Last update: 03.19.2019
The VPN market has never had a decent choice for a free VPN. This ProtonVPN review presents you the tool from the same CERN scientists who gave us ProtonMail. They have set out to achieve a mammoth task; namely, to offer the world a free version of their VPN – one that is:
- Not funded through malicious means
- Not limited in terms of bandwidth or amount of data transferred
As the offspring of ProtonMail, this Swiss VPN does security the way very few services do.
Is ProtonVPN safe to use?
ProtonVPN offers the following main security features:
- Military-grade AES-256 encryption
- OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols
- No confirmed leaking issues
- Great kill switch
- Tor over VPN
- Anonymous payment options (Bitcoin, gift cards)
This makes ProtonVPN a service that’s very safe to use, not to mention some featuring some really cool options.
One of them is Secure Core – an interesting take on the multi-hop VPN. When enabled, all server connections will take a detour through one of ProtonVPN’s hyper-secure underground servers in Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland. Currently, the list of locations which support double-hopping through Secure Core includes 29 out of 32 countries where ProtonVPN has servers.
Also, you can try Tor over VPN and combine the anonymity given by the Tor network and a VPN.
ProtonVPN AG has a clean reputation and its products, including the most popular encrypted mail platform ProtonMail, are used by journalists and political activists throughout the world.
This service has an effective kill switch. If your VPN connection drops for some reason – the program will stop all traffic and prevent your IP from leaking.
Last but not least, ProtonVPN offers anonymous payment options and requires only a valid email address when creating an account.
Does ProtonVPN log your data?
It’s not by chance that ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland. Apart from being strict on privacy in general, Switzerland has no data retention laws and is not part of the 14 Eyes alliance.
Each time a user connects to the Service, we only monitor the timestamp of the last successful login attempt. This gets overwritten each time you successfully log in. This timestamp does not contain any identifying information, such as your IP address or your location; it only contains the time and date of the login.
This is far less than many other VPN providers collect and shouldn’t be of much concern.
Therefore, even though ProtonVPN has a “no-logs” claim on their website which changes to “no activity logs” after scrolling down a bit, it does the minimum required logging after all.
Is ProtonVPN leak-proof?
ProtonVPN offers DNS leak protection on the client side as well as a private DNS network. This should ensure the prevention of most DNS leak situations.
There have been reports that ProtonVPN is susceptible to the notorious WebRTC leak. However, at the moment our tests show that this is not the case. The situation with IPv6 leaks is less clear, but any allegations about ProtonVPN’s IPv6 leaks lack substantiation. In the worst case, it’s possible to simply turn off IPv6.
All in all, we can say that this is a leak-free VPN service.
To learn more about ProtonVPN’s safety, check out our dedicated article Is ProtonVPN safe?
Speed and performance
ProtonVPN speeds are average, but we’re expecting them to grow along with the number of servers, which is still way behind the top competitors.
We did our test from Europe, with a 310 Mbps baseline download speed and using Speedtest.net, which was used for all the other measurements with ProtonVPN turned on.
We traveled around the world with ProtonVPN using OpenVPN protocol. We’ve chosen UDP instead of TCP to get the best possible speed.
New Jersey, United States
- Download: 11 Mbps
- Upload: 7 Mbps
- Dropoff: 98%
Los Angeles, United States
- Download: 41 Mbps
- Upload: 15 Mbps
- Dropoff: 87%
- Download: 76 Mbps
- Upload: 98 Mbps
- Dropoff: 76%
- Download: 19 Mbps
- Upload: 2 Mbps
- Dropoff: 94%
- Download: 31 Mbps
- Upload: 4 Mbps
- Dropoff: 90%
To do your own speed test and see how it compares with our numbers, go to our article on testing your VPN.
The server base of ProtonVPN has been expanding and now contains 385 servers in 32 countries. Some VPN service providers can reconcile security and speed, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For example, NordVPN has very comparable security credentials to ProtonVPN and reasonable speeds. How? By having 5,400+ servers – that’s how!
Of course, the speed is not determined by the number of servers only. With ProtonVPN being a young service, we believe it will continue improving their tool and pose some serious threat to the competitors by the end of 2019.
Ease of use and multi-platform support
ProtonVPN has apps for:
There are also tutorials on installing it on DD-WRT, Tomato, and Vilfo routers.
While the number of apps and supported devices is still quite small, it’s only a matter of time until ProtonVPN adds more. After all, this VPN was created with security – and not popularity – in mind.
The mobile versions have a bit fewer functions and use the IKEv2 protocol. For Android, you can use OpenVPN by installing it manually. As usual, Android and Mac versions do not have a real kill switch, just the Always-on-VPN function which should be enough for most users.
The number of devices per account depends on the pricing plan. The free version gives you just one, while the priciest Visionary plan allows for 10 simultaneous connections.
Downloading and installing ProtonVPN
Downloading and installing ProtonVPN is easy. You just follow the instructions and mindlessly click “Next” most of the time.
To create an account, a valid email address will suffice. But the Android and iOS apps can be installed only from Google Play Store and App Store respectively.
This is an easy app to navigate – it has a huge map and is not cluttered at all. Every option has useful explanations.
On the primary screen, you’ll see a map, which you can zoom into and out of using the bar at the top right. Hovering on the little triangles will reveal what country the VPN server is based in. If you then hover over the country name, it will change into a Connect button.
On the top left, you should notice a Quick connect button, which will connect you to a server nearest to your location. Below there is a Search tab and an expandable list of countries with ProtonVPN servers.
Special servers are marked with different icons. Two opposing arrows mean a P2P server and the onion means Tor over VPN. “P” is for the Plus servers available to Plus and Visionary plan owners.
If you turn Secure Core on, all your traffic will go through ProtonVPN’s hyper-secure servers in Switzerland, Sweden, or Iceland. This will also slow your connection down considerably.
The hamburger menu has a number of choices, but we’ll only discuss the most important settings:
- Auto Connect. You can enable or disable it and choose how the auto-connect feature behaves – whether it always connects to the Fastest server, Random server, or follows the parameters of one of the Profiles.
- Quick Connect. Choose how the “Quick Connect” button behaves (similar to Auto Connect).
- Default Protocol. For OpenVPN, you can choose Either UDP or TCP – great choice to have, especially if you don’t have the most stable connection (in which case you might want to try TCP). This can be confusing for anyone who has read about OpenVPN and can’t find it on the list. The security protocol is actually OpenVPN – you’re just choosing the kind of OpenVPN.
- VPN Kill Switch. This is an important feature, which is “Off” by default. We recommend turning it “On.”
- DNS Leak Protection. There is absolutely no reason why this should be switched off.
There isn’t much room to get lost in the ProtonVPN client – the tool feels spacious but uncluttered. It’s very functional but lightweight.
ProtonVPN for Netflix
According to the ProtonVPN support, US Netflix is available for Plus and Visionary plan desktop users on certain US servers marked with “P.” They give no guarantees it will work all the time. That’s why we’ve decided to try it out and check the speeds.
The speeds were good enough for Ultra HD (4K). Although the initial loading of the show takes longer than usual, skipping and streaming is seamless.
ProtonVPN for Hulu
ProtonVPN also supports Hulu. Just like with Netflix, you’ll need a Plus or Visionary plan to access Plus servers marked with “P.” Just like with Netflix, there’s no guarantee it will always work. And if it does, it’s either Windows, Mac, or Linux because Plus servers don’t support mobile devices.
ProtonVPN for Kodi
The Support website says nothing about the subject, probably because it’s a bit too early to use ProtonVPN with Kodi. Although it’s a very secure service with minimal logging, it still lacks apps or even basic support for various media devices, such as Amazon Fire TV or Roku. Another issue is the average speed results, which might mean lesser video quality for users with slower connections.
P2P and torrenting
ProtonVPN allows torrenting but warns that it’s against copyright infringement. The service is good for torrenting if you’re in Europe or Asia and pretty bad elsewhere, mainly because of the speed. For the Free version users, it’s not available at all.
The awesome security credentials make ProtonVPN a natural choice for torrent users. Unfortunately, P2P traffic is optimized only on selected servers in the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden. This means that users in the Americas should not expect good speeds.
Learn more about ProtonVPN and torrenting in our dedicated article.
The content on ProtonVPN’s website is good. Although the self-help material is not abundant, it’s well-written and covers the most basic topics. If you have a question not covered by any of the articles on the site – fill out a support ticket, and you’ll eventually receive an informative answer. The only problem: it might not come quickly if you’re a Free user!
ProtonVPN also has their own subreddit on Reddit, which is a transparent and efficient way of dealing with various questions because the employees answer most of the questions within 24 hours.
Live chat support is active, but not available 24/7 yet.
There are four plans – Free, Basic, Plus, Visionary. You can pay for these plans by credit card, PayPal, gift cards, and BitCoin.
Three countries (the US, the Netherlands, Japan), one device, throttled speed, no torrenting, no Netflix
- Basic – $5/month or $48 billed annually
All countries, two devices, torrenting
- Plus – $7/month or $96 billed annually
All countries, five devices, torrenting, Netflix, Plus servers, Secure Core, Tor servers, Secure streaming
- Visionary – $30/month or $288 billed annually
All countries, 10 devices, torrenting, Netflix, Plus servers, Secure Core, Tor servers, Secure streaming, ProtonMail Visionary subscription
ProtonVPN’s Free version is the best free VPN deal we’ve seen so far. The paid options are nice for a security-first user who doesn’t need good speed and is fine with only US Netflix.
You can try the Plus version for 7 days for free. After you connect to a server for the first time, a pop-up is displayed:
On top of that, every paid plan has a 30-day money-back guarantee.
ProtonVPN is good for security-first users who are willing to wait when this service grows their server and location numbers. It is an extremely ambitious project, lead by the CERN employees, and already the best choice for those who want a free VPN.
For the rest of us – let’s grab some popcorn and watch this one unfold!