ProtonMail Review: test for the most secure email in 2021

Last updated: February 19, 2021
ProtonMail review secure email provider

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In my ProtonMail review, I’ll take a look at the inner workings of this secure email client and see what kind of features it has to offer. Also, I’ll answer in detail the most frequently asked question – is ProtonMail safe? Finally, I’ll do a side-by-side ProtonMail vs Gmail comparison to see how they fare in terms of security and privacy.

But first, let’s talk about secure email clients in general. These services go above and beyond your regular free email. They protect your personal details and encrypt your messages to ensure that no third party, including ProtonMail, intercepts or reads them.

Compared to ProtonMail, a standard email provider can offer a limited amount of encryption only. It might be able to protect your email while it’s still on their server but cannot do anything as soon as it’s sent. Secure email services ensure that your message travels the whole distance safely.

Security5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Privacy5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Features & ease-of-use4.5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Overall4.8/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Free version
Yes
Price
$4.00/month
Website
protonmail.com
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What is ProtonMail?

ProtonMail is a web-based secure email service created by a group of engineers, developers, and scientists in Switzerland. The group is passionate about privacy and protecting the civil liberties of individuals online. The creators used their technical expertise to develop a safe and anonymous email system, including other products, such as ProtonVPN.

ProtonMail servers are in Europe’s most secure data center, 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) under solid rock. The company is already subject to the strict privacy laws in Switzerland and its mission to provide the utmost security. This equates to your emails being physically and legally absolutely secure.

The founding team at ProtonMail met while they worked at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. This group of technical-minded individuals started the company thanks to a record-breaking crowdfunding scheme. Since the company was founded in 2013, it has become the world’s largest secure email provider with more than one million users.

ProtonMail pros and cons

+ Pros:

  • Open-source and independently-audited
  • Privacy-friendly jurisdiction
  • Great free version
  • No-logs
  • Supports 2FA
  • Apps for all major platforms
  • ProtonMail Bridge allows using other mail clients

– Cons:

  • Doesn’t allow bulk sending
  • No POP3 support

Is ProtonMail secure?

ProtonMail uses the latest research and technology to ensure complete security for your emails. Messages are fully encrypted using open source code for complete transparency. The research team is constantly looking at technological advances and encourages others to contribute to make this the most secure email service in the world.

ProtonMail security features include:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA)
  • Open source cryptography
  • Zero access to user data

The Visionary plan also includes ProtonVPN. Together with ProtonMail, it provides great synergy for increasing your overall online security and privacy.

Email encryption

With the help of end-to-end encryption, ProtonMail blocks third-party access to your emails. It means that only the sender and the receiver can read the contents of the email. What’s more, even ProtonMail employees cannot look inside your mailbox.

The best part about ProtonMail encryption is that you can send secure emails even to those who use regular mail clients, such as Gmail. They will receive the link to the encrypted message and will be able to decipher it with a password.

Two-factor authentication

Another important security feature of ProtonMail is two-factor authentication or 2FA. It requires not only your account password (something that you know) but also your smartphone (something that you have). Even if someone manages to get hold of your login information, they still need your phone for access.

ProtonMail support multiple authenticator apps, such as Google Authenticator, FreeOTP, and Authy. All three are available on Android and iOS and take just a few minutes to set up. You can also install them on multiple devices, which allows you to authenticate either with your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy tablet.

Open source cryptography

ProtonMail is committed to staying open-source and doing independent security audits. It means that its apps and the cryptography are thoroughly reviewed and have no backdoors associated with closed-source projects.

This is by far the best model for a secure email because virtually anyone can check the code for vulnerabilities. There’s even a bug-bounty program running that encourages security researches all over the world to help ProtonMail stay secure.

Furthermore, using the OpenPGP standard allows sending encrypted messages directly to any mail service that implements it. These include Mailfence and Hushmail, but the most popular ones can do that with the right plug-in.

Zero access to user data

As mentioned earlier, ProtonMail has no access to your mailbox content. That’s because the encryption happens on the client’s side using a key that’s unavailable to anyone else.

What’s more, you don’t need to enter your personal details when creating your account, which further enhances anonymity. Finally, ProtonMail has no way of tracking your IP that could be tied with your activities.

Is ProtonMail anonymous?

Rest assured that ProtonMail is completely anonymous. You don’t need to enter any personal information to sign up for an account. The company does not retain any IP logs so that your IP address is not linked to your email account in any way.

Your internet service provider and not even the government can access your email messages. The company feels strongly that both individuals and organizations have a right to communicate privately. It aims to make email messages as secure and private as possible.

However, many experienced users don’t go on the internet without connecting to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) first. This not only helps to anonymize them, but it also encrypts their information, often with military-grade encryption.

So, using ProtonMail with ProtonVPN or any other reliable service can offer you even greater protection. If you are considering getting a VPN, you can start by checking our top 10 VPNs list.

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ProtonMail features

In addition to being arguably the most secure email provider, ProtonMail also has a number of useful features that may come in handy in daily use. Not all of them are available in the free version, and some require getting the priciest Visionary plan.

Encrypted Contacts

You can import contacts from the current email service in vCard or .csv format. All contacts are encrypted, but ProtonMail can see them so that it can offer extra functionality, such as spam filtering. However, paid users can also add phone numbers and addresses, which are available to you only.

Self-destructing messages

ProtonMails allow you to set the date after which the email you’ve sent will be deleted from the recipient’s mailbox. You can set the deadline from hours to weeks. This actually works not only for fellow ProtonMail users but for any other service too.

ProtonMail Bridge

Switching to ProtonMail doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your favorite email client. With ProtonMail Bridge, paid users can continue using Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird, or any other client that supports IMAP and SMTP.

Labels, filters, and folders

This set of features allows paid users to organize the mailbox with labels, filters, and folders. Labeling doesn’t affect the folder structure, which means that you can add or remove labels without “physically” moving the emails themselves.

Filtering in ProtonMail is done by using Conditions and Actions. This works similarly to setting custom rules on most apps with the formula “If X is Y and/or A is B, then C.” The spam filters work in a similar fashion.

Plans and pricing

ProtonMail has four pricing plans: Free, Plus, Visionary, and Professional. The paid plans give you the option to pay annually or monthly. Here’s the list of ProtonMail prices:

  • Plus – monthly, $5/month
  • Plus – $48 annualy, $4/month
  • Visionary – monthly, $30/month
  • Visionary – $288 annualy, $24/month
  • Professional – monthly, $8/month per user
  • Professional – 75$ annually, $6.25/month per user

ProtonMail pricing plans

You can pay by credit card or PayPal.

Is it easy-to-use?

There’s a web-based version of ProtonMail available, plus apps for Android and iOS mobile devices. There is no software download required for the web version. Your account syncs between devices while maintaining complete security. The apps are currently available in up to 14 different languages.

There’s a sending limit for the free accounts. You should send no more than 50 emails per hour and 150 emails per day. This is intended to prevent bulk emailing, spamming, and returned emails to maintain the integrity of ProtonMail. Using your account normally without any spam reports or upgrading to a paid account will increase your sending limits.

ProtonMail doesn’t offer POP3 services for forwarding mail from another address. Perhaps the company simply wants you to switch over to its service completely. It also encourages users to recommend the email service to their friends to reduce sending limits and build a network of users.

For professional and personal use

If you need to use a personal email address for work-related correspondence, ProtonMail is a great option. Any sensitive information sent via email regarding your work or clients is protected. Passwords or financial information can be sent without fear of being compromised.

ProtonMail Professional offers a secure email service for organizations. Benefiting from the same encryption as the regular email accounts but with more storage, users, and admins permitted. Encrypted emails help organizations to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In July 2020, the ProtonMail team announced the upcoming launch of ProtonDrive. With it, users will be able to store their files in one place, as well as easily upload and download them when needed. ProtonDrive will have end-to-end encryption to make sure that your data is well protected.

How to delete ProtonMail

If you would like to delete your email account, simply go to the Account tab in the Settings menu and choose Delete. You will need to enter your password to confirm you want to delete the account. Be aware that the deletion is final, your account cannot be restored, and none of your data can be recovered later.

ProtonMail vs Gmail

Gmail is one of the most popular free email services in the world, but does it offer the security you are looking for? Let’s take a look at how the secure email service of ProtonMail stacks up against Gmail.

ProtonMailGmail
FounderAndy Yen, Wei Sun, and Jason StockmanGoogle
Released20132009, after 5 years of beta testing
LocationSwitzerlandUSA
Free version availableYesYes
Cost$4-24/month
pay for extra storage, domains, or addresses for $1-2/month.
Upgrade to Gmail One starts from $1.99/month, including extra storage and expert Google help.
Mailbox storageFree version: 500 MB
Paid: 20 GB
Free version: 15 GB, shared alongside other Google services
Paid: 100 GB – 2 TB
Max. attachment limit25 MB and 100 attachments25 MB
Security features2-factor authentication sign-in process
End-to-end encryption to ensure complete privacy
Basic password sign-in method
Transport Layer Security (TLS)

ProtonMail was released in 2013. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and was founded by Dr. Andy Yen, who was a researcher at CERN and was working on particle physics applications. Gmail is owned by Google, it has been around since 2005, and the headquarters are in California, USA.

Free versions are available from both providers on the web and mobile platforms. ProtonMail packages cost $4-24/month, or you can also just pay for extra storage, domains, or addresses for $1-2/month. You can upgrade to Gmail One starting from $1.99/month, including extra storage and expert Google help.

ProtonMail offers 500 MB of encrypted storage with the free version, or you can pay for up to 20 GB. The maximum attachment limit is 25 MB and 100 attachments. Gmail gives you 15 GB of free storage and has an attachment limit of 25 MB and a standard account. Various additional storage packages are offering up to 20 TB for a monthly fee.

Security features ProtonMail uses a 2-factor authentication sign-in process and end-to-end encryption to ensure complete privacy. Gmail uses a basic password sign-in method and Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt messages when possible. If the email providers of both the sender and the recipient do not use TLS, your email cannot be encrypted by Gmail.

Conclusion

Overall, ProtonMail is an excellent secure email provider. We only have a few small issues with the service, including the sending limits and no POP3 services. We were impressed with the technical team behind the company and the level of security that they offer. The free version will probably be sufficient for most users, and the paid packages offer more storage and features for those who need it.

FAQ

Is ProtonMail safe?

ProtonMail is safe to use. It uses end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication and doesn’t log your data.

Is ProtonMail safer than Gmail?

ProtonMail is much safer than Gmail. ProtonMail uses end-to-end encryption and 2FA, while Gmail offers only basic sign-in and TLS. Finally, ProtonMail has a strict no-logs policy, while Google makes the best of your personal information.

ProtonMail premium, is it worth buying?

Most users will be content with the free ProtonMail version. However, if you need lots of storage or send hundreds of emails each day, upgrading to a Plus plan would be a good idea.

Can ProtonMail be hacked?

Like any other online service, ProtonMail can be hacked. However, the chance of this happening is minimal. This email provider is open-source and undergoes rigorous independent audits, making it way safer than Gmail or any other regular email.

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54 comments
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  1. black man

    good review but i was wondering, does proton mail offers it users private DMS with contact ? if yes how secure is the process and thank you


    1. avatar
      Jan Youngren

      Hi, black man. You can set up custom DNS domains. I’m sorry but I don’t understand what you mean by “with contact”? As for your last question, I’d say the process is pretty secure. You have to verify your domain with ProtonMail by adding a TXT record with a unique code. Moreover, you’ll be able to choose key strength, which can be 2048-bit or 4096-bit. Then there’s a lot you can do about anti-spoofing – SPF is a must-have, while DKIM and DMARC are recommended.


  2. Ev

    Basic sign-in for google? Last I checked they offered U2F as well which proton still doesn’t (although this is being worked on supposedly).

    This review overall seems to be quite out of date. I was forced to hand over my phone number when signing up for protonmail (granted they hashed it) which is a bit problematic for anyone who doesn’t have a phone number. Also gmail one is now google one.


  3. Cynthia

    Hi, Julie. I currently have Microsoft 365; I have used Outlook.com for years, as well. I have HUNDREDS of contacts which I do not want to loose. How does Protonmail compare to all the features of Microsoft 365 and how many contacts will it hold? I also need to know the easiest way to transfer the contacts to Protonmail, if possible? Also, I get lots and lots of emails everyday; which plan will best meet my needs?

    Thanks,
    Cynthia


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hello, Cynthia. Thanks for stopping by. I’m afraid that ProtonMail cannot compete with Microsoft 365 – this is a suite of applications after all. For example, ProtonMail doesn’t have proper Calendar yet. With that being said, Microsoft cannot compare with it in terms of security and privacy.
      Should you decide to switch, importing contacts from Microsoft Outlook or any other IMAP/SMTP client is possible via ProtonMail Bridge.
      Finally, I’d recommend starting with the Plus plan. If the 5 GB storage won’t be enough, you can upgrade to Visionary that gives you 20 GB.
      Have a nice day!


  4. Daniel

    Can AOL emails and contacts be imported to Proton easily?


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hello, Daniel! This looks like an easy solution how to export contacts from AOL. You can find instructions how to import your contacts to ProtonMail here.


  5. Ron

    The review stated the support was good, my experience has been very different with them. They have a security algorithm which can shut down your account for “Fraud and Abuse” even though no violations occurred, they state this can happen.
    OK, so a false positive has occurred, the support staff even though you ask for the alleged violation, will not respond, nor will they reactivate your account in a timely manner for a false positive.
    It is better to not have a paid account with all of the features at Proton Mail, at lease with a free account, you only lose access, and not your money.
    The account is so secure you cannot use it.


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hi, Ron. I’m sorry to hear that. It’s the first time I hear about such Fraud and Abuse protocol. Hopefully, you won’t have similar issues in the future.


  6. Don Cinnamond

    Greetings all . . . wanting to dump my connections to Google & gmail. Have a long history of contacts and emails with gmail. Is there an easy to convert these?


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Dear Don,You bet there is! ProtonMail allows importing contacts from Gmail – learn how to do that. You can also import emails with Import Assistant. Good luck 🙂


  7. Rochelle

    Apologies, I am not very ‘tech literate’, but am very interested in getting away from our gmail and hotmail accounts. Too many ‘missing’ emails and suspicious advertisements based on purchases I’ve made etc. Can you clarify for me please: Currently all of our emails come through my Mac Desktop on the Mac ‘mail’ icon….will Proton be able to do that or will I need to go directly to the Proton website on my desktop to access mail? And on the iphone…similar question….through the apple mail icon or a separate app or the website directly? Just want to clarify ease of use before I start setting up accounts. THANK YOU so much for your help.


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hey, Rochelle. I totally understand you. With ProtonMail Bridge, you will still be able to use Apple Mail on your Mac. However, for iPhone, you will need to use either webmail or ProtonMail iOS app.


  8. M Pelligrini

    Can I please ask – would I need a mobile phone to simply access a free account (the 2-step verification mentioned) or is that only for accessing encrypted mail? I don’t have/want a mobile phone. Also, with the mailbox limit, what happens when you reach your limit, does it stop receiving mail or start deleting older mail? Apologies if I’m asking very basic/stupid questions, any help appreciated 🙂


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hello! You don’t have to use 2FA for your ProtonMail account to work. If you run out of storage, you will stop receiving new mail but your old mail won’t be deleted. Therefore, you will have time to decide what to do – increase your storage space or delete some old emails in Trash or other folders.


      1. M Pelligrini

        Thank you for taking the time to reply, Julie, it’s very much appreciated 🙂


        1. Xmen

          Those questions you asked are not stupid at all. The best questions i’ve seen so far.


  9. David Perry

    I just need a simple email to communicate w/ friends and as a place for businesses to reach me. Can I send and receive to yahoo, gmail etc as usual, but w/o encryption? Not sure how this works with this situ.


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hey, David. Thanks for the comment. Yes, you can send unencrypted messages to any other email. In that sense, ProtonMail works like any other mailing service.


  10. Rhonda

    I got a paid protonmail account, went through the tedious process of changing over my email of over 15 years (opened when beta!) and now find that in some cases links do not work in protonmail. I tried reaching out to protonmail numerous times but received nothing other than automated messages telling them how busy they are. I would have contacted my credit card company and gotten my money back and closed the account were it not for the DAYS that I spend transferring over. But I am near there.
    Has anyone else had this issue?


  11. KK

    I hope I receive your answer, thanks.

    Am I right that the recipient must also have ProtonMail? Otherwise if you use PM and they use Gmail, its defeating the object, is it not so?


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hey, KK. That’s a good question. To answer it, the recipient doesn’t need a ProtonMail account to receive encrypted emails. The sender encrypts the message and tells the code to the recipient, which in turn uses it to open the encrypted email. It’s not the most convenient option, but it works.


    2. dominic field

      Yes. your non-protonmail user will be able to read a protonmail email, but it will be less secure at the recipient’s end.


  12. Polly Goldberg

    Please explain, as I am a novice: It says above, “…all ProtonMail accounts include a free Proton VPN account.” What does that mean? Do they? And I wouldn’t have to get it separately?
    Thank you.


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Dear Polly,
      My bad, it seems I haven’t updated this part. As of now, ProtonMail Visionary plan includes a premium ProtonVPN account.
      Hope this helps you decide!


      1. Vee

        Oh is it? If I already have Norton VPN, can I still use the VPN that cones with my paid account? Thanks.


        1. Julie Cole Author

          Hi, Vee. You sure can!


  13. Annie Jury

    Hi Julie, I use Gmail and Yandex mail both of which have the facility to send large files via Google Drive and Yandex Drive. I would like to move to ProtonMail. Does ProtonMail have the ability to send large files (regularly)? Thanks 🙂


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hello, Annie. Thanks for the comment! The attachment size limit is 25 MB per one mail.


  14. Richard Wentland Ii

    When one deletes emails and then the account on GOOGLE do they completely delete the information? Or, does it remain in archives on google?


    1. Xmen

      Hehe..My guess would be that everything you ever did on Google, every e-mail you sent, every location you visited, every email account you created and deleted, stays on Google;s archives and there is nothing we can do about it.


  15. Vince

    Can I easily transfer my Gmail contacts? Has to be very easy as I am not a geek 🙂


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Dear Vince. Thanks for the comment. Yes, you can easily import your contacts. You will find an explanatory video at the bottom of this ProtonMail page.


  16. Maudie Johnson

    I have only now heard of Proton Mail and need to stop using my gmail account asap. Can you please guide me how to set up a Proton Mail acc as I’m very new to this? Thank you very much.


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hi, Maudie. Glad you’ve decided to switch to a secure email service. ProtonMail is one of the best that you can get. Here are the steps you should follow:
      1. Go to ProtonMail.com and click Sign up
      2. Select your desired plan (free or premium)
      3. Choose a username and password
      4. Choose a recovery email if you want
      5. Click Create account
      That’s it!


  17. useotools.com

    good proton mail is best , gmail read mails , there are no free lunches in world , google sells data


  18. Roland Osborne

    Hi Julie,
    I’m about to boot my G-Mail Acc. and will of course use yours.
    Now a couple of questions:
    1) Can we “Plus Address” or similar.
    You’re probably familiar with it, but if not, Gmail & some others as well, offer a nifty trick to eliminate spammers and people who sell your address.
    it incorporates adding a ‘Denoter’; in Gmail it’s a “+”, followed by a code, eg, for an email given to amazon, it would be; .
    So if they spam me, I simply tell the filter to send all the “+az” ones to the junk or even delete them for me. And if I see the particular address coming from somwhere else, I know how it happened.
    Sorry if you already knew all about it ! – But I use it regularly; it’s really good value.
    Secondaly, when you say, no POP3, that probably means I can’t use my own E.Mail client; like Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail ?? (I love OE)!
    Do You support IMAP or SMTP ?
    Thanks, Roland – New Zealand


    1. Julie Cole Author

      Hi Roland, thanks for the comment.
      To answer your first question, ProtonMail does have a filtering system, but the free plan allows only one filter. The conditions you can set are email addresses, words in the subject line, and attachments. You can also modify these conditions using IF, AND, OR attributes. What’s more, there are special spam filters in ProtonMail. Using them, you can send the whole domain to spam. If that wasn’t enough, you can even create Sieve filters by writing custom sieve scripts.
      When it comes to using ProtonMail with third-party email clients, you can do that with the help of ProtonMail Bridge. Any client that supports IMAP and SMTP, such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Apple Mail is fine. Unfortunately, ProtonMail Bridge requires Windows 7 or macOS 10.11 which don’t support Outlook Express. However, you should be able to use ProtonMail with Windows Live Mail, although I’d recommend contacting customer support first to learn about configuration nuances.

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