ProtonVPN Review

ProtonVPN excels in features and usability, but falls behind the competition in terms of speed. Although you can get more for your money elsewhere, the generous free plan may be enough to change your mind.

By Jacob RoachDeputy Editor
— Last Updated: 11 Oct'19
2019-10-11T09:21:41+00:00
Table of ContentsRating
Features
90%
Excellent
Pricing
95%
Excellent
User Friendliness
90%
Excellent
Speed
65%
Decent
Security
80%
Good
Privacy
85%
Very Good
Streaming Performance
85%
Very Good
Server Locations
80%
Good
Customer Service
75%
Good
User Reviews & Comments

Good
Starts from $ 400 per month
Free plan available

ProtonVPN hasn’t made our best VPN guide in the past, though it has all the ingredients to rank toward the top. The long list of features takes a backseat to the expertly crafted interface, which is backed by a solid privacy policy and plenty of security features. The speed, on the other hand, is a problem. 

In this ProtonVPN review, we’re going to take a deep dive into this popular, free VPN, showing where it excels and where it falls short. Along the way, we’ll touch on features, pricing, speed, usability, security, privacy and more, all before giving our verdict. 

For the low price of free, it’s hard to knock ProtonVPN. Once you start paying, though, it isn’t as impressive as some of the top dogs in the VPN space. The speed is lackluster, which is a shame, considering how much else ProtonVPN gets right. That said, with a generous free plan at the ready, it’s still worth a shot.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Secure Core servers
  • No-logs policy
  • Generous free plan
  • Gets into Netflix
  • Profiles
  • Split-tunneling support
  • Kill switch
  • P2P & Tor servers

Weaknesses:

  • Slow
  • No live chat support
  • Free servers are sometimes unusable

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Features

90% - Excellent

ProtonVPN, as we’ll see in the “ease of use” section below, emphasizes accessibility. Despite that, it’s packed with features. That starts with a kill switch, which will block your internet connection if you ever drop from the remote server. There aren’t multiple kill switch modes, like there is with, say, PIA, but it gets the job done. 

Alongside the kill switch is DNS leak and IPv6 leak protection, as well as split tunneling, which allows you to send some apps or IPv4 addresses through the VPN tunnel, while others are excluded. For example, if you want to torrent on a secure connection while running an online backup through your standard connection, split tunneling is crucial.

Split tunneling is fairly rare, but all of the other features are stock. ProtonVPN sets itself apart with profiles. Although not essential to the VPN experience, profiles make ProtonVPN much easier to use. Profiles allow you to quickly configure different aspects of the service without digging through the settings. 

For example, if you want a torrenting profile, you can set the protocol you want to use — let’s say TCP for a packet confirmation — the country you want to connect to and even the specific server. Then you can set a profile color and name so it’s easy to find. 

Although a seemingly small addition, profiles allow you to quickly cycle through different VPN configurations without any hassle.

ProtonVPN Secure Core

When creating a profile, you can also set a Secure Core server as your default. These specialty servers are only available on “plus” and “visionary” subscriptions, and they add a layer of protection to your standard connection. It’s essentially a double-hop connection, but more than that, it’s a targeted one. 

The idea is that when you’re using a VPN in a risky country — say, the U.S. — the server you’re connecting to may be compromised. To mitigate the issue, the Secure Core server will first pass your connection through a server that ProtonVPN knows is clean, usually in Iceland or Switzerland, before sending you to the regular VPN server. 

If you’re unaware, most VPN providers don’t actively maintain the servers in their network. Usually, parts of a data center are rented for use with the VPN. Secure Core servers, however, are directly owned, operated and maintained by ProtonVPN, meaning they’re a secure option. 

ProtonVPN Features Overview

Starts from$ 400per month

General

Payment methods
PayPal, Credit card, cash
Accepts cryptocurrency
Simultaneous connections
10
Supports split tunneling
Unlimited bandwidth
Free trial available
Refund period
30 days
Worldwide server amount
500+
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
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
Subreddit
Knowledgebase

Pricing

95% - Excellent

ProtonVPN’s pricing model is unique. Rather than offering a single plan at different durations, ProtonVPN has multiple tiers of service, much like VyprVPN (read our VyprVPN review). Although there are four options, only two will be relevant to most users. 

Free
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 1 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
Basic
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 2 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
1-year plan $ 4.00/ month
$48.00 billed every year
Plus
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 5 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
1-year plan $ 8.00/ month
$96.00 billed every year
Visionary
  • Unlimited GB Bandwidth
  • 10 Included Devices
  • Bitcoin
1-year plan $ 24.00/ month
$288.00 billed every year

As far as the paid plans go, there are three tiers, though the “plus” tier is where most people should land. All of the tiers come with full access to ProtonVPN’s network, but “basic” limits the number of connections to two and lacks the “plus” plan’s Secure Core, streaming and Tor servers. 

At the top of the range, “visionary” includes all of the features of “plus” and comes with twice the connections, to boot, but it’s way too expensive. The selling point of this top-tier plan is ProtonMail, which is an encrypted email service that we gave a nod to in our email security guide. 

With that, most users will land on “plus” as the best option. If you’re looking for a budget VPN, Windscribe will take you further than ProtonVPN’s “basic” plan (read our Windscribe review). Additionally, the inclusion of ProtonMail isn’t enough to justify such a massive price hike on the “visionary” plan.

As for the actual price, ProtonVPN is just okay. A year’s worth of service is fine for $100, though there are plenty of cheaper options (read our Private Internet Access review and PureVPN review for two examples). Plans come either monthly or annually, and you’ll save 20 percent by purchasing a year upfront. All of the prices in the table above are for the annual plans.

ProtonVPN Free

ProtonVPN stands out not for its paid plans, but for its free one. It earned a spot in our best free VPN guide, offering three servers for one device at no charge. 

Unlike most free VPNs, ProtonVPN doesn’t restrict your bandwidth, meaning you can use it as much as you want, as long as you stay on the free servers (read our TunnelBear review for a service that restricts bandwidth). 

The free plan doesn’t replace the money-back guarantee, either. Despite the fact that you can try ProtonVPN for free, you can still request a refund for the first 30 days if you’re paying. ProtonVPN only credits you for the remaining days in your subscription, though, so keep that in mind. 

As for paying, ProtonVPN accepts standard options, including PayPal, credit cards and bitcoin. However, it also allows you to pay with cash, if you’re so inclined.

User Friendliness

90% - Excellent

ProtonVPN isn’t as straightforward as other VPNs when it comes time to sign up. The process isn’t backbreaking, but choosing between tiers isn’t something that’s usually presented at checkout. For those who don’t know what to go with, ProtonVPN has the “plus” plan tagged as the “best offer,” and we’d agree. 

After choosing your plan, you’ll need to create an account. ProtonVPN asks for a username, your email address and a password. If you already have an account — either from a previous ProtonVPN subscription or through ProtonMail — you can log in and purchase. 

That’s if the checkout process works. After entering our credentials, ProtonVPN’s website refused to load. We retried the account creation process numerous times, cycling email addresses, usernames and passwords, but after around 20 attempts, we were still met with a blank screen. 

In fact, the only way we were able to access ProtonVPN was by logging in to an account we created for a prior review. We’ve reached out to ProtonVPN to see what’s causing the bug. 

ProtonVPN Download

Once you sign up — if you can sign up, that is — you’ll land in your account dashboard. The dashboard is fairly barren, showing the details of your subscription and your billing information. 

However, you’ll need to access the dashboard at least once to download ProtonVPN. If you want to manually set up ProtonVPN, you can also download configurations files for OpenVPN from the downloads page. 

When you open the application, ProtonVPN will ask for your username and password, then proceed to give you a tour of the gorgeous interface. Rivaling the likes of NordVPN, ProtonVPN’s UI is a sight to behold, fit with a resizable map, simple server navigation and a speed monitoring chart (read our NordVPN review). 

There are multiple ways to get connected. You can find the location you want by scrolling through the list on the left or by clicking the triangle in the country you want to connect to. Doing either will automatically connect you to a server in that region. You can also choose the individual server, if you’re so inclined. 

Overall, ProtonVPN’s interface balances usability and flair. It feels like you’re commanding some advanced program without any of the technobabble that comes along with that. Even if you’re not a fan of the blackened techno aesthetic, ProtonVPN is easy to use, through and through. 

ProtonVPN Settings

ProtonVPN is light on settings, as most of the interface is dedicated to the large server map and speed chart. You can turn on the kill switch, configure how ProtonVPN behaves on start up and change your protocol, but that’s about it. There isn’t anything crazy like setting custom scripts (read our TorGuard review for that). 

That’s not a bad thing, though. ProtonVPN gives you the control you need without getting too in the weeds. Nearly every setting is reduced to a single toggle switch, which, for most users, is plenty.

Speed

65% - Decent

ProtonVPN earned an honorable mention nod in our fastest VPN guide. However, that was mostly on the strength of its free plan. Compared to other paid options, ProtonVPN isn’t slow, but it’s not fast, either. Services like AirVPN make quick work of it in the speed department, even if ProtonVPN is a better option overall (read our AirVPN review).

Location:Ping (ms)Download (Mbps)Upload (Mbps)
Unprotected (St. Louis)983.1420.49
Illinois, U.S. #16 (recommended server)1551.1320.51
U.S. Illinois #1 (Secure Core)2793.23.56
UK #1410216.3410.99
Japan #2126417.917.45
Australia #2125684.2810.87

Our testing was done using ProtonVPN’s recommended servers for whatever region we were testing. For instance, when testing the UK, we simply selected the country and used whatever server ProtonVPN handed us. To keep things fair, we tested with OpenVPN/UDP and AES-256. 

As you can see above, ProtonVPN dropped quite a bit when jumping over any body of water. The only exception was in Australia where, after rerunning the test multiple times, we consistently received download rates at or above our unprotected rate. We even ran the tests with individually selected servers and received similar results. 

All of our tests were done on ProtonVPN’s normal server network, meaning you can find every server in the “basic” package. We tried testing two free servers, but the rate slowed so much that our speed testing app wouldn’t connect after multiple attempts. Likewise, we tested one Secure Core server, and as you can see above, it slowed our speed by a lot. 

ProtonVPN is many things, but consistent isn’t one of them. The speed varies a lot between individual servers, and letting ProtonVPN decide which server you use usually doesn’t pay off. Going back through the list and selecting our own servers produced far better results. It’s a service that can be fast. You’ll just have to work for it.

Security

80% - Good

ProtonVPN doesn’t let you configure much when it comes to security. As far as VPN security goes, though, it’s top notch. You only have access to OpenVPN, which is paired with AES-256 (read our description of encryption and VPN protocol breakdown to learn about those). Key exchange is handled with RSA-4096 encryption. 

In short, your data is secured when using ProtonVPN, but if you’re still worried, the Secure Core servers are always available. Although your speed will take a significant hit, using a Secure Core server ensures nothing leaks about you. The encryption is sound, and with Secure Core servers at the ready, local snooping is covered, too.  

ProtonVPN Torrenting

In addition to the Secure Core servers, ProtonVPN also has servers rated for Tor and peer-to-peer connections. The Tor servers should be used if you’re connecting to the Tor network through a VPN. Though, as you can see in our VPN vs. proxy vs. Tor guide, your speed will take a hit. 

The P2P servers are built for torrenting, and thankfully, they shouldn’t impact your speed much. Although ProtonVPN is torrent-friendly across the board, the dedicated P2P servers are known to ProtonVPN as safe. When using a non-P2P server, it’s possible, though unlikely, that someone could be snooping on that connection. 

To ensure everything with ProtonVPN’s security was sound, we ran it through a series of DNS leak tests, as well as WebRTC and IP leak tests, and ProtonVPN came out clean.

Privacy

85% - Very Good

ProtonVPN adheres to a strict no-logs policy, or at least a strict no-logs policy when it comes to identifiable information. When you sign up for an account, you’ll need to provide an email address, username and payment method. Because you can pay with bitcoin and use a burner email, there’s nothing ProtonVPN can hold on you. 

This information is, of course, gathered to provide a more robust experience. There are more privacy-focused account creation processes — read our Mullvad review for one example — but they lack the features of ProtonVPN. It’s a necessary evil.

When using the app, ProtonVPN has several crash and analytics tools monitoring what’s going on. However, these apps only gather collective information. For instance, ProtonVPN would know if there’s a crash, but it wouldn’t know who experienced the crash. Likewise, ProtonVPN knows the total number of installs, but not any information on those individual installs.

Your traffic, IP address, DNS requests and anything else relating to your personal connection isn’t monitored or logged. For the sake of transparency, ProtonVPN maintains a report where it notes any significant legal requests it receives. Since ProtonVPN operates under Swiss law, it only cooperates with requests approved by the Swiss court system. 

The most recent request that was approved by the Swiss court system made its way to ProtonVPN, but it wasn’t able to comply, as it didn’t have the requested information on record. Switzerland has some of the best privacy laws in the world, so your data is in good hands with ProtonVPN.

Streaming Performance

85% - Very Good

ProtonVPN didn’t make it on our best VPN for streaming list due to its speed. That said, it was able to access every major streaming platform. In the U.S., we easily broke into Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, which are two of the toughest streaming platforms to crack (read our best VPN for Hulu and best VPN for Amazon Prime Video guides to learn about that).

The speed is the problem here. Streams took a while to load using ProtonVPN’s recommend locations. Searching out a server on our own, we were able to load videos relatively quickly, though not as fast as our best VPN for Netflix.   

ProtonVPN Netflix

Speaking of Netflix, we were able to break into it without any problems. Once again, the speed was the largest issue. Likewise, we were able to access BBC iPlayer, but the site took next to forever to load. 

The issue was exaggerated by the fact that we were testing in the States, so jumping over to the UK took a lot of network headroom. If you’re interested in streaming UK content, be sure to read our best VPN for BBC iPlayer guide.

Server Locations

80% - Good

At the time of writing, ProtonVPN has 526 servers in 42 countries. Although nothing compared to the massive network that HideMyAss has (read our HideMyAss review), ProtonVPN isn’t using virtual servers. All of the locations it has are physical, and although that means less variety, it’s good for security. 

Servers are split into three tiers: free, standard and Secure Core. The Secure Core servers are only available on the “plus” and “visionary” subscriptions, while the standard servers are available for anyone who’s paying. 

Some servers are rated for specific tasks, too. For instance, the Netherlands location is rated for peer-to-peer connections and the Hong Kong location is rated for Tor. 

ProtonVPN Free Countries

If you stick with a free plan, you’re restricted to three locations: the United States, Japan and the Netherlands. These locations have “medium” speed, according to ProtonVPN, which is vague, to say the least. Even so, the three locations provide a decent spread, especially for a free plan.

Customer Service

75% - Good

ProtonVPN makes finding support easy. Clicking the “support” tab on the main page of the website will bring you to the knowledgebase, which shows a handful of categories and a button for the contact page. 

Starting with contact options — or, in this case, contact option — ProtonVPN provides a simple support form. There are also individual email addresses you can find in the footer of the website. There isn’t live chat or a phone number, and when we reached out to email support, it took a little over a day to receive a response. 

That said, ProtonVPN maintains subreddit, Twitter and Facebook accounts, all of which are fairly active. If you have any questions, you can tweet at ProtonVPN or start a thread in the subreddit. 

You shouldn’t need to for basic questions, though. The knowledgebase, although not too robust, covers most of the frequently asked questions. It has setup guides, general troubleshooting articles, clarifications on account processes and more. Furthermore, the articles are thorough, usually fit with step-by-step instructions and plenty of screenshots.

The Verdict

ProtonVPN would easily rank near the top of our VPN rankings if it weren’t for the speed. The features and usability are excellent, and the price isn’t too bad, either. However, the speed isn’t up to snuff with the rest of the VPN market. That said, there’s no harm in downloading the free version to try it for yourself. 

What do you think of ProtonVPN? Are you going to take the free version for a spin? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.

ProtonVPN FAQs

What Is ProtonVPN?

  • ProtonVPN is a virtual private network server based out of Switzerland. It also offers an encrypted email service called ProtonMail. 

How to Use ProtonVPN

  • ProtonVPN is easy to use on desktop. Using the server map, all you need to do is select the location you want to connect to and click “connect.”

Where Is ProtonVPN Based?

  • ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, which has some of the best privacy laws in the world.

ProtonVPN Review

A middle-of-the-road option.

ProtonVPN excels in features and usability, but falls behind the competition in terms of speed. Although you can get more for your money elsewhere, the generous free plan may be enough to change your mind.
Starts from$ 400per month
Visit ProtonVPN
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