If there are any VPN services that can raise an eyebrow, then ProtonVPN is a good candidate. The new VPN service comes from the creators of the hugely popular and highly secure end-to-end email service.
The company based in Switzerland launched the ProtonMail VPN in 2016. It gained plenty of exposure and users in a short time because of the free plan it offers.
With this, there are no ads, malware, or anything, which can deter users from using a free version.
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Switzerland has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world, so it is a good location for a VPN.
In this ProtonVPN review, we saw the VPN isn’t the cheapest, or the most feature-packed; it must be doing something to attract users. It can’t just be the free service, because this does miss many of the features in the full plans.
On the premium plans, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee, but using the free VPN, users ought to get a good idea of what the service delivers.
We dive deeper under the hood of this service and see if all the other ProtonVPN reviews give the full story and the right impressions of this unique secure VPN.
- Security-conscious users
- Users who want a free plan
- Tor (The Onion Router) connections
Plans and Pricing
It isn’t only the VPN, which is unique, so is the pricing structure. Below is the quick breakdown, yet there is more to follow. There are different rates, however, and this is because each tier of the service offers more than the previous.
Below are the rates for the annual tariff, although you can select the month where there is an increase, or you can sign up for a 2-year tie in a period where the prices drop.
|Basic (12 months)||$4.00 ($3.29 per month for 2-years)||Billed $48 for 12 months/ $79 2-years|
|Plus (12 months)||$8.00 ($6.63 per month for 2-years)||Billed $96 for 12 months/ $159 2-years|
|Visionary (12 months)||$24.00 ($19.96 per month for 2-years)||Billed $288.00 per year/ $479 2-years|
You need to look at the lowest plan, which happens to be their free version. This isn’t a trial; this is a free service that comes with no ads, no malware, and unlimited bandwidth. This can easily be at the top of the best VPN’s there is, which are free.
This can leave users wondering, “Is ProtonVPN good?” We will see more as we go on. However, there are very few restrictions on this free basic plan compared to other VPN’s.
Here are the brief differences between the free and the paid plans.
- Free: 1 connection, three countries available, and with medium speeds
- Basic: 2 connections, 44 countries, and high speeds
- Plus: 5 connections, 44 countries, and highest speeds
- Visionary: 10 simultaneous connections, 44 countries, and highest speeds
There are other differences, which we will get to as we reach each section. Nevertheless, all of the paid-for plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
When users look at the Visionary plan, it can appear expensive. However, this comes with the ProtonMail service as part of the bundle.
ProtonVPN offers users 20GB of ProtonMail storage, up to 50 email aliases, and support for ten email domains. In this, you can have up to five users in the one email account.
This can make the price more attractive to businesses who also need security features for the email side of things.
When you begin looking at the payment options, you can pay by credit card and PayPal. It is possible to use Bitcoins; however, this can only be when you upgrade from one of the lower plans to a higher one in the tiers.
Although payment options are limited, and you can’t use Bitcoin to create an account. The use of cryptocurrencies may change because rumor has it Proton will be releasing their own crypto coins.
Because ProtonVPN is so new, and they offer the free version of their VPN services. There may be plenty of skeptical people.
Free VPN’s get a bad rap, and with good reason. Many use a free VPN to bombard users with free ads or to sell on their information.
This leads to the question: Is ProtonVPN safe? Many VPN providers probably wish they were as safe to use as ProtonVPN.
Being based in Switzerland is one major advantage because the country is outside and governing jurisdiction that is related to the 5-eyes, 9-eyes, or 14-eyes coalitions.
It holds some of the world’s strongest privacy laws and does as much as it can to maintain user’s privacy.
ProtonVPN also uses what it calls secure core servers. These are located in secure countries and in secure locations. Several data centers are buried underground in old bunkers. This added layer of protection stops any physical intrusion, as well as having lots of online protection.
When it comes to the protocols in use, the security and privacy are secure with only OpenVPN and IKEv2/ IPsec as options. Users can’t select weaker options and thus compromise themselves.
The OpenVPN protocol is in use on the Windows and Linux desktops, and IKEv2 is used for Android, iOS, and macOS. Ciphers used are AES-256-CBC along with HMAC SHA-512 authentication.
Some features that are standard in many premium VPN’s are also standard here, such as an effective kill switch and DNS leak protection. Additionally, they use perfect forward secrecy, where it creates new security keys for each new VPN connection.
On the website, ProtonVPN states they are a no-logs VPN and do not track or record any user’s online activity. This means they are unable to pass any user information on to the authorities.
One other thing with the company being based in Switzerland, and running under their strict laws is that if there are any court orders where anyone asks for user data, then the individual concerned will be informed.
This alone is very different from the US and other countries where gag orders are issued against the companies, and individuals are kept in the dark.
In summary, even if you push all the quibbles aside, ProtonVPN may be one of the most secure VPN offerings available.
Ease of Use
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Unlike regular VPN companies, the way ProtonVPN deals with device connections varies between the tiers of their subscription.
When you sign up for the free plan, you can have one device connection. This increases to two devices with the basic plan. Next is the plus, which raises the number to five device connections, and the top plant ‘the visionary’ allows users ten device connections at once.
Users can find most of the major kinds of devices supported with native apps, and for the more uncommon, there are detailed setup guides available.
There is full support for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, along with GNU/ Linux. Routers are one of the devices that requires a third-party app. OpenVPN is the default choice.
One set of devices which needs mentioning are iOS devices, as ProtonVPN has a native iOS app available. For many providers, they still can’t do this running OpenVPN.
ProtonVPN is unique in lots of ways, and signing up can be very different from what you get from other providers.
If users wish to sign-up for the free version, all they need to do is head to the ProtonVPN website and click the sign-up button.
The free plan is selected by default, and all you need to do is enter your email address that is needed for verification.
Click on “Get ProtonVPN FREE” and then complete the verification. All this does is send a code to your email, which you input.
Once you do all this, you have the chance to download the app. Where it changes is as soon as you install the client, you are granted a 7-day free trial. Once this period is up, you then revert to the free version.
During this week, you have access to all the features before reducing to the limited feature set in the free offering.
The same procedure is the same for the paid subscriptions, although these will revert to the plan you signed up to. This is a clever way of self-advertising as users will see the difference between premium plans, and free with no further intervention.
Installing is the same as any other app on your device. Once you install, enter your username and password.
The client interface is a two-tone gray color and displays a world map. Inverted green triangles highlight locations of the ProtonVPN servers. Hovering your mouse over these displays the name of the location.
While this looks nice, it does allow users to connect to these servers directly by moving the mouse over the name. This will change to ‘connect.’ The top of the interface shows if you are connected or disconnected. The map is zoomable and scrollable.
On the bottom area of the map, you have connection data. Included are session time, download volume, and upload volume as well as up and down speeds in KB/s.
On the left of the screen, you have more information. You can see the server you are connected to, the new IP address, the protocol in use, and the server load.
Below this is the disconnect button, before connection, this is the quick connect button which selects the best server based on location.
You can select “Secure-Core” from here that routes data through multiple servers. It is possible to search, or you can scroll through all the countries. These have drop-down arrows at the side. You can either click on the country arrow that connects to the best country server or selects the down arrow and choose any of the available servers. These show the city location before it changes to ‘connect.’
In the top left of your client window, you have the main menu. Here you have: about, account, profiles, settings, help, report bug, log out, and exit.
The settings will be the most used heading. Here you have three tabs general, connection, and advanced.
- General includes start minimized, start with Windows, show notifications, and early access (beta versions).
- Connection comes with three options. Auto-connect as you start the app, and to which profile you select. Quick connect allows you to set the profile and default protocol. Smart is the default, which chooses the best for your needs.
- Advanced lets you enable the killswitch, turn on leak protection for DNS or IPv6. The Last option being split tunneling. Users can also create profiles to set as their favorite at any time.
The Windows app enables users to change most of the features settings without needing to head to the main menu.
One of the main features is the Secure Core. Here, users have protection against network-based attacks.
Traffic is routed through multiple servers before it leaves the ProtonVPN network. This is one of the main things spoken about in many other Proton VPN reviews. This makes any connection highly secure because if anyone is monitoring exiting traffic, they cannot relate it back to the originating user.
These core locations are based in Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland, where there are strong privacy laws, so online privacy is upheld.
DNS requests are made through encrypted tunnels and do not rely on any third-party DNS providers. This ensures there are no DNS leaks to expose you during your browsing.
Kill Switches and Always-On VPN means any data is stopped from exiting to the network if you lose your VPN connection, and ‘Always On’ automatically connects as soon as this connection comes back.
Tor Over VPN is built in by default. There are specific Tor servers on the ProtonVPN network, which will route traffic through the anonymous network. Accessing Onion sites is a one-click process.
ProtonVPN does away with adding protocols, so users who are looking for more advanced options may feel the app underwhelmed, yet this does make things more secure. Users may look for malware or ad-blockers, yet these are lacking, and many other top VPN’s don’t offer these features.
Split tunneling is another feature that is included in many premium VPN’s. ProtonVPN has this, and you can select which data you send through the VPN network, and which you don’t.
When swapping servers, this was straightforward and possible from several areas: the world map or the list of servers at the side. With one click, it is easy to change the country and server.
The only time you can’t select a server at the city level is from the map; this only allows you the quick connect option for that particular country.
Currently, there are no browser extensions, yet the company does claim it may look into these in the future. While there are no extensions, ProtonVPN does support certain browsers, and they advise you always have the most recent version.
Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, Opera, iOS Safari, Samsung Browsers, and MIUI browser all come with support.
All VPN’s slow connections to a certain degree, the question is how much and how much affect a user’s online experience.
In this Proton VPN review, it was difficult to give a definitive answer because speeds vary depending on which tier you sign up to.
Free offers medium speeds, and the basic plan lets user’s access to high-speed servers. Both the Plus and Visionary let users have access to the highest speeds. All plans do offer unlimited bandwidth.
Speed tests were conducted to get an overall look at the speeds. It was worth noting during these tests, there were no server drops of any kind, and there was no DNS leak from any area.
The biggest drop was from Japan, where the connection speeds were under 50% of the base speed. The US and Netherlands were above average and great for an unlimited free offering.
Premium plans saw better speeds. Yet, with only 602 servers spread over 44 countries, this is what you call a small server network.
Paid-up users will also have access to different servers depending on the tier, or at least you have faster connections the more you pay.
Once we conducted a speed test using a premium subscription, it wasn’t the fastest offering in comparison to other VPN’s. However, it was far from being the slowest as well. For any user who doesn’t do a lot of heavy downloading or uploading, speeds are more than ideal for most usage scenarios.
The quick-connect button delivered the best speeds rather than selecting a server. In most tests, this was the case for every country where there were multiple servers. The service must check the server load before it chooses which server to connect you to.
This only falls over if you are planning to spoof your location for bypassing geo-restrictions.
All speeds are sufficient for most users, yet when enabling the secure-core option, or using the Tor options, these are much slower.
This isn’t so much the fault of ProtonVPN, but the extra encryption required and the double-hop features mean data has to travel further before exiting the network.
This kind of slow-down is the same for any provider and is the price to pay for added security and anonymity.
With no live chat option or phone support, you may be lead to think that customer support is lacking. While every VPN ought to have the chance to live communication, the customer service on offer here is decent.
It can take around 24 hours to receive a response to an email inquiry; yet, these are detailed and can help resolve issues.
When you head to the support page, you have a live search bar. This offers suggested answers depending on the search query.
Under this, you have separate categories from account, download and set up, general information, access content, and troubleshooting.
These are in-depth and can help. Access content delivers a wealth of information regarding streaming services. One strange thing is they don’t include many of the main ones, such as Netflix. However, typing in the search box does deliver an answer.
Most of the content appears to be up to date, and they even show how you can access Disney+, which is the most recent addition to streaming platforms.
Aside from security when online, streaming is one of the more common uses for a VPN. The best test of how good any VPN performs is bypassing the restrictions that are in force by Netflix.
Although one Netflix account offers users to use their login around the world, it doesn’t allow them to access a library overseas.
When conducting streaming tests for ProtonVPN, Netflix access as expected not to happen. It was a surprise to find we were able to connect without too many issues. However, this can take a small amount of effort from the user.
To gain access, you do need one of the premium plans. When you scroll through the US-based servers, there is a ‘P’ at the side of the server. These are ones, which in most cases, bypass the Netflix geo-restrictions.
While doing this, you can see server load, these change from green to red, so you may find connections slow if the server load is close to maximum.
Other Netflix libraries we were able to access were the UK, Japan, and Germany. Canada and France were causing issues. The streams were at the highest quality, so it shows the download speeds are more than sufficient.
Aside from Netflix, there are a host of other streaming platforms ProtonVPN can enable access. BBC iPlayer, HBO Now, Disney+, ABC, and the UK or US versions of Amazon prime Video. A couple that is missing from their support guides is YouTube Tv and Sling TV.
This, though, doesn’t mean it won’t bypass the restrictions. One final thing to note is anyone trying to access this content with the free plan will be out of luck.
Torrenting is supported on all servers when you have a Basic plan and above. You may be able to carry this out on the free plan, yet there is no mention of what will happen if you do.
One-thing users should note the company doesn’t condone the use of any applications that are BitTorrent based and are in use to download or share copyrighted material. This is standard fare with many VPN’s.
Concerning this, because ProtonVPN retains no logs, or doesn’t monitor what users are doing while online. Then, in theory, they shouldn’t be able to say if you are downloading torrents or doing any P2P file sharing.
When selecting servers for torrenting, you can use any. However, in the client app, you can see bi-directional arrows that indicate which are P2P safe servers. Such servers include the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore.
For a new VPN to have so many positive user reviews is very rare. This may be on the back of their free plan, yet it does go to show the impact they have made.
This lowest level may be limited in speeds and available servers, but for something that costs nothing, it blows all other free services out of the water.
The top tier plan is expensive, yet if you are after full features, the plus plan does become affordable. However, in comparison to other VPN’s in the same range, it may lack performance. One of the main areas being the ProtonVPN mobile apps don’t support streaming.
This can be a deal-breaker, yet for desktop users, it can be a very secure offering.
Anyone considering this service; should be aware this is a new VPN. It hasn’t yet reached maturity. Given another few months and it may make much more of an impact on the VPN market.
A rock-solid, secure VPN that pushes online privacy to the limit. A decent performer, and very unique. Get 20% off when you buy ProtonVPN here.