ProtonVPN’s paid and free VPN services are top notch, outclassing their rivals in our tests
- Unlimited-bandwidth free tier
- Wide range of endpoint countries
- Plus tier is great for streaming
- Quick download speeds
- Slightly confusing pricing
- Basic tier has limited endpoint locations and features
- Both free and paid-for tiers avaiable: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 its paid-for subscriptions are super-fast and great for streaming while you’re connected.
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 came out on top in my latest performance tests, and it’s easy to use, offering a good range of features. It’s my current recommended VPN service for almost any purpose.
You do want to pay attention when picking a tier, though. ProtonVPN Basic is cheap but rather limited. I’ve based all my key price comparisons on the far more capable ProtonVPN Plus tier – which is expensive, but worth it.
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, and it’s the one I’d recommend for most users.
Basic covers two devices and provides access to all standard servers in the 61 countries now covered by ProtonVPN, as well as some dedicated P2P servers, for a competitive £4.45/$5/€5 per month, £39.82/$48/€48 per year, and £65.53/$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, £79.63/$96/€96 per year, and £131.89/$159/€159 every two years.
Visionary (priced at £24.88/$30/€30 per month, £238.89/$288/€288 per year and £397.32/$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. It’s breathtakingly expensive, but is a good choice for those who wish to either support ProtonMail’s mission or use its services in a business deployment.
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 both more secure and significantly more environmentally friendly.
Privacy and Protection
- Has a clear no-logging policy
- 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 Technologies successfully overturned a ruling that it had to collect additional data.
However, Swiss authorities have the right to order ISPs to collect data in specific criminal cases, including in response to international warrants. Proton Technologies AG’s ProtonMail service has done this on a number of occasions, with notifications going to the individuals whose accounts were concerned.
While the company is very transparent about all this, fighting orders and laws that it suspects may expose whistleblowers or contravene its users’ rights, it’s potentially less secure than a no-logging service based somewhere that doesn’t have either laws or back doors that allow authorities to force data collection.
Features and Usability
- Plenty of features, including Secure Core and P2P
- Traffic graph helps to monitor connection
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 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, 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.
- Above-average speeds
- Great for streaming TV
All of my testing was carried out on a virtual desktop physically located at a data centre with a high-speed internet connection in London. This testing setup produces results under optimal connection conditions. VPN clients are tested on their default settings.
|ProtonVPN||400.00 Mbps||471.20 Mbps||431.20 Mbps|
|ProtonVPN free||420.00 Mbps||539.20 Mbps||198.40 Mbps|
|Reference Group Average HTTP||310.77 Mbps||306.83 Mbps||194.52 Mbps|
|Reference HTTP without VPN||489.60 Mbps||532.80 Mbps||490.40 Mbps|
I used the ProtonVPN Plus service for testing the paid service, which delivers a wider range of servers to choose from than the company’s Basic tier. The UK test on the free tier is carried out from the Netherlands endpoint, since no free UK endpoint is available.
Over the past couple of years, ProtonVPN’s has been a consistent 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 connection 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 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.
Although ProtonVPN Basic is a pretty decent budget option, the one to get here is ProtonVPN Plus. Although relatively expensive, it’s 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 similar all-round performance, consider NordVPN and Surfshark.
How we test
We run tests from a London-based connection that typically sees speeds between 500Mbps and 700Mbps, which means that we’re able to get a good idea of what each VPN’s maximum speeds currently are.
We test multiple endpoints from each provider in three locations: the UK, the Netherlands and the U.S.
Tested speeds with three endpoints: UK, USA and the Netherlands.
Researched security and no-logging claims
Tested all available features
You might like…
Yes, ProtonVPN is very trustworthy since it has a clear no-logging policy. That said, it’s potentially less secure than a VPN service based in a different countries without laws and backs doors that allow authorities to force data collection.
Yes, ProtonVPN is a legitimate and legal VPN, and so it’s fine to use. Although that doesn’t mean you can’t break other services terms and conditions (such as iPlayer and Netflix) by using a VPN.