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ProtonVPN review

Famous Swiss security in an easy-to-use VPN

ProtonVPN review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

ProtonVPN neatly packages Swiss security into a VPN, offering a great free option as well as a strict no-logging policy and uncommon features like multi-server connection routing and Tor over VPN. While paid plans are somewhat expensive, ProtonVPN provides a lot of security for your money.

For

  • Excellent free option
  • Useful additional security features
  • Great streaming support on Plus plan
  • Solid zero-log policy

Against

  • Relatively few simultaneous connections
  • Not a huge variety of servers
  • A little expensive

ProtonVPN is a reliable, rock-solid VPN service that puts security and privacy first. The company has a strict no-logging policy and offers support for P2P file sharing at an affordable price. However, getting access to ProtonVPN’s best security feature, Secure Core, is surprisingly expensive.

So, is this the best service for your needs? In our ProtonVPN review, we take a closer look at everything this platform has to offer.

ProtonVPN review - ProtonVPN homepage

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

Plans and Pricing

ProtonVPN has one of the most attractive free VPN 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.

For paid plans, pricing is a little complex. A Basic plan costs $5/mo paid monthly, but is reduced to $4/mo paid annually and $3.29/mo on a two-year plan. This gives you P2P support, two simultaneous connections and access to servers in every country ProtonVPN operates in – but not the 'Plus' servers.

For the Secure Core feature and content unblocking, you’ll need at least a Plus plan, which comes in at $10/mo ($8/mo paid annually, $6.63/mo on a two-year plan). Considering this only enables five simultaneous connections, that’s somewhat expensive – but it's probably the one you'll want, as it enables ProtonVPN's great streaming power and enables access to every server.

If you want to go all-out, $30 a month will get you the Visionary package, which includes everything from the Plus package as well as a full ProtonMail subscription. The Visionary plan is reduced to $24/mo on a one-year plan, and $19.96/mo on a two-year plan, but it still costs a hefty premium that we expect few people will pay unless they really need encrypted email support as well as a VPN.

As an aside, this is essentially the same as the ProtonMail Visionary package, which includes the VPN. ProtonMail is one of the best email services, and focuses on security without sacrificing too much usability.

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

Features

ProtonVPN pulls out all the stops when it comes to security. Just to start, the company is based in Switzerland, which has strong privacy laws and doesn’t share data with US or European regulators. ProtonVPN also has one of the best no-logging policies we’ve seen. The only data that’s recorded is the time of your last login attempt, and even that is overwritten every time you log in.

ProtonVPN review - ProtonVPN client

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

The most exciting and unique feature that ProtonVPN offers is what it calls Secure Core. This essentially means that when you connect to a server using ProtonVPN, your connection is first routed through several of ProtonVPN’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.

ProtonVPN 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 WiFi network, but you can set ProtonVPN to open a connection automatically when you turn on your computer.

Unfortunately, ProtonVPN’s server network is much smaller than many other VPNs that charge similar or cheaper prices – the company has just over 870 servers spread across 50 countries. There are relatively few servers across Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East, but if you want to connect to Europe or North America, most countries have upwards of six servers available.

Privacy obsessives will, however, be pleased to note that ProtonVPN 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.

Finally, ProtonVPN does have the ability to unblock geo-restricted streaming sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon and Disney+, but only on Plus plans and above. This is a great feature for any VPN, but seeing as providers like Surfshark offer the same for a much lower cost, if you're only looking for a streaming VPN then Proton is going to look expensive – it's the advanced security that will really draw people in.

Interface and in use

ProtonVPN 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.

Connecting takes 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. 

ProtonVPN'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.

ProtonVPN review - protonvpn profiles

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

We had mixed results when it came to testing server speeds. When connecting from the US to servers in Europe on a 40Mbps line, we averaged speeds of around 15Mbps, but when connecting to Canada our speed jumped up to nearly 25Mbps. This is a significant speed decline either way, although it’s far from the worst performance we’ve seen.

Performance in the UK was better, with speeds averaging around 66-69Mbps on a 75Mbps line. That’s still not the greatest display we’ve seen, but is certainly more than usable.

It’s also worth noting that ProtonVPN supports split tunneling. This enables you to route specific programs or apps, like one browser, outside the VPN while you have a VPN connection active. Combine that with the kill switch and comprehensive leak protection, and ProtonVPN provides a good suite of tools to get the most out of its service.

Support

ProtonVPN’s support could be more robust, and the company only offers support via email. While there’s an online knowledge-base, it doesn’t cover a huge range of topics and the included guides are relatively short. Still, for common questions about setup or troubleshooting a connection, you’ll probably be able to find the answers you need.

We would love to see some sort of live chat implemented, as the majority of the big players offer this and it’s more useful that you may think. VPNs of all kinds can suffer problems with dodgy servers or incompatibilities with other applications, and being able to get a solution in minutes – or even often seconds – is far better than having to wait for an email reply. However, in Proton’s defence, our test emails were answered within a day and provided thorough, useful solutions.

The competition

ProtonVPN’s paid plan is fairly expensive, and it’s not the only VPN offering excellent security and privacy alongside streaming performance. Surfshark costs just $1.99 per month if you sign up for a two-year plan and has nearly as strict a no-logging policy. 

If you’re willing to pay a little more for the very best, a one-year plan with ExpressVPN can be bought for $6.67/mo, offering great speeds, excellent security and class-leading live-chat support.

ProtonVPN: Final verdict

ProtonVPN is one of the best VPNs we’ve seen if you prize privacy and security. 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.

The only downside to ProtonVPN is that getting access to the service’s most exciting features is a little expensive. We love ProtonVPN’s free offering, but there are cheaper competitors if you’re eyeing up the Plus or Visionary plans. However, it does offer a unique combination of features, so if it can provide what you're looking for, we'd say it's certainly worth the cost. 

Specs

Client software platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux,
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec
No. of servers: 870+
No. of countries: 50
Country of registration: Switzerland
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited (free and paid)
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited (free and paid)
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: 1-10
Customer support: email
Privacy policy: No logging