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ProtonMail is one of the most popular and trusted encrypted email services, so I was excited to try the company’s VPN to see how its security and privacy measure up.
I was pleased to find Proton VPN has excellent privacy protection, a slick client, and solid overall performance. I didn’t find any security holes in the system, and my speed tests registered satisfactory results. You can also readily access popular entertainment services such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video using its Plus plan.
However, it doesn’t quite measure up to the best VPNs available in 2023, as it locks its best features behind expensive paid tiers. If you want to test it for yourself, you can try Proton VPN risk free for 30 days. All paid plans include a money-back guarantee that entitles you to a prorated refund if you cancel the service.
My streaming tests were mixed, with Proton VPN’s paid plans successfully unblocking most platforms. The Plus plan allowed me to access my favorite shows on HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix.
Although Proton VPN let me access Netflix US instantly on every subscription plan, the free version struggled to access other popular streaming services. Note that the free plan only gives you access to servers in the US, the Netherlands, and Japan, limiting which platforms are available to you. Speeds on the free servers were also a huge streaming issue, which you can read more about below. I recommend upgrading to a Plus subscription plan if you intend to use Proton VPN mainly for streaming.
If you struggle to access one of the platforms, Proton VPN’s help page provides guidance on how to optimize your streaming experience for Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max. This was useful as some of its Plus plan servers failed to work properly with these services. I followed its guidance and cleared my device’s cookies and cache, which then allowed me to access Disney+ in no time.
By upgrading to Plus membership, I could access all of the streaming services listed above. Unfortunately, the ability to unblock multiple platforms in any available location is only open to Plus and Visionary (business) plan users. Subscribing to the free version will limit you to just Netflix, and you’ll only have access to Netflix libraries in the US, Japan, and the Netherlands.
My colleagues and I tested Proton VPN with multiple Netflix locations and can confirm that it is a great VPN for this streaming service. We could access Netflix in the US, Germany, India, Australia, and the UK using Proton VPN’s Plus plan. There was almost no lag or buffering, thanks to its fast connection speeds.
A colleague in the UK was able to stream shows and movies on BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video using Proton VPN’s fast UK server.
I discovered that not every dedicated streaming server could unblock HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. It sometimes took me a few tries to find servers that worked. But, once I’d connected to the correct location, I found I had fast speeds and no drops in connection to enjoy streaming without interruptions.
Overall, most of the locations we tried were sufficient to provide access to streaming platforms around the globe.
Proton VPN’s Plus plan proved to offer great speeds during my tests. The same can’t be said about its free plan, which gave me significant drops in speed that would critically impact my ability to stream, game online, or download files.
A recent addition, the VPN Accelerator, improves performance by altering network routing algorithms and increasing the efficiency of the VPN infrastructure. By default, VPN Accelerator is enabled at all times. Although I didn’t notice a significant impact on VPN performance with it on or off, your experience may vary.
I also tested the speed of its Secure Core connections, a feature that increases privacy by passing user traffic through multiple servers (multi-hopping). Secure Core servers are located in Iceland, Switzerland, and Sweden — countries known for respecting privacy and not monitoring internet users. But advanced security features such as multi-hop can impact speeds.
My download speed dropoff on the Plus plan servers ranged from 14 to 41% of my base speed, which was 93.02 Mbps. While this may seem like a significant drop, it’s in line with what you’ll see from most VPN providers. Additionally, the further away your server is from your actual location, the more your latency will increase. I could still use my regular applications, as well as download torrents and stream my favorite TV shows online.
Local servers in the US maintained speeds as high as 79.98 Mbps, a drop of just 14%. This is a higher-than-average result for the industry, as even the best VPNs will usually drop your speed by around 20%. Servers in France averaged 66.95 Mbps, which is better than many VPNs I’ve tested. Long-distance connections were also impressive, with Australian servers reaching 61.73 Mbps.
Unfortunately, I saw a massive 95% drop with Proton VPN’s Secure Core network connections. While I expected some reduction in speed due to the multi-hopping server path, Secure Core’s slowdown was significant enough to make streaming a chore. You may find the increased protection is worth the drastic connection speed drop if online privacy is your principal concern. However, you need at least 5 Mbps to stream and more to successfully game online or download large files, so this level of impact makes most online activities impossible.
Testing Proton VPN’s free plan server connections also showed significant speed drops — some exceeding 90%. While a certain level of loss was expected, there was a huge difference between the free and premium server speeds.
Although the drastic speed drops on Proton VPN’s free servers would make most online activities extremely difficult, it offers those with limited financial resources a way of securely browsing the web to a very limited degree.
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.
This VPN offers one of the best free VPN plans on the market. Free users can access 100+ servers in 3 countries: the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. For Plus plan and business users, Proton VPN has a network of 1700+ servers in 60 locations worldwide, including South America and Africa — two continents VPN providers often neglect. Additionally, all its servers are RAM-based, meaning they don’t store or collect your data.
Unlike many of its competitors, Proton VPN owns and operates all of its own servers. The network is overseen exclusively by Proton VPN employees, so you don’t have to worry about mysterious third parties having physical access to the servers and your data.
The physical security of Proton VPN’s infrastructure is also maintained by the company. Its main server hardware is housed in an old Swiss army fallout shelter located 1,000 meters underground. Similarly, its Swedish servers are kept in an underground data center, while its Iceland infrastructure is stored on a former military base.
Plus and Visionary subscribers can route all traffic through the Tor network on certain servers. In other words, you don’t have to install the Tor browser to hide your dark web browsing from your internet service provider. Currently, there are 7 Tor server locations — the US, Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland, Hong Kong, Germany, and France.
During my tests, Proton VPN’s servers always worked on the first try and never unexpectedly disconnected. There are handy icons next to each server showing whether it’s optimized for streaming (play button icon), Smart Routing (web icon), Tor (onion icon), or P2P (arrows icon).
The client displays the load on each server, allowing you to avoid congestion and ensure maximum performance. If you just want the fastest option available, Quick Connect finds the most appropriate server for your location. Keep in mind that Quick Connect will likely choose a location within your own country, so it may not be the best option for connecting to regional services while traveling abroad.
You can configure Quick Connect settings to your own preferences. I set its rules to ensure I always connected to the best available servers for streaming, torrenting, and more, and found it was responsive to these instructions in my tests. I appreciated the time-saving benefits of these settings, but keep in mind that your device’s chosen tunneling protocol is shared between Proton VPN apps. For example, if your client is configured to use OpenVPN on Windows, it won’t work on a Mac because the app supports IKEv2.
If you’re privacy-conscious, it’s also possible to have the VPN connect automatically to a random server, which is a unique way to make yourself harder to track.
Proton VPN allows P2P and torrenting to some extent. The company is based in Switzerland and is subject to Swiss law. Therefore, its policy states that any file sharing must be for your personal use only and must be entirely legal.
To test this, I connected to the VPN, launched a torrent client, and tried to download a public domain file. I was pleased with the speed as it didn’t seem to be throttled. Sadly, Proton VPN does not offer port forwarding or SOCKS 5 proxy options. This alone places the VPN at a significant disadvantage compared to competitors who offer port forwarding and have 100% P2P networks.
My team and I don’t condone participation in any illegal activities so please check the rules and regulations in your country regarding torrenting activity to ensure you are not violating any laws.
Proton VPN readily admits it’s blocked in China and won’t work. That said, there’s a guide about how to access the open web anonymously in China using the Tor network on Proton VPN’s website. I appreciate that Proton VPN offers a solution to its customers without any gain for the company itself, as this shows that it is dedicated to online freedom in general.
If you are planning a trip to mainland China and want to use a VPN while you’re there, I recommend you try ExpressVPN — one of the few VPNs that consistently work in China and other countries with strict censorship. It hides your identity and location with top-grade 256-bit encryption and a strict zero-logs policy.
Best of all, ExpressVPN is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can buy in confidence. Just remember — while a VPN may protect your privacy, it doesn’t give you the right to commit illegal acts. Always exercise caution and common sense when using a VPN in China.
Proton VPN combines strong encryption with advanced VPN protocols. The platform uses AES-256 encryption, SHA-456 hashing for authentication, and RSA 4096-bit key exchange. Banks and the military use AES-256 to protect sensitive information because it is virtually indecipherable, so I always look for VPNs that use this type of encryption.
It also utilizes perfect forward secrecy for added security, ensuring that each session is associated with a different security key. Even in the unlikely event that someone managed to obtain your encryption key for a particular session, it would be rendered ineffective once you disconnect.
Tunneling protocols used by Proton VPN include WireGuard, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP variant), and IKEv2/IPsec (not available on Windows). Except for Linux, all apps are automatically connected through Smart Protocol feature. Smart Protocol helps you stay connected even when a 3rd party is trying to block your access. When it cannot establish a connection with one protocol, it will automatically switch to the next fastest protocol available.
Proton VPN’s split tunneling feature lets you choose whether to encrypt the entire connection or just specific applications. This helped me avoid speed drops when working with secure and trusted applications that don’t require encryption. It’s also great if you want to keep some apps separate from your VPN connection — for example, the local weather forecast, or a banking app. Sadly, you can only access split tunneling on the Android and Windows apps.
Like other top VPN services, Proton VPN offers DNS leak protection and a kill switch — 2 features that provide extra security. DNS leak protection stops your IP and DNS data from being seen by your ISP and other prying eyes, while the kill switch cuts off your connection if a problem occurs with your VPN tunnel.
While the kill switch is relatively easy to activate on Windows, it’s a bit more complicated with the Android app. In addition to being hard to find in the settings tab, the Android kill switch only works when the VPN is set to “connected at all times.”
It can be difficult to find a VPN with an ad blocker, so I was pleased that Proton VPN has added one to its service. NetShield is a DNS filter that shields you from malware, blocks ads, and prevents third-party trackers from following your online activities. Remember that Netshield will only activate while the VPN is connected, and it cannot block YouTube ads. After testing this feature on 5 different websites I frequent, I found that it effectively eliminates pop-ups and banner ads.
Alternate Routing is another Proton VPN feature that allows you to access restricted pages on the web. It will automatically engage when the app detects censored content. It will then attempt to connect to Proton servers via alternative routes. This functionality is enabled by default, but you can disable it by going to Advanced Settings. Generally, Alternate Routing won’t be triggered under normal conditions, so leaving it on poses little risk or inconvenience.
Proton VPN provides extra security to Plus/Visionary subscribers through its Secure Core network. This feature routes your data through 2 servers, starting with one located in Iceland, Switzerland, or Sweden. These are privacy-friendly countries that don’t surveil web users. Proton VPN claims that by passing your connection through Secure Core servers first, you’ll stay hidden even if a subsequent server has been compromised by malicious third parties.
Secure Core can be enabled in the Desktop app by clicking the lock icon above the server list. After that, you just select “Secure Core on.” You can toggle this option from the top of the server list on Android and iOS devices.
Proton VPN follows a strict no-logs policy — it doesn’t keep a record of your sessions or collect any information that can compromise your privacy. The provider has further shown its commitment to privacy by converting to a 100% RAM-based server network that deletes the information on its servers daily. It also routinely subjects itself to third-party audits.
Thanks to Proton VPN’s open-source status, it’s possible to peer behind the scenes and examine its workings. This way, anyone can verify the legitimacy of the company’s claims. A comprehensive audit conducted by SEC Consult determined that the company complies with all regulatory requirements.
Personal data, including email addresses, may be collected during account creation, support requests, bug reports, and payment transactions. However, no third parties are ever given access to this information, and its use is limited to customer correspondence only. Additionally, this information is stored on encryption-protected local servers. Upon cancellation of your Proton VPN account, all your data will be wiped.
It’s crucial that your VPN employs security techniques that prevent your IP address and DNS data from being visible to 3rd parties. To see if any of my data was leaking, I connected to a server in the UK and performed an IP and DNS leak test. The test showed that only Proton VPN’s server details were visible — meaning it really kept me anonymous.
Proton VPN’s Swiss base allows the company to maintain a high degree of privacy, as the country has some of the world most comprehensive data protection and digital privacy laws.
However, despite Switzerland’s privacy laws, the country remains part of the extended 14 Eyes global security alliance. This means that Proton might be obliged by law to share any data it has. But due to the fact that Proton VPN does not record logs of your online activities, it has very little information to share with anyone, even the government. In its transparency report, the company states that it received a valid request for information in January 2019 but had nothing to give.
Proton VPN supports up to 10 simultaneous connections. The number of devices you can connect with a single account depends on the service plan selected. The free and Basic plans support 1 and 2 simultaneous connections respectively, while the Plus and Visionary plans allow up to 10. The Visionary plan is available to small businesses, and allows you to allocate the 10 connections to specific users in your network.
If you want to be able to protect more devices, try using IPVanish and its 10 connections. Its plans are a lot more affordable than Proton VPN’s premium subscription, and you can use it on as many devices as you want risk-free for 30 days. It’s one of the few VPNs with no device limits, and I got reliable connections even using IPVanish on 7 devices at once.
Proton VPN is compatible with Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chromebook, and Linux. Additionally, its Android app can be easily installed on certain smart TVs. That said, Proton VPN doesn’t function the same way on all the devices it supports, and you may find protocol options and advanced features vary depending on your devices.
Unfortunately, there are currently no browser extensions available for Proton VPN. If you need one, I recommend you try CyberGhost’s Chrome extension, which is available free of charge — no payment details required.
You can install Proton VPN on certain routers such as DD-WRT, AsusWRT, and Tomato. Unfortunately, setup can prove to be quite challenging, especially if you’re not tech-savvy. If you need help with the installation, you can always contact the provider’s customer service by email, or refer to the website for installation guides.
Proton VPN impressed me with its user-friendliness and great-looking interface. It was also easy to download, install, and configure the application. Choosing a server connection is straightforward and each server-specific feature is clear from the accompanying icons provided.
The main endpoint list shows how busy each server is at any given time. If the service is congested, you can boost performance by choosing a low-traffic server yourself rather than allowing the client to choose one for you.
The traffic graph helped me track the performance of my connection as well as how much data I was sending. It’s easy to browse the Advanced Settings interface and change security configuration. From here, you can enable a permanent kill switch, or activate features such as split tunneling for additional control. Additionally, you can set Proton VPN to start at boot, connect automatically when it’s launched, and disable DNS leak protection (although I don’t recommend this).
Regardless of which device you use, Proton VPN starts with a tutorial the first time you open it. On desktop versions, the tutorial is slightly more in-depth, while the mobile apps will show you basics, like how to quick-connect to a server. I thought these tutorials were a nice touch for VPN beginners.
Proton VPN’s support options are limited to a ticket-based system and email. The website offers a Live Chat service, but it’s currently only available in selected locations.
The online ticket system is quite functional, although you may be inconvenienced by the time difference if you live outside of Europe. Even so, the response time wasn’t too bad, and I received responses to all my requests within 24 hours with one exception.
It operates during business hours Monday to Friday, so if you ask a question on a Friday, as I did, you’ll have to wait until Monday for your response. Although it’s disappointing that you don’t always have access to Live Chat assistance with the Plus plan, I found the response time relatively fast, and the emails were polite and helpful. That said, if you had an emergency and couldn’t use your VPN, it would be frustrating to have to wait all weekend.
Additionally, Proton VPN maintains an online support center with loads of helpful information. For easy navigation, the support center is divided into 5 categories: General Information, Download and Setup, Account, Troubleshooting, and Access Content. Each category has detailed articles to answer some of your questions. I was impressed by Proton VPN’s FAQ pages, even though it isn’t as exhaustive as some VPN providers.
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.
Proton VPN offers four service plans: Free, Basic, Plus, and Visionary. Depending on your plan, you will receive different features like the number of servers you have access to, how many devices you can connect simultaneously, and the connection speed. This means that the better the features and functionalities in the plan, the more expensive it will be.
With the free plan, your access is limited to only 3 server locations: the US, Japan, and the Netherlands. You can also only use it on 1 device at a time, with frequently slow connection speeds. But unlike most free VPNs, Proton offers unlimited bandwidth.
The Basic Plan is an upgrade to the free Plan, giving you access to servers in 55 countries. However, you can’t use premium servers or Tor functionality. Additionally, you’re limited to 2 devices at once, and, though higher than the free plan, your connection speed is not the fastest.
Plus plan subscribers are granted unlimited access to all 1700 server locations as well as secure core functionality and Tor compatibility. Furthermore, you can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously at the fastest possible speed. The prices below show the different options for the Proton VPN Plus plan.
For business owners, the Visionary plan is bundled with a ProtonMail account and includes all features from the Plus plan. This secure, encrypted email service includes 20GB of data, up to 50 aliases, 10 domains, the ability to allocate specific users to your network, and other features.
Proton VPN accepts credit, debit, gift cards, and PayPal, making payment a breeze. If you’d prefer a more anonymous payment method, the company also accepts Bitcoin and other popular cryptocurrencies.
The lack of a straightforward money-back guarantee is a disappointing aspect of Proton VPN’s pricing. On the surface, the 30-day window makes the refund offer look more generous than it is. Proton VPN’s refunds are prorated based on the remaining or unused portion of the 30-day period. This effectively means you can’t get a full refund unless you cancel and make a request the very next minute after you subscribe. With many of its competitors offering full, no-questions-asked refunds, I’d like to see Proton improve its policy.
Proton VPN is a reliable service that caters to almost all the needs of a typical VPN user. Its website states that the company’s primary concern is the safety of its customers. My security checks supported those claims and confirmed that Proton VPN employs top-line unhackable encryption, incorporates a kill switch, prevents security leaks, and adheres to strict no-logging policies.
Unfortunately, Proton VPN has some drawbacks. While its free plan is one of the few on the market to offer unlimited bandwidth, this benefit is undercut by a lack of server choice and slow speeds. These issues are eliminated when you upgrade to a paid plan but, for the cost, you’d get more for your money if you choose a provider like ExpressVPN, which offers best-in-class speed, security, and service.
If you’d still like to try Proton VPN for yourself, it’s supported by a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can get a refund if it’s not the right fit. Just keep in mind that unlike most money-back guarantees, Proton VPN is pro-rated —you’ll only be reimbursed for the unused portion of the service period.
Yes, Proton VPN is a pretty safe VPN choice. It employs a strict no-logs policy and uses both encryption and tunneling protocols that ensure the highest level of security. Its applications are all open-source so anyone can inspect the code to verify that it is safe to use.
Yes, both Proton VPN’s free and paid plans are good. You can even unblock Netflix US using the free plan, although its speeds are extremely limiting. The Plus plan gives you access to multiple streaming platforms on servers around the globe, while the free plan only gives you access to the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. All servers offer state-of-the-art security, protecting from hackers, trackers, and malware. Proton VPN doesn’t have quite as much to offer as other premium VPNs such as ExpressVPN, but it’s still a great choice overall.
Yes, Proton VPN has a free-tier subscription package. Although it is lacking in areas such as speed, the free plan does provide unlimited bandwidth, which is relatively uncommon among free VPNs. The best thing about Proton VPN’s free plan is that it comes with the same security and privacy features as the paid plans, which is a rarity for free VPNs. A downside is limitations on speed and server locations, so if you need a VPN primarily for streaming and accessing content abroad, you may want to consider Proton VPN’s Plus plan, or an alternative VPN from our top recommended choices.
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