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ProtonVPN Review

Verdict

If you’re looking for a free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely one to get, and its entry-level paid subscriptions are also very competitively priced. We appreciate ProtonVPN’s efforts to be transparent and privacy-oriented, but Switzerland isn’t the best location for cast-iron privacy guarantees.

Pros

  • Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
  • Quick European transfer speeds
  • Can stream US Netflix and iPlayer

Cons

  • Very slow US transfer speeds
  • May be subject to Swiss data collection orders

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £38.90
  • Supports OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
  • Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
  • Detailed instructions on connecting other devices
  • Between one and 10 devices depending on package
  • Unlimited free account available (only three endpoint countries)
  • US pricing: Basic, $5 per month, $48 per year; Plus, $10 per month, $96 per year; Visionary, $30 per month, $288 per year
  • UK pricing: Basic, £4.05 per month, £38.90 per year; Plus, £8.10 per month, £77.79 per year; Visionary, £24.31 per month, £233.38 per year

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.
ProtonVPN, launched in 2017, is one of the newer contenders in a crowded VPN (virtual private network) market. Like its sibling, encrypted email provider ProtonMail, it focuses first and foremost on privacy.

Dedicated GUI clients are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, plus a Linux command line tool and instructions for using the service on other hardware such as routers.

ProtonVPN has a clear no-logging policy which, as its transparency report reveals, means that there’s no data hand over to authorities when a warrant is enforced against the company. However, Swiss authorities have the right to order ISPs to enable logging to collect data in criminal cases, which Proton Technologies AG has done, with notification going to the person whose account was involved.

While the company clearly fights orders that it suspect may expose whistleblowers or contravene its users’ rights, it’s still inherently less secure than a no-logging service that’s based in a country that doesn’t have any laws or back doors allowing authorities to force data collection.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN Plus Plan

Gain control of your online life with Proton VPN. This Plus Plan costs less than £7 a month, and allows you to stream securely on up to five devices.

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ProtonVPN – Features and usability

ProtonVPN’s Windows client has a particularly attractive charcoal and green interface. The main display allows you to select countries from a list or a map, use a pre-generated fastest or random connection profile to pick an endpoint based on those criteria, or create your own profile, with options including connection type, country and specific server.

The main endpoint list allows you to select specific endpoint servers and shows how busy each one is, and which connection features they provide. Special features offered by ProtonVPN endpoints include Secure Core – which offers additional protection against external network attacks, P2P for the benefit of torrent users, and Tor, which uses The Onion Router network to help further anonymise your activity.

A traffic graph helps you to monitor your connection’s performance, as well as how much data you’re sending across it. Open the client’s Settings interface, and you can enable features including a VPN kill switch to cut off all internet traffic if your VPN connection goes down and Split Tunnelling so you can allow specific applications or IP addresses connect outside the VPN.

You can also have ProtonVPN load at boot, connect at launch, switch between TCP and UDP and opt in to an Early Access programme for new versions of the VPN client.

ProtonVPN desktop client

ProtonVPN – Performance

Endpoints/VPN UK Netherlands United States
Proton VPN HTTP 91.28Mbps 85.12Mbps 12.564Mbps
Proton VPN FTP 82.88Mbps 88.71Mbps 12.58Mbps

By comparison, average HTTP download speeds for the entire January 2020 VPN group test, measured from a test system in the UK with a high-speed fibre connection, were 81.41Mbps from UK endpoints, 89.42Mbps for the Netherlands and 43.02Mbps from the US.

These tests used the ProtonVPN Plus service, which gives you a wider range of servers to choose from than the company’s Free or Basic tiers. Its performance across European endpoints was excellent, but US connection speeds have seriously tanked, dropping to 12.5Mbps. You can still just about stream HD video on that, but downloads and even basic web browsing feel noticeably sluggish.

I was pleased to find that I could stream geo-restricted content from Netflix in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK without any trouble, as well as getting past less stringently enforced geographic restrictions from Shudder and YouTube. I had no luck getting All 4 working, though.

Should you buy ProtonVPN?

As well as an outstanding free tier, which only limits the endpoint servers you can use to three, in the US, the Netherlands and Japan, rather than restricting how much bandwidth you can use, there are three different paid tiers, which can make comparing the service to its rivals a little confusing. We always use the Plus tier when testing, unless specifically stated otherwise.

Basic covers two devices and gives you access to all standard servers in the 44 countries now covered by ProtonVPN, as well as some dedicated P2P servers, for an extremely competitive £3.79 per month or £36.35 per year. It’s a good entry-level VPN offering for users on a budget.

Plus gets you all that, as well as specialist secure core, Tor and streaming servers for up to five devices, and costs around £7.57 per month or £72.70 per year. Visionary, priced at £22.72 per month or £218.11 per year, is the same but gets you 10 simultaneous connections and includes the top-tier Visionary secure email service from sibling company ProtonMail.

You can pay anonymously using bitcoin but have to create a free account and contact support to do so.

ProtonVPN has an outstanding unlimited-bandwidth free tier, a good value but slightly confusing range of paid-for tiers, and support for a wide range of different devices and operating systems. It’s getting better and better at streaming, but its US connection speeds are still embarrassingly poor.

If you’re looking for a free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely one to get, and its entry-level paid subscriptions are also very competitively priced. We appreciate ProtonVPN’s efforts to be transparent and privacy-oriented, but Switzerland isn’t the best location for cast-iron privacy guarantees.

Although its fully featured Plus tier is a little expensive, ProtonVPN competes well with most rivals for features and European transfer speeds. ProtonVPN Basic would be a shoe-in budget option, but its low annual subscription fee actually costs more than Private Internet Access, which has faster US transfer speeds and a more concrete security pedigree, albeit worse video streaming capabilities.

If you’re already a ProtonMail subscriber, then ProtonVPN’s packages make a lot of sense, but although ProtonVPN is very handy, you’re currently still better off getting Private Internet Access if you’re on a budget, or ExpressVPN if you’ve got more to spend and want video streaming alongside a strong security pedigree.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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