VPN Review: ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN began as a kind of companion product to the similarly named ProtonMail, an email service designed to protect journalists and activists. In the interim, ProtonVPN has become known throughout ProtonMail's user base, continually expanding as a result.
What is ProtonVPN?
ProtonVPN is a VPN service designed by the creators of ProtonMail, a Swiss email provider. Since its a relatively new provider, its server infrastructure is still growing. As a result, at least on paper, ProtonVPN can't really hold a candle to its competitors in most respects. Our test will show if the 'new kid' is really so powerless as it appears to be, or whether it has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Pros and Cons
Integrated safety features like "Secure Core"
No ability to change protocols
No information about server usage
Unimpressive server network
Installation and Features
ProtonVPN offers applications for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS, and can be manually configured for other operating systems, devices, or routers. The number of connections that can be established simultaneously depends on the subscription package you purchase, ranging from 1 to 10.
ProtonVPN's interface fuses the minimalism of a "quick connect" function, with the optical pleasure of an expandable world map. In addition to showing all available servers and their locations, this also provides statistics from the current session/connection.
It is not necessary to use the world map to establish a VPN connection: By clicking on "quick connect" you're automatically forwarded to the best possible server. Immediately under the button is a complete list of countries, allowing you to establish a direct connection based on your location preferences. There is also a search function, however, since ProtonVPN's server list is somewhat thin, there isn't much to scroll through. Small symbols next to each location indicate whether the servers are suitable for Tor or P2P.
Information about server usage, and the expected connection quality are not displayed.
ProtonVPN does not allow 'favorites' to be marked, however, in an additional tab in the start window, you can configure your connection profile. Profiles for 'fastest available' or 'random' connections come pre-installed, however, the number of these is limited. Should you regularly use a VPN for torrenting, it makes sense to create a P2P profile, which will connect you to the nearest and best P2P-capable server.
The standard features, such as auto-start, a kill switch, DNS leak protection, or split tunneling are available under settings. The last of these, split tunneling, which allows you to select which programs connect to the Internet through your VPN, is not standard to all providers, so its inclusion in ProtonVPN is commendable. Under connection settings, you can select which of your profiles should be automatically used for the 'quick connect' feature.
ProtonVPN does not allow users to choose between protocols, with OpenVPN pre-installed. You can alternate between UDP and TCP, however this isn't really much of a choice. OpenVPN is the current gold standard, but including a few more protocol options wouldn't do any harm.
During our streaming test, ProtonVPN performed well: We were able to stream foreign Netflix content, as well as the BBC's iPlayer using the servers designated for these.
The mobile version also lacks the ability to change protocols, using IKEv2 in place of OpenVPN. Apart from that, the Android app is basically identical to the desktop version: Clicking on the "quick connect" button connects you to the nearest and best server based on the profile in use. The world map and connection profiles can also be accessed here.
Under settings, split tunneling can be configured, however, the mobile version does not have a kill switch (this will, however, be integrated starting with Android 7.1).
ProtonVPN doesn't reinvent the wheel in any way, but that isn't necessary: Its apps are user-friendly and intuitive, and possess most of the features desired from a VPN. It would be nice to see more protocol options, or, more accurately, the ability to choose at all, while the inclusion of up-to-date server information would go far in improving the service. At present, ProtonVPN's apps are only available in English, however, translation into other languages is planned.
Score: 4 / 5
At the time of writing, ProtonVPN had 424 servers in 33 countries. Many of the heavyweights in the VPN market offer several thousand servers, and/or cover the entire globe with their networks. In this sense, ProtonVPN's name hits the mark; its server network is comparably, subatomic in size.
With that said, ProtonVPN is well-represented in Europe, whereby, in Asia, Central and South America, as well as Africa, it comes up short. These regions are also overlooked by most of ProtonVPN's larger competitors, so we can't really fault them for going with the flow. ProtonVPN's growing infrastructure and server network does offer a glimmer of hope for the Swiss provider, but they're definitely not (yet) at the top of their class.
Score: 3 / 5
The speed of all VPNs which we tested was evaluated using a server in Europe with a 1 GB/s connection. We tested random ProtonVPN servers at different times of the day to more accurately evaluate their performances. More information concerning our methodology can be found in our VPN speed test.
The table below shows the average results from the last 365 days, arranged in order of download and upload speed (descending):
When testing was conducted, ProtonVPN clocked a download speed of 146.3 MB/s and an upload speed of 18.7 MB/s, entitling it to eleventh place in our ranking. In terms of speed, ProtonVPN can't really run with the big dogs, however, it isn't horrible either, and could still be classified as 'good'.
The diagram below shows ProtonVPN's average speeds over the past months.
Score: 4 / 5
Security and Privacy
ProtonVPN promises to safeguard the security and privacy of its users. Connections are secured using the industry standard AES 256 bit encryption. The desktop client uses OpenVPN, widely considered to be the safest protocol available.
ProtonVPN also offers additional security features such as split tunneling and a kill switch. Its "Secure Core" function in particular, is something special. This feature diverts your connection through an additional, secure server, protecting it, should your VPN connection be compromised in any way.
ProtonVPN promises not to save any logs of its users' activity. The company is based in Switzerland, and as such, needs to conform to that country's strict and transparent data protection laws. Adding to this, Switzerland is not party to the Five-, Nine-, or Fourteen-Eyes intelligence sharing agreements.
However, the website RestorePrivacy has accused ProtonVPN of ties to US investors, questioning its freedom of action and independence as a result. As is usually the case, one simply has to take the provider at their word. At the same time, apart from RestorePrivacy's somewhat vague accusation, we couldn't really find anything dubious or questionable about ProtonVPN.
Score: 4.3 / 5
In contrast to most other VPN providers, ProtonVPN does not offer a live support chat. The support team can only be contacted via support tickets, filed through the company's website. On the positive side, we received extensive and detailed answers to our test questions after roughly an hour. This is markedly better than the usual 24- or 48-hour response time for support tickets or emails to other providers.
There isn't much substance to the rest of the provider's support center.
ProtonVPN's ticket system seems to function well, however, the addition of live support chat would be a big plus.
Score: 3.3 / 5
ProtonVPN offers a free version that allows prospective customers to test the service, although its features are limited. This version has reduced speed, only permits a single device to be connected, and allows the establishment of connections to servers in just three countries. For the pay version, 'basic', 'plus', and 'visionary' packages are offered. The prices for these are among the highest from the services which we evaluated, however, the most expensive package does include ProtonMail. A current price list can be found here:
|Free||Basic 24 months||Basic 12 months|
|Price per month||$0.00||$3.29||$4.00|
|Contract period (months)||0||24||12|
|Number of devices||1||2||2|
|Number of servers||-||325||325|
|Number of countries||3||29||29|
ProtonVPN is unable to contest any single area with the VPN heavyweights, however, overall, it does offer a solid package. Particularly with regards to server coverage, ProtonVPN needs to step up its game. As the company is still growing, it is entirely possible that within a few months, their infrastructure will have changed significantly, for the better.
Its integration of features like split tunneling and "Secure Core" show users that ProtonVPN wants to offer them as much security and privacy as possible. In terms of data security and privacy, the Swiss company is a solid choice, and can be seen as a real alternative to the bigger names in the VPN market.
In the customer reviews that we examined, ProtonVPN received good scores. The price, which is somewhat higher than that of other providers, was frequently criticized, as well as ProtonVPN's support, for not having a live chat. In contrast, the provider's efforts in regards to their customers' privacy and security were praised.