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Fantastic privacy and security
No data limits
Highly functional free version
Works with the U.S. version of Netflix
Excellent mobile app
Built-in Tor support
Less servers (400) and locations than competitors
Only the highest paid tiers receive full server access
The free version doesn’t work with Netflix
Doesn’t provide a way to find the fastest servers
Connection speeds are a little slow
ProtonVPN is a fantastic choice if your primary concern is privacy, and the free version is impressive, but you’ll find faster speeds elsewhere for less money.
ProtonVPN is a virtual private network that’s brought to you by the same people behind the massively popular ProtonMail service. If you’re already a fan of the levels of privacy and security provided by ProtonMail, then you’ll know what to expect out of ProtonVPN. With affordable monthly plans, a free version that’s surprisingly competent, peerless privacy and security measures, and support for both Tor and BitTorrent, ProtonVPN seems to check all the right boxes for privacy-minded users.
We put all that to the test, on desktop and mobile, to see if ProtonVPN can really stand up against the industry leaders. We checked out basic things like how easy it is to set up and use, tested how well it handles high-speed data transfer, encryption options and additional security features, and more.
ProtonVPN offers native apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS that really take care of everything for you. We found the setup process to be just about as painless as it could possibly be.
Getting started with ProtonVPN involves signing up for an account, downloading and installing the appropriate app, and then clicking or tapping the large Quick Connect button. The service automatically locates and connects to a VPN server, and your device is immediately protected by the VPN.
We found the setup process to be just about as painless as it could possibly be.
The ProtonVPN app is well designed, thoughtfully laid out, and built around a dark theme that’s very easy on the eyes. It presents all of the most important information right up front, including whether or not you’re connected to a VPN, your traffic speed and volume if you are connected, and a full list of servers (400) that you can connect to.
Our one issue with the design is that most of the space in the desktop app is taken up by a world map that could be easier to use. The issue is that when you click or tap a server on the map, nothing happens. You have to wait for a label to pop up, and then click the label to connect.
The service also works with Netflix, including Netflix US and Netflix Japan, but that functionality is only available with a paid subscription.
ProtonVPN isn’t going to win any contests of pure speed, and that’s just a fact. We saw the best results when connecting to servers in the United States, where we were able to achieve a maximum downstream speed of 162 Mbps.
We saw performance drop off sharply when connecting to servers in other countries, with our connection speed dropping to about 50 Mbps when connected to a Canadian server, and even more when connected to a server in Japan.
Despite the drop off in performance, we were able to browse the web without a hitch. We also found the reduced connection speeds to be fast enough to stream video on sites like CNN and YouTube.
ProtonVPN has a surprisingly competent free option, but the lack of servers make it ill suited to streaming through services like Netflix. When connected to a wider range of servers through the premium plan, we found that we were able to watch Netflix on both Japanese and US servers, and Hulu on US servers, but not the BBC iPlayer.
ProtonVPN is very upfront with their logging policy, which is that they don’t log anything. They state that they don’t track or record your activity on the service, at all, so there are no logs to disclose even if they were ordered to provide that kind of information.
In fact, ProtonVPN only logs a single piece of information: your last successful login attempt. This information is rewritten each time you log in, and it’s only tied to your account, not your real IP or identity.
When you sign up for ProtonVPN, the only information they require is an e-mail address. If you use an anonymous e-mail, like ProtonMail, you can prevent the service from even obtaining your identity. If you choose to upgrade to a paid plan, you can do so with cryptocurrency.
Secure Core routes your connection through multiple ProtonVPN servers before it ever leaves their network, further obfuscating your identity from any watchful eyes.
ProtonVPN takes your privacy seriously, and that’s reflected in an excellent set of security features. The service offers a high level of encryption, strong VPN protocols, and their optional Secure Core feature.
Data is encrypted using AES-256, and key exchange is done using 4096-bit RSA. If those numbers don’t mean anything to you, suffice it to say that your data will remain secure behind this level of encryption. They even make use of perfect forward secrecy, which is a technique that ensures encrypted traffic can’t be recorded and decrypted at a later date even if the encryption keys are compromised in the future.
For VPN protocols, they use the highly secure IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN. None of their servers use the less secure PPTP or L2TP/IPSec, so you don’t have to worry about connecting to a less secure server.
If you want extra protection, you can turn on the Secure Core feature. Secure Core routes your connection through multiple ProtonVPN servers before it ever leaves their network, further obfuscating your identity from any watchful eyes.
ProtonVPN provides a statement on their website that they don’t approve of the use of BitTorrent to share copyrighted material that's not legal, but the service does allow P2P protocols. This feature is available if you pay for a Basic, Plus or Visionary plan, while the free version of ProtonVPN is locked out of P2P altogether.
While there aren’t servers that are specifically designated for P2P, the app does allow you to create profiles for different use scenarios. So you can set up a BitTorrent profile that will automatically set your protocol of choice and connect to the fastest server when you’re ready to start torrenting.
ProtonVPN is very upfront with their logging policy, which is that they don’t log anything
While ProtonVPN is an excellent service in terms of security and privacy, the lack of a DNS-level ad blocker is the one place where it stumbles a bit. Services that include an ad blocker that works at the DNS level can prevent ad servers from obtaining identifying information about your device or your connection, and ProtonVPN just lacks this feature.
If you experience any problems with ProtonVPN, you won't have the option to speak to an agent in real time. The only option for customer support is a web-based ticket system, where you provide some information about your problem and wait for a response. Some competitors offer phone support and real-time web chat, so this is a bit of a negative for ProtonVPN.
Proton VPN subscriptions range in price from $5 to $30 a month if billed monthly, or $4 to $24 a month if billed annually. The service is quite affordable at the lower end of that scale, with monthly pricing that’s usually reserved for multi-year subscriptions.
The $30 per month plan is one of the most expensive VPN subscriptions you’ll find, but it includes a subscription to ProtonMail Visionary. If you’re actually interested in ProtonMail Visionary, that’s actually a really good deal.
The free version of ProtonVPN places limits on servers, devices, and speed, and locks you out of most of the advanced features, but it’s still a solid offering with unlimited bandwidth.
ProtonVPN’s strongest suits are privacy and security, and it compares favorably to competing services in those regards. Industry leaders like NordVPN and ExpressVPN share similar no-log policies, but ProtonVPN features stronger encryption. ProtonVPN also ditches less secure protocols, like PPTP, which are supported by NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
ProtonVPN and NordVPN both offer additional security features. NordVPN has their Double VPN that passes your data through two VPN servers, but ProtonVPN’s Secure Core bounces your data through even more VPN servers, providing an additional level of security.
In terms of performance and server choice, NordVPN and ExpressVPN are clear leaders. NordVPN has over 3,000 servers, ExpressVPN has over 1,500, and ProtonVPN only has around 400.
ProtonVPN does compare favorably in month-to-month pricing, beating both NordVPN and ExpressVPN by a wide margin.
If privacy is your number one concern, then ProtonVPN is worth a look. The free version is surprisingly capable, so you can even check it out without a large initial investment. It isn’t great for unblocking websites, and free users are locked out of the advanced features, but this is a VPN that absolutely puts your privacy and security ahead of everything else.
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