ProtonVPN review

ProtonVPN is a rock-solid, reliable VPN service that puts security and privacy at its top priority. The company has a strict no-logging policy and offers support for sharing P2P files at an affordable price. However, accessing ProtonVPN’s best security feature, Secure Core, is quite expensive. So, is this the best VPN service for your needs? In our ProtonVPN review, we go deeper into everything this platform has to offer.

Features of ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN opens all registers when it comes to security. First, the company is based in Switzerland, which has strong privacy laws and does not share data with US or European regulators. ProtonVPN also has one of the best no-logging policies we’ve seen. The only data recorded is the time of your last login attempt, and even that is overwritten every time you log in.

The most exciting and unique feature ProtonVPN offers is what it calls Secure Core. This essentially means that when you connect to a server using ProtonVPN, your connection is first routed through several of ProtonVPN’s most protected servers. As a result, even if you visit a malware-infected website, your real IP address and browsing history can never be leaked to network attackers.

ProtonVPN also offers a built-in kill-switch to protect your IP in case your connection fails. There is no option to have the VPN turned on automatically when connecting to a public WiFi network. Still, you can set ProtonVPN to open a connection when you turn on your computer automatically.

Unfortunately, ProtonVPN’s server network is much smaller than many other VPNs that offer similar or cheaper prices – the company has just over 870 servers spread over 50 countries. There are relatively few servers in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Still, if you want to connect to Europe or North America, most countries have more than six servers available.

However, privacy obsessives will be pleased to see that ProtonVPN offers Tor over VPN, integrating your connection with the anonymous Tor network. With a single click, all data is routed through the Tor network, giving the user an extra layer of privacy and access to Onion sites. Apart from NordVPN, we can’t mention many VPNs that offer this as an integrated feature.

Finally, ProtonVPN can unblock geo-restricted streaming sites such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, and Disney+, but only on Plus plans and above. This is an excellent feature for any VPN. Still, since providers such as Surfshark offer the same at a much lower price, if you’re looking for a streaming VPN, then Proton is going to look expensive – it’s the advanced security that will attract people.

ProtonVPN review: Privacy

The Swiss house of ProtonVPN gives it a direct privacy advantage over most of its competitors. The country has powerful privacy laws, is outside the US and the EU jurisdiction, and is not a 14-eye surveillance network. The company mentions its logging policy very clearly on the website: “ProtonVPN is a no logs VPN service. We do not track or record your Internet activities and therefore cannot provide this information to third parties”.

Session logging is almost non-existent. The company keeps the time stamp of the last successful login attempt, but that’s it. This is overwritten the next time you log in, so it only displays the previous session. ProtonVPN links your account to an email address when you log in, but this address can be what you want. The company suggests using ProtonMail if you prefer to remain completely anonymous.

Sign up for the free plan, and you don’t have to provide any payment details. Choose something else, and you can choose to pay with Bitcoin. If you use PayPal or a credit card, payments will be processed by a third party, and ProtonVPN will not see your billing information.

A Transparency Report or ‘Warrant Canary’ page theoretically reports on ‘remarkable legal requests’ and what happened. It sounds useful, but it seems that only one request has been mentioned (no data has been handed over), dated January 2019.

Another privacy plus came to light in January 2020 when ProtonVPN announced that its apps were now open source and issued independent audit reports on them by security experts SEC Consult.

The results were promising: only 11 vulnerabilities were found in the desktop and mobile apps, and only in the low or medium category. Eleven may sound a lot, but it’s not. The whole point of these audits is that they are extremely thorough, identify even the smallest issues, and none of the vulnerabilities were ProtonVPN showstoppers.

ProtonVPN review: Performance

Our speed tests started with connecting to the fastest server from two locations (one UK, one US), after which performance was checked with the benchmark sites Speedtest.net and TestMy.net.

Download speeds from our UK data center averaged 120Mbps. That’s better than some, and enough for most tasks, but there’s much better performance. For example, our latest ExpressVPN OpenVPN results averaged 130Mbps, but the Lightway protocol gave us 165Mbps, Hotspot Shield reached 200Mbps, and NordVPN’s NordLynx reached 330Mbps and more.

US performance was better at 160-200Mbps, a considerable recovery from the terrible results we saw in the last review, where ProtonVPN peaked at 12Mbps. You can still get significantly higher speeds elsewhere – Hotspot Shield median speeds ranged from 328Mbps to 415Mbps during our previous tests – but, again, ProtonVPN is probably good enough for most users, devices, and tasks.

Long-distance connections yielded more mixed results, from a decent 25-35Mbps when connecting the UK to Australia to a snail-like 2Mbps on the UK to South Korea. We cannot draw any significant conclusions from this, as speeds over this distance can be influenced by many factors outside the VPN, but it still raises questions. If you want to connect to locations worldwide, you need to test the speed while within the 30-day money-back guarantee carefully.

ProtonVPN review: Streaming support

ProtonVPN sells itself primarily in privacy and security but also has several unblocking capabilities.

For example, it has given us access to American YouTube content. That’s relatively simple, but it has also outwitted the defense of the much more troublesome BBC iPlayer and allowed us to stream whatever we wanted. We had successful access to the UK and US Netflix with ProtonVPN’s Plus plan, although, as we’ve seen before, it sometimes took the player a long time to play and occasionally went out of time, forcing us to try again.

ProtonVPN also succeeded with Disney+. We saw similar performance problems, but these turned out to be related to accessing the site and launching the player; once streamed, we didn’t see any playback problems. The service also gave us access to Amazon Prime Video, this time without any speed issues.

The unblocking of ProtonVPN may have had some strange whims, but we managed to unblock every service we tried, and that’s what matters. (However, don’t forget that you need at least a ProtonVPN Plus account to achieve this performance level. The free and Basic accounts are not enough).

ProtonVPN review: Pricing and plans

ProtonVPN has one of the most attractive free VPN options we’ve seen from any provider. Without paying anything, you can get an ad-free service with no data logging and no bandwidth limitations. The only catch is that you can only choose from servers in three countries.

ProtonVPN review

For paid plans, pricing is a bit complex. A Basic plan costs $5/mo paid per month but is reduced to $4/mo paid per year and $3.29/mo on a two-year plan. This gives you P2P support, two simultaneous connections, and access to servers in each country ProtonVPN works in – but not the ‘Plus’ servers.

For the Secure Core feature and content unblocking, you will need at least a Plus plan, coming in for $10/mo ($8/mo paid per year, $6.63/mo on a two-year plan). Considering that this only allows for five simultaneous connections, it’s somewhat expensive – but it’s probably the one you’ll want because it provides ProtonVPN’s great streaming power and provides access to any server.

If you want to do it all, you get the Visionary package for $30 per month, including everything from the Plus package and a full ProtonMail subscription. The Visionary package is reduced to $24 per month on an annual subscription and $19.96 per month on a two-year subscription. However, it still costs a hefty premium that we expect few people will pay unless they need encrypted email support and a VPN.

ProtonVPN review: Customer support

The support of ProtonVPN could be more robust, and the company only offers support via email. There is an online knowledge base, but it does not cover many topics, and the guides provided are relatively short. Still, for frequently asked questions about setting up or troubleshooting problems with a connection, you will likely find the answers you need.

We would like to see some live chat implemented, as the most significant players offer it, and it is more useful than you might think so. VPNs of all types can get problems with rogue servers or incompatibilities with other applications. Solving in minutes – or even often seconds – is much better than having to wait for a reply to an email. However, in Proton’s defense, our test emails were answered within a day and provided comprehensive useful solutions.

Final words

ProtonVPN is one of the best VPNs if you prefer privacy and security. The Secure Core feature is unique and makes it impossible for highly sophisticated attacks to capture your IP address. Moreover, the ability to set up network profiles for fast access is a nice bonus.

The only drawback of ProtonVPN is that getting access to the most exciting features of the service is a bit expensive. We love the free offer of ProtonVPN, but there are cheaper competitors if you look at the Plus or Visionary plans. However, it does offer a unique combination of features, so if it can deliver what you’re looking for, we’d say it’s worth it.

9 Total Score
Our Verdict

ProtonVPN neatly packs Swiss security into a VPN, with a great free option and strict no-logging policies, and unusual features such as multi-server connection routing and Tor over VPN. While paid plans are somewhat expensive, ProtonVPN offers a lot of security for your money.

PROS
  • Excellent free option
  • Useful additional security features
  • Great streaming support on Plus plan
  • Solid zero-log policy
CONS
  • Relatively few simultaneous connections
  • Not a huge variety of servers
  • A little expensive
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