Last week the popular US-based VPN service, Private Internet Access (PIA), gave their desktop users a holiday treat – a new app. According to PIA, this is more than just a new skin over the same old thing. This is a completely recoded piece of software with a new interface and some new features as well. Currently, it’s available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

There’s no denying that the Private Internet Access desktop app was in need of a rework. Not only was it feeling a bit clunky, but the antediluvian code also left some security holes to exploit. And in this day and age, even the little things can cost millions. So, let’s take a look at just what this new app is like.

The new and improved PIA

Before we take a look at the new, let’s survey the old. Despite finding a new look, PIA has decided to stick to many things that made the old client distinctly theirs. First of all, it runs primarily in the tray and returns there as soon as you click somewhere else.

pia app beta runs in tray

Secondly, it offers relatively few choices, but does have a great deal of cryptographic variety. Users can choose the data encryption cipher (AES-128-CBD, AES-256-CBD, AES-128-GCM, or AES-256-GCM), the Handshake, and the authentication algorithm. This has always made PIA almost unique and we’re glad the choices are there (although they’re mostly pointless).

The main features also haven’t changed much – there’s a kill switch, an ad-blocker, the option to use small packets, port forwarding, etc. As with the old app, the only protocol available (at least by default) is OpenVPN.

Well, let’s start with the visual. By default, Private Internet Access is now Dark:

pia beta dark theme

But there’s a Light theme as well:

pia beta light theme

We found the latter easier on the eyes and clearer. However, both look and feel great.

Another change is that the Settings are now in a separate window and divided into sections available through the menu on the left. The old PIA app had everything in one window and the whole thing felt a little cluttered in comparison

pia app beta settings window

Finally, PIA users will be able to change the settings without first having to disconnect from the VPN server. This was one of our main criticisms on the old app and we’re very happy the issue no longer exists. With that said, the changes will only take effect after reconnecting.

An important change is that users will no longer be able to toggle IPv6 and DNS leak protection. These are on by default and will remain so, which is as it should be. There are really no reasons why you would want to have DNS/IPv6 leak protection off. This makes the new app safer.

Lastly, the Quick Options became their own window, accessible by clicking the down arrow on the home screen. When we saw this, it immediately became clear that the mobile versions of PIA’s new app will require few design changes (if any).

pia beta quick options window

Testing the new PIA app

Before we praise the new PIA desktop app, we had to check for leaks. Most importantly, we were wondering whether there were any “vanilla” DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks. We connected to a PIA server in Denmark and ran some tests.

  • DNS leaks

pia beta dns leak test

As you can see, the DNS leak test finds us in Denmark. This means there are no DNS leaks.

  • IPv6 leaks

pia new app beta ipv6 leak test

Fair enough…

  • WebRTC leaks

pia new app beta webrtc leak test

Nothing to see here – just a good old Danish citizen.

In short, the new Private Internet Access app passes simple web-based leak tests. Whether that’s also the case with stranger, less common situations remains to be seen, but it seems to be reasonably safe at the very least.

Conclusion

The new PIA app is a definite improvement over the old one. It’s prettier, easier to use and feels slicker. More importantly, it seems to have become even safer than the old version and has kept all of the features we loved. With minimal changes, the app should work great on mobile devices as well. This is a great way to step into 2019!

If you want to learn more, read our full Private Internet Access Review.