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 annually, 20% off)
- Plus plan – $10/mo ($8 if billed annually, 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 a 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.
Usability, Torrenting, and Streaming
ProtonVPN is compatible with all the major platforms. However, you may encounter some difficulties when installing and using the service. We’ve covered them all in the ratings below. In addition, you may check out if the ProtonVPN is any good for torrenting and streaming.
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. Make sure your chosen plan includes the required features.
- If you need absolute anonymity, register an account in ProtonVPN using a Proton Mail email address.