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Cloudflare WARP Review

LyEdward

Introduction


Recently, I discovered WARP, a application for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS that claims to provide a faster and more private Internet . . . for free. It also aims to be a free replacement for VPNs (which I briefly introduced in one of my previous blog posts), although the app does also provide its own subscription service that supposedly increases network reliability. More details can be found in their official blog post, but in this post, I will briefly summarize what the app does (to the best of my ability), its advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional VPN services, and my opinion on whether or not it will replace VPNs as they claim.

What is WARP?


With just a single click, the user can enable or disable the application at any time. When enabled, the application makes two changes to your Internet connection: first, it changes the IP address of the DNS server to 1.1.1.1, an alternate DNS resolver by Cloudflare and APNIC that boasts the fastest DNS query times among all public DNS resolvers, and makes your DNS queries more private by not sharing and selling them to third parties, and by not logging or storing them (at least not permanently). Second, it makes an encrypted connection between your computer and the closest Cloudflare data center via a new protocol called BoringTun, which is based on another emerging VPN protocol called WireGuard, to access the Internet privately. Essentially, the WARP app is still yet another VPN service, but has been simplified and marketed towards users with less technical knowledge. In other words, people who want the features of a VPN service but “do not know what a VPN stands for.”

The app also offers an optional, paid subscription service called WARP+ for US$4.99 per month, which adds Cloudflare’s Argo Smart Routing algorithm to find the fastest route between the user and their desired website or server, reducing latency. Currently, it can only be purchased from the WARP iOS and Android apps, but the subscription license can be manually added to the Windows and macOS apps as well.

Will It Replace VPNs?


The simple answer is no, as WARP itself is essentially still a VPN service. It is not possible to use the WARP app and a separate VPN service at the same time either, since you are basically trying to create two competing VPN connections at once. So a better question to ask would be: is WARP a viable alternative to compete with other VPN services, paid or free?

As a free offering, the WARP app is certainly compelling compared to other free VPN services, which often sacrifice speed, security, or both, to reduce costs. The fact that it uses a connection protocol that is much faster than, say, OpenVPN is commendable as well, as even some paid VPN services have yet to adopt these newer protocols like BoringTun or even WireGuard. However, perhaps due to it being a free offering or its commitment to simplicity and ease of use, the WARP app is lacking some key features that are found in many paid VPN services as well. For one, even though Cloudflare has multiple data centers around the world that you could potentially connect to, the WARP app does not allow you to choose any data center in any country, only the nearest one. While this may be fine for those who prioritize speed above all else, users would still not be able to access geo-restricted content or other censored websites, for example, which also means the user’s approximate location is still known. Such a feature is not even possible in the paid WARP+ subscription service either, which merely makes your existing connection faster and more reliable. Perhaps this benefit is still worth the $4.99 cost in some situations, but your mileage may vary depending on the quality of your original connection, and I do not have any first-hand experience with this service to verify the claims for myself. Plus, for similar prices, you can find other VPN services that also give you the extra benefits that a traditional VPN can provide, such as choosing between servers in multiple countries and IP address masking.

Conclusion


If you are already subscribed to another VPN service, then I do not see any reason why you should switch to a WARP+ subscription or downgrade to the free WARP service. Unless you really need the highest possible speeds out of a private Internet connection with WARP’s unique protocol, I do not believe such a benefit outweighs losing access to region-specific content and other features. Otherwise, if you are new to VPNs, want a free alternative that sacrifices neither speed nor security, or do not need the extra benefits of other VPN services, then the free WARP app is certainly a great place to start. Just look elsewhere if you are willing to spend more to receive all of the benefits that a fully-fledged VPN can provide.

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