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Proton VPN review

Secure, fast, and with excellent apps, Proton VPN is a genuine rival to the very biggest VPNs

Proton VPN review
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Proton VPN does just about everything, and does it well. It delivers great speeds, has class-leading privacy and security features, is superb for unblocking streaming sites and even offers an excellent free plan to boot. While the apps aren't as crisp and clean as big-name rivals, Proton VPN should definitely be in your shortlist – if not in your basket.

Pros

  • +

    The best free plan on the market

  • +

    Apps are open source and secure

  • +

    Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Prime Video, Disney+

  • +

    Excellent OpenVPN and WireGuard speeds

Cons

  • -

    Plus plan is a little pricy

  • -

    Apps and FAQ section could be intimidating to newbies

Privacy and security are priorities when searching for the best VPN, and keeping you safe online is Proton VPN's core mission. However, unlike many security-focused services, the Swiss provider doesn't sacrifice anything in terms of day-to-day usability, and that rare combination alongside the best free VPN available today makes for a seriously attractive product.

With a decent spread of over 1,700 servers in 63 countries, and apps for a good range of devices, Proton VPN is speedy and suitable for just about every user – and its excellent streaming performance means it's not just for privacy fanatics, either. 

Those used to the stripped-back aesthetic of rivals such as ExpressVPN may take a moment to warm up to the large interface of Proton VPN, but despite its relatively hefty footprint we think it exudes a certain techy charm. 

However, pricing is on the higher end when it comes to the full-fat Plus plan – which, let's be honest, is the one to go for – and definitely puts it into the upper echelons of the best of the best. Can it live up to its price tag?

In our comprehensive Proton VPN review, we'll be taking a look under the provider's skin to see what it can really offer you, what it might lack, and whether it's the right VPN for you. 

To jump to a particular section, head to the navigation bar at the top of the page. For the full review, just keep scrolling. 

Proton VPN review - Proton VPN homepage

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Latest updates

Proton VPN has steadily increased the number of servers it offers, and it's now up to a respectable 1,700+. That's not quite as many as some rivals, but it's more than enough to deliver excellent connections, and the increased spread of 63 countries (up from 61) is better than many.

Another one of main concerns from our last review has been addressed too. Proton VPN has added live chat, and while it's not yet 24/7 (only CET-time working hours), the fact it has been added at shows Proton VPN has a clear intention to acknowledge issues and improve weak areas.

In addition, due to popular demand, Proton VPN recently introduced port forwarding which is available on their Windows app for paid users. When using peer-to-peer software this feature may improve download speeds, and is also very good news for gamers – but make sure you know what you're doing when using it, as it can throw up issues of its own.

Proton VPN on paper

Number of servers: 1,700+
Number of countries:
63
Platforms supported:
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebook, Android TV
Simultaneous connections:
10
Split tunneling:
Yes (Windows and Android)
Kill switch:
Yes
Supported protocols:
OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2/IPSec
Country of registration:
Switzerland
Support:
Email, knowledgebase, live chat (not 24/7 yet)

Plans and Pricing

Proton VPN has one of the most attractive free options we’ve seen from any provider. Without paying anything at all, you can get an ad-free service with no data logging and no bandwidth limits. The only catch is that you’re limited to choosing from servers in just three countries.

Since its recent rebrand, the paid versions of Proton VPN have become much simpler to understand. Gone is the Basic plan, and now any paying subscriber to Proton VPN will get access to every feature.

Sign up for a single month and you'll pay $9.99, and extend that to a year and it'll drop to $5.99 a month. The biggest savings come on the two-year plan (opens in new tab), which works out at $4.99 a month. That's a little cheaper than it used to be, too.

If you want full access to everything in the Proton suite (Proton Mail, Calendar and Drive) prices start from $7.99 a month (opens in new tab). That's pretty good value if you'll actually use the added apps - and it's much cheaper than the old 'Visionary' plan - but we expect most will just bag a VPN subscription and be done with it.

Notably, you can remain completely anonymous when signing up for Proton VPN. The platform supports Proton Mail email addresses and accepts payment via Bitcoin. That’s a big draw if you’re looking to stay as anonymous as possible.

Finally, Proton VPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is great if you want to try out the paid version without commiting.

How private and secure is Proton VPN?

Proton VPN has a home base in Switzerland, which automatically gives the service a boost over most of the competition. The country is known for its very strong privacy laws, is neither in the US nor EU jurisdiction and additionally, it’s not a member of the “14 eyes” surveillance network.

Proton VPN's no-logging statement is comprehensive, and that's reflected in practice – the only data stored is your very last timestamp, which is immediately overwritten the next time you connect.

On sign-up you can also use the company's secure ProtonMail as your email, and while you can pay with PayPal and credit card (both handled by a third party and anonymous to Proton VPN itself), you can also use Bitcoin, or even cold, hard cash. Apart from Mullvad, Proton VPN is the only VPN worth signing up to that does this, so compared to rivals, it's quite possibly the most anonymous from start to finish.

Proton VPN review - Proton VPN client

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One of the most exciting and unique features that Proton VPN offers is what it calls Secure Core. This essentially means that when you connect to a server using Proton VPN, your connection is first routed through several of Proton VPN’s most protected servers. As a result, even if you access a malware-infected website, your true IP address and browsing history can never be leaked to network attackers.

Proton VPN also offers a built-in kill switch to protect your IP in case your connection drops. There’s no option to have the VPN automatically turn on when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, but you can set Proton VPN to open a connection automatically when you turn on your computer.

Proton VPN’s server network is a little smaller than many other VPNs that charge similar or cheaper prices – the company has just over 1,300 servers spread across 55 countries. However, with the server locations seemingly ever increasing – currently 61 – you'll have a good spread worldwide.

Privacy obsessives will be pleased to note that Proton VPN offers Tor over VPN, which integrates your connection with the anonymous Tor network. In a single click, all data is routed through the Tor network which gives the user an extra layer of privacy as well as access to Onion sites. Other than NordVPN, we can’t name many VPNs that offer this as an integrated feature.

And, finally, in January 2020 Proton VPN went through an independent audit by SEC Consult. The results were impressive, with just 11 issues found over all apps, none of which being high-risk.

While that might sound worrying, these audits are incredibly thorough, and when vulnerabilities are identified, it allows the developers to address them. And, thanks to the fact the apps are all open-source too, anyone interested can verify the fixes made.

All in all, we're seriously impressed with Proton VPN's privacy and security, from cash payments to the audit, and if you're looking for a VPN to keep you safe online, it's we're comfortable saying it's easily one of the best secure VPN services around today.

How fast is Proton VPN?

To begin our speed tests, we first connected to the fastest server from two locations, both with 1Gbps lines - a US residential location and a UK data center. After that, we checked the performance with SpeedTest.net (both via website, and command line app), SpeedOf.me, nPerf, and other benchmarking services. 

Each test was repeated five times, and it ran the full set in both morning and evening sessions. We then analyzed the data to compare median speeds. 

To kick off with a bang, we recorded OpenVPN speeds of up to 440Mbps in the UK. That's up there with the very best, and out of all the providers we tested, these results from Proton VPN were only trumped by Hide.me and Mullvad.

When using WireGuard, however, we saw up even faster speeds of up to 670Mbps, which is very good, but not quite top tier when compared with TorGuard and IPVanish, which top out at around 900Mbps.

In our testing we also found connections to be reliable, and it rarely took more than a few second to establish the connection. So, no matter which protocol you prefer to use, Proton VPN can certainly deliver the goods, and can keep up with the market leaders like ExpressVPN and NordVPN with ease.

How good is Proton VPN for streaming?

The main selling point of Proton VPN is its excellent privacy and security, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in other departments though, as the service has some awesome unblocking capabilities.  

In mid-2021 Netflix changed how it restricts viewers using VPNs, and many providers are still struggling with access. However, there are a few that have found effective ways of overcoming this.

And, it seems, Proton VPN is one of those select few. In our testing, it was able to unblock not only US Netflix, but also UK and Canadian libraries, too. Few other providers can match this, and its performance earned Proton VPN a place on our Netflix VPN guide.

It's good news elsewhere, too. We were able to unblock BBC iPlayer from outside the UK, access Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. That's a coveted full house, and more evidence that the Swiss provider isn't resting on its laurels and is investing in improving service across the board.

There is a small catch, though. This streaming performance is only available on the Plus plan, and while that's arguably the option most users will go for, it's definitely worth knowing that the Basic and Free plans simply don't offer this sort of unblocking prowess.

Proton VPN review - proton vpn profiles

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How good are Proton VPN's desktop apps?

Proton VPN offers desktop apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers as well as iOS and Android devices. The user interface is clean and modern, with a map displaying all the company’s active server locations. If you're not a fan of the map, though, you can hide it and just see the server list – but we reckon it's one of the better cartographical interfaces on the market.

Aesthetically it's a cohesive and attractive interface, and those who appreciate a lot of info will like it. We can't help but think that many users would prefer something stripped back like ExpressVPN, though, but it's all down to personal taste.

Connecting took about seven seconds, which is a little slower than some other VPNs we’ve used, but not bad enough to affect usability. We also appreciated that the list of available servers is color-coded to display their latency and load so you know what to expect before connecting. 

You're also treated to a nice amount of information about the servers themselves. Load is great to see (we wish more VPNs showed this), and you can also tell which servers are optimized for P2P (as not every one is). That's now up to 12, from 5 last time we checked.

Proton VPN's 'profiles' features is a nifty usability trick that essentially allows you to save your frequently used settings. For example, perhaps there's a particular server you've noticed works especially well for accessing US Netflix or for P2P, but you also regularly use a randomized Dutch connection for day-to-day browsing. Save them both as profiles, and you'll be able to connect to either in a single click.

In-app you'll also see tons of info, including your IP, time connected, data up and downloaded, plus your average connection speeds.

In settings you can, surprise surprise, change settings like the kill switch, split tunneling, configure Quick Connect, and DNS protection. This was all smooth sailing for us, with no settings sticking or refusing to change (a surprisingly common issue with software like this). 

That kill switch, by the way, is genuinely effective. No matter what we did to try to trip it up, it always worked as expected, and didn't leak our true IP. 

New to the app is the VPN Accelerator (opens in new tab). Activated by default, this uses some technical trickery to help speed up connections that might otherwise be sluggish – and judging from the speeds we saw in our testing, Proton VPN's doing something right. 

There are a couple of limitations, like there being no autoconnect on insecure networks, but these are small gripes.

Proton VPN mobile apps

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How good are Proton VPN's mobile apps?

 As for Android, the situation is similar. The app is powerful and it replicates the Windows app interface in the best way possible, using the landscape and portrait modes. It’s even a bit better in some ways. For instance, in the location list, the cities are being sorted by name and not the state, as it’s the case in the Windows app. In addition, it has all the features of the Mac app, and for added bonus, split tunneling is present as well. 

The iOS offering has a slightly different aesthetic, but it's still evidently the same software. Due to the inherent limitations of iOS, though, it's a slimmer build, with some features like split tunneling unavailable. Really, though, it's quite comprehensive and does much the same as the Android and desktop clients.

Overall, Proton VPN's mobile VPN apps are well designed, powerful and usable, and the fact the experience is much the same across all platforms means they're intuitive and pleasant to use.

Not a fan of Proton's apps? No worries. You can download all of its OpenVPN config files and use them in an app or device of your choice. That's great flexibility, and it'll even allow you to download the lot as a .zip file.

How good is Proton VPN's support?

Support was one area where we had some issues in our last Proton VPN review, and thankfully our main concern has been addressed. Proton now offers live chat, and while it's not 24/7, when we spoke to the support agent we were very impressed with the level of service we received.

They were knowledgeable, friendly, quick to reply, and overall were very helpful in sorting out our problem. At the end they even offered to convert the chat to a ticket so we could follow up at a later date.

Don't fancy talking to a real person? Well, Proton VPN also has a knowledgebase of articles to help you on your way. There's plenty there to pick from, and many are very useful. However, we did notice they could be very technical, and while we appreciate the provider accommodating experts, the layman might struggle to parse the information.

On the whole, though, Proton VPN has seriously improved its support, and that hasn't gone unnoticed. If the articles were simplified a little and the live chat went 24/7, it wouldn't be far off full marks.

Proton VPN: Final verdict

Proton VPN is one of the best VPNs we’ve seen if you prize privacy and security (opens in new tab). The Secure Core feature is unique and makes it nigh-on impossible for even highly sophisticated attacks to succeed in capturing your IP address. Plus, the ability to set up network profiles for quick access is a nice touch. Excellent streaming support is a valuable string to its bow, and the connections speeds are near-unbeatable.

Really, the only downside to Proton VPN is that the support still isn't absolutely top-notch, and getting access to the service’s most exciting features is a little expensive, so it's well worth taking advantage of any special offers if you find one. 

Testing out the free service before committing is a smart move, and it's clear that any ongoing issues are being addressed, and that this is a provider that's intent on improvement. While it can't quite challenge for the top spot yet, it really isn't far off.

Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. His interests span a wide range from business technology to finance to creative media, with a focus on new technology and emerging trends. Michael's work has been published in TechRadar, Tom's Guide, Business Insider, Fast Company, Salon, and Harvard Business Review.