Last updated on January 18, 2019
ProtonVPN Review: Swiss VPN With Industry-Grade Encryption And Protocol
ProtonVPN was developed by a Harvard physics doctorate and a CERN scientist who was also the brain behind ProtonMail, which is known as the largest encrypted mail network in the world. Since they have already created the world’s largest encrypted email service, I had really high expectations from their VPN service too. I wanted to test out how their VPN service fares in terms of speed, encryption connection standards, security, pricing, support and more. ProtonVPN is a Swiss-based top-notch VPN which offers outstanding security and the Windows client is simply superb. But there’s much more to it than just the security features. Here are the finer points.
- Zero log VPN
- Free version and 7-day trial available
- Research-backed VPN
- Works with Netflix (as on date)
- Industry grade-encryption
- No live chat support
- Torrenting options are limited
- Poor server speed
Does VPN keep logs?
Compatible with TOR
Does it work in China?
Average Speed Tests
Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android
Yes (Only on the Plus plan and Visionary plan)
Easy to Use
Ticket-based and email-based (email is not recommended) along with knowledge base
Basic Plan ($4/month or $48/year)
Plus Plan ($8/month or $96/year)
Visionary Plan ($24/month or $288/year)
ProtonVPN comes from the developers of ProtonMail, which is fundamentally different from any regular email client you use, so it’s no wonder that the VPN promises to safeguard your data and identity while you are online. Think about a VPN which is developed at a 1000-meter underground bunker by a group of encryption experts with a CERN scientist and Harvard alumnus leading the project. That’s what ProtonVPN is, precisely. Surely that sounds promising and you might think that you have at last found the perfect VPN. But is the VPN service equally good as the end-to-end encrypted email service? Well, not to the extent that I expected.
ProtonVPN might deliver stable and secure connections with unlimited data and bandwidth, but speed is one area which they really need to work (I will come to this later). With a continuously expanding server network (they already have 325 servers in 29 countries, ProtonVPN belongs to that elite echelon of VPNs that can help you unblock Netflix and other popular streaming sites such as Hulu. While torrenting is allowed in theory, there are several restrictions that might affect your P2P file sharing experience.
One of the perks of using ProtonVPN is that they have smooth and user-friendly apps for Windows, MacOS as well as Linux and Android. An iOS app has also been launched recently, which is definitely great news for all the Mac users out there. You can get ten simultaneous connections per account if you are on the Visionary Plan. In case you do not want to shell out anything for a VPN, there’s a free version to try out too (with heavily limited features). Support is decent, but why they still don’t have a live chat feature on website is totally beyond me. If you are toying with the idea of putting your money in ProtonVPN, here’s a breakdown of the features for your further understanding.
ProtonVPN Logging Policy
“When you use ProtonVPN, we do NOT do any of the following:
- Log users’ traffic or the content of any communications
- Discriminate against devices, protocols, or applications
- Throttle your Internet connection”
Is It Compatible With TOR Browser?
ProtonVPN is seamlessly integrated with the TOR network, and you can actually connect to the TOR browser with ProtonVPN. But there’s a catch. The free plan and even the Basic plan won’t allow you access to their TOR servers. You have to upgrade to the Plus plan, or even better, the Visionary plan, to get access to all of their TOR servers. Only if you are on the right plan, you can connect to the TOR VPN server, which is available in designated countries, and route your traffic through the TOR network. After launching the native VPN client, you can find a complete list of TOR servers on the left. These servers have ‘TOR’ in their names, so it’s actually easy to find a TOR-compatible server on their network.
Is Torrenting Allowed?
Unlimited P2P sharing is a desirable feature in VPNs as many users invest in VPNs just to access, share and download geo-restricted content. Unfortunately, this is one area ProtonVPN needs to work on. First off, you won’t be able to download torrents if you are on the free plan. They state that P2P sharing increases the load on their servers, which is why they cannot allow it on their free servers, which is understandable. However, even if you are on a paid plan, you can download only on certain designated servers. The reason for this is that they channel your P2P traffic through some neutral and ‘safe countries’. So, torrenting is allowed in principle but there are several restrictions that could severely limit your torrenting experience.
Can You Access Netflix with ProtonVPN?
ProtonVPN claims on their official website that Netflix still works on their certain designated servers. However, the trick is to find out which ones actually work with Netflix. I tested out ten of their servers, and only one Netherlands Netflix server worked for me. Since I had no idea what shows to stream on Netherlands Netflix, I decided to check out a couple of their US, UK, and Canada servers, all of which failed to unblock Netflix. Since I could stream Netflix content through one of their servers, I would not say that ProtonVPN doesn’t work with Netflix. It does, but the options are limited and flicking through the servers for finding a Netflix-ready one can be a Royal Pain.
Does It Work In China?
ProtonVPN has a special mode, namely Secure Core mode, which shields users against advanced network attacks. In countries with broad surveillance powers, VPN providers are often coerced and users who try to bypass the censorships often have to face legal consequences. ProtonVPN claims that their Secure Core servers are located inside high-security data centres, and if you use these servers, you can easily bypass georestrictions in countries like China. They don’t yet have any server in china, but they claim that their Secure Core servers would fit the bill for users who want to bypass China’s great firewall. However, some users have reported that many of their servers are facing issues in China and you should contact their support team before giving ProtonVPN a try.
How Popular is ProtonVPN Online?
Google Trends is a popular marketing strategy tool which gives insights into the overall popularity or search trends for a specific product, service or keyword in a certain region over a certain time period. I decided to use the tool to get a brief idea of ProtonVPN’s overall popularity in the US region as a whole. ProtonVPN’s popularity seems to be on a rise in the US since the fourth quarter of 2016. Users who have searched with the keyword ‘protonvpn’ have increased in numbers by leaps and bounds. Similarly, it seems users who have searched with ‘buy protonvpn’ or ‘protonvpn review’ are on a rise too. This indicates that their marketing team has done a stellar job in recent times, and the service has got a loyal fanbase already.
Can You Access Social Networking Websites?
Governments are known to impose ban on popular social media sites every now and then, and bypassing geo-restrictions becomes quite difficult for an average user if this happens. ProtonVPN, an online privacy and anonymity service provider, has prioritized the needs of average users who are not so savvy at finding a way round the geo-restrictions, and accessing social media sites through their servers should be a no-brainer. Generally speaking, you can access all the popular social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using ProtonVPN. However, if you want to access a specific social media site outside the ambit of the popular sites, you can contact support anytime. They respond real fast (I will flesh out on this later).
ProtonVPN Speed Tests (Download and Upload Speed)
The best VPNs stand out from the rest due to their lightning fast speed. Since the VPN market is fiercely competitive, many providers offer almost the same set of features – a wide selection of servers, industry-grade encryption, kill switch, Netflix compatibility, you name it. However, effectiveness in overall server speed is a good litmus test to determine overall quality of a VPN. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN’s combined server score puts them somewhere toward the end of the list. I used Speedtest.net to connect to their servers (chosen randomly) and most of their servers put me out. For example, download speed of the US server I tested was 75% slower than the 97 Mbps benchmark. The EU servers, on the contrary, were moderately fast. However, their Asia and UK servers were slothfully slow.
Installation and Ease Of Use
Signing up for a ProtonVPN account took a moment, and I could install the Windows client with ease. The Windows client looks superb, with a polished and professional interface. The zoomable world map has all the server locations duly highlighted, and you can also find a separate list for countries, along with menus and settings. If you are ready to connect to any of their servers right away, there’s a Quick Connect button for your convenience too. Although the interface is a bit bulky, it’s also easily configurable. If you find it a little difficult to locate servers on a map, you can collapse the map and switch to the simple list of server locations. The Windows client also has a ‘kill switch’ to minimize the chances of identity leak in case of a sudden connection drop. The Android app however, doesn’t come with a kill switch, but you can get a world of desirable features in the app, including a maximum transmission unit tweak, DNS leak prevention, split tunnelling support, just to name a few. The iOS app still needs some improvements, but it’s fresh out of the beta stage, so I guess the devs are at it already.
How Good Is The Customer Support?
I do not quite like ticket-based customer support systems, particularly because I have experienced several days delay between each of the emails I sent to many other VPN service providers, and any user who is in some sort of urgency would not like the back-and-forth process. So when I filled out their contact form (albeit a bit reluctantly), I didn’t expect them to get back to me anytime soon. To my pleasant surprise, not only did they get back to me within 24 hours, but they answered my query as precisely as possible. To put it differently, they didn’t just redirect me to one of their knowledge base articles. Instead, I got the perfect response to my query and I felt that it was a real human (or maybe a group) who are running the show, not just some creepy chatbot sending out preset replies. That being said, I still think they should at least include a live chat support option on the official website as it is a bare minimum for customer support these days.
ProtonVPN Pricing Plans
- Save $12
- Billed $48 every year
- Access to all countries
- 2 devices
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Save $72
- Billed $288 every year
- Plus 5 devices + ProtonMail Visionary plan
- Save $24
- Billed $96 every year
- Access to all countries
- 5 devices
- All advanced security features included
- 30-day money-back guarantee
ProtonVPN offers four plans and you have the option of paying for each of the paid plans annually (with great savings). The free plan, which you can definitely try out before upgrading, comes with only three locations and you won’t even get their extra features with this plan. However, the free plan lets you allow the seven-day trial of any of their paid plans, which is quite generous I think. The basic plan comes at $4/month, but it’s a minor upgrade from their free plan, to be very honest. You cannot get your hands on their Plus, TOR or Secure Core servers, and you can only connect to two devices with this plan. The Plus plan ($8/month), however, lets you connect up to five devices. Speed is optimal, and you can connect to their TOR, Plus and Secure Core servers. Their visionary plan ($24/month) is also a marginal upgrade from their Plus plan, but they do bit of a cross-selling here and you get the all-powerful ProtonMail with the plan. ProtonVPN does have a 30-day moneyback guarantee, but you can get a refund on a pro rata basis only. This implies that if you have used their service for 20 days, you will only get a refund for the remaining 10 days. You can pay for subscription with Credit Card or PayPal, but they still do not accept Bitcoin.
Should You Buy It?
ProtonVPN comes with highest level of encryption and security features and their customer support service is decent. They offer paid subscribers, particularly those who are on the Plus plan and Visionary plan, a full access to all of their servers, and Netflix at least worked on one server. However, device options are still heavily limited and server speed was not up to my expectations (Trust.zone and HideMyAss offered me a far better speed at only a fraction of the cost). Price is also a bit on the higher end. However, it comes from the house of ProtonMail, and when it comes to security and anonymity, it won’t disappoint you either. I would recommend going for the free 7-day trial (which you will get with the free plan) to test out their premium features.