VPN Review: ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN began as a 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?
Pros and Cons
Integrated safety features like "Secure Core"
Open-source and externally audited
Doesn't support WireGuard
Server network still growing
Limited opportunities to contact support
Installation and Features
ProtonVPN offers applications for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Chromebooks, and Android TVs. Alternatively, VPNs can be manually configured for other clients or routers. The number of connections that can be established simultaneously depends on the subscription package you purchase, ranging from one to ten.
You can view all available apps and configuration files after logging in to your user account.
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 map also provides statistics from the current session.
ProtonVPN's app features a slightly futuristic design with an expandable world map.
You don't need to use the world map to establish a VPN connection: By clicking on "Quick Connect" you'll automatically be linked to the best server possible. Should you want, you can select from a complete list of countries under the button, making it possible to establish a direct connection based on your location preferences. A search function is also integrated which can help in finding your ideal server. Small symbols next to each location indicate whether servers are suitable for Tor or P2P.
After clicking on a country, a server menu will open, providing you with information about all the servers in that location as well as their usage.
All important features can be accessed with a single click in the expandable window.
ProtonVPN does not allow favorites to be marked, however, it is possible to configure your connection profile in an additional tab in the start window. 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.
It's possible to create a profile for VPN tunnels that you regularly use.
The three buttons above the search bar grant you control over three of the app's most important features. The kill switch automatically severs your Internet connection whenever the VPN tunnel is disrupted. Netshield is a slimmed-down adware and malware blocker. Secure Core is particularly interesting, since it allows you to route your data traffic through a secure server in a country with strict data privacy laws, in addition to the regular VPN connection.
You can find standard VPN features, such as auto-start options, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling under Settings. The last of these allows you to exclude specific applications or IP addresses from your VPN tunnel, or to limit access to your tunnel to certain apps. Under connection settings, you can also select which of your profiles should be automatically used for "Quick Connect".
In terms of VPN protocols, you're tied to OpenVPN, but can switch between TCP and UDP (more on this topic below in the "Security and Privacy" section).
Split tunneling makes it possible to limit access to your VPN tunnel to specific applications or IP addresses.
The mobile version of ProtonVPN uses IKEv2 instead of OpenVPN. Apart from that, the Android app is basically identical to its desktop counterpart: Clicking on the "Quick Connect" button connects you to the nearest and best server based on whatever profile you're using. The world map and connection profiles can also be accessed here through separate tabs, however, profiles you create in the desktop client aren't synchronized with the mobile app. Since you probably use your smartphone for other things than your desktop, this isn't that big of a loss.
Under Settings, you can link specific apps to your VPN connection through split tunneling. Secure Core also found its way onto the mobile app. Unfortunately, the kill switch did not make the cut, but this functionality should be integrated automatically from Android 7.1.
ProtonVPN's smartphone app shares nearly all of the desktop client's most important features.
ProtonVPN doesn't reinvent the wheel, but that's no reason to complain: Its apps are user-friendly and intuitive, possessing most of the features desired from a VPN. Split tunneling comes with plenty of additional options, which, together with Secure Core, is a nice bonus. The user profiles are practical for tailoring your VPN experience to your needs.
We also really liked the app's futuristic design and world map, which has a lot of interesting details: For example, when you create a VPN connection to a specific country, you'll see that country's flag in the background. The feature buttons in the main window are also very practical. These small touches round out ProtonVPN's well-thought-out overall concept and make its app one of the most user-friendly on the market.
Score: 5 / 5
ProtonVPN's network is still growing: At the time of writing, the service had 1,237 servers in 55 countries, representing a considerable improvement over its 2019 numbers. Europe is well-covered, and South America has also picked up more representatives, but Africa and Asia still lack as much coverage as their populations would mandate.
ProtonVPN's network isn't huge, but has grown quite a bit over the past two years.
These continents are also overlooked by most of ProtonVPN's larger competitors. Even though ProtonVPN is still far off the top, its infrastructure has noticeably improved.
Score: 3.7 / 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 in the US and Germany at different times of the day to more accurately assess 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 154.8 MB/s and an upload speed of 18.8 MB/s, entitling it to ninth place in our ranking. In terms of speed, ProtonVPN can't really run with the big dogs, however, it isn't far off.
The diagram below shows ProtonVPN's average speeds over the past months.
Speed is one thing, but how does ProtonVPN fare on a daily basis? To find out, we assessed the service for an entire day, not encountering any problems. Connections were consistent, as well as quickly and reliably established and closed.
Streaming fans will also be pleased with the service: We were able to access foreign content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and the BBC's iPlayer.
For the next trip to China, ProtonVPN isn't recommended, since connections there aren't possible at the moment. Anyone else shouldn't have any issues with the Swiss VPN, however.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Security and Privacy
ProtonVPN promises to safeguard the security and privacy of its users. Connections are secured using the industry-standard, AES 256. The desktop client relies on OpenVPN, widely considered to be the safest protocol available. WireGuard, the newest state-of-the-art protocol, is not supported to date.
ProtonVPN also offers additional security features such as "Secure Core", which routes your connection through an additional, secure server, protecting it, should your VPN connection be compromised in any way.
ProtonVPN didn't slip up on any of our leak tests.
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 privacy laws. Adding to this, Switzerland is not party to the Five-, Nine-, or Fourteen-Eyes intelligence-sharing agreements.
To reinforce its commitment to its users' security and privacy, ProtonVPN took the next step in 2020, going further than any other VPN service: All ProtonVPN apps are now open-source, meaning that their source code can be checked by anyone for weaknesses.
ProtonVPN has also submitted its Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android apps to security audits conducted by SEC Consult, releasing the results. For example, two weaknesses, rated as moderately dangerous were identified in its Windows client. With that said, the results were overwhelmingly positive and speak to ProtonVPN's security.
Open-source apps, independent audits, and additional security features mean that ProtonVPN is not only one of the safest VPN services, but also one of the most transparent, allowing for its commitment to be checked from top to bottom.
Score: 5 / 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. Although a forum isn't offered, ProtonVPN does have a fairly active Reddit community.
ProtonVPN's ticket system seems to function well, however, the addition of live chat support would be a big plus.
Score: 3.7 / 5
ProtonVPN offers a free version that allows prospective customers to test the service, albeit only with a single device and on servers in three countries.
The paid version is divided between "Basic", "Plus", and "Visionary" plans which allow 2, 5, and 10 connections, respectively. Secure Core, access to the service's TOR network, and streaming content are only offered to "Plus" and "Visionary" subscribers.
ProtonVPN is not the most affordable service we evaluated, however, its two-year plans are reasonably priced. "Visionary" plan members also get access to ProtonMail.
You can find a current price list below:
|Effective monthly price||$0.00||from $3.29||from $6.63|
|Contract period (months)||0||1 - 24||1 - 24|
|Number of Devices||1||2||10|
|Number of servers||83||450||1,600|
|Number of countries||3||40||63|
|No server logs|
ProtonVPN has been very busy since we last checked in with it. Making its apps open-source and submitting to independent audits have given the provider a real edge in terms of security, while its steady network growth is impressive. The service's app is one of the most user-friendly on the market, offering split tunneling as well as extras like Secure Core servers.
Of course, ProtonVPN still can't compete with the biggest names; It only performs decently, and live support is a bit lacking. We also can't recommend ProtonVPN for your next trip to China. Anyone that can live with these shortcomings will get one of the best VPN allrounders out there, whose commitment to security and transparency sets an example for the entire 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 was support for not having a live chat. In contrast, the provider's efforts in regards to their customers' privacy and security were praised.
Free VPN plans are offered by a few other providers as well, however, unlike ProtonVPN, these typically have data limits. With Windscribe, you can get 10 GB of VPN usage per month for free.
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