ProtonVPN Review – Everything you need to know (2020)

(Image Credit: ProtonVPN)

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, which, at first, may seem like an odd place for a VPN company to begin its journey but ProtonVPN comes to the table with a decorated history of privacy and security. 

Founded in 2014 with the launch of ProtonMail, a secure end-to-end encrypted email service, ProtonVPN soon followed bringing with it years of experience in cybersecurity and technology.  

With a host of features, security credentials, and custom price plans, it seems fair to say it looks like you’re in good hands but how does this history translate into the finished article?  In this ProtonVPN review, we’ll cover everything you need to know. 

Let’s find out.  

Short on Time? Here's what you need to know.

Security

5/5

The most secure VPN for Privacy. 

Speed

4/5

Consistent speeds for streaming.

Price

4/5

Different pricing options available.

Netflix

5/5

Access geo-blocked content, anywhere.

We Like

  • A free plan that simply can’t be matched with unlimited data, Tor and P2P servers
  • Powerful Swiss security makes your browsing totally anonymous 
  • Stream geo-blocked content like Netflix and Amazon Prime with ease
  • Tiered pricing options give you the flexibility to manage how much you pay

We don't like

  • No live chat customer support, although this is currently in the works for the future
  • Slightly more expensive than it’s counterparts for the most expensive plan 

What is a VPN?

When you use a VPN or Virtual Private Network, all of your traffic is sent through an encrypted tunnel via a private VPN server which can’t then be accessed, allowing you the freedom to browse the internet in relative peace. 

From helping you to stay secure and anonymous on unsecured public WIFI by stopping any hackers from accessing your data to preventing advertisers from knowing everything about you before you’ve even visited their site. 

No longer limited to hiding your IP address and accessing geo-blocked content VPNs have now become a staple in personal and corporate security. 

Price and plans – How much does ProtonVPN cost?

ProtonVPN has a free plan and 3 tiers of pricing ranging from €4, €8, and up to €24 per month, each billed annually.  

What makes ProtonVPN different from other VPNs is that each level of pricing comes with varying levels of features. The current industry standard is full access to all of the available features but with further discounts on the number of months you pay for.  

ProtonVPN makes it simple: the lower the price point, the fewer features you get. Each level of pricing brings more advanced features such as P2P support and additional servers and countries.  

While not uncommon in other industries, with regards to VPNs, ProtonVPN sticks out as being the only reputable one that charges customers in this way.  

It’s an interesting way of doing things and makes it easier for people who are on different parts of the buying journey.  

protonvpn free

Not sure what to expect? Opt for the free version until you feel like you need more.  

Know you need at least 5 simultaneous connections for your household, head straight for the Plus Plan.  

The final pricing option, the Visionary Package, is a €24 per month deal that includes both ProtonMail and ProtonVPN as well as up to 10 simultaneous connections.  

ProtonVPN also makes it relatively easy for you to pay via Bitcoin which adds additional security without needing to use an email address. At the time of writing it is only available for existing customers, however.  

To round it all off, each paid package comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.  

It must be said that the plus package which correlates most with other premium VPNs like NordVPN and ExpressVPN is slightly more expensive than its contemporaries, if only by €1 or so per month.  

For those just starting out with VPNs, I would never recommend jumping straight in and buying a year’s subscription, from any VPN. Even if the VPN comes with a 30-day guarantee, like with ProtonVPN, no one likes asking for their money back.  

Privacy - Is protonVPN Trustworthy?

With privacy being such a fundamental aspect of a VPN, it’s imperative the VPN you choose must come with serious credentials. Recently, we saw how 7 VPNs were hacked with data stolen from some 20 million users and again with Pulse Secure VPN which catered to over 24,000 businesses. 

Luckily, ProtonVPN has that area covered. 

Does ProtonVPN Keep Logs?

According to their privacy policy, outside of the standard account creation and required email address, the only information ProtonVPN keeps is a single timestamp of when you last logged which is then overwritten when you next use the service, making ProtonVPN a no-logs VPN. This not only tells us they really are focused on personal privacy but it also helps prevent brute force attacks as well.  

If a VPN doesn’t keep logs, it can’t give out information.  

You could even go one step further and make your account that little bit more secure by using either their encrypted ProtonMail or another encrypted email service to register your account thus adding another layer to your privacy online.  

Location

Now, as we mentioned at the start, the Swiss location of ProtonVPNs headquarters is great and for a few different reasons.  

  • Stringent Swiss privacy laws 
  • Outside of EU and US jurisdiction  
  • Outside of the 14-Eyes Surveillance  

Where a company operates from may seem like an afterthought to some, but VPNs can be a good indicator of where they stand on security as a whole. It’s also great to see the company campaigning against new privacy laws that would have limited rights in Switzerland.  

DNS Protection

ProtonVPN also comes with in-built DNS (Domain Name System) protection which provides an additional layer of security between you and the internet by blacklisting malicious sites and filtering out unwanted content. 

Using the same encryption, ProtonVPN route your queries through their encrypted tunnels ensuring that you avoid any third-party DNS providers and prevents any leaks from DNS queries. Not a bad little feature at all.  

If you are using a VPN you can check to see whether or not you have a leak here 

Features

ProtonVPN offers a number of fantastic features based on which plan you choose. For the Plus Plan, you get everything you would expect from a leading VPN including a Kill-Switch, P2P support, Tor Over VPN, and Secure Core VPN, an option that passes your traffic through multiple servers to further anonymize your traffic. For more information, we cover Secure Core VPN or Double VPN in this article.  

Data

The free plan is limited, which is to be expected, but also ad-free. As far as free VPNs go, ProtonVPN is the only VPN on the market today that offers unlimited data, no ads, and comes with the security credentials you want from a company handling your private data

The closest alternatives are TunnelBear which has a data cap of 500MB a month and HotSpot Shield which has a 500MB per day allowance. 

Both of these aren’t to be dismissed, especially HotSpot Shield, but it’s very difficult to recommend a provider that limits daily usage over another that allows unlimited browsing. 

Speeds

On their website, ProtonVPN claims you will get ‘Medium Speed’ for the free plan which may seem like they intentionally throttle your service but this isn’t the case.  

The medium speed is based on how many users ProtonVPN expects to be on the network at any given time. With only 3 servers being available on the free plan you can expect the speeds to be average. The opposite is true for the Basic and Plus plans in which they expect much better internet speeds because of the additional servers available.  

We ran a number of tests to see if this checked out in our Performance section below.  

Devices

It’s a similar story for the number of connections with only 1 device allowed for the free plan and upwards of 2, 5, and 10 for each respective pricing tier. 

The industry standard is 5 devices that are offered by the likes of NordVPN or ExpressVPN. A fraction of you will ever need 10 devices but it’s always good to know they’re available if you ever need them.    

Encryption

ProtonVPN encrypts your data with AES-256 encryption and a 4096-bit RSA key exchange which is the current strongest encryption standard available. 

You may have heard at least one of those terms with AES-256 encryption being championed as ‘unbreakable to even a supercomputer’ by a number of VPNs. The actual numbers behind these levels of encryption are staggering and make brute force attacks almost impossible: 

proton vpn encryption

(Image Credit: EEtimes)

ProtonVPN also employs a Perfect Forward Secrecy feature on all of their servers in which a unique encryption key is generated each time you connect. This means that even in the extremely rare occurrence that your key is compromised, your data from the previous session will be safe.  

What is Secure Core?

ProtonVPNs Secure Core feature, which is available on the Plus Plan, can route your traffic through multiple servers located in privacy-friendly countries such as Sweden and Iceland and hosted on their own dedicated networks, making it extremely difficult for even the most advanced users of discovering your IP address.  

Ad blocker

Currently, a built-in ad blocker is not available for any plans.

Servers and Locations

Currently, ProtonVPN offers a maximum of 1,048 servers in 54 countries that are available on from the first plan up until the Visionary plan. The free version has 3 countries available which are the US, The Netherlands, and Japan but also includes access to Tor and P2P servers 

Other VPNs have more server locations in more countries, such as CyberGhost, which has servers in over 90 different countries. More servers and countries mean that it’s more likely a server will be closer to wherever you are in the world, theoretically allowing the speeds to be better and giving you the flexibility to access more geo-blocked content. Having more servers available doesn’t always translate to better performance or reliability, however. 

protonvpn servers

(Image Credit: ProtonVPN)

ProtonVPN offers a great range of countries from Peru to Serbia to South Africa so you should never run into too much trouble finding a server nearby.  

They also have servers available in countries with strict laws on privacy such as Hong Kong and China.  

As a side note, due to the on-going protests and uncertainty, ProtonVPN has recently released a statement to say they are keeping their servers up and running in Hong Kong and are strongly against the implementation of Article 43.  

A lot of VPNs could have simply removed the servers from Hong Kong, rather than use valuable computing power and resources in order to keep them up and secure. In a testament to their privacy-focused ethos, ProtonVPN has decided to keep them operational (for now).  

November Update

By popular request, ProtonVPN has recently launched additional servers in the state of Virginia which shows a dedicated commitment to customer feedback. 

Protocols

VPN protocols determine exactly how your data is routed through a connection. These protocols have different specifications based on the benefits and desired circumstances; for example, some VPN protocols prioritize data and speed while others focus on masking or encrypting data packets for privacy and security.  

ProtonVPN currently supports OpenVPN on its Windows app and IKEv2/IPsec connections on Android, iOS, and macOS devices. Although both are strong protocols, OpenVPN is a better alternative due to it being open-source and available to public scrutiny. I’m hoping to see either a full implementation of OpenVPN across all devices or a full move to WireGuard (which ProtonVPN is currently testing).  

For more information on how protocols work, check out the video below.

Perfomance

There’s no point in having a strong background in privacy and great features if the speeds you experience aren’t up to scratch.  

As you well know, buffering and lag can be annoying at the best of times and before we dive headfirst into the numbers it must be said that ProtonVPNs speeds are great. They aren’t the fastest we’ve tested, that would be either ExpressVPN or HotSpot Shield but dependable nonetheless. So if you want to know if you’ll be able to watch the latest Netflix series from the US then you’ll have no issues at all. This includes the free version.  

It’s also worth pointing out that these results of ours could differ significantly depending on where in the world you are. 

For a benchmark, we used 2 speed testing services; speedtest.net and testmy.net with averages leveling out at around 65mps download speed and 18mps for uploads. 

Over the course of a few weeks, the average drop in speed came in at around 46% for download speed and 61% for upload speeds. These numbers are roughly where I expect a top VPN to be at in terms of latency and perfectly acceptable for gaming and streaming. Of course, there’s always room for improvement and on some days, they were faster and some were slower but on average not bad results at all.  

Overall, ProtonVPN delivers respectable and consistent results. Unless you’re trying to stream The Irishman in Ultra HD from a Siberian mountaintop, you should be absolutely fine. Privacy and anonymity should, however, always come first, speed second.  

Hands on with ProtonVPN

Offering a full range of apps, ProtonVPN offers desktop versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers as well as iOS and Android devices. 

Now, different VPNs go different routes when it comes to their apps. Providers like NordVPN have a very simple user interface whereas TunnelBear introduces more of a fun element to things, and PureVPN could do with some work.  

But how is it to use on a day to day basis?  

The app is quick to download and easy to install. When you open up the desktop app you’re given the option for a tour of all the features and important details.  

On the home screen the quick connect button, which the majority of people will use most, is big and accessible straight away along with a map of the world showing you all the available serversConnection time is average and is usually around the 6-second mark. 

You also get a list to the left-hand side detailing the countries and additional options available like Tor and P2P servers which also includes the load the server is experiencing which I haven’t seen on other apps before.  

For the interested, at the bottom of the homepage, you also get to see important metrics like upload and download speed and total session time.  

For the more advanced users, ProtonVPN also allows you to create your own profiles and tailor them to your needs, whether it be gaming, file-sharing, or watching geo-blocked content like Netflix. You also have the choice to connect via TCP or UDP.  

Support

ProtonVPN does not currently have a 24/7 live chat feature. Let’s get that out of the way first.  

Although this may not seem like the end of the world it’s an excellent customer service option that all of the top VPNs offer. It shouldn’t make that much of a difference but it’s just nice to have, especially when VPNs can suffer from occasional glitches or lag that could be answered in seconds.  

That being said, the email support you get is friendly, thorough, and responsive, usually within 24 hours. The customer support centre on their website is also filled with handy and helpful guides to things like streaming and Android hotspots.  

After speaking to the marketing department and support team at ProtonVPN they have confirmed that they are looking at bringing in live chat support for customers soon but couldn’t give a definitive date on when this would be available. 

Netflix

After running trials over the course of weeks, ProtonVPN had no issues in connecting to the US version of Netflix, unblocking BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime and that includes the Free version as well.  Although there are not any specific servers for Netflix, each server and server location will work.  

It must be noted that although I had no issues connecting, Media giants like Netflix and Amazon are always looking to curb the access of content to those not residing in the relevant countries. What works today might not work tomorrow but it’s always a great sign to see consistent geo-unblocking, especially for the free version.  

Torrenting

As we’ve mentioned, ProtonVPN offers dedicated P2P servers available on all plans including the Free version so even if you’re just trying the service out, you can get a feel for the speeds and dependability of these servers for yourself. Coupled with the no-logging policy, ProtonVPN is a good option for anyone who frequently torrents.  

They also include a nice guide on their own blog on how to safely torrent, the risks for P2P file sharing, and how to choose a trustworthy VPN for torrenting.

Current Commitments

ProtonVPN recently asked the public to vote on the location of their next servers which closed on the 11 of September of which the results should be available soon. 

They have also just announced new servers in Chile, Columbia, and Peru as part of their further expansion into South America.  

Future Projects

As we mentioned earlier, we’ll hopefully be able to see the implementation of a 24/7 live chat feature in the near future and during conversations with the marketing team over at ProtonVPN, this is what they are looking at next. No timescale has been given at this moment in time but expects to see something soon. 

Summary

For a free VPN, you simply can’t look beyond ProtonVPN. The unlimited data alone is enough to warrant trying it out. Add the focus on privacy and security as well as the security features available, there isn’t a VPN out there that can match it.  

For the paid version, the pricing tiers may put you off initially but they do offer flexibility for new and experienced users alike to cater to their needs. Speed, design, Netflix, and features are all comparable to other top VPNs but ProtonVPN does have the most forward-thinking privacy fundamentals of them all.