The name Proton might ring a bell, and if you’ve ever come across ProtonMail, you’d be right in thinking there’s a connection here. The provider of the popular email platform has also been running this VPN service for several years. It promises to deliver a variety of features including super-strong security and fast speeds.
This service doesn’t exactly come cheap, so there’s no doubt that many potential users will be wondering if it’s worth the money. I’ve been trying out ProtonVPN on your behalf to see what it really has to offer.
In my 2023 ProtonVPN review, I thoroughly tested the desktop and mobile apps to discover the answers to the following key questions:
- Is ProtonVPN fast?
- Can it access Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, and other geo-restricted streaming platforms?
- Does ProtonVPN offer a secure and private service?
- Can I use ProtonVPN in China?
Read on to find out the answers to these and many more questions.
I’ve been using ProtonVPN to browse, stream, download, access public wifi, and play online games. You can view a quick summary of my experience below, but reading the full article will give you a better idea of what to expect from this VPN.
You can also read more on the criteria I used to test ProtonVPN and our broader VPN testing methodology here.
Security highlights include strong encryption, a kill switch for all apps, and DNS and IPv6 leak protection. Additional features, which we’ll explain in more detail below, include Secure Core (double VPN), split tunneling, and the option to use Tor over VPN. And while there’s no live chat on offer, the support I recieved by email was great. Still, ProtonVPN doesn’t work as a VPN for China and its prices are relatively high.
ProtonVPN key data
|OVERALL RANK: #10 of 76 VPNs|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K, UHD video conferencing|
|Other Streaming Services:||Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, All4, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES|
|Log Policy:||No logs|
|Protocols:||OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$4.99|
ProtonVPN pros and cons
Here’s a rundown of the areas in which ProtonVPN shines and those it could improve on:
- Unblocks Netflix and BBC iPlayer
- Kill switch in all apps
- Fast speeds
- Doesn’t keep logs
- Allows P2P
- Very strong security
- Split tunneling
- Fast email support
- Double VPN and Tor over VPN
- Bitcoin payment option
- No live chat
- Relatively small server selection
- Pretty pricey compared to competitors
- Doesn’t work in China
Speed: Is ProtonVPN fast?
ProtonVPN fared well in our latest speed tests. I used HD video conferencing and streamed 4K video with no issues while connected to the VPN. I also played online games with no interruptions when connected to various test servers.
ProtonVPN doesn’t have as expansive a server network as many of its rivals. It has around 1,772 servers covering 63 countries. This might sound like a lot, but when you compare the numbers to those of competitors like NordVPN (which has more than 5,000 servers) and ExpressVPN (which covers 94 countries), you realize the network is relatively small.
I tested three ProtonVPN server locations at various times during the day – and it was fast. Across all tests, the average speed was 243 Mbps. This puts it towards the higher end of the pack and is more than ample for most tasks.
The test servers were located in Europe, North America, and Asia. The average speeds for each region were:
- North America: 304 Mbps
- Asia: 182 Mbps
- Europe: 243 Mbps
Speeds were fairly consistent across times and regions, which means that once you get started, you’ll generally know what to expect.
I should note that these results can only serve as an approximate indicator of what you might actually experience when using the service. The volatility of the internet adds a factor of randomness, and the tests only provide a few brief snapshots. Depending on your connection, you may see smaller or larger discrepancies.
See also: Fastest VPNs
Apps: What devices work with ProtonVPN
Depending on which plan you opt for, you can connect up to 10 devices at a given time, although prices are steep for the larger allowances (more on that below). So which devices can you use ProtonVPN on? This provider has apps for the following:
ProtonVPN can be manually configured with certain routers. This enables you to protect all of the devices on your home network and router only counts as one device.
Apps are straightforward to use and come with plenty of options to satisfy advanced users. In its desktop clients, ProtonVPN has taken the approach of a wide app interface versus the mobile-esque design many providers use. While it doesn’t look as neat, it means that you have a lot of information in one place. Here you can see the server list along with a server map, as well as session information, such as your current visible IP address and session duration.
Note that to connect to a server, you have to choose from the dropdown list, as the map appears to be there only for display purposes. You can expand each country in the dropdown list to see a full list of server options.
For each server, the load is shown by a partially-filled circle. Torrenting servers are denoted by an icon displaying two opposite arrows. This can be a bit confusing because many providers denote torrenting servers with “P2P” or “P.” Tor servers are marked with an onion symbol. Streaming servers are marked with a triangle (Play button). Finally, if you see a wrench in place of the city name indicates a server is under maintenance.
Some standout features of the app include:
- Profiles: This feature enables you to create custom “connection profiles” that can then be easily accessed from the main screen. When you create the profile, you can choose the type of server, a protocol, a server country, and a specific server. You can name and assign a color to each profile for ease of recognition. Once your profile is created, it will appear in the Profiles tab in the main screen (behind the Countries tab). This feature is handy if you tend to use different settings for various scenarios. For example, you might select a faster protocol and a US server for streaming US Netflix.
- Startup options: You can choose to start the VPN automatically and select which profile you want to use on startup.
- Split tunneling: This enables you to divert select traffic through the VPN. For example, you may want to use a VPN for downloading while maintaining your regular connection for streaming local content. This feature is available on the ProtonVPN Windows and Android apps.
Other features—which I cover in the security section below—include a kill switch, DNS leak protection, NetShield (an ad and malware blocker), and Secure Core (double VPN servers).
ProtonVPN’s mobile app is very similar in aesthetic to the desktop version, the main difference being you have to switch screens to view a server map. You can add profiles and use the double VPN feature.
There are a few settings options, including switching protocols, enabling NetShield, and toggling on Always-on VPN and the kill switch. Overall, the app is intuitive and offers a decent amount of customization.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Yes, ProtonVPN does work with Netflix.
ProtonVPN marks its dedicated streaming servers with marked with a triangle (Play button). ProtonVPN claims that its streaming servers in the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, and India should work with Netflix.
I tested this out and found that its streaming servers in the US, Italy, and Germany worked with their corresponding Netflix libraries. For the UK, the first server I tried didn’t work, but the second one did, so you may have to try a couple of servers to find one that works. I tried three India servers but none worked with Netflix India. I tested servers in a few other random countries and had luck with Australia, Canada, and France. Netflix Japan didn’t work with the servers I tested.
So what about other streaming services? I tried Disney+ but wasn’t able to unblock it, even with the successful Netflix servers. However, Amazon Prime Video US worked seamlessly.
ProtonVPN claims to be able to work with HBO Max, Hotstar, F1 TV, and Peacock, providing tutorials for accessing each in its support documentation.
Check out our recommended VPNs for streaming.
Does ProtonVPN allow torrenting?
Yes, ProtonVPN allows torrenting.
This provider doesn’t impose any data limits and allows P2P on many of its servers (look for the two opposite arrows). It keeps no logs of user data so your information remains private.
A kill switch and leak protection keep your information securely inside the VPN tunnel. A split tunneling option lets you choose which traffic goes through the VPN. For example, you could divert torrent traffic through a VPN server and stream using your regular connection.
Have a look at our recommended VPNs for torrenting.
Security, privacy, and logging
The area of security and privacy is definitely ProtonVPN’s forte and is a subject of focus in its marketing materials. ProtonVPN offers a strong suite of security features, including 256-bit AES encryption, for OpenVPN and IKEv2, which is considered as good as it gets. This is in conjunction with perfect forward secrecy, a SHA384 hash, and 4096-bit RSA keys.
WireGuard uses ChaCha20 for symmetric encryption, authenticated with Poly1305, using RFC7539’s AEAD construction. Apologies for the techno-jargon, but WireGuard uses very modern cryptography.
When it comes to protocols, the Windows app supports OpenVPN and WireGuard, while the macOS app supports the latter and IKEv2 – as do the mobile apps. The Linux app only supports OpenVPN.
ProtonVPN apps come with the following features:
- Secure Core: This feature sends your traffic through two VPN servers. ProtonVPN goes to great lengths in order to protect these servers. The Swiss ones are located in a former Swiss army fallout shelter, 1,000m underground; the Iceland ones reside in a secure former military base; and the Sweden Secure Core servers are in an underground datacenter.
- NetShield: This is a new feature that blocks ads, malware, and trackers.
- Custom DNS servers: ProtonVPN uses its own private DNS servers, which is a plus for the privacy-conscious. This means that Google (or another third-party DNS provider) can’t snoop on traffic requests. However, you can also choose to switch to different private DNS servers if you wish.
- Tor over VPN: Use a Tor over VPN server to connect to the Tor network and add another layer of anonymity.
- Kill switch: This will block your internet connection should you lose your VPN connection for some reason. Note that this is disabled by default and can be enabled in the desktop apps by clicking on the light switch icon. On mobile, the kill switch can be enabled by accessing the Settings page.
- DNS leak protection: This helps ensure your information stays safely inside the encrypted tunnel. It is also disabled by default and can be toggled on in the Advanced tab.
- IPv6 leak protection: This is enabled by default.
As far as IP address and DNS leaks, my tests returned none at all:
IP Test – Without VPN
IP Test – With VPN
DNS Test – Without VPN
DNS Test – With VPN
This provider is based in Switzerland, a country with some of the world’s strongest privacy laws. ProtonVPN’s creator, Proton Technologies AG, can also hang its hat on its reputation as a secure email provider, having offered the popular ProtonMail since 2014.
As stated on the ProtonVPN website:
Under Swiss law, we are not obligated to save any user connection logs, nor can we be forced to perform targeted logging on specific users. This allows us to ensure that your private browsing history does in fact stay private and cannot be turned over to a third party under any circumstances.
Does ProtonVPN work in China?
No, you probably won’t have much luck using ProtonVPN in China.
The provider used to strive to provide access to users in the country but according to concerns voiced by members of ProtonVPN subreddits, it was never particularly reliable.
ProtonVPN appeared to give up on the China front in 2019 releasing a blog post stating:
As of Sept. 18, 2019, the Chinese government is blocking access to ProtonVPN as part of a larger crackdown on Internet freedom.
Many providers have found it difficult to circumvent these restrictions, although there are still a number of VPNs that work in China.
Is ProtonVPN customer service any good?
For help with setup, troubleshooting, and more, ProtonVPN provides some general guides, tutorials, and FAQs in its website support page. There isn’t a ton there, but it’s probably sufficient to help you with most common issues.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, unfortunately, there’s no live chat feature, so you’ll have to use the contact form. When I tried this, a popup told me I could expect an answer in 1–2 days, which isn’t ideal if you have a pressing issue.
The automatic email response I received stated:
Please note that due to the heavy load of tickets, we might not be able to reply to your inquiry within the next 24 hours.
Despite the pop-up, I got a very quick turnaround. Indeed, it took only a few hours for a response to arrive. And it was professional, courteous, and answered my question.
In the past, ProtonVPN was somewhat criticized for its long response times, especially given the prices it charges. It seems Proton has acted upon its feedback and improved its Support. Good stuff.
ProtonVPN has simplified its pricing structure as far as its VPN offering is concerned. Because ProtonVPN also provides its encrypted email service (ProtonMail), it used to provide subscriptions that included email accounts for its higher tiers. It’s now more inline with the commercial VPN industry by providing a monthly, yearly, and bi-yearly subscriptions. Its paid subscriptions are called “Plus”.
It also provides a free options. But clearly, the company isn’t looking to sell users on the free option, which offers just three locations (Japan, Netherlands, and the US), one device, and “medium” speeds. The free plan doesn’t include the ads/malware blocker, Tor over VPN, streaming, or torrenting support. It also only allows for a single connection at a time
The Plus plans cost either $9.99 per month, $5.99 per month for an annual plan, and $4.99 per month for a two-year term. This price is similar to that of many top-rated providers’ far superior plans, so you can already see that this service is on the more expensive side.
The Plus plans allow up to 10 simultaneous connections. Payment can be submitted using a major card or via PayPal. In keeping with ProtonVPN’s dedication to security, privacy, and anonymity, there is also an option to pay via bitcoin, which will be good news for more privacy-conscious users.
All plans come with a generous 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can always take the service for a test run and get your payment refunded if unsatisfied.
Do I recommend ProtonVPN?
As for downsides, it doesn’t work in China. And the service isn’t cheap, so you might want to look for a better deal elsewhere.
If you’re not thrilled about what ProtonVPN has to offer, you may want to consider some alternatives. NordVPN is a great option that comes with a much lower price tag. It boasts excellent security and privacy, great unblocking abilities, and reliable 24/7 live chat support. Plus it works in China. Each paid subscription allows for up to six simultaneous connections.
Need a higher device limit? Surfshark is another solid alternative that’s easy on the wallet and allows an unlimited number of connections. It’s known for its unblocking abilities and suite of security features, and is another VPN that can bypass the Great Firewall of China.
How does ProtonVPN compare to other popular VPNs?
Before making a choice, comparing VPNs side-by-side can be helpful. The table below shows how ProtonVPN stacks up against two of our top recommended providers: NordVPN and Surfshark. If you’re interested learning more about those, two VPNs, you can check out our thorough comparison.
|Website||protonvpn.com||NordVPN.com||Surfshark.com||Average Speed (Mbps)||320 Mbps||196 Mbps||189 Mbps||OpenVPN data encryption||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||Kill Switch||Allows Torrenting||Connection logs||Effectively none||Unblocks Netflix US||Unblocks Prime Video||Unblocks Hulu||Unblocks BBC iPlayer||Lowest monthly cost||$4.99||$2.99||$2.21||Money back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days||24/7 live chat||Paid plans only||Overall rating||7||9.7||9.6|
|Best deal (per month)||$4.99|
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Methodology used for testing
Below you’ll find the criteria used to assess the VPNs we review. It’s critical to be consistent across the board so that our reviews are as objective as possible and that we’re not comparing apples to oranges. For that reason, we want to publicize our criteria.
- Speed – Speed will always be one of the most crucial factors for any VPN. Aside from being annoying, slow speeds can prevent you from streaming or even browsing the web. All of our recommended VPNs scored very high in our most recent speed tests to ensure we address this issue.
- Apps & ease of use – VPNs have gone mainstream. More and more people are using VPNs today for more varied reasons than ever. So app design and ease of use are more critical than ever. We look at the client apps’ UI, features, supported operating systems, and complexity.
- Streaming services – It isn’t always easy to access streaming sites over a VPN. But many VPN providers claim to work on streaming sites – with varying degrees of success. Before recommending a VPN provider for streaming, we test VPNs against various popular streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, etc.
- Torrenting – File-sharers make up a large portion of VPN users. But not every VPN provider allows torrenting over its network, while others go as far as providing dedicated P2P servers. We look at each VPN’s policy around torrenting and run tests on those to see how well they handle file-sharing.
The above represents a high-level view of our methodology. If you’d like more details, take a look at our full VPN testing methodology. This data-driven approach helps us better understand the services to recommend the right VPN to the right users.