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.
ProtonVPN is a Switzerland-based virtual private network that offers a free service and three paid plans. Switzerland is, of course, known for its concern with protecting customer privacy because of its banking tradition. To compare ProtonVPN with another Swiss service, read our VyprVPN review.
ProtonVPN has no glaring flaws and performs basic functions efficiently, but, as a combination of speed, security, configurability and value for money, it’s not necessarily the best VPN out there. It’s worth comparing it to some of the competition before you take the plunge by opting for the seven-day free trial.
For example, Mullvad (Mullvad review) is the same price month-to-month, but more configurable. ExpressVPN (ExpressVPN review) is similarly priced for a year’s subscription, but has far more servers and a better choice of encryption protocols. Both of these VPNs also get into Netflix and have a better range of payment options.
- Gets into Netflix
- Updated interface
- Automatic killswitch
- Lackluster split tunneling
- No killswitch controls
- Spotty ad blocker performance
- Gets into U.S. Netflix
- Good speeds
- User-friendly interface
- 5-10 simultaneous connections
- No bandwidth limits
- Good security
- Small server spread
- No choice of protocols
- No killswitch on Mac
After you sign up for ProtonVPN’s free plan the first thing you see is a link for its secure email service. Encrypted email is unusual to find in the suite of features offered by VPN services, but is, perhaps, a sign of things to come. This is only available on its most expensive plan, however.
On the free plan, you get one simultaneous connection and speeds that are advertised as “slow.” However, when you sign up for the free plan and log in, it lets you know you’ve been given an upgrade to the “plus” service on a seven-day trial basis. This is a good preliminary offer, though it’s not clear why it isn’t advertised up-front.
On the plus plan you get five simultaneous connections and access to its Tor servers, which offer an extra level of encryption. You also get its “highest” speeds. The only important thing missing from this plan is access to its encrypted email service, which most VPN customers can do without.
The most significant feature of ProtonVPN for some users will be that it gets into U.S. Netflix. The same can’t be said for BBC iPlayer, but the list of VPNs that can get into the BBC is short. See our review of the best VPN for BBC iPlayer, if that is what you’re looking for.
A unique feature of ProtonVPN is its “secure core servers.” That means, if you connect to its Singapore server, for example, it can route the connection through a server in a jurisdiction with good privacy laws like Sweden, Iceland or Switzerland, adding another layer of security against anyone who might try to snoop on your browsing activity.
ProtonVPN says it has a killswitch, which disconnects your internet if the VPN gets disconnected for some reason. It ensures that no one will catch a glimpse of your IP address while your guard is down. If you use a Mac, this feature will be disabled on your VPN client. If you have a Windows machine you can activate it from the desktop client.
It doesn’t offer a split tunneling feature yet, but says it plans to develop it in the future. This is a feature that allows you to decide which apps on your computer go through the VPN and helps optimize the speed of your connection, which is usually slower when using a VPN.
$ 5 00monthly
$ 48 00yearly
$ 10 00monthly
$ 96 00yearly
$ 30 00monthly
$ 288 00yearly
|Bandwidth||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
All the ProtonVPN plans can be billed on a monthly or yearly basis. The basic plan is quite economical albeit with a pared down list of features. A competing service such as Mullvad is better value for the same price.
The “plus” option, which gives you the highest speeds and five simultaneous connections, is already on the high end of the VPN price range for monthly or yearly subscriptions. It’s slightly better value for money than the basic plan in that it gives you the highest speeds and all the other features on offer except encrypted email.
The “visionary” option includes encrypted email. On this plan, even the yearly subscription costs more per month than most VPN services cost on their monthly plans. It doesn’t seem like good value just for the VPN, but if encrypted email is important to you, this may be the VPN for you.
The only payment methods are credit card and PayPal. There’s no cryptocurrency option and none of the more obscure payment options are supported. This shouldn’t matter to most people, unless they’re security conscious and would like to pay with bitcoin or cash.
When you opt for the free plan on ProtonVPN you are asked to create a profile with a username and password, after which it admits you to the download page, where you can choose the client for your operating system. Once you’ve downloaded it, just drag the VPN icon into the applications folder and you’re almost good to go.
You’ll have to sign in through the client using your login details. Once you can see the icon on the menu bar, click to activate a dropdown menu, then click on “show ProtonVPN” to see the client. It’s a standard mobile-sized desktop client such as one finds in many of the competing services. See our ZenMate review for another example.
The ProtonVPN client is an unusual variation on this model because it allows you to pull a map from the side of the client showing your connection route. If you’re using the secure core servers, it will show the complex route through several countries that you are taking to whatever site you’re viewing. See our Tunnelbear review and Shellfire review for examples of other VPNs that do this.
While using it, we wondered why VPN clients that are mobile-sized by default can’t make the size adjustable. The mobile size is handy, if you’re doing other things on your screen and want to keep the VPN in view, but, sometimes, you might want to expand it, so you’re not squinting at small settings buttons.
This isn’t an issue on ProtonVPN, which doesn’t have many settings. It would be better to have more features on the main client, such as the killswitch and a choice of encryption protocols, and, if you want technical help, you should be able to get there from the client instead of having to log in through your browser.
On the plus side, you can switch servers without having to disconnect and reconnect. This is a nice piece of efficiency that is missing from too many VPN services. When you disconnect from a server, a notice slides out from the side of your screen to let you know you’re disconnected.
ProtonVPN supports Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices. However, some older versions of the Mac operating system have to use tunnelblick, an open source tunneling software. This is not unheard of in the VPN market, as our PerfectPrivacy review can attest, but might be more than most customers want to deal with.
On the ProtonVPN free service, you can only have one simultaneous connection, but that goes up to five on the “basic” and “plus” plans. On the “visionary” plan, you get a generous 10 simultaneous connections, but not many of us would use that many devices at the same time.
Not all features are active on all operating systems. For example, the killswitch doesn’t work even on the most recent Mac operating system and the dropdown menu on the desktop application bar for Mac is a gray shell compared to the more colorful Windows version.
ProtonVPN can also be installed on an AsusWRT router. You’ll find instructions for how to configure it in the FAQ on the service’s website under the “download and setup” menu. You’ll also find instructions for how to install it on Linux using the command line on your computer.
This is one of the weakest aspects of Proton’s service. It only has servers in 15 countries, but there are multiple in most of them. The secure core feature allows you to take a route through several countries at once, but doesn’t give you much choice for the precise configuration of the route.
One nice aspect of choosing a server on ProtonVPN is that you can create and save a server profile by choosing one of its German servers with a particular IP address and routing it through the secure core. You can also opt for it to give you either the fastest server in that country or choose a random one on each occasion.
You can give the profile a name and a color coding that will show up in your server list, but a shortcoming is that it doesn’t permit you to choose an encryption protocol or a connection type, such as TCP or UDP. You can go into settings to change this, if you’re on a Windows machine.
|Ireland (unprotected)||9 ms||27.3 mbps||9.68 mbps|
|United Kingdom||36 ms||9.35 mbps||7.88 mbps|
|Hong Kong||466 ms||13.7 mbps||4.22 mbps|
|United States||260 ms||11.0 mbps||8.12 mbps|
|France||115 ms||18.7 mbps||7.66 mbps|
|Japan||595 ms||6.55 mbps||4.13 mbps|
ProtonVPN has decent speeds on the plus plan, usually around one-third to two-thirds slower than the unprotected speed. The speeds we recorded were mostly faster on the servers close to us in Europe, though the U.S. server was faster than the U.K. and Hong Kong server was faster than several European ones.
We recorded the slowest speeds on the Japan server, but they were not so slow that they held up our ordinary internet browsing. You might not want to use this server for torrenting, however, unless you live in East Asia. This was the speed test we did for Japan:
ProtonVPN has a no-logs policy, which means it doesn’t store user information and no one can connect your internet activity to your personal details. The only thing it does store is a time stamp of your last login, but it doesn’t record how long you were logged in or where you logged in from. It says this helps it ensure no one is impersonating you.
It uses OpenVPN as its encryption protocol by default. This is an open source protocol, meaning that it is very adaptable to new security threats. ProtonVPN combines it with a UDP connection type. You can change this in the settings menu, which is accessible through the dropdown menu from the app’s icon.
This only works in Windows however, and, without special configuration, there are no other protocols on offer such as PPTP or IKEv2. Those are standard on most VPNs. It says these protocols are vulnerable, but the lack of options makes this an unattractive choice for people with advanced technical needs or trying to outwit the Great Firewall.
U.S. Netflix is accessible through some ProtonVPN servers. When you discover which, you can create a profile for them that will appear in your server list. BBC iPlayer didn’t work for us and the page with instructions for how to connect to it on the VPN’s website gave us an error message.
An apparently unique security feature of ProtonVPN is the “secure core,” which allows you to route your connection through several countries. This is similar to the open source Tor software used by VPN services like GooseVPN (see our GooseVPN review), except Tor works without regard to the privacy laws of the country you’re detouring through.
Some of the ProtonVPN servers are marked with a “P,” which tells you the server is setup for torrenting. That means you can use it for downloading media content from the computer of another user on the torrenting network. If you try to do this on a server that’s not setup for it, your VPN may stop functioning.
See our best VPN for torrenting piece if this is a feature you need.
ProtonVPN passed our DNS leak tests on several servers. Even when we were using the secure core feature and going through several countries, it only showed the server in the main country we were aiming at. This indicates that ProtonVPN is a secure service with several layers of encryption between you and anyone trying to surveil you online.
The FAQ has a list of U.S. servers that can access Netflix, but ProtonVPN admits they may not always work. Since Netflix has been known to block individual VPN servers being used to access its geoblocked content, one wonders at the wisdom of listing them here. That said, we had no problem getting into Netflix using ProtonVPN.
ProtonVPN doesn’t have an instant messenger support service. If you click on the “support” tab on its main page, it will direct you to the FAQ, at the bottom of which is a button marked “contact our support team” that leads to a submission form. The form detects your operating system and asks you to enter the username you selected when subscribing.
The support staff responded to our questions within a few hours, which was an average response time, but not at the level of the premium customer support you get from a competitor such as GooseVPN, and it’s not like the ProtonVPN knowledgebase makes up for the lack of an instant messenger.
The FAQ is organized under five general headings like “Account” and “Troubleshooting.” They address general questions about ProtonVPN’s unique features such as its “secure core vpn,” as well as technical questions about what to do if you have trouble logging in to Netflix, but they don’t have extensive information
ProtonVPN doesn’t raise any red flags about security or speed, so it will do the job for you as a VPN service. Its core functions are superior in every respect to some of the dodgier VPNs on the market, such as Shellfire or ZenMate. On the other hand, it’s quite expensive and has a limited range of advanced security options.
It doesn’t let you change encryption protocols easily, nor does it have a wide range of server locations. It doesn’t even have the advantage of offering a few unusual locations to make up for the lack of geographical coverage. Its speeds are better than Mullvad which has the same monthly price.
If you want encrypted email, having a VPN service thrown in might be worth the price of the “visionary” service. If you want a secure, no frills, monthly service for your phone and computer that won’t give you technical headaches, then the basic or plus services might suit you.
To get an impression of what the best VPN services on the market can do, compare ProtonVPN’s features to our other VPN reviews. If you already have experience with ProtonVPN let us know by leaving a comment below.