ProtonMail review: Is it really the most secure email service in 2021?
If you didn’t know, your email’s content is continually monitored. One way to secure your communication is by using an encrypted email service like ProtonMail. It employs end-to-end encryption together with other security features to protect the messages you send or receive.
The only people who can access the emails are you and your recipient. Even the provider itself cannot read them, which helps to maintain your anonymity.
Having said that, how safe is ProtonMail? Do you need a subscription to get started?
Fortunately, I have done extensive testing and present you with an honest review of ProtonMail. Read through to get everything you need to know about this secure email service.
ProtonMail background information and funding
Before I continue further with this ProtonMail extensive review, let’s look at its history. ProtonMail is a product of Proton Technologies AG, a Switzerland-based company. The founders are a group of scientists who met at CERN and shared a vision of safeguarding civil liberties online. So, they created ProtonMail, a user-friendly email service secured with end-to-end encryption.
The company receives funding from various sources. Apart from the regular customer subscriptions, ProtonMail got funds from the following ventures.
- Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign brought in over half a million dollars in 2014
- $2 million investment from Charles River Ventures (CRV) in 2015
- Received €2 million from the EU to develop a suite of encrypted services
ProtonMail pros and cons
- It is based in Switzerland, a privacy-friendly jurisdiction
- End-to-end and zero-access encryption
- Provides apps for both iOS and Android mobile devices
- Open-source web client and encryption algorithm
- Support for custom domains
- Requires personal information to verify new accounts
- Does not encrypt email subject lines
- Unclear and expensive packages
How does ProtonMail work?
The one thing that sets ProtonMail apart from the rest is the end-to-end encryption. So, it will scramble your email content to make it unreadable. The recipient will have to use the correct encryption key to decrypt and read the message.
Besides, you can use ProtonMail to send messages to a recipient with other email clients securely. All you will have to do is to create a password that will act as the encryption key. The person on the other end will only need to input the password to open and read the content.
ProtonMail key features
Short domain address
If the protonmail.com domain is too long, you can shorten it. ProtonMail allows you to keep your mailbox name and change the domain name. For instance, if your email address reads firstname.lastname@example.org, you can make it shorter to email@example.com.
All of your recipients will receive your emails with the pm.me variation. However, you can only respond to pm.me addresses if you upgrade to the premium packages.
Many email services don’t care about user experience, and organizing the mailbox is always tedious. Some have a folder option where you can group your emails. Besides the folders, ProtonMail also offers custom labels to increase its flexibility. Fortunately, you can add emails to labels without affecting your folder arrangement. For example, removing a label from an email will not interfere with the rest of the folder.
Usually, you will have to start from scratch if you want to migrate from one email service to another. Copy-pasting contacts in your mailbox one by one can be tedious and time-consuming. However, ProtonMail has an app that enables you to export and import your data from other email services like Gmail, Yahoo, etc.
Upon registering for ProtonMail, the provider will also give you a free ProtonVPN. It will encrypt your connections such that no one can steal your data or see what you are doing online. When you connect to a server, the VPN will assign you a new IP address, thus maintaining your privacy.
Apart from the end-to-end encryption, ProtonMail provides two-factor authentication as an additional protection layer. This means that no unauthorized person can access your account even if you have lost your password. However, you have to first install an authenticator app like Google Authenticator for the two-factor authentication to work.
Is ProtonMail safe?
With the end-to-encryption, ProtonMail is one of the safest email services available. In addition, it is based in Switzerland, which doesn’t share any intelligence information with other countries.
Also, there is two-factor authentication that prevents unauthorized access to your account. The combination of these security features will ensure that no one monitors your email or intercept your communication. Here are some of the features ProtonMail uses to keep you safe.
Encryption is a good way to ensure that third parties cannot access your information over the internet. ProtonMail encrypts your data throughout the whole communication process. Only you and the recipient of the email will see the message.
In fact, the provider stores your email in encrypted form. This means that not even the email service developers can access anything in your inbox or outbox.
The best part is that you can use the encryption process even when sending emails outside ProtonMail. All you’ll need to do is send a link that will open on the recipient’s side. However, they can only decrypt the message with the password you give them.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a security feature commonly used in email communications. Although it’s an excellent way to encrypt your messages, the process is too complex to set manually. That is why ProtonMail offers in-built PGP encryption making it easy to use the feature even if you are a novice.
The PGP feature is not on default, so you and your email receipt have to enable it. Once the feature is active on both sides, it will encrypt all the emails you send or receive.
Another remarkable thing with ProtonMail is that it gives you complete anonymity. Actually, you won’t need to provide your personal data when setting up an account. Additionally, it doesn’t track your IP address, so no one can trace anything back to you.
ProtonMail allows you to set an expiring time on any email you send. The email will self-destruct automatically from the recipient’s inbox after the time you have specified has elapsed. This feature works even when you send emails to people outside ProtonMail.
Secure data centers
When you hear about the security measures that ProtonMail has employed, it sounds like something from a sci-fi movie. First, it manages its servers at various secure locations around Switzerland. Second, its primary data center is placed in a heavily guarded bunker under 1000metres of granite rock.
Furthermore, Switzerland is the safest place to host data as it is not a member of the 14-Eye Alliance. The Federal Data Protection Ordinance (DPO) and the Swiss Federal Data Protection Act (DPA) are some of the most robust protection laws in the world. So, you are assured that nobody will ever read your messages.
ProtonMail is easy to create an account with and straightforward to use. Below, we will take through the process, layout, and the mobile app to show how effortless it is.
Setting up an account
All you have to get started with ProtonMail is to go to the main website, select a plan and follow the instructions. The best part is that you don’t have to input your personal information to create an account. This is meant to protect your anonymity.
Layout and design
Compared to other email services, the ProtonMail layout is easy to navigate. All the essential functions like adding contacts, creating a new message, and accessing drafts are within reach.
It highlights new messages in bold so you can differentiate them from the ones you have already read. Furthermore, you can activate notifications on your mobile or desktop to be alerted whenever a new email comes in.
The free version will allow you to create basic folders and labels. In fact, you can color-code them so you can find whatever you are looking for easily.
Besides the user-friendly desktop client, ProtonMail also offers useful.’ apps for Android and iOS devices. The Android app is top-rated and downloaded over 1 million times on Google Play Store with over 28,000 reviews. I tested the app and found out that it is smooth, fast, and easy to use.
ProtonMail has a calendar app, like the majority of email services. However, the ProtonCalendar is different from the rest as it has end-to-end encryption to safeguard your schedule. Remarkably, it protects everything from the occurrence title, description, and location. As a result, no third party (including ProtonMail) can view details of your events.
Regardless of the strict security measures employed by ProtonMail, it still works exemplary. You will send and receive emails without any lags or buffering. Additionally, uploading and downloading files is super fast, depending on the size.
It is difficult to tell if it will start to lag after accumulating thousands of emails. However, early signs show that the extra security features do not affect its performance.
|Free||1 user, 500 MB storage, 1 address, 150 messages per day, 3 folders/labels, and limited support||0|
|Plus||1 user, 5GB storage, 5 addresses, 1 custom domain, 1000messages per day, 200folders/labels, auto-responder, custom filters, and support.||€4/month|
|Professional||1 user, 5 GB storage, 5 addresses, 2 custom domains, unlimited sending, unlimited folders/labels, custom filters, auto-responders, catch-all email, multi-user support, and priority support.||€6.25/month/user|
|Visionary||6 users, 20GB storage, 50 addresses, 10 custom domains, unlimited sending, unlimited folders/labels, custom filters, auto-responders, catch-all email, multi-user support, and priority support.||€24/month|
There is no need to break a bank to send, receive and store your emails securely. On the contrary, you can use ProtonMail for free and still enjoy its advanced features. Although it limits the number of emails you can send and receive daily, you’ll get full protection.
The daily allowance is pretty generous. However, if it is not enough for your needs, you can always upgrade to the rationally priced packages.
Instead of calling it a subscription fee, ProtonMail terms it as ‘donation’. This is to help the company continue offering secure email services. Regardless of how ProtonMail calls it, you will have to pay a monthly or wholesome annual fee to enjoy the premium features.
Nonetheless, its packages are reasonably priced. The Plus package is available at only € 4 a month and has more features than the free version. For example, the storage size and daily email allowance increase. You’ll get 5GB storage, and you can send/receive up to 1000 emails per day.
What’s more, you can create up to five email aliases and have a custom domain name. So, instead of sticking with protonmail.com, you can personalize your email to your liking. The package also has an option to contact support if you face any issues.
ProtonMail Visionary has a bigger storage space and extra features that will be helpful when sending many emails. It offers storage of 20GB, and you can set up to 50 email aliases and 10 domain names. The good news is that there is no limit on the number of emails you can send or receive per day.
If you are looking for an email service for your business, ProtonMail is an ideal option with its Professional package. It lets you create a custom company domain name and even add accounts for your employees.
Things about ProtonMail we didn’t like
Since its establishment in 2014, ProtonMail has been growing steadily and adding more features to improve user experience. However, even the best email service has faults.
The ProtonMail search function is not the best compared to other email clients search as Gmail. It is still helpful, allowing you to input keywords, sender, and time. However, the results that surface may not be what you are looking for.
It isn’t easy to contact ProtonMail’s customer support, especially on the free version. An FAQ section addresses some of the common issues but might not be adequate to help with all problems. In addition, you can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you need a specific matter addressed. However, if you upgrade to the Professional and Visionary plans, you’ll get priority support.
Although ProtonMail is the most popular secure email service, there are other reputable alternatives you choose from.
Fastmail guarantee to safeguard your data from unauthorized persons. The company also has complete transparency on how it handles data. On the downside, Fastmail does not have end-to-end encryption like ProtonMail, so it is not entirely secure.
Additionally, it doesn’t offer a free version, and the cheapest plan starts at $3 per month. It is for these reasons that make ProtonMail a better option.
Tutanota employs end-to-end encryption on emails together with subject lines, making it arguably more privacy-oriented than ProtonMail. It also has a free version that is more generous with up to 1 GB storage compared to ProtonMail’s 500Mbs.
Nonetheless, ProtonMail allows you to customize some features such as importing themes, setting auto-responses, etc. Generally, the two services are similar in many ways, although I’ll recommend ProtonMail because of the easy configurations.
Read also: How to use Tutanota secure email
Gmail is perhaps the most famous email service in the world. It provides reasonable security but not anywhere close to ProtonMail. As I have mentioned severally, with the end-to-end encryption, nobody can see your emails except the recipient. Besides accessing your data, Gmail shares the information with third parties such as advertisers to send targeted ads.
Nonetheless, the email service also has a good side. For example, it is owned by Google, and the desktop and mobile apps are straightforward to use. Moreover, its customer support is way better. However, if you are concerned with your privacy, ProtonMail is an excellent choice.
Read also: Privacy-focused Gmail alternatives
Do I still need a VPN when using ProtonMail?
From the above information, ProtonMail is safer than many email services. However, it can only encrypt the emails you send or receive. The only way to ensure that your data is completely safe is to pair ProtonMail with a reputable VPN. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two of the best options as they are committed to providing the utmost user security.
Pairing a secure email service with a VPN adds an extra security layer to your online activities. For instance, ExpressVPN employs military-grade encryption to protect the entire connection, not just emails. Also, it has an automatic kill switch and DNS leak protection to prevent your data from leaking. Thanks to the 30-day money-back guarantee, you can use the service risk-free.
Chances are, the email service you are using does not use end-to-end encryption. This is what makes ProtonMail different from other emails such as Outlook or Gmail. As you can see from our ProtonMail review, the company offers more privacy and security to its users.
I would recommend using it because ProtonMail boasts a clean interface, is straightforward to use, and offers end-to-end encryption you can actually count not. With this secure email provider, you can be sure that no one except you and the one who you’re emailing doesn’t read your emails. Nonetheless, it is better to combine it with a reliable VPN to protect your internet data at full.