ProtonVPN Review 2021: Before You Buy, Is It Worth It?

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ProtonVPN Overview October 2021

ProtonVPN is owned by Proton Technologies AG and based in Switzerland — a country with strong privacy laws. The VPN started as a companion to ProtonMail — a popular encrypted email service for journalists and activists to communicate securely in countries with authoritarian regimes. The team later made ProtonVPN available to the public, released its source code, and successfully passed a third-party security audit.

To see if ProtonVPN’s strong privacy background justifies its high price point, I wanted to put the VPN through thorough testing. Since ProtonVPN offers only a prorated refund instead of a full money-back guarantee, I tested its limited free version. My tests showed that even with top-grade security and privacy features, ProtonVPN’s mediocre speeds, restrictive refund policy, and expensive subscriptions hold it back from being a good value VPN. Even some of its paid plans have throttled speeds or fewer security features, so you’re better off trying one of the other top VPNs on the market that offer you a chance to test them risk-free.

Try ProtonVPN for yourself!

Don’t Have Time? Here’s a 1-Minute Summary

  • Unblocks lots of streaming sites. Free and Basic plans unblocked Netflix, and premium plans worked with every streaming site I tested. Jump to my streaming tests.
  • Fast speeds if you pay extra. I only tested its free plan, and the speeds were too slow for streaming, gaming, or torrenting. See my speed test results.
  • Super-secure servers for premium subscribers. ProtonVPN has a reliable server network that keeps you anonymous with military-grade encryption, but security extras are only included with the highest subscription tiers. Find out if ProtonVPN can keep you safe.
  • Works on most devices, but offers few simultaneous connections. ProtonVPN is easy to set up on common devices (except routers), but for more than 2 connections you need its Plus or Visionary plans. Find out how many devices you can connect with each plan.
  • Support replies within 24 hours. Online ticket and email support replied within 1 business day, but 24/7 live chat would have been more efficient. Learn about my experience with ProtonVPN’s support team.
  • Powerful VPN, but not a great value. As solid as ProtonVPN is, its price tag isn’t justified when competitors cost so much less. View pricing and plans.

Try ProtonVPN for yourself!

ProtonVPN’s Free Plan Unblocks Netflix (But Can’t Unblock HBO NOW, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+)

If you’re traveling abroad and want to keep watching your favorite Netflix shows, ProtonVPN can help you. When my team and I tested the free version, ProtonVPN’s servers worked with Netflix US, Netherlands, and Japan. I was pleasantly surprised because according to ProtonVPN’s website, only the premium plans can unblock streaming sites like Netflix. While servers in Japan weren’t fast enough to consistently watch in HD, the video played lag-free in SD after about 5 seconds of initial buffering. Other servers in the US and Netherlands were sufficiently fast for HD streaming — Netflix loaded in just a couple of seconds and never stopped to buffer.

Screenshot of a show streaming on Netflix while ProtonVPN is connected to a server in the Netherlands

ProtonVPN unblocks Netflix instantly so you can watch exclusive foreign content libraries

Other than Netflix, ProtonVPN’s free version couldn’t unblock any other streaming sites. Its website and support team claim that its higher-tier Plus and Visionary plans work with HBO Max, ESPN+, PeacockTV, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hotstar, and F1TV, but I couldn’t verify it myself.

For a provider that will unblock all of the most popular platforms while you travel overseas, I recommend you use ExpressVPN. It’s also got super-fast servers for streaming, so I get hardly any lag when I used it to watch TV and movies in HD during my tests. You can try ExpressVPN’s entire selection of features risk-free Unlike ProtonVPN, ExpressVPN provides a full, 30-day money-back guarantee so if you’re unsatisfied, you can always ask for a refund.

Watch Netflix with ProtonVPN

Speed7.4

ProtonVPN Has Fast Speeds (on Premium Plans)

I was disappointed that ProtonVPN’s free and basic plans have throttled speeds. I was only able to test the free version, which was quite slow (the servers weren’t fast enough for reliable TV and movie streaming). Only its Plus and Visionary versions include high-speed servers. Since you get charged for the Basic plan, it’s a shame you don’t get access to full speeds. The best VPNs include full speeds no matter which server or plan you use — and unlike ProtonVPN, they have risk-free money-back guarantees. While ProtonVPN bills you for the days you use, you can test popular competitors like CyberGhost for up to 45 days and still get a full refund if you change your mind.

Speed Test Results

While testing ProtonVPN’s free version, I found that the speeds were too slow for video chat, streaming, or other common online activities. Even websites with multimedia ads sometimes took a while to load. Because of the high ping its connection caused, ProtonVPN is also unusable for online multiplayer gaming. That said, the VPN is fast enough for basic web browsing and email.

I tested the 3 available servers in the US, Netherlands, and Japan, and all 3 were incredibly slow — the average speed drop from my home network speed of 158.44Mbps was 98.35%.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN speed test results

ProtonVPN’s free plan is too slow for most online activities

The results from a packet loss test I ran were also disappointing — 21.5% of the packets were lost during the test, and the average ping was 132.76ms. With such a large portion of lost packets, I wasn’t surprised that ProtonVPN’s free version was so slow and its connection was so unreliable.

I spoke to ProtonVPN support, and the agent said the Basic paid plan’s speeds are fast enough for high-bandwidth activities — but you’ll get less reliable performance. For demanding activities like gaming and HD streaming, you’ll have to get one of ProtonVPN’s premium plans.

Try ProtonVPN for yourself! 

Why Most Speed Tests are Pointless & How We Correctly Test VPN Speeds

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.

Servers8.2

Server Network — Secure, Private, and Reliable Network With 1,200+ Servers

ProtonVPN’s network includes over 1,200 servers in 50+ countries — but the free version only comes with 15+ total servers in the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. Speeds are slow, but you are allowed to download torrents and use Tor on some of these servers (as indicated by a small icon in the interface). I could also see the user load on each server, which is a helpful feature that can help you avoid slow, overcrowded servers. Sadly, all the servers I could access with my free version of the VPN were congested, with a user load of 90% or more. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend using ProtonVPN’s free version for a high-bandwidth activity like torrenting files — its servers are just too slow.

I was also a bit concerned when I learned that ProtonVPN rents most of its servers instead of owning them. Although rented servers are normally safe as long as the provider manages the leased equipment, this practice still exposes your connection to possible interference from third parties.  If you’re a privacy-minded user, you should opt for a VPN that owns all of its servers, like IPVanish.

Even with access to ProtonVPN’s full network, its bare-bones Basic plan is still restrictive. Along with throttled speeds, you don’t get options like double VPN, Tor over VPN, or the ability to unblock geo-restricted content. These bonuses are only included if you get the Plus or Visionary subscriptions. In contrast, Private Internet Access (PIA) gets you top-grade features and over 34400 servers for a fraction of the cost. You can even try PIA and all these features risk-free using its 30-day money-back guarantee — a policy that ProtonVPN doesn’t offer.

During my tests, ProtonVPN’s servers were reliable — they always worked on my first try and never unexpectedly disconnected. There are handy icons next to each server showing whether it’s Tor compatible (onion icon) or P2P compatible (arrows icon).

Screenshot of ProtonVPN's server menu icons

Tor and P2P optimized servers were easy for me to find thanks to ProtonVPN’s handy icons

You can also connect automatically to the fastest server, or use a random one. Using random servers is an effective way to make yourself even harder to track, and it’s a feature I haven’t seen in other VPNs.

Stay safe with ProtonVPN

Security — Military-Grade Encryption and Secure Core Servers Protect Your Data

ProtonVPN hides your data with 256-bit encryption — the most powerful cipher available, which not even governments can break. It also uses the 4096-bit RSA handshake to authenticate the connection, thus establishing “trust” between your network and the VPN. For added protection, ProtonVPN then uses the ECDH key exchange to produce a set of private keys that will be unique for each VPN session. This process is known as “perfect forward secrecy”, and it ensures that hackers won’t have continued access to your connection if a single session gets hacked.

I found that ProtonVPN has a limited, but still secure selection of tunneling protocols. You can choose between OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec on all apps except macOS, which only supports IKEv2. Though ProtonVPN has promised to eventually deploy the newer WireGuard protocol, it hasn’t done so yet.

The Secure Core feature is another security bonus on ProtonVPN’s Plus and Visionary plans (which I couldn’t test). ProtonVPN owns 40 Secure Core servers, all of which route your data through 2 locations, starting with one either in Iceland, Switzerland, or Sweden. These are privacy-friendly countries that don’t surveil web users. These servers are built and maintained in-house, kept in tightly controlled facilities, and connect to the internet only via networks owned internally. ProtonVPN claims that by passing through Secure Core servers first, your data will stay hidden if a subsequent server has been compromised by malicious third parties.

While ProtonVPN offers a split tunneling feature on its Windows and Android apps, I couldn’t test it because the VPN’s free version I used didn’t have it. It’s too bad — split tunneling is a convenient feature that lets you exempt certain apps and websites from the VPN connection. With this feature, you can use the VPN to access geo-restricted sites while also viewing local content on your home network.

Privacy — Provides DNS Protection and Has a Proven No-Logs Policy

My tests revealed that ProtonVPN keeps data like your IP address, location, and browsing activities completely hidden. To see if any of my data was leaking past ProtonVPN’s encryption during communication requests, I connected to a server in the Netherlands and performed a DNS leak test. The test only detected ProtonVPN’s server in the Netherlands — this means it really kept me anonymous.

Screenshot of a successful DNS leak test while ProtonVPN is connected to a server in the Netherlands

My DNS leak test showed that ProtonVPN prevents my private data from being exposed

I also performed a WebRTC leak test to see if my browser was leaking my real IP address despite the VPN connection, and once again ProtonVPN successfully passed. In a final check, I ran an IPv6 leak test to see if ProtonVPN was capable of channeling newer, less common IPv6 connections through its VPN tunnel. I’m happy to report that the IPv6 leak test also didn’t reveal a leak. All these leak tests confirmed that even the free version of ProtonVPN was capable of fully safeguarding my IP address. Note that I could only run these tests on my Windows machine, as ProtonVPN’s free version gave me a single device license.

ProtonVPN is headquartered in Switzerland, a country with strong laws protecting your data privacy. This makes me feel confident that my online activities remain anonymous with Proton VPN. Switzerland is also outside the Fourteen Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the US, UK, Australia, and other nations that engage in electronic surveillance. Despite this, there was a case where Swiss courts approved a data request from a foreign government — but thanks to its zero-logs policy, ProtonVPN had nothing to provide to authorities anyway.

Although ProtonVPN has a strict no-logs policy, it does admit to collecting timestamps of successful connection attempts. These logs only record the date and time of the connection and omit any personally identifiable information, so they can never be traced to your device. ProtonVPN states that it logs timestamps to monitor password guess attempts and prevent password brute force attacks. 

Apart from these anonymous timestamps, ProtonVPN also records your email address, payment information, and anything you share when submitting a service ticket. These types of logs are generally harmless, and the majority of VPNs keep them. That said, I was glad to learn that ProtonVPN lets you use a ProtonID to hide your identity from the provider and pay with Bitcoin so you don’t share personal data while paying.

The only inconsistency I found in ProtonVPN’s privacy policy is the claim that it doesn’t throttle — artificially slow down — users’ internet connection. As a user of the VPN’s free version, I found that ProtonVPN slowed my internet speed by over 98%, all while promising faster speeds with its paid plan. That’s the classic definition of internet throttling.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN's privacy policy

ProtonVPN throttled my speeds on its free plan, but promised higher speeds if I upgraded

One important privacy function is ProtonVPN’s kill switch, which is included in all plans but available only on the Windows and macOS apps. This feature prevents you from being exposed if your VPN connection gets cut off due to the VPN client crashing, a server failure, or other reasons. I was disappointed that this essential feature is off by default. I switched it on using a button at the top of the server menu, but when I disconnected from the server it didn’t shut off my internet. Competing providers (like ExpressVPN and CyberGhost) have kill switches that engage if I disconnect for any reason — even if I click the “disconnect from server” button in the app.

Torrenting — ProtonVPN Supports Secure P2P on All Servers

ProtonVPN supports P2P file sharing protocols like BitTorrent. Its free version claims not to offer torrent support, but I noticed P2P icons next to some of the free version’s servers in the Netherlands. When I tried them out, I was able to download a 1.3GB video file. The download took over 2 hours, but keep in mind that I was limited to the free version (which has throttled speeds). Servers that didn’t have the P2P icon didn’t work when I tried using them to download torrents. Remember that torrenting copyrighted material is illegal in most countries, so please only download content that’s in the public domain.

Does ProtonVPN Work in China?

ProtonVPN admits that its service was blocked by the Chinese authorities back in 2019, and hasn’t resumed since. My team and I were unable to verify if ProtonVPN works in the country again. That said, there are a few VPNs that will let you access the free web in China. Just remember to install their apps before you arrive in the country as they’re blocked there. Also, note that while Chinese authorities block VPNs with technology instead of apprehending tourists who use it there, the protection of a VPN doesn’t give you the license to commit illegal acts.

Server Locations

Argentina
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Brazil
Bulgaria
Canada
Czech Republic
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Hong Kong
Iceland
India
See all supported locations...

User Experience8.6

Simultaneous Device Connections — Protect 1-10 Devices, Depending on Subscription Tier

ProtonVPN can connect on 1, 2, 5, or 10 devices simultaneously depending on which plan you subscribe to. 10 is a generous number, but only comes with the pricey premium subscription. You get 5 devices with the Plus plan, 2 with the Basic plan, or just 1 with the free plan.

If you want to be able to protect all your devices using a single account, try using IPVanish and its unlimited connections. Its plans are a lot more affordable than ProtonVPN’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.

Device Compatibility — Works With the Most Common Device Types

ProtonVPN is compatible with Windows (7.0 and later), macOS (10.12 and later), Android (5.0 and later), iOS (11.1 and later), Linux, and a host of other popular devices. I tested its free Windows and Android apps, which were user-friendly and dependable. Not once did they crash or give me errors. If you want to use it with a device that VPNs rarely support (like an Amazon Fire TV Stick or Playstation), you can protect your entire network by setting up ProtonVPN on your router. However, it’s a technical process. Since ProtonVPN is like most providers in that you have to format your router and install third-party firmware, you can permanently damage it if you do something wrong.

Ease of Setup & Installation — Except for Routers, Setup is Fast and Simple

ProtonVPN apps are easy to set up and use, with clear menus and buttons. The first time you open them, a very brief tutorial guides you through functions like quick connect and server selection. On desktop versions, you also get a really nice visual display of your data usage.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN's user interface on a Windows PC showing its free plan

ProtonVPN’s desktop apps have intuitive buttons and fun visuals that show your data use

You can find setup guides for routers on the ProtonVPN website, but they’re too complicated for anyone who isn’t an advanced user. The desktop and mobile apps are straightforward to get going, and won’t give you any trouble as long as you’ve downloaded and installed software from the web or mobile app stores before.

Regardless of which device you use, ProtonVPN 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.

Support8.6

Support options are limited to ProtonVPN’s online knowledge base and an email ticket system. While I couldn’t get answers as quickly as with VPNs that have 24/7 live chat, I always got answers within 1-3 days. Email replies only took longer than 24 hours when I asked on a Friday, in which case I got my answer by Monday. Since top providers on the market like ExpressVPN have 24/7 live chat, waiting 1 or more days feels like a really long time.

Screenshot of an email reply from ProtonVPN support

On Friday I asked ProtonVPN about its streaming capabilities, and had a helpful reply by Monday morning

The online ticket system is easy to find on the Support page — just click the button that says “Contact our support team.” Getting your answer within a day is good, but I get faster answers with ExpressVPN, since it has 24/7 live chat support. Round-the-clock support can be highly useful, especially if you’re trying to watch a live event and need to know which server works best with the streaming site you’re using.

How We Test Customer Support and Why Should You Care

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.

Pricing8.0

Aside from its bare-bones free version, ProtonVPN plans are pricier than most other providers — even ones with better features and powerful privacy protection.

Free Plan — Costs Nothing and Includes Unlimited Data

ProtonVPN’s free version gives you unlimited data, but only 3 country locations and restricted speed. It keeps you totally private and anonymous, but doesn’t have Secure Core or onion over Tor servers. It can’t unblock TV and movie streaming services (except Netflix), or censored websites.

Basic Plan — Includes ProtonVPN Servers in 55 Countries

With the Basic paid plan, you can connect 2 devices instead of just 1 and get to use servers in 55 countries. Speeds are still slightly throttled, but you get torrent support. I was disappointed that like the Free plan, the Basic plan can’t unblock Hulu, Disney+, or other streaming sites beyond Netflix. It also can’t unblock websites that are censored by your government, network administrator, or ISP.

Plus Plan — Maximum 10Gbps Speeds, Plus Security Bonuses

In addition to unlocking ProtonVPN’s highest speeds and including all the features of Basic, the Plus plan comes with Secure Core servers and the ability to unblock censored and location-restricted sites. This plan also includes Proton’s NetShield adblocker which protects your device from malware, ads, and trackers. When you turn Netshield on, you will have the option to turn on two protection levels. The first level blocks you from domains that host malware, spyware, or malicious software while the second level blocks ads and trackers. The Plus Plan lets you connect on 5 devices at once and includes servers (one each in the US, Switzerland, and Hong Kong) for Tor over VPN, which allows you to visit the dark web without a special browser.

ProtonVPN has a free trial for its Plus Plan. If you register for the free version, download the app and connect to a server, you will be given the option to upgrade to a 7-day trial of ProtonVPN Plus.

Visionary Plan — Includes a Premium ProtonMail Account

The Visionary plan has all the inclusions of Plus, but lets you connect 10 devices and gives you a Visionary-level ProtonMail account. This secure, encrypted email service includes 20GB of data, up to 50 aliases, up to 10 domains, and other features. While it’s nice that a bundle is available that combines ProtonMail with the VPN, it isn’t enough of a bonus to justify the cost.

For a full-featured VPN that is fast enough for lag-free video chat and gaming, unblocks popular streaming sites like Netflix, and comes with more powerful security like an ad and malware blocker, other providers give you simpler plans and are a better value.

Payment Options

You can pay for ProtonVPN with credit and debit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, or cash. It’s nice to have anonymous payment options, and the inclusion of a cash method is rare among VPNs.

Money-Back Guarantee

More disappointing than the cost of ProtonVPN’s plans is its lack of a 30-day money-back guarantee. Most VPNs give you a full refund as long as you cancel within the time limit, but ProtonVPN still charges you for the days that you used the service. You’ll only get a prorated refund based on how much time you have left in your plan.

I prefer VPNs that give you a full 30 days or longer to try them out. Even if you cancel on day 29, you’ll still get all your money back. Since all the top VPNs for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android have plans that are priced the same or lower than ProtonVPN, the latter doesn’t offer very good value. Try Private Internet Access (PIA) for lower-priced plans and thousands more servers — plus, you can use it for 30 days totally risk-free (unlike ProtonVPN, which charges you for unused days).

ProtonVPN offers the following plans