ProtonVPN Review

ProtonVPN, which has been around since 2017, is probably best known for being a free VPN. Unlike most free rivals, Proton places no limits on how you can use it, stating that “we believe privacy and security are basic human rights, so we also provide a free version of ProtonVPN to the public. Unlike other free VPNs, there are no pitfalls. We do not serve ads or secretly sell your browsing history. ProtonVPN Free is subsidized by paid ProtonVPN users.

The are Pitfalls though: you have only three servers to choose from, and you don’t get the fast speeds that Proton offers paying customers. However, it is still one of the best free VPN services.

Here, however, we focus on the paid plans – mostly Plus – and compare ProtonVPN not to free VPNs but rivals such as NordVPNSurfshark and others.

Features and Apps

Where many VPN providers have made a conscious effort to make their apps light, airy, and clean, ProtonVPN favors a darker, more technical interface. It’s the kind of thing you usually see in hacking movies where nerds are typing away and awesome graphics appear on the screen. Fortunately, there are no accompanying beeps and blurs.

When you connect to a server, you are presented with a lot of information, such as your new IP address, the name of the server you are connected to, the encryption protocol used, etc.

ProtonVPN Review 2022

And that’s just the mobile apps: in the desktop apps, you’ll see even more data such as current upload and download speeds, and the total amount of data uploaded and downloaded.

It really is a VPN for power users. In addition to the default “profiles” to connect to the fastest server and a random server, you can create your own.

It’s not just about saving your most used countries: you can choose specific servers and even the protocol to use, as well as a custom name and color. You can also set a default profile, which will be used when you click on the Quick Connect option.

ProtonVPN Review 2022

Protocols vary by device, but include OpenVPN and WireGuard – the latter available even to free users.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of other settings to play with, including a VPN accelerator (which uses various tricks to improve performance) and a customizable kill switch in the Windows app. You can even view application logs and WireGuard if you want.

Even experienced users can be overwhelmed by the number of Windows application options and should avoid changing any that they don’t fully understand.

If there’s one criticism, it’s that there’s no support for port forwarding, which those who download torrents often want to use. You also cannot have a static IP address.

There is also limited support for streamers such as the Fire TV Stick. It’s possible to install the Android APK – a very powerful thing to do – but it’s never ideal when you only have a remote control to use it. There is an Android TV app though, so if you have one instead of a Fire TV, that’s no problem.

ProtonVPN primarily focuses on desktop computers and mobile devices with apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.

Note that there are no browser extensions available, but since these extensions cannot establish a VPN connection, they are usually proxies. So if anything, Proton is doing everyone a favor by not providing any extensions.

Privacy and Security

Besides the free version, the main attraction of ProtonVPN is privacy and security. It is based in Switzerland, for its favorable privacy laws, and is transparent about its ownership. Swiss law does not require log backups and does not require ProtonVPN to spy on specific users.

The apps are also all open source, so they can be audited by anyone. ProtonVPN also commissioned independent audits and, unlike some VPNs, publishes the results online.

Apps are only part of the service, and ProtonVPN’s server and network setup is designed to improve security as much as possible. Plus or Visionary tier users can use Secure Core servers, which are located in highly secure data centers owned and operated by ProtonVPN – not leased. Secure Core means that your connection is routed through multiple servers, making it virtually impossible to trace your originating IP address, and therefore any activity cannot be traced back to that IP address.

ProtonVPN also doesn’t use third-party DNS servers, which helps increase privacy by protecting against DNS leaks that could reveal the websites you’re visiting.

You don’t have to provide any personal information when you create a ProtonVPN account and you can use one of Proton’s anonymous email addresses, which are free.

Finally, there is built-in support for Tor over VPN through some of ProtonVPN’s servers. It’s not something most people will want to use, but if you know what it means, it’s a bonus.

Performance

With the addition of WireGuard in October 2021 – quite a while after most other VPNs have supported it – speeds are vastly improved over what was previously available on OpenVPN.

Although I couldn’t test this on my relatively slow 80 Mbps broadband connection, there are plenty of reports that ProtonVPN Plus servers should give you somewhere between 400 and 600 Mbps both up and down. Some even report download speeds of 850 Mbps, which is pretty close for those with gigabit broadband: you don’t need to be running a VPN all the time, and that’s a perfectly acceptable speed for the most people when they need to be connected.

Using my own UK connection and connected to the “fastest server” option, which was also in the UK, there was no noticeable drop in performance using speedtest.net and the protocol WireGuard. The other benefit this brings is fast connection times – around a second, and noticeably faster than OpenVPN connection times.

Unlocking – at Plus level – is very good. I had no problem watching US Netflix from the UK, as well as HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Disney+. ProtonVPN also unblocks BBC iPlayer.

Rates & packages

Almost all other VPNs have an offer and charge different amounts depending on the length of your subscription.

ProtonVPN is one of the few services that still has different tiers for paying customers.

ProtonVPN Review

For US$4 a month (about £3.40), the basic plan lets you access 400 servers in 40 countries and connect two devices at the same time. It offers users “high” speeds, as opposed to the “medium” speeds enjoyed by free users, but not the “up to 10 Gbps” speeds enjoyed by Plus users.

This is not because “basic” servers are slower, but because there are fewer of them and more people are using them. This has a training effect on speed.

The basic plan supports P2P downloads, comes with NetShield functionality (to block ads, trackers, and malware), and lets you unblock websites and some streaming services, including YouTube.

However, if you want to unblock Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer and others, you will need the Plus tier. This gives subscribers access to “Plus” servers which are prohibited to those on the basic plan.

Plus costs $8 a month (around £7) and includes access to over 1,600 servers in 63 countries, including the previously mentioned Secure Core servers and Tor over VPN. It also allows you to have 10 devices connected at once.

Finally, there’s a Visionary tier, but that won’t be of much interest as it’s exactly the same as Plus, except you get all the paid features available in ProtonMail added.

The above prices apply when you pay annually in advance. For the biggest discount – 33% – you’ll need to sign up for two years. That makes the Basic account $3.29 / £2.42 per month and Plus $6.63 / £4.89.

Even at these prices, other VPNs cost less per month. And, of course, without the tiered approach, other services allow all users to unblock streaming services.

Verdict

If you’re a power user after a VPN for privacy and security, ProtonVPN Plus might be for you. With excellent speeds, plenty of options, and access to those Secure Core servers as well as Tor over VPN, the relatively high monthly price might be acceptable.

For everyone, ProtonVPN is hard to recommend paying. The basic tier is more expensive than most rivals, but doesn’t include desired features like streaming service support and the highest speeds.

When you can get these things from Surfshark for less, the choice between them is too easy.

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