Smart DNSA Smart DNS, like Tunlr, connects you through a Proxy and then the content directly back to you. While using a Smart DNS to say, access Netflix, typically your traffic is routed in the following manner: 1) through a proxy server to Netflix for a "handshake" to verify your location (which you can choose on the Smart DNS), 2) Netflix then finds the closest point for its content delivery network to the location you selected for your proxy, 3) Netflix then routes the traffic directly to you - this makes using a Smart DNS or DNS provider faster to a typical VPN.
Additionally, you are able to toggle each individual service on/off and potentially set each one to a different country. So this way, you can seamlessly switch between US-Netflix, and BBC-UK without having to change your settings over and over. You just set them once, and don't have to worry about them again. The Smart DNS redirects only the traffic for services that you toggle "on" through the Smart DNS.
DNSFor a DNS, the process is exactly the same as a Smart DNS with the exception that you are not able to toggle services On/Off. Depending on the DNS provider, two scenarios emerge for traffic: a) the all traffic may maintain the country available/selected for their DNS or, b) only the traffic the DNS provider maintains services for may be routed through the country available/selected.
VPNVPN's are usually used for privacy and they can conceal your location from both the request for content and the source to which the content is provided. While using a VPN to say, access Netflix, typically your traffic is routed in the following manner: 1) through the VPN to Netflix for a "handshake" to verify your location (which you can choose on the VPN), 2) Netflix then finds the closest point for its content delivery network to the location you selected for your VPN, 3) Netflix then routes the to the VPN, 4) the VPN the routes this traffic to you. The VPN also redirects all traffic through the VPN. However, since Netflix already knows your account it does not matter if you hide where the final destination the data is going.
ConclusionSmart DNS / DNS are faster than a typical VPN, but do not provide the same privacy. In the case of Netflix, they already know what you are watching since you have to login to your account to view it, so the privacy concern is moot. Basically, if you want stream content use a Smart DNS / DNS. If you want privacy, use a VPN.
If you are looking for something free to try out, give Tunlr a try: https://tunlr.com/ . We are in open beta and our service will remain free for this duration :)