HotSpotVPN does provide a handy additional service called TunnelGuardian, which as of this writing was still in beta. It's a Web proxy that uses port 80 to close the back door to visits from malware and ads. To turn on TunnelGuardian, you need to find your way around your Web browser's proxy settings -- which is not covered by the setup videos -- and point to one of two proxy servers. It's not 100% effective, and it doesn't work on HTTPS port 443, but it does add an additional layer of protection for the extra-cautious.
If you're comfortable plowing into VPN-related technology without much interactive help or guidance, HotSpotVPN delivers the goods in affordable short-term packages. Those who don't know Blowfish from AES-256 may want to opt for something with a more consumer-friendly approach.
When you first log on to StrongVPN's Web site, you can see at a glance that the company has a lot going for it. To begin with, it has a strong showing of servers: 146 servers around the globe, including 94 in the United States. It uses gigabit switches. It can handle VoIP traffic. And it provides 24/7 live technical support.
What's a little harder to see is which of StrongVPN's services will fit your needs. The company packages its offerings in an almost bewildering array. There are Lite, Standard and Deluxe packages -- Lite packages offer servers in San Francisco, New York and Miami; Standard adds Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas, Seattle and Chicago; and Deluxe adds everywhere else in the world. There are single-city a la carte offerings if you don't travel much. And each package is available in PPTP and OpenVPN flavors.
Fortunately, the company provides excellent support for sales and technical advice. StrongVPN offers online chat support in two forums: on its own site using Zopim's off-the-shelf LiveChat application (something that WiTopia also uses) and on Skype. At several key points during the evaluation, this team proved highly responsive: I never waited more than a minute for online chat assistance and the team was never at a loss to respond to any issue.
I finally picked the Lite OpenVPN package and received a confirmation e-mail immediately after placing the order. Ten minutes later, I also got a fulfillment e-mail with links for downloading and configuring the OpenVPN client software.
Configuring the OpenVPN client to work with StrongVPN servers feels a little kludgy. After you install the software, a box pops up asking for the URL of a custom configuration Zip file. That URL is part of StrongVPN's confirmation e-mail, and it's a custom-prepared set of files for each customer. You have to copy and paste the URL from your confirmation e-mail to complete the configuration -- not a tricky step, but it's something that the other vendors in this review handle more smoothly.