ProtonVPN Review

After testing ProtonVPN, the Cloudwards.net team can only conclude that you could do worse, but you could also do better. While it does what it needs to without leaks and can access Netflix, we're left with the nagging feeling the same amount of money buys you more elsewhere.

By Jacob RoachDeputy Editor
— Last Updated: 07 Mar'19
2018-07-06T00:18:50-08:00
Table of ContentsRating
Features
90%
Excellent
Pricing
80%
Good
Ease of Use
80%
Good
Speed
75%
Good
Security
90%
Excellent
Privacy
95%
Excellent
Streaming Performance
70%
Decent
Server Locations
65%
Decent
Customer Service
70%
Decent
User Reviews & Comments

Good
Starts from $ 500 per month
Free plan available
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Because it’s one of the best free virtual private network providers, ProtonVPN is a popular choice with cybersecurity novices. It’s easy to use, comes with a lot of great features and has a clear dedication to security. That said, it’s not perfect, and given how it falls just short of being one of the best VPN providers, you can get more for your money elsewhere.

In this ProtonVPN review, we’re going to cover the pros and cons we experienced using the service. We’ll talk features, pricing, user-friendliness, speed, security, privacy, streaming performance, server locations and customer service before giving our verdict.

We like ProtonVPN a lot. It has many unusual features, breaks into Netflix and comes with decent speeds, to boot. There’s a reason, after all, why Mozilla made it the integrated VPN with the Firefox browser. Given that there’s a low discount on annual subscriptions, though, you may be paying more when you can get better service with another provider.

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Strengths & Weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Great free plan
  • Secure Core servers
  • Works with Netflix
  • Support for split tunneling
  • Excellent interface
  • “Profiles” feature
  • No-logs policy

Weaknesses:

  • Strange system for marking servers
  • Poor speeds under server load
  • Unimpressive server network

Features

90% - Excellent

ProtonVPN has the essential features we want from a VPN and brings a few more to the table. At the top of the list, there’s a killswitch, which will cut your internet connection in the event the VPN fails. Though we consider a killswitch a “must have,” there are VPNs that don’t include one. Read our best VPN services for China guide to see the best VPNs that do.

The killswitch is universal, though, meaning you can’t set it to only work on specific applications. That feature, commonly referred to as “app kill,” is uncommon. Read our Astrill review if you’re looking for a provider that includes it.

App kill is similar to split tunneling and, thankfully, ProtonVPN includes that. Split tunneling allows you to send some traffic over the VPN while other traffic uses your normal connection. For example, ProtonVPN can use split tunneling on local applications to keep your browser from being affected while securing your torrent client or you can set it to work with IPv4 addresses.

Those are the standard features, but there are three offerings that few VPNs include. Depending on your account tier, you’ll get access to ProtonVPN’s email service, which ranked first in our most secure email providers guide. Though it costs a pretty penny, ProtonMail is an excellent encrypted email service.

All plans have access to “profiles,” though, which allow you to tailor how the VPN behaves on start-up. We’ll talk more about profiles in the “ease of use” section. Just know that they’re a great addition to the user experience that more VPNs should include.

As long as you have the Plus subscription, you can take advantage of ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers. They allow you to connect to any server in the network, but route you through a server in a country with strict privacy laws first. We’ll talk more about what that means throughout the review.

ProtonVPN Features Overview

Starts from$ 500per month

General

Payment methods
PayPal, Credit card
Accepts cryptocurrency
Simultaneous connections
10
Supports split tunneling
Unlimited bandwidth
Free trial available
Refund period
30 days
Worldwide server amount
395 servers in 32 countries
Desktop OSes
Windows, MacOS, Linux
Mobile OSes
Android, iOS
Browser extensions
Can be installed on routers

Streaming

Can access Netflix US
Can access BBC iPlayer
Can access Hulu
Can access Amazon Prime Video

Security

Encryption types
256-AES
VPN protocols available
IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2
Enabled at device startup
Allows torrenting
No-logging policy
Passed DNS leak test
Killswitch available
Malware/ad blocker included

Support

Live Chat
Email support
24/7
Phone support
User forum
Knowledgebase

Pricing

80% - Good

ProtonVPN is one of the few VPN providers that offer pricing tiers. Like TorGuard (read our TorGuard review), ProtonVPN offers multiple plans instead of a single one in different durations. Though the flexibility to buy in at a lower rate is nice to see, you’ll still be spending a decent chunk of change for the full experience.

Free
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 1 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
Basic
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 2 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
Plus
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
Visionary
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 10 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin

The free plan is the star of the show. ProtonVPN made our list of free VPN services for its twist on the model. Instead of restricting the amount of data you can transfer like Windscribe (read our Windscribe review), it restricts speed. How much it restricts speed is hard to say, though, because it simply says the speed of the free plan is “low.”

There are other limitations, too, including access to only three servers and a single connection. You don’t get ProtonVPN’s other features, either, including servers for streaming and torrenting. If you want to do that, you’ll need to upgrade.

You’ll have to upgrade past Basic, though. ProtonVPN’s introductory plan is best summed up as a “lite” VPN. You get all the servers on two devices, with the ability to torrent, but ProtonVPN’s “Plus” and “Secure Core” servers aren’t included. You can’t use the VPN with Tor, either.

Plus is the first real VPN plan. It comes with access to all servers, including the specialty options, up to five simultaneous connections and high speeds. Though glancing at ProtonVPN’s first two plans suggests it’s cheaper than the competition, Plus proves it’s not. At $10 per month, it’s as expensive as any VPN.

At the top of the range is Visionary, which is a combination of two Proton products. You get the Plus VPN service as well as ProtonMail’s Visionary tier. As far as email security goes, ProtonMail is good, but it’s an odd bundle with the VPN. Either way, if you’re in the market for encrypted email, it’s available.

Every plan is available month-to-month or annually. Subscribing for a year will save you 20 percent, which is good, but not as steep a discount as, say, CyberGhost offers (read our CyberGhost review).

As for money-back guarantees, ProtonVPN doesn’t guarantee much of anything. The section in the terms of service is vague and suggests that refunds are only given if the service isn’t working. It also mentions that you will only be partially refunded for the remaining days of your plan, not the full payment amount.

In short, you shouldn’t hold your breath for a refund. If you get one, ProtonVPN will refund you via your payment method — PayPal or credit card — within 30 days. It doesn’t accept bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency.

It doesn’t explicitly say so on its website, anyway. ProtonVPN says in its privacy policy that it accepts anonymous bitcoin and cash payments, much like Mullvad (read our Mullvad review). If you want to pay that way, you’ll have to talk to a support agent.

Ease of Use

80% - Good

Signing up for ProtonVPN is a standard affair. You’ll choose a plan, enter your email and select a payment method. Instead of guiding you toward an email to create your username and password, though, ProtonVPN completes the account creation process during sign-up.  

After selecting your username and password, it instructs you to download the application or go to the dashboard. Click the big “download” button and head to the dashboard to find a few goodies while you’re waiting.

The dashboard has a surprising amount of information. You can see what subscription you have, manage payment details and change your plan. In the “downloads” section of the dashboard, there are a lot of installers that will help you set up ProtonVPN on various platforms.

The config generator lets you set up the VPN manually on macOS, Linux, Windows, Android, iOS and routers. You can select what platform you’re using, what transport protocol you want to use — UDP or TCP — and the specific server or Secure Core server you want to set up.

Though it’s not the only provider to offer configuration files, ProtonVPN’s streamlined system for getting them makes manual setup feel more inviting.

Back on your desktop, you’ll enter your username and password. ProtonVPN’s massive, resizable window will open, clearly showing the locations where it has servers. The interface is like a cross between NordVPN and IPVanish.

Those providers have excellent user interfaces that you can read about in our NordVPN review and IPVanish review, but each focuses on a different aspect of the service. NordVPN is famous for its huge server map and IPVanish has an iconic speed chart. ProtonVPN marries those concepts together, giving you a server map and speed chart on the main screen.

Connecting with ProtonVPN

That said, ProtonVPN isn’t as intuitive as NordVPN. The map is simply a visual indicator. Clicking a location does nothing. The VPN is handled in the left-side menu, and ProtonVPN understands that. You can collapse the server map and speed chart if you’d rather go at it the old-fashioned way.

If a secure connection is all you’re concerned with, hit the “quick connect” button and ProtonVPN will connect you to the fastest server for your location. While you’re connected, you can see your new IP address, the load on the server and your real-time upload and download data transfer rates.

As for connecting manually, you can click a country or select a specific location within a country. The list for, say, the U.S. is quite long, but ProtonVPN makes it simple to scan by supplying the city where the server is located and the server load. If you have a specific area in mind, you can use the search bar, too.

When you’re connected, you’ll see a “set as profile” option under your new IP address. Profiles allow you to quickly change aspects of the service. For example, you can choose to use a Secure Core server with TCP when bypassing censorship while keeping a profile for a basic UDP connection when the stakes aren’t as high.

Though simple, profiles have a lot of implications. If you’re interested in torrenting, you can create a profile dedicated to that and quickly switch to it without hunting down a peer-to-peer server. Likewise, those who travel a lot can set up profiles for the countries they may be tunneling out of (read our best VPN for travelers guide).

ProtonVPN Settings  

ProtonVPN doesn’t have a lot of settings, but the few present are useful. You can find the settings by clicking the hamburger menu in the top right corner. Though there’s the standard fare of start-up settings, transport protocol and auto-connect, profiles come into play.

You can set your profiles for quick connect, auto-connect or both. Quick connect is the button we talked about earlier while auto connect is when the VPN automatically connects on start-up. When you create profiles, they’ll become options for those settings, allowing for a level of customizability seldom seen from VPNs.  

The only other notable setting is under the “advanced” tab. There, you can set up split tunneling, and the mentality of flexibility carries over. You can choose to only include certain apps or exclude certain apps. ProtonVPN allows you to select any application on your machine or split tunnel using IPv4 addresses.

It isn’t hard to see that ProtonVPN has a lot of power. What’s so great about the service is that it fits that power into an easy-to-use interface. Though not quite as plug-and-play as ExpressVPN (read our ExpressVPN review), ProtonVPN strikes an impressive balance between power and usability.

Speed

75% - Good

ProtonVPN didn’t have the speeds to earn a slot in our fastest VPN guide. Though, given its better than average performance, we still included it as an honorable mention. This time, we saw similar results. We tested five locations around the world using speedtest.net and compared them to our unprotected speeds.

Location:Ping (ms)Download (Mbps)Upload (Mbps)
Unprotected (St. Louis)9164.6410.4
Illinois, U.S. #106 (recommended server)2161.59.09
London, UK #510943.797.25
Tel Aviv, Israel #118233.623.13
Sydney, Australia #1207110.63.03
Tokyo, Japan #3147101.395.72

Taking the numbers at face value, ProtonVPN looks inconsistent. For example, Japan and Australia performed much better than a location that was only a few hundred miles from our testing location. That’s not the whole story, though.

ProtonVPN is surprisingly consistent, but it abides by its own rules. During our testing, we noted that speed was influenced by server load, which is usually the case, but not to such a degree. Even servers that had a 5 percent server difference came out with wildly different scores.

That means ProtonVPN is capable of quick speed, but you’ll need to find a server that doesn’t have a lot of users. Any server that’s above 50 percent will show a significant decline in rate.

The ping we noted is interesting, too. ProtonVPN stayed low when tunneling close to home and just barely went above 200 milliseconds when traveling internationally. It even earned an honorable mention slot in our best VPN for gaming guide.

Security

90% - Excellent

Security is generally a straightforward topic. You can read our guide on VPN security to learn about the intricacies of it, but, for the most part, it comes down to protocol and encryption. ProtonVPN is only concerned with security and, because of that, there aren’t many protocol options.

By default, your connection is secured with AES 256-bit on OpenVPN. ProtonVPN offers UDP and TCP transport options — which you can learn about in our VPN protocol breakdown — as well as IKEv2/IPSec on mobile devices. PPTP, L2TP and SSTP aren’t offered, which isn’t a bad thing to us. Though there are use cases for those protocols, they’re known to be vulnerable.

As far as key exchange and message authentication goes, ProtonVPN uses 2048-bit RSA to exchange the encryption key, and HMAC with SHA256 for message authentication. Though 4096-bit RSA has a larger key size, the 2048-bit variant is still secure while eliminating network overhead during key exchange.

If all that was gibberish to you, read our description of encryption.

ProtonVPN’s most exciting security feature is its Secure Core servers, though. They connect you to most places in ProtonVPN’s network, but route you through a country with good privacy laws first. That has applications for privacy, but also for security.

In particular, the Secure Core servers protect against network snoopers identifying users as they’re reaching the server.

For example, the U.S. National Security Agency could monitor a user as they’re connecting to the VPN, negating the purpose of using one. If you’re tunneling to a server located in the U.S., where the government may have influence over a particular data center, that isn’t a far-fetched scenario.

Essentially, Secure Core servers give you a VPN for your VPN. While still allowing you to connect to the country you want, Secure Core servers first route you to countries with established privacy laws, making it impossible for those time-based attacks to occur.

As far as testing the security in practice, ProtonVPN is solid. We tested DNS leaks, as well as WebRTC and IP leaks, using ipleak.org. It came out clean.

Privacy

95% - Excellent

When signing up for a ProtonVPN account, you’re asked to enter your email and create a username. ProtonVPN stores that information for obvious reasons, but outside of that, there’s nothing else to identify you. Even the payment you send is handled by a third party, so ProtonVPN’s claim that it doesn’t keep logs holds weight.

ProtonVPN doesn’t “save your full credit card details.” Because payments are processed by a third party, there are billing details on record, but they aren’t tied to your VPN usage like they are with Buffered VPN (read our Buffered VPN review). In theory, someone could figure out that you paid for and used the service, but they’d have to pull logs from two companies to do so.

The account creation information isn’t shared with third parties, but it is shared with other companies in Proton’s group. That includes Proton Technologies AG, ProtonLabs and other Proton-affiliated companies.

Your account information will be kept on file indefinitely until you ask for it to be removed. As ProtonVPN lays out in its privacy policy, if the rights granted by the service are violated, “you have the right to lodge a complaint to the competent supervisory authority.”

The application gathers more information, but that’s more on the platform you’re downloading the application from than anything. Google Play and the Apple’s App Store may collect data about you, which is why we always mention if a .apk file is available to bypass them. If you’re interested in that, check out our best VPN for Android and best VPN for iPhone guides.

While using the application, the only data monitored is when a user connects. A timestamp is generated each time you log in and that data is overwritten with each subsequent login. The timestamp doesn’t contain any personally identifying information.

Though that may seem concerning for those bypassing strict censorship, the likelihood of ProtonVPN giving that information up is low. The company is based in Switzerland, which has some of the best privacy laws in the world, so the small amount of non-identifying information that’s kept isn’t an issue.

Streaming Performance

70% - Decent

Unfortunately, ProtonVPN won’t be making our best VPN for streaming guide. It failed to access Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video when connecting with multiple servers, which we’ll talk about more in a minute. While there was sometimes a glimmer that we’d be able to stream, we were left with nothing but a handful of proxy errors.

That said, we have been able to access Netflix with ProtonVPN in the past. It may work, depending on the server you use, but we had problems when connecting with UDP. If you’re looking for consistent performers, we recommend reading our best VPN for Netflix and best VPN for BBC iPlayer guides.

That was at first. Something not clarified anywhere but the knowledgebase is that streaming only works on “plus” servers, which are marked with a small “p” in the interface. After connecting to one of them, we were able to stream anywhere. Even so, a small amount of guidance goes a long way.

Server Locations

65% - Decent

ProtonVPN’s server locations are unimpressive. With 395 servers in 32 countries, ProtonVPN won’t be dethroning NordVPN or HideMyAss when it comes to server locations (read our HideMyAss review). Even so, the spread covers most major areas around the world.

ProtonVPN’s server page details which servers are good for what and the current load on them. Most locations are in the UK and the Americas, while a few locations, such as Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, account for Asia. Apart from a location in Israel, ProtonVPN doesn’t serve underrepresented areas such as northern Africa and the Middle East.

Then there are the Secure Core servers, which we talked about in the “security” section. They cover most of the same locations as the normal servers, except your traffic is routed through a country with good privacy laws first.

Customer Service

70% - Decent

ProtonVPN has good support, even if it’s not the fastest. The knowledgebase is where you’ll find answers to most questions. It covers basic topics such as how to download and set up the application, how to reset your password and how to troubleshoot the client.

Thankfully, the articles are detailed. ProtonVPN not only takes the time to cover a topic, but it does so with clear explanation and plenty of screenshots. Unusually, the comments section on the support articles isn’t a ghost town. Users respond with questions and, though it usually takes a few days, most questions get answers from support reps.

If you want to reach out directly, you can do so over email. ProtonVPN isn’t quick to respond — our inquiry was on hold for two days — but the answers are thorough. ProtonVPN warns that responses could take a few days, too, so we’re not too upset.

What is upsetting, though, is the lack of live chat. Live chat is useful for clarifying aspects of the service and directing users to knowledgebase entries. Given how many companies provide third-party live chat assistance, we figured that’d be part of ProtonVPN’s support system.

The Verdict

ProtonVPN does a lot right. It has decent speeds, it can get into Netflix (even if the process for doing so is annoying) and it isn’t too expensive. That said, there are downsides, mainly in how servers perform under load and the strange system for how specialty servers are identified.

Those issues are small and easy to contend with. Given ProtonVPN’s wealth of features and clear dedication to privacy, it’s an excellent choice. If you think it’s not for you, though, read our other VPN reviews.

What do you think of ProtonVPN? Do you plan to try the free plan? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.

ProtonVPN Review

A middle-of-the-road option.

After testing ProtonVPN, the Cloudwards.net team can only conclude that you could do worse, but you could also do better. While it does what it needs to without leaks and can access Netflix, we're left with the nagging feeling the same amount of money buys you more elsewhere.
Starts from$ 500per month
Visit ProtonVPN
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