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As a long-time customer of ProtonMail, I was curious to see whether its world-renowned privacy and security standards would carry over into its sister product, ProtonVPN. The CERN scientists behind the world-class encrypted email technology have a lot of competition amongst premium VPNs. I wondered if these privacy pros could offer any new, innovative features that aren’t already available with other top VPNs.
To sum it up, ProtonVPN is a good choice if you need a secure VPN compatible with most devices. Being based in Switzerland and utilizing the powerful encryption technology behind ProtonMail make this a very safe option. However, it will still have to make some improvements to compete with the top VPNs.
Average speeds that slow down at long distances. The VPN Accelerator feature definitely improves speeds, but long-distance servers still cause a lot of buffering while streaming. Find out which server type was fastest here.
Streaming — Great at Unblocking Platforms, but Only Okay for Streaming
I was impressed at the number of platforms ProtonVPN can unblock, but long load times hurt the streaming experience. ProtonVPN has several varieties of servers, but you need at least a plus plan to access the best servers for unblocking streaming services. Plus plans start at $6.63/month if you sign up for 2 years, but cost $10/month if you pay month-to-month. These prices are pretty average among VPNs that perform well for streaming, and I've seen cheaper — CyberGhost runs at $2.15/month for a 2-year plan, for example, and is just as good for streaming.
Free and basic servers aren’t great for avoiding geoblocks. I was able to unblock Netflix and Crunchyroll with these but nothing else. The basic plans (which let you access free and basic servers) start at $3.29/month for 2 years and cost $5/month monthly.
The streaming quality was surprisingly good with free servers; videos loaded in Ultra HD (4K) in 3 seconds or less and played back without buffering. However, I ran into a strange issue. The free locations are limited to Japan, The Netherlands, and the US. On Japan’s Free#1 server, I logged in to Netflix, but I wasn’t able to access Japanese content like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
While reading ProtonVPN’s website, I found out that Netflix can detect your VPN usage with free servers. When Netflix knows you’re using a VPN, it will only let you access content that’s available worldwide. So, if you’re looking to explore different libraries or access region-specific platforms, free and basic servers can’t help you.
However, plus servers unblocked a huge number of platforms and Netflix regions. Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and every other top platform were easy to unblock with plus servers. I also connected to Netflix with servers in 7 different countries. Libraries in Australia, the US, Germany, Japan, France, the UK, Portugal, and India were all unlocked with zero issues. Plus servers are marked with a capital P in the app.
The quality of the streams varied depending on the servers. With local servers, videos loaded quickly and played back smoothly in Ultra HD. When they were farther from my location, I encountered long load times, low-resolution picture quality, and buffering.
Apart from Netflix and Crunchyroll, the 30 servers I tested also unblocked Disney+, Hulu, and the following platforms:
Unblocking other Netflix regions was simple, but distant servers took longer and longer to load. When I was watching Netflix with a Tokyo server (8,544 km away), it took 12 seconds for the homepage to fully load. I clicked on Vincenzo, and the video didn’t start for 30 seconds. When it began, the picture was choppy and took 10 more seconds to resolve into Ultra HD.
9Now is a free streaming channel in Australia over 12,000 km from me. The AU#14 server in Sydney gave me access, but I had to refresh after the first video I tried froze. On the second try, it took 20 seconds just to begin. I had similar issues with the British NOWTV platform. Using the UK#21 Manchester location, Tenet didn’t load for up to 25 seconds. In short, be prepared to wait a while for videos to start when servers are far away.
Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have very tough geoblocks, but I had no issues unblocking them with ProtonVPN.
I was able to use it with Kodi too, but P2P streaming with the app was frustrating. For my test, I watched The Wasp Woman with a popular add-on called Popcorn Time. It took about 2 minutes to load, and the video paused to buffer several times. Even though the VPN works with Kodi and P2P streaming add-ons like Popcorn Time, these platforms contain copyrighted material, so you need to use them responsibly and make sure you’re not streaming anything illegally.
It worked just as well at unblocking platforms on Linux. I accessed Netflix, Disney+, and every other platform I unblocked with my Windows app. The videos played back smoothly, but I still had the same loading issues.
There weren’t any streaming platforms I attempted to access that ProtonVPN couldn’t unblock. The way it bypasses geoblocks is quite impressive. It’s just too bad that the streaming experience has a few issues. In addition, it's more expensive than a lot of other VPNs that perform better for streaming.
Speeds — Decent Speeds, but Slow on Distant Servers
ProtonVPN has decent speeds, but it slows down at long distances. I performed my tests on a Microsoft Surface laptop running Windows 10. All of the speeds were recorded with ProtonVPN set to the OpenVPN (UDP) protocol.
I also used the VPN Accelerator feature for my tests since it greatly increased my speeds. This feature is turned on by default. It performs several tweaks to the VPN that speed up the connection, especially at long distances. With tests on local servers, VPN Accelerator doubled my download rates on average (compared to results with it turned off). When I tested my VPN Accelerator speed on the faraway Japan server, my speeds were 10 times faster than with it turned off! However, my local speeds were still around 50 percent faster than the fastest speeds I got on long-distance ones. It's a great feature, but it still doesn't make it as fast as some of its competitors.
I used the Quick Connect feature first; it chooses the fastest server for you based on your location. The feature also factors in the load — a percentage that tells you how crowded a server is. Quick Connect placed me on a Los Angeles server 352 km away with a 64.33 Mbps download speed and a 68 percent load.
My base speed was 66.97 Mbps, so I was impressed at how small the drop was. It was only 3 percent slower than my original connection. With such a small reduction in speed, I could still stream movies with no issues. You only need 5 Mbps to stream in HD, and 64.33 Mbps is more than 12 times faster.
Without Quick Connect, I actually found a server that was slightly faster. The CO#16 location in Denver gave me 66.70 Mbps. It had a 45 percent load and how crowded the server is makes a difference. I tried a server at 96 percent (US-Free#2), and the speed was down to 55.18 Mbps (13 percent slower than Denver).
Speaking of different server types, I decided to record the average speeds of each to see how they compare:
On average, the basic servers were faster than plus options by around 8 Mbps. In addition, P2P servers were 5 Mbps faster than plus ones. Basic and plus servers can have P2P capabilities, but I didn't find any speed differences between them. I was surprised plus servers were slower than even the free ones because Proton’s website lists them as reaching up to 10 Gbps. Free servers were 4 Mbps slower than basic ones on average. Secure Core connections route your traffic to two locations for extra encryption which drops the speed considerably. These servers gave me an average speed of 32.27 Mbps.
Are ProtonVPN’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? Yes
ProtonVPN is a good VPN for gaming, but only if you use a server close to you. You’ll want to use a nearby location because they offer lower ping rates, which are important for gaming. Plus, even when I had a low ping on distant servers, they still didn’t perform well with games.
The ping is how long it takes for your data to travel. You’ll want it to be below 100 ms, so your inputs are received quickly. When the ping is high, it takes your character longer to react to the keys you press. This makes games unplayable because no matter how skilled you are, you still lose due to technical issues.
I started on a CA#27 basic server not far from me. It gave me an 84 ms ping. Loading up Hearthstone, I was surprised at how smoothly the opening cinematic played. When I looked for a match, the loading screen did stall briefly, but that happens to me even without a VPN. My game started in less than 10 seconds, and I was able to play without any lag.
However, Hearthstone is a slower-paced card game. I wanted to test out ProtonVPN on something more demanding, so I turned on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It’s a fast-paced, first-person shooter that becomes unplayable with even the slightest amount of lag. In only 14 seconds, I found a match and got to play without any problems. My character instantly responded to all of my commands.
But this wasn’t the case with distant servers. The NY#45 server thousands of miles away wouldn’t even let me play. After I started looking for a match, I waited for 3 minutes while the game failed to reach Counter-Strike’s official server. I logged out and tried again, but the same thing happened. This surprised me because the ping rate was only 85 ms.
To make sure it wasn’t my connection, I went back to the CA#27 server and found a match in 10 seconds. The same issues came up with servers in Canada and the UK. So, ProtonVPN is a good VPN for gaming, but only if you’re using local connections.
Server Network — Small, but Has Lots of Specialized Servers
ProtonVPN doesn’t have the most servers compared to other VPNs, but the specialized options make it quite flexible. It offers 1,610 servers in 60 countries that cover Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australasia, and Africa. It also gives you city-level locations which are generally faster than country-level servers.
The symbols (or lack of them) next to a server location will show you its function.
Basic: These servers won't have any symbol next to them. Anyone with at least a basic plan can use these. During my tests, I found these to be the fastest of any server, so I recommend them for gaming.
Free: There's no symbol next to these servers either. However, they're easy to find because they all have the word free in their title (US-FREE#1, for example).
Plus: A little play button (a sideways triangle) indicates the plus servers. These servers are optimized for streaming, and they can unlock a ton of platforms. You'll need to be subscribed to the premium plus plan to access them.
Tor: The little grey onion indicates these servers let you use the TOR network if you have a plus plan or above.
P2P: The 2 arrows pointing in opposite directions show you the P2P servers. Plus and basic servers can have P2P functionality. If there's only a P2P symbol, it's a basic server.
Secure Core: You can activate Secure Core servers by pressing the lock icon above the server list. They double as plus servers, so you'll need a plus plan to use them.
If there is a wrench icon next to the server, this means it’s down for maintenance. While I was testing servers, I tried connecting to the #9 IP in New Jersey. It loaded for over a minute without connecting, and I had to quit the app. When I reactivated it, the wrench appeared next to US NJ#9. This is a nice feature that shows you ProtonVPN is on top of fixing malfunctioning servers.
To the left of the server name, is the load percentage. I was a little confused by this at first. The load appears up top next to the IP address once you’re connected. However, I wanted to know what it was before I chose a server. It took me some time to figure out that the circle beside the server tells you the percentage when you hover over it. You can also quickly gauge how full a connection is by noting the color: green is low, yellow is moderate, and red means it’s quite crowded.
Another nice thing about its servers is that they don’t use third-party DNS servers. This is good because it eliminates another way hackers or companies have to intercept your information. Basically, when you try to access a website, your request can be read and you can be sent to a malicious website.
ProtonVPN also exclusively uses bare-metal servers. These are physical servers rather than virtual locations (also known as dedicated servers). This adds an extra layer of security since the servers are less vulnerable to online attacks by hackers. The company does work with third parties to rent some servers, but it thoroughly vets its partners. ProtonVPN works with partners to make sure that it can’t be compelled to follow laws in countries outside of Switzerland where it’s based. So, the fact that it rents servers actually protects you when the servers are in high-risk locations. Plus, it owns many of its Secure Core servers.
With the free plan, you can access 23 servers in 3 countries. Currently, there are 3 free locations in Japan, 9 in the US, and 11 in the Netherlands. These servers are quite limited compared to the others. They won't allow you to unblock many streaming sites, plus they're slower and won't work for torrenting. However, it shows how dedicated to internet privacy the company is. Many VPNs only offer 1 server to free customers, 23 is impressive.
Even though ProtonVPN doesn’t have the largest server network, its servers are secure, updated frequently, and serve several useful functions.
Security — Excellent Security Technology and Features
ProtonVPN excels at security; it has military-grade encryption which reliably hides your IP and protects your sensitive information.
The VPN was developed by CERN scientists with the same technology they used to create ProtonMail, one of the most secure email services available. Having such impressive technologists behind the development of the app adds another layer of credibility to its security functions.
It also has open-source apps, which makes the VPN even more secure. This is because people around the world can test it for vulnerabilities and suggest improvements. On top of that, it has several additional security features like Secure Core servers, split tunneling, and a kill switch.
DNS leak protection makes sure that only ProtonVPN can see what websites you visit. It also uses OpenVPN, the safest VPN protocol.
Added together, these all show that ProtonVPN is a great option for keeping your data encrypted and secure.
ProtonVPN uses AES-256 bit encryption which keeps your data incredibly safe. In simple terms, AES-256 bit encryption means the key to your data is hidden in a combination of numbers 78 digits long. Finding the proper key to reveal your information is nearly impossible with so many possibilities. If you use the WireGuard protocol, the encryption is called ChaCha20. This is also 256-bits, and it's just as difficult to crack. So, you know your connection is anonymous when you connect to ProtonVPN.
For one extra layer of security, ProtonVPN utilizes perfect forward secrecy. This feature continuously changes the key ProtonVPN uses to decrypt or encrypt information. That means even if the key was ever discovered, you’d still be safe because it’s constantly updated.
Leak Test Results — Passed
ProtonVPN passed the DNS leak test, showing me that my location was kept hidden. To perform the test, I connected to the AZ#6 server and accessed ipleak.net. This website shows you the information other pages see when you click on their sites.
WebRTC leaks allow the websites you visit to see your vital information, but none were detected. I performed tests on a Windows laptop, along with Android and iOS phones. The results of these leak tests show that ProtonVPN will keep you safe.
Secure Core servers add an extra level of security and encryption by sending your data through 2 servers. Other VPNs call this feature multi-hopping. The difference is the first destination is always ProtonVPN's extra safe Secure Core servers.
Secure Core servers were developed because in countries like Russia it’s feared that the government could coerce third parties to share server data. Other countries, like the US and the UK, have far-reaching government spying programs. This feature lets users get IPs in these countries with the added protection of running their traffic through more physically secure servers first. This way, if servers in these countries are ever compromised, your data will still be protected.
Secure Core servers are located in Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland. These are all privacy-friendly countries that don’t share information with the 14 Eyes Alliance. Placing these servers outside of the 14 Eyes’ jurisdiction helps ensure they can’t be compromised.
The servers are extra safe since ProtonVPN houses them in secure locations. In Switzerland and Sweden, Secure Core servers are stored in high-security underground data centers. The Iceland servers are kept in a former military base. Plus, each IP is a part of ProtonVPN's own Local Internet Registry. Most VPNs don't have their own LIR, so this cuts out another middleman for added security.
Many VPNs have double-hop features that funnel customer’s data through two servers. However, the added physical security Secure Core servers provide makes them stand out.
But, this extra step will reduce your speeds. In my tests, Secure Core servers were 40% slower than basic locations.
Desktop users turn on the Secure Core feature by clicking on the lock icon above the server list in the app. After that, you just choose “Secure Core on”. For Android users, it can be toggled on and off at the top of the server list.
You need at least a Plus plan to access Secure Core servers. Although it's nice to have, the military-grade encryption will be enough for most users. However, even though secure core servers reduce speeds, this tier also lets you use plus servers and gives you 10 device connections. So, Plus plans are the best value ProtonVPN offers.
The kill switch protects you by disabling your internet if the VPN loses connection. This is an important feature that makes sure no one can see your information if a server malfunctions. It also protects you while you’re switching servers.
I tested this feature by trying to access a website while the VPN was switching between servers. The kill switch blocked the traffic, so I couldn’t access the site, and no one could see my unprotected IP.
On the Android app, there are a few extra steps you need to take to enable it. Here, it is under the settings tab you can find in the upper-left corner. Touch Always-On VPN & Kill Switch. This takes you to a section that explains you need to adjust your Android settings. The button sends you to the VPN apps on your phone. Click the settings wheel to access the Always-On function and the kill switch. The kill switch only works when the VPN is set to be connected at all times. It’s a bit of a hassle and not as easy to use as the desktop functionality.
Split tunneling lets you send some traffic through the VPN while other apps are moved through your normal connection. This is helpful when you need to access things like a bank account or wireless printer but want to stay connected to a VPN. For example, I was watching BBC iPlayer while connected to a UK server. With split tunneling activated, I could still make bank transfers with that IP excluded from the VPN.
On a Windows or Linux desktop, the feature is found under settings in the advanced tab.
With the Android app, you have to disconnect before you turn it on, and it only lets you exclude apps and IPs. Split tunneling isn’t available for Mac or iOS.
It’s a helpful feature, but it’s disappointing it’s not available on Apple products.
ProtonVPN lets you switch Protocols depending on your situation, but the options differ depending on your device. Protocols are a set of rules VPNs use to decide how to send your data to the VPN server.
Every OS (except for Linux) is automatically connected to a feature called Smart Protocol. Smart Protocol causes the VPN to switch between protocols if one is blocked. Protocols are sometimes blocked on restrictive networks, like at school, work, or anywhere where content is censored. ProtonVPN will start with the fastest, most stable option it can find and switch to another if it's necessary. It's a nice feature to have since it will save you some time (this could only be done manually in the past). Smart Protocol needs to be toggled off to choose your own protocol.
OpenVPN is open source and is the safest protocol since its source code is available for anyone to analyze. UDP is faster, so it’s recommended for gaming, streaming, or P2P file sharing. TCP helps when you have a poor WiFi connection (when using mobile data for example) or are on a network that blocks VPNs.
IKEv2/IPSsec is an older protocol that is sometimes faster than OpenVPN. However, in my tests OpenVPN UDP gave me the fastest speeds. It is also a little less secure since it isn't open source.
WireGuard is a newer protocol that can keep a VPN connected while switching servers or WiFi networks. It's open source like OpenVPN, but it only works with UDP (a TCP option isn't currently available). This protocol uses ChaCha20 encryption, rather than AES-256. It's also 256-bits and is just as secure.
On Android, Windows, iOS, and Mac devices, OpenVPN UDP and TCP, WireGuard, and IKEv2/IPsec are all available. Linux users are only able to use OpenVPN UDP and TCP.
Netshield ad blocker
ProtonVPN’s Netshield is a decent ad blocker that also protects against trackers and malware. The downsides are the Netshield feature is only available while the VPN is connected, and it can’t stop ads on YouTube. However, I found it to be effective at eliminating pop-ups and banner ads with tests on 5 different sites I visit often.
This feature is available on Linux, Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows. It can be set to block malware only, or malware, trackers, and ads. Overall, it’s a nice feature and is one of the better ad blockers included with a premium VPN.
Using Tor With ProtonVPN
Tor servers severely throttle your speed and make browsing frustrating. There are only 5 servers total, two in the US, and one in France, Hong Kong, and Germany. After speed testing each, I only had an average speed of 3 Mbps, often with a 500 ms ping or more.
After I connected to the GA#29 server, I accessed DuckDuckGo with Tor and searched for The Hidden Wiki.onion site. It took the page almost 20 seconds to load, and each link I clicked took just as long or more. I even ran into a few error pages where I had to refresh to find the article I wanted to see. Tor is known for being slow, but I can load pages in 2-3 seconds using it without a VPN.
Privacy — A Trustworthy Company That Won't Share Your Data
Does ProtonVPN Keep Logs? No
ProtonVPN doesn’t store any of your important information, and the data it does store is controlled by you. It only keeps the data you give them. This includes the email and user name you provide them, information on the payment method you used, and queries you send to support. So, if you don’t want them to collect your email address, you can create one specifically to sign up. Paying with a credit card will allow them to store the name associated with it and the last four digits. This can be avoided by paying with cryptocurrency or cash. Third-parties process payment info, so ProtonVPN never sees your billing info.
Reading through privacy policies for a living, you start to realize when companies are being misleading with their wording. On the other hand, ProtonVPN’s policy was extremely straightforward and transparent about company practices.
The company never voluntarily shares your email or payment info with outside parties. It only needs them to contact you with invoices or ask for you to update payment methods when they don’t work. You can also be contacted about the VPN through email if you opt-in to receive notifications. All of your data is deleted if your account is terminated.
It does not store your internet traffic or any communications. Information about traffic to its website is logged, so it can perform analytics. No personal data like IP addresses are ever logged. In the past, it stored your last timestamp to prevent account hacking, but it no longer does.
However, it will share the data it has (email addresses, usernames, payment info, and support questions) if compelled by law. These requests have to be approved by Swiss authorities who have some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.
Its policy was put to the test in January of 2019. A foreign country was approved by a Swiss court to request IP information on a ProtonVPN customer. Since it does not store any IP data, it had nothing to share.
ProtonVPN gives you the option to provide them with as little info as you want. This makes it an extremely safe VPN you can trust to protect your data.
ProtonVPN also has open-source apps, which means anyone can read the code on Github as of January 2020. You can read the source code yourself, which shows how transparent ProtonVPN really is.
This is great for security because it lets anyone in the world analyze the code to make sure it stays safe. ProtonVPN even has a bug bounty program. It pays up to $10,000 to anyone who can discover a vulnerability in its software, so you know its security is constantly being tested and updated.
The company also had third-party audits done, and the auditors reported it was never possible to decrypt traffic encrypted by ProtonVPN. SEC Consult is a leading auditing firm for technology companies, and it performed audits on ProtonVPN's apps for Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac. A few medium-risk and low-risk vulnerabilities were found, but each of these was immediately fixed by the company. These issues would have only let a hacker access customers' data if they could physically access their device. Having an outside company perform audits is important because it shows how confident the company is in its practices, and it can fix any issues the consultant finds.
Proton Technologies AG — A Transparent Company With a Solid History
Proton Technologies AG is a company with a great reputation for protecting customers who depend on its security technology to keep them safe. In 2014, it was formed by a group of scientists working at MIT and CERN. CERN is an innovative scientific research organization — one of its members was even responsible for developing the World Wide Web in 1989. In short, these are people who know their stuff, especially when it comes to the internet. Since ProtonVPN and ProtonMail were developed by CERN scientists, you know they operate on cutting-edge technology.
After the success of its ProtonMail technology (an encrypted email service), the team decided to create a VPN when it found other services lacking. ProtonVPN was crowdfunded for development in 2017. ProtonVPN was transparent about its practices from its inception, even its funding sources were available to the public. Its main goal was to protect journalists and activists when the team became distressed about government tracking threatening online privacy worldwide.
ProtonVPN has only received one request for information on its customers. It shared this with all of its customers in its transparency report. Because it doesn’t store any IP info, the data it was compelled to share didn’t exist.
In the past, Proton Technologies AG has spoken out against proposed legislation that would diminish privacy rights. It continues to push back against potential laws that would allow law enforcement to request data. The company also helped gather 70,000 signatures to challenge a Swiss law that would encroach on online freedom. Its dedication to privacy and the ongoing fight against government surveillance makes Proton Technologies AG a company I trust with my data.
ProtonVPN is Based in Privacy-Friendly Switzerland
Swiss laws are some of the best when it comes to protecting its citizen’s online information. Every VPN has to be based somewhere, and it’s forced to comply with that country's laws. This is why it’s great to be headquartered in Switzerland, a country outside the EU. The European Union has a history of storing citizens’ metadata due to its Data Retention Directive.
In 2017, a new Swiss surveillance law was passed to help curb domestic threats. The Swiss government conducted meetings with the ProtonVPN team. ProtonVPN is confident it can only be compelled to share the data it has (usernames, emails, payment methods, and queries customers can control). The surveillance law won’t force the company to hack its customers' data.
Switzerland also has a history of neutrality. It doesn’t cooperate with foreign governments. So, there’s no better place for ProtonVPN to be.
ProtonVPN isn’t a great option for torrenting since it drops your download speeds significantly. It also doesn’t support any extra features (that many other VPNs do) to enhance your torrenting experience, like port forwarding or a SOCKS5 proxy. In addition, since it only offers P2P servers in 12 countries, you may have a hard time finding one close enough to your actual location to get fast speeds.
You can find P2P servers in the app by looking for the symbol of 2 arrows beside the location. The countries also feature the icon beside them, so it’s easy to see which ones contain P2P connections.
The ProtonVPN website claims that your connection will be disabled when you attempt to torrent on a non-P2P server. However, I downloaded 5 different files on uTorrent (public domain movies) using free and basic servers, and I was never disconnected. There are basic servers with P2P functionality, but I could still torrent with all of them.
After connecting to a P2P server (NY#5), I began downloading Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. My download speed in uTorrent was 1.0 MB/s which would let me download the 699 Mb file in about 12 minutes.
The AZ#5 basic server let me download a little faster at 1.1 MB/s. This makes sense since basic servers were about 5% faster in my tests. This server isn't supposed to work for torrenting (it has no P2P symbol next to it), but it did in my tests. With no VPN connected, I could download the file at 1.6 MB/s.
These are the 12 countries with P2P servers:
If you don’t live near any of these locations, your Mb/s will be even slower on P2P servers. Testing out Hungary’s P2P server (9,788 km away) my download speed was never higher than 731 kB/s.
It’s possible to torrent with ProtonVPN, but there are better options out there if you plan to do it often. For example, port forwarding is a feature that can help you bypass some of the restrictions your router might have — allowing you to torrent and seed faster. ProtonVPN doesn’t offer this feature because it considers it unsafe. That’s fair because it can give hackers new ways to uncover your information. However, it's a nice feature to have for people who feel confident they can do it safely. The lack of features like this, along with the slow download speeds, means there are other VPNs out there that are much better for torrenting.
Does ProtonVPN Work in China? No
ProtonVPN was banned by the Chinese government on September 18, 2019. Some VPNs have connections in China by using virtualization software, but ProtonVPN only uses bare-metal servers, so this isn’t possible. The Great Firewall of China uses several advanced tools to detect VPNs. For now, ProtonVPN can’t guarantee it will work there or in Russia, Turkey, or the UAE.
I reached out to support, and the staff member gave me a list of servers people in China can try:
ProtonVPN has a user-friendly app interface with just a few minor issues. It’s largely easy to navigate and designed in an intuitive way
The app displays available server locations on the left, with your current connection status on the top of the screen. All the different servers are easy to find in the search bar with Secure Core being toggled on top. When you connect, it displays speed, volume, session length and your current IP address. The first time you start up the app it begins with a short tutorial which is more in-depth on desktop. One annoying thing is that the kill switch is not automatically enabled. I recommend turning it on before you connect.
Besides the kill switch, the rest of the features are easy to find and adjust in the settings tab.
There’s also a clear map on the right that marks countries that have ProtonVPN servers with a triangle. A solid green triangle appears on your current server country, making it easy to see your current status and where you’re connected.
Besides that, the map doesn’t serve much purpose beyond looking kind of cool. The app used to let you connect to a country by clicking locations on the map, but this feature is no longer available. The maps can also be collapsed so that only the menu is visible.
Click Create Profile to create convenient personalized configurations. For each profile, you can choose the protocol and an individual server to connect to. You can also choose the country and have ProtonVPN randomly select a server or connect to the fastest one available.
This is an excellent feature that lets you set up your commonly used locations. For example, I connect to Italy, Japan, and US locations frequently to access different streaming platforms. Having them all available as profiles saves me a lot of time I’d spend scrolling through the list. Along with the profiles you create, it also comes with 4 default profiles. These connect you to the fastest server, a random server, P2P servers, and the TOR network. I especially like using the fastest server option, so I don’t have to search for the least crowded server.
Overall, I was impressed with ProtonVPN’s app. I love the profile feature, but I don’t understand the map and wish the kill switch was automatically enabled.
This is a breakdown of what you get with each app version:
Windows: This app has all of the features ProtonVPN has to offer like its kill switch and split tunneling that comes with alternative routing (send apps and sites to different servers). It lets you use every protocol it offers, including OpenVPN UDP and TCP, WireGuard, and IKEv2/IPsec. ProtonVPN is compatible with Windows version 7.0+.
Android: The Android app shares Windows’ features, but the kill switch can only be used with the VPN set to always-on. It can use every protocol. You can get it for Android 5.0+, and it's even available on F-Droid. This service lets you download apps for your Android without having to sign up for a Google Account. Google has been known to monitor the apps users download on Google Play, so this lets you install the app without them.
Linux: Many VPNs give Linux users an inferior version, but ProtonVPN’s has almost every feature Windows does. It offers a full GUI with its Linux app, which is rare. You can even use the free version this way, which makes it the only free VPN for Linux that doesn't require text-based commands. However, free and paid versions won't let you use the WireGuard or IKEv2/IPsec protocols. You'll need Ubuntu 20+, Debian 10+, Fedora 31+, Manjaro or an Arch distro to install it.
Mac: The Mac app started out with less features, but ProtonVPN has added a kill switch since. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t offer split tunneling. You can switch between all the protocols it offers. Version 10.12 or later is required.
iOS: Apple phones also have no split tunneling, but its kill switch is much easier to use than Android’s. You only need to flip the light switch icon on above the server list. It lets you use all the protocols available for Windows and Mac. You can use it on version 11.1+.
Routers: ProtonVPN sells its own routers made by Invisbox that offer native support. It can also be installed on AsusWRT, DD-WRT, OpenWRT, pfSense, Tomato, and Vilfo routers. Connecting to a router makes it easy to move all your traffic through the VPN tunnel; this way, you can change locations and stay encrypted even on devices without ProtonVPN apps. However, installing the app on routers can be dangerous. It's possible to seriously damage your router during the process, so we recommend asking for help if you're not a tech expert.
Other Devices: Android TVs let you download the app the same way you would on your phone. It’s available on Chromebook if it’s a newer version that supports Android apps. Fire TV Stick and Fire TVs require a downloader app first. Then, you can install ProtonVPN’s Android app from GitHub. To connect your XBox One, Playstation 5, Nintendo Switch, or any other gaming console, you'll have to set up ProtonVPN on your router.
OpenVPN, WireGuard, & IKEv2/IPsec
OpenVPN, WireGuard, & IKEv2/IPsec
OpenVPN, WireGuard, & IKEv2/IPsec
OpenVPN, WireGuard, & IKEv2/IPsec
Simultaneous Device Connections — You Need a Plus Plan for the Most Value
ProtonVPN can be used on several devices at once, but you need at least a Plus plan to get the most out of it. Free plans only allow 1 device connection. You get 2 with a basic plan. A Plus subscription gets you up to 10 devices, which is a lot. Most other VPNs only offer 5 or 6 connections at once, but you can also get many of them for quite a bit cheaper than ProtonVPN's Plus plan. I also don't find the 2-device basic plan is enough for me since I use a VPN on 2 computers and a phone at least.
In any case, I tested performance by watching different movies and shows using Netflix, ESPN+, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video on 4 of my devices at once. ProtonVPN was running on my 2 Windows laptops, an Android phone, and my Fire Tablet. I didn’t experience any performance issues, so it works as advertised.
Setup & Installation — Super Easy on Desktop and Mobile Devices
It didn't take me longer than 5 minutes to set up ProtonVPN on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS devices. However, things can be a little tricky when you need to use it for your smart TV, gaming console, or router.
For desktops and smartphones, it's best to create an account on ProtonVPN's website and download the respective app from there. For smartphones, you can sign up on the site, download the app from the respective app store, and just sign in with the login info you created during sign-up. This way, if you ever want to use ProtonVPN's money-back guarantee or request a refund, you'll deal with the company directly rather than through a third party like Apple or Google Play.
Using it on a smart TV is generally easy, but there are other VPNs with simpler solutions. For Android TVs, there is a native app. This means it's just as simple to set up as it is for mobile and desktop devices. With a Fire TV Stick or Fire TV, you need to use a downloader app because it's not available on the Amazon store, which adds an additional step. There are definitely other VPNs that are easier to use on smart TVs.
With an Xbox One, Playstation 5, Nintendo Switch, Roku, or any other unsupported device, you'll need to connect ProtonVPN to your router. Installing it on a supported router only took me about 10 minutes, but there's a possibility you can break your router if it's done incorrectly.
Smart DNS is a feature some VPNs offer that lets you easily set up a VPN to change locations on devices that don’t support VPN apps. This lets you unblock streaming sites on gaming consoles, for example. It’s an easier (but less secure) alternative to router installation. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN doesn’t offer Smart DNS, so you’re stuck with router setup if you want to use it on gaming consoles, smart TVs, or Apple TVs. Even though this doesn't give you full encryption like hooking up to your router, it would be nice if ProtonVPN supported it, so you could quickly unblock content on every television and gaming console.
ProtonVPN offers a free plan and 3 paid plans: basic, plus, and visionary. The free plan gives you access to servers in just 3 countries, connection to only 1 device, and slower speeds. It does stand out against other free VPNs because you get unlimited data. Most free VPNs offer very restrictive data caps (like 2GB/month) to encourage you to upgrade to a paid plan, so I was impressed that ProtonVPN's free plan doesn't cap your data.
The Plus and Visionary subscriptions include access to Secure Core, Tor, and P2P servers. The only difference between the 2 is that Visionary subscribers also get a ProtonMail subscription. ProtonMail comes with access to Proton Calendar, Proton Drive, and ProtonMail Contacts. These are encrypted calendar, cloud storage, and address book apps. Plus, it offers 20GB of storage, up to 50 email aliases, 10 domains, and support for 6 users.
All plans are available in monthly, annual, and 2-year subscriptions, with small discounts offered on longer terms. The price range between Basic and Visionary plans of all terms is $3.29 to $30 per month.
I recommend getting the Plus plan. It lets you connect 10 devices and gives you access to every server type. ProtonVPN accepts major credit cards, PayPal, gift cards, cash, and Bitcoin.
ProtonVPN offers email support for paid users. The VPN promises to answer email queries within 1-2 business days. The longest I had to wait was 25 hours to receive an answer, which is a long time since most premium VPNs offer a 24/7 live chat that can give you instant answers. I asked support how accurate the list of compatible streaming platforms on the website was.
I was mostly satisfied with the answer; the list is updated frequently, and I was directed to a FAQ on the website with more information. However, I would have liked a more specific answer. I was told it's updated "frequently", but does that mean once a week, every day, or something else? If it was a chat, I could quickly ask that question instead of having to wait another day for a response.
The fastest response I received was in only 4 hours:
This time, I asked if it uses virtual locations or rents any servers. The support agent did a great job answering my question. I was told every server is physically located in the country listed. They also told me that they do rent servers, but you can stick to Secure Core if you only want to use those owned by ProtonVPN.
However, with no 24/7 live chat, this VPN is really lagging behind its competitors. The VPN hide.me even offers a 24/7 live chat to its free users. The FAQs and set-up guides on the website’s support section are good, and they helped me set up a router without any issues. In addition, a subreddit is also available where employees often answer questions within 24 hours. ProtonVPN has a talented support team that knows its stuff, but I just wish it was easier to get in touch with them.
Final Verdict — Excellent for Security and Privacy, but Slow Speeds (Even With the Premium Plan)
Its Secure Core servers are great for protecting your traffic, but like its TOR and P2P servers, they’re quite slow. And even though it's great at bypassing geoblocks, those slow speeds hurt its streaming performance.
It's also really lacking when it comes to customer support. Nearly every other top VPN has a 24/7 live chat, and it’s frustrating having to wait an entire day for troubleshooting tips.
In the end, I recommend ProtonVPN to anyone who’s mainly concerned with security and supporting a great company dedicated to protecting online privacy.
Military-grade encryption paired with Perfect Forward Secrecy
Located in privacy-friendly Switzerland and operates under a strict no-logs policy
User-friendly apps for all major operating systems
Yes, there is a free version of ProtonVPN, but I recommend using a paid tier to get the most out of it. While it is one of the only free VPNs to offer unlimited data, the free version only offers servers in 3 countries. Because there are so few servers, they're always super crowded, which makes them slow. In my tests, they were slower than the servers available with the paid version and sometimes dropped my speeds to as low as 7 Mbps. In addition, they can't unblock streaming platforms.
ProtonVPN has plus servers that are specifically designed to unblock streaming platforms. This means you’ll need at least a Plus account to access Netflix. The plus servers aren’t available on basic plans, and basic servers can only access a version of Netflix with the movies and shows that are available everywhere.
Is ProtonVPN safe to use?
ProtonVPN is incredibly safe because of its no-logs policy, reputable parent company, and encryption technology. It also publishes transparency reports, has been audited and verified, and is located in Switzerland. The Swiss have some of the strongest privacy laws and don’t cooperate with foreign governments looking for information on their citizens.
Secure Core servers can also double-hop your traffic to one of ProtonVPN’s highly secure data centers. On top of that, the VPN uses the same encryption technology as ProtonMail, one of the world’s leading encrypted email services. All of this combines to make it one of the safest VPNs out there.