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ProtonVPN Review & Test 2021 - Good Overall, But Some Drawbacks

Author Image Katie Kasunic
Katie Kasunic | Technology Researcher
Updated on 12th October 2021

As a long-time customer of ProtonMail, I was curious to see whether its world-renowned privacy and security standards would carry over into its sister product, ProtonVPN. The CERN scientists behind the world-class encrypted email technology have a lot of competition amongst premium VPNs. I wondered if these privacy pros could offer any new, innovative features that aren’t already available with other top VPNs.

To find out, I did an in-depth analysis on ProtonVPN, exploring its privacy policy, ownership, and security practices. I also performed extensive tests on its speed, unblocking abilities, leak protection, torrenting support, and other additional features.

To sum it up, ProtonVPN is a good choice if you need a secure VPN compatible with most devices. Being based in Switzerland and utilizing the powerful encryption technology behind ProtonMail make this a very safe option. However, it will still have to make some improvements to compete with the top VPNs.

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ProtonVPN Features — Updated in October 2021

💸 Price $6.63/month
📆 Money Back Guarantee 30
📝 Does VPN keep logs? No
🖥 Number of servers 1320
💻 Number of devices per license 10
🛡 Kill switch Yes
🗺 Based in country Switzerland
🛠 Support Via Email
📥 Supports torrenting No

Streaming — Great at Unblocking Platforms But Only Okay for Streaming

I was impressed at the number of platforms ProtonVPN can unblock, but long load times hurt the streaming experience. ProtonVPN has several varieties of servers, but you need at least a Plus plan to access the best servers for unblocking streaming services (Visionary plans will work too).

Free Servers Basic Servers Plus Servers
Free ✔️
Basic ($4.83 a month) ✔️ ✔️
Plus ($9.67 a month) ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

Free and Basic servers aren’t great for avoiding geoblocks. I was able to unblock Netflix and Crunchyroll with these but nothing else. With the basic servers, I had the same results. The streaming quality was surprisingly good with free servers; videos loaded in HD in 3 seconds or less and played back without buffering. However, I ran into a strange issue. The free locations are limited to Japan, The Netherlands, and the US. On Japan’s Free #1 server, I logged in to Netflix, but I wasn’t able to access Japanese content like FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

While reading ProtonVPN’s website, I found out that Netflix can detect your VPN usage with Free servers. When Netflix knows you’re using a VPN, it will only let you access content that’s available worldwide. So, if you’re looking to explore different libraries or access region-specific platforms, Free and Basic servers can’t help you.

However, Plus Servers unblocked a huge number of platforms and Netflix regions. Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and every other top platform were easy to unblock with Plus servers. I also connected to Netflix with servers in 7 different countries. Libraries in Australia, the US, Japan, France, the UK, Portugal, and India were all unlocked with zero issues. Plus servers are marked with a capital P in the app.

The quality of the streams varied depending on the servers. With local servers, videos loaded quickly and played back smoothly in HD. When they were farther from my location, I encountered long load times, low-resolution picture quality, and buffering.

I tested 30+ server locations and unblocked the following platforms:

Netflix Disney+ ESPN+ Hulu Amazon Prime Video
HBO Max All 4 Peacock Paramount+ BBC iPlayer
ITV4 Hub 7plus 9now fuboTV 10 Play
NOW TV PlutoTV RAI Play Crunchyroll Youtube
Funimation F1TV ABC.com DAZN Hotstar
SlingTV SyFy

Unblocked: Netflix US/UK, ESPN+, Disney+, and more

I started out connecting to the CA #13 location in Los Angeles. It’s a Plus server about 350 KM from me, and it unblocked US Netflix and loaded videos in 2 seconds.

Screenshot Netflix Player streaming The Witcher unblocked by ProtonVPN

I was able to load videos quickly with local servers

Unblocking other Netflix regions was simple, but distant servers took longer and longer to load. When I was watching Netflix with a Tokyo server (8,544 KM away), it took 12 seconds for the homepage to fully load. I clicked on Vincenzo, and the video didn’t start for 30 seconds. When it began, the picture was choppy and took 10 more seconds to resolve into HD.

9Now is a free streaming channel in Australia over 12,000 KM from me. The AU#14 server in Sydney gave me access, but I had to refresh after the first video I tried froze. On the second try, it took 20 seconds just to begin. I had similar issues with the British NOWTV platform. Using the UK #21 Manchester location, Tenet didn’t load for up to 25 seconds. In short, be prepared to wait a while for videos to start when servers are far away.

Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have very tough geoblocks, but I had no issues unblocking them with ProtonVPN.

Screenshot of Disney+ player streaming Beauty and the Beast unblocked with ProtonVPN

Disney+ videos loaded instantly and played buffer-free

It worked just as well at unblocking platforms on Linux. I used the command line “protonvpn connect, c” to bring up the server list and choose a location. After that, I accessed Disney+ and it performed great, the same way it did with Windows.

There weren’t any streaming platforms I attempted to access that ProtonVPN couldn’t unblock. The way it bypasses geoblocks is quite impressive. It’s just too bad that the streaming experience has a few issues.

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Speeds — Good Speeds, But Slower on Distant Servers

ProtonVPN has decent speeds, but it slows down at long distances. I performed my tests on a Microsoft Surface laptop running Windows 10. All of the speeds were recorded with ProtonVPN set to the OpenVPN (UDP) protocol.

Screenshot of chart showing speeds on ProtonVPN servers

Servers over 4,000 KM away lost 22% in download speed

I used the Quick Connect feature first; it chooses a server for you based on your location. The feature also factors in the load — a percentage that tells you how crowded a server is. Quick Connect placed me on a Los Angeles server 352 KM away with a 64.33 Mbps download speed and a 68% load.

My base speed was 66.97 Mbps, so I was impressed at how small the drop was. It was only 3% slower than my original connection. With such a small reduction in speed, I could still stream movies with no issues. You only need 5 Mbps to stream in HD, and 64.33 Mbps is more than 12x faster.

Without Quick Connect, I actually found a server that was slightly faster. The CO #16 location in Denver gave me 66.70 Mbps. It had a 45% load and how crowded the server is makes a difference. I tried a server at 96% (US Free #2), and the speed was down to 55.18 Mbps (13% slower than Denver).

Speaking of different server types, I decided to record the average speeds of each to see how they compare:

Screenshot of a chart comparing ProtonVPN's different server types

Routing the traffic twice lowers Secure Core server speeds

On average, the P2P servers were faster than Plus options by around 17 Mbps. In addition, Basic servers were 15 Mbps faster than Plus ones. This surprised me because Proton’s website lists Plus servers as reaching up to 10 Gbps. Free servers were 22 Mbps slower than Basic ones on average. This isn’t surprising since they were 52% more full. Secure Core connections route your traffic to two locations for extra encryption which drops the speed considerably. These servers had an average speed of 25.99 Mbps.

Overall, the speeds are pretty good, but you’ll want to use nearby P2P servers for the quickest connections.

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Torrenting – Weak Download Speeds with P2P Servers

ProtonVPN isn’t a great option for torrenting since it drops your download speeds significantly. It also doesn’t support Port Forwarding. This feature can help you bypass some of the restrictions your router might have — allowing you to torrent and seed faster. You can learn more about the pros and cons of port forwarding here.

ProtonVPN doesn’t offer this feature because it considers it unsafe. That’s fair because it can give hackers new ways to uncover your information. However, not having the option to use Port Forwarding makes ProtonVPN a worse choice for torrenters.

You can find P2P servers in the app by looking for the symbol of 2 arrows beside the location. The countries also feature the icon beside them, so it’s easy to see which ones contain P2P connections.

Screenshot of P2P servers in the ProtonVPN app

The symbol of two arrows indicated a P2P server

The ProtonVPN website claims that your connection will be disabled when you attempt to torrent on a non-P2P server. However, I downloaded 5 different files on Utorrent (public domain movies) using Free and Basic servers, and I was never disconnected.

Connecting to a P2P server (CA #1 in San Jose), I began downloading Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, an old movie no longer copyrighted. My download speed in Utorrent was 287.7 kB a second which would let me download the 699 Mb file in about an hour.

Screenshot of Utorrent downloading a copyright-free movie connected to a P2P server on ProtonVPN

I was downloading 78% slower connected to the VPN

The AZ #5 Basic server let me download a little faster at 356.3 Mb per second. With no VPN connected, I could download the file at 1.3 Mb a second.

There are only torrenting servers in 12 countries:

United States United Kingdom Switzerland Sweden Singapore Netherlands
Iceland Hungary Hong Kong Germany France Canada

If you don’t live near any of these locations, your Mb/s will be even slower on P2P servers. Testing out Hungary’s P2P server (9,788 KM away) my download speed was never higher than 505 kB a second.

It’s possible to torrent with ProtonVPN, but there are better options out there if you plan to do it often.

Are ProtonVPN’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? Yes

ProtonVPN is a good VPN for gaming, but only if you use a server close to you. You’ll want to use a nearby location because they offer lower ping rates, which are important for gaming. Plus, even when I had a low ping on distant servers, they still didn’t perform well with games.

The ping is how long it takes for your data to travel. You’ll want it to be below 100 ms, so your inputs are received quickly. When the ping is high, it takes your character longer to react to the keys you press. This makes games unplayable because no matter how skilled you are, you still lose due to technical issues.

I started on a CA #27 Basic server not far from me. It gave me an 84 ms ping. Loading up Hearthstone, I was surprised at how smoothly the opening cinematic played. When I looked for a match, the loading screen did stall briefly, but that happens to me even without a VPN. My game started in less than 10 seconds, and I was able to play without any lag.

Screenshot of an online Hearthstone match played while connected to ProtonVPN

I suggest connecting to a basic server with a low load percentage

However, Hearthstone is a slower-paced card game. I wanted to test out ProtonVPN on something more demanding, so I turned on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It’s a fast first-person shooter that’s ruined by lag. In only 14 seconds, I found a match and got to play without any problems. My character instantly responded to all of my commands.

But this wasn’t the case with distant servers. The NY #45 server thousands of miles away wouldn’t even let me play. After I started looking for a match, I waited for 3 minutes while the game failed to reach Counter-Strike’s official server. I logged out and tried again, but the same thing happened. This surprised me because the ping rate was only 85 ms.

To make sure it wasn’t my connection, I went back to the CA #27 server and found a match in 10 seconds. The same issues came up with servers in Canada and the UK. So, ProtonVPN is a good VPN for gaming, but only if you’re using local connections.

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Server Network — Server Options Make Up for a Smaller Network

ProtonVPN doesn’t have the most servers compared to other VPNs, but the specialized options make it quite flexible. It offers 1,320 servers in 50 countries that cover Western Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and South Africa. It also gives you city-level locations which are generally faster than country-level servers. They are split into several categories:

Screenshot of server list on ProtonVPN website

Servers are basic, free, plus, Secure Core, TOR, or P2P optimized

The server list on ProtonVPN’s website has symbols next to the locations to tell you their function.

  • B (Basic): The capital B in an orange box lets you know this is a Basic server. Customers with at least a Basic Plan ($4.83 a month) can use these. During my tests, I found these to be the fastest of any server, so I recommend them for gaming.
  • P (Plus): These servers are optimized for streaming, and they can unlock a ton of platforms. A full list of streaming services it unblocks can be seen here. You need to pay at least $9.67 a month for a Plus plan.
  • Onion: The little grey onion indicates these servers let you use the TOR network if you have a Plus plan or above.
  • P2P: The two arrows pointing in opposite directions show you the P2P servers. With a Plus Plan, you can use these connections which are optimized for torrenting. However, be aware that they didn’t perform better than basic servers in my tests.

Secure Core locations are in a different section, and they double as Plus servers, so they don’t have a symbol.

In the app, you can activate Secure Core servers by pressing the lock icon above the server list.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN app's Secure Core, TOR, Plus, and Maintenance symbols

The wrench shows you which servers are down for maintenance

If there is a wrench icon next to the server, this means it’s down for maintenance. While I was testing servers, I tried connecting to the #9 IP in New Jersey. It loaded for over a minute without connecting, and I had to quit the app. When I reactivated it, the wrench appeared next to US NJ #9. This is a nice feature that shows you ProtonVPN is on top of fixing malfunctioning servers.

In the app, Basic servers have no icon next to them. TOR, P2P, and Plus connections have the same symbols beside them as they do on the website.

To the left of the server name, is the load percentage. I was a little confused by this at first. The load appears up top next to the IP address once you’re connected. However, I wanted to know what it was before I chose a server. It took me some time to figure out that the circle beside the server tells you the percentage when you hover over it. You can also quickly gauge how full a connection is by noting the color: green is low, yellow is moderate, and red means it’s quite crowded.

Another nice thing about its servers is that they don’t use third-party DNS servers. This is good because it eliminates another way hackers or companies have to intercept your information. Basically, when you try to access a website, your request can be read and you can be sent to a malicious website. You can read more about DNS hijacking here.

ProtonVPN also exclusively uses bare-metal servers. These are physical servers rather than virtual locations. This adds an extra layer of security since the servers are less vulnerable to online attacks by hackers. The company does work with third parties to rent some servers, but it thoroughly vets its partners. ProtonVPN works with partners to make sure that it can’t be compelled to follow laws in countries outside of Switzerland where it’s based. So, the fact that it rents servers actually protects you when the servers are in high-risk locations. Plus, it owns many of its Secure Core servers.

Even though ProtonVPN doesn’t have the largest server network, its servers are secure, updated frequently, and serve several useful functions.

Security — Excellent Security Technology and Features

ProtonVPN excels at security; it has military-grade encryption which reliably hides your IP and protects your sensitive information.

The VPN was developed by CERN scientists with the same technology they used to create ProtonMail, the most secure email service available. Having such impressive technologists behind the development of the app adds another layer of credibility to its security functions.

It also has open-source apps, third-party audits, and a no-logs policy. In addition, it publishes Transparency Reports to let customers know about any requests they’ve received for information on its customers. These also reveal data on the VPN and its usage.

On top of that, it has several additional security features like Secure Core servers, split-tunneling, and a kill-switch.

DNS leak-protection makes sure that only ProtonVPN can see what websites you visit. It also uses OpenVPN, the safest VPN protocol. You can also use direct cash payments to purchase the VPN completely anonymously. On top of that, the company is located in Switzerland, a country with some of the best data privacy laws.

Added together, these all show that ProtonVPN is a great option for keeping your data encrypted and secure.

Encryption

ProtonVPN uses AES-256 bit encryption which keeps your data incredibly safe. In simple terms, AES-256 bit encryption means the key to your data is hidden in a combination of numbers 78 digits long. Finding the proper key to reveal your information is nearly impossible with so many possibilities. So, you know your connection is anonymous when you connect to ProtonVPN.

It also uses a 4096-bit key exchange to protect your data as it’s sent through the VPN tunnel. A key exchange describes the moment your information is handed over to the VPN server. Similar to the AES-256 bit encryption, the 4096-bit key exchange creates a huge number of possibilities that hide your data. In addition, an SHA-384 hash authenticates information sent through the VPN tunnel. This is one more feature that ensures your data is safe.

For one extra layer of security, ProtonVPN utilizes Perfect Forward Secrecy. This feature continuously changes the key ProtonVPN uses to decrypt or encrypt information. That means even if the key was ever discovered, you’d still be safe because it’s constantly updated.

Leak Test Results — Passed

ProtonVPN passed the DNS leak test, showing me that my location was kept anonymous. To perform the test, I connected to the AZ#6 server and accessed ipleak.net. This website shows you the information other pages see when you click on their sites. I performed tests on a Windows laptop, along with Android and iOS phones.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN connected to the AZ#6 server during a test on ipleaknet

The website only detected the Arizona location I was connected to

DNS leaks are a big problem because they allow websites, governments, companies, and hackers to see your information. If your VPN is leaking, then it’s not doing its job and your data can be accessed. But, my tests show that ProtonVPN will keep you safe. You can find out more about DNS leaks here.

Does ProtonVPN Keep Logs? No

ProtonVPN doesn’t store any of your important information, and the data it does store is controlled by you. It only keeps the data you give them. This includes the email and user name you provide them, information on the payment method you used, and queries you send to support. So, if you don’t want them to collect your email address, you can create one specifically to sign up. Paying with a credit card will allow them to store the name associated with it and the last four digits. This can be avoided by paying with cryptocurrency. Third-parties process payment info, so ProtonVPN never sees your billing info.

Reading through privacy policies for a living, you start to realize when companies are being misleading with their wording. On the other hand, ProtonVPN’s policy was extremely straightforward and transparent about company practices.

The company never voluntarily shares your email or payment info with outside parties. It only needs them to contact you with invoices or ask for you to update payment methods when they don’t work. You can also be contacted about the VPN through email if you opt-in to receive notifications. All of your data is deleted if your account is terminated.

It does not store your internet traffic or any communications. Information about traffic to its website is logged, so it can perform analytics. No personal data like IP addresses are ever logged.

A screenshot of ProtonVPN's no-logs policy stating they record no session usage logs or metadata

It only retains the information you give it to sign-up or questions sent to support

However, it will share the data it has (email addresses, usernames, payment info, and support questions) if compelled by law. These requests have to be approved by Swiss authorities who have some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.

Its policy was put to the test in January of 2019. A foreign country was approved by a Swiss court to request IP information on a ProtonVPN customer. Since it does not store any IP data, it had nothing to share.

The company does reserve the right to alter its privacy policy. To stay updated on any changes, it’s best to remain signed up for notifications which will inform you immediately of any new policies.

ProtonVPN gives you the option to provide them with as little info as you want. This makes it an extremely safe VPN you can trust to protect your data.

Open-Source and Independently Audited

ProtonVPN also has open-source apps, which means anyone can read the code on Github as of January 2020. This is great for security because it lets anyone in the world analyze the code to make sure it stays safe. It also allows you to read the source code yourself showing how transparent ProtonVPN really is.

The company also underwent a third-party audit done by SEC Consult, a leading auditing firm for technology companies. Having an outside company perform audits is important because it shows how confident the company is in its practices.

Proton Technologies AG — A Transparent Company With a Solid History

Proton Technologies AG is a company with a great reputation for protecting customers who depend on its security technology to keep them safe. In 2014, it was formed by a group of scientists working at CERN. CERN is an innovative scientific research organization — one of its members was even responsible for developing the World Wide Web in 1989. In short, these are people who know their stuff, especially when it comes to the internet. Since ProtonVPN and ProtonMail were developed by CERN scientists, you know they operate on cutting-edge technology.

After the success of its ProtonMail technology (an encrypted email service), the team decided to create a VPN when it found other services lacking. ProtonVPN was crowdfunded for development in 2017. ProtonVPN was transparent about its practices from its inception, even its funding sources were available to the public. Its main goal was to protect journalists and activists when the team became distressed about government tracking threatening online privacy worldwide.

ProtonVPN has only received one request for information on its customers. It shared this with all of its customers in its Transparency Report. Because it doesn’t store any IP info, the data it was compelled to share didn’t exist.

In the past, Proton Technologies AG has spoken out against proposed legislation that would diminish privacy rights. It continues to push back against potential laws that would allow law enforcement to request data. The company also helped gather 70,000 signatures to challenge a Swiss law that would encroach on online freedom. Its dedication to privacy and the ongoing fight against government surveillance makes Proton Technologies AG a company I trust with my data.

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ProtonVPN is Based in Switzerland

ProtonVPN operates out of Switzerland, the same country where CERN is located. Switzerland is not a part of the 14 Eyes Alliance, a pact between governments to share information on their citizens. This means it won’t be forced to change its privacy policy and store more data when foreign governments demand it. You can read more about the 14 Eyes Alliance here.

Swiss laws are some of the best when it comes to protecting its citizen’s online information. Every VPN has to be based somewhere, and it’s forced to comply with that country’s laws. This is why it’s great to be headquartered in Switzerland, a country outside the EU. The European Union has a history of storing citizen’s metadata due to its Data Retention Directive.

In 2017, a new Swiss Surveillance Law was passed to help curb domestic threats. The Swiss government conducted meetings with the ProtonVPN team. ProtonVPN is confident it can only be compelled to share the data it has (usernames, emails, payment methods, and queries customers can control). The surveillance law won’t force the company to hack its customer’s data.

Switzerland also has a history of neutrality. It doesn’t cooperate with foreign governments. So, there’s no better place for ProtonVPN to be.

Secure Core

Secure Core servers add a level of security and encryption that’s unmatched by many other VPNs. This feature runs your traffic through a Secure Core server first before it reaches your chosen location.

Secure Core servers were developed because in countries like Russia it’s feared that the government could coerce third parties to share server data. Other countries, like the US and the UK, have far-reaching government spying programs. This feature lets users connect to locations in these countries with the added protection of running its traffic through more physically secure servers.

Secure Core servers are located in Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland. These are all privacy-friendly countries that don’t share information with the 14 Eyes Alliance. Placing these servers outside of the 14 Eyes’ jurisdiction helps ensure they can’t be compromised.

The servers are extra safe since ProtonVPN houses them in secure locations. In Switzerland and Sweden, Secure Core servers are stored in high-security underground data centers. The Iceland servers are kept in a former military base.

Many VPNs have double-hop features that funnel customer’s data through two servers. However, the added physical security Secure Core servers provide makes them stand out.

But, this extra step will reduce your speeds. In my tests, Secure Core servers were 43% slower than basic locations.

Desktop users turn on the Secure Core feature by clicking on the lock icon above the server list in the app. After that, you just choose “Secure Core on”. For Android users, it can be toggled on and off at the top of the server list.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN UI on Android and Windows Desktop showing where to activate Secure Core Servers

On desktops, you press the lock symbol; Android users can toggle it up top

You need at least a Plus account to access Secure Core servers, which costs $9.67 a month. It’s worth it based on the added security alone. Even though they reduce speeds, this tier also lets you use Plus servers and gives you 10 device connections. It’s the best deal, and you can still use Basic servers when you’re prioritizing security over speed.

Kill Switch

The kill switch protects you by disabling your internet if the VPN loses connection. This is an important feature that makes sure no one can see your information if a server malfunctions. It also protects you while you’re switching servers.

I tested this feature by trying to access a website while the VPN was switching between servers. The kill switch blocked the traffic, so I couldn’t access the site, and no one could see my unprotected IP.

Screenshot of ipleak.net showing the kill switch blocking internet traffic while ProtonVPN switched servers

The kill switch protects you by blocking your traffic when the VPN loses connection

On the desktop app, it took me a little while to find it since it’s often under settings with other VPNs. ProtonVPN’s is activated with the light switch icon next to Secure Core and Netshield.

Screenshot of the ProtonVPN UI showing where to find the kill switch

It’s not turned on automatically, so be sure to find it before you connect

On the Android app, there are a few extra steps you need to take to enable it. Here, it is under the settings tab you can find in the upper-left corner. Touch Always-On VPN & Kill Switch. This takes you to a section that explains you need to adjust your Android settings. The button sends you to the VPN apps on your phone. Click the settings wheel to access the Always-On function and the kill switch. The kill switch only works when the VPN is set to be connected at all times. It’s a bit of a hassle and not as easy to use as the desktop functionality.

Screenshots of ProtonVPN settings and Android settings needed to turn on kill switch

The always-on option has to be activated to turn on the kill switch

The iOS kill switch works the same as it does for desktop. The light switch icon is in the same position, and no extra steps are required.

For Linux, you need to enter the command “protonvpn configure” into the terminal. It’s choice number 5 in the list that appears. Just type that in, press enter, then hit y to confirm you want it activated.

A kill switch is a necessary feature to keep your data secure at all times. It’s nice that it’s available on Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux apps.

Split-Tunneling

Split-tunneling lets you send some traffic through the VPN while other apps and IPs are moved through your normal connection. This is helpful when you need to access things like a bank account or wireless printer but want to stay connected to a VPN. For example, I was watching BBC iPlayer while connected to a UK server. With split-tunneling activated, I could still make bank transfers with that IP excluded from the VPN.

On a Windows desktop, the feature is found under settings in the advanced tab.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN settings showing where to find split tunneling

You can pick which apps or IPs are included in the tunnel or excluded

With the Android app, you have to disconnect before you turn it on, and it only lets you exclude apps and IPs. Linux has it as option 6 once you enter the “protonvpn configure” command. Split-tunneling isn’t available for Mac or iOS.

It’s a helpful feature, but it’s disappointing it’s not available on Apple products.

Protocols

ProtonVPN lets you switch Protocols depending on your situation, but the options differ depending on your device. Protocols are a set of rules VPNs use to decide how to send your data to the VPN server.

OpenVPN is open source and is the safest protocol since its source code is available for anyone to analyze. Android and Windows users can switch between two versions of it, UDP or TCP. UDP is faster, so it’s recommended for gaming, streaming, or P2P file sharing. TCP helps when you have a poor WiFi connection or are on a network that blocks VPNs (universities and networks in certain countries). These can be switched in the settings tab. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN does not support Wireguard (a newer protocol).

Linux users are only able to use OpenVPN UDP. On iOS, you can use OpenVPN or IKEv2, which is faster but a little less secure.

On a Mac, the VPN connects automatically without using a protocol. However, you can use a program called TunnelBlick to connect to OpenVPN. There is also an option for manually installing IKEv2.

Netshield Ad-blocker

ProtonVPN’s Netshield is a decent ad-blocker that also protects against trackers and malware. The downsides are the Netshield feature is only available while the VPN is connected, and it can’t stop ads on Youtube. However, I found it to be effective at eliminating pop-ups and banner ads with tests on 5 different sites I visit often. You can read more about what makes a great ad-blocker here.

This feature is available on Linux, Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows. It can be set to block malware only, or malware, trackers, and ads. Overall, it’s a nice feature and is one of the better ad-blockers included with a premium VPN.

Using Tor With ProtonVPN

Tor servers severely throttle your speed and make browsing frustrating. There are only 5 servers total, two in the US, and one in France, Hong Kong, and Germany. After speed testing each, I only had an average speed of 3 Mbps, often with a 500 ms ping or more.

After I connected to the GA #29 server, I accessed DuckDuckGo with Tor and searched for The Hidden Wiki.onion site. It took the page almost 20 seconds to load, and each link I clicked took just as long or more. I even ran into a few error pages where I had to refresh to find the article I wanted to see. Tor is known for being slow, but I can load pages in 2-3 seconds using it without a VPN.

This browser has a bad reputation, but there are legitimate reasons to use it. It adds several layers of encryption to your data and your site is less likely to be censored from it. For people that live under oppressive governments, it can be the only way for them to create websites and share information. You can read more about using the Tor browser here.

Does ProtonVPN Work in China? No

ProtonVPN was banned by the Chinese government on September 18, 2019.
Some VPNs have connections in China by using virtualization software, but ProtonVPN only uses bare-metal servers, so this isn’t possible. The Great Firewall of China uses several advanced tools to detect VPNs. For now, ProtonVPN can’t guarantee its servers will work there.

I reached out to support, and the staff member gave me a list of servers people in China can try:

Screenshot of an email from ProtonVPN support listing servers that might work in China

Due to aggressive restrictions, he couldn’t guarantee any of these would work

The full list had 33 servers total. I really appreciate that the support agent responded with such a large list. She encouraged me to let her know if any of them worked. This was just one more instance where ProtonVPN showed me it really does care about online privacy.

Ease of Use

9.0

Is ProtonVPN Compatible With My Device?

ProtonVPN is compatible with a nice variety of devices but some have fewer features:

  • Windows: This app has all of the features ProtonVPN has to offer like its kill switch and split-tunneling that comes with alternative routing (send apps and sites to different servers). It only uses the OpenVPN protocol and lets you switch between UDP (faster) and TDP (for unstable connections).
  • Android: The Android app shares Windows’ features, but the kill switch can only be used with the VPN set to always-on. It can use IKEv2 or OpenVPN (UDP or TDP).
  • Linux: Many VPNs give Linux users an inferior version, but ProtonVPN’s has almost every feature Windows does. The only one it lacks is an option for OpenVPN TDP (only UDP is available).
  • Mac: The Mac app started out with less features, but ProtonVPN recently added a kill switch. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t offer split-tunneling. It automatically connects without a protocol, but IKEv2 and OpenVPN can be manually installed.
  • iOS: Apple phones also have no split-tunneling, but its kill switch is much easier to use than Android’s. You only need to flip the light switch icon on above the server list. It lets you switch between IKEv2, OpenVPN UDP, and OpenVPN TDP.

Other Devices: Android TVs let you download the app the same way you would on your phone. It’s available on Chromebook if it’s a newer version that supports Android apps. Firestick and Fire TVs require a downloader app first. Then, you can install ProtonVPN’s Android app from GitHub.

ProtonVPN doesn’t offer Smart DNS, which is a feature that makes connecting on a Playstation or Xbox much easier. You’ll need to set up the VPN on your router to use it with your gaming systems. This is a bit of a complicated process, so I recommend using ExpressVPN if you want to connect to your console easily.

VPN Protocols Kill Switch Split-Tunneling Server Types
Windows OpenVPN UDP &TDP ✔️ ✔️ All
Mac IKEv2, OpenVPN, or none ✔️ All
Android IKEv2 & OpenVPN (Manual installation) ✔️ ✔️ All
iOS IKEv2 & OpenVPN ✔️ All
Linux OpenVPN UDP ✔️ ✔️ All

Simultaneous Device Connections — You Need a Plus Plan for the Most Value

ProtonVPN can be used on several devices at once, but you need at least a Plus plan to get the most out of it. I tested this by watching different movies and shows using Netflix, ESPN+, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. ProtonVPN was running on my two Windows laptops, an Android phone, and my Fire Tablet. I didn’t experience any performance issues, so it works as advertised.

Free plans only allow 1 device connection. You get two with a Basic Plan ($4.83 a month). A Plus subscription ($9.67 a month) gets you up to 10 devices, which is a lot. ExpressVPN only allows you to connect 5 devices at the maximum.

2 devices aren’t enough for me, since I’ll be using a VPN on two computers and a phone at the least. However, the Plus plan is the best deal anyways since it also gives you Plus and Secure Core servers.

User Experience

ProtonVPN has a user-friendly app interface with just a few minor issues. It’s largely easy to navigate and designed in an intuitive way

The app displays available server locations on the left, with your current connection status on the top of the screen. All the different servers are easy to find in the search bar with Secure Core being toggled on top. When you connect, it displays speed, volume, session length and your current IP address. The first time you start up the app it begins with a short tutorial which is more in-depth on desktop. One annoying thing is that the kill switch is not automatically enabled. I recommend turning it on before you connect.

Besides the kill switch, the rest of the features are easy to find and adjust in the settings tab.

There’s also a clear map on the right that marks countries that have ProtonVPN servers with a triangle. A solid green triangle appears on your current server country, making it easy to see your current status and where you’re connected.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN UI, showing its map and server list

You can’t click on locations on the map to connect to a server

Besides that, the map doesn’t serve much purpose beyond looking kind of cool. The app used to let you connect to a country by clicking locations on the map, but this feature is no longer available. The maps can also be collapsed so that only the menu is visible.

Click Create Profile to create convenient personalized configurations. For each profile, you can choose the protocol and an individual server to connect to. You can also choose the country and have ProtonVPN randomly select a server or connect to the fastest one available.

Screenshot of profiles section in ProtonVPN Windows app

You can save several protocol and server pairings

This is an excellent feature that lets you set up your commonly used locations. For example, I connect to Italy, Japan, and US locations frequently to access different streaming platforms. Having them all available as profiles saves me a lot of time I’d spend scrolling through the list. Along with the profiles you create, it also comes with 4 default profiles. These connect you to the fastest server, a random server, P2P servers, and the TOR network. I especially like using the fastest server option, so I don’t have to search for the least crowded server.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN's website showing download page

The installation process is quick and simple

Desktop users can download the app through its website or on GitHub.

Screenshot of ProtonVPN installation process on Android with Play Store and App UI

You just press install and open the app when it’s finished

If you’re using a phone, you’ll download it from the Apple store or Google Play.

Overall, I was impressed with ProtonVPN’s app. I love the profile feature, but I don’t understand the map and wish the kill switch was automatically enabled.

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Compare ProtonVPN with the top alternative VPNs

9.9
9.5
9.3
9.3

Pricing

4.0
Two Years (Plus)
$6.63 /month
Annually (Plus)
$8 /month
Monthly (Plus)
$10 /month

ProtonVPN offers a free plan and three paid plans: Basic, Plus, and Visionary.
The free plan gives you access to servers in just three countries, connection to only one device, and slower speeds.

The Plus and Visionary subscriptions include access to Secure Core, Tor, and P2P servers. The only difference between the two is that Visionary subscribers also get a ProtonMail subscription.

All plans are available in both monthly and annual subscriptions, with small discounts offered on annual terms.

Here is an overview of the different features offered with each tier:

Screenshot of ProtonVPN's plans on its website

A free plan lets you use servers in 3 countries on one device

I recommend getting the Plus Plan. It lets you connect 10 devices and gives you access to every server type. One of the best things about ProtonVPN is its amazing ability to unblock streaming services. So, you lose a lot of value without Plus servers. ProtonVPN accepts major credit cards, PayPal, cash and Bitcoin.

When you sign up for the free service, you get a 7-day trial of ProtonVPN Plus. You can also take advantage of the 30 money-back guarantee offered on all paid subscriptions. However, ProtonVPN only promises to give prorated refunds. This means you won’t receive money back for the days when you used the service, which makes it less impressive than other VPNs’ full refunds.

Reliability & Support

7.0

ProtonVPN’s lack of 24/7 live customer support is a big oversight that leaves them lagging behind other top VPNs. You can only send in email requests for the support team which it promises will be answered within 1-2 business days. Luckily, I never had to wait 2 whole days. The longest I had to wait was 25 hours to receive an answer. I asked support how accurate the list of compatible streaming platforms on the website was.

I was mostly satisfied with the answer; the list is updated frequently, and I was directed to a FAQ on the website with more information. However, I would have liked a little more information, like how often the streaming list is updated. If it was a chat, I could quickly ask that question instead of having to wait another day for a response.

The fastest response I received was in only 4 hours:

Screenshot of Email received from support answering questions about rented servers and virtual locations

My question about virtual locations was answered in 4 hours

This time, I asked if it uses virtual locations or rents any servers. The support agent did a great job answering my question. I was told every server is physically located in the country listed. They also told me that they do rent servers, but you can stick to Secure Core if you only want to use those owned by ProtonVPN.

You can also check out FAQs and set-up guides on the website’s support section. A subreddit is also available where employees often answer questions within 24 hours. All of this information is good, proving ProtonVPN has a talented support team that knows its stuff. But without a 24/7 chat function their services can’t be fully utilized. Not being able to engage agents in a conversation and the long wait times, left me dissatisfied with ProtonVPN’s support.

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The Bottom Line

Final Verdict

ProtonVPN is an excellent VPN when it comes to security and unblocking streaming platforms. The company’s impressive history, along with its ongoing support of internet freedom, makes me feel safe letting them handle my data.

Its Secure Core servers are great for protecting your traffic, but like its TOR and P2P servers, they’re quite slow. And even though it’s great at bypassing geoblocks, those slow speeds hurt its streaming capabilities as well.

Where it struggles most is customer service. Nearly every other top VPN has a 24/7 live chat, and it’s frustrating having to wait an entire day for troubleshooting tips.

In the end, I recommend ProtonVPN to anyone who’s mainly concerned with security and supporting a great company dedicated to protecting online privacy.

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  • Military-grade encryption paired with Perfect Forward Secrecy
  • Located in privacy-friendly Switzerland and operates under a strict no-logs policy
  • User-friendly apps for all major operating systems
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Torrenting supported on all servers
  • Get started with ProtonVPN now

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FAQs on ProtonVPN

Can I use ProtonVPN for free?

Yes, there is a free version of ProtonVPN, but I recommend using a paid tier to get the most out of it. The free version can only access 3 countries with free servers that are always super crowded. In my tests, these servers were 46% slower than paid versions and sometimes dropped as low as 7 Mbps. In addition, I was also only able to unlock a worldwide version of Netflix and Crunchyroll with free servers.

Does ProtonVPN work with Netflix?

Yes, it works great at unblocking Netflix libraries worldwide.

ProtonVPN has Plus servers that are specifically designed to unblock streaming platforms. This means you’ll need at least a Plus account ($9.67 a month) to access foreign libraries. The Plus servers aren’t available on Basic plans, and Basic servers can only access a version of Netflix with the movies and shows available everywhere.

Is ProtonVPN safe to use?

ProtonVPN is incredibly safe because of its no-logs policy, reputable parent company, and encryption technology. It also publishes transparency reports, receives independent audits, and is located in Switzerland. The Swiss have some of the strongest privacy laws and don’t cooperate with foreign governments looking for information on their citizens.

Secure Core servers can also double-hop your traffic to one of ProtonVPN’s highly secure data centers. On top of that, the VPN uses the same encryption technology as ProtonMail, the world’s leading encrypted email service. All of this combines to make it one of the safest VPNs out there.

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What devices can I use with ProtonVPN?

ProtonVPN is available for Mac, iOS, Linux, Windows, Android phones, Android TVs, Firestick, Fire TVs, and Chromebook. It’s not available for Apple TV, Playstation, or Xbox, but it can be manually configured to work on a router that connects to these devices. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN does not offer Smart DNS which makes connecting to gaming consoles and certain smart TVs much easier.

In which country is ProtonVPN located? Who owns it?

ProtonVPN is located in Switzerland and is owned by Proton Technologies AG.

Proton Technologies AG is a company dedicated to internet freedom and was formed by former CERN scientists. It also developed the ProtonMail service and is active in fighting against laws encroaching on citizen’s privacy rights. For example, it helped gather 70,000 signatures to protest a Swiss Surveillance Law.

What are ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers?

ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers are owned by the company, housed in fortified data centers, and add an extra layer of encryption. You can send your traffic to one of these servers first before it’s rerouted to another location. They are kept in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden, all privacy-friendly countries. In countries like Russia, the company feared the government could compromise its servers. So, ProtonVPN developed Secure Core options to make sure customers could use less secure locations with servers that were more physically safe.

Try ProtonVPN For FREE For 30 Days!

Money Back Guarantee (Days) : 30
Mobile app :
Number of devices per license : 10
VPN Plans: www.protonvpn.com

Watch the short video review and tutorial below of ProtonVPN

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ProtonVPN User Reviews

8.7
Based on 324 reviews in 17 languages
Anonymous
Great service - 10
Anonymous -
Oct 16, 2021

I noticed the article noted no Wireguard. This is incorrect, as Wireguard is available and now available under Smart Protocol. I’ve found the service to be great and their accelerator technology improved speeds.

Yezzy
Good VPN - 10
Yezzy -
Sep 12, 2021

Proton already has a track record with Protonmail. This VPN, which was released by making full use of its achievements, did not disappoint. Regarding the protocol, the Beta number was released in August 2021, but wireGuard was released, which is a further enhancement from the previous OpenVPN. We should be happy to enjoy that this is free at this time.

Fernando
Stay away - 4
Fernando -
Aug 26, 2021

Stay away since is very difficult to download and when you do, it puts other junk in your computer. By calling it FREE it attracts many downloads. and your computer will be compromised. There are many really free to choose from. Choose one of those.

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