ProtonVPN Review

June 20, 2018

9:13 am

Rating

74%

Ease of use:
Features:
Privacy:
Speed:
Help & Support:
Value for Money:

Pros
  • Impressive interface
  • Powerful features
  • Lots of hands-on control
Cons
  • Premium plans are expensive
  • Can be intimidating
  • Average speeds overall

A decent option for expert users

Developed by a team of ex-CERN scientists and engineers, ProtonVPN is a VPN focused on security and civil liberties, much like Proton’s original encrypted email product, ProtonMail. Like all VPNs, ProtonVPN sets up an encrypted private network link between your PC and a VPN server, which then connects to the wider Internet. This secures the data as it travels between your PC and the Internet, but also disguises your identity and your location. You can use public WiFi networks with confidence, while knowing that snoopers can’t snoop in on your online activities – at least not without some major effort.

What’s more, ProtonVPN makes it look like you’re connecting from Switzerland, the Netherlands or whatever location you choose. This gets particularly useful when you want to dodge Internet censorship in a country where some websites are blocked, or you want to watch programs on a catch-up TV service that’s usually locked to a specific region, like the BBC’s iPlayer service.

Why use ProtonVPN?

Like ProtonMail, it’s designed to protect your privacy and your civil liberties from intrusive governments and corporations. It’s based in Switzerland, where there are strong privacy laws, and the company has a strict no-logging policy.

ProtonVPN also uses extra-strong encryption and can work hand-in-hand with the anonymous TOR network to add an extra layer of privacy.

Best of all, you can use a limited version of ProtonVPN for free.

Getting Started with ProtonVPN

There’s no hard work involved in signing up for the service – just enter a unique username, a password, an email address and a payment method, and all you need to do is choose between the three tiers of paid-for plans. If you only want the free version you don’t need to enter any payment information. Once signed up, the confirmation email has a button which takes you to a page where you can download the Windows app.

That app is certainly distinctive, with an interface that looks like something you might see in a military situation room in a high-tech thriller than something that operates a VPN. Small green triangles on a map show the different server locations, while lines trace their way to the server when you launch a VPN. You can select locations easily from a list on the left-hand-side.

ProtonVPN remote server connectionProtonVPN: The Good

 

ProtonVPN puts load of information at your fingertips, so it’s a good tool for the technically minded.

Useful Stats Displayed

The app is full of nice touches, like a real-time readout of current download and upload speeds and a bandwidth graph at the bottom of the map.

Hover over a location in the list and a green Connect button appears, meaning a new location is only ever a single click away – it even connects through without asking you to manually disconnect.

Advanced Features

Proton VPN also has some great advanced features. You can create profiles for different online activities and set which protocol, server type and location you want to use for them. There’s a killswitch to halt connections should your VPN link fail, plus options to start the app and launch a VPN as soon as Windows starts up.

PureVPN Secure Core

Pay up for the Plus or Visionary plans and you get an even larger choice of servers plus a Secure Core option, which gives you extra protection from snoopers by routing your Internet traffic through a secure network.

No Leaks

Even on the basic plan, privacy protection is extremely good, with not a sign of any identifying DNS or IP leaks.

Proton VPN Settings menuProtonVPN: The Not-So-Good

 

We’d draw attention to a few key downsides with ProtonVPN.

Paid-For Distinctions

It’s a little frustrating that the first tier of paid-for plans doesn’t unlock the full range of servers or the Secure Core feature. Since plenty of VPN services have only a free or a paid-for option, it may feel a little sore for some that you’d need to pay for a higher tier of service to get at all the servers and features.

Not the Simplest VPN

This isn’t the VPN to go for if you want something simple and easy-to-use. We think ProtonVPN is excellent for confident users, who will no doubt enjoy the rich features. VPN first timers may prefer something a little less detailed, however. A service such as PureVPN may be preferable for beginners, thanks to its easily labelled modes for usage scenarios.

Netflix Detection

There’s a downside if you’re planning to stream Netflix over a VPN – the old “proxy detected” message rears its ugly head, as Netflix detected we had a VPN in use. Some services do a better job than others at outfoxing Netflix, so see our guide to the best VPNs for accessing Netflix.

Mixed Speeds

There’s good and bad news on the performance front. On the bad side, ProtonVPN isn’t very fast over short-distance VPN links.

To make up, though, it doesn’t lose much more speed when connecting at longer distance on, for instance, a US-UK VPN. This tend to be the greater challenge for VPNs, so it’s impressive to see ProtonVPN doing so well at long distances.

ProtonVPN prices

Splash out on the premium plans and you have a choice of Basic at $5 a month or £48 a year, Plus at $10 a month or $96 a year or Visionary – which includes ProtonMail Visionary – at $40 a month or $288 a year.

Basic is the best value, particularly if you’re paying monthly where the price is lower than many VPNs. However, to get the more advanced features you’ll need to find the extra cash for Plus.

The Verdict

ProtonVPN is a decent option for expert users, with some powerful features and a lot of control. Less expert users might find it too complex and, perhaps, overkill for their needs. The biggest problem, however, is that it’s expensive beyond the Basic tier. Some might say you can’t put a price on privacy, but we say you could get it for a whole lot less.  

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Stuart Andrews has been writing about IT and consumer technology for over twenty years, working across many of the UK's biggest specialist titles. While specializing in PCs and related technology, software and cloud-based services, he also writes about IT in education, video games and internet security

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