ProtonVPN's paid and free services are both top notch, although its wide range of pricing options is confusing.
- Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
- Wide range of endpoint countries
- Plus tier is great for streaming
- Quick download speeds
- Slightly confusing pricing
- Basic tier doesn't include streaming endpoints
- Review Price: £4.45 per month
- Supports OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2
- Supports OpenVPN, IPsec/IKEv2
- Clients for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
- Between one and 10 devices depending on package
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 – but it has logged individual account traffic when ordered to by Swiss authorities.
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’s sibling ProtonMail service has done on a number of occasions, with notifications going to the individuals whose accounts were concerned.
While the company clearly fights orders that it suspects 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 either laws or back doors that allow authorities to force data collection.
Pricing and subscriptions
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. This can make comparing the service to its rivals a little confusing. I always use the Plus tier when testing, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Basic covers two devices and provides access to all standard servers in the 46 countries now covered by ProtonVPN, as well as some dedicated P2P servers, for a competitive £4.45/$5/€5 per month and £42.76/$48/€48 per year and £70.37/$79/€79 every two years. It’s a good entry-level VPN offering for users on a budget, but the lack of streaming and P2P endpoints will be a deal-breaker for some, and speeds are likely to be slower without access to the extra endpoints provided to Plus and above subscribers.
Plus gets you all that, as well as specialist secure core, Tor and streaming servers for up to five devices. It costs around £8.91/$10/€10 per month, £85.52/$96/€96 per year and £141.63/$159/€159 every two years.
Visionary, priced at £34.74/$30/€30 per month, £256.55/$288/€288 per year and £426.69/$479/€479 every two years, is the same but gets you 10 simultaneous connections and the subscription bundles in the top-tier Visionary secure email service from ProtonMail.
You can pay anonymously using Bitcoin, but you’ll need to create a free account and contact support to do so. You can similarly pay using cash, which is a little more awkward but is potentially more secure and significantly more environmentally friendly.
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, 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 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.
I found the traffic graph helpful for monitoring my connection’s performance, as well as how much 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, and split tunnelling in order to 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 into an Early Access programme for new versions of the VPN client.
ProtonVPN – Performance
|Proton VPN HTTP||184Mbps||195.2Mbps||157.6Mbps|
|Reference Group Average HTTP||179.7Mbps||160.13Mbps||91.805Mbps|
|Reference HTTP without VPN||604.8Mbps||544.8Mbps||700.8Mbps|
All of my testing was carried out on a virtual desktop physically located at a data centre in London with a high-speed internet connection. This testing setup produces results under optimal connection conditions. VPN clients are tested on their default settings.
I used the ProtonVPN Plus service for testing, which gives you a wider range of servers to choose from than the company’s Free or Basic tiers. I’m really impressed by the degree to which ProtonVPN’s endpoint performance has improved over the past two years; it’s now consistently one of the best performers in my tests. It put in particularly blistering speeds from European endpoints, while throughput of 158Mbps puts it in the top-three services for connecting to the US, too.
Should you buy ProtonVPN?
ProtonVPN has an outstanding unlimited-bandwidth free tier, and a good-value but slightly confusing range of paid-for tiers. It’s packed with features and provides clients and configuration instructions for a wide range of devices and operating systems.
If you’re looking for the best free VPN, ProtonVPN is definitely the one to get, and its entry-level paid subscriptions are also competitively priced. We appreciate ProtonVPN’s efforts to be transparent and privacy-orientated, but Switzerland isn’t the best location for cast-iron privacy guarantees. Private Internet Access and ExpressVPN have both had their privacy policies proven through government seizures.
ProtonVPN Basic would be a shoo-in budget option, but its low annual subscription fee actually still costs more than Private Internet Access or Windscribe. However, the fully featured ProtonVPN Plus tier is fast, great at streaming, and a strong competitor against services such as NordVPN. It’s a particularly convenient choice if you’re already a ProtonMail subscriber.
But if you’re looking for value, Canadian VPN provider Windscribe espouses a similar commitment to transparency and is fantastic for streaming, making it the most obvious alternative to ProtonVPN Plus. Surfshark, meanwhile, is based in the British Virgin Islands, is fast and has a great-value two-year subscription.