CactusVPN SmartDNS Review

CactusVPN SmartDNS Review

CactusVPN is a SmartDNS service that will help you unblock popular steaming media sites in the US, UK, Germany, and Poland.  Their service will allow you  to watch your favorite content from Hulu Plus,  Netflix US,  Netflix UK,  BBC iPlayer,  HBO Go Poland, Zattoo (Germany), and many other content providers while outside the geographical area of regular distribution.  Their service works out of sight behind the scene.  All of this extra content is brought to you without slowing your internet connection speed.

CactusVPN SmartDNS Review

CactusVPN SmartDNS Free Trial

The team at CactusVPN wants you to be able to fully test their service before you decide to pay for it.  With that in mind, they are offering everyone a 7 day free trial.  Signing up for their free trial is easy to do. From the homepage, click on the “Try Smart DNS for Free” link as seen in the above image.  On the page that follows, simply enter your “First Name”, “Last Name”, and “Email Address”.  Their support group will then send you a welcoming message along with setup instructions via the email address you entered.  If you do not see this email in your inbox, check your spam folder to see if it was placed in it. Follow the setup instructions to setup your device to use their service.

The trial gives you 7 days of complete access to their service at a level comparable to their premium package.  This means that you will experience the same features and speed of their premium plan.  This trial will give you access to all of the sites that they unblock in the US, UK, Germany and Poland.

Be sure to fully test the service during this trial period.  Test it with all the devices that you will want to use it with including your router to make sure that they are all supported.  Also test it with any provider services that you want access to so you can confirm that you are happy with its performance.  I suggest that you test it by watching an HD movie, listening to some of your favorite music, and taking in a live sports event.  Since no credit card is required to sign up for the free trial, there is no need to cancel the service. It simply expires after the trial period is over.

CactusVPN also offers paid members a 30 day money back guarantee.  This guarantee is applicable if you’re not able to access their service or any of the channels listed as unblocked by their service.  Windows, Mac OS and Linux are the only systems eligible for this refund.  So if you are using another device (such as iPad , iPhone, Android,…etc.), be sure to test your device during the free trial period.

Pricing and Special Offers

CactusVPN offers Smart DNS bundled with their VPN service or in stand alone plans.  Each is packaged using 3 different terms:  1 month, quarterly, and yearly.  Package discounts are based on the sign up term length.  The pricing starts at $4.99 a month for the stand alone SmartDNS service with increasing discounts offered for longer terms.  You can enjoy a full year of their SmartDNS for $38.99.  That works out to just $3.25 a month.  This makes CactusVPN a good value.  Especially if you subscribe for a year of service.

CactusVPN SmartDNS Pricing

Payment options include PayPal,Visa, Master Card, Discover, American Express, Alipay, Webmoney, Yandex Money, Qiwi, CashU, and Boleto Bancario.  You can cancel anytime by logging into the client area of the CactusVPN homepage.  Next, select the “Packages” tab from the client area menu.   Then select the package to be canceled and click the “Request Cancellation” button on the package details screen.  Some services make it hard to cancel your subscription but CactusVPN  makes it relatively easy to cancel if necessary by logging into the client area.

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How Does CactusVPN SmartDNS Work?

Whether we’re referring  to the CactusVPN SmartDNS or another service it helps to familiarize yourself with how the methodology works.  These services focus on helping to unblock geographic restrictions of streaming media content.  This will allow you to enjoy content that may not be available in your country from providers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.  You can use the service to view content from anywhere in the world.  That differs from a VPN which adds privacy protection through encryption.  The encryption used by a VPN can slow down your connection.

Here’s an explanation of how SmartDNS works taken directly from the CactusVPN site:

It is a technology to unblock geo restricted websites like Hulu, Netflix, BBC and others. Main advantages of this technology are: no speed loss, easy to use and it works on almost any device.

By changing your DNS settings to match our Smart DNS servers. This way we can reroute your data and websites will think that you are eligible to access their content. We do that by unblocking each site in particular. This technology will not change your IP.

The CactusVPN SmartDNS service supports a wide range of devices as I will detail in a moment.  They have set up tutorials for those devices listed on their site.  Once you sign up they will send you a welcome email with instructions to tell you how to get and install their client or use one of their guides to manually change your DNS settings.  From there you can use their custom Windows client or simply change your DNS settings.  Doing so will help you access popular sites like Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world.

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Supported Devices

The CactusDNS service supports a wide range of devices.  They have a “Smart DNS Setup Tutorial” section on the support page of their site with guides for your computer, Smart TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices, set top boxes and routers.  Their “Support” page can be accessed through the site’s main menu.  If you do not see your device listed, CactusVPN also provides a custom tutorial for any device that supports DNS changes.

CactusVPN SmartDNS Devices

Here’s a list of supported devices:

  • Computer – Mac OS X, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows XP, Windows Vista
  • Game console – PlayStation 3, XBOX 360
  • Mobile – iPad, iPhone, iPod, Android
  • Set-top box – Apple TV, Roku, WD TV Live, Now TV Box
  • Smart TV – Samsung Smart TV
  • Router – D-Link,  TP-Link, DD-WRT

They also include a tutorial for routers using DD-WRT custom firmware.  Once again, the key is being able to configure the DNS settings for whatever device you want to use.  You can use as many devices as you want as long as they are on the same network and have the same external IP.  Making the change on your router can help you use the service throughout your network with a single account.  In addition CactusVPN offers client software for Windows and Mac users.

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CactusVPN Client Software

In addition to excellent manual setup guides, CactusVPN also has client software for Windows and Mac users that will help them connect and use their Smart DNS service.  The illustration below shows 3 screens from the Windows client software.  The first 2 screens show the sign in procedures used to connect to their service which are as follows:

  1. After starting the CactusVPN client , Select the “Smart DNS” tab
  2. Type or copy your “Smart DNS key”  (You can find it by logging into the Client Area of their site, clicking on your package and looking for the key in the “Smart DNS Details” box.).   Note:  I recommend that you copy it to the clipboard so you can past it into the client.  Also make sure the “Remember Smart DNS key” box is selected.
  3. Click “Sign in”.  This will take you to the second screen in the image.
  4. Next select the “DNS Server” closest to you from the drop down box.
  5. Finally, Click the “Enable Smart DNS” button.
  6. Click the “Settings” tab to configure service behavior.

CactusVPN SmartDNS Client

After your first sign in, much of this procedure can be automated by configuring the startup and connection settings.  The final screen shows these settings.  It is divided into two sections:  A Startup section and a Connection  section.

The “Startup Settings” which let you control the app behavior on startup are as follows:

  • “Run at start-up” – Run the CactusVPN client when your Windows starts up.
  • “Sign in at app. start” – Sign in into your account when the CactusVPN client starts.
  • “Start minimized” – Start the CactusVPN client as a minimized task.

The “Connection Settings” which let you control the app behavior after connecting to the Smart DNS service are as follows:

  • “Enable Smart DNS on Sign in” – Automatically enable the Smart DNS service after signing in.
  • “Minimize on Smart DNS enable” – Minimize the CactusVPN client after Smart DNS is enabled.
  • “Update IP every” – Set up how often your IP will be automatically updated.  This is useful if your ISP changes your IP address regularly.
  • “Websites region” – This allows you to switch between US and UK Netflix regions easily.

The CactusVPN client is well thought out and executed and provides a real convenience for Windows and Mac users of their service.

Channel Line-Up

What does CactusVPN offer?  They have a full list of over 130 channels on their site that you can filter by content type, country, and device.  Their SmartDNS service will allow access to channel content not in your geographical region.  Some premium channels such as  Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video, and others will still require a paid subscription fee to access their content.

CactusVPN SmartDNS Channels

Here’s a list of channels unblocked through their Smart DNS service:

Video Channels – Netflix US, Netflix UK, Hulu, Hulu plus,  BBC iPlayer, ITV, Crackle, Amazon Video US, Amazon Video UK, Crunchyroll, NFL Game Pass, Vevo,  Channel4, 4oD, E4, Film4, Channel5, 5Star, 5oD, 5USA, ABC, ABC Family, ABC News, HBO Go USA, HBO Go Poland, CBS,  NBC, Fox, MTV, MTV UK, Cartoon Network, Food Network, Disney Channel, PBS Video, PBS Kids, STV Player,  USA Network, USA Now, Lifetime, Cinema Now, Blinkbox, Bravo, CWTV, FX, HGTV, TV Land, Blockbuster, Blockbuster on Demand, Vudu, Comedy Central, LoveFilm, Syfy, Syfy Now, TNT Drama, tv.com, WB, Now TV, wuaki.tv, Sky Go, Oxygen, Zuus, nextissue, DramaFever, Yahoo Screen, VH1, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Telemundo Now, TV Player, viki, A&E, Oprah, Xfinity, MAX GO, Utopia TV,  Ondemand Korea , Smithsonian Channel, History Channel, Vidzone, Sky News, iplex, TVP, Player, VoD, Kinoplex, TBS, TCM, tvguide, MundoFOX, Funimation, Nickelodeon, Nick Teen, Sprout, Spike, FilmOn, M-GO, Direct TV, Logo TV, truTV, Showtime Anytime, RTL Now, Alleskino, Arte, Zattoo, 2DF, ARD.de, Nightclub, Maxdome

Music Channels – BBC Radio, Spotify, Pandora, 4Music, MTV, MTV UK, Rdio,  Rhapsody, Songza, Slacker Radio,  iHeart Radio, zuus, Absolute Radio, Beats Music,  VH1, Playlist, Direct TV, CMT

Live Sports Channels – BBC Sport, NBC Sports, NHL Vault, ESPN Player, WWE Network, NCAA March Madness Live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Xfinity, Direct TV, BT Sport, Premier Player, Canal+ Sport Online,

It should be noted that the CactusVPN “Unblocked Websites” page defaults to all channels in all countries on all devices.  However, they can be filtered by selecting buttons for type, country and device used to stream.

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CactusVPN SmartDNS Speed Test

As I mentioned earlier the difference between a Smart DNS service and VPN is encryption.  A VPN helps protect your online privacy and anonymity by encrypting your data.  In doing so it slows down your connection.  You can visit our VPN Fan site to learn more.  A SmartDNS service is different.  It will help you unblock sites in other countries without the need for encryption.  Doing so without the speed loss associated with using a VPN service.  I did not experience any speed loss using the CactusVPN service.

CactusVPN  Review : Conclusion

CactusVPN offers a large variety of different channels (over 130) for a great price.  Especially for those who sign up for 12 months of service.  They support many types of devices including routers, game consoles, set-top boxes, computers, mobile devices, and Samsung Smart TV.  They also provide an excellent software client to help Windows and Mac users connect to and use their service.  Additionally, they have well illustrated tutorials to manually setup the devices that they support.  They also have nice channel filtering that makes it easy to see which content is supported on different devices.  These features make their service very user friendly.  I didn’t have any problems evaluating their SmartDNS service and would use it again.

As with any Smart DNS service I suggest you try out the CactusVPN version  for yourself.  Sign up for their 7 day free trial and put their service through its paces.  I suggest you watch content from channels in different areas of the world like Netflix US,  BBC iPlayer in the UK, and perhaps even HBO Go Poland. Also, try streaming some live sporting events during your trial period.  After putting it through its paces,  you can sign up for unlimited access from just $3.25 a month.

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