ProtonVPN Review (2019): Should you use it? Detailed Testing Inside

ProtonVPN Review
I’m pretty familiar with a lot of VPNs, but ProtonVPN is one that’s always close to my heart.

Why? It’s hard to say exactly why, but I think their branding and origin story are fantastic.

ProtonVPN actually started with ProtonMail, a secure and encrypted mail service. The project was crowdfunded and founded by geniuses at CERN.

ProtonVPN was built to improve protection for people using ProtonMail, but it’s ballooned to become as famous as ProtonMail and is often used completely on its own.

To make matters even MORE heartening, ProtonMail and ProtonVPN BOTH have FREE versions.

Limited, of course, but it sure stands out as a sign of how serious ProtonMail/ProtonVPN are about their goals to protect people’s privacy.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that at first glance, ProtonVPN seems to be one of the most legitimate VPNs around.

Founded by experts, crowd-sourced for privacy (not for streaming), located in a country known for its strong privacy laws, and providing reputable free software…

Surely, ProtonVPN must be one of the best VPNs in the world, right?

Well, I’ve tested it thoroughly, and I’ve got to say—the picture is a little more complicated.

But don’t worry! Keep reading, and you’ll get to see that full picture. Let’s start off with:

Performance

I like to start off with this because it’s usually the first thing on everyone’s mind: how well does the VPN actually perform?

One of the easiest ways to take a look at that is through a speed test. It won’t tell you everything, but it’s a good indicator of the most important thing: speed, of course!

Here’s my home internet speed normally:

proton test normal

And here’s the speed test result a couple minutes later WITH ProtonVPN:

proton test vpn

Okay, clearly, we can’t complain about ProtonVPN’s speeds!

This is one of the best speed test results I’ve ever had with a VPN, so I think it’s safe to say ProtonVPN can live up to the hype as far as speeds go.

However, there is a slight issue:

Sometimes, pages take quite a while longer to load than they would normally. For the most part, browsing the internet is as fast as if I wasn’t using a VPN, but…

But every now and then, it seems to be way slower when I use ProtonVPN. It’s never lasted that long, but it happens often enough that I’ve noticed it—and I haven’t really had the experience with other VPNs.

Anyway, OVERALL ProtonVPN has great speeds.

But great speeds aren’t the same thing as reliable access to Netflix or other streaming services.

And we all know that a frequent goal of VPN customers is to stream content outside of their location.

So I tried to access Indian Netflix:

proton netflix

And that worked just fine. It was a tad slower than I was hoping, but it was minimal.

So far, ProtonVPN is killing the performance end of things. But, there’s one more thing we need to make sure it can do well:

Torrents!

ProtonVPN is supposed to be very P2P friendly, and even offers servers that are optimized for P2P sharing.

So I decided to take those on a test run:

proton torrent

And tried to torrent an ebook:

zenmate torrent

Which worked out just fine, though it also took a little longer than I was hoping.

Overall, it seems to me that ProtonVPN performs very well. I’ve been able to access Netflix consistently from different locations, and I’ve been able to quickly torrent from different locations as well.

Plus, the speed tests are fantastic!

It is true that ProtonVPN sometimes gets laggy on me, but as I’ve said, it’s not too bad. Overall, ProtonVPN has near-perfect performance!

But hey, its story is just getting started:

Ease of Use

You may want to scroll past this section, but believe it or not, ease of use IS important.

Obviously, it’s important for beginners and intermediate users to be able to make the most of VPN technology.

But it’s also important for people who are comfortable with VPNs. Why?

Because ease of use overlaps with intuitiveness and good design. What I look for, then, is software that lets you use all the features without being overbearing.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The signup process is VERY easy. You just need to select your plan and enter in payment info:

proton signup

And then you just need to make an account:

proton signup

And install the software:

proton signup

The installation doesn’t take long:

proton install

When you start using the app, you can even take a tour of the features:

proton app home tour

On the left, you can switch between a list of locations and a list of profiles:

proton app home profiles and map label

If you hover your cursor over a pin on the map, the location’s label will pop up (in this case, Switzerland).

Going back to the location list on the left, I’m actually super impressed:

proton app server list

Without taking up much space, you can view all the locations within a country, whether the country has Tor-friendly servers, and the load percent of each location.

You can access some stuff in the settings, and frankly, it’s super easy:

proton app settings

I mean, even the “advanced” tab really only has three things to work with:

proton app settings

And those three are not really considered advanced in other VPN apps.

And that frankly concludes the software!

I was actually a little surprised—something about ProtonVPN’s reputation and founding made me expect a very elaborate app setup.

And I guess compared to some simpler VPNs, this is a bit elaborate.

But it’s not difficult, and that’s the key thing.

When all’s been said and done, ProtonVPN’s software is one of the best-looking I’ve ever used. It’s intuitive, does a lot with a little, and should be perfect for a RANGE of experience.

But we can’t really appreciate the software until we take into account what goes into it:

Pricing and Features

Yeah, features are one of those things you probably care at least somewhat about. Everyone has different bare minimums and different deal breakers, but we all care at least somewhat about features.

But we can’t even start with that until we take a look at the prices. And boy, does ProtonVPN have a…DIFFERENT pricing system.

So here’s the deal with ProtonVPN’s pricing:

There are a lot more options with ProtonVPN than with most other VPNs.

Most VPNs have three plans, each offering the same features and performance, but with the difference lying in the length of the plan.

But this is what ProtonVPN offers:

protonvpn price

And those are ALL annual prices, meaning you’d pay on a yearly basis.

You can also pay for all those plans MONTHLY:

proton price

Alright, now usually with VPNs I like to talk about prices overall first, and then dive into features.

But because these different packages have DIFFERENT features, an unusual VPN quality, I’ll just dive into both.

First of all, ProtonVPN’s free option is one of the most famous free VPNs around. As far as free VPNS go, ProtonVPN’s free plan is a great option.

That’s because even though it’s super limited, there are no bandwidth limits. But most of you probably aren’t interested in reading about free VPNs, so we’ll move on.

That first tier, Basic, is actually quite impressive.

That’s because you’re getting some of the key elements of a premium VPN—high speeds, the full location list, and P2P friendliness—for only a few bucks a month.

If you pay for this plan yearly, it’s a TERRIBLE deal in my opinion:

Because there are some VPNs that are just a little higher but offer WAY more.

BUT, here’s the flip side:

If you pay for the Basic plan MONTHLY, it’s one of the BEST deals out there. Because most VPNs will be around $10 if you pay month-to-month.

Meaning people who aren’t interested in a longer commitment and are okay with a simpler (less well-featured) VPN, can pay way less for a month-to-month plan.

The last two tiers, Plus and Visionary, are a bit more nuanced. First off, yes, Visionary is WAY more expensive whether you’re paying monthly or yearly.

BUT, the features are the same as far as the VPN itself goes. That’s because the fourth tier just means the full ProtonVPN experience AND the highest tier of ProtonMail.

And technically, yes, you get up to 10 devices with the fourth tier.

So for those who care about having ProtonMail, it could be a good deal. But as I’m reviewing a VPN, I’ll mostly be referring to Plus.

In this case, Plus just means the fully featured VPN—remember that!

Anyway, how are those last two tiers?

If you pay monthly, it’s not too bad. In fact, it’d be about standard, perhaps a little below average—given that VPNs tend to range $10 to $12 for monthly prices.

But paid annually…sorry, the Plus tier is pretty steep. Almost NO VPN would charge about $8 a month for a year-long commitment.

Of course, for some people, the exact numbers are less important.

And it’s important to remember the features that get added to the deal:

proton secure core server

Secure core servers are one such additional feature, which sends your traffic to servers in countries that better protect privacy.

Actually, it redirects your traffic through multiple servers before it leaves ProtonVPN’s network, a pretty neat security feature.

Here’s another one of ProtonVPN’s added features:

proton tor

Only a few VPNs go out of their way to make Tor use easier or even optimal with the VPN, and ProtonVPN is one of them.

Plus plans also get Plus servers—but those aren’t exactly special types of servers.

They’re just servers that are ONLY available for the latter two tiers, which means they have lower loads and better performance.

But you know, I’ve talked about the different types of servers, and you’re probably wondering about the BIG question:

How many servers are we talking about here?

Well, I’ve got some bad news:

proton servers

As far as major VPNs go, this has got to be one of the LOWEST server counts I’ve ever seen.

Of course, what’s really important to a lot of people is the amount of locations the servers bring you. But to be honest, even that’s a low count, with only 33 countries available.

ProtonVPN isn’t the only VPN I’ve seen with only over 30 countries available…but there’s no denying that it’s a hard number to deal with for a lot of people.

Anyway, those are the fundamental features that come with account plans. But as I’ve somewhat shown you, the application itself adds some smaller ones.

For example:

proton app profiles

You can make profiles and manage them, which makes it easy to share your account with someone or even quickly preserve certain settings.

The “advanced” settings reveal three other features that are fairly common: a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling.

DNS leak protection is nearly universal with VPNs and kill switches are getting close. But split tunneling is not as common, and a great bonus:

proton app settings

But it’s only the split tunneling feature that allows for greater detail.

The kill switch will kill connection to everything—which is common enough, but some people like extra control.

Aside from this, though, that’s about it for ProtonVPN’s features.

To be honest, I was kind of expecting a little more when I began testing ProtonVPN formally. It seemed like the type of VPN that would come loaded with features.

Instead, the Plus account has a couple more features than average. Heck, the second tier doesn’t even get a kill switch, and the free tier is…well, understandably limited.

But the thing is, the features that ProtonVPN packs in for the Plus account are still good to have and kind of unique.

ProtonVPN has one of the oddest price-per-features arrangement I’ve seen.

Depending on the plan you take, and whether it’s monthly or yearly, you could wind up with a low price and small number of features or high price and an above average feature set.

Ultimately, the clearest takeaway is that the story isn’t over yet.

Up next:

Customer Support

Like ease of use, people tend to overlook customer support. But, even the best VPNs will require solid customer support:

Aside from generally making your life easier when odd problems come up, it also is a surefire way of making sure that you can always access Netflix, Hulu, etc.

Anyway, let’s take a look at ProtonVPN’s customer support.

One form of support ProtonVPN offers is the ability to contact representatives. This is how you’d do it:

proton ticket

Yep, that’s a support request/ticket form.

Unfortunately, there is NO live chat—making ProtonVPN one of the few VPNs to not offer a live chat, even a limited one.

It’s forgivable but unfortunate, given how often we need quick answers to questions.

Nonetheless, I’ve found my support tickets to get overall speedy and helpful responses. So it’s not the end of the world.

What can really make ProtonVPN’s customer support better, since there’s no live chat, is on-site information.

This is mainly where you’d get that:

proton support center

The support center is very simple and easy to navigate.

The only problem? There aren’t very many articles:

proton support center

No category has more than 5 or 6 articles. The articles themselves are…adequate.

They give the necessary information, and they’re more detailed than the bare minimum articles I’ve seen on a handful of other VPNs.

But, the general lack of articles is still unfortunate.

What would make the live chat okay is a resource-rich site that has all the info easily accessible.

Unfortunately, ProtonVPN both lacks a live chat and a robust support center. This means that, surprisingly, ProtonVPN has some of the WORST customer support around.

Now, let me clarify. The quality of what is ALREADY THERE—meaning the ticket system and existing support articles—is fine.

There just isn’t enough, especially compared to what so many other VPNs offer.

But hey, if you’re disappointed now, you should get ready for some more good news:

Security and Privacy

Oh yes—security and privacy. These are the things that VPNs are SUPPOSED to be for, and yet it’s often the area so many VPNs fall short in.

But ProtonVPN?

Like I’ve said in the beginning, everything about ProtonVPN gives off the air of credibility.

Being Swiss, being founded by CERN scientists, the free versions of the software, the numerous times privacy and press freedom are mentioned on the site…yeah, there’s an air of credibility for sure.

…So I can’t lie, my expectations for ProtonVPN were higher than for most VPNs, before I started digging.

Does ProtonVPN live up?

Hm. Well, mostly.

First thing’s first:

proton privacy policy

ProtonVPN’s privacy policy is one of the BEST in the business. I’ve looked at a lot of privacy policies and while all VPNs have some form of a no-logs claim, a lot will acknowledge certain things that ARE collected.

All VPNs have to collect some bare minimum amount of information to run a business. But some VPNs seem to collect a little too much more than necessary.

ProtonVPN is absolutely not one of those VPNs, which is great.

But there’s also the issue of whether ProtonVPN actually practices its no-logs policy and its privacy policy.

Because, unfortunately, some prominent VPNs have been caught violating their own policies.

ProtonVPN has not had a single privacy scandal, to my knowledge.

There is this little thing:

proton logging controversy

But as you can see from the comment, court documents do not show anything about ProtonVPN logs being used by authorities to apprehend the hacker.

This isn’t a full clearance, but it does mean it’s highly likely that ProtonVPN’s no-logs policy is truly implemented—if it weren’t, the authorities probably would have obtained something.

So while I would like to see some additional evidence of ProtonVPN’s policies being upheld, we’re still better off than most VPNs are.

Now, another thing that ProtonVPN has going in its favor (something I’ve mentioned a couple times) is its location:

proton location

Switzerland is one of the BEST places a VPN can be located, because Switzerland has GREAT privacy protection laws:

proton location

Perfect?

Maybe not to hardcore activists. But in the real world, in the context of all the world’s countries? Definitely.

And as I mentioned in the features section, ProtonVPN’s secure core servers specifically route traffic through three countries with strong privacy laws: Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden.

The great thing about the secure core feature is that you don’t have to browse from those locations: your traffic is routed to those servers FIRST, and THEN ends up where you want it to.

So if you wanted to watch American Netflix in the most secure way possible, you could still do that with the secure core servers.

This is already a step above what most VPNs offer. But check this out:

proton server security

Let me reiterate:

The data center in Switzerland is located 1000 METERS BELOW THE SURFACE! In a freaking fallout shelter.

The Iceland data center is in a former military base, and the Swedish data center is also underground.

Usually, I just like to see whether VPNs run their own server networks or use third parties.

But ProtonVPN raises the bar super high, by describing the physical security in place at all the data centers—something almost no VPN does.

So look, at the end of the day, ProtonVPN simply lives up to its image.

It’s got a GREAT security feature in the secure core servers, is located in a great country for privacy, the privacy policy is great, and it the signs point towards an actually practiced no-logs policy.

So hats off to ProtonVPN in security and privacy!

Wanna keep the good vibes going? Great:

Pros

  • There’s a free plan! And in the context of free VPNs, ProtonVPN’s free plan is one of the best.
  • Some of the plans, if paid monthly, are great deals. In particular, the “basic” tier might be the CHEAPEST monthly VPN deal.
  • One of the MOST intuitive VPN apps I’ve ever used.
  • Although the country count is low, there are still quite a few locations within some of the countries.
  • ProtonVPN isn’t feature-loaded, but it’s on the better side.
  • Specifically, ProtonVPN’s secure core servers are a unique feature that seriously boost your privacy. Let me say it again, because I can’t get over it: the Swiss data center is located in a fallout shelter 1,000 meters underground.
  • ProtonVPN is great on privacy and security. ProtonVPN’s no logs policy seems to be upheld, it’s located in Switzerland, and the secure core servers are super well protected.

Cons

Though of course, nothing is perfect:

  • Some of the plans can be expensive if paid yearly.
  • Low number of servers and low number of countries.
  • No live chat.
  • In general, rudimentary customer support. The knowledge base could use more articles.

Conclusion: Do I Recommend ProtonVPN?

If you read my security and privacy section, you might think the answer is obvious.

After all, I am pretty ecstatic about ProtonVPN’s qualifications. But I wouldn’t recommend ProtonVPN to everyone.

The key weakness of ProtonVPN, to a lot of potential customers, is the low server count.

I actually think the location count is NOT that far off from what a lot of other VPNs offer, but it’s still low compared to the biggest in the business.

People who just want to stream, torrent, or otherwise unlock content on the internet may be a little turned off by ProtonVPN.

Because although ProtonVPN can do those things just fine, it’s not as geared towards it as other VPNs are.

Plus, the price:

If you want to save money by committing to a yearly plan, you’re out of luck. The prices may not be bad to you, but generally the fully-featured ProtonVPN plan is way pricier on a year-long commitment than most VPNs are.

You could get a lower-tier, but there wouldn’t be as many features—including some of the great privacy ones.

On the other hand, if you want a VPN for a short amount of time, ProtonVPN has some of the CHEAPEST monthly plans available.

Okay, qualifications are there. Who do I recommend ProtonVPN to?

First off, anyone who’s interested in a VPN simply for the privacy.

ProtonVPN is great in that area (especially if you buy the fully featured version), but is still easy to use and super well-performing.

And for anyone who just wants an overall good VPN, and is okay with those remarks I made about locations and price—I’d recommend ProtonVPN to you as well!

Because at the end of the day, ProtonVPN is a great all-rounder that is also particularly great with security.

Don’t take my word for it! You can try ProtonVPN for FREE. Indefinitely.

And the first 7 days of the free software will include the fully featured version—after that, you don’t even need to downgrade your membership, as you’ll be automatically reverted to the free version.

Enjoy!

Write your own review

Did you find I was too upbeat about ProtonVPN? Is there a critical flaw I’m missing? Or maybe I’m right on the money!

If you’ve used or use ProtonVPN and you have anything to say about my review, I’d love to hear from you! And if you agree—well, then I’d love to hear from you even more 😉

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