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The VPN market has never had a decent choice for a free VPN. ProtonVPN is 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 secure, secure, not funded through malicious means, and not limited in terms of bandwidth or amount of data transferred.
I decided to see if ProtonVPN does live up to these aspirations. I’ll look at plenty of important questions about ProtonVPN in this review. Is ProtonVPN safe to use? Is it trustworthy? Does it keep logs? Is it good for torrenting? And, of course, is ProtonVPN the best free VPN on the market?
I’ll try to provide you with answers to these questions and more to help you determine if ProtonVPN is a good choice for your VPN needs.
Security and privacy features
ProtonVPN is very committed to solid online security and privacy. Security-wise, it’s extremely safe and is a surefire choice for protecting your digital assets. From hiding your IP address and ensuring your anonymity online to torrenting safely and avoiding online censorship, this VPN service is pretty much as good as it gets.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
ProtonVPN features AES-256 encryption, which is considered the gold standard of cryptography techniques. Used by both cybersecurity experts, banks, and even world militaries, AES-256 is practically unbreakable.
As far as tunneling protocols, ProtonVPN offers the following:
- OpenVPN TCP
- OpenVPN UDP
That’s quite a relatively basic range of protocol options, but all the relevant corners are covered by ProtonVPN’s additional security features. All in all, OpenVPN is the best for securing your day-to-day connection, while IKEv2/IPsec will get you over any VPN-blocking firewall an authoritarian government might throw your way.
ProtonVPN offers an effective kill switch. If your VPN connection drops for some reason – the program will stop all traffic and prevent your IP from leaking.
I tested the ProtonVPN kill switch on their Windows app and the results didn’t disappoint – it worked reliably whenever I disconnected ProtonVPN.
No IP or DNS leaks
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 my 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, I can reliably say that ProtonVPN is a leak-free VPN service.
Privacy-friendly location: Switzerland
ProtonVPN is based in privacy-friendly Switzerland. Apart from being strict on privacy in general, Switzerland has no data retention laws and is not part of the Fourteen Eyes alliance. This means that jurisdiction-wise, ProtonVPN is based in one of the best countries on the planet.
No activity logs
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.
Open-source and audited
At the beginning of 2020, ProtonVPN announced that their apps are now open-source and audited. It was an anticipated step, given the fact that the company is well known for its dedication to providing a safe and secure browsing experience.
At the same time, ProtonVPN decided to focus more on third-party audits. Hence, ProtonVPN signed a contract with the leading security firm SEC Consult to conduct the audits.
Other technical features
As a security-centered provider, ProtonVPN has several advanced and proprietary security features that most average VPN services don’t offer.
- 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.
- Tor over VPN – combine the anonymity given by the Tor network and a VPN.
These are great features that make ProtonVPN very safe to use, not to mention the fact that some offer several really cool options.
To learn more about ProtonVPN’s safety, check out our dedicated article Is ProtonVPN safe?
Speed: is ProtonVPN fast?
I did my ProtonVPN speed test from Europe, with a 134 Mbps baseline download speed and using Speedtest.net, which was used for all the other measurements with ProtonVPN turned on.
I traveled around the world with ProtonVPN using OpenVPN protocol. I’ve chosen UDP instead of TCP to get the best possible speed.
New Jersey, United States
Download: 26 Mbps
Upload: 34 Mbps
Download: 44 Mbps
Upload: 5 Mbps
Download: 24 Mbps
Upload: 4 Mbps
ProtonVPN speeds are above-average and I’m expecting them to grow along with the number of servers, which is still way behind the top competitors. Of course, the speed is not determined by the number of servers only. With ProtonVPN being a relatively young service, I believe it will continue improving their tool and pose some serious threat to the competitors in 2020.
Does ProtonVPN support my device?
Yes, it probably does. As far as its multiplatform availability goes, ProtonVPN is available on the most popular desktop and mobile operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. There are also tutorials on installing it on AsusWRT, 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 number of devices per account depends on the pricing plan. The free version gives you just one, while the priciest Visionary plan allows for up to 10 simultaneous connections.
ProtonVPN desktop apps: Windows, macOS, and Linux
The desktop apps are an easy to navigate – they have a huge map and are not cluttered at all. Every option has useful explanations.
On the primary screen of the ProtonVPN Windows app, 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 I’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 – a 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.
Unlike with most VPN providers out there, the ProtonVPN offers a Mac client that is just as secure as the Windows app. Many VPN services strip certain security features from their macOS apps, which is not the case with ProtonVPN. Both Secure Core and Tor over VPN are present in the ProtonVPN macOS client as well.
On the other hand, the ProtonVPN Linux app is more of a command-line tool that has no GUI, unlike Windows and Mac apps. That’s fairly common across the VPN industry, with most VPN services offering GUI-less apps for Linux users.
ProtonVPN mobile apps: Android, and iOS (iPhone/iPad)
The mobile versions of ProtonVPN have a bit fewer functions and use the IKEv2 protocol. For Android, you can use OpenVPN by installing it manually. As usual, ProtonVPN 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 ProtonVPN Android app doesn’t feature a kill switch, so you’ll have to the default Android OS kill switch or download one from a third-party, which is barely an inconvenience.
You can get the ProtonVPN Android app on Google Play or via direct download as an APK package file from protonVPN.com.
The ProtonVPN iOS app is practically identical to the Android version and is available from the App Store.
Other platforms for ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN also offers setup tutorials for on AsusWRT, DD-WRT, Tomato, and Vilfo routers.
This means that with a bit of work, you can also set up your VPN on your router and protect your traffic and access geo-blocked content all with a single device license, leaving the other 9 connections (if you own a premium subscription) for protection on the go.
Netflix and other streaming services
ProtonVPN unblocks Netflix on certain US servers marked with “P,” which are available with the Plus and Visionary plans on the desktop ProtonVPN versions. According to the ProtonVPN support, however, they give no guarantees it will work all the time. That’s why I’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 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.
Does ProtonVPN support torrenting?
Yes, ProtonVPN supports torrenting on all servers.
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, Switzerland, 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.
Support: ProtonVPN email support, knowledge base, and subreddit
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.
24/7 live chat support is not available yet.
Pricing: is ProtonVPN worth your money?
ProtonVPN offers four pricing plans – Free, Basic, Plus, Visionary. The paid ones come in monthly, annual, and bi-annual variations.
You can pay for these plans by credit card, PayPal, gift cards, and Bitcoin. At the moment, cryptocurrency payments are accepted from the existing users only.
- Free. Three countries (the US, the Netherlands, Japan), one device, throttled speed, no torrenting, no Netflix
- Basic – from $3.29/month or $79 every two years. All countries, two devices, torrenting
- Plus – from $6.63/month or $159 every two years. All countries, five devices, torrenting, Netflix, Plus servers, Secure Core, Tor servers, Secure streaming
- Visionary – from $19.96/month or $479 every two years. 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 I’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.
Should you get ProtonVPN?
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!