With the growing popularity of streaming services, Smart DNS systems are becoming an increasingly popular alternative for accessing geo-restricted content. Here’s what you should know about when, how, and why to use SmartDNS.
What is Smart DNS?
SmartDNS is a type of location-masking configuration. When active, it routes all DNS queries to its own servers and tells others that you’re in a specific location, but without changing your other data.
This is extremely useful when, for example, you want to access systems that will get suspicious if you keep logging in from different IP addresses. SmartDNS can also let you stay connected to networks with restricted access requirements, like most corporate networks.
In general, SmartDNS technology is useful if you want to watch streaming content, access geographically-restricted content, or avoid lags while you’re browsing the internet.
How Is Smart DNS Different From A Proxy?
Unlike proxies, Smart DNS systems only route a single piece of information to a separate server: the DNS queries that help determine where you are. Proxies typically route all of your data through their servers, which takes considerably longer.
Despite that, SmartDNS can still unblock most geographically-restricted content as long as you have an otherwise-valid account for accessing that material.
The downside to this is that SmartDNS is even worse at protecting your privacy than proxies are. Or, rather, it’s better to say that SmartDNS isn’t designed to keep your information private and you’ll need to use another system if you want to hide your information.
How Is SmartDNS Different From A VPN?
Smart DNS varies from VPNs on many different levels. For users who only want to unblock content, the difference may not be very important. However, the two systems function differently and will have varying impacts on your overall experience. Here’s what you should know about the Smart DNS vs VPN debate.
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VPN systems essentially exist as a cloud between your computer and the rest of the internet. They encrypt some or all of your data so even your internet service provider doesn’t know what sites you’re going to.
SmartDNS technology is like an ultra-light version of VPNs. Instead of hiding all of your traffic, it just reroutes one specific type of query – the query that other sites use to figure out your geographic location. Like VPNs, this can make you appear to be anywhere the servers are.
2. For Streaming
SmartDNS is significantly better for streaming when the only thing you need is the right geographic location to access content. The reason for this is simple: SmartDNS requires vastly lower processing power because it only deals with an extremely small part of your network connectivity.
Every server that stands between you and your content slows things down. This is true of even the fastest VPNs, because nothing is faster than a direct connection where you don’t need to process things to begin with.
On rare occasions, VPNs can help traffic move around congested areas and maintain speed that way. However, they still tend to be a little slower than direct connections, and that matters when every moment counts.
3. For Torrenting
SmartDNS is rarely useful for torrenting because most torrents are not geo-restricted to start with. Even companies that use torrents to transfer large files, such as some video game companies, usually have other geographic limits in place instead of trying to geo-lock the file transfers.
Given the reality of torrenting, VPNs are clearly the better choice because they can provide dedicated access to high-speed servers and improve your overall torrenting speed in many parts of the world.
4. For Speed
We’ve touched on speed on some of the above topics, but pure speed is different from the speed of specific actions. SmartDNS systems have almost no impact on your internet speeds because, frankly, they hardly interact with your internet. Instead, they just pass the information through.
This is relevant because most VPN systems do measurably slow your connection speeds, especially when streaming live content or doing other bandwidth-heavy tasks. Every server connection slows down your internet speed, and even so-called high-speed servers are ultimately slower than not needing a second server at all.
As a result, SmartDNS is a better choice for speed when it’s the only thing you need. However, if you need additional support or services to access content, a VPN or proxy may be your only option.
5. For Security & Privacy
There is absolutely no question which service is better for security and privacy. VPN wins, and it’s not even a contest. SmartDNS does not protect your privacy in any meaningful way, but to be fair, it’s not designed to protect your privacy. VPNs are.
Keep in mind that even the best VPNs can’t hide the information you’re intentionally giving to companies. For example, if you give them your name and address so they can ship a product to you, your VPN won’t hide that. Instead, VPNs help protect you from various types of online snooping.
6. For Unblocking Websites
SmartDNS and VPNs are fundamentally similar when it comes to unblocking websites. Both can tell other systems that you’re in a valid location for content, which makes it significantly easier to access that content.
However, VPNs have the edge in this debate because they can offer many other services at the same time. In fact, many VPNs offer SmartDNS, as well as mobile apps, router support, and many other features that make it easier to reach and use geo-blocked websites.
7. For Ease-Of-Use
SmartDNS is easier to set up and use than a full VPN, which requires more connections and settings. However, since both SmartDNS and VPNs are something you can usually set up and then largely forget about, this is not a significant factor in rating them unless they’re incredibly hard to use.
5 Cases When You Need SmartDNS
Not everyone needs to use SmartDNS, with or without additional features like a VPN. Here are the most common cases where using a smart DNS system makes sense.
1. Unblock Geo-Restricted Content, Websites
The primary reason to use a smart DNS system, for most users, is accessing geo-restricted content or websites. There’s a slight difference between these two goals. Most users consider them to be the same, but from a technical perspective, they can be quite different.
Unblocking geo-restricted websites requires going through a web browser, and that’s where all location requests tend to come from. Accessing other geo-restricted content often involves going through separate apps, or even using devices that don’t support traditional web-browsing. This can be a little more complicated than trying to unblock websites.
The reason this is the main purpose for using a smart DNS system is that the entire system isn’t useful for any other purpose. It doesn’t protect your privacy, modify download speeds, or provide any support other than helping you look like you’re somewhere else, and there isn’t much you can do with that other than unblock geo-restricted content.
2. You Want To Keep The Original Speeds Of Your ISP
The next reason to use a SmartDNS system over a VPN is keeping your download speeds as high as possible. This is especially relevant if you have high-speed internet and want to maintain as much of that as possible.
As we mentioned above, all VPNs slow your connection speed because they need to process and encrypt your data, transmit it to their servers, forward it to their destination, and unencrypt it at some point so the recipient can read it. That happens faster than most people realize, but it does take time.
VPNs can be notoriously laggy if their servers are overloaded, too. Good companies have enough servers to distribute the load and provide a consistent experience, but bad companies will have regular slowdowns during peak use times.
SmartDNS systems basically never have this problem, especially if they’re running independently from VPNs. Since they only deal with a fraction of your network traffic, SmartDNS servers can process a truly incredible number of users simultaneously.
This means there is effectively no impact on your connection speed, allowing you to enjoy the full benefits of a high-speed connection.
3. You Just Want To Unblock Streaming Services And Keep Great Speeds Of Connection
This is closely related to our second point. Many people only want to use SmartDNS or VPN systems to unblock streaming services and watch shows, movies, or popular new releases. This can range from accessing those services while on vacation to another country to keeping in touch with services after moving around the world.
Connection speed matters when you’re streaming content, especially if you want to watch 4K or similarly high-quality content. The higher the video quality, the more bandwidth you need and the more you’ll be affected by slowdowns from services like VPNs.
Keep in mind that most VPNs won’t necessarily slow you down that much. Some companies have special servers that are dedicated to, and optimized for, streaming video content. These usually minimize the delays and can provide almost as much speed as your regular internet service provider while also supporting your privacy as a user.
However, as we’ve said above, nothing is faster than a direct connection unless you’re routing traffic around network congestion. This is why SmartDNS systems are ultimately better than VPNs if your only goal is unblocking streaming services and you don’t care about your privacy.
4. It’s Easier To Set Up SmartDNS On Your Device Than A VPN
Setting up a SmartDNS system is significantly easier than enabling a VPN, especially on devices that aren’t as easy to control as desktop computers or smartphones.
Most VPNs allow you to use them in one of two ways: Either through a native app on the device, or through an extension in your web browser. Some VPNs have router support, which means you can enable them on your household router to protect all devices in your household.
In most cases, enabling a VPN isn’t fundamentally difficult. They know that users have many different levels of skill, and it’s in their best interest to make things as easy on you as possible. Nobody’s going to use a VPN service that’s too complicated to turn on.
However, turning on SmartDNS is fundamentally simpler than enabling a VPN, especially because you usually don’t need to modify ports or set special permissions for it. Since it only deals with one type of traffic, it doesn’t need as many settings or configurations as a VPN.
All of this means that SmartDNS is easier for users, and particularly so for users who aren’t familiar with computer settings and may struggle to enable VPNs. This is particularly true if you’re borrowing a device with a different operating system and aren’t familiar with how it works.
5. SmartDNS Is Cheaper Than A VPN, So You Don’t Need To Overpay If You Just Want To Unblock Content
Finally, because SmartDNS systems are fundamentally simpler and easier than VPNs, they’re also cheaper. This isn’t as much of a benefit as it sounds like at first because some VPNs have extremely competitive pricing and aren’t much more expensive than SmartDNS. A difference of $1 a month isn’t a big deal for most users.
That said, saving money is saving money, and small savings in many areas can add up to a lot of money over time. Some VPN companies even sell SmartDNS separately from their regular services, which makes them a much easier buy.
How To Set Up SmartDNS
The exact process for enabling SmartDNS may vary by provider. However, in most cases, you can follow the instructions below to enable a SmartDNS system after getting access to it on your device.
Important: Regardless of the service you use, you may need to visit the website of your DNS provider and check to be sure that their service is working after you enable it. If you don’t, their DNS system may not work for you at all.
These instructions work for Windows 10. For earlier editions of Windows, see the DNS provider’s instructions.
- Right-click on the Start Button in the lower left of your screen, then click Control Panel.
- Click Network and Internet on the page that pops up. This is where you can configure most network-related functions.
- Click Network and Sharing Center.
- Click Change Adapter Settings. This is a useful link to know because it’s the specific spot where you can enable many services.
- Right-click on the network you’re connecting through and click Properties. Note that you will need administrative access to go beyond this point.
- Uncheck the box for Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6)
- Double-click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), which is how you’ll enable a SmartDNS system.
- In the General tab of the box that appears, enter the DNS server addresses from your SmartDNS provider. You should have a preferred and an alternate.
- If you see an option labeled Validate Settings Upon Exit near the bottom of the panel, make sure that’s checked.
- Click the OK button to save your changes.
- At this point, Windows usually runs a network diagnostic to validate the changes. This may take a few minutes, so just let it run until it’s finished.
- Restart your computer to fully enable these changes.
These instructions are for Mac OS X. As with Windows, contact your SmartDNS provider if you’re using another version of the operating system.
- Click the apple button, then click System Preferences to open up your main control page.
- Look or scroll down to the Internet & Wireless section, then click the Network button.
- Select the network you’re using. This should be an ethernet (wired) or a wireless connection. If you switch between both, make sure to enable your SmartDNS for both of them.
- Click on the Advanced button, which should be on the lower right side of the page.
- Click the DNS button at the top of the panel.
- Click on the DNS server IP address, then use the – button at the bottom left to remove it.
- Click the + button, then add the DNS server IPs from your provider. The first one should be your primary server, and the second one should be the backup server.
- Click the OK button to save your changes.
- Restart your computer.
These instructions are for Android 4.0+ (aka Ice Cream Sandwich). Note that many SmartDNS services will stop working if your device’s IP address changes, so be sure to log in to their websites and make sure you list all of the IP addresses you’re using.
- Click the Settings button on your Android device. This usually looks like a cog.
- Tap the WiFi button. Do not use the On/Off switch, just tap the word WiFi.
- Press and hold on your preferred wireless network until the interaction box appears.
- Press the Modify Network button.
- Check the Show Advanced Options box at the bottom of the page. If it already shows these options, you can just move on.
- Change the IP settings to Static.
- Make sure your IP address, Gateway, and Network prefix lengths are the same. This is usually enabled by default.
- Enter the DNS addresses from your SmartDNS provider.
- Press the Save button.
- Fully reset your phone by turning it off, then turning it on again.
Setting up a SmartDNS system for iPhones usually requires being on a wireless Wi-Fi network. If possible, try to enable your SmartDNS at the router level, rather than on your device. If you’re connected to typical phone networks, like 4G, you may not be able to use your SmartDNS. Otherwise, follow the instructions below.
- Start the Settings application.
- Click on the Wi-Fi button.
- Click on the Wi-Fi network you’re using.
- Click on the DNS field. This is usually lower on the panel, so you may need to scroll down to find it.
- Click Add Server.
- Add at least two DNS servers from your provider.
- Save your changes and restart your iPhone.
For Apple TV
Setting up a SmartDNS system on AppleTV is similar to enabling it on an iPhone. This is no surprise, of course, because they have the same manufacturer. Use these instructions.
- Go to your Apple TV Menu.
- Click the Settings option.
- Select the Network button.
- Click on the Wi-Fi button. It should be near the top of the page.
- Select the network you want to use.
- Select the Configure DNS button. You may need to look or scroll down a little to find it.
- Click the Manual button to configure it yourself.
- Select Configure DNS, then enter the DNS server you want to use.
- Unlike most other options, you usually only enter one server for Apple TVs.
- Verify that it saved the DNS address when you get back to the Wi-Fi page.
- Go back to your Settings page.
- Click on the Sleep Now button.
- Wait for the TV to go into sleep mode.
- Unplug your Apple TV from the wall.
- Wait for ten seconds.
- Plug the power cable back in.
For Google TV
Just like using a SmartDNS on an iPhone, it’s usually better to enable it on your router if you can. Enabling SmartDNS directly on the TV is the secondary option, not the best one. If you need to do it on your TV, follow these instructions.
- Press the Home button.
- Press the Menu button to get into your main controls.
- Click on the System Settings button.
- Click the Network button.
- Click on Ethernet or Wireless, depending on which one you’re using. If you sometimes switch between them, remember to set up your DNS for both.
- For an existing wireless network, select your access point under Wi-Fi networks.
- Hold the OK button on your keyboard.
- Click Modify Network.
- Change your IP settings to Static. Then continue to Step 11.
- For an ethernet connection, change your IP setting to Static.
- Enter any free IP address available in your local network. It’s usually easier to use your current IP address, but you can change it as needed.
- Enter the Gateway number. The default displayed onscreen usually works here, too.
- Enter 24 for the network prefix length.
- Add the DNS servers.
- Click Set.
- Open the Google Chrome browser on your TV and verify your IP address with your SmartDNS provider.
- Enter your email if prompted to do so.
- Fully restart your Google TV.
6 Smart DNS services
Here are six of the best choices for using a SmartDNS system. Keep in mind that pricing for services can change over time, so it’s possible the company has changed its costs since the last time we updated this guide.
SmartyDNS is a combination of VPN and SmartDNS services. They allow for a 3-day free trial of their services so you can test them out and see whether or not they meet your needs before you start using them. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, which provides some extra support on top of their basic services.
However, SmartyDNS only bundles its services together, so you’ll pay more for this than some other providers. Costs range from $7.95/month for a monthly plan to $79.95 for 2 years (about $3.33/mo).
2. KeepSolid SmartDNS
From the creators of VPN Unlimited. KeepSolid SmartDNS is a non-VPN provider that allows you to use it without installing anything and on unlimited devices you own. After registration, this company offers a 7-day free trial, which is long enough for many vacations if you want to access content at home then. That alone makes this service worth looking at.
Pricing ranges from $3.99/month for a monthly plan to $99.99 for a 10-year subscription (about $0.83/mo). If you know you want to use a SmartDNS system long-term, the 10-year plan makes KeepSolid SmartDNS one of the most cost-effective options on the market. To some extent, that also makes this company the best smart DNS.
3. ExpressVPN SmartDNS
ExpressVPN packages a SmartDNS system (known as MediaStreamer) with its VPN options. Enabling this is usually as simple as following the instructions for your device above and using the DNS addresses they offer. As one of the better VPNs, this is a great choice if you also want to maintain your privacy while you’re online.
This company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which isn’t quite as good as a free trial but can be used for some vacations. Pricing ranges from $12.95/month for a regular monthly subscription to $8.32/month for a 1-year plan. They bill for the entire year at once.
4. OverPlay SmartDNS
OverPlay Smart DNS gives you the choice of a standalone SmartDNS system or bundling it together with a VPN system. We always like seeing this option because it gives you more control over what you’re paying for and what services you’ll receive. Frankly, there’s no need to require a VPN account for people who only want to use Smart DNS.
OverPlay does not keep traffic logs and allows unlimited switching between servers and regions. It also offers a 5-day money-back guarantee, which is a little low for this industry but still long enough to test them out and get used to their service.
Prices range from $4.95/month for a monthly plan to $49.95/month for an annual plan (about $4.16/month).
5. Unlocator SmartDNS
Like our previous option, Unlocator offers both SmartDNS and VPN services to customers. What sets them apart from most other options is their competitive pricing plans, which range from $4.95/month for the monthly plan to $3.29/month if you get a two-year subscription.
Unlocator’s VPN bundle is unsurprisingly, more expensive than just the SmartDNS. The bundle price ranges from $9.99/month for the monthly plan to $4.96/month for the two-year bundle, which is extremely competitive for the features offered.
6. Smart DNS Proxy
Smart DNS Proxy, sometimes shortened to SmartDNSProxy, offers both VPN and SmartDNS features. Unlike some of their competitors, they also offer SmartDNS at the same time you’re running a VPN, although this does remove some of the speed benefits of only using a SmartDNS system.
This company offers a 14-day free trial, which is more than enough time to test them out while you’re on vacation. Their pricing includes all features and ranges from $4.90/month for the monthly plan to $2.08/month for a two-year plan. They also have a lifetime subscription available for a flat fee of $150, which is the single most cost-effective option.
Whether you want to maintain connection speeds or just access different content providers, Smart DNS is a viable and affordable alternative to VPNs. The big question here is whether you just want to access content or whether you want to improve your privacy while you’re online.
SmartDNS is so useful that many VPN providers offer it as either a separate service or as part of their core features. If you’re not sure which service to get, we recommend starting with one that has a minimum of one week in its free trial. This gives you enough time to configure it and access a lot of content before deciding whether to pay.