The Opera web browser features a built-in free VPN service that its users can use for enhanced online anonymity and privacy. Unlike other browsers, Opera allows users to bypass geo-restrictions on content and unlock access to all corners of the web free from censorship or restraints.
That’s why Opera has become a popular choice among privacy advocates the world over. With a free VPN service, ad blocker, and fast Web 3 support, Opera is quickly gaining ground in the proxy service market.
But does Opera live up the hype? For this review, we tested the Opera web browser for weeks to determine whether this free service is worth your time—and the results might surprise you.
Introduction to Opera’s VPN
It’s important to make clear that the Opera web browser is not, in fact, a true VPN service. Rather, it’s a free proxy service. In other words, Opera is like an intermediary between your computer and the internet.
While some proxy servers can attach to your local router to increase network connection speeds, Opera’s is on a remote server. This means that your IP address is hidden, your traffic is encrypted, and, as a result, users can bypass local-level restrictions and censors.
At present, Opera is one of the leading free proxy services on the web. However, it’s natural to feel a bit skeptical about the incentives behind 100% free proxy services — after all, it’s expensive to run proxy servers, and the service providers need to cover the costs somehow.
There are two ways that free-to-use proxy service providers make money: running advertisements or selling your personal data to advertisers. It’s reasonable to suspect, then, that Opera engages in both activities to stay afloat.
VPN vs Proxies: What’s the Difference?
Both VPNs and proxies help you stay anonymous online by concealing your IP address, though they operate in different ways.
On the one hand, proxies act as a sort of “gatekeeper” to the software you’re using it in (such as the Opera web browser). Therefore, with a proxy installed you won’t have to worry about your traffic making it through to your local network. One key distinction, however, is that HTTP proxies do not hide your IP address, and your data is not encrypted.
By contrast, VPNs are the more secure option because they protect your connection from end-to-end. Under a VPN, remote servers conceal all client traffic — including emails, torrents, and regular web browsing data — by rerouting the data and DNS through a virtual network. VPNs allow for IP masking on every application a client uses at all times.
Opera has its fair share of mixed reviews, but many critics and users alike still regard it as one of the leading free “VPN-like” services for web browsing anonymously.
But does this free VPN hold its own when put to the test? Below, let’s take a look at Opera’s distinctive features to see if this secure browser can stand its ground in an arena filled with worthy, true VPN-grade competitors.
Opera’s encryption and protocols leave something to be desired. Opera encrypts through HTTPS/SSL which does offer some privacy, albeit not much. This is a standard level of encryption that most major websites use. This means that Opera VPN is more like a proxy that guards the traffic between the Opera browser and the remote server.
Opera’s VPN also uses the AES-256 algorithm, one of the most secure algorithms on the market. This allows for secure data encryption when using the Opera browser. This creates an added layer of anonymity and security for your web browsing, utilizing an electronic encryption standard approved by the US Department of Commerce and NSA.
Unfortunately, while Opera does offer encryption through HTTPS/SSL, it’s important to note that this is the same level of encryption that most websites on the Internet use. When viewed in this light, Opera’s so-called “encryption” standard doesn’t really hold up compared to the tunneling protocols that operate on other VPNs and proxy servers.
Device and Platform Compatibility
The Opera browser can run on the most popular operating systems and devices. Whether you are using a desktop or a mobile device, Opera can work for you. The following operating systems and devices support Opera:
Another aspect to keep in mind is that Opera VPN does not work as an extension for other browsers. So, Opera VPN does not allow for secure and private browsing across all platforms. Instead, you are only covered while browsing using the Opera client.
When it comes to gaming and streaming sticks, Opera leaves you out to dry. However, Opera is compatible with Chromecast when casting from YouTube or other built-in platforms. We’ve yet to successfully use Opera from an Amazon Fire TV stick or other media streaming platform.
The Opera browser VPN gives you options when choosing server locations. These options are centered around very broad geographical areas that should be selected according to the user’s physical location (i.e., choosing the closest server group). There are three choices for server locations when using Opera VPN:
With this broad selection, you should be able to choose an IP location nearest you for the fastest connection speeds possible. However, when we tested all three server locations we found that there were hardly any differences between them when testing for upload and download speeds.
When using the Americas server, we enjoyed download speeds of approximately 8.15 Mbps, upload speeds around the 2.05 Mbps mark, and a PING of about 140. This was relatively disappointing, considering heavier VPN software programs have resulted in superior speeds, even with servers located halfway across the world.
Ultimately, Opera is just a little too slow for our liking. If all you need is a program to unblock geo-restricted content, then you might be in luck with Opera. However, you shouldn’t expect blazing-fast speeds or anything in the realm of “fast.”
When it comes to online streaming, Opera’s true potential shines through. Streaming services on Opera seem to work around the clock, bypassing geo-restrictions and hiding your real IP adress, making it an excellent proxy service for this purpose. This makes watching your favorite shows a relatively simple process, even if you have to wait a little longer for the connection to buffer.
Using a VPN to watch Netflix is usually a challenge, but when you use Opera, it works flawlessly. Netflix is vigorous in its quest to block proxy and VPN services, but it failed to block Opera on all our tests. In fact, it’s surprising how consistent the Opera browser is for watching unrestricted Netflix content no matter your location.
Other streaming services work well with Opera VPN, too. There are no issues when accessing YouTube and other online streaming services through Opera. We also had no issues watching content from other unblocked streaming services, such as:
When it comes to BBC iPlayer, Opera doesn’t have as much luck. Without a UK specific IP address, you cannot unblock BBC iPlayer. However, Opera VPN still as a huge advantage over other free VPNs for its ability to bypass the tough Netflix firewalls.
Easy to Use
Using Opera is about as easy as it gets. It is hard to imagine a VPN service that is easier to use than Opera. There’s no fiddling with settings each time you open your browser. There’s no need to worry about whether your VPN has been shut off. There’s also no need to download a client program, set up an account, or login.
Once you’ve accessed the Opera browser, you simply enable the VPN through the browser settings panel. Follow the steps below to find out how to toggle the VPN settings using Opera:
- Select the Opera icon from the left-side toolbar
- Select “Settings”
- Select “Advanced”
- Scroll down to “VPN” subsection
- Click “Enable VPN” box
That’s it. Once you have enabled the VPN, it stays that way until you toggle it off. This makes it easy to browse Opera securely and privately every time you fire up the program.
Once you have enabled the VPN, you will see the blue VPN badge in your search bar. Click on the VPN badge to go to the main dashboard. That is where you can see how much bandwidth you have used and where you can change your virtual location via a server selection process. To change your virtual location, choose a country from the new list of locations. Click on your desired location to change the VPN server to that country.
Reliable Connection Speeds
When compared to other free VPNs, the Opera browser VPN has its competitors beat. Opera is downloaded as a small file so it is quick to install and set up. The servers are always up and they connect fast, especially on Windows 8 operating systems or higher.
Streaming music and video with Opera VPN can be somewhat fast at times — it is just as fast or faster than a few of its competitors in this regard. When streaming, the Opera VPN network latency was only 2.5 times slower than pre-VPN speeds.
Ultimately, however, Opera is nothing if not reliable. Whereas other VPN services experience significant network downtime that requires killswitches and other tools to prevent your IP from becoming visible to surveyors, Opera’s servers rarely if ever go down. Instead, you’re free to roam the web with peace of mind at all hours.
Opera VPN has plenty of qualities that make it a good free VPN option, especially for those who don’t identify as “power users.” Below, we’ve listed some of the top features of Opera VPN that distinguish it from other leading VPN or proxy services:
- Great streaming options with the ability to bypass Netflix blocks
- Intuitive UI that’s easy to use
- Reliable connection speeds
- Compatible with several device types
Of course, no VPN is without its flaws and Opera VPN might have more than its fair share. Below are some of the biggest grievances that we experienced when using the Opera web browser.
- Limited server locations
- Poor, inaccessible customer support
- No torrenting options
- Opera logs your data usage
- Vulnerable to hackers by using HTTPS/SSL encryption
Falling Short of Private
Some things are too good to be true and when it comes to free online products, that is often the case. If you aren’t paying for a product, that means you are the product. Unfortunately, Opera VPN is no exception — it collects your anonymous information and sells it to third-party advertisers, making you the product in its business model.
Opera is logging and selling your data to inform and to serve targeted advertisements. It is important to note that Opera VPN does not store the information that links you to the proxy IP address. Instead, Opera collects information about your OS and your IP address that could be used to identify your devices and, thus, you as an individual.
For this reason, those concerned with true online anonymity may not want to use Opera VPN. If privacy is what you want out of a service like this, Opera VPN is not the best VPN for you. Since it logs your data, what you are searching online is not so private after all. That’s why we recommend staying away from Opera unless anonymity isn’t your primary concern.
In cases like this, many people would opt to use the Tor browser with their VPN. However, since this service only works with the Opera browser it means that you won’t be able to combine the VPN with Tor to improve your privacy.
The Five Eyes
Technically, Opera is based on Norway. However, recently Opera came under management by Surfeasy, a Canadian VPN firm based in Toronto. This should come as a concern to privacy advocates since Canada is a participating country in the Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, five of the largest anglophone world powers, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States joined forces to create a military signals intelligence alliance. Shortly thereafter, this top secret supra-national intelligence partnership became known as the Five Eyes.
Since the 1990s, and later in 2013 following the Edward Snowden leaks, it became publicly known that the Five Eyes were engaged in intrusive international mass surveillance operations across borders. Under programs such as PRISM, X-Keyscore, and ECHELON, the domestic intelligence agencies of any FVEY country could request data, including all web browsing and traffic data, from any resident of any other participating country.
In other words, companies like Surfeasy, which are located within the borders of the FVEY alliance, are subject to state surveillance. Therefore, users should be aware that their network is vulnerable to seizure or surveillance by state actors that can freely share this information across borders.
When it comes to protecting your privacy, you want to make sure that you get your money’s worth. When it comes to Opera VPN, there is no doubt that you get more than you paid for. This is because Opera VPN is entirely free. For what you get, you really cannot find a better deal online.
Opera is one of the many secure browsers that offer a built-in proxy service for anonymous and unrestricted browsing. Its simple and sleek interface makes it a standout in a crowd of other leading VPNs and proxies that are overly technical and bulky. Among its many merits is that it is consistent and reliable, with very little network downtime.
However, Opera isn’t for everyone. The software is bogged down by a relative lack of server locations and, consequently, lackluster upload and download speeds. For this reason, it’s often not the first choice among power users who want lightning-fast connection speeds. And, unlike some of its competitors, it’s no longer available on mobile devices.
What holds us back from recommending Opera is its business model. As a free service, Opera generates revenue by offering annoying and interruptive advertisements.
Not only that, but it logs users’ data and sells it to third-party media companies that use it to create targeted hyper-personalized ads. For this reason, Opera shouldn’t be touched by those looking for a true anonymous VPN experience.
Ultimately, the casual proxy user will still enjoy using Opera. This is because Opera performs exactly as advertised: it leverages a proxy server to conceal a user’s IP address and circumvent annoying and restrictive censors and geo-blocks. Casual users, then, may find it worthwhile to give this free proxy service a test-run.