Install a VPN or two for free and you will often find hidden discoveries. It’s free for a day or two and then shipped; It is full of ads. Connections are dropped every five minutes and the developer is anonymous, so you can’t tell if he’s trustworthy or not.
If all this sounds too familiar, Calyx VPN sounds too good to be true. Free VPN, No Bandwidth Limits, No Registration Required, Android, Mac and Linux Apps? There must be a trick, right?
Well, maybe not. This isn’t your usual free, anonymous service: Calyx is provided by Calix Institute, an established non-profit organization that claims to be “dedicated to the study, testing, development, and dissemination of privacy technologies and tools…”
It’s made possible by donations, so there are no annoying ads. You may install and use the Service without providing your email address or other personal information. And the apps are open source too, so experts can check the code to see exactly what it does.
That sounds good to us, but how does Calix perform in the real world? We’ve taken a closer look.
The Calyx site is basic, as we’ve seen, but that’s probably a good thing. No ads, no glossy pictures, no attempt to tell you things you already know – it’s just a brief explanation of the service and a link to the calyx download page.
Calyx uses the open-source OpenVPN Point Mask app developed by the LEAP Project for encrypted access (another non-profit organization.) There are downloads for Android, Mac, and Linux, or you can grab a copy directly from the Play Store.
We downloaded and launched the Android app and chose Calyx as our carrier. The app asked if we wanted to create a profile – was this a violation of anonymity? We accepted the offer, and no: we were only asked to enter a username and password, no email address required.
Whatever we entered, the app warned, “Try again: bad server response”. Did we pick an existing username and break some password rules? He said the app is not annoying.
Fortunately, Calyx also had a “Use Anonymous” option that allowed us to delete profiles, so we chose that, and went straight ahead.
The Calyx VPN app is so simple that a VPN novice can get started right away. Click the On button and see the messages “Connecting…” and in a few seconds the status message will tell you “Your traffic has been safely routed through Calyx (New York)” and when you are done, click “Off” and you will be offline.
There is no sign on the server list or locations outside of New York. This is unfortunate, but not surprising either. For example, ProtonVPN Free is funded by paid ProtonVPN users, but still only supports three locations: the United States, the Netherlands, and Japan.
Browsing through the app’s menu revealed some valuable bonus features.
The “Always-On VPN” option unlocks the Android system settings, enabling the Android’s built-in kill switch to be enabled with a single click.
“Exclude apps from VPN” is a split tunneling system, where you can choose which apps don’t work with the VPN or don’t need them, and instead route their traffic through your normal connection.
Bridges feature is designed to help you bypass VPN and connection blocking.
By clicking Show experimental features, we were able to prevent IPv6 data breaches and even use our devices as a WiFi VPN hotspot. It’s not as good as it sounds – these only work if you have root privileges on your device – but the options are here, if you can use them.
We never expect great performance from free services, but they should be usable for at least basic tasks, perhaps basic browsing and email.
Our initial results weren’t great, with SpeedTest.net reporting 5-10Mbps downloads from the UK to New York. However, this is sufficient for browsing and may be enough to continue.
You may see better results from another site. We tried connecting from a French data center and downloads went up to 60-70Mbps. Well, not everyone has connectivity levels in the data center, but getting closer to the server should also increase your speeds.
Kalix hasn’t unblocked US Netflix or Amazon Prime, but that’s not surprising. And look at it this way: When that happens, we see less bandwidth available for non-streaming tasks.
There was better news in the latest privacy tests. We checked Calyx with DNSLeakTest.com at DNSLeak.com from IPLeak.net and found no trace of DNS or other leaks.
There is a lot to like about Calyx VPN. Free, no bandwidth limits, no registration required, reliable, easy to use and no ads getting in your way.
Of course, the service doesn’t have ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or any of the big names or unblocking capabilities. No wonder it’s completely free.
Speeds seem poor on some sites and we think this will be the biggest problem for most users.
If it’s fast enough for you, Calyx is worth the download, if only for use as an emergency backup VPN server in case the main service goes down.
Evil tv scholar. Proud twitter aficionado. Travel ninja. Hipster-friendly zombie fanatic.