What happens when a group of former CERN scientists comes together? Other than helping to create the internet, they build a service to help make online privacy a reality. The founding members of ProtonVPN did just that when they developed their VPN.
The group at ProtonVPN didn’t set out to create virtual private networks for the masses. Instead, their initial project was to help ensure email communications were as secure as we all expect them to be. They wanted to help protect journalists and activists from persecution in countries where freedom of speech is not an option.
Out of this desire to help protect those who were trying to be a beacon in their countries, they formed ProtonVPN. It was the logical next step for protection against those who would monitor the movements of citizens, even if they were doing nothing wrong.
ProtonVPN invested in the highest encryption with AES-256 bit and a 2048-bit RSA, HMAC key exchange. They do not keep logs of their users’ activities. Also, they employ perfect forward secrecy which ensures no one captures a user’s online activity for later decryption. ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, protected by some of the most stringent privacy laws in the world.
We ran several speed tests at various points during the day, giving us an accurate sample. We noticed that servers within the same country as we are, came closest to matching the download and upload speeds of our regular ISP. While they were close, the closer servers were still slower than our regular ISP. Servers further away were significantly slower and caused buffering issues.
When it comes to pinging speeds, closer servers were faster than servers located in other countries. However, none quite matched the pace of our regular ISP, although the closer servers were better.
One thing we were quite pleased with was the speed tests for ProtonVPN’s Secure Core feature. As this connection runs through multiple servers, we expected quite a bit of lag time. However, when compared to similar location, the average time was only marginally slower. When we connected to the Hong Kong server our download speed with 25.77 mbps compared to 16.60 mbps when we connected with the Secure Core Hong Kong via Sweden. Similarly, our download speed on the regular Sweden server was 78.89 and when we connected through Secure Core US via Sweden it was 51.90.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
ProtonVPN offers users their choice from 479 servers across 37 countries. While most of the available countries are in Europe, there are servers in Singapore, Australia, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
We noticed some of the servers have emblems next to their names. An onion emblem means that the server is optimized for to connect to the Tor Networks. Two arrows pointed in opposite directions indicates servers with P2P connections available. Servers with a P mean their premium servers.
Despite the vast array of servers, new subscribers need to be aware there are limitations. Users who don’t purchase the Plus package do not have access to all servers. Free accounts may only access servers in three countries: United States, Japan, and the Netherlands. These servers have the word “free” at the end of their name. Basic level subscribers may access servers in all countries. However, they may not access the Secure Core, Tor, or premium servers.
We enjoyed the fact that you have the option of Secure Core servers with some plans. The Secure Core offers additional protection by routing the connection through multiple servers. This core prevents trackers at the exit server from discovering the user’s actual IP address. Secure Core servers are in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden as these countries offer the most robust privacy laws.
One of our favorite things about ProtonVPN is that you get to select the server to connect with. You can choose not only the country but the city (or city and state if choosing a US-based server) for optimum connection.
Start by selecting the Open ProtonVPN option instead of quick connect. This connection takes you to a list of all servers available. Select the down arrow on the country you want to connect in and then choose the server. An icon to the left of the server name gives you the percentage of load on the server allowing you to chose one that is not heavily in use.
If you are only interested in speed, you can choose to connect to the fastest server quickly.
All servers come with unlimited bandwidth and DNS routing to prevent DNS attacks. ProtonVPN servers use known secure protocols only, such as Open VPN. They do not use PPTP or L2TP/IPSec.
Overall, we found ProtonVPN easy to use. Once you’ve signed up for an account, you can download the appropriate software based on your operating system. They have clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. Depending on your subscription you may use this service on multiple devices. Set up is easy and only takes a few minutes.
Once loaded, you can choose which country to connect to, or you can select the quick connect feature. Typically, connecting to the server takes a few seconds, but if you choose a relatively full server, it may take longer. If you have a server that you want to connect to regularly, you can create a profile with that location and server information. Profiles appear on the quick connect dropdown list.
Aside from setting different profiles based on your needs, there is little customization available. ProtonVPN cannot bypass the Great Firewall of China. However, the limited customization makes it an optimal choice for those with little technical skill.
So many people enjoy streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. ProtonVPN also allows their Pro and Visionary users to stream shows on Hulu by connecting to any US Plus server. Your server choices for Netflix are a little more limited, but they are easy enough to find. For Netflix users who wish to watch all the shows and movies that are only available in the US will have to connect to the premium servers, which requires a Plus or Visionary account. We tested them, and they do allow Netflix streaming, albeit with a slightly slower load time than without VPN. The best servers to use for streaming Netflix are:
ProtonVPN does allow you to use multiple devices simultaneously. However, the number of devices varies based on the package purchased.
If you connect to ProtonVPN with the Android apps you will have access to all servers available on the desktop. We tested if the same servers approved for Netflix streaming worked on mobile devices and had no issues streaming either Netflix or Hulu.
There was one issue we did notice when using the VPN service. Users running the Microsoft Outlook application may experience connectivity issues. While using ProtonVPN, one of our mailboxes continually prompted for a password despite the password being input correctly. The account viewed it as a security issue and temporarily blocked access to messages.
ProtonVPN does not have a way to speak with someone if you have an issue directly. As there are many reasons to need assistance with your account, not being able to get an answer immediately is problematic. The only support offered by ProtonVPN comes in the form of a knowledge base or email form.
Although it is frustrating to have to wait for an answer, we did get a prompt response to our email questions. The support personnel answered our query in less than 24 hours, and they were thorough in their reply.
The knowledge base is extensive with topics ranging from basic account information to how to setup the software.
Overall, it was a bit frustrating not to be able to speak to someone immediately. If we had any significant issues, then the delay might have been even more annoying. The prompt and detailed response to our questions does help make up for their lack of live chat or even telephone service feature.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
ProtonVPN comes packed with features and for a relatively low price. They have different plans that are suitable for all users depending on their needs. The free plan is the most limited, with just servers is just three countries and low speeds. The Basic plan will get you access to some servers in all 30+ countries and faster speeds. If you choose the Plus package you will have access to all of the premium servers, including the Secure Core, Tor, P2P, and servers needed for Netflix. Lastly, there is the Visionary plan, this will give you all the benefits of the Plus plan and a subscription to ProtonMail Visionary
Currently, the only available payment methods are major credit cards and PayPal. It would be nice if to see cryptocurrency added to this list for an additional layer of anonymity, but so far it is not an option.
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