Smart DNS vs. VPN – The Differences Explained

Updated: 12 August 2021
Updated: 12 August 2021

Miklos Zoltan

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What is a Smart DNS and a VPN?

A Smart DNS or VPN are the top tools that you can use to bypass geo-restrictions and gain access to online content. Mostly, streaming blocked content from various online video services. Both Smart DNS and VPN spoof your geo-location, but they do it differently. Furthermore, a VPN is more security and privacy-oriented than a Smart DNS.

In this guide, you will learn about:

  • What is a Smart DNS, VPN, and how do they work?
  • How to choose the best Smart DNS or VPN.
  • The differences and similarities between a Smart DNS and a VPN.
  • Use cases for VPNs and Proxy servers.

Read on to find out more about Smart DNS and VPN!

Related guide: VPN vs. proxies – what are the differences
Related guide: VPN Protocols explained
Related guide: What is VPN split tunneling

Smart DNS vs. VPN

What is a Smart DNS, and How Does it Work?

A Smart DNS is a combination of a DNS and proxy server technology. When you use a Smart DNS, your internet queries will be serviced by the selected DNS server.

The DNS server then routes your queries via a proxy server. Then the proxy server accesses the site you want and relays the results.

The site will pick up the proxy server’s location and not yours. Thus, a Smart DNS spoofs your geo-location, and the site will think that you are on the required geo-location.

However, in this combination, your IP address is not changed. The proxy relays your queries from its location.

Also, your data is not encrypted, although some Smart DNS providers may encrypt your DNS queries.

Related guide: How to encrypt your internet traffic

What is a VPN, and How Does it Work?

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and creates a secure connection over the internet. The encryption ensures that no authorized entities will gain access to your traffic.

Besides encryption, a VPN routes your traffic through a VPN server. The server masks your actual IP address with its VPN IP address.

If you access a site from a US server and you are in Germany, the site will think that you are in the US. This is how a VPN bypasses geo-restrictions and censorship.

Concisely, a VPN increases your online privacy and security.

Related guide: What is a VPN and how does it work
Related guide: How to pick the best VPN

How to Choose a Smart DNS or VPN?

To bypass geo-restrictions, you need to use a reputable Smart DNS or VPN. Unfortunately, not all Smart DNS or VPNs are built the same. Consider the following factors when choosing a reputable Smart DNS or VPN.

Servers: you should choose providers with many servers that span a wide geographical area. This will ensure that you unblock and gain access to worldwide content. Additionally, many servers ensure that you will avoid congestion.

Speed and unlimited bandwidth: In VPNs, the servers should be optimized for speed and offer unlimited bandwidth. Smart DNS is uniquely fast than VPNs. Nevertheless, they should also have optimized servers.

Compatibility: Smart DNS, by default, are compatible with most internet-capable devices. The VPN provider should offer apps for almost every computing platform. The VPN should also support simultaneous connections.

Security and privacy: the VPN provider should offer military-grade security and have a no-log policy. The VPN should also have features such as kill switch, leak protection, and even split tunneling. Since Smart DNS doesn’t offer security, ensure they don’t keep logs if possible.

Money-back guarantee or free trial: this is a fail-safe if the services don’t work as advertised. Also, you will get a chance to try the services before you can commit to a payment plan.

Great customer service: customer support is essential in case you get stuck while using the service. Look for providers with friendly, responsive, or 24/7 customer support.

Differences and Similarities Between a Smart DNS and a VPN

A summary between Smart DNS and VPN:

Smart DNS VPN
Online protection None or minimal. Excellent protection via encryption.
Speed Very fast. Fast.
Setup Easy setup, no installations. Requires installations.
Accessibility Works with most streaming services. Works with most streaming services.
Price It can be cheap. Reputable VPNs are pricey.

Online protection: A Smart DNS doesn’t protect your online activities. On the other hand, a VPN uses encryptions and ensures a secure connection over the internet. A VPN takes care of your online privacy and security.

Speed: unlike a VPN, a Smart DNS doesn’t have encryption overheads. You will get somewhat similar speeds to the ones offered to you by your ISP. A VPN connection is slow due to the encryption overheads, and faraway servers may not have great speeds.

Setup: A Smart DNS doesn’t require installations. To use a VPN, you must first install the required app.

Accessibility: both Smart DNS and VPN can help you gain access to various streaming platforms and content.

However, they are circumstances in which a VPN won’t work, and you will need a Smart DNS. Vice versa is true.

Price: VPNs tend to be expensive than Smart DNS. Moreover, some VPNs bundle a Smart DNS service on their subscription. Hence, you might get a free Smart DNS if you purchase a VPN.

Recommended reading:

When to Use a Smart DNS

You should use a Smart DNS in the following cases:

  • Gaining access to geo-restricted content.
  • Fast connection speeds.
  • Privacy and security are not your top priority.

Advantages of Smart DNS

  • Fast speeds.
  • Excellent compatibility.
  • Easy to set up.
  • Cheaper than VPNs.

Disadvantages of Smart DNS

  • Lacks online protection.
  • Lacks lucrative VPN features.
  • It cannot bypass censorship.

When to Use a VPN

A VPN is great for the following use-cases:

  • Gaining access to geo-restricted content.
  • Bypassing censorship.
  • Access a wide geo-location.
  • Changing your IP address.
  • Connect to WIFI securely.
  • Avoid price discrimination.
  • Privacy and security are your top priority.

Advantages of using a VPN

  • Excellent security and privacy.
  • It easily bypasses blocks.
  • Value-added features.
  • Bypasses ISP throttling.
  • Accesses torrents.

Disadvantages of using a VPN

  • Slow speeds due to encryption overhead.
  • Expensive subscriptions.
  • Requires installation.

Additional VPN use-cases:

Wrap Up

Smart DNS and VPN offer the best ways you can overcome geo-restrictions and access online content. Smart DNS offers fast speeds, while a VPN provides online protection. A VPN also bypasses censorships and offers security and privacy-oriented features.

FAQ

Is Smart DNS better than VPN?

In the long run, a VPN is better. Smart DNS only outperforms a VPN in terms of speed. VPNs keep your online connection and traffic secure, offer other value-added features, and they can bypass censorships. You can also torrent.

Can I use Smart DNS and VPN at the same time?

No. It is impractical to use a VPN and a Smart DNS service together. The VPN will overshadow the Smart DNS. When you activate the VPN, the VPN will use its DNS service. Thus, you will lose the functionality of your Smart DNS.

Do I need a Smart DNS If I have a VPN?

Sometimes yes. Some streaming sites are known to block VPN traffic. If you do not have a reputable VPN, a Smart DNS may come in handy. If security and privacy are the top priority, then you do not need a Smart DNS.

Is using Smart DNS safe?

It is safe to use a reputable Smart DNS. Free Smart DNS may not work, and some may even hijack your queries. This might compromise the security of your device. At times your websites will load incorrect results with many ads.

Is Smart DNS a proxy?

No. however, a Smart DNS is a combination of DNS and proxy technology. Proxy servers are used as well as DNS servers to spoof your geo-location.

Written by: Justin Oyaro

Connect with the author:

Tech and Cybersecurity Expert Justin is a cybersecurity expert with over 5 years of experience that stretches across various technological realms. He is a valued expert in cybersecurity, Cord-cutting, Cryptocurrency, Smartphones, How-tos and other related fields. Justin has written authoritative content for multiple Cybersecurity websites and blogs on matters regarding privacy and security. He also does pen test on tech products such as smartphone applications and websites. When he is not writing, Justin spends most of his time on the latest tech trends and Android Studio. Justin is also a degree holder in Information Systems Technology and Master of Computer Applications (M.C.A.), University of Adelaide.

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