ProtonVPN Review

ProtonVPN review
ProtonVPN Review

Overall
4









  • Service









  • Speed









  • Apps









  • Policy









  • Price









Summary

A privacy-focused VPN which delivers on this core remit but is still lacking in some other areas.

Pros

  • Strong encryption
  • Impressive privacy protections
  • Solid server network
  • Secure jurisdiction
  • Up to 10 concurrent connections

Cons

  • Inconsistent speeds
  • Expensive


ProtonVPN is a relatively young Swiss-based VPN from the people behind the highly acclaimed ProtonMail encrypted email service.

This reputable background makes this ProtonVPN review particularly interesting as we are keen to answer the question, does ProtonVPN live up to the same high standards – both the free version and the paid-for plans?

While we found ProtonVPN to be quite impressive, there are some critical points to consider before you sign up. We have been analysing ProtonVPN for the past few weeks and in this ProtonVPN review, we will tell you what we have found.

Service

Speeds

Download speed

To try and get an overview of the download speeds ProtonVPN offers, we ran a comprehensive speed test on a variety of different devices and on several different internet connections too.

Our speed test results found that ProtonVPN's speeds were fast but depending on the server, sometimes mixed.

Most connection speeds were reliable, but on occasion, speeds could be frustratingly slow. On its own this isn't a huge problem, simply hop server and find a faster one.

When carrying out regular internet tasks there were no noticeable issues with speed, but depending on the connection, we did notice some differences.

We tested ProtonVPN's download speed using a regular UK internet connection. Our without VPN speed was: 62.20 Mbps

The following are a selection of speed test results when connected to ProtonVPN's servers using their Windows client and OpenVPN.

  • UK – 59.68 Mbps
  • France – 59.11 Mbps
  • Netherlands – 59.66 Mbps
  • Switzerland – 59.68 Mbps
  • Sweden – 59.66 Mbps
  • New York, US – 59.50 Mbps
  • Australia – 53.52 Mbps

The best solution is to use their quick connect feature which finds you the fastest servers, you can then stick with the one it found and those speeds generally remain the same.

Douglas Crawford who writes for ProPrivacy said [1] that he found it difficult to find any faults, commending it on its “fast and secure VPN service”.

However, speeds results do seem to be mixed which is not uncommon and a reason you should do your own tests within the 30-day money back guarantee period.

RestorePrivacy's Sven Taylor highlighted speed issues in his recent review [2] noting that he found other VPNs like ExpressVPN to be faster in all tests.

ProtonVPN is one of the newer VPN providers but they've been around a few years and such teething problems shouldn't be cropping up now. However, if you sign up it's worth keeping an eye on this and checking from your location.

The impact on internet speed for ourselves was lower than most providers which is a positive.

Using the UK server as an example, we lost a little over 4% of speed compared to our regular connection. This is far better than most providers.

Note: 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, sites accessed, device used and many other factors.

Logging

ProtonVPN is operated by a company that has made its name providing a secure and private email through ProtonMail.

For all intents and purposes, it's one of the most well-respected secure email services.

You would therefore expect it to have gone the extra mile to deliver a sufficient no user logs guarantee.

They have.

In their clear and easy-to-read privacy policy, they state in no uncertain terms that they have a no user logs policy that is set in stone. The only data ProtonVPN collect about you is a timestamp which tells them when you last logged onto their VPN successfully.

ProtonVPN logging policy

This contains no identifying information and they overwrite it every time you log on, so they do not have a record of when and how many times you use their VPN, just when you last logged on.

But, why do they need this?

They say it is a tool to help them prevent brute force attacks where hackers run software to try and guess the password of an account holder.

In all honesty, we would prefer that they didn't collect even this, but such is ProtonMail's reputation that we are comfortable taking this explanation at face value and are content with their no logs policy.

Other than that, they do retain some partial payment details but you can set up an account without even giving your name, which is excellent. Their transparency reports cover this in more detail.

Simultaneous Connections

The number of simultaneous VPN connections you get depends on which price plan you opt for.

ProtonVPN's free plan only allows one connection. Paid subscriptions offer a little more but with the basic account, this rises to just two, which is a little disappointing.

You have to pay for the Plus plan, which is priced above the market average before you reach the industry standard, which is five.

If money is no object, you can go for the Visionary package which will give you a huge ten simultaneous VPN connections with every account. Although it does come with some additional features but these will be overkill for most.

Jurisdiction

ProtonVPN's is owned and operated by ProtonVPN AG (ProtonVPN SA). This company is headquartered in Switzerland.

As they stress on their website, being based in Switzerland means they have the protection of some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.

Switzerland is not part of the EU and Switzerland is also not a fourteen-eyes country. This means it has no obligation to collect and share information with partner countries.

As a result, thanks to being headquartered in Switzerland, ProtonVPN is able to offer a strong privacy policy and, as we have discussed, a very impressive no user logs guarantee.

Note: Some question the claimed benefits of using a VPN outside a 14-eyes country.

Customer Support

ProtonVPN does not offer live chat support which is disappointing and something that has been picked up on in more than one customer review.

There is a helpful and response email ticket support service and when we tested this, we had no problem getting responses quickly. There is plenty of information available on their website too.

But this is no replacement for the live chat support service that most VPNs now offer. We would like to think that by the time we get around to writing our next review of ProtonVPN, this feature will have been added to their customer service package.

Server Locations

Server locations

At the time of our review, ProtonVPN was offering 1,245 VPN server locations in 55 different countries around the world giving plenty of scope to get a new IP Address and change it regularly.

This is a big VPN server network growth over just one year. ProtonVPN has essentially doubled the number of servers it offers.

For a relative newcomer such as ProtonVPN, this is a very respectable network of servers and there is a decent global spread as well.

The only downside is that not every user can access every server and depending on what you pay will depend on what you get access too.

Proton VPN website server page

If you opt for the free ProtonVPN plan, the server network options are limited to just three countries (USA, the Netherlands, and Japan). That's actually a pretty decent deal for zero dollars (or pounds).

If you choose their Basic plan upwards, you get access to all of their servers.

However, if you want to increase the number of servers to include their double-hop servers for extra security, you will need to pay more for their Plus or Visionary plans.

ProtonVPN's Secure Core servers are an interesting addition to their offering.

Secure Core servers are essentially the same as ‘Double-Hop' available from some other services. It passes your connection through more than one VPN server in safe jurisdictions which gives you an added layer of protection.

We always encourage users not to judge a VPN by the number of servers it offers, but there is no denying that users like to see more servers and a larger number of servers can mean faster speeds.

For a relatively young VPN, ProtonVPN offers an impressive range of servers when put up against other VPNs, and we hope they will continue to expand their server network.

Does ProtonVPN use virtual servers?

No. ProtonVPN is clear on its website that it only uses bare metal servers. This means they are all physical servers in the locations they claim and there are no virtual servers anywhere in the ProtonVPN server network.

Does ProtonVPN work in China?

Unfortunately not. At the time of writing, ProtonVPN is not able to bypass the Great Firewall and is therefore not an option for VPN users inside Communist China.

Check out our Best VPN for China guide if you need a service that works in China.

Other Features

ProtonVPN does also offer a number of additional security and privacy features.

There is a one-click quick connect button that lets you connect to the fastest server in your area automatically.

We have already discussed their Secure Core feature. The Secure Core feature works like Double-Hop servers to provide an extra layer of security to your VPN connection.

ProtonVPN also offers Tor over VPN servers. A Tor over VPN server redirects your internet traffic through both a VPN and the Tor network for enhanced security.

Netshield is the ProtonVPN DNS filtering feature that protects you from malware, blocks ads, and prevents website trackers from following you as you surf the web.

There is also DNS Leak protection. This will protect your connection from the risk of any DNS leak which could expose your online activity.

There is a powerful kill switch too. The kill switch will cut your internet link if the VPN connection drops out. ProtonVPN apps all offer a built-in Kill Switch feature, sometimes referred to as the Always-on VPN feature, as standard.

One security feature you may not have come across before is Perfect Forward Secrecy. This means ProtonVPN generates a new encryption key for every session to ensure your data cannot be stored and decrypted later once the key has been obtained.

It is worth noting too that all ProtonVPN apps are open-source. Open-source means that anyone can look at the coding to check that there is nothing naughty in there and no vulnerabilities that haven't been spotted.

Security and Safety

Protocols & Encryption

Protocols and encryption

ProtonVPN offers users a choice of either IKEv2/IPSec or OpenVPN protocols.

It justifies this somewhat limited selection by arguing that they are the most secure VPN protocols currently available, which is true, particularly for OpenVPN.

You may be a bit disappointed that there is no option for you to switch protocols. IKEv2/IPSec is the default for the ProtonVPN mobile apps while all their other apps use OpenVPN as standard.

If you like the option of PPTP and L2TP protocols and it's a deal-breaker for you, then you'll need to look elsewhere, such as ExpressVPN.

WireGuard has been mooted as a possible option and although ProtonVPN has been considering it since late 2018 (with a donation to the cause), they have not yet joined the many other VPNs who are not offering it to their users.

Hopefully something we will see in the future. The good news is that no matter what protocol your connection is established using, the AES 256-bit encryption coms as standard.

Are there any ProtonVPN Security Incidents?

No. At the time of writing, we are not aware of any security issues affecting ProtonVPN or its users.

Is ProtonVPN safe for torrenting?

Yes. ProtonVPN welcomes BitTorrent users and is perfectly safe to use for P2P file sharing.

It even has a number of optimised servers for torrenting. These are the ones with the ‘up-and-down' arrow icon next to them on the server list.

ProtonVPN P2P

Apps

Apps

Mobile Apps

ProtonVPN offers dedicated Android and Apple iOS apps.

We primarily tested the ProtonVPN app for iOS but also made some use of the Android app too. However, both apps are broadly the same in appearance and functions.

Downloading the mobile apps is no different from any other service. You can grab them from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

You do have to approve settings changes to your device to use either of them though which is common among mobile VPN apps.

They come with a dark background theme that really makes them stand out. It is pretty simple to navigate around and features a server map as well as a list and allows you to favourite your preferred servers.

ProtonVPN Android app

In the settings menu, you have access to all the main features plus the details of your account, which is welcome as some VPNs offer a more paired-back service for mobiles.

The main difference is that the mobile apps only allow you to connect via the IKEv2/IPSec protocol. We are assured that support for OpenVPN is coming soon. We will be even happier with the mobile apps when it arrives.

Desktop Apps

ProtonVPN also offers apps for Windows and macOS devices which are similar in appearance to their mobile apps.

ProtonVPN Windows app

We had a few issues signing into our account to start with and getting the macOS app to connect too. It repeatedly asked for passwords and requested permissions. Persistence saw us through this and from then on the apps were pretty user-friendly.

No such issues were encountered on the Windows app and everything worked smoothly.

The initial footprint of the app on the desktop screen is rather large to include the world map view. Thankfully this can be much slimmed down by hiding the map leaving a simple list mode.

The dark theme continues but so too does the usability. Choosing your preferred location can be done on the app's main screen through either the server map or locations list.

ProtonVPN settings

All the standard features you would expect from a modern VPN service are available including:

  • Kill Switch
  • DNS Leak Protection
  • IPv6 Leak Protection
  • Split Tunneling

As well as basic interface options such as auto-booting, connecting and such like.

Other Apps

ProtonVPN doesn't offer any additional apps at the time of writing this review and if you're a Firestick fan or user of another device there's no quick solution.

They do have a command-line tool available for Linux systems, but you will need to be comfortable using this type of interface to enjoy the service.

Does ProtonVPN support browser extensions?

No. There are no ProtonVPN browser extensions available and, as far as we are aware no plans to add them either.

Does ProtonVPN support VPN routers?

Yes. ProtonVPN does support a wide range of VPN routers but many of these will have to be set up manually.

The ProtonVPN website has a wide range of guides to help you do this with all the most common VPN-enabled routers.

They are, however, a supported provider on the Invizbox 2 VPN router which we rated highly in our recent review. These don't require manual set-up and can be used by all skill levels.

If you're after an easy to use router with minimal set-up and at a reasonable price then it's a good option to use with ProtonVPN.

Streaming

Streaming

Can ProtonVPN unblock Netflix?

Proton VPN can unblock US Netflix but it has been a bit tricky in how it offers this service to its users.

There are several US servers which can unblock US Netflix around the world.

ProtonVPN also offers Netflix-compatible servers for the UK, India, Italy, Australia, Germany, Canada, Japan, and France. But all of these servers are reserved for subscribers to either their Plus or Visionary packages.

This is a little disappointing as unblocking US Netflix is a pretty standard feature for a VPN these days and most include it for all subscribers.

But ProtonVPN expects you to pay a higher rate to be able to do so. This is definitely not to their credit.

Can ProtonVPN unblock BBC iPlayer?

In our testing, we found that ProtonVPN was able to unblock the BBC iPlayer using any of their UK-based servers. However, again the servers that work are only available to users subscribed to the Plus package or higher.

Can ProtonVPN unblock Amazon Prime Video?

Yes, as long as you use the Plus level servers located in Germany, India, Australia, UK, France, Japan, Canada, or the US to do so.

Can ProtonVPN unblock Disney Plus?

Again yes, but with the same Plus level server caveat. Currently ProtonVPN works with the Germany, India, Australia, UK, France, Canada, Japan, and US versions of Disney+.

This is quite a large number of different regions compared to other providers.

Does ProtonVPN work with other streaming sites?

Yes. ProtonVPN has a long list of streaming sites that it can unblock including All4, ABC, DAZN, ESPN, HBO, Hulu, ITV Hub, NOWTV, and many more.

Most of the US servers can unblock standard US TV streaming services, but for cable channels you will again need the Plus level servers.

Prices and Plans

Prices and Plans

We have already touched on the somewhat complicated tiered pricing structure that ProtonVPN uses.

It breaks down as follows:

  • Free – $/€0 a month but minimal service.
  • Basic – $/€4 a month ($48 a year) but limited service.
  • Plus – $/€8 a month ($96 a year).
  • Visionary – $24/€ a month ($/€288 a year) with additional features including ProtonMail

We felt that the ProtonVPN Plus package is the closest equivalent to the standard packages offered by other VPNs. The Visionary Plan has a lot of bonus features but is very pricy.

The free version is a great option but it is so restricted that it is really nothing more than a free trial.

ProtonVPN pricing

On that basis, ProtonVPN's pricing is a little on the high side. There are lots of bonus features as you move up the price plans, including access to their popular ProtonMail email service too. But many users won't want ProtonMail but just a decent VPN service and for that, these deals are expensive.

If you can make do with a lesser service, the Basic package is a reasonable price but for similar money, other VPNs offer a lot more.

If you're an advanced user, you may be happy to pay a premium but as a general everyday VPN user, ProtonVPN may be a little on the expensive side.

Verdict

Verdict

Like their connection speeds, we found ProtonVPN to be a little inconsistent. Some of its features are superb but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

If you want privacy, ProtonVPN certainly delivers and your IP addresses are safe with them. We also liked that they had plenty of server locations.

Its policies and no logs guarantee are impressive. On security, we are impressed too. There is AES 256-bit encryption, their impressive secure core feature, and user-friendly security features like split tunneling, although we would like to see a little more flexibility in protocols.

Internet speed when using ProtonVPN is faster than most but we would like to see them more consistent across their network.

ProtonVPN has plenty of VPN servers that are adept at unblocking streaming sites like Netflix. In fact it can unblock more Netflix sites than most other VPNs along with plenty of other services besides.

The apps are impressive too and while the Windows, Android and iOS apps worked well, the Mac one caused us a few grievances.

Although it's worth remembering, ProtonVPN is mainly a privacy-first service as emphasised by the huge range of privacy tools on offer and if you need a new IP Address they're a good option.

At these rates, ProtonVPN is expensive for the majority of everyday users although the free version is a nice addition.

ProtonVPN Plus is the standard package and if you're a more advanced user it may be worth stumping up the extra cash for the claimed security benefits of this Swiss-based service.

If you want all the bells and whistles, then the Visionary Plan is good for you, assuming price is not a stumbling block.

K.G Orphanides of Wired matched our review findings for ProtonVPN saying that you get lots of security features but disliked that the service was “expensive” [3].

Having said all that, there are the makings of a good VPN in ProtonVPN. The simultaneous connections on offer vary but there is plenty of choice in the plans compared to other services.

It's somewhat expensive for streamers but if you value your online privacy, want plenty of security features and don't mind the higher price tag, it's doing a lot right.

Ready to give ProtonVPN a try?

30-day money back guarantee

Other services to consider

If you're looking for a higher-rated VPN consider ExpressVPN. A more streaming-friendly service, Surfshark or a smaller but privacy-orientated service, VPN.ac.

References

  1. ProtonVPN | A VPN Worth of your Money?
  2. ProtonVPN | Restore Privacy
  3. ProtonVPN: a brilliant VPN with no free data caps

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 5 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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