ProtonVPN Review Overview
- Military-grade encryption
- Strict no logs policy
- Works with Netflix
- Low server count
ProtonVPN caught our interest in part due to ProtonMail, the free-to-paid encrypted email network developed by the same people.
And by “the same people,” we mean CERN scientists, engineers, and developers.
That’s an auspicious origin story.
Let’s face it, the fact they were able to create one of the largest encrypted email networks in the world makes it seem likely they’d be able to do the same with ProtonVPN… right?
Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to find out.
So we signed up, ran the VPN through our usual testing process, and wrote this review for you. Check it out.
How does ProtonVPN Compare to the Competition
Take a look at How We Rate VPN Providers!
Switzerland – A Good VPN Location?
Normally, we use this section to point out whether or not a VPN is based in a 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes jurisdiction.
If it is, we spend time talking about why it’s almost always a bad thing (due to the nature of the UKUSA Agreement the “Eyes” alliance is based on).
If not, we talk about why not being based in a 5/9/14 Eyes jurisdiction is a good thing.
However, every now and then, a VPN provider’s location is a little more complicated than that.
Think Israel, a known (albeit “unofficial”) ally to the 5 Eyes jurisdictions. Or Switzerland, technically a neutral nation even standing outside the EU.
ProtonVPN is a Swiss company.
Naturally, they advertise this as a very good thing, calling attention to Switzerland’s highly favorable privacy and data protection laws.
Where things get a little complicated is the fact that, a few years ago, 65.5% of the Swiss population voted in favor of increased surveillance power. Granted, it’s by no means a generalized surveillance.
Swiss intelligence agencies are required to get express permission from a federal court, the cabinet, and the defense ministry before initiating surveillance against any individual or company.
This seems like the perfect balance between privacy and security – something the US in particular blew out of the water completely.
So far, there hasn’t been anything suggesting the Swiss government abused this power.
And despite an isolated accusation by one of the more dubious VPN comparison sites, we haven’t been able to find anything suggesting cooperation with any 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes nations.
Strict No-Logs Policy
Okay, so we’re fairly convinced the Swiss government isn’t necessarily a risk. But there’s always the chance they’ll feel justified in opening surveillance on ProtonVPN as a company.
In fact, this inherent possibility that endangers every VPN provider, regardless of their location, is one of the many reasons we always read the privacy policies.
It’s boring work, but someone needs to do it, right? How else would you know what’s actually going on?
We say “essentially” because there is some data stored. Your sign-up and sign-in credentials, for example (obviously).
Payment details are stored with the payment processors, not ProtonVPN itself, and there’s some diagnostic data (most of which needs to be volunteered by the user) stored until the issue is resolved.
All of this is permanently deleted if you cancel your account.
Oh – and they keep timestamps of your most recent and successful login attempt.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t include any identifying information and is only kept on ProtonVPN’s secure servers until you successfully log in again.
The only reason it’s logged at all is so the provider can immediately secure your account if there’s a password brute force attack.
Military-Grade Encryption and the Best VPN Protocols
We’re fairly confident ProtonVPN isn’t going to pose an inherent risk to your online privacy while using its services.
The provider even goes so far as to clarify they’ll “only disclose the limited user data we possess when required by a Swiss court” and “under Swiss law, it is obligatory to notify the target of a data request.”
But of course, there needs to be strong safeguards against external threats too.
Thankfully, ProtonVPN doesn’t overlook this point.
As per their features page, the provider uses 256-bit AES military-grade encryption with 4096-bit RSA key exchange and HMAC with SHA384 for message authentication.
That’s tech-geek speak for “the strongest encryption standards known to mankind.”
On top of that, they also only use the strongest VPN protocols: OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec.
Pretty much the only danger you face is a password brute force attack – which, as already discussed, ProtonVPN safeguards against too.
Kill Switch, Split Tunneling, DNS Leak Protection
Military-grade encryption and the best VPN protocols don’t mean squat if the VPN is leaking your IP address and/or DNS queries.
This is exactly why we look for extra security features in every VPN we review.
The good news is, ProtonVPN uses a built-in kill switch feature that will end all internet traffic to and from your device if you lose connection to the VPN server.
Similarly, the Always-on feature makes sure a connection to a ProtonVPN server is automatically established. This takes care of IP leaks.
ProtonVPN also routes all your DNS queries through their own encrypted connections rather than relying on any third-party providers. This, in turn, takes care of DNS leaks.
Both features work very well. Plus, if you have any apps or websites you don’t want to go through the VPN servers, you can use the new Split Tunnel feature for Windows and Android.
It isn’t available for other devices yet, but it’s a “nice to have” advanced user feature, so we’re not too perturbed about that fact.
TOR and Secure Core VPN
We probably sound like a stuck record to those of you familiar with our reviews, but we’re a huge fan of The Onion Router (TOR).
In the absence of a Double VPN feature, it’s the best way to get around especially strict censorship laws and obfuscate your location by redirecting your internet traffic through 3 remote servers.
Here’s the thing, though: we prefer a Double VPN feature because, for the most part, it eliminates compromising your internet speed.
Using TOR by itself makes things rather slow, and if you want proper encryption, you need to add a VPN to the mix anyway.
And while VPNs also slow your connection down, they do so far less than the TOR network.
The good news is, ProtonVPN gives you the choice of using either method.
ProtonVPN is 100% TOR compatible (albeit only on certain servers), but if TOR isn’t enough, you can also use their Secure Core VPN feature.
Secure Core VPN is ProtonVPN’s version of a Double VPN. It’s pretty awesome too – ProtonVPN builds the Secure Core VPN servers themselves.
And if you’re wanting to connect to a server located in the US or UK (for example), Secure Core ensures that, even if the local server is monitored, your traffic remains anonymous.
Fairly Small Network Server
ProtonVPN doesn’t have a very big server network, unfortunately. In fact, it’s only just big enough that we can’t call it downright tiny: 567 servers in 43 countries.
We prefer a VPN with at least 1,500 to 2,000+ servers in 55+ countries, but we make exceptions to that rule all the time.
The biggest reason we have this rule in place is because the bigger the server network, the smaller the risk of network overload.
To properly evaluate whether or not we can make an exception in ProtonVPN’s case, we need to take a look at their server speed.
Network overload isn’t the only thing affecting speed.
When testing a VPN, we also need to be mindful of the time of day, what device type we’re using, our internet connection, and how far away the VPN server is from our physical location.
This makes it somewhat difficult to establish a standardized speed test for VPN reviews.
Fortunately, this is exactly why we go through the effort of running multiple tests, so we can be sure we’re giving a fair representation of the provider’s capabilities.
Here’s what we got from ProtonVPN:
Honestly, considering their server network’s size, ProtonVPN offers better than average speeds.
Device Compatibility and Connections
Let’s take a step back and look at what kind of devices ProtonVPN is compatible with:
- DD-WRT routers
That’s it. The iOS app is already very, very new, and there’s a lot of manual configuration necessary for getting ProtonVPN setup on your router.
And unfortunately, if you want to protect your gaming consoles and Smart TV, you’ll need to go the router route (pun fully intended).
The good news is: you get up to 10 simultaneous connections with the premium versions. Basic only gets 2, Plus gets 5, and Proton Visionary offers 10.
Free users have some limitations, including only 1 connection per account. But, as always, we suggest avoiding the free option.
Subscription Plans and Pricing
Speaking of avoiding the free option, here’s a breakdown of ProtonVPN’s subscription plans and pricing:
If you want all the benefits of ProtonVPN (Secure Core, TOR compatibility, etc.), you need to use Proton Plus.
The only benefits to opting for Visionary are the 5 extra simultaneous connections and the inclusion of ProtonMail Visionary.
We’re not going to lie… this makes ProtonVPN fairly expensive.
On the plus side, you can pay via credit card, PayPal, cash, or the more anonymous Bitcoin.
Online privacy is our main reason for advocating VPN use, but being able to stream unlimited content is a big bonus. For many, it’s the real reason behind wanting a VPN in the first place.
ProtonVPN does okay in this area.
We used Netflix and BBC iPlayer as our main testing points and the results were kind of mixed: we couldn’t get BBC iPlayer or Netflix UK to work, but we were able to stream Netflix US.
The main trick is in finding out which US servers do and don’t work – Netflix is constantly blocking VPN IPs.
The same thing goes for torrenting.
Even though ProtonVPN advertises P2P support on their features page (albeit in as little as 2 words), the torrenting capabilities are very limited.
You only have a handful of servers to choose from, which increases the risk of network congestion.
Ultimately, if file-sharing over a secure P2P connection is a priority for you, we suggest checking out our guide on the Best Torrenting VPNs instead.
Usability and Support
Installing ProtonVPN was simple and quick – just how we like our VPN installations. We were able to log in within 3 minutes.
Immediately, you’re prompted with a 7-day free trial for the premium service, along with the option to do an interface tour.
If you’re just looking for a basic VPN, you can go ahead and skip the tour.
However, if you want to use some of the fancier features, such as the ability to create settings profiles and Secure Core, you should take a couple minutes to go through the tutorial.
Other than that, ProtonVPN is user-friendly.
Support, on the other hand, isn’t so hot.
You’re entirely reliant on the meager Support Center/Knowledge Base and email support tickets. There’s no live chat support whatsoever (a major downside).
And the email support isn’t great.
You’ll get a response within 24 hours at least (and they don’t simply send you a link), but you’re almost guaranteed to need to send follow-up questions.
How to Cancel ProtonVPN and Get Your Money Back
At the end of the day, ProtonVPN isn’t a bad VPN. It’s just not great – especially for the price they’re charging.
Here’s how to cancel your ProtonVPN subscription and get a refund:
- Search your email inbox for a ProtonVPN receipt
- Click the “Cancel Subscription” link at the bottom of the email
- Follow the on-screen instructions to submit your cancellation request
- According to their refund policy, a full refund (within 30 days of your first purchase) will automatically be processed or a prorated refund (for the remaining days paid) for subsequent months
- According to ProtonVPN’s own Terms of Service, you’ll only ever get a prorated refund for your first 30 days
- It’s best to send a refund request via the support form just in case
This is overly complicated. The contradictory messages regarding refunds are also a little odd in our opinion.
Ultimately, it makes us unwilling to recommend ProtonVPN – at least until they sort that out.
We’d also like to see ProtonVPN create a proper support guide on how to go about canceling their subscription: we had to rely on Google to help us figure it out.