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ProtonVPN Review

article by Nicky Hoseck author June 12, 2019
our score
ProtonVPN is a rare beast, having been initially developed as a community-funded project. ProtonVPN evolved out of Protonmail – a secure email service designed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
pros
  • Bank-level security
  • Based in privacy-friendly Switzerland
  • Free VPN Plan
  • Allows torrenting and P2P
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • Tor network integration
cons
  • Costly
  • Speeds slower than expected
  • Struggles to access BBC iPlayer
Tighter Security Protocols That Comes on The Expense of Speed And The Amount of Servers
Nicky Hoseck, author
Anti-Ransomware Elite Encryption Protocols
Online transaction protection- Affordable Pricing Plan
Supplementary Security Features
Server Locations Advanced VPN Servers

Operating out of an underground bunker somewhere in Switzerland, ProtonVPN benefits from having both a safe building and a privacy-friendly government.

Advanced security features and a strict no-logging policy make ProtonVPN ideal for those wanting privacy while they surf, stream, bank, and shop. With four different pricing plans available, customers can try ProtonVPN for free before committing to a more comprehensive paid package. While free users can only connect one device, those opting for the premier plan can connect up to five different devices and benefit from the latest Protonmail features.

Although this ProtonVPN review will reveal the product’s capacity to enable seamless streaming and support torrenting, it will also bring to light some of ProtonVPN’s less attractive feature, like its struggle to combat BBC iPlayer’s geo-restrictions. A feature-rich service with excellent security features, ProtonVPN comes at a price unless you’re willing to tolerate the compromised speeds of the free version.

Ease of Use Ease of Use

Getting started with ProtonVPN couldn’t be simpler. For this ProtonVPN review, we tried out the free version and it literally took less than five minutes to set up an account and get the ProtonVPN download for Windows started. We are hardly using the fastest internet connection, either, so for those of you with lightning-fast connections, you could be up and running with ProtonVPN in the blink of an eye.

The ProtonVPN setup wizard completes the installation process seamlessly and quickly. Once installed and logged in, the Windows app pops up with this impressive-looking map that looks as though it contains official government secrets. This is your access to an anonymous internet browsing session. Clicking on the “Quick Connect” button will take you to the closest, fastest server.

One particularly nice feature of ProtonVPN is that you can use the drop-down menus by the side of each country to access more information about each of the servers situated there. For example, if you click on Australia, you’ll see a list on the left hand side which indicates the amount of traffic currently going through that server. The letters after the server names indicate whether you can access them on the free plan or if they are available only to Premium users.  

ProtonVPN have done an exceptional job with their user-interface, creating an attractive design that boasts plenty of features without becoming confusing or overcrowded. By selecting “Settings” from the menu in the top left, you can choose whether to turn on the kill switch, activate the auto-connect feature or change your Quick Connect profile. The interface is also very responsive, especially when compared to services like NordVPN, in which clicking a button often leads to a delay of several seconds before the program actually responds to the command.

Quick and easy to sign up, install and connect, we were literally up and running in 10 minutes which makes it one of the most user-friendly services we’ve seen in a while. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and ProtonVPN has a few quirks that aren’t so endearing. For example, the quick connect option doesn’t always connect you to the fastest server, sometimes randomly selecting one that is behaving rather sluggishly. Another drawback is that there is no indication of which servers are compatible with ProtonVPN P2P and which aren’t. While this isn’t a major issue, selecting a P2P-specific server as opposed to a standard one does affect both speed and performance.

Accessing geo-restricted sites such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix isn’t as flawless as we would like. Although ProtonVPN explains in their website’s support section that only specific US servers can access Netflix, there is no reference to this in the app itself, making the process more complex and time-consuming than necessary.

Nevertheless, the slick interface, solid security features and ease of access mean the product scored well in this section of our ProtonVPN review.

speed Speed

In the end, it’s all about speed and the VPNs that offer consistently high speeds and reliable connections are the ones who get the customers. Unfortunately for ProtonVPN, maintaining high speeds appears to be somewhat challenging and speed tests suggest that connecting through certain servers, like those in Hong Kong, could cause a lag that would reduce upload and download speeds by over 80%.

Having said that, our own speed tests (conducted in a remote and secret location in rural Southern Africa) produced quite impressive results. ProtonVPN download speeds aren’t the best and it also had a marginally negative effect on ping speeds, while upload speeds improved quite dramatically. Unfortunately, we appear to be in the minority and other expert and customer review indicate speed is a serious stumbling block.

While we would expect to see first-world users enjoying speeds of up to 10Gbps, ProtonVPN only really manages this on a couple of their US-based servers. Connecting via their Secure Core VPN option was even more tedious, with the additional layers of anonymity providing excellent security but at the cost of speed.

Although ProtonVPN has gone the extra mile in terms of security, their speeds really let the side down, making torrenting, streaming and gaming virtually impossible. If ProtonVPN weren’t charging so much for their Premium services, we might be able to overlook the inconvenience of slow and variable speeds, but if we’re going to be forking out $24 per month, we expect secure and swift access wherever we are in the world.

Privacy Privacy

ProtonVPN is as committed to privacy and some impressive technology when it comes to security. Using the OpenVPN protocol in conjunction with ProtonVPN encryption, you can’t get a much more secure VPN. Not unlike the underground bunker that they operate from, ProtonVPN creates a fully secure, secret tunnel through which you can access the internet and peak into the darkest corners without anyone knowing you were there.

Celebrated for having a no-logging policy that actually means they don’t keep logs, ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland – a country known for respecting the privacy of its citizens – and, in general, a Swiss-based VPN is a good choice. However, while Swiss laws protect privacy, the national government is still a member of the extended 14-eyes international security conglomerate, meaning your data isn’t quite as safe as it could be. Having said that, as ProtonVPN don’t keep logs of your online activities or session bandwidth, they have very little information available to share with anyone, even the government. The only data kept by ProtonVPN is a timestamp of when you last logged in – information that even the most experienced hacker couldn’t use to find you.

There is always another side to the story, however, and, in the case of ProtonVPN, it’s how they can receive government funding while claiming to shield people from the prying eyes of that very same government. Although ProtonVPN asserts that they receive funding from the Swiss government purely for research purpose, to what degree it compromises users’ privacy and the company’s autonomy is something of a mystery.

All in all, ProtonVPN are clearly passionate about privacy and have developed a brief yet informative privacy policy that should put even the most suspicious of minds at rest.

features Features

As with the best VPNs on the market, ProtonVPN offers DNS leak prevention and a kill switch, both of which give you extra protection. While DNS leak protection makes sure your browsing activity can’t be accidentally exposed, the kill switch will severe your internet connection the moment a problem arises with your secure VPN tunnel. In addition to these standard features, ProtonVPN also utilizes Perfect Forward privacy which will protect all your previous browsing sessions even if the password or secret key of the server you were used is exposed.

If you’re wondering, “Is ProtonVPN safe?”, all you need to do to find the answer is look at all their advanced security features, with Secure Core and Tor offering different levels of safety. While the unique Secure Core feature routes your traffic through a number of different servers before it leaves the network, making it harder to trace, the anonymous Tor network gives you access to hidden Onion and dark websites.

Given that ProtonVPN started out as Protonmail, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a secure email service one of the features of the premium service. With the ProtonVPN Visionary package, users get the latest Protonmail as part of the experience. With unlimited sending limits, 10 customizable domains and 50 additional addresses allowed, this is an impressive add-on. In their efforts to bring encrypted email to the world, ProtonVPN also offers a free Protonmail package for those who want state-of-the-art ProtonVPN encryption for their mailbox without paying a fortune for it.

Similarly, ProtonVPN also has a free VPN service which is capable enough, although all the free traffic passes through a handful of servers, meaning the speeds are nothing to write home about. A further issue is that the only servers ProtonVPN have which have been developed to access sites such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix are only available on the paid packages. Free users are also banned from torrenting, simply because it would increase traffic to an unsustainable level.

Although ProtonVPN is compatible with most devices, such as Android, Mac, Linux, and Windows, they have yet to develop options for gaming consoles or smart TVs. The company has also decided to limit its service to OpenVPN only, meaning that users with older devices that are still reliant on PPTP or L2TP connections, won’t operate with ProtonVPN and you’ll have to look for an alternative that supports a range of different protocols. How, ProtonVPN does offer iKEv2/IPsec protocol. Also, router installation is available on DD-WRT, AsusWRT, and Tomato.

ProtonVPN’s top-tier service may be pricey, but it’s also one of the most generous when it comes to simultaneous connections. While the basic plan covers just two devices at a time, with the Visionary plan, users can connect a whopping 10 devices simultaneously which would make the service very competitive… if it wasn’t for the price tag.

Pricing Pricing

At first glance, ProtonVPN’s pricing tiers seem rather restrictive and unimaginative when compared to their competitors. However, on closer look, it becomes clear that ProtonVPN has just taken a different approach to their pricing method. Instead of rewarding longevity and customer commitment, PRotonVPN ekes out their more advanced features to users that pay more. For example, the free package is quite limited, although it does give unlimited bandwidth which is unusual among free VPNs. Having said that, all the traffic is limited to a handful of servers, meaning the connection speeds tend to be slower than those on a paid package. This flexibility and the level of security bundles into the free package make it one of the best around.

ProtonVPN’s basic service is priced at just $4 per month and gives you access to all 404 servers across 33 countries, ensuring better speeds than those available on the free version. With the basic service, you can connect up two devices simultaneously and also have access to ProtonVPN P2P networking. This is cheaper than most mid-range VPN services, like TunnelBear and VyprVPN, which are priced $5 and $4.99 respectively, but, unlike these other services, ProtonVPN fails to deliver on speed, making it a less cost-effective service overall.

The next package up, ProtonVPN Plus, is double the price but offers users access to Tor servers, their unique high-security Security Core and secure streaming. A nice package for those who really want to make sure their identity remains hidden, but, again, a little more expensive than really necessary. After all, with some of the top VPNs, like NordVPN and CyberGhost VPN, offering such impressive November deals, you can get yourself top-of-the-range security and access to thousands of servers worldwide for as little as $2.99 per month with NordVPN or $3.50 per month with CyberGhost VPN. Admittedly, you’ll have to commit to longer subscriptions which can be risky in the cut-throat world of internet security.

ProtonVPN’s premium plan, Visionary, is the top end of the scale when it comes to price, costing a crippling $24 per month. Of course, if you need a top-of-the-range encrypted email service as well as a reliable VPN, then this package may be perfect for you, but most people would probably opt for a cheaper service that offers more consistent speeds. ExpressVPN, for example, has some of the fastest speeds in the world and only costs $12.95 per month standard rate.

Overall, although we appreciate ProtonVPN’s efforts to arrange their pricing tiers differently, the service they’re providing isn’t comprehensive enough to justify the high prices. If they could increase their server numbers and address the issue of slow speeds, we might be able to rationalize their prices… at a push.

Support

Although many ProtonVPN reviews have criticized its customer support system, we found nothing to complain about. The company has recently introduced a live chat service on their website which is a great if a rather belated addition to their support network. Questions are answered promptly and concisely, giving the information you need without too much waffle.

Similarly, their online ticket system works effectively enough, although users in the US may find the European time difference somewhat irritating. Nevertheless, the response time was good and all our queries were dealt with within 24 hours. The messages we received were genuine and thoughtful, with no marketing spiel to be found.

While many of the best VPNs offer a 30-day money back guarantee, ProtonVPN has once again decided on a different approach, giving potential customers a seven-day free trial instead. This means you don’t have to ask for a refund if you don’t like the service. If, however, you decide you don’t the service, having already paid for it, ProtonVPN has made the refund process relatively painless. The only bump in the road is that you have to log in to your account and change your plan back to the free version before you can be issued a refund.

In addition to their other methods of customer support, ProtonVPN has a nicely designed and informative FAQ section included on their website. This gives step-by-step instructions on the ProtonVPN download and installation processes for all their apps as well as informative, if rather basic, answers to most standard questions. While not as wide-ranging as some, we were still impressed by ProtonVPN’s FAQ page.

Overall, ProtonVPN’s customer support lives up to expectations and, like their commitment to free and private internet access for all, make us feel like they’re really passionate about the service they offer.

Bottom Line Conclusion

During this ProtonVPN review, we’ve explored the pros and cons of the various plans they offer. While their free package is a robust service with excellent security features, the poor connection speeds make it unsuitable for heavy data usage. The paid plans are all very functional with cutting-edge security and enough flexibility to support ProtonVPN P2P torrenting and streaming. Also, with ProtonVPN’s new application, you can find the P2P icon next to the server selection.

Although ProtonVPN claims to be effective in accessing geo-restricted sites, only a handful of there servers can actually navigate the blocks so, with ProtonVPN, Netflix can be quite a challenge while getting onto BBC iPlayer can also be a bit hit or miss.

With 295 servers worldwide, ProtonVPN is falling far behind the market leaders who boast servers in their thousands. This both limits connectivity on a geographical scale and also negatively impacts connection speeds. Similarly, although the higher security grades are available, the more privacy you have, the greater the lag time, making some activities frustratingly slow.

The inclusion of an encrypted email service in their premium plan is a nice addition but doesn’t justify the price hike. Similarly, being able to connect 10 devices simultaneously is nice, but not something we necessarily want to pay $24 a month for.

The design and operation of the app are excellent across all standard devices, although their exclusive OpenVPN protocol may make it difficult for those with older operating systems. Secure and robust with a strict no-logging policy and impressive commitment to privacy, ProtonVPN shows plenty of potential but isn’t yet worth the price. Faster speeds and more servers, and we’ll think again.