If you’re looking for a free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely one to get, and its paid service is going from strength to strength, although its wide range of pricing options is confusing.
- Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
- Wide range of endpoint countries
- Plus tier is great for streaming
- Quick download speeds
- Slightly confusing pricing
- Basic tier doesn't include streaming endpoints
- Review Price: £39.12
- Supports OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
- Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
- Detailed instructions on connecting other devices
- Between one and 10 devices depending on package
- Unlimited free account available (only three endpoint countries)
- US pricing: Basic: $5 per month, $48 per year, $79 per two years; Plus: $10 per month, $96 per year, $159 pre two years; Visionary: $30 per month, $288 per year, $479 per two years
- UK pricing: Basic: £4.07 per month, £39.12 per year, £64.38 per two years; Plus: £8.15 per month, £78.24 per year, £129.58 pre two years; Visionary: £24.45 per month, £234.72 per year, £390.38 per two years
ProtonVPN, launched in 2017, is one of the newer contenders in a crowded VPN (virtual private network) market. Like its sibling, encrypted email provider ProtonMail, it focuses first and foremost on privacy.
Dedicated GUI clients are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, plus a Linux command line tool and instructions for using the service on other hardware such as routers.
ProtonVPN has a clear no-logging policy which, as its transparency report reveals, means that there’s no data hand over to authorities when a warrant is enforced against the company. However, Swiss authorities have the right to order ISPs to enable logging to collect data in criminal cases, which Proton Technologies AG has done, with notification going to the person whose account was involved.
While the company clearly fights orders that it suspects may expose whistleblowers or contravene its users’ rights, it’s still inherently less secure than a no-logging service that’s based in a country that doesn’t have any laws or back doors allowing authorities to force data collection.
ProtonVPN – Features and usability
ProtonVPN’s Windows client has a particularly attractive charcoal and green interface. The main display allows you to select countries from a list or a map, use a pre-generated fastest or random connection profile to pick an endpoint based on those criteria or create your own profile, with options including connection type, country and specific server.
The main endpoint list allows you to select specific endpoint servers and shows how busy each one is, and which connection features they provide. Special features offered by ProtonVPN endpoints include Secure Core – which offers additional protection against external network attacks, P2P for the benefit of torrent users, and Tor, which uses The Onion Router network to help further anonymise your activity.
A traffic graph helps you to monitor your connection’s performance, as well as how much data you’re sending across it. Open the client’s Settings interface, and you can enable features including a VPN kill switch to cut off all internet traffic if your VPN connection goes down and Split Tunnelling so you can allow specific applications or IP addresses connect outside the VPN.
You can also have ProtonVPN load at boot, connect at launch, switch between TCP and UDP and opt into an Early Access programme for new versions of the VPN client.
ProtonVPN – Performance
|Proton VPN HTTP||64.72Mbps||69.92Mbps||72.24Mbps|
|Proton VPN FTP||74.99Mbps||78.65Mbps||53.71Mbps|
Average HTTP download speeds for the entire April 2020 VPN group test, measured from a test system in London with a fast and stable internet connection, were 65.63Mbps from UK endpoints, 71.37Mbps for the Netherlands and 51.15Mbps from the US.
These tests used the ProtonVPN Plus service, which gives you a wider range of servers to choose from than the company’s Free or Basic tiers. I’m really impressed by the degree to which ProtonVPN’s endpoint performance has improved over the last year, and it’s been a consistent trend. This time around, download speeds from US endpoints have been phenomenal, well above not only the group average but also the test system’s non-VPN’d reference speed.
Should you buy ProtonVPN?
As well as an outstanding free tier, which only limits the endpoint servers you can use to three, in the US, the Netherlands and Japan, rather than restricting how much bandwidth you can use, there are three different paid tiers, which can make comparing the service to its rivals a little confusing. I always use the Plus tier when testing, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Basic covers two devices and gives you access to all standard servers in the 46 countries now covered by ProtonVPN, as well as some dedicated P2P servers, for an extremely competitive £4.07 per month, £39.12 per year or £64.38 every two years. It’s a good entry-level VPN offering for users on a budget, but the lack of streaming endpoints chafes a little and will be a deal-breaker for some.
Plus gets you all that, as well as specialist secure core, Tor and streaming servers for up to five devices, and costs around £8.15 per month, £78.24 per year or £129.58 every two user. Visionary, priced at £24.45 per month, £234.72 per year or £390.38 every two years, is the same but gets you ten simultaneous connections and includes the top-tier Visionary secure email service from sibling company ProtonMail.
You can pay anonymously using bitcoin but have to create a free account and contact support to do so.
- Read our view on the free version of ProtonMail in our Best free VPN round-up
- Buy now: ProtonVPN from £3.15/month
ProtonVPN has an outstanding unlimited-bandwidth free tier and a good value but slightly confusing, range of paid-for tiers. It’s packed with features and provides clients and configuration instructions for a wide range of different devices and operating systems.
If you’re looking for a free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely one to get, and its entry-level paid subscriptions are also very competitively priced. We appreciate ProtonVPN’s efforts to be transparent and privacy-oriented, but Switzerland isn’t the best location for cast-iron privacy guarantees. Private Internet Access if you’re on a budget, or ExpressVPN have both had their privacy policies proven through government seizures.
ProtonVPN Basic would be a shoo-in budget option, but its low annual subscription fee actually still costs more than Private Internet Access. However, the fully-featured ProtonVPN Plus tier is fast, great at streaming, and a strong competitor against services such as erstwhile Trusted Reviews favourite NordVPN. It’s a particularly convenient choice if you’re already a ProtonMail subscriber.
ProtonVPN is a newer VPN service from the makers of ProtonMail, a Switzerland-based email service.
In this new and updated review, I put ProtonVPN through extensive testing to examine all aspects of the service:
- How fast is ProtonVPN with servers throughout the network?
- Do all the features work correctly?
- Does ProtonVPN have any problems with IP address leaks or DNS leaks?
- How responsive is the ProtonVPN support staff?
- Does ProtonVPN unblock Netflix?
All of these questions are answered in this ProtonVPN review, with screenshots posted below for verification.
Overall ProtonVPN has made huge improvements in a number of different areas since the last review, but there are still a few drawbacks we’ll cover below.
Here is a brief overview of my test results and research findings for this ProtonVPN review:
Pros of ProtonVPN:
- Useful privacy features (no leaks)
- Secure server network (secure core)
- Good privacy jurisdiction and data protection policies
- User-friendly VPN apps
- Works well with Netflix
- Responsive and professional support (via email)
- Transparent company with a good track record
Cons of ProtonVPN:
- Variable speeds with some servers
- Prices are above average (for access to all servers and features)
Additional research findings:
- Payment options and refund policy
- Does ProtonVPN work for torrenting?
- Does ProtonVPN work in China?
Pros of ProtonVPN
Here are the Pros that I found for this ProtonVPN review.
1. Useful privacy features (and no leaks)
ProtonVPN has some useful privacy and security features.
First, it offers good leak protection settings with the Windows and Mac OS apps I tested. In addition to the kill switch and DNS leak protection, both the Windows and Android clients also offer a split tunneling feature. This allows you to route traffic for certain applications outside of the VPN tunnel.
ProtonVPN also offers different settings for auto connect, protocol selection (UDP or TCP), and startup options. Regarding the kill switch and leak protection settings, everything worked well in testing for this review.
I ran the Windows and Mac OS apps through some basic VPN tests to identify potential leaks or flaws. Everything checked out (no leaks):
No leaks were found with ProtonVPN.
The screenshot above is with the ProtonVPN Windows client. The Mac OS client also did not have any leaks that I could find.
ProtonVPN encryption and VPN protocols
The ProtonVPN Windows client and Linux script utilizes the OpenVPN protocol. The Mac OS, Android, and iOS apps utilize the IKEv2 protocol. You can see my comparison of OpenVPN vs IKEv2 here – both are considered to be secure VPN protocols.
For the data channel, ProtonVPN uses an AES-256-CBC cipher together with HMAC SHA-512 authentication.
2. Secure server network (Secure Core)
ProtonVPN runs its entire network on dedicated bare-metal servers. This is advantageous from a security and performance standpoint over virtual servers.
Currently, ProtonVPN has 568 servers in 43 different countries. This isn’t too bad for geographic diversity, but is definitely smaller than some of the larger VPNs, such as NordVPN.
One unique aspect of ProtonVPN is their implementation of Secure Core.
What is Secure Core?
The Secure Core feature is basically a double-hop VPN server configuration routed through ProtonVPN servers in Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland. In other words, your traffic will first get routed through one of the Secure Core servers before going to the second VPN server and exiting the encrypted tunnel.
The main advantage of the Secure Core servers is that it provides an additional layer of protection. This protects against a compromised server in a third-party data center, for example. ProtonVPN has gone to great lengths to ensure the security of these “core” servers:
We have also gone to extraordinary lengths to defend our Secure Core servers. First, servers are located in countries selected specifically for their strong privacy laws (Iceland, Switzerland, and Sweden). We also placed our Secure Core servers in high-security data centers to ensure strong physical security. ProtonVPN infrastructure in Switzerland and Sweden is housed in underground data centers, while our Iceland servers are on a former military base. Furthermore, Secure Core servers are wholly owned and provisioned by us(shipped on-site directly from our offices). Finally, Secure Core servers are connected to the Internet using our own dedicated network with IP addresses that are owned and operated by our own Local Internet Registry (LIR).
In addition to ProtonVPN, there are also other VPN providers that offer multi-hop VPN configurations. Unlike with ProtonVPN, however, these other providers do not have the same physical security infrastructure in place.
To use the Secure Core servers, you will need to have a “Plus” or “Visionary” subscription. (We’ll examine the subscription levels more below.) Within the ProtonVPN client, you can toggle the Secure Core servers off/on and then connect to the one you want.
I found the secure core servers to work well, although some were down for maintenance when working on this ProtonVPN review.
Are Secure Core servers slow?
Secure Core servers will generally be slower, simply because traffic is getting routed across two encrypted VPN servers. This adds more encryption and latency. Nonetheless, I still found the Secure Core servers to offer pretty good speeds.
Here is a nearby secure core configuration via Sweden > France: 94 Mbps
Some of the secure core servers I tested with longer distances (higher latency) were slower, but still not horrible.
ProtonVPN’s secure core is slower than other servers, but that’s understandable with the added distance and encryption. Overall the performance was good.
Lastly, ProtonVPN also offers Tor-over-VPN servers. I did test these servers for the review, simply because I knew they would be slow (due to the slow Tor network).
3. Good privacy jurisdiction and data protection policies
ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland under the company ProtonVPN AG. Switzerland is a good privacy jurisdiction and is not part of the five eyes, nine eyes, or 14 eyes surveillance alliances. As noted on the ProtonVPN website:
We are headquartered in Switzerland which has some of the world’s strongest privacy laws. Switzerland is also outside of EU and US jurisdiction and is not a member of the fourteen eyes surveillance network.
From a business standpoint, ProtonVPN is a separate entity from ProtonMail. However, it still falls under the same parent organization, Proton Technologies AG, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
As we’ve covered before, Switzerland is a great jurisdiction for both VPN services and secure email providers.
ProtonVPN logs policy
ProtonVPN describes itself as a no-logs VPN provider. The one thing they store is timestamps, as explained on their support page:
ProtonVPN respects its users’ privacy and enforces a no-logs policy. This means your VPN connections remain private and we do not store information about your connections or the websites you visit.
For the purpose of securing your account and making sure it’s you who is signing in, we store a single timestamp of your accounts most recent login. Again, we do not store any information about where you signed in from or how long you were logged in.
Each time a user connects to the Service, we only monitor the timestamp of the last successful login attempt. This gets overwritten each time you successfully log in. This timestamp does not contain any identifying information, such as your IP address or your location; it only contains the time and date of the login.
We retain this limited information to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks. This is necessary to identify password guessing attempts targeting specific user accounts and to take action to protect those accounts.
This is definitely not concerning given that it’s a single timestamp. ProtonVPN also explains in this blog post how they are fully compliant with GDPR privacy protections and do not share data with third parties.
There are also a few no-logs VPN providers that have been verified and audited.
4. User-friendly VPN apps
ProtonVPN has a very nice lineup of apps that are user-friendly and fully-featured.
The layout and design are great, and I also like the dark-mode theme. Here I’m testing out one of the secure core configurations on the ProtonVPN Windows client:
In general, connections were pretty quick to establish and there weren’t any major issues.
ProtonVPN offers dedicated clients (apps) for all major devices and operating systems. Depending on your operating system, you can use ProtonVPN through a client or natively, such as with the IKEv2 protocol on iOS. ProtonVPN does not currently support the, which is still under development.
There are also various startup and notification preferences you can customize within the ProtonVPN client.
ProtonVPN also has a command line tool for Linux. If you need a VPN for Mac, you can use the ProtonVPN Mac OS client or natively with IKEv2.
Overall ProtonVPN has a nice lineup of VPN apps, which have improved significantly since I first tested out ProtonVPN when it was released in 2017.
5. ProtonVPN works with Netflix
ProtonVPN also works with different Netflix regions. As they state on the ProtonVPN website:
ProtonVPN users can securely watch US Netflix when connected to any ProtonVPN Plus server located in the US. These servers are available for Plus and Visionary Plan subscribers. For the fastest and most reliable connection, please connect to the server that is closest to your current location.
I tested US Netflix with a ProtonVPN server in New York and did not have any problems getting through. The speeds were adequate for the short tests that I ran.
Note: ProtonVPN currently supports the following Netflix regions:
- US Netflix
- UK Netflix
- German Netflix
To see other VPN services that unblock Netflix regions around the world, check out the best VPN for Netflix guide.
Note: You will need a paid VPN plan to access Netflix (not working with ProtonVPN free plans).
6. Responsive and professional support (via email)
ProtonVPN offers support via email. Their website also has various FAQ articles and guides, which are useful for standard questions.
I used the contact form on their website to submit various inquiries to test out support’s response time.
Overall I was happy with the prompt replies. My inquiries were usually answered on the same day they were submitted.
With previous ProtonVPN reviews, I was critical of their support due to delayed response times (several days). Support with ProtonVPN has definitely improved over the past few years. There’s also an active ProtonVPN subreddit.
Some people prefer a VPN with live chat support, which is indeed useful if you want instant help. While ProtonVPN does not offer live chat, their support team seems to be on top of things.
7. Transparent company with a good track record
It’s no secret that Proton Technologies, including ProtonVPN and ProtonMail, has an excellent reputation in the privacy community. It is also a company that is very transparent and led by reputable, public-facing people.
ProtonMail was started in 2014 by a group of academics/scientists who were working at CERN in Switzerland and also MIT. On the topic of transparency, ProtonMail published an interesting blog post about the organization and leadership:
As a company, we are committed to the highest levels of transparency so you know exactly who you are trusting. Our key employees and their backgrounds are public knowledge. Where we are based, the address of our headquarters, our company statutes, and even our directors are all a matter of public record and available for inspection at the Swiss commercial register. ProtonMail’s initial financing through crowdfunding is also publicly documented, along with the identities of many of our initial 10,000 financial backers. But we go even further than that. We also meticulously document and publish information on all the law enforcement requests that we receive.
As noted above, ProtonVPN and ProtonMail both fall under the parent company Proton Technologies AG, based in Geneva, Switzerland. The ProtonVPN arm of this business is officially registered as ProtonVPN AG, which shares the same core leadership as ProtonMail.
Andy Yen is the CEO of both ProtonMail and ProtonVPN. In 2014 he gave a good TED Talk about email privacy here.
Cons of ProtonVPN
Now we’ll take a look at some of the cons of ProtonVPN:
1. Variable speeds with some servers
While ProtonVPN has generally improved with speeds since the last review, it’s also not the fastest VPN I’ve tested.
All speed tests for this ProtonVPN review were carried out with a baseline connection speed of about 160 Mbps from my location in Western Europe, using the speed test website here.
For the first round of ProtonVPN speed tests, I examined servers in Europe.
ProtonVPN server in Switzerland: 152 Mbps
This is excellent considering my baseline speed is 160 Mbps.
Next I tested a ProtonVPN server in Italy. The speeds were not as fast at around 22 Mbps.
Next up, a server in Sweden offered speeds around 60 Mbps:
Lastly, I tested a ProtonVPN server in France, which was pretty good: 149 Mbps.
With nearby servers (around Europe) there was clearly some variability, but overall not too bad.
Next I tested servers in the US and Canada.
First I tested a server in New York and was only able to get around 29 Mbps:
This is definitely under-performing.
I was able to find a few fast servers in the US, however, such as a ProtonVPN server in Virginia at 137 Mbps.
Next I tested a ProtonVPN server in Texas, which gave me about 122 Mbps.
Finally, I tested a server in New Jersey, which was the slowest of them all at around 13 Mbps.
If you need a VPN for USA and speed is your top concern, you may want to check out some other options.
In general ProtonVPN’s speeds aren’t too bad, but there is definitely some variability as you can see. In comparison to other premium VPN providers, there is certainly room for improvement in the performance category. One of the fastest VPNs I’ve tested is ExpressVPN.
On a positive note, speeds were certainly better than the last ProtonVPN review I did, so things are improving.
2. ProtonVPN prices are above average (for full access)
ProtonVPN is an interesting case when it comes to prices. On the one hand, they offer an unlimited free VPN with pretty good speeds (for a free service). But on the other hand, to get all features and access to the entire server network, you’ll need to purchase a “Plus” or “Visionary” plan, which costs $8 to $30 per month. This makes ProtonVPN rather expensive (for all features).
The paid subscriptions are broken down into the different plans you see below. This is with “annual” payments being selected – if you choose “monthly” the plans are slightly expensive.
While this may seem rather complex, it does allow you to select the exact plan that fits your needs, whether it is the free plan or the Visionary plan.
For those wanting maximum security and privacy, I’d recommend the Plus subscription because it provides access to the Secure Core server network.
The Visionary plan is quite expensive, but it may be a good fit if you want a combined solution for VPN and secure email service, all rolled into one subscription.
Assuming you want access to the entire server network and all features, the Plus plan comes in at $8 per month. While this is certainly not a cheap VPN, it is also not the most expensive VPN I’ve seen.
Additional research findings
Below are additional findings from my research of ProtonVPN for this review.
ProtonVPN payment options and refund policy
To get started with ProtonVPN, you can create a free or paid account. If you opt for a paid account, you’ll have the option to pay with PayPal or a credit card. However, if you are upgrading your account, you’ll have the option to pay with:
- Credit cards
Bitcoin and cash can offer more privacy, but you can also pay with a virtual credit card (such as from privacy.com) using an anonymous name and address.
ProtonVPN refund policy
ProtonVPN offers a pretty good refund policy. As they explain on their Terms and Conditions page,
You may cancel your account with a refund for any unused portion of the service period within 30 days of the initial purchase. Here, any unused portion of the service period refers to the prorated remaining full days of the subscription period. Refunds or credits beyond the 30 days window will be considered, but at the sole discretion of the Service.
This is somewhat different from other VPN services in that they do not offer a full 100% refund, but rather a prorated refund of unused time. Nonetheless, it is still generous in comparison to other free VPN services, such as Windscribe and TunnelBear, which both have more restrictive refund policies.
Does ProtonVPN work for torrenting?
Many people are looking for the best VPN for torrenting due to the risks associated with copyright infringement.
Generally speaking, ProtonVPN is a good VPN for torrenting, but with one catch. Torrenting is not supported on the free plans. This is understandable since they don’t want bandwidth being eaten up by torrents.
With paid plans, torrenting is completely supported and allowed without restrictions.
Does ProtonVPN work in China?
Unfortunately, it does not look like ProtonVPN is working in China, according to the latest support update:
As of Sept. 18, 2019, the Chinese government is blocking access to ProtonVPN as part of a larger crackdown on Internet freedom.
The Chinese government works hard to control its citizens’ access to the Internet. The Great Firewall employs a vast system of technical tools, including DNS filtering, URL filtering, and deep packet inspection, that the Chinese government uses to prevent people in China from accessing foreign websites. The government also uses these tools to detect and block VPN servers.
ProtonVPN review conclusion
When I first tested out ProtonVPN in 2017 after its official launch, I was somewhat critical due to various bugs and problems I encountered. Now, two years later, it is a polished VPN service that has improved tremendously.
So is ProtonVPN recommended?
Following the latest test results for this ProtonVPN review, I will be adding it to the best VPN services list.
ProtonVPN is a polished service that has a lot to offer:
- Useful privacy features (no leaks)
- Secure server network (secure core)
- Good privacy jurisdiction and data protection policies
- User-friendly VPN apps
- Works well with Netflix
- Responsive and professional support (via email)
- Transparent company with a good track record
ProtonVPN remains an up-and-coming service to watch. While it may not (yet) have the brand recognition of some of the bigger players competing for market share, such as ExpressVPN vs NordVPN, it is a solid contender. I’ll keep this ProtonVPN review updated with the latest news and test results.
ProtonVPN isn't the biggest, the flashiest, or even the cheapest VPN, and yet it's one of the best services available. It places an enormous emphasis on security and user privacy, and has an excellent client that's very easy to use. It also offers a suite of advanced privacy tools usually reserved for far more expensive products. For all that, and its amazing free version that has no limit on data usage, it's an Editors' Choice winner and one of the best VPNs. If you're dipping your toe into VPNs, it's a great way to start with no risk.
What Is a VPN?
When you activate your VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server operated by the VPN company. Sending your traffic through the tunnel keeps it hidden from anyone on the same network as you, and from your ISP that is all too willing to sell your anonymized data. A VPN also hides your true IP address, making it harder for advertisers to track you across the web. If you select a distant server, you can even spoof your location to appear in a distant country.
VPNs are valuable tools for improving your privacy online, but they can't do everything. I still recommend that everyone use a password manager, activate two-factor authentication wherever it's available, and install an antivirus app.
ProtonVPN Pricing and Features
Most VPN services offer the same set of features across all pricing tiers. For those services, the tiers are less about upgrades and more about longer-term subscriptions at a reduced rate. ProtonVPN goes in the opposite direction. There is a 20 percent discount for annual versus monthly subscriptions, but more generous features are unlocked or added as you move up the four price tiers.
On its pricing page, ProtonVPN includes speed classifications for its subscription tiers. These are just estimations based on the expected number of users. ProtonVPN does not throttle your speeds, regardless of the subscription you use. The Free subscription has "Low" speeds because ProtonVPN expects it will have many users crowded into a few servers, while the paid subscriptions have "High" speeds because they have access to more servers and fewer users per server.
The first subscription tier of ProtonVPN is its free offering, which includes just three VPN server locations, and only allows one device to be connected at a time. You'll also have to create an account with ProtonVPN in order to access even its free tier. Despite those limitations, ProtonVPN is unique in that it does not limit the amount of data a free subscriber can use, as mentioned earlier. TunnelBear VPN's free offering limits you to 500MB of secured traffic per month, Hotspot Shield limits your bandwidth to 500MB per day, and KeepSolid places no data restrictiosn on its limited free version. Other free VPNs pile on other restrictions. Because of all that, I recommend ProtonVPN over all the other free VPNs I've tested.
The second tier is ProtonVPN Basic, which costs $5 per month ($48 annually). This tier grants access to all the VPN locations ProtonVPN has to offer, but limits you to just two devices. P2P file sharing is allowed at this tier. Mullvad offers unfettered access to its service for a smidge more, at $5.54.
For this review, I signed up for a $10 per month ($96 annually) Plus account, which is the third of four pricing tiers. This is dead-on for the average monthly price of a VPN, and still less than competitors with similar features, such as NordVPN. This tier lets me access all the VPN servers in ProtonVPN's network, and use up to five devices—the average for the industry. This tier grants access to Plus servers. These are servers restricted to the highest two tiers of ProtonVPN, and intended to be less crowded and therefore higher performing. Plus subscribers also get access to the Tor annonymization network, a rare feature. You don't need to use a VPN to access Tor, but it's nice to have. There are also specially designated servers for streaming media at the Plus level.
The Plus tier also includes access to Secure Core servers, which are a bit unusual and merit further explanation. These are servers owned by ProtonVPN and kept in secure facilities (in one example, an underground demilitarized NATO bunker). This way you can be assured that no one has tampered with the servers, to expose your information. When you connect via Core Servers, your VPN connection makes two hops. First, from your device to the Core Servers, and then onward to the VPN server you select.
While a VPN protects your data with its encrypted tunnel, that doesn't mean anything if an attacker has taken control of the VPN server. What the Core Server scheme does is guarantee that your information is secure from your computer to the Core Server, which is under lock and key. If the next VPN server you connect to after the Core Server has been compromised, whoever has taken control won't be able to glean anything about you because your traffic will appear to be coming from the Core Server and not your actual computer. This is similar to Tor, but Tor goes above and beyond with many more hops in between you and your destination.
Unsurprisingly, this comes at a pretty hefty tradeoff in terms of speed and performance, but is a unique feature that should put even the most paranoid mind to rest. Other companies may offer similar multihop VPN connections and CyberGhost also boasts about the integrity of its NoSpy data center. ProtonVPN brings it all together.
If all that is insufficient, you can upgrade to a $30 per month ($288 annually) Visionary plan, the top of the four pricing tiers. This includes all of the features listed in the previous tier but raises the number of devices that can be simultaneously connected to 10. What you're really getting with a Visionary plan is access to the highest paid tier of ProtonMail, the encrypted email service also operated by ProtonVPN. That means 20GB of ProtonMail storage, 50 email aliases, support for 10 email domains, and up to five users on a single email account.
ProtonVPN subscriptions can be purchased via major credit card or PayPal. You can make Bitcoin payments, but only when you upgrade from one plan to the other; you can't create a paid account using Bitcoin. TorGuard, to name just one, is a VPN service that gives you far more options for making anonymous payments. That said, ProtonVPN has announced its own cryptocurrency, suggesting that anonymous payments could someday come to the forefront.
VPN technology has been around a long time, and there are lots of different flavors of encrypted tunnels to choose from. I prefer VPN services that make use of the OpenVPN protocol, which is thoroughly vetted by virtue of being open source and has a reputation for being fast and reliable.
ProtonVPN tells me that it uses OpenVPN UDP/TCP in its Windows app and IKEv2, another good protocol, in all of its Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows apps. I'd like to see it deploy OpenVPN more widely, although that might matter less with the arrival of the super fast, experimental WireGuard protocol.
Servers and Server Locations
In terms of distribution, ProtonVPN covers a respectable 44 countries, a little below the 52 countries provided by VPNs on average. CyberGhost covers 90 countries, and ExpressVPN an impressive 94. More server locations is good because it means you're more likely to find a VPN server near to you, giving you better performance. It also means more options for spoofing your location.
ProtonVPN deserves credit for improving its geographic distribution. The company now offers server locations in Africa, an entire continent often ignored by VPN companies, as well as servers in locations in India. ProtonVPN has one location in South America, another oft-ignored locale. I'd like to see more options in all of these regions, but ProtonVPN does better than most.
ProtonVPN provides servers in Hong Kong and Russia, but not in other regions with government restricted access to the web, such as Turkey, Cuba, and others. Having servers in these regions does not necessarily allow users to circumvent censorship, but it may provide a modicum of security and privacy to the populace.
ProtonVPN has one of the smallest networks of servers, but it's also one that has grown steadily over the years. It now stands at 628, which is a far cry from the 5,000 or more available from CyberGhost and NordVPN. While numerous servers are cartainly nice, they don't necessarily mean better service.
Some readers have expressed concern about VPNs using virtual servers. These are software-defined servers, meaning that a single, physical server can play host to many virtual ones. These can also be configured to appear as if they are in a country other than their physical host. The concern is that people want to know exactly where they are connecting, and through which countries their information is passing.
A representative for ProtonVPN tells me that the company only rents "bare metal" servers that are dedicated to ProtonVPN, meaning they are not shared with other renters. That's not to say that using virtual servers is bad. GoldenFrog VyprVPN, for example, uses virtual servers in locations it regards as secure in order to service locations where the company cannot guarantee the safety of its hardware.
Your Privacy With ProtonVPN
In conversations with me and in the company's documentation, ProtonVPN says it does not log user activity. In order to prevent brute-force password attacks, it only stores a timestamp of the last successful login, which is overwritten after the next login. That's excellent.
A representative from ProtonVPN tells me that ProtonVPN only makes money through subscription sales, not by selling user information. ProtonVPN is owned by the parent company Proton Technologies AG, and is based in Switzerland and operates under Swiss law. As such, it only responds to requests for information from an approved Swiss court order, which also requires that the individual who is the target of the investigation be notified. That's in stark contrast to the practice of the US sending National Security letters to companies, requiring information and preventing them disclosing the request. Even if ProtonVPN were required to respond to a request, it would only supply login timestamps. The company's transparency report indicates it has not responded to any requests for information. This is all excellent from a privacy and security standpoint.
ProtonVPN recently open-sourced its apps, and notes that its service passed muster with Mozilla. That's good, but it hasn't undergone a no-logs or infrastructure security audit. TunnelBear, for examples, has committed to annual audits of its service.
In terms of physical security, ProtonVPN says it limits access to its hardware and encrypts its servers so the loss of one would not affect the rest of the fleet. Other VPNs have gone further, having their servers run only in RAM. The company also says that it will inform the public about any data breaches, "as soon as it can be guaranteed that disclosing the information will not put users at risk."
Security is really an issue of trust. Even if a company does everything right, it doesn't matter much if you, the customer, don't trust them. I recommend that consumers consider this information, and choose a service based on which company they feel they can trust.
Hands On With ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN offers clients for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. The company provides detailed instructions on how to configure a Linux machine to use the service. I had no trouble getting ProtonVPN's Windows app installed on a Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7BEH (Bean Canyon) desktop running the latest version of Windows 10.
Because ProtonVPN puts such a heavy emphasis on user privacy and technological excellence, I expected ProtonVPN would lack basic features and be a generally unusable mess. I was pleasantly surprised that ProtonVPN is a slick and well-designed app that's easy to use and doesn't skimp on features. Moreover, it's continued to be a pleasure to use over the years.
When you start up ProtonVPN, it appears as a skinny window similar to a mobile app. There's a very obvious button that quickly gets you online, which I appreciate. The app also shows your connection status, a selection of servers so you can quickly change VPN location, and a toggle switch for the Secure Core servers. Clicking the small grey arrow in the upper right expands the window to reveal ProtonVPN's servers spread out on a map along with a real-time assessment of network traffic.
You can search or browse the available servers, and I particularly like that you can drill down to the specific servers within a location. The app also displays how much load a particular server is experiencing, whether they are Plus servers (that is, servers reserved for Plus users), and which are specialized servers for Tor, streaming, file sharing, and so forth.
In addition to the specialized servers, ProtonVPN includes Profiles for specific activities. Two Profiles are included by default, one for connecting to the fastest server and another for connecting to a random server. You can also create your own Profiles to meet your unique needs by specifying a country and a specific server within that country with which you wish to connect. You can name your profile, mark it with a color, and require that it use the Secure Core servers, too. I recently realized that unlike most VPNs, ProtonVPN doesn't let you mark a server as a favorite—that's what Profiles are for. This is a pretty advanced feature, but you can easily ignore it if you're not interested.
ProtonVPN does include a Kill Switch that halts web traffic on your machine should the VPN link become disconnected. That prevents your traffic from being exposed, even if only briefly. The app also includes an easy tool for split-tunneling—that is, routing the traffic from specific apps or IP addresses either into or outside of the VPN tunnel.
Ideally, a VPN will not leak information about your ISP, your true IP address, or your DNS requests. In my testing with the DNS Leak Test tool, the server I used protected my information. Note that I only tested one server. Other servers may not be configured correctly.
ProtonVPN and Netflix
It's really difficult to watch Netflix with a VPN because Netflix wants to enforce its distribution deals.
In my testing, I found that Netflix was not not-blocked but failed to load while connected to a US server. After manually selecting a Premium server, as ProtonVPN advises you do when watching Netflix, I found I was out and out blocked. This could be an issue. That said, the conflict between VPNs and streaming sites is ongoing, and what works today may be blocked tomorrow.
Many VPN companies try to sweeten the pot by adding additional features beyond VPN protection. TorGuard, for example, offers access to a 10GB network and static IP addresses. Other VPNs claim to block malware at the network level, although we don't recommend using these instead of stand-alone antivirus software. Ad blocking is another popular feature, appearing in NordVPN, Private Internet Access, Cyberghost, TorGuard, and PureVPN.
ProtonVPN does not offer static IP addresses for purchase, which is a bit of a disappointment. A static IP address is a "clean" address that is unlikely to be blocked. A company representative has told me that ProtonVPN may offer static IP addresses in the future. ProtonVPN also does not include ad, tracker, or malware blocking. While I like to see these features, they can only complement and not replace standalone solutions, so their loss is no great issue. The highest ProtonVPN tier does provide access to the highest paid tier of the encrypted email service ProtonMail, although this service can be used for free or purchased separately at a lower price.
Speed and Performance
When you use a VPN to secure your web traffic, your data won't be taking the optimal route to and from the internet. Jumping through the extra hoops of a VPN server and the extra data cables involved tends to increase latency while reducing upload and download speeds. To get an impression of that impact, I perform a series of tests using the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) Read my feature on How We Test VPNs for a complete breakdown of our methodologies, as well as the limitations of our testing.
In my testing, I found that ProtonVPN increased latency by 58.8 percent, reduced upload speed test results by 65.5 percent, and reduced download speed test results by 49.8 percent. These are excellent results, and a staggering improvement over last year's figures. The only reason it's not included in our fastest VPN chart is because its upload results were just outside the median for that category, which was our cutoff for inclusion.
You can see how ProtonVPN compares in the chart below with the top performers among the nearly 40 services we tested.
In my testing, I found that Hotspot Shield VPN had the best download and latency scores, making it a shoe-in for the title of fastest VPN. However, it's extremely notable that Surfshark has a significantly lower impact on upload speeds than any VPN I've yet tested. Keep in mind that while my testing is useful for comparison, it may differ greatly for you. Also, I believe that security, privacy, and overall value are far more important differentiators than speed, which should not be the primary consideration when choosing a VPN.
Does ProtonVPN Get Faster if You Pay More?
ProtonVPN is unique in that it makes more servers available at higher pricing tiers. It also has a limited free option, and Core Servers, all of which have an impact on speed. Because I am nothing if not thorough, I re-ran my tests to compare the various means of connecting via ProtonVPN. My results are shown in the charts below. For the Free, Premium, and Secure Core tiers I let the app choose the server. I manually selected a Basic server.
The chart above demonstrates a pattern that repeated througout my testing. The Basic and Premium tiers were closely tied, as were the Free tier and Secure Core servers. My testing showed that that the Free tier had a 98.2 percent reduction in download speed test scores, the Basic tier a 61.5 percent reduction, and the Premium tier a 54.9 perent reduction in speed test scores. Using Secure Core reduced download speed test results by 96 percent, slightly better than the Free tier.
The upload speed test results saw a similar breakdown. The Free tier reduced upload speed test scores by 83.5 percent, the Basic tier by 60.8 percent, and the Premium tier reduced upload speed test scores by 72.7 percent. Enabling Secure Core reduced upload speed test results by 80.8 percent.
The pattern seen throughout testing was most pronounced in latency testing, to the point where the chart above is of questionable utility. My testing showed that the Free tier increased latency results by 8,546.1 percent, likely a result of fewer servers being available. Free and Basic were closely tied, increasing latency results by 61.9 and 60.9 percent, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Secure Core servers had the most dramatic results, increasing latency results by 9,839.1 percent.
There are a couple of conclusions that I can draw from this. First and foremost, it demonstrates that the eccentricities of the VPN server you use have an enormous impact on performance. Second, the difference between the Basic and Premium servers is very small. This was echoed in the same tests I ran last year.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that a limited number of servers and a large user base would result in worse performance. While these results do prove that out, it's not nearly as dramatic as you might expect.
Lastly, while the Core Servers will increase your latency like nobody's business, the impact on performance is not necessarily catastrophic. In fact, it's about the same as using the Free service.
Smart and Flexible
At first blush, ProtonVPN's restrictively tiered pricing plans might seem a bit off-putting, but those tiers provide flexibility most competitors can't match. The company also offers a rare, truly free experience that doesn't limit your bandwidth or push ads. ProtonVPN has staked its reputation as a privacy-focused company, which is a refreshing change after seeing so many other VPNs emphasize speed and video streaming. It also has a remarkably good-looking client, which is not something every VPN can claim. All that, coupled with the company's focus on technological excellence, is a powerful combination.
Since we first reviewed ProtonVPN, the service has doubled in size and reach and improved its speed test results as well. The company has shown that it can scale up its product without sacrificing security. It's got a bright future, but is also a great choice right now. It's an Editors' Choice winner along with TunnelBear.
Best free subscription.
Flexible, low-cost plans.
Focus on privacy and physical security.
Slick, accessible client.
Multihop VPN to secure locations.
ProtonMail bundle available.
Fewer servers than most.
Full access to servers and features only at highest pay level.
The Bottom Line
ProtonVPN doesn't have as many servers as much of the competition, but it has a lot more to offer than many of the bigger players. The free version is the best we've tested, and paid subscriptions are affordable as well.
If you’re looking for a free VPN we absolutely recommend ProtonVPN Free. It’s very safe to use, its apps are open-source, and it comes with unlimited data. ProtonVPN free comes with just three server locations and it doesn’t work with Netflix or torrenting, but it is a top choice for those seeking high levels of privacy without spending a cent.
From the images of its underground Swiss data centers to its regularly updated transparency report, ProtonVPN Free definitely wants users to feel safe using its product.
But do ProtonVPN’s claims of “transparency,” “honesty,” and “security first” add up? Do free customers get the same level of online security and privacy as its paid subscribers?
We’ve tested every aspect of this VPN to create the most comprehensive ProtonVPN Free review. Here are some of the key questions we’ll answer:
- Is ProtonVPN Free safe?
- Does it work with Netflix?
- How fast is ProtonVPN Free?
- Is it a good VPN?
- Can you torrent using ProtonVPN Free?
We found that ProtonVPN Free is one of the best free VPNs on the market. Its use of AES-256 encryption with OpenVPN provides an affordable way to protect your online traffic.
Though its unlimited bandwidth is impressive, the VPN comes with just three server locations and it doesn’t work for P2P activity or unblocking Netflix. Overall, ProtonVPN Free is good enough for private web browsing but it cannot compete with the paid version.
Before we go into more details about ProtonVPN’s free VPN, let’s look at its main pros and cons:
ProtonVPN Free Pros & Cons
- Unlimited bandwidth — no VPN data cap
- Minimal logging policy
- VPN kill switch & no IP/DNS/WebRTC leaks
- Great short-distance speeds of 60Mbps
- User-friendly custom VPN apps (open-source & audited)
- Can only access three VPN server locations
- P2P not permitted on any free VPN servers
- Doesn’t work with Netflix or BBC iPlayer
- Doesn't work in China
ProtonVPN Free Key Summary
|Data Cap||Speed||Logging Policy||Data Leaks||Jurisdiction||Servers||IP Addresses||Countries||US Netflix||Torrenting||Works in China||Support||Cheapest Price||Official Website|
|Anonymous Server Usage Data||Anonymous Server Usage Data|
|Switzerland (Privacy Haven)||Switzerland (Privacy Haven)|
|Email & Online Resources Only||Email & Online Resources Only|
|$4.00/mo over 12 Months||Free|
Often free VPNs are frustratingly slow, but ProtonVPN proved otherwise. Before we reveal how well ProtonVPN did in our speed tests, let’s take a look at who’s behind the VPN and its logging policy.
Who is ProtonVPN Free?
About & Logging
ProtonVPN was founded in 2007 and is operated by ProtonVPN AG. It has close ties to Proton Technologies AG, the company that owns encrypted email service ProtonMail.
ProtonVPN AG is based in Geneva, Switzerland, meaning its users are protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy and data protection laws.
The only thing ProtonVPN Free collects is the timestamp of your last successful login attempt, and this gets overwritten each time you successfully connect to the VPN.
This information is used to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks, and also to determine that nobody else is using your account.
ProtonVPN’s logs don’t contain any identifying information such as:
- Your true IP address or physical location
- The apps and websites (DNS requests) you visit while connected
This means that nothing you do while connected to ProtonVPN Free can be linked back to you.
Pretty quick for a free VPN
Speed & Reliability
Proton VPN Free is pretty fast for a free VPN, and there are no data caps to slow you down either. However, we have experienced slower speeds during peak times, as premium users are granted priority.
While a speed loss of around 36% connecting to the nearest VPN server (UK to the Netherlands) isn’t that fast in comparison to the top paid-for VPNs, ProtonVPN is still quick for a complimentary service.
Local Speed Test Results
Before using ProtonVPN Free:
When connected to ProtonVPN Free:
Download speed without ProtonVPN Free: 93.78Mbps
Download speed with ProtonVPN Free: 59.77Mbps
Our download speed loss when ProtonVPN Free is running: 36%
Speeds do take a hit if you’re connecting to VPN servers further away from your physical location – we experienced a 78% drop-off connecting from the UK to the US.
Here are the average speeds to expect from the UK to ProtonVPN’s other free VPN servers:
- USA: 21Mbps (download) & 15Mbps (upload)
- Japan: 19Mbps (download) & 15Mbps (upload)
While ProtonVPN’s speeds on nearby servers are sufficient for streaming and torrenting, these services aren’t supported on the free apps.
Limited to three VPN server locations
Undisclosed number ofIP Addresses
The free version of ProtonVPN only allows you to access three different VPN server locations – Japan, the Netherlands, and the US.
While this may not be a problem for users nearby to the free VPN servers, those elsewhere in the world will naturally experience slower speeds when using ProtonVPN Free.
There are a total of eight individual VPN servers available to free users, a very small number which will also slow down speeds at peak times.
It’s not possible to drill down to city-level VPN servers, but if you upgrade to a premium ProtonVPN subscription you’ll be treated to 11 US cities and a total of 43 countries worldwide.
While ProtonVPN does not have any virtual servers, it does rent some of the bare-metal servers in its network. ProtonVPN leases these servers from trusted data centers that allow the VPN company full access in order to ensure its minimal logs policy is maintained.
Bad choice for streaming and torrenting fans
Streaming & Torrenting
Our manual and automated tests found that ProtonVPN Free does not work with US Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
ProtonVPN Free failed to unblock US Netflix, Disney+, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu on its US server. As it’s not possible to connect to a VPN server in the UK, you won’t be able to watch BBC iPlayer, either.
If you want to unblock geo-restricted streaming sites with ProtonVPN — you’ll have to upgrade to the paid plan. The paid version of ProtonVPN regularly unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ in our testing — all while maintaining fast enough speeds for HD streaming.
While ProtonVPN is safe and secure enough for P2P, it doesn’t support torrenting on any of its free VPN servers – this is a feature reserved exclusively for paid subscribers (Basic, Plus and Visionary plans).
If you try to torrent while connected to one of ProtonVPN’s free VPN servers, this warning message will pop up.
If you need a free VPN to keep you safe while torrenting, check out our top recommendations here.
Doesn't work in China
ProtonVPN’s free VPN is no good for bypassing censorship in countries that block VPNs, least of all in China.
Not only does ProtonVPN operate on OpenVPN, the protocol that’s easiest for the Great Firewall’s censors to detect and block, free users also don’t have access to the Secure Core servers.
Secure Core is designed to provide an additional layer of obfuscation by routing traffic through multiple VPN servers, but even then it’s not always enough to get past China’s censors.
If you need a reliable VPN for China, you’ll likely have to pay for it – here are our top recommendations.
Due to ProtonVPN’s tiny free server network, it won’t be a good VPN choice for those in other high censorship countries like Turkey, Russia, or the UAE.
Custom VPN apps for main platforms & works with routers
Platforms & Devices
ProtonVPN’s free VPN is available on:
- Microsoft Windows
- Apple MacOS
All of the VPN apps are open-source and have been audited by consulting firm SEC Consult, making ProtonVPN super transparent.
There’s also a simple manual workaround for Linux users.
Unlike its premium VPN plans, ProtonVPN’s free plan only allows you to connect on one device at a time.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Amazon Fire TV
ProtonVPN Free doesn’t have any native apps for streaming devices or games consoles, but there is a workaround.
Since ProtonVPN’s free plan only allows you to use the VPN service on one device at a time, installing it at router level is a good move if you want to protect multiple devices, including streaming devices like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and games consoles like Xbox or PlayStation.
You can find the full list of compatible router models on the support section of ProtonVPN’s website.
If you’re a Fire TV Stick user, though, we suggest you take a look at these free Firestick VPN apps, for a much simpler and quicker setup.
ProtonVPN doesn’t provide browser extensions for free or paid users. If you’re looking for a free VPN with browser extensions, check out Windscribe.
Free version offers same robust security as premium VPN
Encryption & Security
DNS Leak Blocking
IPV6 Leak Blocking
VPN Kill Switch
Users of ProtonVPN Free benefit from exactly the same level of security as its premium VPN subscribers, making it one of the safest free VPNs around.
The desktop apps run exclusively on OpenVPN, the most secure VPN protocol, so you can be sure that your personal information will be protected. Encryption is via top cipher AES-256. The Android app gives the option to connect with either OpenVPN or IKEv2, which is also very secure, while the iOS app is IKEv2-only.
The VPN kill switch feature is absolutely essential, as it prevents your true IP address from being exposed in case of an unexpected connection drop. Split tunneling is also available, allowing users to exclude some internet traffic from the VPN tunnel.
ProtonVPN Free also protects you against DNS and IPv6 leaks, as confirmed by our independent leak tests.
Leak test results on browserleaks.com while connected to a ProtonVPN free US server. We test from the UK.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of features that are limited to paid users, such as ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers, which increase privacy by routing traffic through multiple VPN servers. ProtonVPN Free also lacks servers optimized for use with Tor.
Nevertheless, it’s one of the most secure (and safe) free providers we’ve seen.
Easy setup & intuitive custom apps
Ease of Use
How to Install & Set Up ProtonVPN Free
On ProtonVPN's website, you can see the difference between the free VPN plan and each of the paid plans.
You have to provide your email address before you can begin using the VPN.
ProtonVPN send a confirmation code to your email address so you can validate your VPN account.
Once you’ve downloaded the VPN file, the installation wizard will guide you through the VPN setup process.
Before you use the VPN app for the first time, you'll be prompted to enter the login details for the account you created.
We like the amount of detail on the VPN app’s main screen but the huge world map seems a bit unnecessary.
Being able to see the VPN server load is really useful when it comes to choosing a location.
You can create connection profiles so you don't have to select a specific VPN server every time.
The VPN settings are loads better than we've seen from other free providers and come with helpful contextual information.
Getting up and running with ProtonVPN Free is super easy and will only take you a couple of minutes from start to finish.
Once downloaded, ProtonVPN’s free apps are exactly as easy to use as its premium apps, with fewer server locations the only noticeable difference.
Unlike many free VPNs, which come with restrictive data caps, ProtonVPN gives free users unlimited bandwidth.
We’re not used to seeing any sort of configurable options from free VPNs, so it made a refreshing change to be able to configure the VPN kill switch feature, DNS leak protection and toggle between UDP and TCP protocols.
Contextual information can be found next to most of these settings, which will be particularly helpful for VPN newbies.
Plenty of online resources & intermittent live chat support
ProtonVPN Free’s customer support is far better than that offered by most of our other free providers, but it hasn’t got a patch on premium services as there’s no live chat.
There’s an online support center that will cover basic VPN queries and troubleshooting issues (use the search bar to navigate), and there are also step-by-step installation guides for all supported devices, including those that need to be manually configured.
ProtonVPN has email support too and it’s helpful, if pretty slow, making it fairly easy to get the assistance you need.
Do We Recommend ProtonVPN Free?
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a free VPN we absolutely recommend ProtonVPN. It’s very safe to use, all the apps are open-source, and it comes with unlimited data, which means that you can protect as much or as little of your online activity as you want.
There are some drawbacks, like the limit of three server locations and lack of streaming and P2P support, but ProtonVPN should be a top choice for those seeking high levels of privacy without spending a cent.
ests were made on the UK, US, Australian, and Hong Kong servers. While the results aren’t mind-blowing, they aren’t in any way bad. The average speed is 20 Mbps, while the maximum recorded was 91.8 Mbps, in the UK.
You can safely stream media content in HD with this speed. It goes well beyond what other supposedly good VPNs achieve.
Surprisingly, there isn’t such a rough speed plummeting when activating the double-hop Secure Core feature. Considering the very low-speed penalty, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t keep this feature permanently active. Its effect on security and privacy is anything but low.
Looking at other reviews, we can see some of the speed tests they did:
- Ping: 190ms
- Download speed: 24.6 Mbps (75% slower than the benchmark speed)
- Upload speed: 36.4 Mbps (31% slower than the benchmark)
- Ping: 66ms
- Download speed: 54.46 Mbps (44% slower)
- Upload speed: 37.86 Mbps (29% slower)
Asia servers (Hong Kong):
- Ping: 317ms
- Download speed: 16 Mbps (84% slower)
- Upload speed: 6.4 Mbps (88% slower)
- Ping: 46ms
- Download speed: 52 Mbps (46% slower)
- Upload speed: 47 Mbps (11% slower)
The Asian servers are especially cranky and slow-witted, as you can see, but I think there’s plenty of space for development. Let’s not forget that even industry leaders such as NordVPN and IPVanish started off slowly and grew wings later on.
Its activity spans across 16 countries, with a total of 140 servers at your disposal to do as you see fit. All of them are bare metal.
Out of five servers we tested for Netflix, only one of them worked. The Netherlands server, to be more specific, won this prize. Two US servers, one Canadian, and one in the UK failed to access Netflix.
As for torrenting, it’s not allowed on free plans at all. Even the premium packages won’t provide you with unlimited torrenting. You have a certain bandwidth that you have to respect.
The reason behind this? Read it for yourself – “P2P would increase the load on our servers due to torrenting and this would put more pressure on us, ultimately not allowing us to subsidize the free accounts from the paid ones”.
Sure, this is understandable, but they also invoke the Swiss law which says that file-sharing is permitted for personal use only.
With these restrictions, you might find it hard and impractical to engage in torrenting with Proton VPN.
It does have a kill-switch, yes. No, it doesn’t have obfuscation servers, and yes it does have a self-hosted and proxied DNS.
ProtonVPN functions only on the OpenVPN protocol. While you might think this is a good thing, since OpenVPN is recognized around the world for being on the highest-possible level of cyber-security, variability is always good.
Assuming that there are users out there with old devices that are incompatible with OpenVPN, they are out of luck. ProtonVPN becomes unusable for them. That’s why it’s good to provide options, even if some are clearly inferior solutions.
As for the other encryption protocols others than OpenVPN and IKEv2, ProtonVPN lacks PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and SSTP compatibility.
The OpenVPN data channel is based on the AES-256-CBC cipher with the HMAC SHA-512 hash authentication. The control channel impresses even more with a variety of cipher suites, the weakest of them being the AES-256 cipher with the RSA-2048 handshake, and the HMAC SHA-1 hash authentication.
Perfect Forward Secrecy? Of course. It’s provided by a Diffie Hellman key exchange.
All in all, this is a very secure setup we can see here. With ProtonVPN, you’ll have no worries of hackers and other third-parties tracking your traffic or worse. Behind the proton neutralizer that disintegrates any perceived threat, you can rest safely.
In terms of jurisdiction, ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland. This is both a good and a bad thing.
Firstly, Switzerland is neither a member of the 14-Eyes Surveillance Alliance, and neither does it subject itself to the EU legislation. Moreover, the country is famous for its privacy and internet neutrality laws.
However, the same country has recently passed some alarming surveillance laws that force ISPs and telecom operators to store in-depth metadata connection logs for up to 12 months.
While the wording of the laws is unclear, and we don’t actually know if this applies to VPN services, it’s enough to raise some question marks.
Other than this, everything is crystal clear. No logs to put your identity or personal data in danger. ProtonVPN is 99% of the way there, to a true no-logs policy.
You can also use the Tor network together with ProtonVPN. The feature to use both of them is something not many VPNs on the market are able to implement. While you can automatically configure it through the client itself, I highly suggest you use the Tor browser directly while connected to the VPN.
It’s much safer to do it this way. ProtonVPN runs its own Tor servers, so you don’t have to worry about any infected Tor exit nodes.
Ease of Use
Compatibility-wise, ProtonVPN is available on the following platforms:
You are given access to manual setup guides for Windows (OpenVPN GUI), Mac (Tunnelblick), Linux, iOS (OpenVPN Connect), and Android (OpenVPN for Android and OpenVPN Connect).
The Windows client looks really slick. It has a very professional and clean design. You can see the map of the world on the main page, showing all the servers you have access to, as well as additional information on each of them.
You can also Quick Connect to the fastest server available. The client does this for you. Hell yeah.
Moreover, the servers that support Secure Core, Tor, and the specific pricing plans are clearly labeled as such.
All in all, it’s a very good experience. Fast, to the point, and practical.
The first line of support comes with the FAQ articles. While not an encyclopedia in itself, this section answers some of the most common issues users meet with.
Alternatively, you can email the support team. Who will forward a reply in a couple of hours or a day at the very most.
They won’t go out of their way to explain to you the ins and outs of the issue, but they will, however, point you to some links that contain all the information you need. And some which you don’t need.
These are ProtonVPN’s plans, both the free and premium ones:
From being totally free up to $24 per month with the Visionary plan, the most expensive one. Paying annually gets you a 20% discount. If you’re using their ProtonMail, then you get another 20% discount.
By all standards, the Plus plan seems to be the best choice you’ve got. It gives you access to all of ProtonVPN’s features, as well as having a modest price.
The 60-day money-back guarantee comes as the cherry on top of the cake. Besides being extremely generous, it shows their confidence in their services.
Payment can be made through a credit or debit card or PayPal. Bitcoin is also accepted, as well as cash.
Should you choose ProtonVPN?
It’s certainly an online security provider you should give a try. If you weren’t already hyped about ProtonVPN after the resounding success of the ProtonMail, then now you have a reason to try it.
It has plenty of good things, cool features, above-average functions, and a pretty good performance. And like I said before, it can only get better, and not worse.
You could be looking for a VPN to watch your favorite Netflix only available in another country, to get around internet censorship like the Great Firewall of China, or just because you care about the right to privacy. Whatever your reason, there is so much information on the web when it comes to VPNs that it can be hard to decide which one is best for you. I’m going to be looking at ProtonVPN, a company with more than 560 servers in over 4o countries based out of Switzerland. The name ProtonVPN might sound familiar if you’ve used their sister company’s email service, ProtonMail– a popular encrypted email service. ProtonVPN’s mission is to make secure and private browsing available to all.
In this ProtonVPN review, I’m going to take out a magnifying glass and see what ProtonVPN and ProtonVPN Free are about— their features, performance, subscription plans, customer support, and the ProtonVPN apps. Next, I’ll compare it to NordVPN, another top choice among VPNs. Finally, we’ll decide together if ProtonVPN is right for you. Let’s get started!
ProtonVPN Pros and Cons
ProtonVPN App on iPhone
Let’s go over ProtonVPN’s main advantages and disadvantages before we get into the finer details.
What We Like
- No data logging: ProtonVPN has the annual transparency reports to back up their no-logs policy.
- Torrents: The combination of unlimited bandwidth and special P2P servers makes a great VPN for torrenting.
- Watching Netflix: With speeds above 60 Mbps and no IP address blacklisting, I had a great experience on Netflix.
What We Don’t Like
- Customer support: I wish they had more ways to contact support than just email support tickets.
- Price: If you’re looking for a budget VPN, ProtonVPN is not it.
OK, let’s dive in.
Selecting a Country Server in ProtonVPN
How many VPN origin stories involve international nuclear physics research organizations? Well, I would guess only one. Proton Technologies AG, the parent company of ProtonVPN, came about after its founding members met at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They created ProtonVPN “to better protect the activists and journalists” around the world. That’s a cause I can get behind, as journalism is an increasingly dangerous profession. Since it’s founding, ProtonVPN has grown to more than 560 servers in 43 countries. Typically when it comes to VPNs, the more servers, the better, as your proximity to a server influences your internet speed.
ProtonVPN is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland is known for having strong personal privacy laws. Although they are not a member of Five Eyes international surveillance alliance, they do cooperate with Five Eyes’ partner countries regarding law enforcement requests. On the plus side, Swiss law doesn’t require VPNs to keep user data logs, which allows ProtonVPN to have a strict no-logging policy.
On their website, ProtonVPN maintains a transparency report which discloses every time that third parties request user information. Their most recent transparency report showed that only one request, approved by Swiss authorities, came in in 2019. And even when the company is forced to hand over user data, no data was handed over, as they don’t log your web traffic. If there is any VPN out there you can trust with your data, it seems to be ProtonVPN.
Will ProtonVPN Log My Data?
Transparency Report on the ProtonVPN App
This question never has a simple yes or no answer for any VPN. The real world is never black and white. Frustrating, isn’t it? The truth is that every VPN logs at least some data that is needed to run their operations. That being said, ProtonVPN is about as good as they come from a privacy perspective. They don’t log user connection data, so even if the Swiss government requests it, the company has nothing to hand over.
As you can see above, ProtonVPN holds true to their claim and doesn’t log your session data. The only session data they record is the last time you tried to log in, in order to prevent brute force attacks against your password. They do, however, record the following personal data:
- Email address
- Support requests or bug reports
- Payment information
All of this data will be deleted when you delete your account. Before that, it’s encrypted and stored locally on their servers.
Does ProtonVPN Have A Kill Switch?
Screenshot of ProtonVPN Kill Switch in Windows
Don’t worry, turning on the kill switch isn’t going to harm anyone. Actually, using a kill switch, or network lock feature, will protect you during those moments when you lose connection to the VPN by shutting down all of your web traffic. Think of it as a digital Plan B.
Let’s say you’re torrenting a huge file that will take hours to completely download. Without a kill switch, if the VPN disconnects even for a moment, your Internet Service Provider would see what you are doing and it could get you in trouble. Kill switches are also important if you’re a journalist and trying to stay anonymous on the web. Either way, they are important, and luckily, ProtonVPN has you covered with kill switches on Mac and Windows.
Does ProtonVPN Offer Split Tunneling?
VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel to send all your web data through. With split tunneling, two tunnels are created: one goes directly to your ISP as if you weren’t using a VPN, and the second routes your traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel. For example, this feature would let you watch Netflix in your home country, and surf the web with your VPN at the same time. For some users, split tunneling is a must-have and for others, it’s a nice-to-have. With ProtonVPN, split tunneling is available on Windows and Android.
Can I Use Netflix with ProtonVPN?
As we’ll discuss further down, ProtonVPN has different subscription types: Free, Basic, and Plus. If you choose Plus, you will be able to watch Netflix with ProtonVPN. Free and Basic don’t offer access to Plus servers and your internet speed will not be fast enough to allow for streaming sites like Netflix.
When it comes to torrents, you will be able to download P2P files with either a Basic or Plus subscription. However, faster speeds on Plus servers will likely give you a better experience if you plan to torrent often.
How Encryption Works
With all your data being transported through that shiny, new VPN tunnel, you might be wondering how secure is that tunnel. At least I would hope so! If the locks on that tunnel are as secure as a dollar-store padlock, then you would be better off with no VPN at all. With ProtonVPN, all your network traffic is encrypted with AES-256, key exchange is done with 4096-bit RSA, and HMAC with SHA384 is used for message authentication. All of your encrypted data has perfect forward secrecy, meaning that even if the key is discovered it will only be useful for one session and not all sessions thereafter.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is an encryption algorithm used to encrypt data with a 128-, 192-, or 256-bit key lengths. AES-256 (AES with a 256-bit key) is ubiquitous in the encryption field because it’s fast, secure, and doesn’t use much computing power. The United States uses AES-256 to encrypt top-secret information, which is why sometimes you will see this advertised as “military-grade encryption”.
RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) is another encryption algorithm used to securely transmit data. This algorithm is slower than AES, which is why it is commonly used to transmit keys, rather than all the data. 2048-bit RSA keys are considered by security professionals to be secure, so ProtonVPN is really going the extra mile with 4096-bit RSA.
HMAC with SHA384
VPN Hashing Algorithm
HMAC, or Hash-based Message Authentication Code, is a way to check the integrity and authenticity of messages. A shared secret key is created using a cryptographic hash function, which in ProtonVPN’s case is SHA384 (384-bit Secure Hash Algorithm).
Internet protocols determine how data packets are dispatched across a network. The degree of security a VPN has depends on the protocol chosen. Some VPNs use outdated, insecure protocols for faster speeds and lower maintenance costs. This is not the case with ProtonVPN, which only uses OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec protocols.
Both of these protocols are considered highly secure by the infosec community. On Mac and Android, ProtonVPN is built using OpenVPN. On iOS and Windows, ProtonVPN uses the IKEv2/IPSec VPN protocol. Both are considered secure, although OpenVPN is the more secure of the two. You can find more information below on these VPN protocols.
OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used to make secure tunnels for your web traffic. OpenVPN is sometimes referred to as the gold standard when it comes to VPN protocols, and rightly so because it offers a good balance of speed and security. It offers up to 256-bit encryption using the Open SSL library and many other security features that can be configured as desired with protocols such as PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, and more.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a widely used VPN protocol that automatically re-establishes your connection with your VPN after you’re disconnected from the Internet. This comes in handy when you would like to switch between Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots, which happens all the time when you’re on a mobile phone.
Now that we know ProtonVPN is secure, let’s see if it’s fast enough to keep up with the competition. To perform well, a VPN needs to be lightning-fast and needs to not leak your IP address, no matter what. Let’s see how well the ProtonVPN performs across their platforms.
Getting the Fastest Connection in the ProtonVPN App
With ProtonVPN, the connection speed you get is going to depend on which subscription plan you signed up for. Basic will be faster than Free and Plus will be faster than Basic. For my tests, I’m going to be using ProtonVPN Plus exclusively. If speed isn’t crucial for you, you should be able to get by on the Free or Basic plan. For me and my unhealthy addiction to Netflix, Plus is what I need so that’s what I’m testing.
Whichever VPN you choose, you’ll have to accept the fact that your internet speed will slow down. The extra protection from VPN security protocols comes at a price. Please note that your internet speed is determined by many factors— time of day, location, internet service provider, VPN server distance, and of course the VPN service provider. I’m testing ProtonVPN in Poland on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS Mojave and my ThinkPad T430 running Windows 10. I’ll be using the “Quick Connect” option in the app to connect to the optimal server in my area.
ProtonVPN Download Speed Test
First, I measured the difference in download speed in megabits per second (Mbps). On Windows, ProtonVPN was pretty fast. Download speeds decreased by 42% but remained above 90 Mbps. On my Mac, I started out with a higher initial internet speed so the drop was more significant. My internet decreased by 87%. Now that sounds really bad, but my Mac internet speed still remained above 60 Mbps which is still fast enough for streaming. Overall, ProtonVPN worked better on my Windows computer in this category.
ProtonVPN Upload Speed Test
Next, I tested the difference in upload speeds with and without the VPN. ProtonVPN barely slowed down my upload speed on Windows, only decreasing in upload speed by 4%. On my Mac, my upload decreased a little more at 10%, but not bad overall.
ProtonVPN Ping Speed Test
Finally, I tested the ping, or latency in milliseconds. For this category, ProtonVPN worked spectacularly. The latency increased by only 1 millisecond on my Mac and only 2 milliseconds on my Windows computer. This is very impressive and could mean ProtonVPN would be great for gaming.
Overall, I’m impressed with how fast ProtonVPN was on my computers. I thought maybe using such secure VPN protocols would slow me down to a crawl, but that was not the case. Sure some VPNs are a little faster, but if these are the speeds ProtonVPN Plus consistently provides, then I would not have any complaints about the level of security provided.
DNS Leak Test
DNS leak tests are important to do because a device might send DNS (Domain Name System) server traffic outside of the VPN’s tunnel, thereby giving your private IP address away. Fortunately, ProtonVPN offers DNS leak protection. By default in the ProtonVPN app, the “DNS Leak Protection” option is turned on, and for safety reasons can’t be turned off.
ProtonVPN Leak Test Results. Screenshot from ProtonVPN app.
As you can see above, the private IP address detected from my connection was located in Italy. Since that’s not my real IP address (remember, I’m in Poland), ProtonVPN passed the DNS leak test. It’s nice to know that ProtonVPN has my back.
WebRTC Leak Test
Are you going to use your VPN with web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera? If so, you need to know about WebRTC leaks. WebRTC, otherwise known as Web Real-Time Communication Test, is a collection of standardized technologies that allows web browsers to communicate directly with each other rather than going through an intermediate server. WebRTC makes for faster speeds for video chat, live streaming, and file transfers. You’re probably waiting for the bad news.
Well, any two devices that are communicating with WebRTC need to know each others’ private IP addresses. So theoretically, a website or third party could use WebRTC to detect your real, private IP address. That’s no good. What’s the point of an encrypted VPN tunnel if your browser will give away your private IP address anyways? I tested ProtonVPN and luckily, ProtonVPN doesn’t allow WebRTC leaks.
ProtonVPN Subscription Plans
Since ProtonVPN’s mission is to give everyone access to secure and private internet browsing, their VPN should be affordable enough to meet that goal. ProtonVPN offers three different subscription types: Free, Basic, and Plus memberships. ProtonVPN Free offers a bare-bones VPN experience and is, obviously, free. One level up from Free and you have the Basic plan, which gives you access to more servers in any country available. And the highest tier, Plus, gives you access to more servers, faster speeds, and more secure servers.
ProtonVPN Plan Pricing
With both the Basic and Plus plans, you can choose the pay monthly or yearly. You receive a 20% discount if you commit to a full year. Keep in mind that ProtonVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so if ProtonVPN starts to let you down, you can get a refund for the prorated number of days remaining. Since the drop off in price between paying monthly and yearly isn’t that large, I would go with monthly payments for a few months before committing to a full year.
Overall, I really like that ProtonVPN offers a free option. I wouldn’t touch most free VPNs with a ten-foot pole, so it’s nice having a free option from a trustworthy company that isn’t out to profit from my personal data. I would recommend ProtonVPN Free to everyone.
The number of devices you can use simultaneously depends on the ProtonVPN subscription plan you choose, with the maximum being five devices on a Plus account. With any subscription, however, you’ll be able to switch between an unlimited number of servers.
Unfortunately, ProtonVPN doesn’t offer any browser extensions at the moment.
ProtonVPN Customer Support
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, pretty tech-savvy, or both, you’ll probably have to contact customer support at some point no matter which VPN you end up choosing. So let’s see what kind of customer support ProtonVPN has.
The only way to contact ProtonVPN for customer support is through an online ticket system. Honestly, I would have liked to see more options for contacting support, such as live chat or telephone. Communicating back and forth through email is about as slow as it gets. But let’s see how their users rate the ProtonVPN customer support experience.
Customer Support Ratings
If you look at ProtonVPN’s customer reviews on Trustpilot, you’ll see that they have an overall customer rating of 3.1 from 16 customer reviews. With as many one-star reviews as there are five-star reviews, I would say the results are mixed. Quite a few of the one-star reviews mentioned difficulty receiving a refund. Overall, I would say that ProtonVPN has room for improvement when it comes to customer support.
The ProtonVPN App
The ProtonVPN app is supported on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux. Inside their apps, you will find a quick-connect button to turn on the VPN service. ProtonVPN has a great 4.2 rating from both the Apple store and the Google Play store alike, quite high for a VPN.
ProtonVPN Vs. NordVPN
NordVPN is another popular VPN, so let’s see how it compares with ProtonVPN. While ProtonVPN has over 560 servers in more than 40 countries, NordVPN has a staggering 5,246 in 62 countries. Neither ProtonVPN nor NordVPN are based in countries belonging to an international surveillance alliance or subject to data retention laws, as they’re based in Switzerland and Panama, respectively.
ProtonVPN vs NordVPN Features
In terms of data logging, ProtonVPN and NordVPN don’t log your personal session information. Both offer kill switches, and both let you stream on Netflix or torrent files. Where they begin to differ is that only ProtonVPN has split tunneling.
Now that we’ve gone over how NordVPN and ProtonVPN’s features compare, let’s talk about their performances. ProtonVPN was faster on Windows, but NordVPN edged out ProtonVPN on my Mac. Overall it’s a close race, but I’d recommend ProtonVPN unless they don’t have servers in your desired location, or if you can’t afford ProtonVPN’s higher price point.
Recap of ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN might be the VPN for you if you care about…
- No data logging: ProtonVPN can’t be forced to log your data under Swiss law.
- Not part of a surveillance alliance: Switzerland is not part of Five Eyes and has strong consumer privacy laws.
- Split tunneling: You can route some traffic through the VPN tunnel and some through your normal ISP.
- Watching Netflix: I was able to watch other countries’ Netflix without issue.
- Torrenting: They have servers designed with P2P file downloading in mind.
- Great speeds: I got over 60 Mbps on both Mac and Windows, plenty for streaming in 1080p.
You might want to avoid ProtonVPN if these are deal breakers for you…
- Customer support: There is no live chat or phone option to contact support and they received mixed reviews on Trustpilot.
- Price: At $8-$10 per month, ProtonVPN is on the more expensive side.
ProtonVPN has some issues, but the unlimited bandwidth free plan, capable clients and reassuring security audits make it worth a look.
- Free plan with unlimited bandwidth
- Paid plan unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon, Disney+
- Open source and audited apps
- Quality mobile apps
- A little expensive for what you get
- Performance issues in some locations
- Slow email support
All VPN providers claim to be experts in privacy, but there's not usually much evidence to back that up. Swiss-based ProtonVPN is different though, because the company has a track record in security - it's also behind ProtonMail, the popular end-to-end encrypted email service.
ProtonVPN's network has grown significantly since our last review, and now provides a fair-sized 722 servers across 46 countries. Most servers are in Europe and North America, as usual, but there are also locations in Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea and more.
ProtonVPN owns and manages its own servers, too, and they're connected to the internet using the company's own network. Apart from giving ProtonVPN great control over how the service is set up and managed, it also shows us that this isn't just some shell company making profits from reselling other people's kit: there are real resources and expertise here.
You can see benefits from that control in ProtonVPN's Secure Core, a smart technology which routes traffic through multiple servers before it leaves the network (meaning that even high-tech snoopers monitoring an exit server won't be able to trace individual users).
Most customers don't really need that level of protection, but ProtonVPN has plenty more familiar features. The service is P2P-friendly, supports up to 10 devices (the industry average is just five), has a kill switch, DNS leak protection and built-in Tor support for accessing Onion sites. A versatile split tunneling system routes all internet traffic through the VPN, apart from the apps and destination IPs you define. And there are now native apps for Windows, Android, Mac and iOS to enable using ProtonVPN on almost anything.
App-related improvements since our last review include OpenVPN support for the Android app, while the Linux client now features a kill switch.
Improved localization sees the apps now available in French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Brazilian Portuguese.
Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest changes and additions since this review was last updated.
- New locations - Argentina and Mexico, for a total of 48 countries and 785 servers. (April 2020)
- New locations - Slovenia and Malaysia, for a total of 50 countries and 801 servers. (May 2020)
- Smart Protocol is available for Android. This helps you to stay connected to ProtonVPN, even when someone is trying to block your access. (May 2020)
- iOS app now supports OpenVPN protocol. (May 2020)
ProtonVPN announced earlier this year that all of its apps are now open source and audited (Image credit: ProtonVPN)
All apps are now open source and audited, too, a level of transparency you'll rarely see elsewhere.
The ProtonVPN Plus plan delivers all the features we've described here, covers five devices, and can be yours for 10 Euros billed monthly, 8 Euros on the annual plan, 6.63 Euros over two years. That looks a little on the high side to us, and you can get capable VPNs for much less (Private Internet Access is just $3.33 a month on its annual plan, Surfshark charges just $1.99 a month over two years).
The company has some cheaper options. The Basic plan doesn't give you access to the premium servers, won't stream Netflix, can't route traffic through multiple servers, and only supports two devices, but it's just 4 Euros a month on an annual subscription, 3.29 over two years. That's better, but some of the competition give you an unrestricted service for a very similar amount.
ProtonVPN does have something for bargain hunters, though, in the shape of its free plan. Okay, it covers one device only, and gives you access to just three countries (US, Netherlands, Japan).
However, the service performed well for us, with our nearest Netherlands server averaging 65-70Mbps, and, crucially, it has no bandwidth limits. No more bumping up against tiny data allowances: you can use ProtonVPN Free as much as you like. That's a big deal, and makes ProtonVPN interesting all on its own - even if it's never going to match the likes of ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
ProtonVPN's Swiss home gives it an immediate privacy advantage over most of the competition. The country has very strong privacy laws, is outside of US and EU jurisdiction, and isn't a member of the 14 eyes surveillance network.
The company states its logging policy very clearly on the website: "ProtonVPN is a no logs VPN service. We do not track or record your internet activity, and therefore, we are unable to disclose this information to third parties."
Session logging is almost non-existent. The company stores the timestamp of the last successful login attempt, but that's it. This is overwritten when you next log in, so it only ever reflects the last session.
ProtonVPN associates your account with an email address when you sign up, but this address can be whatever you like. The company suggests using ProtonMail if you'd prefer to remain completely anonymous.
Sign up for the free plan and you won't have to provide any payment details. Choose something else and you can opt to pay by Bitcoin. If you use PayPal or a credit card, the payments are processed by a third-party, and ProtonVPN won't see your billing details.
A Transparency Report or 'Warrant Canary' page which in theory reports on 'notable legal requests' and what happened. Sounds useful, but it seems to have only ever listed a single request (no data was handed over), and that was dated January 2019.
Better news arrived in January 2020 when ProtonVPN announced that its apps were now open source, and released independent audit reports on them all from security experts SEC Consult.
The results were good, with only 11 vulnerabilities found across the desktop and mobile apps, and those only in the low or medium category.
Eleven may sound a lot, but it really isn't. The whole point of this kind of audit is that it's extremely thorough, identifying even the smallest issues, and none of ProtonVPN's vulnerabilities were show stoppers.
For example, in one item, SEC Consult identified that the Windows client temporarily stored data about the current session for processing. That's hardly surprising, and the data disappears when the app is closed. Unless an attacker has access to your system, manages to dump a copy of your RAM, take it away, identify the VPN process and figure out its data structures, it's not going to be a problem.
Put it all together and ProtonVPN deserve huge credit for exposing itself to this level of scrutiny. There's scope to go a little further, so for example TunnelBear's audits don't just cover its apps; they look at its infrastructure, back end and front-end systems, even the website. But ProtonVPN still tramples all over most of the competition, who don't have the courage to put themselves through any audit at all.
ProtonVPN's Windows client provides you with information about your connection and current server location (Image credit: ProtonVPN)
Signing up for ProtonVPN is mostly very easy, although with one or two unexpected complexities. You can pay in Bitcoin, for instance, but if you're a new user (you don't have a free plan) then you can't simply provide your details on a payment form. The form doesn't even mention any support for Bitcoin. You have to somehow know this in advance, contact support, follow their instructions and perhaps wait up to 36 hours.
There were no issues with our PayPal payment, though. After handing over the cash, ProtonVPN directed us to our account dashboard, a handy web portal with useful files and information. That includes account details, login credentials, an OpenVPN configuration file generator, a download link for the Windows client, and links to instructions for setting up Mac, Linux, iOS and Android devices.
We grabbed a copy of the Windows client. It downloaded and installed in seconds with no technical hassles. We logged in with the user credentials we specified while signing up, and the main console appeared.
The client looks great, with a professional and polished interface. It opens with a large world map which, for once, works mostly as you'd expect: spin the mouse wheel to zoom in and out, left click and drag to move around, hover the mouse cursor over a server icon to see its location, and click to get connected.
If you don't like map interfaces, no problem, you can collapse the client down to a standard list of locations. Icons highlight servers which support P2P (five, at the time of writing) or Tor (just three: United States, Switzerland and Hong Kong.) Expanding any location lists all its available servers, with an indication of load, and you can connect with a click.
A Profiles feature works as an unusually powerful Favorites system. This could be as simple as creating a profile which connects to a New York server, but there are many more options. You could connect to the fastest server in a country or a location, maybe choose a random server to reduce the opportunity for tracking, select the best P2P or Tor-friendly server, and optionally choose to connect via TCP or UDP.
The client gives you an unusual amount of feedback on the current session. You don't just get to see your new IP: there's also the time connected so far, data downloaded and uploaded, the current server load, download and upload speeds.
There's some real value here. If speeds appear slow, for instance, you can check the server load as it is right now, and if it's high, reconnect to something else. A simple idea, but not one we've seen with other apps.
The Settings dialog allows you to enable or disable key features (kill switch, DNS leak protection), configure what the Quick Connect action does (connect to the fastest location, a random server, a specific server of your choice) and set up the split tunneling system. These all worked for us, but there are some options you don't get, including the ability to change protocol (it's OpenVPN-only) or automatically connect when you access an insecure network.
We finished our look at the Windows client with some in-depth kill switch tests, and found it performed very well. The client didn't leave us exposed during normal operations, such as switching to a new server while connected to another. And if we simulated a major problem by manually closing a TCP connection or terminating a VPN process, the client instantly displayed an alert and blocked all traffic until we reconnected.
ProtonVPN's mobile apps appear quite similar to their desktop counterparts (Image credit: ProtonVPN)
The ProtonVPN Android app looks and feels much like the desktop build, with a very similar map view, country list and Favorites-like Profile system. Even the Settings panel has almost identical options and controls, including the OpenVPN support which has arrived since our last review.
If you're hoping to set up an OpenVPN-compatible app or piece of hardware, there is good news: ProtonVPN offers better support for this than anyone we've seen. Instead of forcing you to work with a single set of generic configuration files, or generate custom files individually, ProtonVPN's web console gives you the best of all worlds.
You're able to customize your OpenVPN files according to the platform and protocol you need, then view files by country or individual server, and download them individually, or grab the full set in a ZIP file. If you've ever had to grab 120 OpenVPN configuration files individually, by clicking a Download file for each one, you'll appreciate how thoughtful this is.
We use benchmarking sites to test the performance of every VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)
Our speed testing began by connecting to the fastest server from two locations (one UK, one US), then checking performance with the benchmarking sites Speedtest.net and TestMy.net.
UK speeds were reasonable at 66-69Mbps, an 8-9% drop on our results with the VPN turned off. That's fractionally below average - we typically see around 6% loss - but unless you're also running speed tests, you're unlikely to notice the difference.
ProtonVPN's speeds from our US test location peaked at 12Mbps and were often less, hugely disappointing when you consider that our test location could handle speeds of more than 600Mbps.
These results were so poor that we couldn't quite believe them, and extended testing from the UK to the US did show significantly better results, with a range of 50-65Mbps.
The review took place in late March 2020, when much of the US was at home following coronavirus-related restrictions, so it's plausible that played a part. More people using ProtonVPN more often, overloading the servers; more people streaming Netflix, gobbling up internet bandwidth.
That seems unlikely to be a complete explanation, because ProtonVPN's results were also poor in our previous review (6 months earlier) at a peak 25Mbps. But we can't know that for sure, and as the current situation is so exceptional, and there are so many unknowns, we're not going to count the slow speeds as a major black mark.
ProtonVPN sells itself more on privacy than website unblocking, but our tests showed positive results and some improvements since our last review.
We were now able to access BBC iPlayer, for instance. UK and US Netflix are accessible with the Plus plan, although as we've seen before, the player sometimes took a very long time to play anything, and occasionally timed out, forcing us to try again. ProtonVPN unblocked Disney+, too, though with similar odd performance issues. And it got us into Amazon Prime Video with no speed problems at all.
Customer support certainly isn’t speedy, but did prove helpful (Image credit: ProtonVPN)
With ExpressVPN and some other providers, you can turn to live chat support and get an update on the situation, maybe a recommendation of which server to use, in under five minutes. ProtonVPN doesn't have live chat support, though, and while you can send an email, the company says the response time is 'usually within 1-2 days.' Most providers reply within hours, not days.
We 'only' waited just under a day for a reply to our test question, so ProtonVPN's estimate was maybe a worst case. The reply was clear and helpful, too, offering multiple suggestions and asking well-chosen questions, just in case our issues weren't resolved.
The good news continued up to the end of the review, when we ran our usual set of privacy tests. All ProtonVPN servers were in the locations promised, and they all returned the same IP and DNS address, with no DNS or WebRTC leaks to give our real identity away.
ProtonVPN unblocks almost everything, and its well-designed apps are now open source and independently audited. We've had speed issues with the service and support is a little slow, but overall, this is a decent service, and we have to applaud any VPN which offers a free, unlimited bandwidth plan. Give it a try.
ProtonVPN benefits from its partnership with the well-known, secure email service ProtonMail. The two companies are legally separated for security reasons, but ProtonVPN still draws heavily on existing technology and security from the email service.
A quick sidebar: ProtonMail is still one of our favorite fully encrypted email services. However, we are VPN experts and as such, if you want the full capabilities and security of a reliable VPN (secure and private browsing, geoblocking, etc.), check out a global provider like CyberGhost.
However, fans of ProtonMail will be happy to hear that ProtonVPN also has a similar focus on security, privacy, and total anonymity.
This VPN is a strong contender for privacy-minded folks and torrent fans. But how does ProtonVPN perform in other areas like streaming, speed, and user experience?
We tested ProtonVPN across many different categories to find out. ProtonVPN does unblock Netflix libraries for you, including US Netflix. But with lagging speeds, be prepared to wait while your episode loads. You can skip the wait and enjoy super-fast streaming with one of our top five vendors for watching Netflix.
Its biggest strengths include an attractive and user-friendly interface, robust security, and a strict no-logs policy.
Downsides include unimpressive speeds, a lack of live chat support, and fairly pricey long-term subscriptions.
Streaming – Does ProtonVPN Work with Netflix?
Hoping to use ProtonVPN to catch up on your favorite US Netflix shows? You’re in luck. We were able to easily stream US Netflix content on multiple servers without a problem.
ProtonVPN was also able to bypass the geo-restrictions on other popular US streaming sites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime.
It’s speeds aren’t the best I’ve seen, which can be pretty frustrating if you’re streaming. It led to buffering and lagging while I was watching Netflix. There are plenty of vendors that offer hassle-free streaming. Try out our #1 recommended vendor, NordVPN.
Server Network and Speeds
ProtonVPN has a medium-sized server network of 698 servers in 44 countries. We tested server speeds in multiple locations to find out if this VPN’s speeds are as fast as it claims.
Our download speed before connecting to ProtonVPN was 64 Mbps:
We used the VPN’s Fast Connection feature to connect to a nearby server in the US. Unfortunately, our download speed was extremely slow for a location that was supposed to provide our fastest connection:
On the Server Selection list, ProtonVPN shows how much traffic there is on each server, which is useful for finding fast servers.
For our next test, we manually selected a server on the US West Coast that showed low traffic. Our download speeds were significantly better this time:
Our speeds in Germany were functional, but not great, at under 20 Mbps:
Our speeds in other parts of Europe, including the UK, were similar. Surprisingly, we also got similar speeds all the way across the world in Hong Kong:
Overall, ProtonVPN’s speeds were nothing special. They certainly weren’t as fast as some top competitors.
On the upside, its network speeds were perfectly functional and reliable for most online activity in many different locations around the world.
Is ProtonVPN Good for Torrenting?
ProtonVPN is a good choice for torrenting. The provider allows P2P file sharing on all servers and keeps your torrenting activity private with a strict no-logs policy.
There are several articles related to torrenting on ProtonVPN’s website, including a guide to using BitTorrent with ProtonVPN.
Security – Is ProtonVPN Safe?
ProtonVPN is packed with robust security features to protect your connection. Your IP address is masked and kept safe with built-in DNS leak protection.
We did not detect any DNS leaks during our tests. Here’s our result from a DNS leak website while connected to a ProtonVPN server in Hong Kong:
As you can see, our real location in the US was not leaked.
ProtonVPN protects your data with secure AES-256 encryption and a 4096-bit RSA key exchange. If you’re not sure what that means, rest assured that it’s a very secure algorithm.
In addition, the Perfect Forward Secrecy feature protects all connections by generating a unique new encryption key each time you connect to a server.
This means that even if your encryption key were somehow compromised, all of your data from previous connections would be completely safe.
In terms of protocols, ProtonVPN supports OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec connections. This isn’t the longest list of protocols we’ve seen, but the ones that are supported are very secure.
An additional security feature, Secure Core, automatically routes your traffic among several different servers in privacy-friendly countries—including Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden—before reaching your final destination. This provides a strong extra layer of protection.
Does ProtonVPN Keep Logs?
ProtonVPN follows a strict no-logging policy that is backed up by Swiss law, which doesn’t require retention of any information about your connection, session bandwidth, IP address, or online activity.
Because ProtonVPN doesn’t keep any user logs, it can’t be forced to hand over identifying information to any third parties.
If you’re looking for an even stronger guarantee of anonymity, you can take advantage of the Tor over VPN service, which will direct your traffic through the Tor network without you having to download the Tor browser.
Does ProtonVPN Have an Ad Blocker?
ProtonVPN does not offer an ad blocker as part of its service.
Does ProtonVPN Work in China?
ProtonVPN can be a good choice if you are looking to bypass China’s tough censorship. There are multiple server locations near China, including Hong Kong, that get decent speeds.
However, some server locations may be blocked. To avoid trial and error, you can email the support team to request a list of recommended servers for use in China.
Price and Value for Money
As previously mentioned, ProtonVPN offers a free plan along with 3 paid plans.
All of ProtonVPN’s paid packages provide high-speed connections. The Plus and Visionary subscriptions include access to Secure Core servers, access to Tor servers, P2P support, and secure streaming.
The Visionary plan also includes a ProtonMail subscription.
The Basic plan is very reasonably priced, while the Visionary plan is on the pricey side.
All plans are available in both monthly and annual subscriptions, with small discounts offered on annual subscriptions.
If you’re interested in ProtonVPN, we recommend taking some time to consider what your main purposes are with the VPN. This can help you decide which plan will give you the best value.
Here is an overview of the different features offered with each tier:
There’s no free trial offered on paid plans, but the free tier can be a good way to find out if you like the interface of the VPN.
If security and anonymity are important to you, the Plus plan will likely provide you with the best value for your money.
All of the paid subscriptions come with a 30-day, money-back guarantee, which we have tested and found to be true.
Is ProtonVPN Compatible with My Device?
ProtonVPN offers good device compatibility, with user-friendly native apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. All apps are open source and have undergone an independent audit, plus it recently added the option to use OpenVPN in beta for iOS. You can also find detailed manual configuration guides for Linux.
The number of simultaneous devices supported depends on your subscription tier. Free plans allow only one device, Basic plans allow two simultaneous devices, Plus plans allow five simultaneous devices, and Visionary plans allow ten simultaneous devices.
ProtonVPN Customer Service
Our biggest concern with ProtonVPN’s customer service is the lack of live chat support. When you run into a problem with your VPN service, you don’t want to have to wait a whole day to resolve the issue.
Unfortunately, the only way to contact ProtonVPN’s customer service team is via email or a support ticket.
When we submitted a question to the support team, it took about 24 hours to get a response, which is pretty typical for email support.
However, we were pleased with the quality of the response. We found ProtonVPN’s customer service to be friendly, thorough, and helpful.
You can also find the answer to most common questions on the website, which has a helpful knowledge base and installation guides.
ProtonVPN scores major points with its user-friendly app interface. The app is easy to navigate and designed in an intuitive way.
The first time you open the app, you are given a brief tour with pop-up tips that walk you through all of the app’s important features.
The app displays available server locations on the left, with your current connection status on the top of the screen.
There’s also a clear map on the right that marks countries that have ProtonVPN servers with a triangle. A solid green triangle appears on your current server country, making it easy to see your current status and where you’re connected.
There are three easy ways to connect to the VPN:
- Select a country from the list. When you hover over a specific country, a Connect button will appear.
You can also click the arrow to the right of each country to select from a list of individual server locations.
- Use the map. When you hover over a triangle on the map, a Connect button will appear.
- Use the Profiles tab. This is where you will find the option to connect to the fastest available server.
You can also click Create Profile to create convenient personalized configurations that you can come back to whenever you want.
This is an excellent feature that makes ProtonVPN incredibly easy to use even when you’re in a hurry.
For each profile, you can choose a specific country or individual server to connect to. You can also add special features for different activities, including Secure Core, P2P, and Tor over VPN.
Additional advanced settings are easy to access through the Options menu.
One thing to be aware of is that the automatic kill switch is disabled by default, so you should switch it on before connecting if you want to take advantage of the feature.
Overall, we were very impressed with ProtonVPN’s app and have no complaints. It delivers an excellent user experience.
With robust security and proven respect for privacy, it’s clear that ProtonVPN is a top-shelf provider for anyone concerned about staying secure online.
Its attractive, user-friendly app has one of the best designs that we’ve seen.
This VPN also has plenty of great features for streamers and torrent fanatics.
It falls short on a few important aspects, however, such as diverse support channels, speed, and wallet-friendly prices.
And all the geo-unblocking technology in the world is no good if your streaming session is slow. If you’re after speedy streaming, check out one of these vendors instead.
It’s a worthy contender, but is it the best VPN in the market? Unfortunately not at the moment. There are higher-performing VPNs that outshine ProtonVPN at a lower cost, like CyberGhost and NordVPN.
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ProtonVPN is a renowned community-supported project developed by MIT and CERN experts who also brought us ProtonMail, one of the largest encrypted email services in the world. ProtonVPN was launched in 2016 and gained a lot of traction immediately primarily thanks to its free plan without any intrusive ads, bandwidth limits, malware or user activity logs. Since it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ProtonVPN operates under some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.
If these facts caught your attention, there is plenty more to come in this comprehensive ProtonVPN review, so stick around as we discuss its main features and policies and reveal the results of our exhaustive hands-on tests as well.
Speed & Performance
Our testing team in Belgrade, Serbia (Europe) experimented with 20 different ProtonVPN servers over a period of one week to determine the VPN’s overall performance quality and find out how the implemented encryption affects the average connection speed.
The free plan gives you access to the servers in the US, the Netherlands, and Japan, so we tested those locations first. The US servers were usually able to retain around 70% of our original speed, the locations in the Netherlands kept around 80%, and Japan provided us with subpar performance averaging at around 10% of our benchmark connection speed.
When it comes to our top performers, we have London at 90.55%, Stockholm at 86.03%, Frankfurt at 83.89%, and Amsterdam at 83.86%. The US servers in Denver and Los Angeles gave us decent performances with 64.32% and 51.88%, respectively. Apart from Japan, we also recorded subpar speeds in Latur, India (14.27%), Sidney (8.67%), Paris (15.36%), and Atlanta (12.99%).
During our tests for this ProtonVPN review, we did not experience any sudden disconnects or major issues of any kind. We were able to connect to any server relatively quickly and, once established, the VPN connection was perfectly stable at all times. ProtonVPN does not provide seamless server switching, so rerouting your connection to another VPN location will interrupt your downloads and expose your true IP to geo-restricted services.
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|New York, US||132||11.75||4.28|
|Los Angeles, US||180||18.61||6.66|
ProtonVPN currently supports Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and GNU/Linux. You can also use it on all the popular browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, Opera, iOS Safari, Samsung browser, Chrome for Android, and MIUI browser. Apart from this, the official download page features OpenVPN config files for third-party VPN clients or routers. Note that if you are using native ProtonVPN apps, there is no need to handle these files manually.
ProtonVPN currently operates 620+ servers across 44 countries. The entire server network is split based on your subscription, so the Plus and Visionary options grant access to more servers than the free and Basic plans. The client provides you with load information for each server, which allows you to avoid crowds and ensure top speeds at all times. If you are not sure about the best server for your location, the Quick Connect option will pick one for you automatically. Note that the software will probably pick a location in your own country, so Quick Connect is not ideal if you are looking to geo-spoof certain popular services. Finally, the function can be adjusted to choose the fastest server for your location or pick one at random.
Plus and Visionary members also have access to the so-called Secure Core service, which simply routes your traffic through multiple servers within the company’s secure network and provides you with an extra layer of protection. This is what we call a multi-hop feature because your connection “hops” between multiple servers (usually in different jurisdictions) before it exits on to the regular Internet. This option will keep you protected even if one of the VPN servers gets compromised for whatever reason.
The ProtonVPN client allows you to create custom user profiles with pre-defined connection modes, countries, and servers for easier one-click access. The VPN comes with unlimited bandwidth, speeds, and server switching.
Finally, some of the servers in the client are marked as Tor-friendly, which means you can use them to access the Tor (Onion) network with VPN protection. In other words, you do not have to install the Tor browser in order to prevent your ISP from realizing you are using Tor’s hidden services.
ProtonVPN pays great attention to the physical security of its infrastructure as well. Its main hardware in Switzerland is located 1,000m below the surface in a former army fallout shelter. Its Iceland infrastructure is kept within a former military base and the servers in Sweden are located in an underground data center as well.
Safety & Security
ProtonVPN supports OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec connection protocols and does not offer any PPTP and L2TP/IPsec locations. Servers with these protocols are much cheaper to maintain, but these security options are extremely outdated. ProtonVPN supports both TCP and UDP connections.
When it comes to encryption, the company opted for AES-256 cipher with HMAC SHA-384 authentication and RSA-4096 handshake, which is a pretty solid configuration, according to modern cybersecurity standards. AES-256 is virtually unbreakable by modern computers and is used by the military and banks to secure sensitive information.
ProtonVPN also implements perfect forward secrecy, which means that a new security key is generated for every session. In other words, even if somebody managed to obtain your encryption key for that particular session, it would be rendered useless the moment you disconnect. Having said that, the level of encryption offered by ProtonVPN is unbreakable by today’s standards, so this is more of a failsafe that you will probably never have to use.
The split-tunneling feature allows you to route some of your apps through ProtonVPN while keeping the rest of them out of the secure VPN tunnel. You can use this to prevent any speed drops when handling secure and trusted applications that do not require encryption.
Our tests did not detect any IP or DNS leaks, so your real information will never be picked up by your ISP, government agencies, international spy networks or malicious hackers.
Finally, the software comes with a reliable automatic killswitch feature, which will block your Internet connection the moment your VPN gets compromised or drops connection for whatever reason.
Logging & Privacy
ProtonVPN is very consistent in its attempts to record as little user data as possible. With that in mind, the company will NEVER log your online activity, throttle your connection or discriminate against certain applications, devices, and protocols.
Let us take a look at the personal data collected by ProtonVPN:
- Account creation – During registration, ProtonVPN will only collect your username, email, and password. You can also register by providing your existing ProtonID. In other words, you will never be prompted to provide your real name, address, and other personal information.
- Support – When you submit bug reports or support requests, ProtonVPN will store the contents of these interactions, including any information you choose to share with the company.
- Payment – If you opt for credit card or PayPal payments, the company’s third-party payment processors will store your name and the last 4 digits of your credit card. If you prefer to keep things anonymous, ProtonVPN also accepts Bitcoin and cash payments.
The stored information is used to communicate with you, provide you with the requested service, process payments, and provide customer support. When it comes to your rights, you can always access, rectify, and delete the collected information. You also have the right to data portability and you can even lodge a complaint to a competent supervisory authority.
When it comes to non-personal data, ProtonVPN might employ a local installation of Matomo and it also uses tools like Google Analytics. These tools are implemented to collect non-identifying data like screen resolution, titles of the pages you viewed on the official website, referrers, outlinks, and website and page speed. This data cannot be used to identify you since ProtonVPN does not record your IP address.
When it comes to accessing popular streaming platforms outside their countries of origin, ProtonVPN allowed us to stream Netflix US, Germany, UK and Japan from our location in Europe while serving us with a proxy error on Netflix Canada, and France. We were also able to access Hulu and Crunchyroll. As already mentioned in this ProtonVPN review, the speeds during our tests were pretty decent, which enabled us to stream our favorite content in full HD without any problems and buffering issues.
ProtonVPN DOES allow P2P filesharing and torrenting on its servers, but the company does not condone the use of BitTorrent-based applications to download and share any copyrighted materials. Having said that, since no logs of your Internet traffic are kept, ProtonVPN does not actually have a way of monitoring your online activities and detecting P2P traffic. In other words, the company implemented its no-illegal-downloads policy for legal purposes without any ways of actually enforcing it. Bottom line, if torrenting is your main reason for purchasing a VPN, Proton is definitely the way to go.
Plans & Pricing
Apart from its free plan that gives you access to 3 countries, medium speed, and 1 simultaneous connection, ProtonVPN offers 3 premium subscription options available on a monthly or annual basis.
The Basic subscription ($5 per month; $4 per month with the annual subscription) grants you access to all countries, P2P filesharing, fast speeds, and up to 2 simultaneous connections.
The Plus option ($10 per month; $8 per month with the annual subscription) goes one step further and provides you with Plus servers, Secure Core feature, secure streaming, and up to 5 simultaneous connections.
Finally, the Visionary subscription ($30 per month; $24 per month with the annual subscription) also comes with ProtonMail and up to 10 simultaneous connections.
As we already stated in this ProtonVPN review, the company accepts credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and even cash payments. Every purchase comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and there is also a 7-day free trial, which gives you more than enough time to test the software and check if it meets your personal demands. When you download the free version of ProtonVPN, your Plus free trial will activate automatically without you providing payment information or any additional details.
ProtonVPN features a decent FAQ section on the official website, so you will be able to find answers to pretty much all the usual questions right there. You can always submit a support ticket or bug report in case you encounter a problem not covered in the FAQs. Sending an email is also an option, but the support staff admits that you will receive your answers much quicker if you submit a support ticket. Unfortunately, there is no live chat at the moment.
ProtonVPN Pros & Cons
At the end of this ProtonVPN review, here’s a quick overview of the features that wowed us and the aspects of the service that could use some improvement.
- 620+ servers in 44 countries.
- Solid security configuration
- Unlimited speeds, bandwidth, and server switching
- No activity logs
- Perfect forward secrecy
- Split tunneling
- Automatic killswitch
- Built-in Tor support
- P2P allowed
- DNS leak protection
- Fully functional free version without any ads
- Up to 10 simultaneous connections
- 7-day free trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Bitcoin and cash payments accepted
The ProtonVPN reviews listed below reflect the opinions and experiences of real users and are in no way influenced by the dating site reviewed here. Before publishing each review, our team checks whether it was submitted by an actual user in an effort to prevent false or spammy reviews.
ProtonVPN comes from the same CERN Scientist and Harvard Physics PhD brains behind ProtonMail, the world’s largest encrypted email network.
So they’ve already created a free-to-paid, encrypted internet privacy service in one space. Surely they can do it in the VPN space, too?
That’s what we’re here to find out. Over the past few months, we’ve been comprehensively testing their OpenVPN protocol, encryption connection standards, speed, security, pricing, and more.
And you’ll hear about the good, bad, and ugly in this ProtonVPN review.
|OVERALL RANK:||#19 out of 78 VPNs|
|USABILITY:||Very Easy, Supports All Devices|
|LOG FILES:||No Logging Policy|
|LOCATIONS:||32 countries, 345+ servers|
|SUPPORT:||Ticket system, Decent response times|
|ENCRYPTION/PROTOCOL:||AES 256, OpenVPN only protocol offered|
|COST:||Free or $4/mo (basic plan)|
ProtonVPN Pros +
ProtonVPN was founded on the back of security experts. So you know the protocol and encryption standards will be top-notch. They also don’t disappoint in a few other key areas, like customer service and a rock-solid connection.
Take a look.
1. Exceptional Security & Privacy Standards
ProtonVPN comes equipped with OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) and IKEv2 as its protocol, with the super-secure AES-256 encryption.
This is bank-grade, state-of-the-art encryption standards.
Put it this way:
If you are going to suffer a hack, it won’t be because they broke through this encryption. Because it’s never been done.
Instead, most hackers will cut their losses and go after other methods of breaking in, like guessing your password reminders.
2. Strict No-Logging Policy
We’ve analyzed 118 VPN logging policies over the past few years.
This is often boring, painstaking work.
But it’s important.
Image from: https://protonvpn.com/support/no-logs-vpn/
Because pouring through this many terms and privacy policies has taught us where VPNs like to bury their privacy bodies.
For example, we’ve found that 7% of VPNs commonly log your connections data. And more than 30% of VPNs have suspicious (not straightforward) logging policy. These ones often use vague, technical jargon or legal terms to allow for ‘gray’ areas that might come back to haunt you.
Now, ProtonVPN has a solid reputation based on their past work.
But we’ve also confirmed that when they say “no logging,” you can actually trust it.
3. Decent Customer Support
Ticket-based support systems usually make us cringe.
That’s because we’ve all experienced the ~several day delay between each email, which requires a week long back-and-forth process to answer even the simplest of questions.
That initial thought flashed through my head when I laid eyes on Proton’s support options.
Reluctantly, I filled out the form with a few simple questions and hit “Send.”
However, a reply hit my inbox within around 24 hours.
And to my surprise, it wasn’t just a straight link to a knowledge base article on their site, either.
It wasn’t breathtaking or anything. But it didn’t need to be.
It just needed to be relatively fast and direct. And that’s what it was.
A pretty good experience all around.
4. Leak-Free Connection
DNS and Web-RTC leaks can accidentally expose your true IP address. These are typically caused by connection conflicts that open a teeny, tiny hole for your data to seep through.
Sounds minor. But it isn’t.
It allows your ISP, governments, and even two-bit hackers to spot you from a mile (or more) away. So it completely undermines your use of a VPN.
All without you even realizing it.
ProtonVPN’s connection came out leak free in every test we ran. Check it out.
But that’s not all.
We also ran their install files through VirusTotal.com and found them to be completely free of malicious software.
5. One Netflix Server Worked (Out of Five)
ProtonVPN says on their site that Netflix will work on “certain servers.”
The trick, I guess, is figuring out which ones.
A lot of VPNs make that bold claim, but very few of them can actually back it up. What’s more, the VPNs that are successful in unblocking Netflix may not maintain that achievement for very long. That’s because Netflix is constantly trying to stop VPNs in their tracks, blocking access to its geo-locked content.
All Netflix content is unique to the area in which it is accessed. Netflix has certain deals in place with content providers to bring different shows and movies to different areas of the globe. If you were in the United States, your Netflix list would look very different from someone trying to watch in The Netherlands.
To stop the unwanted flow of its restricted content, Netflix unleashed a powerful VPN detection and blocking system upon the internet. It swept through the VPN world like a tidal wave, knocking scores of platforms off of the world’s largest streaming service. However, despite this purge, there are a number of VPNs that still have some success in unblocking Netflix’s attempts to keep them out.
When we first reviewed ProtonVPN, we tested five servers. They were in the UK, Canada, The Netherlands, and two servers in the US. At the time, we found that only one out of the five worked, and it was the server in The Netherlands. We tested this out again in August 2019, and once more, one out of five servers connected to the Netflix service. However, it was a different server.
The UK server, once a recipient of the dreaded Netflix black screen of doom, worked perfectly when I logged in. The Netherlands server, once our only beacon of hope in the war against Netflix bans, was sadly not working when we tested it out this time.
ProtonVPN gets listed under Pros for having one success. But practically speaking, just keep in mind that your options might be kinda limited here.
6. Easy to Install and Use
When you’re choosing a VPN provider, the last thing you want is to open up some overly complicated system that you have to be a computer scientist in order to understand. That’s why the best VPNs are the simplest ones. While ProtonVPN might not look super user friendly at first, looks can be deceiving. Despite a longer than average download time, ProtonVPN proved to be a simple to install system, that had a great ease of use once you get accustomed to its very busy dashboard.
After signing up for ProtonVPN, you’re taken to the client dashboard. From there, you’ll be able to download the platform of your choice.
After selecting the Windows download, I was still taken to yet another download page to actually select the Windows client and start the installation. This didn’t take up a lot of time but it was still strange that I had to select which program to download only to be taken to another page where I once again had to select which program to download.
Once that was over, the ProtonVPN software began to download. Typically VPN software takes between 10 and 30 seconds to download on my computer. This one took quite a bit longer, and I found myself waiting for nearly two minutes. Again, this is not the end of the world, and once that was downloaded the installation went through almost instantly.
The sign in screen was plain and simple, which is always good when using a VPN. You want to be able to efficiently sign in without having to navigate through various options. Enter your username and password, and you’ll be connected. You can also set up your VPN client to remember your login information (not recommended on a shared computer) or to start up automatically with Windows.
When you login for the first time, ProtonVPN takes an extra step that I haven’t seen many VPNs do before. It offers you a tour of its interface. This is particularly helpful, since as you’ll see momentarily, it can be a little intimidating when you see if for the first time.
The tour walks you through a few of the key features of ProtonVPN.
One of them is the ability to create profiles, allowing you to save your settings in order to go back to them whenever you want. This is great for users who want to go right to their favorite Netflix server or one that was particularly fast. Once you’re connected to a server, there will be a green link in the upper left that says “Set as Profile.” Click on that and you can hold onto any of the servers that you enjoy without having to sift through the list to find them again.
It also talks about the ProtonVPN Secure Core, which lets you add additional levels of security onto your browsing session. It should be noted that this service is only available to subscribers who purchase ProtonVPN’s Plus or Visionary plans.
Once all of that was over I clicked on “Quick Connect” in the upper lefthand corner and was instantly connected to the fastest server they had.
While this interface might look like a NORAD computer screen, it’s actually a lot more simple than it appears. Everything you need is on the lefthand side. That includes the button to connect and disconnect, the server list, saved profiles, and the ability to activate Secure Core.
Another fun feature is the fact that the flag of the country you choose appears in the upper left. The map, which takes up the majority of this massive interface, mostly exists to show you where on the globe your signal is traveling to. It also monitors some of your other information like speed, volume, and the length of your session. This is important information that a lot of VPNs leave out.
Switching servers was a breeze. You find the server country you want from the list on the left, click on it, and you’ll automatically be connected to the best server in that region. You can also expand the list country by country to select specific servers.
All in all, despite the longer than average setup time, this is a VPN that is easy to use and effective.
ProtonVPN Cons –
ProtonVPN gets high marks for their attention to security detail. However, there are still a few drawbacks we uncovered.
Let’s take a look at each of them in-depth.
1. They are Located in Switzerland
Switzerland has a history of being a ‘neutral’ country. One that protects the privacy of its citizens and doesn’t like to get involved in domestic conflicts.
And all of that is true.
Swiss laws do protect privacy. Generally speaking.
The issue, though, is that Switzerland is also a cooperating member of the extended Eyes security alliance.
This is a worldwide agreement that essentially helps government agencies to spy on each others citizens in the name of “worldwide safety.”
I don’t mean that in a conspiracy-theorist way. This has already been happening for decades.
So a Swiss-based location means you’re mostly good. Your privacy is mostly safe.
The good news is that ProtonVPN doesn’t keep a lot of their customer data on file. But just keep in the back of their mind that their government might force them to cooperate.
2. Server Speeds are Too Slow for the Price
Speed is the great equaliser.
All else being similar — pricing, features, security protocols, etc. — you’re going to go with the fastest option.
Because speed makes all things possible (streaming, torrent downloads, or just a dozen tabs up while you’re bouncing around between browsing sessions).
Unfortunately, ProtonVPN’s combined speed score only put them at 48th out of 78 VPN companies.
Here’s how we come up with that data:
- We use SpeedTest.net to get a reading of our benchmark, non-VPN internet connection. We got 97 Mbps download and 53 Mbps upload at the time of this review.
- Then, we connect to a few different ProtonVPN servers. We try to select random ones around the world to get a fair, unbiased view.
- Finally, we calculate the differences and come up with a combined score that gets ranked against all of the other reviews we’ve previously done.
Sound good? Check out each server test in detail now.
U.S. Servers (East & West)
ProtonVPN’s U.S. servers started extremely slow. The download speed, especially, would make most torrenting activities slow to a crawl.
- Ping: 190 ms
- Download: 24.6 Mbps (75% slower)
- Upload: 36.4 Mbps (31% slower)
EU Servers (Switzerland)
The EU servers, on the other hand, didn’t disappoint. This probably also had something to do with our closer proximity to this servers. Even something as simple as physical distance between you and the connected server can impact performance. But credit where credits due.
- Ping: 66ms
- Download: 54.46 Mbps (44% slower)
- Upload: 37.86 Mbps (29% slower)
Asia Servers (Hong Kong)
We thought the U.S. server speeds were bad. Until we saw the Asian ones out of Hong Kong. 85% slower across the board.
- Ping: 317 ms
- Download: 16 Mbps (84% slower)
- Upload: 6.4 Mbps (88% slower)
And last but not least, a UK server feel somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on the ‘good’ side of the middle.
- Ping: 46ms
- Download: 52 Mbps (46% slower)
- Upload: 47 Mbps (11% slower)
These results were disappointing across the board. Consistent, yes. But consistently slow is not good.
Companies like ExpressVPN, PIA, and Trust.Zone all offer better speed (at only a fraction of the price).
3. Limited Device Compatibility
The best VPNs we’ve reviewed all provide pre-built apps for every device imaginable.
This way, all you have to do is point and click. No technical experience required. No manual labor needed.
ProtonVPN provides pre-built apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, and Android devices.
Unfortunately, that’s all they provide.
Any users of TOR will find that this VPN is sadly incompatible with it.
The last time I reviewed ProtonVPN, they did not have a native app for iOS clients. Now (February 2019), they now have a native iOS app.
But even worse, it means there’s no pre-built option for smart TVs or gaming consoles.
While there was no support for routers the last time I reviewed ProtonVPN, they now support installing their VPN on DD-WRT, AsusWRT, and Tomato routers.
They’ve got 345 servers in 32 countries, which could be a problem for people who look into VPNs for torrenting.
The silver lining? ProtonVPN’s paid plans provide up to ten simultaneous connections — this is on the higher end from what we’ve seen.
4. Limited Torrenting Available
Unfortunatley, ProtonVPN doesn’t allow unlimited torrenting.
It’s not allowed at all on free plans.
The reasoning is that “P2P would increase the load on our servers due to torrenting and this would put more pressure on us, ultimately not allowing us to subsidise the free accounts from the paid ones.”
It is allowed on paid ones, but only on certain servers. Again, the reasoning is that they channel P2P traffic through neutral “safe countries.”
However, they also take this moment to bring up Swiss law: “File sharing is only permitted for personal, non-commercial use.”
So yes, they allow it. But there are several restrictions which might make it impractical for you.
5. Limited Protocols (OpenVPN Only)
This last one is on the border.
ProtonVPN only offers the OpenVPN protocol.
Technically speaking, this is a GREAT thing. It’s the state-of-the-art industry standard. Almost everyone, everywhere should use ONLY use OpenVPN.
So why is this showing up under the Cons section?
Because not everyone has the choice of only using this protocol option.
Many older devices, or even some less expensive new ones like some Chromebooks, don’t offer OpenVPN support just yet.
Instead, you’ll have to connect through a different (albeit, less-desirable) protocol like L2TP or PPTP.
These other options aren’t nearly as secure. And in most cases you wouldn’t want to use them.
But that’s just the thing:
You don’t always have that choice. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
And for that reason, ProtonVPN might not work for large cross-section of potential customers.
ProtonVPN Pricing, Cost & Payment Methods
ProtonVPN has four plans to choose from, with optional discounts for paying annually.
So the prices below INCLUDE the annual ~20% discount.
Yes, Proton has a free VPN. But yes, it’s also pretty bare bones.
The service comes with only three server locations: The Netherlands, USA, and Japan.
It doesn’t come with any extra features.
But it does help you unlock a free seven-day trial of their paid plans. So that might be a good way to dip your toe into ProtonVPN’s waters without spending a single cent.
Basic: $4/month (we bought this)
Proton’s Basic plan is a marginal upgrade on the free one to be honest. You do get access to all countries, but not Plus, Secure, or Tor servers. Your speed access is “high” but not the “highest.”
Plus, you only can connect two simultaneous devices.
So kinda a bummer to be honest. Skip over this option.
Proton’s Plus plan increases your connection limitation up to five devices. Speed is the “highest,” and you get access to Plus, Secure Core, and Tor servers.
This is probably the only plan you should go with to be honest.
The fourth plan, Visionary, is kinda the same as the Plus, but with a cross-sell for their ProtonMail offering. So that’s also a decent option at $24/month (paid annual) if you were already considering both encrypted options.
Otherwise, you can pay for all of these plans with either credit card or PayPal. Nothing else (cash, bitcoin, etc.) from what we’ve seen.
ProtonVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. However, you only get a prorated amount of the “unused portion.” In other words, if you use it for 10 days, you’ll get a refund for 20 days worth.
That’s not a great refund policy compared to others, like CyberGhost, which offers a full “no questions asked” money-back guarantee.
Refunds in the original currency or payment method you used will be given, too.
You’ll have to send an email to [email protected] to get your prorated share.
Do I Recommend ProtonVPN?
No, we don’t.
ProtonVPN features an awesome connection with the highest security considerations. Their customer service was good and Netflix even worked on one server.
Unfortunately, it’s a few other areas that let it down in the end.
A Switzerland home base is generally a good thing for privacy. But they are cooperative with other aggressive government agencies around the world.
Honestly, the server speeds were not good. Device options are limited.
And the pricing, even with a 20% annual discount, is still on the high end for what you’re getting in return.
There are just so many better options available, with the same connection strength, faster performance, and more devices, for far less.