Ultimate ProtonVPN review 2021: Budget-friendly but is it up to the task?
When you visit most VPN websites, you’ll see assertions that they are privacy experts. However, there isn’t much to back up the claims. ProtonVPN stands out from the rest because it has a track record of keeping its users safe. The parent company also operates ProtonMail, the world’s leading end-to-end encrypted email service.
Since its inception in 2016, ProtonVPN has grown significantly. It started with a few servers but has now expanded its network to over 55 countries. The VPN has apps for all devices with solid-rock security, excellent privacy features, an intuitive interface, and super-fast speeds. Although it has a free plan, the downsides include a pricey long-term plan and lack of live chat support.
So, is ProtonVPN the best VPN service for your needs? In this review, we will look at everything the service has to offer.
Short on time? Here are our key findings on ProtonVPN
- Vital security feature – It uses advanced security features to safeguard your data and maintain your privacy. We didn’t experience any DNS or IP leaks during testing.
- Can bypass restrictions – You will be able to efficiently unblock Netflix’s geo-blocks alongside other streaming sites without any issues.
- Incredible speeds – The speed remained consistent on most servers, and it is enough for intensive tasks like torrenting, HD streaming, gaming, etc.
- Intuitive interface – The app is aesthetically designed and easy to use. You can navigate the app, connect to servers and turn on the features effortlessly.
PrivateVPN pros and cons
What we liked
- Strict zero-logs policy: Does not retain any identifiable logs and even issue an annual transparency report to back the claims.
- Uninterrupted streaming: With no IP blacklisting and speeds of up to 72Mbps, you will have a smooth streaming experience on any site.
- Limitless P2P sharing: It has special P2P servers combined with unlimited bandwidth, so you can torrent as much as you want buffer-free.
- Free plan: The VPN offers a free plan, although it is limited to only one server that’s in the UK. The plan has a total of three server locations, medium speed, and doesn’t allow P2P, unlike paid one.
What we didn’t like
- Unreliable customer support: You can only contact the support through email and tickets. It does not have a 24/7 live chat.
- Decent-sized network: The server selection and locations is pretty small compared to its rivals like Surfshark.
The background information
ProtonVPN and ProtonMail were conceptualized when the founding team met at CERN, where the web was born. The idea for ProtonMail was to enable people to send and receive mail securely and privately over the web.
On the other hand, the ProtonVPN project was to protect journalists and activists that use ProtonMail. It has grown exponentially to over 1,237 servers in 55 countries with a long and indisputable track record. More servers are better as you are likely to get a server closer to your location. Usually, proximity to a server impacts your connection speeds.
Proton Technologies AG, the company behind ProtonVPN, is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The country has a reputation for being privacy-friendly. Switzerland is not a member of the 14-Eye countries, but it sometimes cooperates with partner countries to share intelligence information. The good news is that it does not compel companies to retain users’ data. That is why ProtonVPN observes a strict no-logs policy.
ProtonVPN issues a transparency report to disclose any request for user information by a third party (such as the government) on its website. The most recent one was in 2019 when the company received a request from the Swiss authorities. Since it does not keep any logs, there was no information to hand over. This is one of the few VPNs you can trust with your data.
PrivateVPN main features
|Encryption||AES 256-bit encryption|
|Number of servers||1237|
|Countries with servers||55|
|Logging policy||Strict no-logs|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days|
|Leak protection||DNS/IPv6 Kill switch|
How fast is ProtonVPN?
When using a VPN to safeguard your privacy, you have to accept that your speeds will reduce slightly. This is because of the encryption process and routing of your traffic through remote servers. However, note that many factors can affect your speed, such as your ISP, time of the day, server distance, etc.
The connection speed with ProtonVPN will mainly depend on the plan you choose. For instance, you’ll get medium speeds with the free plan, high speeds with a basic plan, while plus and Visionary plan provide the highest speeds.
Our initial average speed was 78Mbps. We started with the Quick Connection feature that was supposed to connect us to the fastest server. Disappointedly, the feature did not work well and connected us to a server with low download speed.
The good news is that the provider shows the traffic load on each server. We manually connected to a US server with the lowest load and our speeds improved significantly. Surprisingly, our speeds remained consistent even when we connected to servers in the UK and other European countries.
Generally, ProtonVPN’s speed isn’t as fast as some top brands such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN. However, it is functional and enough for a variety of online activities in different locations worldwide.
Can ProtonVPN bypass Netflix’s geo-blocks?
Yes, ProtonVPN is powerful enough to circumvent the stubborn Netflix restrictions. The provider marks some servers with a P (plus) symbol optimized for a smooth streaming experience. They will help unblock Netflix’s libraries in the UK, Germany, the UK, India, and Italy.
We tested these Plus servers to see if they work as ProtonVPN alleges. The servers in Italy, Germany, and the US worked flawlessly, giving us access to all the libraries. In the UK, the first two servers we tried did not work, but the third one did.
Thankfully, there are some locations with multiple servers, and you can switch until you find the right one. We tested servers in other random countries and successfully accessed Netflix libraries in Canada, Australia, France, and Japan.
Besides Netflix, does ProtonVPN unblock other streaming services? We hear you ask.
You can also connect to the UK servers to access UK content. We successfully unblocked the notorious BBC iPlayer in the first attempt alongside other services like ITV Hub, Channel 4, etc.
As we have mentioned above, ProtonVPN is not the fastest VPN we have tested. However, if you connect to the correct server, you won’t suffer lagging or buffering while streaming or doing any other activity.
There is an instant appeal in VPN with dependable security. ProtonVPN uses state-of-the-art features, including AES 256-bit encryption, currently considered the best in the industry. This is in conjunction with the 4096-bit RSA key exchange, perfect forward secrecy, and SHA256 authentication.
The perfect forward feature is of particular importance in this case. It will protect your connections by creating a new encryption key each time you start a session. As a result, your previous activities will not be related to the current ones if your connection is somehow compromised.
Dispatching data packages across a network depends on the internet protocol. Unlike some of its rivals that use outdated protocols, PrivateVPN offers OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec, both of which are highly secure. Android and macOS devices use OpenVPN, while Windows and iOS devices have IKEv2/IPSec as default.
OpenVPN is an open-source protocol that secures your web traffic’s tunnels. It is highly secure and versatile, making it popular in the VPN industry. The advantage of OpenVPN is that it uses a secure sockets layer (SSL) and operates on any port. This will enable you to bypass firewalls easily.
Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is a joint project between Microsoft and Cisco Systems. It is built around the IPSec authentication suite and works together to secure your connections. The combination is referred to as IKEv2/IPSec.
The Secure Core feature works like double VPN by routing your traffic through multiple servers before leaving the network. Your traffic will first pass through the Secure Core servers before routing to the second server, which adds extra protection. These servers are located in a former military base in Iceland and data centers in Sweden and Switzerland.
Naturally, routing your traffic through two servers will slow down the speed than when using a single server. However, Secure Core servers are much better than the double VPN feature of other services like NordVPN.
NetShield is an effective ad blocker that guards against malware and trackers. We tested the feature by visiting ad-enabled sites such as YouTube, and it successfully blocked all of them. Some websites even loaded faster after eliminating the ads and popups.
Split tunneling enables you to include or exclude apps, browsers, and IP addresses from the encrypted tunnel. For example, you can stream Netflix with a VPN and surf the internet through the local network simultaneously. This works better than most of its rival’s split tunneling that only allows you to redirect apps. On the downside, the feature is only available on Android and Windows but not on iOS and macOS devices.
Tor over VPN
ProtonVPN offers The Onion Router (Tor) over VPN specialized servers based in Hong Kong, France, and Germany. It has labeled the servers with an onion icon for you to differentiate them from the rest. When you connect to these servers, your traffic will automatically route through the Tor Network.
This allows you to access onion sites directly on your browser instead of going through the Tor browser. Since your traffic has to pass through several nodes, the disadvantage is that your speed will slow down significantly. ProtonVPN’s regular servers are secure enough, and you may not need to use this tool. However, it is a great and convenient option for those living in highly surveilled and censored countries like China.
A kill is an essential security feature, especially if you are concerned with your privacy. It will cut your internet traffic in case the VPN connection is interrupted for any reason. This will prevent your IP address and data from leaking, thus safeguarding your privacy. Note that this feature is not on default, so you will have to activate it. Go to settings, Advanced, and toggle VPN kill switch. The iOS app lacks a kill switch, but it has an Always-on feature that works similarly.
DNS and webRTC leak protection
Sometimes your device might send Domain Name System (DNS) traffic through your ISP servers instead of the VPN servers, which can expose your IP address. ProtonVPN offers DNS leak protection to prevent this from happening and keep you safe all the time.
You need to know about WebRTC leaks if you intend to use the VPN with web browsers. WebRTC stands for Web Real-Time Communication Test and is a technology that allows browsers to communicate without going through a transitional server. This improves the speeds for activities such as live streaming, video chat, and file transfers.
Devices communicating with WebRTC know each other’s IP addresses, making it easy to detect your real IP address. So, what’s the point of using a VPN if your browser can reveal your information? Luckily, ProtonVPN prevents these WebRTC leaks.
The company explicitly states its logging practices on the website. It is a no-log service and does not record or track internet activities. This means that it won’t have any identifiable information to hand over even when forced by authorities.
ProtonVPN only stores the email address and payment information you provide when signing up. However, the free plan does not require you to provide payment information. There is the Bitcoin payment option for the paid plans if you would like to remain completely anonymous.
Proton VPN servers and IP addresses
ProtonVPN’s network is decent-sized, with 1,237 servers in 55 countries. This may seem a lot, but it is relatively small compared to established brands like NordVPN. Most of its servers are based in Europe and the US as well as in Asia, Central, and South America, Australia, and Africa. This means that you are likely to get a server closer to your location, no matter where you live.
We were impressed to see that the VPN uses physical servers. This offers better security than virtual servers, which are not placed in the same country as the IP address. Furthermore, ProtonVPN also provides a shared IP address.
Does ProtonVPN support P2P sharing?
ProtonVPN is an excellent torrenting VPN as it allows P2P sharing on most of its servers. The provider does not impose any data limit, which means you can upload and download even large files. Moreover, it retains no logs, so your torrenting activities will remain private. The VPN has several articles relating to torrenting on its website.
ProtonVPN packages and pricing
The VPN has a straightforward pricing scheme with only four packages. First, there is the free plan where you’ll get one device connection, 3 server locations, and medium speeds. It will still maintain your privacy with the no-logs policy. Second, the basic plan offers 2 device connections, 55 server locations, high speeds, a no-logs policy, BitTorrent support, and Netshield ad blocker. Currently, it is available at €4 per month.
The Plus plan has everything on the basic plan plus Secure core servers and Tor over VPN, costing € 8/month. Considering the features this package offers, it is the best value for your money. Finally, the Visionary plan comes with all the Plus plan features, plus 10 device connections and a ProtonMail account. It is charged € 288 annually, which translates to €24 per month.
You can submit your payments through multiple payment methods, including PayPal and credit cards. In addition, ProtonVPN supports Bitcoin if you’d like to pay anonymously. The paid subscriptions have a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test run the features and get a refund if dissatisfied.
ProtonVPN customer support
The provider offers tutorials, general guides, and FAQs to help you with troubleshooting, setup, and more on its website. There isn’t plenty of information compared to other VPNs but probably adequate for most common issues.
Unfortunately, it does not provide a live chat feature. You can only get in touch with customer support through the ticket system and email. However, the response is not immediate, and you will have to wait for 1-2 days.
ProtonVPN device compatibility
ProtonVPN is compatible with all major operating systems with intuitive apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. Fortunately, its apps are open source and have been independently audited.
The number of simultaneous connections will depend on the package you choose. For instance, the free plan allows one device, basic plan two devices, Plus Plan five devices, and Visionary ten devices. Besides, you can configure the VPN with certain routers so you can protect all of your devices.
The Android app is feature-filled and effortless to use. We were pleased with how quick and easy it is to find a fast server. For example, you can use the Quick Connect feature to connect to the fastest server on the network automatically. Alternatively, you can connect manually by selecting the server with the least traffic load. Finding P2P, Tor, and Plus server is also straightforward. You will only need to tap the drop-down button to get the list of servers in each country.
There is also an option to connect to the server on the map, but we don’t recommend it for mobile apps. This is because you will have to zoom server locations to find the desired app, which is time-consuming.
The ‘Profiles’ option on the dashboard is very interesting. It allows you to create custom connection preferences. For example, you can select the server location, automatically choose the fastest server, or manually pick a precise server.
On the downside, the Android app does not have the kill switch feature. Instead, you will have to activate the ‘block connections without a VPN’ option (you will get a detailed tutorial on how to do it on the website). There is also an ‘Always-on’ feature that automatically reestablishes the VPN if your connection is interrupted.
The iOS app is similar to the Android app, with the only difference being the lack of the split tunneling feature. This is not an isolated case, as many VPNs don’t support the feature on macOS and iOS except for ExpressVPN and PIA. Nonetheless, the iOS client is user-friendly, well-designed, and packed with great features.
As with the mobile apps, the Windows and Mac apps are also easy to use. By using the Quick Connect feature, connecting to the fastest server is just a click away. After establishing a connection, the server name, IP address, protocol, and load percentage will appear at the top of the screen. The ‘session traffic’ metrics that show your network usage and time will display at the bottom of the window.
Go to the ‘Countries’ tab to connect to a server manually. The provider shows the cities where the servers are based and uses red, yellow, and green colors to indicate the traffic load. This makes it easier to connect to the right server.
While the Mac and Windows clients are similar, there are a few differences. For example, the Mac app does not have split tunneling, and the Windows app only has OpenVPN protocol. However, both apps are feature-filled, intuitive, and with lots of customization tools.
ProtonVPN vs ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is a well-established VPN brand and one of ProtonVPN’s competitors. While ProtonVPN operates only 1237 servers in 55 countries, ExpressVPN has an extensive network of 3,000 servers in 94 countries. Both providers observe a strict no-logs policy and are based in privacy-friendly countries.
|AES 256-bit encryption||✓||✓|
In terms of security, both VPNs will safeguard your connections with AES 256-bit encryption. There is also an automatic kill switch and split tunneling on both services. The only difference is that ProtonVPN offers an ad blocker while ExpressVPN doesn’t.
ProtonVPN’s pricing scheme may seem unusual, but it offers flexibility that most rivals can’t match. Its free version is a unique treat as it does not limit your bandwidth or show annoying ads. The company has a strong focus on the privacy of its users. That is why it follows a strict no-logs policy and uses the necessary features to maintain your anonymity.
It offers feature-packed apps for almost all devices. All the apps have an incredibly intuitive user interface, making it easy to access and connect to servers. The only not-so-cool thing that we found about ProtonVPN during our review was, it is not among the fastest VPNs out there. The provider still boasts ‘acceptable speeds’ though, which makes it a fair deal considering the asking price of the premium version.