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ProtonVPN review

Incredibly secure and usable too

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 unlimited free plan
  • Apps are open source and secure
  • Great streaming support on paid plan
  • Mobile apps very useful

Against

  • Plus plan a little expensive
  • No WireGuard integration
  • No live chat

If you're looking for the best VPN that focuses on rock-solid security but doesn't make too many sacrifices in terms of day-to-day usability, ProtonVPN may very well tick all of the boxes for you. With open-source apps, a strict zero-logging policy, P2P support as well as the best free VPN on the market, it's a tempting proposition.

However, there are still a number of areas in which ProtonVPN is a little behind the curve, so in our comprehensive ProtonVPN review, we'll be exploring exactly what the Swiss provider can offer you, what features it lacks, and whether it's the right VPN for you. All you need to do is keep on reading to find out.

ProtonVPN review - ProtonVPN homepage

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

Latest updates

With the addition of a Cyprus server location, ProtonVPN is up to a commendable 1,200+ servers worldwide.

Android TV support is finally here, which helps make the most of ProtonVPN's excellent streaming performance.

Simultaneous connections up from five to ten.

NetShield is an excellent new addition. It's a DNS-based web filter that can block malware as well as ads and trackers. It's a very capable service, and is more configurable than much of the competition – you can choose to just block malware, or also stop ads and trackers too.

ProtonVPN on paper

Number of servers: 1,200+
Number of countries:
55
Platforms supported:
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebook, Android TV
Simultaneous connections:
Ten
Split tunneling:
Yes (Windows and Android)
Kill switch:
Yes
Supported protocols:
OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec
Country of registration:
Switzerland
Support:
Email, knowledgebase

Plans and Pricing

ProtonVPN 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.

For paid plans, pricing gets 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, which are designed for streaming as well.

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). You'll also get 10 simultaneous connections with this plan (that's up from five since our last review), but it's still somewhat expensive. It's probably the one you'll want, though, 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 – and the Visionary plan does get you quite a lot of extras, if you need them.

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.

How private and secure is ProtonVPN?

Right out the gate, ProtonVPN has an advantage over much of the competition, in that it's based in the security-friendly Switzerland. Unlike much of the rest of Europe. Switzerland is not part of any intelligence-sharing alliance like the 5 or 14 Eyes, is outside the EU, and generally protects its data jealously.

ProtonVPN'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 ProtonVPN itself), you can also use Bitcoin, or even cold, hard cash. Apart from Mullvad, ProtonVPN 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.

ProtonVPN review - ProtonVPN client

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

One of the most exciting and unique features 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 Wi-Fi network, but you can set ProtonVPN to open a connection automatically when you turn on your computer.

ProtonVPN’s server network is a little smaller than many other VPNs that charge similar or cheaper prices – the company has just over 1,200 servers spread across 55 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.

And, finally, in January 2020 ProtonVPN 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.

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

How fast is ProtonVPN?

Beyond privacy, connection speeds are one of the most important features of any VPN, and can make or break a service. We tested ProtonVPN on a UK connection capable of 1Gbps speeds, and a 600Mbps line. We recorded speeds on with services like Ookla's SpeedTest and TestMy.net.

In the UK, ProtonVPN delivered OpenVPN speeds of 300-310Mbps, which is pretty impressive. In the US, the results were much the same, with consistent speeds of 280-290Mbps, with some peaks of over 400Mbps.

In the grand scheme, these are very usable and up there with some of the best OpenVPN speeds we've seen, especially in the US. However, WireGuard-enabled providers like NordVPN and those with in-house protocols like ExpressVPN can achieve much higher speeds than any VPN still using OpenVPN. 

So, while ProtonVPN is quite impressive for what it is, with WireGuard integration we could expect to see it go quite a lot faster.

How good is ProtonVPN for streaming?

ProtonVPN isn't just a super-private VPN – it also claims to be great for unblocking geo-restricted streaming content, too.

Most important for many will be Netflix, and in our testing ProtonVPN was able to unblock both US and UK Netflix. For comparison, some providers like IPVanish are only able to unblock US Netflix, and others still can't unblock it at all, so this is a big win for Proton.

BBC iPlayer can often prove to be more troublesome than Netflix, and the free streaming service is a thorn in many a VPN's side. However, ProtonVPN unblocked iPlayer without issue, and we were able to stream with ease. 

Following on from that, we also had success at unblocking Disney+, and to complete a full house we could also access US Amazon Prime Video from three different locations.

So, a seriously impressive performance from the Swiss VPN, but there is a caveat. To get access to all of these features, you'll have to sign up to the pricier Plus plan – Basic and Free don't come with content unblocking support as standard.

ProtonVPN review - protonvpn profiles

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

How good are ProtonVPN's desktop apps?

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. If you're not a fan of the map, though, you can hide it and just see the server list.

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. 

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.

In-app you'll also see tons of info, including your IP, time connected, data up and downloaded, server load, 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. 

There are a couple of limitations, like only being able to use OpenVPN (IKEv2 can be set up manually) and there being no autoconnect on insecure networks, but these are small gripes.

ProtonVPN mobile apps

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

How good are ProtonVPN's mobile apps?

On Android, it's a bit like deja vu – it's almost identical to the Windows build. You'll get the same map, Profiles system and country list. you'll also be able to set up split tunneling, a kill switch, NetShield, and a bunch more – the only missing feature is setting custom DNS servers, but on Android you can get up and running with IKEv2 far more easily than on desktop.

The iOS offering has a very 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.

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.

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. 

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.