The term ‘Proton’ might sound familiar if you’ve encountered ProtonMail in the past – and you’d be correct to relate the two. Both ProtonVPN and ProtonMail share the same parent company, a Swiss-based organization called Proton Technologies AG. However, the VPN runs independently under ProtonVPN AG because of security and legality reasons.
ProtonVPN Review 2019
ProtonVPN markets its service with the famous phrase “high-speed Swiss VPN that safeguards your privacy.” It’s no surprise that it is a feature-packed service that includes best-in-class security and excellent speed levels. Besides, the VPN offers a variety of client apps for all platforms including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS. Unfortunately, they don’t have dedicated clients for both Linux and routers, which means you’ll have to configure them manually.
But ProtonVPN doesn’t exactly come cheap, and their subscription plans are likely to cause controversy.
|Money back guarantee
|Allowed concurrent connections
2 devices for the Basic plan
5 devices for the Plus plan
10 devices for the Visionary plan
|Supported streaming services
||Netflix, and Hulu
|No logs policy
||Kill switch, DNS leak protection, Perfect Forward Secrecy, Secure Core, Tor over VPN
|24/7 Customer support
|Number of servers
|Supported devices & platforms
||Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux
|VPN legal jurisdiction
Our ProtonVPN review was mostly driven by the controversy caused by users who have been wondering if the VPN is worth their money. We wanted to find out what the VPN has to offer to make up for the pricey plans they give. Therefore, we’ve been testing with ProtonVPN, and here’s the full information review about their service.
Pricing and Payment Methods
ProtonVPN offers four subscription plans: Free, Basic, Plus and Visionary. Admittedly, the price plans are somewhat confusing considering you have to use a toggle button in the top-right side of the page to switch between monthly and yearly rates.
The free package provides limited features and its perks are nothing noteworthy. However, it has no catches and doesn’t have ads or store your browsing data. In fact, ProtonVPN says that its free plan is subsidized by the premium users, and therefore, urge you to consider upgrading to a paid plan. Furthermore, if you sign up for the free package, you automatically qualify for the 7-day 100% free trial of the Plus plan.
The Basic plan costs €5 ($5.60) per month, but the rate goes down to €4 ($4.48) when billed annually. It has a couple of downsides like two concurrent connections and zero access to ProtonVPN streaming servers. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy top speeds on the remaining servers, and that includes torrenting servers.
This is the most recommended plan, and it costs €8 ($8.96) per month if you subscribe for an entire year. But that price will increase to €10 ($11.20) if you choose the monthly subscription. Regardless, the ‘Plus plan’ is the main most preferred option, and it offers 5 simultaneous connections as well as all ProtonVPN’s top features.
The visionary plan is a combination of the “Plus plan,” and an extra 5 simultaneous to allow you to secure up to 10 devices simultaneously. It costs €30 ($33.60) per month, or €24 ($26.88) if you make a yearly payment. Regrettably, the Visionary plan doesn’t hold good value for your money. But it’ll appeal to business setups and users who only believe in Proton products.
ProtonVPN Payment Plans
You can pay for the premium plans via credit card (Visa or MasterCard) or PayPal. And if you’re a more privacy-conscious user, you can use Bitcoin.
All plans include a 30-day money back guarantee, so you have enough time to test the service then ask for a refund if you end up not liking it.
ProtonVPN Payment Methods
ProtonVPN has a network of over 391 servers in 32 countries around the world. And according to the website, these servers offer a total of 357 Gbps capacity. Though the server network isn’t as wide as some competitors, we’ve seen many VPNs with small server networks perform excellently.
Unfortunately, ProtonVPN doesn’t have an even server distribution, with most of its servers located in Europe and North America. You’ll find a limited number of servers in Asia, Australia, and South Africa. Nonetheless, the company offers various servers depending on their security strength and purpose, including Secure Core, P2P, Tor, and standard lists. You can also create multiple VPN profiles from these categories.
Secure Core servers
ProtonVPN offers an exciting security feature they call Secure Core. When you enable it on the client app, your online traffic will be automatically redirected via double servers instead of the usual one. Furthermore, you can find Secure Core servers in Switzerland, Iceland, as well as Sweden; and you can only connect to them in conjunction with a specified list of servers.
For instance, you can choose to connect to a Russian server via Iceland. Moreover, you can turn the Secure Core feature on and off in the server list within the client app. Keep in mind that it will significantly slow your connection speed once you turn it on. Therefore, you should only use it when you suspect a privacy breach.
DNS leak protection
Having a VPN that offers strong encryption is a must. But getting one that can also protect your DNS queries is a plus. ProtonVPN doesn’t disappoint as it provides DNS leak protection, and they certainly don’t rely on third-party DNS providers. Thanks to this, they’re able to protect your online activity against the snooping eyes of governments, ISPs, and cybercriminals.
ProtonVPN’s Secure Core infrastructure makes it possible to defend against server network attacks. The feature secures your network by redirecting your browsing activity through several servers before exiting ProtonVPN servers. This means that even if someone with snooping intent tries to monitor network traffic at the exit servers, they won’t differentiate the IP addresses of various ProtonVPN netizens. According to the company, Secure Core servers are only located in “hardened data centers” including Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden.
The brand offers carefully selected encryption cipher suites that have Perfect Forward Secrecy. This creates a new encryption key with each connection – so a key is never valid for more than one session. This means that even if someone manages to get their hands on the decryption key, they won’t be able to crack your encrypted traffic.
Apart from the robust advanced security, ProtonVPN also enjoys strong legal privacy protection, thanks to its Swiss base of operation. Switzerland somehow manages to stay out of the reach of the invasive US and EU data retention laws. And since the country is also not a member of the “14 eyes,” they can never be influenced to spy on its users. However, due to their dubious logging policy, some might consider ProtonVPN unsafe to use.
Kill Switch or Always-on VPN
ProtonVPN clients give an inbuilt automatic Kill Switch. But the feature is not supported on iOS, so instead, the service offers “Always-on-VPN” functionality. Therefore, once you connect to the app and you happen to lose the connection, the feature will block all network traffic, while it automatically re-establishes a secure VPN connection seamlessly. Thanks to this feature, you can confidently assign tasks (such as torrenting) to your machine and leave it unattended.
Tor over VPN
ProtonVPN also packs Tor support built-in utility. Therefore, you can re-route all your browsing activity through the Tor network that is available on selected servers. You can also access both Onion websites and dark web sites instantly.
Privacy and Security
Privacy is undoubtedly ProtonVPN’s forte, and they take great pride in their ability to keep your online identity anonymous. The company is based in Switzerland, one of the countries with the best privacy laws. Furthermore, the VPN benefits from the reputation set by its creator, Proton Technologies AG, as a highly secure email service. This helps them implement an absolute no-logs policy, and thus they will never share your data with third parties under any circumstance. Thankfully, their zero logs policy applies to free subscribers as well.
ProtonVPN is also quite transparent with their service and provides insights about who is running the VPN. They also have a good reputation for advocating for online privacy and actively contributing to the open-source community. Furthermore, the brand doesn’t require information that can lead to your identity. During sign up, you can choose to use fake details or register via their secure ProtonMail, which is anonymous.
In terms of security, ProtonVPN uses “the highest strength encryption” to secure your connection. The VPN encrypts your network traffic with the best-in-class AES-256 bit with the advanced 4096-bit RSA key and HMAC. They couple this with SHA-384 message authentication.
The VPN also offers multiple connection protocols including OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec. However, the company doesn’t support PPTP or L2TP/IPSec protocols, regardless of their cheap cost of operation.
Noteworthy, ProtonVPN has gone lengths to ensure the security of its Secure Core servers. For instance, the Swiss servers – whose infrastructure is vital – is located in a former Swiss army fallout building, which is 1000 meters underground. Sequentially, the Icelandic infrastructure is also based in a former military base. What’s more, their Swedish servers are located in an underground data center as well. ProtonVPN also ensures hardware security by shipping their equipment to those locations.
We tested several servers in various locations including the US, UK, Australia, as well as South Africa. We did this every day while carrying out several online tasks such as streaming HD content, torrenting, online gaming, and general browsing. Thankfully, we didn’t experience any noteworthy lags or buffering errors and video playback issues. Unfortunately, the ‘Connect’ and ‘Disconnect’ processes took long across all clients – but it worked after a few clicks.
To find out the speed levels ProtonVPN offers, we had to test it using a speed test tool, while connecting to multiple servers around the world. We precisely experimented on a server close by, then a remote server, since we thought it’d be enough to sample the speed levels. Of course, we had to establish a baseline for our speed tests; therefore, in our initial run, we tested the speeds without ProtonVPN connection. Below is an illustration of the results we recorded:
Next, we experimented with ProtonVPN after we connected to a nearby server location. We were delighted with the high download and upload speeds we experienced. As a matter of fact, we were streaming HD content, and the torrents aced our expectations. Here is the screenshot showing the remarkable results:
In our next test, we connected to a distant server location and the results were impressive as well:
We also tested Tor enabled servers in an attempt to find if the speeds on offer were sufficient to browse the dark web and Onion websites. You can see the results were not bad either:
Finally, we tested one of the Secure Core servers, and despite the reduced speeds due to double encryption, we still got some impressive results:
Overall, the results show that ProtonVPN is genuinely a fast service. Moreover, a VPN that’s able to offer many server lists, and still manages to give fast browsing speeds is worth the praise and recommendation.
Ease of Use
At first sight, ProtonVPN’s official website gives you a bliss feeling. The website is well optimized, looks futuristic and very easy to navigate. Every button and text link are well placed and lead to relevant pages of the VPN. The top bar has all the social links as well as a link to ProtonMail. The main menu contains crucial text links including About, Features, Pricing, Blog, Support and login & sign up options. The landing page sports a Swiss landscape background – something that ProtonVPN prides itself with. The footer menu also contains all-important links.
You can start by clicking on the “Sign up” or the “Get ProtonVPN” buttons. You’ll then be redirected to a subscription page, where you follow these simple steps:
- Select a plan that fits your needs
- Enter your email
- Key in your payment details
- Download the client, install, run and connect to get started
ProtonVPN offers custom apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. There’s also a command line Linux script available that you can use to auto-configure and control OpenVPN, which you can only install independently alongside other packages. The company also offers a manual IKv2 setup guide for Linux platforms. Notably, the Windows client uses OpenVPN, while the remaining macOS, iOS, and Android use the IKEv2 protocol.
The Windows client is futuristic, has a simple design, and packs a ton of exciting features. All the options on the screen are well-placed and easy to navigate as well. The app also houses an impressive server map that is mainly for show. Although, once you connect the app displays significant session traffic data. Moreover, the Windows client offers the OpenVPN protocol for UDP or TCP connections.
ProtonVPN Windows App
The app will automatically connect you to the best server in any country that you select. Also, you can also connect to a specific server if you want. Thankfully, ProtonVPN has labeled all the servers as to which of them are available to free users, P2P supported, or Tor over VPN enabled.
You can toggle to the advanced section where you get connection settings and tweak them. The Kill Switch feature has a firewall design but doesn’t use the Windows system firewall either. This means that you risk exposing your real identity if the OpenVPN daemon crashes or suddenly stops. Otherwise, the Kill Switch feature works well. As for the DNS Leak Protection, it’s usually enabled by default, and from our tests, it works remarkably well.
ProtonVPN Mobile client
The mobile app for both Android and iOS platforms is the best we’ve come across – and that’s in terms of design. The app has a simple design, very well-optimized, and looks futuristic as well. And like its desktop counterparts, it has the best user interface. Furthermore, almost everything about it is similar to the desktop app, and the user experience is the same too.
ProtonVPN Mobile Apps
The mobile client apps for both iOS and Android don’t feature a Kill Switch. Instead, they have the “Always-on-VPN” feature, which reestablishes a secure VPN connection seamlessly and automatically. This happens whenever your service malfunctions. For security reasons, the feature is always turned on. However, there’s a possibility of a DNS leak during these incidents. But Android users who use version 7.0+ can manually activate “block connections without VPN” in the system settings of the app.
Compatibility with Devices and Platforms
ProtonVPN has decent compatibility with all major platforms including Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Like we’ve seen already, it doesn’t have an app for Linux, but issues a manual IKEv2 setup guide. Unfortunately, you can’t install the service on gaming consoles or smart TVs.
Compatibility with Netflix and streaming sites
ProtonVPN works with Netflix and Hulu. the company doesn’t specify which servers you can use with streaming services. That means you’ll need to check with them about which servers you can use to unblock the channels.
To check the servers that are actively supporting either Netflix or Hulu, go to the website, click Support > Access Content, and choose the option you want to proceed. You’ll find two links for both Netflix and Hulu, which will lead you to an updated server list. But the VPN doesn’t unblock the notoriously strict services like iPlayer, ITV Hub, and Amazon Prime.
Compatibility in China
We believe that ProtonVPN works in China – though on specific servers. After consulting with the support team, we were able to use some US, as well as the Secure Core servers to overcome the great firewall of China. However, we had to use Tor over VPN to unblock various websites.
If you need help with account management, client setups, troubleshooting, and more, you can benefit from the guides offered on the support page. The information available isn’t much, but it’s arguably sufficient to help you solve common problems.
And if you prefer to speak to the support agents directly, ProtonVPN doesn’t have a live chat service in place. Moreover, their email support is not recommendable considering we had to wait for up 72 hours before we could get a response.
ProtonVPN Customer Support
- Strong security
- Strict no-logs policy
- Supports P2P
- Offers Secure Core servers
- Unblocks Netflix and Hulu
- Fast speeds
- Tor over VPN
- Perfect Forward Secrecy
- DNS leak protection
- Kill Switch
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Very pricey
- Poor customer support
- Limited compatibility with platforms and devices
- Doesn’t unblock most streaming services
Other VPN Providers
If you’re still not too sure about ProtonVPN, the list below features some of the highest-ranked brands in the industry:
On the downside, their customer support service was somewhat poor – something that might put you off if you’re a beginner who needs help to get started. Finally, ProtonVPN is very expensive; so if you’re on a budget, we suggest you consider other options.