I’m always on the search for new security tools, and this time my hunt took me to Keezel. For full disclosure, I liked the concept so much I made a token investment in Keezel via crowdfunding site StartEngine. Keezel is a device a little larger than a computer mouse that creates a secure WiFi hotspot you use between your devices and another WiFi (or wired Ethernet) network. It uses a VPN to communicate over the public network, so your traffic can’t be compromised. You connect it to a hotel, coffee shop, or other location that has a public/semi-public network you can’t fully trust, then you connect all your devices to the Keezel’s WiFi. So VPN in a box, or puck if you prefer.
Keezel has a few features beyond giving you a VPN. It can block access to known Phishing sites, and also provides an ad-blocker. Both features are off by default but are easy to toggle on. While you may already have software that provides these features, it no doubt has gaps. For example, iOS only supports ad-blocking in Safari itself. And I’ve previously discussed how non-browser apps displaying web pages showed ads that attempted to download malware to a Windows PC. Multiple layers of checks for phishing websites is also valuable given that one source of dangerous URL information may block a site before others.
Keezel has a built-in 8000mAh battery so you can use it without plugging in for a day. You can also use the battery to charge your phone etc. The latter feature is more important than it sounds, because the battery makes the Keezel heavy. When I travel with the Keezel I can leave one of my Mogix portable chargers behind making it roughly weight neutral from a backpack perspective. It’s perfect for the all too frequent cases where the only seats available in an airport lounge or coffee shop are the ones without nearby outlets.
There is one big question-mark on a Keezel, why use one vs. VPN software on the device? There are a number of reasons. The first is that you may have devices that can’t install VPN software. The Keezel lets you take your Fire TV stick, Echo, and other “IoT” devices on the road while keeping them off unsafe networks. The second is Keezel’s anti-phishing and ad-block technology. The third is that VPN services often have a limit on the number of devices they support per subscription. For example, ExpressVPN limits you to 3 simultaneous connections. While that is fine most of the time, occasionally you may want to exceed that number. Fourth, while you may be perfect in turning on your VPN whenever you connect to a public network most people aren’t. For example, what about your spouse or kids? With their devices already set to automatically connect to Keezel, all you need do is connect it to the public WiFi and all devices being used by your party automatically are connected to a secure network.
The major downside I’ve found to Keezel is performance, as it peaks out at about 10Mbps for me. Keezel says the range is 4-20Mbps. I can do much better than that with ExpressVPN. For example, on a 1Gbps FIOS connection I saw 400+ Mbps from an iPhone 7s Plus with no VPN, ~60 Mbps with ExpressVPN, and the aforementioned 10 Mbps from Keezel. Of course public hotspots don’t usually offer high raw speeds, so the Keezel limits may actually be unnoticeable. I haven’t tested it enough to be sure.
Pricing is also a factor to be considered. ExpressVPN costs me $99/year. A Keezel starts at $179 with the lifetime Basic service. Basic has a speed limit of 500Kbps, so is mostly for email and light browsing. A device with a year of Premium service, which brings the “HD Streaming Speed” goes for $229. Premium service can be extended (or added to the Basic device) for $60/year. So while Keezel is initially a little expensive, over multiple years (or many devices) it can work out to be quite cost-effective.
There are some things I’d like to see from Keezel that would make it a better security device. Blocking malware serving sites, not just phishing sites, is a clear one. Reports are another feature I’d like to see, since I like to spot check my networks for potential bad actors. Additional URL filtering capability (e.g., “family safety” as a filtering category) is also desirable. Overall, I’d like Keezel to provide security features more comparable to the EERO Plus service for EERO devices. And, of course, I would like to see much higher performance than they currently provide.
What is my personal bottom line on Keezel? For day-to-day use, where I walk into a Starbucks and need to kill an hour between meetings, I will stick with ExpressVPN to protect any device that needs WiFi. When I’m staying at a hotel, I’ll use the Keezel to create my own secure WiFi network. For scenarios in-between? I’m undecided.