ProtonVPN is mostly driven towards making its users safe and completely anonymous online. In fact, the company provides a handful of features just for that purpose but equally important is how it also operates under a very transparent policy, clearly demonstrating what its target audience is. On top of built-in TOR support, the highest level of encryption and many other features, the service also provides a number of completely optional tools, while certain others can be customized according to individual taste.
ProtonVPN is headquartered in Switzerland, a country with some of the strongest privacy laws in the world, unaffected by the regulations of both North America and the European Union. Nonetheless, these laws cannot protect the servers available in other countries from being monitored by skillful attackers looking to compromise the traffic the service handles. To fight this potential threat, ProtonVPN employs a Secure Core architecture, which essentially passes user traffic through multiple servers instead of directly sending it to its final destination. This means that even if a server is being monitored, the attacker is only capable of following the intercepted traffic back to the edge of the Secure Core network.
In the client itself, this is done by routing the traffic through a second server. As such it will look like connecting to Germany via Iceland, for instance, and while there’s only a single option on most countries, others – such as the U.S. – have multiple alternatives.
Customizable Connection Profiles
On the left-hand side of the desktop client there’s an interesting tab called Profiles that is where every user can get creative and customize their connections. It’s a pretty basic tool but it is definitely good for making everything easier and faster the next time the software is opened. To start off, it’s possible to opt right away for two preset profiles called “Fastest” and “Random” that will connect to the servers corresponding to their designations, but it’s when creating a custom profile that everything gets better.
ProtonVPN allows for choosing which type of server you want – Standard, Secure Core, P2P, or TOR – and from that moment on the VPN is yours to build. Depending on your choice, other options become available to control such as which protocol, country, and server to attribute to this connection. Obviously, P2P and TOR servers are much more limited than Secure Core and Standard ones, but once new locations are added over time this characteristic will become even more interesting. Once a profile is created it will be placed in the Profiles tab alongside Fastest and Random.
ProtonVPN is not exactly an industry veteran so it could be expected that it would have a VPN network incomparable to its competitors. However, the company surprised us with over 260 servers in 23 countries, even ensuring worldwide coverage with the exception of the South American continent. P2P is also supported on the indicated servers and while Europe has the most diversity, it’s still possible to connect to South Africa, too, as well as some Asian locations such as Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, or Japan.
Several tests were run on ProtonVPN’s servers from Europe and it was not a surprise to see that the closest locations produced the best results. Still, it’s easy to obtain fast connections to other countries with good quality internet infrastructure, even if they are geographically distant and can suffer from high ping levels. To explain, a few tests were run on different servers in the U.S. and Canada and despite the 200+ ping there wasn’t a notable difference between these speeds and the European ones, which also proves ProtonVPN’s consistency. The same cannot be said about South Korea, though, which is where the VPN understandably struggled the most and showed weaker results.
For all those wondering about ProtonVPN’s performance when using Secure Core, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the speed was not affected in the slightest. Since traffic is essentially routing through at least one more server, it would be expected to see some speed loss but our tests proved this train of thought to be wrong. This is yet more proof that ProtonVPN does practice what it preaches, just like its DNS leak prevention. This works like a charm and – unlike some other VPN companies that also deliver this tool – does exactly what it’s supposed to.
The protection and privacy of its users is where ProtonVPN shines the brightest. Since there is no legal expectation to log user data in Switzerland, the company clearly states that it doesn’t collect or store such information. In addition, all connections are fully protected by the high standard of AES-256 encryption with a 2048-bit key exchange and the SHA256 cypher for message authentication.
When it comes to VPN protocols, ProtonVPN prefer to play it safe and only offers those whose security and reliability have already been proven, hence why the choice is limited to OpenVPN either on UDP or TCP. On the one hand, it’s too bad that people that would like to prioritize speed can’t soften things up a bit in this department, but don’t forget that this is not ProtonVPN’s purpose after all, so it would be unfair to criticize this decision too harshly. On top of this there are several extra tools for increased security such as a kill switch, the previously mentioned DNS leak prevention, and built-in support for TOR.
On a curious note, ProtonVPN’s security is taken into consideration not only on a digital level but on a physical one as well, since its data centers in Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden are placed in former military underground facilities.
OS, Device Support
ProtonVPN is for everyone, and so it’s important that it also manages to reach everyone. The company does this by making its desktop client fully compatible with computers running Windows 7+ and macOS 10.12 and above, while Linux fans can also install it on their systems via OpenVPN. Mobile customers aren’t left out either as there are apps for Android devices running at least version 4.4.2. In the case of iOS things are a little more complicated as this is still in development, so people using this platform will first need to download the open source VPN application ‘OpenVPN Connect’ and then head over to ProtonVPN’s official website to download the iOS configuration files.
Though device support reaches most VPN seekers, it’s still far from the offerings of the biggest competitors. This is expected to improve in the future with the addition of router configurations, support for Windows Phones or other mobile devices, and even extensions and add-ons for different browsers. The good news is that the maximum number of simultaneous connections is a generous ten, though this is only when opting for the most complete plan available.
The cost of a service makes or breaks a potential customer’s purchasing decision and ProtonVPN surely knows that well, offering different plans for different users. First off, all subscriptions last for the same fixed period, so there’s no choosing intermediary lengths. In fact, the only choices are monthly or annual, which works both in the benefit and to the detriment of the company.
To explain, the cheapest plan is Basic and costs $5 per month, while Plus costs twice as much and Visionary sets the bar at $30. This doesn’t seem too bad, but the choice of plan also dictates just how deep you’ll be able to dive into the service. Obviously Visionary is the most complete option since it also includes ProtonMail and allows for ten simultaneous devices with one account. However, if you don’t require the secure email service and only five simultaneous connections are enough, then the best offer is actually Plus since it is also much cheaper.
This structure also applies when paying for annual subscriptions, which allows for some discounts. The Basic plan costs a total of $48 per year but it’s not really a worthwhile option to consider since it only allows for two devices and doesn’t include Secure Core and many other features. In turn, Visionary is way too expensive at $288 per year – though it does at least offer up the best discount, saving $72 when compared to individual monthly payments. This means that the best choice is Plus at $96 per year, which translates to a monthly $8.
The good news is that there are many ways to enjoy the service for free. All accounts are given a seven-day free trial with the benefits of the Plus plan and at the end of that week users can either remain with a forever free account – which is limited to three countries, one device and slow speeds – or upgrade to any of the above. Those that opt for the latter can pay with credit cards or PayPal and are even awarded with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If any question arises, then there are plenty of ways to contact support. The preferred method would be to submit a ticket to ProtonVPN email but on some occasions it’s also possible to access a live chat window directly on the official website. The FAQ page won’t be of much help in case of technical difficulties since it provides answers mainly for more basic questions. Replying to any of these questions will often result in some helpful feedback from the company, though.
Following ProtonVPN’s social media pages on Facebook and Twitter is a good way to keep up to date with the most relevant articles and news about the online world, and these can be read on the company’s blog as well.
ProtonVPN doesn’t want to be just another VPN. It wants to be different and it’s not afraid to make hard decisions that many wouldn’t even dare consider just to pursue and accomplish its main goal of being the strongest VPN. It would be easy to provide all the protocols including those that would make its users more vulnerable for a faster connection match the numbers of its competition, or to offer a DNS leak protection feature that isn’t 100% secure like so many others do. But with ProtonVPN everything is 100% trustworthy and its customers can feel safe in the hands of a service such as this. This is a young VPN with a bright future ahead, but still needs a couple of tweaks here and there to make it truly shine.
Better device support is expected over time and despite already being a good service, the price is just a little exaggerated, especially considering the fact that some high-end competitors charge less with access to more servers and countries and an equally great level of security. Likewise, intermediary plans for three or six months perhaps even without cutting too many of the features would be good additions, too. But then again, this is a VPN that wants to be different and it’s certainly on the right track.
- Modern, attractive and easy to use
- Secure Core and customizable profiles
- Trustworthy security features
- Good, consistent speeds
- P2P and TOR supported
- No DNS leaks
- Pricing is a bit exaggerated
- Limited device support