ProtonVPN is an excellent choice for security-conscious users who are on a tight budget, but it isn't suitable for streaming.
- Unlimited bandwidth free tier
- Inexpensive paid options
- Clear no-logging policy
- Fast transfer speeds
- Unable to stream BBC iPlayer
- Unlimited free account (only 3 endpoint countries)
- Between 1 and 10 devices, depending on package
- Basic: £3.87 per month, £37.16 per year
- Supports OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
- Plus: £7.74 per month, £74.33 per year
- Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
- Visionary: £23.23 per month, £222.99 per year
What is ProtonVPN?
ProtonVPN, launched in 2017, is one of the newer contenders in a crowded VPN market. Like its sibling, encrypted email provider ProtonMail, it focuses first and foremost on privacy.
Although it retains account connection time stamps, ProtonVPN has a clear no-logging policy. This was put to the test earlier this year, when a data request was approved by the Swiss courts, revealing that ProtonVPN doesn’t retain customer IP addresses.
Dedicated GUI clients are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, alongside a Linux command tool and instructions for using the service on other hardware such as routers.
ProtonVPN – Features and usability
Its 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 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 to 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.
Related: Best VPN
ProtonVPN – Performance
We tested endpoints for both the free and paid-for versions of ProtonVPN and were impressed by the results. ProtonVPN’s free service provides endpoints in Japan, the Netherlands and the US – we tested the latter two, as we have a wealth of comparative data for these locations.
ProtonVPN is one of the quickest services around. Using endpoints available to paid subscribers, we achieved UK download speeds of 9.33MB/sec (74.64Mbps) over HTTP and 9.84MB/sec (78.72Mbps) via FTP. In the Netherlands that increased to 9.97MB/sec (79.76Mbps) and 9.73MB/sec (77.84Mbps) respectively. US HTTP speeds were slower, as we generally expect, but not by too much at 6.92MB/sec (55.36Mbps). FTP speeds in the US were the fastest in our group, at a blistering 10.17MB/sec (81.36Mbps).
The free endpoint in the Netherlands is just as quick as its paid-for counterpart, at 9.9MB/sec (79.2Mbps) over HTTP and 10.15MB/sec (81.2Mbps) via FTP. The US was a bit slower but not at all bad for no money, at 5.44MB/sec (43.52Mbps) over HTTP and 4.68MB/sec (37.44Mbps) via FTP.
When it comes to streaming, the free tier only gave us access to Shudder and Crunchyroll, neither of which are stringent in detecting VPNs and proxies. Paid streaming endpoints gave us Netflix in the US, but we weren’t able to get BBC iPlayer or All 4 working from ProtonVPN’s UK endpoints.
- Read our view on the free version of ProtonMail in our Best free VPN roundup
Why buy ProtonVPN?
As well as the outstanding free tier, which only limits the endpoint servers to which you have access, rather than restricting how much bandwidth you can use, there are three different paid tiers, too.
“Basic” covers two devices and gives you access to all standard servers in 32 countries covered by ProtonVPN, as well as some dedicated P2P servers, for an extremely competitive £3.87 per month or £37.16 per year.
“Plus” gets you all that, alongside specialist secure core, Tor and streaming servers for up to five devices, costing £7.74 per month or £74.33 per year. “Visionary”, priced at £23.23 per month or £222.99 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.
If you’re looking for a free VPN then this is the one to get, and its entry-level paid subscriptions are also very competitively priced.
It’s an appealing option for the security-conscious, as well as those who use a wide range of devices to connect to a VPN. It isn’t a great choice for streaming, at least not if you’d like to access UK video services while you travel. NordVPN is the best option if that’s what you’re after.
For everything else, ProtonVPN easily competes with our favourite services, although its fully featured Plus tier is a little expensive.
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