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ProtonVPN review 2021

Aimee O'Driscoll VPN AND CYBERSECURITY EXPERT

proton square logoThe 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 2021 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.

ProtonVPN summary

ProtonVPN boasts fast speeds and is adept at unblocking restricted content, making it a strong choice for those looking to stream. It allows P2P, data is unlimited, the privacy policy is tight, and speeds are great, so this could be a solid option for torrenters. Apps are available for all major operating systems.

Security highlights include strong encryption, a kill switch for all apps except iOS, 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. ProtonVPN doesn’t work as a VPN for China. Customer support was disappointing (there’s no live chat and email is slow), especially given the relatively high price of the service.

ProtonVPN key data

OVERALL RANK:  #15 of 45 VPNs
Speed
Score: 8/10
Average Speed *: 66
Video Streaming Support: 4K, UHD video conferencing
Streaming
Score: 9/10
Netflix: Yes
Other Streaming Services: Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub
Security
Score: 9/10
Encryption Type: 256-bit AES
Kill Switch: Yes
Log Policy: No logs
Protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2
Value for Money
Score: 7/10
Lowest Monthly Cost: $6.63
Websitehttps://protonvpn.com/

ProtonVPN pros and cons

Here’s a rundown of the areas in which ProtonVPN shines and those it could improve on:

Pros:

  • Unblocks Netflix and BBC iPlayer
  • Kill switch in all apps except iOS
  • Fast speeds
  • Doesn’t keep logs
  • Allows P2P
  • Very strong security
  • Split tunneling
  • Double VPN and Tor over VPN
  • Bitcoin payment option

Cons:

  • No live chat
  • Slow email support
  • 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 speed test.

ProtonVPN doesn’t have as expansive a server network as many of its rivals. It has around 1,000 servers covering 54 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. Across all tests, the average speed was 66 Mbps. This puts it towards the higher end of the pack and is more than ample for most tasks.

Speed test results.

The test servers were located in Europe, North America, and Asia. The average speeds for each region were:

  • North America: 60 Mbps
  • Asia: 70 Mbps
  • Europe: 67 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: The Fastest VPNs of 2021

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:

  • Windows 7 and newer
  • MacOS 10.12 and later
  • iOS 11.0 and up
  • Android 5.0 and up
  • Android TV 5.0 and later
  • Linux (command-line tool for Debian-based distros)

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.

ProtonVPN apps.

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.

ProtonVPN desktop interface.

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 is a bit confusing because many providers denote torrenting servers with “P2P” or “P.” In the ProtonVPN server list, a “P” symbolizes a Plus server, which means that it’s only available in the higher tier Plus or Visionary packages. Tor servers are marked with an onion symbol. 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.

ProtonVPN mobile app.

There are a few settings options, including switching protocols, enabling NetShield, and toggling on Always-on VPN (the alternative to a kill switch in the iOS app). Overall, the app is intuitive and offers a decent amount of customization.

Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi

Yes, ProtonVPN does work with Netflix.

ProtonVPN marks specific servers with a P symbol, indicating a “Plus” server. ProtonVPN claims that Plus servers in the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, and India should work with Netflix.

I tested this out and found that Plus servers in the US, Italy, and Germany worked to unblock the corresponding Netflix library. 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 unblocked 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.

I was able to access some popular UK streaming services with a UK server. The notoriously strict BBC iPlayer worked on the first try, and ITV Hub and All 4 posed no issues.

ProtonVPN claims to be able to unblock HBO, Hotstar, F1 TV, Peacock, and HBO Max, providing tutorials for accessing each in its support documentation.

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.

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, which is considered as good as it gets. This is in conjunction with perfect forward secrecy, a SHA256 hash, and 2048-bit RSA keys.

When it comes to protocols, you have just one option in the desktop apps: OpenVPN. This is the one we recommend to users so it’s not a bad thing, although many providers are shifting to the faster and just-as-secure WireGuard protocol, so it will be interesting to see if ProtonVPN decides to make this move. Mobile apps offer the option to use IKEv2, a faster alternative.

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 by going to Settings > Advanced and toggling on VPN Kill Switch. There is no kill switch in the iOS app, but there is an Always-on VPN setting which will reestablish a VPN connection quickly and automatically, should it drop for some reason. This doesn’t replace the functionality of a kill switch, but it can be helpful.
  • 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. I tested for leaks and saw none.
  • IPv6 leak protection: This is enabled by default. Again I saw no leaks during testing.

ProtonVPN leak tests.

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.

ProtonVPN Swiss-based information.

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.

Delving deeper into the ProtonVPN privacy policy, I found that the service keeps no traffic logs and records very minimal metadata in the form of a timestamp of the last login attempt. This is overwritten with each successful attempt and is not tied to a real user IP address.

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.

ProtonVPN review support test.

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.

So I didn’t have high hopes for a quick turnaround. Indeed, it took three and half days for a response to arrive.

Overall, the customer support is disappointing, especially when you consider the price of the service, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

ProtonVPN pricing

ProtonVPN has four pricing tiers: Free, Basic, Plus, and Visionary. The pricing page itself is a bit confusing as you have to use a toggle in the upper right-hand corner to switch between monthly and annual pricing.

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 next tier is Basic, which gives you access to all servers, allows you to connect two devices simultaneously, offers faster speeds, allows P2P, and includes the NetShield adblocker.

This plan costs $5 per month, $4 per month for an annual plan, and $3.29 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.

ProtonVPN annual pricing.
ProtonVPN annual pricing.

The Plus plan is the one that is most comparable to the premium plans we usually test in reviews, and indeed is the one I’ve been trying out. This will set you back $10 per month on a monthly plan, $8 per month if you pay for a full year up front, or $6.63 per month on a two-year plan. With the Plus package, in addition to the Basic plan offerings, you have the ability to connect up to five devices simultaneously, and access to streaming, Tor, and Secure Core servers.

There is one more tier above this, dubbed Visionary. On top of the Plus features, you can connect an additional five devices at one time—so 10 in total—and have a ProtonMail Visionary account included. This is a lot more expensive at $30 per month on a month-to-month basis, $24 per month on an annual term, and $19.96 per month if you pay for two years up front. Note that a ProtonMail Visionary account is the same price and includes the VPN.

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.

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Do I recommend ProtonVPN?

ProtonVPN has a lot to offer. As far as streaming goes, speeds are great and unblocking Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer was straightforward. Some Netflix libraries proved an issue, so it really depends on what you’re looking to stream. With P2P allowed on many servers, a tight privacy policy, and unlimited bandwidth, torrenters will be happy. And the service was fast and reliable, so fine for general browsing.

As for downsides, customer support is pretty slow, which will be a turnoff for beginners who might need help getting started. It doesn’t work in China. Lastly, the service isn’t cheap, so you might want to look for a better deal elsewhere.

ProtonVPN alternatives

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.

ProtonVPNNordVPNSurfshark
Average speed *66 Mbps115 Mbps71 Mbps
Encryption Type256-bit AES256-bit AES256-bit AES
Kill Switch
Allows Torrenting
Records Identifying Logs
Unblocks Netflix US
Unblocks Amazon Prime
Unblocks Hulu
Unblocks BBC iPlayer
Lowest monthly cost$6.63 per month$4.13 per month$2.49 per month
Money-back guarantee30 days30 days30 days
24/7 live chat
Overall Rating44.54.5