PrivateInternetAccess Review 2019 | Quality at a budget

PrivateInternetAccess Review 2019
  • Price
  • Service
  • Apps
  • Speed
  • Policy

Summary

PrivateInternetAccess offers an all round decent service at an unmatched budget price.

Pros

  • Respectable speeds.

  •  Many encryption levels.

  •  Modern desktop apps.

  •  Ultra low price.

  • Works with US & UK Netflix.

Cons

  •  Doesn't work with BBC iPlayer.
  • Unreliable in China.
4.2
Product By:
London Trust Media, Inc
Version:
2019
Price:
$2.91

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On February 17, 2019
Last modified:February 17, 2019

Summary:

PrivateInternetAccess offers an all round decent service at an unmatched budget price

PrivateInternetAccess otherwise known as PIA is one of the most well-known and respected names in the VPN industry. Known for their privacy protections and low prices they’re loved by many but avoided by some.

We’ve been reviewing PIA since 2013 and they’ve continued to offer an excellent service throughout the years, but is this the case in 2019? We decided to find out and have been putting them through their paces this year.

Packages

PrivateInternetAccess offers packages in the same manner as almost every other VPN service.

There is one package available and you can subscribe for different periods. The benefit of this is the prices will be reduced when you commit to more extended periods.

Current prices for the service are as follows:

  • 1-Month: $6.95 /mo (~£5.41)
  • 1-Year: $3.33 /mo (~£2.59)
  • 2-Years: $2.91 /mo (~£2.26)

In comparison to many other providers, even the monthly package is cheap. It’s comparative to the monthly price on 12-month packages from other providers.

The one and two-year deals are some of the cheapest we’ve seen.

As PrivateInternetAccess has continued to offer a reliable and robust service over the past six years, there should be little risk in signing up for their longer subscription packages.

The service does offer a 7-day money back guarantee which while shorter than elsewhere should still be plenty of time for you to test the service to see if it works well in your situation.

Service

Protocols

PrivateInternetAccess continues to offer support for the OpenVPN, LT2P and PPTP VPN protocols. Little has changed in this regard over the years.

There has been mention of the WireGuard protocol and while some other VPN services are toying with the service right now, PrivateInternetAccess are staying more reserved until a stable release is available.

They have however made substantial donations to the project so it’s a protocol we’ll be sure to see shortly.

Logging

PrivateInternetAccess claims to be a no-log VPN service.

What this means is none of your activity or connection data is recorded or stored. PIA even go so far as to state on their website that they have “No Traffic or Request logs”.

Being based in the United States this has raised questions by some users. Although there are no mandatory requirements to log in the US some question how a privacy service can continue to operate without interference from many of America’s three letter agencies.

On a positive note, PrivateInternetAccess have had their logging policy tested in the US on numerous occasions.

Both in 2016 and more recently in 2018, PIA found itself caught up in legal cases which resulted in them being unable to assist due to their no logging stance. You can read more about those cases here and here.

Due to those cases, you should be confident that PrivateInternetAccess adheres to their claims.

Server Locations

PrivateInternetAccess have always had one of the smaller selections of VPN server locations but based on their price this has always been an understandable trade-off.

Over the past few years this has been changing dramatically as they slowly up their global coverage. VPN servers are now available in 33 countries across the world. They have added five new locations since we reviewed their service one year ago which is an excellent advancement.

They now provide servers in most corners of the globe including North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and India, Asia and Australia & New Zealand. They also have servers in South Africa.

In Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States they even have multiple cities available to connect to.

Individual VPN servers total over 3,245 making them one of the largest providers in terms of individual servers alone.

Concurrent Connections

PrivateInternetAccess currently allows you to use one service on up to 5 devices at the same time.

This limit hasn’t changed in recent years but is comparable to much of the competition.

While there are other providers offering 6 or more concurrent connections, this isn’t common and in terms of price, they’re a lot more expensive than PIA’s offering.

As just 58 cents per device when taking the 2-year package, this represents excellent value for money.

Other Notable Features

PrivateInternetAccess has many side features that may not initially jump out at you.

Good Causes

We’re impressed to see the number of good causes that they support. Just a few that have received generous donations include the EFF, OpenRightsGroup, WireGuard, OSTIF, FightfortheFuture and more.

It’s exciting to see a large VPN service reinvest some of their profits in good causes and give back to the community that essentially supports their business model.

Streaming

Netflix fans will be pleased as both US Netflix and UK Netflix were accessible and worked well in our tests. Sadly BBC iPlayer didn’t work in our tests across all three of their UK server locations.

Payment Options

Another standout feature is the wide range of payments accepted. While they accept all regular types of payments, they also take more anonymous types such as BitPay, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash and others.

They also accept payment via gift card which allows you to sign up without handing over any of your financial details. Financial details being the one area where many VPN services gain knowledge of your identity. Top marks to PIA for this feature.

China

PrivateInternetAccess claims their service works well in China. Plus, one of the leading websites monitoring the situation agrees.

However, in our on the ground tests, PrivateInternetAccess did not work in China, we’ve also seen multiple other sources online that reaffirm the same.

Internet access is always tricky in China but sadly PIA doesn’t prove reliable enough for this purpose and there are better VPNs working in China out there.

Apps

Mobile Apps

PrivateInternetAccess offers apps for both Android mobile devices and Apple iOS such as the iPhone and iPad.

So whatever phone or tablet you’ve got you’ll be able to connect to their service and keep yourself protected. We tested their Android app so will be basing our findings on that.

As with most VPN apps you can connect quickly from the main screen. Simply flick their ‘on’ switch to get connected. If you’re new to VPN use or you don’t want to concern yourselves with the inner-workings, then this quick connect feature will be right up your street.

You can access countries by clicking an option from the main app window which opens a country list sorted alphabetically. Unfortunately there’s no option to connect to individual servers like with some other services’ apps – instead, the PIA app will pick the best in that location for you.

PIA Android App Feb 19

PIA Android App.

While the app hasn’t changed visually since we last tested it, it has changed somewhat behind the scenes. The settings area is a techie’s dream so if you want customisation and plenty of options to fiddle with then we haven’t seen a better app for this than PIA’s offering.

Options include switching between UDP and TCP, Request port forwarding, Remote port selection, Local port selection, DNS set-up, Use small packets amongst others.

There’s also a Kill Switch, IPv6 blocking which PIA call ‘Aggressive’ and the ability to block access to the local network. There’s also a ‘VPN always on’ feature accessible for Android 8.0+ users which PIA claims is better than using a Kill Switch.

PIA Android settings menu

Android app features.

The app stands out in the encryption stakes. While most mobile apps don’t let you play around with these options, PIA’s app enables you to select everything from Data Encryption used to Data Authentication and even the size of the Handshaking key.

There’s an elegant split tunnelling feature that is easy to configure and push apps outside of the VPN connection. It’s also one of the only Android apps to offer a ‘widget’ feature that will allow you to one-click connect and disconnect from your phone’s main screen.

PIA Android Widget

PIA Android widget.

Overall the mobile apps are easy enough for the beginner to use and feature-rich enough to keep advanced users happy.

Desktop Apps

A year is a long time in the VPN industry and since we last reviewed PrivateInternetAccess, they’ve completely overhauled their desktop apps.

Available for both Windows and Mac OS their new apps sport a minimal-modern design that allow customisation to your liking. Oh, and they also have a Linux app too.

From the home screen you can connect with one-click if you wish. You need not do anything more. If you want to choose a server location, then it’s only an extra click away.

As with their mobile apps you can’t select individual servers but can choose countries and in some cases, individual cities sorted either by name or latency.

We liked the new design that lets you pin features to the main screen or remove those you dislike to limit the clutter. This modular approach is something new and a neat feature.

PIA Windows application

For all the positives of the new app, we weren’t keen on how it remains stuck to the notification area. While this is intuitive meaning it closes automatically when needed we felt restricted not being able to move it around the screen.

As with PIA’s older app the settings area is rich in options. Standout features include their Kill Switch and PIA Mace function that allows you to block ads, trackers and other nasties.

Most connection and encryption options are customisable including everything from DNS servers to encryption and handshaking used.

The app only allows connection via OpenVPN and while that’s not a significant issue, if you have needs for the other supported protocols, you’ll have to look for other methods to connect.

Overall we liked the new slick design which makes getting protected quick and effortless. If only you could ‘unhook’ that window from the notification area, it would round the app off.

Other Apps

Aside from the mobile and desktop apps, there are browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

Unfortunately, there’s no Amazon app for Fire TV devices that have become popular with other providers. If you’re a big streamer and prefer to watch on your TV then you’ll need to stick with a VPN service that supports Amazon Fire TV.

Speeds

Using PrivateInternetAccess for a range of everyday tasks posed no issues.

We envisage no issues staying connected daily for a range of regular activities such as web-browsing, sending email, streaming video and any other general internet usage.

To put PrivateInternetAccess to the test, we ran some speed tests on their service.

Using a regular UK home internet connection and a Windows desktop system we downloaded a test-file. We then did this again while connected to a selection of servers from PrivateInternetAccess.

We carried out these tests using their Windows application with OpenVPN using AES-256-GCM encryption. Our home connection speed was: 63.40 Mbps

When connected to the PrivateInternetAccess servers we achieved the following speeds:

  • UK – 60.88 Mbps
  • France – 56.68 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 60.2 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 60.87 Mbps
  • Sweden – 58.84 Mbps
  • New York, US – 58.93 Mbps
  • Australia – 59.60 Mbps

While the speeds aren’t the very fastest we’ve seen they are up there with the best of them.

For such a budget-priced VPN service we were astounded at the speeds achieved and it’s something that PrivateInternetAccess has noticeably improved on over the years.

What you now have is a low-priced VPN service with many of the bells and whistles that some of the more expensive providers offer while competing on speed.

Please note speed tests are not 100% reliable. They are merely a glimpse of performance at a certain period. Your results may differ depending on your location, time of usage, services accessed, device used and many other factors.

Encryption & Policies

Encryption

PrivateInternetAccess does encryption and it does it well. They’ve been at the forefront of providing strong encryption for many years and as discussed earlier in this review have contributed funds to improve encryption standards.

Their service makes use of OpenVPN and has a range of encryption modes available.

Encryption options include AES-128 and AES-256 in both CBC and GSM modes. You can also connect without encryption which we wouldn’t recommend unless you’re doing something simple like streaming video.

Data Authentication is handled by SHA1 or SHA256. Handshaking options include RSA-2048, 3072 or 4096. The opportunity to use ECC exists too.

Most of this encryption is customisable from within the PrivateInternetAccess range of apps. They’ve got a dedicated encryption page where you can read more about their available options.

Policies

PrivateInternetAccess has a range of policies covering everything from their Terms of Service to Export Control Policy and DMCA.

Much of this won’t be of interest to you and a lot of it is legal jargon.

Their Terms of Service is annotated in plain English which is likely a nod to GDPR and other international regulations. From a layman’s perspective, this is a useful addition and allows you to understand the basics of the more lengthy legal texts.

PrivateInternetAccess is clear on what they retain and much of this relates either to billing or your email address. They also go on to state that they will scrutinise any legal requests and try and narrow down the scope of information provided if it isn’t valid in law.

They also state they can’t share what they don’t have.

We saw nothing of concern in their policies, although they are lengthy legal texts which we are not qualified to understand or explain.

Verdict

PrivateInternetAccess is one of the oldest VPN services and over the years they’ve been slowly improving.

Although their website is one of the worst we’ve seen and looks like a throwback to the late ’90s, don’t let that put you off what is beneath a strong contender as one of the best VPN services available to date.

This year we loved their newly designed desktop apps and hope to see the design carried over to their mobile offerings in the coming year. It’s both easy enough to use if you’re a beginner and has one of the broadest range of features to keep you happy if you’re more experienced.

With their 2-year package costing a fraction of what many other providers do it’s impressive to see such quality for such a budget price tag.

US and UK Netflix work perfectly with the service but sadly BBC iPlayer didn’t appear to be working at the time of our tests. Again, as a negative, we found that our on the ground tests plus other reports suggest PIA doesn’t work well in China – although they do claim their service works there and some reports indicate it does.

PrivateInternetAccess do invest a lot of funds in good causes in the privacy-related field which isn’t common and it’s nice to see some of your subscription fees invested in the industry.

Overall PIA is one of the better VPN services out there and we don’t have any hesitation in recommending them. There are one or two areas that let them down but nothing critical and if you’re in the market for a new VPN service then this extremely budget service offers almost all the same features of services double their price.

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