Swiss-based VPN service provider ProtonVPN offers advanced security features and the latest security protocols. If you’ve been searching for a reliable VPN for free, this is exactly the thing. But does the company live up to the hype? This ProtonVPN review is here to clear it up.
Pros and Cons
- High-grade physical protection of servers
- Reliable free version is jam-packed with different features
- Convenient interface
- P2P connection and Tor are supported
- Multi-hop VPN for excellent protection
- Low connection speed at both free and paid version
- The free version provides access to three server locations only
- Full access to features is available in paid versions only
- Macs and mobile devices require manual installation
- High price
- Dedicated IPs cannot be bought
While the vast majority of VPNs offer the same set of features in all pricing tiers (they differ by the contract duration and price only), ProtonVPN can boast a more flexible pricing policy and rich variety of packages. Users who subscribe for a longer period can enjoy up to 20% discount (you can subscribe annually or monthly). The more you pay, the more interesting features you enjoy.
The following pricing plans are available:
- Free plan
- Basic plan – $5/mo ($4 if billed annualy, 20% off)
- Plus plan – $10/mo ($8 if billed annualy, 20% off);
- Visionary plan – $24/mo.
The free version offers only three VPN server locations and allows connecting only one device at a time. The free account works on low speeds only, but the provider doesn’t throttle the connection – free users are directed to a handful of servers instead, which results in poor performance. The more expensive package you get, the fewer people use your server. Consequently, the better level of service and higher speed you enjoy. Yet, there’s one unbeatable advantage of ProtonVPN over the competitors: its free version doesn’t limit user’s bandwidth.
Need a paid version? The basic paid tier is worth $5, or $48/year. It provides access to all VPN locations but limits connection by two devices only (compared to other services that grant access to 5 devices). Although ProtonVPN describes it as a ‘high’ speed, these accounts still lack a few megabytes per second. There’s no throttling taking place – users just enjoy a better choice of servers. This type of accounts is still limited in speed and features, but its price is more agreeable than what other providers offer.
ProtonVPN Plus is a bit more advanced package. Its price reaches $10/month, or $96/year. Aside from extra servers available, this plan also renders anonymization network over VPN at your disposal: this is a rare feature in VPNs. Tor redirects your traffic via numerous servers (Nodes) and allows for accessing the hidden services that aren’t indexed by search engines. Another unique feature included is Secure Core: it first routes your traffic via ProtonVPN’s own servers, and then other servers to spoof your IP address. The tool uses servers located in Sweden, Iceland, and Switzerland – these locations are privacy-friendly, and ensure a high level of server maintenance.
ProtonVPN Visionary is the suite that comes for $30/month, or $288/year. It includes all features from cheaper tiers but raises the number of connected devices to 10. There are a few more perks, such as ProtonMail (encrypted email service from the corporation) that offers 20Gb of mail storage, support of ten email domains, 50 email aliases, and up to five users on one mail account.
According to their Terms and Conditions, ProtonVPN can refund users for any unused service period within 30 days of the purchase. It is not a 100% money-back option, but you can still get a partial compensation – that’s a user-friendly approach.
Privacy and Security
Based on the encryption technologies used for Proton Mail, ProtonVPN boasts a top-notch security level. There’re only two encrypted tunnels to choose from: OpenVPN UDP/TCP and IKEv2 (the choice depends on where you use the network).
From a technical standpoint, both options are great – those are the latest industry standards. OpenVPN is a must for every VPN provider. However, some devices don’t support OpenVPN yet, so you have to connect through less secure L2TP or PPTP protocols (they are highly vulnerable), which is not possible with ProtonVPN.
One of the strongest ProtonVPN’s advantages is the fact that the company works under Swiss jurisdiction: the country has strong and fair privacy laws and it’s outside the US and EU jurisdiction, which means no surveillance is performed.
Our ProtonVPN review wouldn’t be full without few more security features mentioned:
- Kill Switch technology (however, it works with intermissions);
- DNS leak protection;
- encrypted email service for paid accounts;
- protection against malware (test the service in VirusTotal.com, and you’ll see it’s totally free from malicious software);
- built-in Tor support.
Even the official website is all about privacy: it has no ads, and unlike other providers, ProtonVPN uses Piwik installation instead of Google Analytics.
ProtonVPN Logging Policy
The company guarantees users that ProtonVPN does not keep logs of browsing sessions. It does not track the Internet activity and does not disclose any information to third parties. The only thing that’s stated is a successful login attempt: the info is rewritten when you access the VPN the next time, so it only reflects the last session. ProtonVPN website also says that the company does not profit from customers’ data and does not use it for ads – that makes it a superb option for those who value the security of personal information.
For registration, you’re free to use any server you like (both personal and corporate). The company suggests trying the ProtonMail account to preserve total anonymity. If you sign up for a free plan, you don’t have to leave any payment details. But even if you buy a paid service, you can pay with Bitcoins, PayPal or a credit card – the payments are processed by other companies, so ProtonVPN doesn’t have any billing details. By the way, ProtonVPN has announced it will launch its own cryptocurrency, which will make things even easier and safer.
Servers and Performance
When it comes to the number of servers and locations, ProtonVPN seems to be way less efficient than other services around: it has nodes in 25 locations with 295 servers only. Probably, that’s what affects its speed to a large extent.
Here are the results we got with the SpeedTest.net testing.
First, we evaluated the speed without VPN connection: it was 97 Mbps download and 53 Mbps upload. After that, we connected to a few ProtonVPN servers (they were selected randomly to provide an unbiased review). We calculated the difference in speed for the connections tried.
- US Servers appeared to be very slow: download at 24.6 Mbps (75% slowdown).), upload at 36.4 Mbps (31% slowdown). That makes torrenting almost impossible.
- EU servers worked better. Probably, it’s due to the proximity to servers: download at 54.46 Mbps (44% slowdown), upload at 37.86 Mbps (29% slowdown).
- Asian servers performed even worse than American: download at 16 Mbps (84% slowdown), upload at 6.4 Mbps (88% slowdown).
- UK servers appeared to work as ‘fast’ as European ones: download at 52 Mbps (46% slowdown), upload at 47 Mbps (11% slowdown).
Many other VPN companies provide a way better experience for a fraction of the price. The problem of speed is relevant for both free and paid plans, so ProtonVPN has to fix that issue to attract more customers.
Aside from download and upload speed problems, ProtonVPN requires more time to get connected to its servers. Our performance tests found that it took noticeably longer to connect to ProtonVPN servers than with most VPNs. The difference isn’t great – ExpressVPN took 6 seconds to get connected on our review system, ProtonVPN required around 8 – but it could be a small irritation if you’re used to snappier VPNs.
What about leak tests? This is where ProtonVPN exceeds users’ expectations. Independent tests have shown that no DNS or WebRTC leaks disclose users’ identity.
Like other services, ProtonVPN offers the ticket system. But don’t be disillusioned, because the assistants answer within 24 hours, and it’s not just an automatic reply or a link to the knowledge base.
You can also find a small FAQ section on the official website – it’s not large but detailed.
ProtonVPN for Windows
Although Windows client features a good basic design, it’s not devoid of essential features. Generally, users like its intuitive interface. While the suite is installed on Windows automatically, you may have to go through manual setting up for Windows 10 (there’s an online tutorial for that).
The software has a few serious bugs:
- The Windows client has problems with connection: sometimes it’s unable to connect to any server. That seems to be the problem of the latest software version.
- The suit does not remember login. Even with “Remember Login” option switched on, ProtonVPN on Windows fails to remember login details, which causes inconvenience.
ProtonVPN for Mac
Mac users were excited about having ProtonVPN released for Mac, but there’s one drawback – it’s supported by OS of 10.12 (Sierra) and newer. 10.11 and older versions are not supported. To use ProtonVPN on older laptops, you will have to use Tunnelblick – that makes the process of connection way longer. Another drawback is manual setup – that’s a challenge for users without technical knowledge (however, a detailed tutorial is present on the official website).
From the standpoint of functionality, ProtonVPN is pretty much the same as Windows client – it offers the same features and navigation. The interface looks pretty much like the Windows version.
ProtonVPN for Android
There are two ways to use ProtonVPN for Android: you can either download the app from GooglePlay, or use a third-party OpenVPN client. The application seems to be an easier option, but users need to deal with settings – it can be very discouraging for them. Settings are hard to find, but once you figure out what is what, you shouldn’t have problems with the software.
If you’re tech-savvy enough, and these small inconveniences don’t discourage you, the Android ProtonVPN version is a good choice. It has the same features as the desktop version – the difference lies in the interface.
ProtonVPN for iOS
The iOS application is very adaptive and functional – the settings inside the app are easy to manipulate. The only disadvantage is a long, complicated process of installation and set up. The website contains the detailed tutorial, and it’s bulky – prepare to spend some 15-30 minutes trying to figure out how the application is activated. Users have to download configuration files, which is a pain in the neck.
As for the application menu and settings, things are more convenient and intuitive. ProtonVPN for iOS can be customized for users to enjoy a stable and secure connection whenever they need it.
ProtonVPN for Torrenting
Despite the fact that P2P connections are allowed, and torrenting is supported, it’s limited and not available on the free plan. The provider explains it by the fact that this would put even more load on the servers. Okay, that can be understood – it’s better to have a slow-working server than a server that’s broken down because of traffic spikes. We get what we pay for, and paid packages provide you with a wider set of features – that’s fair.
Since Proton is a Swiss company, it states that “File sharing is only permitted for personal, non-commercial use.” That means users will have to deal with restrictions.
ProtonVPN for Netflix
The opportunity to unblock websites is one of the key features that many VPN users require, and ProtonVPN offers it, as well. However, there’re numerous restrictions. You can unblock some websites including Netflix only if you use a ProtonVPN Plus package, and on desktops. Even in that case, the function isn’t always available.
The practice shows that sometimes even free ProtonVPN version can work: say, if you try to unblock US-only YouTube clips, you’ll be able to do that without problems. However, YouTube isn’t that strict about VPNs. When you visit Netflix or BBC iPlayer, you won’t be so lucky: the websites detect VPN and block the access.
The Bottom Line
ProtonVPN has both advantages and drawbacks. Do we recommend it? Depends on what you value. If you want a free unlimited VPN for browsing, it might work well (though slowly). If geoblocked content is the top priority for you, better opt for another service.
From the standpoint of price and security, ProtonVPN is quite good, but the speed is its weak side, no matter what type of account you use.
Your VPN Service Recommendations
- Order annual subscription – it will save you 20% of VPN cost. Need a service for a few days? You can either use a free version or get a 1-month subscription and ask for a partial refund.
- Every server has its own list of features supported – functionality depends on location, too. Check out this page to find out which tariff plans and servers include the required features.
- If you need absolute anonymity, register an account in ProtonVPN using a Proton Mail email address.