- Strengths & Weaknesses
- Alternatives for ProtonVPN
- A Bit About ProtonMail
- ProtonVPN on Linux, iOS and Android
- ProtonVPN Features Overview
ProtonVPN is a popular free VPN that offers excellent usability and a long list of features. It gets security and privacy right, too, which is rarely seen among free VPN providers. However, subpar speeds leave ProtonVPN in a sort of limbo, not quite making it onto our best VPN list, but not falling far below it, either.
In this ProtonVPN review, we’re going to explain why. Over the course of this review, we’ll cover features, pricing, security, speed, streaming performance and more, all before giving our verdict.
For the short answer, ProtonVPN is a competent VPN with an excellent free plan, though it doesn’t reach the heights of a service like ExpressVPN (read our ExpressVPN review). Still, it’s worth a shot, and with a generous free plan at the ready, there’s no risk in giving it a try.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Excellent free version
- Easy to use
- Secure core servers
- Gets into Netflix
- Split tunneling support
- No-logs policy
- No IKEv2 in desktop app
- No live chat
Alternatives for ProtonVPN
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 10
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 8
ProtonVPN has a long list of features, many of which are exclusive to the VPN. In all of our time reviewing VPNs, we haven’t seen a service built from the ground up to accommodate unique features. ProtonVPN’s list of goodies enhance the service, but, for the most part, they’re crucial to its security setup.
Before getting to those, let’s talk about the basics. ProtonVPN includes a kill switch, which will block your internet connection in case the VPN fails, as well as custom DNS settings. It also includes split tunneling, which is surprisingly hard to find in VPN services (read our PureVPN review for more on that).
On top of that, it includes “secure core” servers and user profiles, both of which fundamentally change how a VPN should function. We’ll talk about both in detail in the coming sections of this ProtonVPN review.
In short, though, “secure core” servers offer a double-hop connection, similar to NordVPN and Windscribe, while user profiles allow you to set up your connection with a single click.
A Bit About ProtonMail
Although ProtonMail is not included with every plan, it pairs perfectly with ProtonVPN. It’s an encrypted email application that’s included as part of ProtonVPN’s Visionary plan. Unlike Gmail or some other webmail services, ProtonMail offers end-to-end encryption, meaning your emails are secured before leaving your device (read our email security guide for more on that).
Outside of encryption, ProtonMail is also anonymous. It doesn’t require any personal information to create an account, and Proton Technologies — the Swiss company that creates ProtonVPN and ProtonMail — doesn’t keep your IP address or any other information on record. It’s an encrypted email from a VPN service, which is a good thing in this case.
You don’t have to take ProtonMail at face value, either. It’s open source and free, meaning anyone can dig through the code for potential issues. Rather than skimming user data or some other shady practice, ProtonMail monetizes through user donations and paid accounts, similar to how Bitwarden handles things (read our Bitwarden review).
In short, if you’re going to create a ProtonVPN account, it’s a good idea to create a ProtonMail account, too. The Visionary package offers all the bells and whistles, and at the price, it’s worth it. However, if you can afford only a VPN subscription, a free ProtonMail account is better than handing your data over to Google and company. Read our full ProtonMail review.
ProtonVPN on Linux, iOS and Android
ProtonVPN is lacking in the platform-support department. The basics are covered, with native apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and Linux. It also offers OpenVPN configuration files for all of its servers, allowing you to configure it on your router.
The missing link is a browser extension. ProtonVPN doesn’t have any browser extensions available, and as of 10 months ago, it’s “not one of [the company’s] priorities.”
In most cases, browser extensions serve no other purpose than allowing you to control the VPN from your address bar. However, they’re also crucial for nontraditional VPN installs, such as installing on a Chromebook.
ProtonVPN Features Overview
|Payment methods||PayPal, Credit card|
|Supports split tunneling|
|Free trial available|
|Worldwide server amount||1,000 + servers in 54 countries|
|Desktop OSes||Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chromebook|
|Mobile OSes||Android, iOS, Android TV|
|Can be installed on routers|
|Can access Netflix US|
|Can access BBC iPlayer|
|Can access Hulu|
|Can access Amazon Prime Video|
|VPN protocols available||IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2|
|Enabled at device startup|
|Passed DNS leak test|
|Malware/ad blocker included|
ProtonVPN is fairly unique in that it offers multiple tiers of service. Below, you’ll find the monthly prices for each tier, though you can save by purchasing a year or two upfront.
That said, ProtonVPN doesn’t offer as steep of a discount as NordVPN or Private Internet Access on its multi-year subscriptions. PIA, in particular, is significantly cheaper than ProtonVPN, with its annual service coming in at around half the cost of ProtonVPN (read our Private Internet Access review to learn more about that).
Thankfully, this section isn’t all bad. Most VPNs jack up the monthly price to make the multi-year subscriptions more attractive (see our Astrill review and Hide.me review for just two examples). ProtonVPN doesn’t do that. Rather, it offers a slight, reasonable discount on multi-year subscriptions while keeping monthly plans fairly cheap.
Although there are four tiers of service, they break down pretty easily. Free, well, doesn’t cost anything, and we’ll talk more about it in a moment. The Basic plan adds another connection to Free with boosted speeds and access to peer-to-peer servers.
The Plus tier is what we’d consider the full ProtonVPN experience, so long as you don’t need ProtonMail. You get five simultaneous connections — just short of our best VPN for multiple devices — and access to all of the specialty servers. Like the Basic tier, you also get the fastest speed and access to every country.
At the top is the Visionary plan, which you can skip past if you’re not interested in ProtonMail. It bumps the simultaneous connection count to 10, but considering you can install the VPN on a router, that hardly matters. The star of the show here is ProtonMail Visionary, which is ProtonMail’s highest tier of personal email service.
With ProtonMail Visionary, you can use your own domain for email, send encrypted messages to external recipients, set up to 50 email aliases and much, much more. ProtonMail is great to have, and although it’s expensive even when bundled with ProtonVPN, the cost is worth it.
Breaking Down ProtonVPN Free
We can’t get out of this section without talking about ProtonVPN’s free plan. It’s among the best free VPNs around, even rivaling the likes of Windscribe (read our Windscribe review). You have access to servers in three countries and slightly reduced speed. The big deal is that you can use as much bandwidth as you want.
We’ll talk more about the speed implication in the appropriate section below. Still, the free version is very impressive. It’s for only a single device, sure, and you don’t have access to that many locations, but it’s still a great option for those who are on a tight budget.
Even with the free version, ProtonVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee, though it works a little differently than other services.
You can cancel your account and receive a refund in the first month of any paid service, but ProtonVPN will only refund you for the unused portion of whatever period you purchase. For instance, if you bought a year and cancelled on day 30, you’ll get 11 months back.
For payment options, it’s the standard fare. ProtonVPN accepts credit cards, PayPal and bitcoin. However, it also accepts cold, hard cash, like Mullvad does, which is great to see (read our Mullvad review).
Signing up for ProtonVPN is a simple affair. After entering a username, email address and password, you’ll be brought to a payment page. Then ProtonVPN kicks you straight to the downloads section of your account dashboard. There, you’ll find downloads for its local applications, as well as OpenVPN configuration files for all of ProtonVPN’s locations.
Most VPNs ditch you after checkout, letting you figure out how to download the application on your own (read our VPNArea review for an example of that). ProtonVPN directs you where to go, and although it’s a small step, it makes the installation process go by much faster.
Once in the app, ProtonVPN will ask if you want to take a tour, but you really don’t need to. It uses a NordVPN-esque server map, so picking a location is as simple as choosing a point on the map. You can also pick an individual server by clicking the small arrow next to each country.
Despite looking like some sort of futuristic application, ProtonVPN is simple to use. Everything you need to know is shown on the main page, including your destination IP, protocol and even a useful speed chart. The settings page is just as straightforward, with tooltips next to each setting.
Using ProtonVPN’s Profiles
ProtonVPN is easy to use, sure, but a lot of VPNs fit that bill. It sets itself apart with profiles. They’re a step further than autoconnect, allowing you to create and store any configuration you want in the app. For example, you can set up a torrenting profile with TCP and one of the P2P servers, while also setting up a streaming profile optimized for speed.
This is by far the most important feature for us. After testing dozens of VPNs, we know how difficult it is trying to remember that one server that worked on that one streaming platform. ProtonVPN takes away the guesswork, allowing you to store a configuration that you know works.
ProtonVPN certainly isn’t the fastest VPN around. Our speed test results show a significant drop in download speed, no matter where we were tunneling or what type of server we were using. Worse, you can’t switch to IKEv2 in the Windows application. If you want to improve your desktop speed, you’ll need to configure the VPN manually.
|United States (Free)|
|United States (via Secure Core)|
Before getting to the results, let’s talk about our speed testing process. All of our tests were done on a wired connection in the U.S. We used OpenVPN with UDP, which is what we use to test all VPN services.
For ProtonVPN, we also tested as many of the different server types as possible. Above, you’ll see a result for a free location, as well as a “secure core” location. All other locations are Plus locations.
Even with our rules established before doing our speed test, we couldn’t find any pattern between locations. The UK location performed horribly, while the Switzerland server location was among the best. That’s despite the fact that these server locations are relatively close to each other geographically.
The most direct comparison we can draw is CyberGhost, which is inconsistent across locations (as you can see in our CyberGhost review, though, it’s faster overall). For services like CyberGhost and ProtonVPN, we usually recommend switching to IKEv2 if you’re not doing anything too risky because the speeds are almost always faster.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible with ProtonVPN, or at least it’s not possible without some manual configuration. ProtonVPN is already slow, but the lack of protocol options in the application means you have no way of improving your speeds. We’d like IKEv2 or, even better, a WireGuard implementation.
When it comes to VPN security, ProtonVPN checks all of the boxes. It uses AES-256 paired with OpenVPN, which has been the gold standard for more than a decade. It’s reliable, relatively fast and, above all else, secure. If you’re new to VPNs, make sure to read our VPN protocol breakdown to learn why.
Alongside AES-256 is RSA-4096 for key management and exchange, as well as HMAC with SHA384 for message authentication. If this sounds like gibberish to you, be sure to read our description of encryption. In short, though, it means your connection is protected by the best available encryption.
OpenVPN is what the app installs with on Windows, but you configure IKEv2, as well. This should provide a significant boost to speed while providing similar security. However, note that IKEv2 is more susceptible to blocks. Those are the only two protocols that ProtonVPN supports. It finds that PPTP and L2TP/IPSec are not secure, and we agree.
Rounding out security is perfect forward secrecy. In short, this means that your encryption key is refreshed each time you connect. For example, if someone were to find your encryption key from a previous session, they can’t use it to decrypt your current session.
There are some miscellaneous security features, including the kill switch and DNS leak protection. We tested for DNS, IP and WebRTC leaks, and unsurprisingly, ProtonVPN came out clean.
ProtonVPN gets everything right on paper, from OpenVPN support to being based in Switzerland (one of the most privacy-friendly countries in the world). However, we’d like to see more future tech implemented in the service. There’s no WireGuard support right now, which seems to be the OpenVPN replacement VPN providers have been looking for.
ProtonVPN is a no-logs service, a fact that’s reiterated across the site over and over. When you are using the service, ProtonVPN knows nothing about who you are or what you’re doing. Furthermore, it doesn’t throttle connections or limit the bandwidth of its users, even on the free end of things.
When you create an account, ProtonVPN requires a username, email address and password. The email address is automatically added to the VPN’s promotional email list, but otherwise, it’s used for communication and anti-abuse purposes. ProtonVPN makes it clear that it doesn’t sell or share this information with others.
Once you’ve installed the VPN, there’s a little more collection, though nothing that can identify you. ProtonVPN logs anonymous crash reports, as well as aggregate analytics for the various platforms it supports (for example, the number of installs from the Google Play store). Overall, ProtonVPN fits the bill of a no-logs VPN service.
That’s a scary thought, sure, but ProtonVPN allows you to turn off third-party network switching in the settings. The important thing here is that ProtonVPN is forthcoming about this practice. Most VPNs route your connection through third-party ISPs, often tanking your speed (read our AirVPN review for an example of that).
The practice itself is not a problem, it’s the fact that most VPNs don’t disclose that they’re doing it. ProtonVPN, on the other hand, does. Furthermore, it goes as far as to let you turn off this network switching.
Is ProtonVPN Trustworthy?
ProtonVPN has a long track record as a company, lobbying for Swiss privacy laws and contributing heavily to the open-source community.
In a world where most VPN companies are hidden under shell company after shell company, ProtonVPN is a breath of fresh air. Hell, Andy Yen, the founder and CEO of Proton Technologies, even did a TED talk discussing the vision of the company.
We’ve covered streaming a lot here on Cloudwards.net, and as you can imagine, it’s an extremely competitive area (just read our best VPN for streaming guide). ProtonVPN isn’t the optimal option because of its slow speeds. However, it was still able to access Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Netflix.
In fact, it earned a spot in our best VPN for Hulu guide (though, it missed the cut in our best VPN for Amazon Prime Video guide). It can easily break into streaming platforms. However, if that’s your main use case, we recommend setting up IKEv2 for increased speed. The OpenVPN performance is too slow if you already have a weak connection.
Using ProtonVPN With Netflix
The granddaddy of streaming platforms, Netflix, was no match for ProtonVPN (it even earned a nod in our best VPN for Netflix guide). Netflix loaded without a hitch on our first try, allowing us to stream free of proxy errors.
ProtonVPN has a relatively small server network, at least compared to NordVPN and HideMyAss (read our NordVPN review and HideMyAss review). At the time of writing, there are 801 ProtonVPN servers available. Those servers reach 50 countries around the world, so despite the small server count, ProtonVPN still has a good spread.
Secure Core Servers
The server count isn’t what’s important in this section; it’s how ProtonVPN splits up locations. If you want access to all of the servers in its network, you’ll need the Plus plan. Although a Basic plan will unlock all of the countries where ProtonVPN has a presence, certain servers within each country are reserved for Plus and Visionary subscribers.
Thankfully, Plus subscribers also have access to “secure core” servers. These locations function like a managed, enclosed Tor network. Although you can access “secure core” servers in different parts of the world, your traffic is always routed through a data center in Switzerland that ProtonVPN owns and manages.
Furthermore, ProtonVPN claims these servers are located in a former Swiss army fallout shelter some 1,000 meters below the ground. We didn’t have a spare shovel on hand to confirm this is the case — much less any sort of access to this highly secure location — but based on the pictures on ProtonVPN’s website, it seems legit.
Otherwise, the server setup is pretty easy to understand. There are a handful of locations dotted around ProtonVPN’s map that support peer-to-peer connections and the Tor network, but that’s it. If you’re curious how those can aid your online security, be sure to read our VPN vs proxy vs Tor guide.
ProtonVPN Free Countries
If you’re using the free plan, you have far fewer options. You can access three countries: the U.S., Japan and the Netherlands. In total, you could use nine servers, three in each country. These servers don’t support P2P or Tor, and they are often taken down because of the massive server load.
Although ProtonVPN is undoubtedly one of the best free VPNs around, the limited range of servers stings (not to mention the limited speed). These servers tend to be more crowded, too, further adding to the speed issue.
ProtonVPN’s support is just okay. The support itself is fine, with a large knowledgebase and support reps at the ready. However, there’s no live chat, and a response to our email inquiry took a little longer than we would’ve liked. Still, we’ve seen a lot worse from other VPNs (read our BolehVPN review for an example of that).
The knowledgebase works well, and it has a decent list of articles, though none of them go into too much detail. If you’re looking for self-help support, the best option is the ProtonVPN subreddit. Here, you’ll find a bustling community that’s 15,000 members strong, with frequent responses directly from ProtonVPN.
If you want direct help, your only option is email. We sent a question about virtual servers, and ProtonVPN got back to us after about eight hours during a business day. It’s better than waiting for a response the next day, but we’ve encountered more than one service that got back to us within an hour or two.
The laggy response time wouldn’t be a problem if there was live chat. You can reach out via Twitter or Facebook, but after we scrolled through some responses, it seems that ProtonVPN is just redirecting users to the contact page. Overall, the support is good. However, we’d like to see a few more contact options.
ProtonVPN gets a lot right. The pricing is excellent, the interface is easy to use and the features are unmatched. However, these high points don’t feel as high when put up against ProtonVPN’s lackluster speed. It’s a fine choice, especially if you’re on a budget. Just know that you’ll be sacrificing your connection performance.
Are you going to sign up for a ProtonVPN account? Let us know about your experience in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.
- ProtonVPN offers an excellent free service and a decent paid one, though its speeds are slower than other VPN services. Still, with the features available and the low price tag, ProtonVPN is worth a look.
- Yes, ProtonVPN Free is safe. ProtonVPN provides its free service in a select number of locations with dated network infrastructure. Free users have access to the same security as paying ones. However, the dated infrastructure means Free servers have slower speeds than paid ones.
- No, ProtonVPN is not a virus. ProtonVPN is a virtual private network that encrypts your internet connection and hides your IP address. With it, you can secure your online privacy, as well as unblock online content from around the world.