ProtonVPN Review

Andrey Doichev

Andrey Doichev · Read user reviews

In this review, I’ll test out their service and see how it performs vs. other free VPN providers. In short, it’s not that bad at all.

If you’re anything like me, then the mere thought of a VPN (ProtonVPN) that is powered by CERN Scientists and PhDs from the Harvard Physics department is enough to make you scream,

“Shut up and take my money!”

And when you consider that the scientists and PhDs in question are also responsible for ProtonMail, the world’s largest encrypted email network…

Well, ProtonVPN sounds like it might be the best thing since sliced bread.

But does Proton’s VPN service live up to the company’s stellar reputation?

Over the past few months, I’ve been comprehensively testing every aspect of Proton’s VPN service from their protocols, encryption standards, speed, security, pricing, and more.

In this short review, I’m going to give you a detailed breakdown of Proton’s services to help you determine whether or not they are worth your hard-earned money.  

ProtonVPN review

Who is the Company Behind ProtonVPN?

During my tenure as a full-time VPN enthusiast, I have reviewed dozens upon dozens of different services.

Some of them were superb, some of them were atrocious, but none of them was run by such an impressive team of privacy entrepreneurs as the team behind ProtonVPN.

The Proton Group (think The Avengers of the VPN world) was founded by Dr. Andy Yen PhD., a Harvard Alumnus and CERN Researcher who has been a staunch supporter of online privacy for more than a decade.

The Swiss-based group’s first project, ProtonMail, was an explosive success that has been lauded as the most secure and innovative email service in existence.

With this success cementing their reputation, Team Proton’s announcement that they were launching “The best VPN service ever created.”, sent the online privacy world into hysterical excitement.

An unfortunately short-lived excitement.

Although there are many issues with their service, true to their nature, Team Proton created three exciting and disruptive VPN features that I want to touch on before I get to the meat of this review.

These features certainly don’t excuse the lackadaisical performance of their VPN, but they do make it much more palatable.

Secure Core Architecture

ProtonVPN is coded with proprietary Secure Core Architecture that prevents surveillance from government agencies and hackers on the off chance that they infiltrate the VPN provider.

This technology works by routing your traffic through multiple servers before sending it out of Proton’s network.

In the (unlikely) event that Proton’s servers were hacked, this technology ensures that no one has the ability to track your activities or location.

Unlimited Free Usage

Upholding their reputation for exceptional generosity, ProtonVPN, like ProtonMail, is completely free to use and access.

In an industry that is filled with “Free Plans” that throttle your connection, legally steal your information, and limit your server time, it’s refreshing to see a company offering truly unlimited usage.

Total Transparency

Online privacy has always been a murky and deceptive industry.

Even the biggest and most powerful brands are shrouded in secrecy to the point where it’s almost impossible to find any CEO or Founder who really stands behind their services.

Proton decided to flip this script on its head and provide their users with total transparency.

From Andy Yen’s Ted talk on email privacy to Team Proton’s Reddit involvement to their simple and pure About Us page, Proton’s actions fill me with hope for a brighter VPN future.

Now that you understand what sets Proton apart from their competition, let’s get down to the gritty details so that you can decide if they are right for you.

Pricing & Plans (They’ve FREE plan, too)

ProtonVPN pricing plans
ProtonVPN’s pricing in 2018

Although ProtonVPN is an innovative and disruptive service, when you consider the sub-par performance of their VPN, I find it hard to justify the steep price tag.

As a ProtonVPN user, there are four plans for you to choose from:

(Note: Should you choose to subscribe to Proton’s annual plan, you will receive a 20% discount on the monthly subscription fee)

Free: $0/month

Proton’s free VPN, as expected, is pretty bare bones.

The service comes with only three server locations: The Netherlands, USA, and Japan, no extra features, and slow server speeds.

It should also be noted that immediately upon logging in you will receive a 7-day free trial of Proton Plus so that you can take their premium features for a spin.

Basic: $5/month (we bought this)

Proton’s basic plan is a marginal improvement over their free plan, offering customers access to all 114 countries, no features, and higher (but not uncapped) speeds.

Although Team Proton does many things well, the pricing and specifications of their basic plan left me with a very bad taste in my mouth.

I have no issue with a VPN provider limiting the connection speed of a free user. Heck, I’m not even bothered when they restrict features like maximum connections and TOR connectivity.

But what I cannot stand, and what angered me so much about Proton’s services is that they throttle and limit the connection between paying customers!

Even though the speeds in question are a significant improvement over their free plan, I was still frustrated to see the company engaging in such a low-caliber pricing tactic.

Plus: $10/month

Proton’s ‘Plus’ plan is, quite frankly, the only plan worth considering.

Unlike the ‘Basic’ plan, your speeds are not restricted in any way and you have access to the full suite of Proton’s features including TOR connectivity, Secure Core capabilities, and special “Premium” servers.

(I decided not to include their ‘Visionary’ plan in this review because it doesn’t include any additional VPN features… Just access to ProtonMail).

ProtonVPN Pros

1. Exceptional Security & Privacy Standards

As we’ve stated many times on thebestvpn.com, the two most important factors to consider when comparing VPN providers are the security and privacy of the service.

Considering the enormous reputation of ProtonMail (allegedly the most secure email provider in the world), I came into this review with very high expectations for ProtonVPN’s security standards.

And I was not disappointed.

ProtonVPN comes equipped with the super secure AES-256 encryption with 2048-bit RSA and an HMAC SHA256.

For those of you who are less versed in technical jargon, this is the same encryption standard used by most government organizations and, as of this writing, has never been broken.

When you consider the proprietary secure core architecture that is included in a ‘Plus’ subscription, you will quickly realize that ProtonVPN is one of the most (if not the most) secure VPN in existence.

2. They are Located in Switzerland (a Fantastic VPN Jurisdiction)

Although many of my favorite VPNs are based in the “Land of Intrusion” itself, the USA, Proton takes the privacy of their customers seriously.

This is why they are headquartered in the country with the world’s strongest privacy laws – Switzerland.

Residing firmly outside of the grasp of both the U.S. and E.U., Team Proton is under no obligation (legal or otherwise) to divulge sensitive information to the authorities of other countries.

Oh, and if that doesn’t help you sleep better at night, it’s also worth mentioning that their secure core server is located in a former military base… Underground.

So unless your arch-enemy happens to be The Underminer, you can rest easy knowing that no one is getting your personal information anytime soon.

3. Strict No Logging Policy

As we’ve read more than 118 logging policies on different VPNs, we’ve seen that roughly 7% logs your connections logs and more than 30% of VPNs have suspicious (not straightforward) logging policy.

Luckily, ProtonVPN has a reputation of absolute integrity and a strict “0 Logging Policy” that ensures your personal information will always stay ‘personal’.

ProtonVPN Cons

1. Server Speeds are too Slow for the Price  

One of the greatest surprises (and disappointments) that I experienced while using ProtonVPN was the lackluster speeds offered by their servers (Paid and Free).

As is the tradition on this site, I completely ignored the biased and unreliable in-client speed diagnostics and, instead, tested out ProtonVPN’s speeds using a tool called speedtest.net.

To arrive at a reliable average speed for Proton’s plus plan, I conducted several speed tests (on the U.S., European, and Asian servers) over the six months that I used their service.

Here are the results.

U.S. Servers (East & West)

Unsurprisingly for an EU-based company, the U.S. servers were slow and unreliable with West Coast servers suffering from almost unusable download speeds.

  • Ping: 190 ms
  • Download: 24.6 Mbps
  • Upload: 36.4 Mbps

EU Servers (Switzerland)

With their servers located only miles from my office, it came at no surprise that the E.U. server speeds were almost double that of their North American counterparts.

  • Ping: 66ms
  • Download: 54.46 Mbps
  • Upload: 37.86 Mbps

Asia Servers (Hong Kong)

The speeds posted by Proton’s Asian servers are abysmally slow. So much so that I found it hard to download even the smallest files while connected to Hong Kong.

  • Ping: 317 ms
  • Download: 16 Mbps
  • Upload: 6.4 Mbps

UK Servers

  • Ping: 46ms
  • Download: 52 Mbps
  • Upload: 47 Mbps

After it’s all said and done, Proton’s servers speeds are exactly average.

Considering the impeccable performance of ProtonMail and the massive amount of build up surrounding this VPN, I expected a lot more from team Proton.

With companies like ExpressVPN, PIA, and Trust.Zone all offering massive speed boosts (at only a fraction of the price), it’s hard to justify Proton’s steep price tag with such a mediocre performance.

What About the Secure Core Servers?

The tests that I ran using Proton’s secure core servers were, to say the least, inconclusive. All As such, I have foregone giving a speed verdict on this particular feature.

2. Terrible Customer Service (Especially for Free Users)

One of the most overlooked factors to consider when reviewing a VPN is their customer service.

Most people (errantly) assume that their VPN will always work as smoothly and seamlessly as it does during the free trial so they give very little consideration to the provider’s customer support.

This is a big mistake.

Unless you happen to have an advanced degree in Network Engineering, it’s all but inevitable that you will have to contact your VPN provider’s customer support team at least once.

And when this inevitability occurs with Proton, you should expect to be waiting for a long time.

Although Proton is a brand new VPN and it’s understandable that they haven’t yet invested in a call center or live chat support team, I expected, at the very least, to be provided with a competent email support system.

Unfortunately, their system is anything but effective.

After submitting my initial support query, I was forced to wait nearly three days before being contacted by a representative.

While he was friendly enough, the issue took several hours of back and forth before it was finally resolved (it should have been taken care of in minutes).  

To make matters worse, Team Proton only provides their users with a measly 18-article knowledge base where they can seek self-directed solutions.

If Proton wants to stay in the VPN game, then they will need to make some heavy investments in their customer service department over the coming months and years.

3. Only Available for Windows Users

ProtonVPN windows app

If you use a Windows device, then you can feel free to skip this section and move on to point #4.

However, if you are running any operating system other than Windows, using ProtonVPN will require a lengthy, cumbersome, and unnecessary installation of third-party software.

Is the above particularly difficult? No, not at all.

But with so many fantastic VPNs gracing the marketplace, why would you bother with such a convoluted product that can’t even iron out basic compatibility?

4. Limited Protocols (OpenVPN Only)

Considering the plethora of advanced features and settings available to ProtonMail customers, it shocked me that ProtonVPN would limit their users exclusively to the OpenVPN protocol.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with OpenVPN (it’s actually the best all-around protocol), however, at $10, you should expect to have more control over your VPN experience.

Do I recommend ProtonVPN?

When I was growing up, my grandfather would regularly warn me that “Your mouth is writing checks your ass can’t cash”.

Apparently, ProtonVPN never got that particular memo.

They have made some bold claims about the quality of their VPN service and in every case (except with regards to security) they have utterly failed to uphold those claims.

After using ProtonMail for a number of years, I came into this review with high hopes and expectations. Sadly, none of them were met.

I will follow their progress closely and truly hope I will be forced to change my verdict, but for now – ProtonVPN simply isn’t worth it.

Browse best premium VPNs here.

Add your own ProtonVPN review

13 user reviews for ProtonVPN

Chris Wall 9/10 March 7, 2018

Decent!

I think it’s worth pointing out what seem to be some flaws in the review.

1. I’m sure the author is being hyperbolic about VPN requiring a network degree (more below)
2. Fast and secure do not always go hand in hand. Free is usually off the table for either of those.
3. It’s faster than TOR and…
4. When have a vendor I can trust, I can relax.
5. My use cases do not include torrenting files.

As with any solution you need to weigh your needs/wants and prioritize them. Personally, based on research, ProtonVPN is taking a solid ethic and doubling down on making sure they are transparent, don’t log, and are innovating **but not for innovation’s sake**.

Now, as someone who doesn’t have a networking degree (what a weird benchmark to set in a review), I can say that the documentation and support have been obscure but straightforward enough. For transparency, I had a CCNA that lapsed a decade ago, and was a UNIX engineer by trade. That said, Linux sucked until the kernel hit 2.x. The openness of the project helped adoption and robustness. I think that’s where ProtonVPN is headed as well.

Alex Sung 10/10 February 25, 2018

Best privacy vpn with average speed

I am paid protonvpn suscription for 2 years using Professional plan. After using for the past 2 months with secure core, although the speed are not impressive but I am confident with their setup after been using vpn services with PIA, Torguard, Airvpn, VPN.ac & few more vpn service providor for more than a decade.

The downside is that they restricted to port used and encryption used are not using 4096 bit RSA keys size, stating the duration of Diffie-Hellman key exchange DHE key duration & HMAC SHA256 to compensate for speed instead of maximum security.

Overall, if you are privacy paranoia then this is best vpn for you over connection speed & price.

Sully 8/10 February 21, 2018

Linux friendly, great speed/ease of use.

I’m using the free service and have had no issues. I have not experienced any serious speed issues, and have not seen any of the connectivity issues reported below. I am using linux, which is very well supported due to the openvpn protocol. It was so easy setting this up on my machine that I honestly wonder about the competency of this reviewer and of the readers whose comments below. I have not used the windows app, but openvpn is a cinch to get setup on my machine. Protonvpn gives you everything necessary to easily get everything working in minutes. The instructions are provided with absolute clarity.

I am grateful that this service exists, and while it may not be the best VPN out there, it is certainly very high up in my recommended list of VPN providers. If you want to have the worlds best speeds use something else. If you want some of the best available security minded IT engineers in the world encrypting your traffic, choose ProtonVPN.

Jonathan 2/10 January 11, 2018

Slow and steady does not win the race..

I’m a paid Protonmail user and they did offer a deal on adding VPN service at a discount because I was a subscriber. Took them up on the offer and I’ve regretted it in almost every way. It is painfully slow. As a paid user you can choose from the fastest connections but even they are way too slow. It’s a dilemma; You pay for 60Mbps internet connectivity, and suddenly it is slowed down to about 3Mbps. One could argue that is the price of being secure.

Customer Service is excellent for email related problems. Not so good assistance for VPN.

I was in the middle tier. Not the free plan but not the fastest. Perhaps it would be better if Proton offered free service and paid service rather than Tier 1 and Tier 2 plans. I couldn’t help but feel that even as a paid user I was still being throttled.

Pros: Good interface. Simple to install and use.
Cons: Slow, sometimes unusably slow. Dismissive customer service. Two levels of paid service means you had better go for the top tier; otherwise, you may find yourself crawling along, even with a high-speed connection.

John 4/10 January 8, 2018

Not as good as I expected

I purchased the basic plan (billed $48 for 12 months of service) after initially taking advantage of their free plan. Initially I was very happy, speeds (on the free plan) were not too great but I understood free was limited, and expected speeds to improve with a paid plan. Their selection of locations was very comprehensive, and they had for many locations multiple servers to choose from (some allowing p2p, some not). So after a week of testing the service out I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a subscription, to ensure that at least my computer and phone had VPN. And that’s where the problems started. While the phone app worked fine, the computer app which was working fine for the trial week started misbehaving. Basically any attempt to login would hang at “assigning IP”, meaning the VPN was not usable. I tried to use their support through the website and it was a nightmare, It took multiple days (not tries, days) to even submit a support request for my problem (keep in mind, everything was functioning fine until I paid for a subscription). The support provided was completely generic, and after a week of back and forth going through what felt like an infinite loop of repeating the same process, I gave up, cancelled my subscription and sought a different VPN provider. To be absolutely fair, the part of the service that worked for me (the iphone app) was fine, good speeds, good response times from both North American and EU servers (which is what I mostly used). But unfortunately having service for half of what I wanted was not acceptable for me.

hector lagos 9/10 January 5, 2018

great

Got the FREE subscription and I must say that I’m surprised by the quality of their software. Connection is rather good, no disco at all, no leaks, clean IPs, browsing is easy and flawless.

And most of all Proton is TRUSTABLE! I like their ethics…

Robert 1/10 December 29, 2017

Horrible Customer Service

They have the WORST customer service I have ever seen. I’ve been using the free service for the past few weeks, randomly I keep getting disconnected with a message claiming that I have been disconnected because I am using P2P when I’m NOT.

It seems to happen whenever their server starts to get busy. I don’t even use the service but for about 20 minutes a day so it’s not like I was on there all day or something.

I contacted customer service, told them THREE TIMES that I only have 1 P2P app on my computer and it IS NOT RUNNING when I am using the VPN. I know they don’t allow p2p and I am not freaking stupid.

I even gave them a screenshot of my task manager showing unequivocally there were NO P2P applications running ON THE SAME SCREEN with the error message and they sent me back the same canned message claiming I have p2p running AGAIN.

OH, and every reply from them took 3 days and came from a different person. No one ever actually tried to look into my problem AT ALL. The ONLY thing they did was blame me for the problem OVER AND OVER.

The service was painfully slow even when they were working. I usually got something like 4 Meg download speed even when the servers were showing less than 10% activity according to the software.

UNINSTALLED. Stay away from these IDIOTS IF YOU WANT DECENT VPN SERVICE.

Robert 1/10 December 27, 2017

Horrible Customer Service

They have the WORST customer service I have ever seen. I’ve been using the free service for the past few weeks, randomly I keep getting disconnected with a message claiming that I have been disconnected because I am using P2P when I’m NOT.

It seems to happen whenever their server starts to get busy. I don’t even use the service but for about 20 minutes a day so it’s not like I was on there all day or something.

I contacted customer service, told them THREE TIMES that I only have 1 P2P app on my computer and it IS NOT RUNNING when I am using the VPN. I know they don’t allow p2p and I am not freaking stupid.

I even gave them a screenshot of my task manager showing unequivocally there were NO P2P applications running ON THE SAME SCREEN with the error message and they sent me back the same canned message claiming I have p2p running AGAIN.

OH, and every reply from them took 3 days and came from a different person. No one ever actually tried to look into my problem AT ALL. The ONLY thing they did was blame me for the problem OVER AND OVER.

The service was painfully slow even when they were working. I usually got something like 4 Meg download speed even when the servers were showing less than 10% activity according to the software.

UNINSTALLED. Stay away from these IDIOTS IF YOU WANT DECENT VPN SERVICE.

Julie Richards (PhD Computer Science) 9/10 November 12, 2017

Disagree with the review

After testing ProtonVPN paid account, I completely disagree with the “thebestvpn” review of this service. I have run several tests on the security of this service and I am impressed, ProtonVPN stood up to all tests using a multitude of tools on Kali Linux; dns leak, IP leak, data leaks, man in middle and all attempts to break the VPN tunnel from the Intranet and Internet sides all failed. I tried several ways to triangulate the original source and again was unsuccessful. In reference to cost, you get what you pay for and this level of security is worth every penny. Ease of use, it’s easy nothing much else to say.

The only thing that is needed is support for other platforms and this is coming, I was reliably informed by ProtonVPN after email conversations.

I don’t agree with your review.

Rick 9/10 November 9, 2017

New ProtonVPN User via pfsense

I wanted to try ProtonVPN as I have had their free email for quite some time now and I am a fan of their devotion and commitment to privacy and security.

We use all Linux in our home and run our network through a pfsense router made from an old Dell Optiplex GX620. Using a “Matya’s Blog” article, I managed to get the ProtonVPN setup easily such that all of our traffic is now protected. I can’t comment on support or client-side applications as I do not use these, but as far as speeds I get around ~30mbps connecting through a SecureCore server here in the U.S. on my 50mbps connection. No DNS leaks, no issues with content streaming, and our regular sites we visit work as expected.

So far so good, and being that this is new from Proton, I expect much more coming from them ?

rw 8/10 October 2, 2017

using proton

Finding proton a bit difficult to understand, vis-a-vis connection speeds. Still in the “7-day” premium trial period, comparing proton to cyberghost. I get the same, or nearly the same, speed test results with cyberghost free as with the proton trial period. Cyberghost claims paid subscriptions have faster speeds, but I cannot test that without making a non-refundable payment.

It will be interesting to see how proton speeds compare once the trial period ends. On a second note, I do like proton’s display of server loading. I don’t know if the data is reliable, but i have noticed speed differences between low and high use server sites.

Mark 10/10 September 22, 2017

ProtonVPN is developing great

I am using ProtonMail on Mac which I agree is a painful process. But as they state on their social media channels, the BETA for Android and Mac for https://protonvpn.com/ are undergoing as we speak.

I think it’s smart that they launched the product even if unfinished and they can develop the other apps according to their users needs. I love Proton products and I trust them. I’d vouch the new apps will kick a lot of as* in the industry.

Doug 3/10 September 13, 2017

Lacks usability

I’m always eager to try out new (free) VPNs and I decided to go with them. Unfortunately, I’m running on mac and I had to go through a painful set of instructions which led me to nowhere.

Although I think I’m computer savvy, protonVPN is definitely not the best pick for someone using other than Windows.