SmartDNS is a technology that masks your computer’s IP address while surfing the internet in an effort to gain access to geo-restricted content such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC and more.
Obviously the SmartDNS technology is a bit more complicated than that, but suffice to say it was developed in 2012 as a direct response to geo-restricted content from the likes of Netflix and others. When I say “geo-restricted”, what I mean is content that hasn’t been licensed for viewing in a particular place or country and has therefore been blocked.
So how does SmartDNS work and what is the difference between a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and SmartDNS? Moreover, which one is better suited for streaming online content and viewing blocked websites?
In the guide below, I answer all these questions as well as recommend a few of my favorite SmartDNS services to try.
How Does SmartDNS Work?
How does SmartDNS work? Before reading below, take a moment to watch this video explaining more.
Get weekly online security tips when you subscribe to VPNVideoReviews on YouTube!
Have you ever tried to listen to Spotify and Pandora or stream content from a website in a country where it is not available? Generally what happens is that when you attempt to stream the content, a message pops up saying “This service is not available in your region”.
The reason for this is because the website reads your IP address and detects you are connecting from a geo-restricted area and blocks you from accessing the content.
This is where a SmartDNS comes in handy.
With a SmartDNS service, you are able to spoof your location, essentially “tricking” the website into thinking you are connecting from an area it actively services. Therefore, websites and services that are generally unavailable in a particular region become accessible through a SmartDNS. Your computer’s IP address never actually changes, but SmartDNS makes it appear that way.
I like to think of it like the license plate on a car. Imagine driving up to the Netflix website in a car whose license plate says “China”. Netflix looks at you with sad eyes and says, “Sorry, we can’t serve content to China-based viewers”. Bummer. So you drive away and with the help of SmartDNS service, you change your license plate to say “USA” instead of “China”. Your car never crossed the ocean, but the license plate tricks Netflix into allowing you to view their content.
In the same way, your physical location remains the same but the internet reads your “address” as being in another place.
SmartDNS vs VPN…Which is Better?
At first glance, it seems that SmartDNS and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) function in a similar way. How, then, are VPNs and SmartDNS different and is one better than the other?
While there are certain similarities (e.g. being able to bypass blocked content), VPNs and SmartDNSs are entirely different. Recall from above that with a SmartDNS, your IP address remains the same and you are actually connecting from wherever in the world you happen to be. With a VPN on the other hand, you are actually redirecting your connection from a local server in the country you want to stream content from and are given a separate IP address.
Additionally, a VPN encrypts your Internet connection to protect you from hackers and anyone else interested in viewing your digital information (SmartDNS doesn’t do this). Although beneficial for security and maintaining privacy, the downside to encrypting your connection is that it slows down your Internet speed and affects streaming performance.
Therefore while you can use a VPN to access blocked or geo-restricted content, the primary function of a VPN is to protect your privacy while surfing the Internet. On the other hand, the primary function of SmartDNS is to bypass geo-restriction.
If you are less concerned with privacy and security and more interested in simply accessing blocked websites and streaming content, then SmartDNS is more suitable for you.
On what devices can I use a SmartDNS?
Fortunately you won’t need to crowd around your laptop or tablet to catch up on all your shows since nearly all devices can be configured to use a SmartDNS. By all devices, I refer to computers, smartphones, game consoles and of course AppleTV.
Even still, when shopping around for a SmartDNS, be sure to review each SmartDNS thoroughly to ensure your devices are all supported.
What is a Recommended SmartDNS?
It is possible to purchase SmartDNS as a stand-alone service and there are plenty of companies that offer this.
I prefer to take a different route.
Did you know that a few of the high-quality VPN services also offer SmartDNS? It’s not the case for all of them, and often they don’t heavily advertise the SmartDNS service (since it tends to confuse customers), but it’s a wonderful bonus.
Below are my favorite VPNs that also include SmartDNS:
1. 12VPN with SmartDNS – Recommended
When it comes to combining both a quality VPN and a flexible SmartDNS, I haven’t found anything better than 12VPN. More than likely, it’s not a service that you’ve heard of before, and that’s ok. I’ve been using it for a number of years and have been impressed by the level of service and communication from the 12VPN team.
What makes 12VPN’s SmartDNS so special? It’s simple: unlike all the other VPN/SmartDNS combo services I’ve used, 12VPN is the only one that gives me the option to change where I want my spoofed IP address to say where I am located.
2. StrongVPN and StrongDNS
StrongDNS, which is part of the same company that created StrongVPN, offers an excellent SmartDNS stand-alone service. They have a comprehensive library of setup tutorials for each device you might want to connect.
It’s simple with no frills, but if you want to stream content quickly, it’s a great option to consider.
3. ExpressVPN and SmartDNS
In addition to being one of the most popular VPNs in the market today, ExpressVPN also quietly offers SmartDNS to all of its subscribers. I say “quietly” because it’s not something that is advertised much, even within the user dashboard.
The only downside to using the ExpressVPN SmartDNS is that it doesn’t allow you to choose your location. You are given a single DNS address that you can use to set up your device. Thankfully, it works.
Final Thoughts | SmartDNS
If you are someone who often travels internationally or currently live abroad, SmartDNS is a great option to help you access blocked websites or geo-restricted content. Even if you are not one of these types, a SmartDNS can still be hugely beneficial to you in giving you access to a much wider variety of content available for streaming around the globe.