As you'll probably guess from the name, MacSentry claims to be a VPN with software optimised for your Mac. But that's not as restrictive as it seems, and the website explains that the service also works on Windows, Linux, iPads, iPhones and Android devices.
Server locations are strictly limited to only six: Amsterdam, Montreal, Frankfurt, London, Seattle and Washington. That may be acceptable if you just need a different IP, but it's otherwise very restrictive, and will affect performance if there isn't a server near you.
MacSentry's vague and insubstantial website doesn't make much effort to spell out other features. There's support for five simultaneous connections, apparently, but otherwise we're left guessing. Does the service support P2P, for instance? The site mentions ‘no limits, no restrictions, no blocked ports’, so our assumption is yes, but it would help if the company spelled it out.
- Want to try MacSentry? Check out the website here
The one bonus feature it does highlight is the collection of tools Mac users get with their subscription: a network connection monitor, drive clean-up tool and battery status app.
Prices are a little below average. A one-year subscription costs $3.58 (£2.85) a month, billed annually. Six months are reasonably priced at $5 (£4) a month, and monthly billing can be yours for $10 (£8). PayPal, credit cards and Bitcoin are supported for payment.
There's no free product or trial, unfortunately, but MacSentry does state that "if you are not 100% satisfied with our service within 7 days we will give you a full refund." There's no sign of sneaky clauses like ‘as long as you've not transferred more than 100MB data’, so you should have plenty of opportunity to test the service.
MacSentry's website doesn't mention the company's logging policy on its front page, but there's some detail elsewhere.
There's no way to confirm whether any VPN does exactly as it promises, so instead we try to assess a provider's likely reliability by browsing its website, finding out more about the company, and seeing how transparent it seems to be with its users. Sadly in this case, problems appear in just about every area.
The MacSentry website makes unrealistic claims on its front page ("keep your internet safe from malware, phishing and spam sites"), while hiding key details (only six locations) on other pages. There's no substantial content anywhere, website support is limited to a single non-technical FAQ, the firm’s terms of service seems to have been largely cut and pasted from somewhere else, and MacSentry's Facebook page is so rarely used that it's not even linked from the site.
There are barely any details about the company or people behind MacSentry, beyond the name Sentry Tech Ltd. This appears to be a Belize-based holding company which also runs AliasVPN, a service with a website and specification very similar to MacSentry. But there are no names, no addresses, no background details. The registered owner of MacSentry.com is hidden. The website doesn't even have an email address, just a contact form.
While none of this is evidence of anything dubious, it doesn't fill us with confidence. There's no visible sign here of business knowledge, technical expertise, or a company with any substance, and no attempt to be transparent with customers. If we were simply shopping for a VPN, we'd walk away at this point. But with a review to do, that's not an option: it was time to take the next step.
The MacSentry signup process is much like many other: choose a plan, select your payment method (card, PayPal or Bitcoin), and fill in your details as usual. The only small surprise is you're asked to select your country as well as enter an email address, but we chose one at random and the site didn't complain.
One click later we were at MacSentry's client area, which to our surprise was powered by WHCMS, normally a frontend for web hosting companies. Had MacSentry worked hard to repurpose it for the VPN business? Well, no. WHMS has a built-in knowledgebase, but MacSentry's is empty. Its Network Status page was also empty. And the Recent News page still had a ‘Thank you for choosing WHCMS’ message, which is a sample announcement WHCMS users are supposed to delete before they go live.
We headed off to the Downloads section, where a heading said we'd find "all the… files you may need to get your website up and running." Website? That's probably going to confuse most VPN users, but it only gets worse. The Download section only contains links to two of the three bonus Mac apps included with the service (the connection monitor and disk clean-up tool). There's no sign of the battery status app, or the iOS or Mac clients. The latter are linked from the main page and the MacSentry welcome email, but they really should be in the Downloads section as well.
You can use the service on Windows, too, but the lack of documentation means you'll need to figure it out on your own, and it's not exactly obvious. Essentially you must find the More Info > VPN Servers page, notice the ‘Config’ link for every server in the list, realise that the link points to an .ovpn file, and know what to do with that (import it into OpenVPN). Network novices will have no chance, and even experts might not spot the files.
We switched to a Mac, downloaded and launched the installer. This ran as normal with no hassles or complications, quickly installing the app on our test system.
MacSentry's Mac client is extremely basic, but easy-to-use. Enter a username, password, choose a server from the six options, click Connect to start, Disconnect when you're done. That's all the documentation you need.
We tested each server in turn using various benchmarks*, and found performance was very acceptable. Speeds could vary, but they were never lower than 20Mbps, and occasionally topped 30Mbps, competitive with many of the best VPNs.
Checking our individual IPs showed they were all in the promised locations, and the service fully protected our identity without any DNS or other leaks.
There's nothing wrong with the core network, then, but that can't make up for MacSentry's other issues. If you need a VPN with a Mac and iOS app, we suggest you check out TunnelBear. It's a little more expensive at $5 (£4) a month for the yearly plan, but there are more locations, the clients are much better, there are Android and Windows builds, and the website has plenty of help available if you need it.
MacSentry's small network is speedy, but the rest of the service is underpowered and amateurish, and it's hard to see any compelling reason to choose this company ahead of the competition.
*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds. We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.