder VPN, but they are not from the same vendor, so be careful about what you install on your PC.