Both the paid and free services from ProtonVPN are top-notch, making it one of the best VPN providers you can choose.
- Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
- Wide range of endpoint countries
- Paid version is great for streaming
- Quick download speeds
- Subscriptions renew at a higher rate
- Both free and paid-for tiers available:The free tier has unlimited bandwidth, while paying a monthly fee will unlock more endpoints and features.
- Multi-platform support:Supports a wide range of devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones, and even routers.
ProtonVPN is a privacy-focused VPN from the same firm responsible for encrypted email provider ProtonMail. It has an excellent free tier and paid-for subscriptions that justify their price.
It’s reliably fast, the paid subscription endpoints are great for streaming while you’re securely connected, and Proton Technologies has finally introduced its own implementation of the efficient WireGuard protocol, which is fast becoming a new industry standard.
Dedicated GUI clients are available for Windows, Linux, macOS, Android and iOS. The Linux client also includes a command line tool, and instructions are provided for using the service on other hardware, such as routers.
ProtonVPN is consistently among the best-performing VPNs that I put through tests. It’s also easy to use and has an excellent range of features.
Pricing and Subscriptions
ProtonVPN’s recently simplified pricing structure means that it’s finally easier to work out what you’re paying and getting in comparison with rival services.
The unlimited-bandwidth free tier is still free and still brilliant. ProtonVPN Plus, once converted to GBP, costs about £8.80 per month, £68.22 for your first year, or £105.5 for your first two years, before renewing at whatever the full annual or biannual rate is at the time – currently £105.64 annually and £211.27 every two years. That’s quite a price hike, and is very much something you should be aware of when subscribing for the first time.
You can also get a Proton Unlimited account that bundles the VPN with secure storage and email. Proton Technologies recommends using ProtonVPN when connecting to your ProtonMail account for extra security if you intend to use it anonymously.
You can pay anonymously using Bitcoin, but you’ll need to create a free account and contact support to do so. You can also pay using cash, which might take a little longer, but is both more secure and significantly more environmentally friendly.
Privacy and Protection
- Has a clear no-logging policy
- The company has proven to be transparent
ProtonVPN has a clear no-logging policy, which – as its transparency report reveals – means that there’s no data to hand over to the authorities if a warrant is enforced against the company. In 2021, Proton AG successfully overturned a ruling that it had to collect additional data.
However, Swiss authorities have the right to order internet service providers to collect data in specific criminal cases, including in response to international warrants. The company’s ProtonMail service has done this on a number of occasions, with notifications going to the individuals whose accounts were concerned.
While Proton is very transparent about all of this, fighting orders and laws that it suspects may expose whistleblowers or contravene its users’ rights, it’s still potentially less secure than a no-logging service based somewhere that doesn’t have laws or back doors that allow authorities to force data collection.
Features and Usability
- Plenty of features, including Secure Core and P2P Traffic graph, help to monitor connection
- Obfuscated connections try to hide that you’re using a VPN
ProtonVPN’s clients are attractive and easy to use – I’m a fan of the current purple and grey colour scheme. The Windows client’s main display allows you to select countries from a list or a map, or use a pre-generated fastest or random connection profile to pick an endpoint based on those criteria. You can even create your own profile, with options including connection type, country and specific server.
The main endpoint list allows you to select specific servers, displaying how busy each one is and which connection features they provide. When contention for the service is high, you can get better performance by manually selecting a low-traffic server than allowing the client to select one for you.
Special features offered by ProtonVPN endpoints include Secure Core, which provides 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.
I found the traffic graph helpful for monitoring my connection’s performance and the amount of data I was 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, as well as split tunnelling in order to allow specific applications or IP addresses to connect outside the VPN.
You can also have ProtonVPN load at boot, connect at launch, switch protocol, and opt into an Early Access programme for new versions of the VPN client.
- Above-average speeds
- Great for streaming TV
I tested both the paid and free services from ProtonVPN. Although free users only get three endpoint locations to choose from, you’ll notice from the table below that this has very little impact on performance.
As ever, raw performance numbers from a single point in time can’t give you the entire picture. ProtonVPN’s free endpoint servers have, in the past, become heavily congested to the point where I was barely able to use – let alone consistently test – the US endpoint, but it’s been a few months since I last encountered that issue. The large pool of available endpoints for paid users means that this is never a problem you’ll run into if you’re a paying subscriber.
|Reference Group Average HTTPS
Because the free tier only offers three endpoint locations, the ProtonVPN free UK test tier is carried out from the Netherlands endpoint.
Over the past couple of years, ProtonVPN has consistently been a high performer in my tests. It’s genuinely effective when it comes to improving connection speeds to other countries. I didn’t even have to disconnect or use split tunnelling to watch streaming TV while connected, allowing me to keep my internet traffic optimally secure.
Should you buy it?
You need a fast and free VPN:
The free tier of ProtonVPN is one of the best in the business, with unlimited bandwidth, so you won’t need to worry about spending too much time on it every month.
You want a free VPN with lots of endpoints:
While it’s great having unlimited bandwidth for a free VPN, you are limited to just three endpoints.
ProtonVPN has an outstanding unlimited-bandwidth free tier and an excellent paid-for tier. It’s packed with features and provides clients and configuration instructions for a wide range of devices and operating systems, although I’d like to see WireGuard support rolled out to the Linux client. Currently, you’ll need to set it up manually with a configuration file supplied by ProtonVPN.
If you’re looking for the best free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely the one to get. Its paid subscription is among the more expensive, but it certainly does a lot.
Although relatively expensive, this VPN provider is extremely capable, and pairs well with ProtonMail to help further anonymise its sibling mail service. If you’d like to spend a bit less and get a similarly excellent range of features and performance, consider Surfshark.
How we test
All speed tests are run across a fibre connection with a maximum tested connection speed of 980Mbps, which means that we’re able to get a good idea of the upper threshold of each VPN service’s speed at the time of testing.
We test multiple endpoints from each provider in three locations: the UK, the Netherlands and the US.
We research security and no-logging claims.
We inventory and test client features on Windows and Linux.
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Yes, ProtonVPN is very trustworthy. It has a clear no-logging policy and a solid track record for transparency. That said, it’s potentially less secure than a VPN service based in a country without laws and back doors that allow authorities to force data collection.
Yes, ProtonVPN is a legitimate and legal VPN, so it’s fine to use. Although that doesn’t mean you can’t break other services’ terms and conditions (such as iPlayer or Netflix) by using a VPN. The same applies to company policies or any regional laws against VPN use in general or for specific purposes