At a GlanceExpert’s Rating
ProsGreat privacy credentialsGood unblockingLoads of settings and featuresConsMore expensive than rivalsCan’t use kill switch and split tunnelling togetherInconsistent speedsOur Verdict
Proton is a VPN for power users who want great privacy, port forwarding and other features. Performance isn’t the best, though, and it’s too expensive for anyone simply wanting to unblock streaming content.
Price When Reviewed
From free ($5 per month for Basic)
Best Prices Today: ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN has around since 2017 and is probably best known for being a free VPN. It’s great, too, because Proton doesn’t put any limits on how much you can use it, stating that “We believe privacy and security are fundamental human rights, so we also provide a free version of ProtonVPN to the public. Unlike other free VPNs, there are no catches. We don’t serve ads or secretly sell your browsing history. ProtonVPN Free is subsidized by ProtonVPN paid users.”
There are catches though: you get a choice of just three countries (US, Netherlands and Japan) and you don’t get the fast speeds that Proton offers to paying customers.
If you only want privacy while browsing the web, then Proton VPN Free may be perfect. However, it will prove too limiting for others who want to unblock streaming services, use servers in other countries, get faster speeds (because servers aren’t at full capacity) and access to a lot of other features which are reserved for paying customers.
That’s why this review is focused on Proton VPN Plus, and we won’t compare it to free VPNs but rivals such as NordVPN, Surfshark and others.
Features & apps
1900+ servers in 65+ countriesUse 10 devices at the same timeApps for Windows, Android, macOS, iOS and Linux
Where many VPN providers have made a conscious effort to make their apps light, airy and clean, ProtonVPN favours a darker, more technical-looking interface. It’s the sort of thing you typically see in movies about hacking where nerds bash away at the keyboard and impressive looking graphics appear on screen.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
When you’ve connected to a server you’re presented with quite a lot of information such as your new IP address, the name of the server you’re connected to, the encryption protocol being used and more. And that’s just the mobile apps.
In the desktop apps you’ll see even more data such as the current upload and download speeds, and the total amount of uploaded and downloaded data.
Jim Martin / Foundry
This really is a VPN for power users. As well as the standard options for connecting to the fastest server and a random server, you can create your own.
This isn’t simply saving your most-used countries: you can pick specific servers and even the protocol to use, plus a custom name and colour. You can also set a profile as the default, and that will be used when you click the Quick Connect option.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Protocols include OpenVPN and WireGuard – the latter is available even to free users, even if overall speeds restricted.
There are many other settings to play with, including a VPN accelerator (which uses various tricks to improve performance) and a kill switch which is customisable in the Windows app. You can even view the application and WireGuard logs if you’re so inclined.
This really is a VPN for power users
The kill switch can be set to on, off or permanent. When ‘on’ it will prevent your data from leaking if the VPN connection stops unexpectedly. But with ‘permanent’ you cannot use the internet at all unless the VPN is connected. The latter setting is available on Windows and Linux, but not in ProtonVPN’s other apps.
Even power users might be overwhelmed by the number of options in the Windows app, and should avoid changing any they don’t fully understand.
There’s now port forwarding, which is good news for those who download torrents or play certain online games. You can’t have a static IP, though.
ProtonVPN used to only offer apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android. But now, it has apps for Amazon Fire TV and Android TV, which is good to see.
What’s not good is that you cannot enable both the kill switch and split tunnelling in the Windows app. If you turn on the kill switch after enabling split tunnelling and connect to a server you won’t see a warning, but head back into the settings and you’ll discover split tunnelling has been disabled. If you try to re-enable it, you’ll see a message telling you to disable the kill switch. Other VPNs don’t force you to choose.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Note that there are no browser extensions available, but since such extensions cannot establish a VPN connection they are usually proxies. So if anything, Proton is doing everyone a favour by not providing these.
Privacy & security
As well as the free version, ProtonVPN’s main attraction is privacy & security. It’s based in Switzerland, for its favourable privacy laws, and is transparent about its ownership. Swiss law doesn’t require the saving of any logs, and won’t force ProtonVPN to spy on any specific users.
The apps are all open source, too, so they can be audited by anyone. ProtonVPN also commissioned an independent audit by Securitum in April 2022 and – unlike some VPNs – published the full report online.
ProtonVPN uses its own DNS servers, which helps to increase privacy by protecting against DNS leaks which could reveal which websites you’re visiting
ProtonVPN’s servers and network are designed to be as secure as possible. Users paying for the Plus package can use Secure Core servers, which are located in high-security datacentres and owned and operated by ProtonVPN – not rented. Secure Core means your connection is routed through multiple servers, which makes it virtually impossible to trace your original IP address, and therefore any activity cannot be tied to that IP address. The only downside is that your connection speeds will be slower as a result.
ProtonVPN uses its own DNS servers, which helps to increase privacy by protecting against DNS leaks which could reveal which websites you’re visiting.
You don’t have to give any personal information when you sign up for a ProtonVPN account, and can use one of Proton’s anonymous email addresses, which are free.
Lastly, there’s built-in support for Tor over VPN via some of ProtonVPN’s servers. That’s not something most people will want to use, but if you know what this means, it’s a bonus.
ProtonVPN added WireGuard in October 2021, improving speeds and bringing all the other advantages of WireGuard.
We tested the service in February 2023 using a gigabit connection in San Francisco. These are the speeds SpeedTest reported with the VPN disconnected.
Adam Patrick Murray / Foundry
We then connected to three servers in turn: New York, London and Tokyo. As you can see, download speeds are certainly decent, but upload speeds were much less impressive. If you’re connected to a local server, you may be ok, but the very poor speeds from the London and Tokyo servers are disappointing. In fact, they were so bad we re-ran the tests just to check it wasn’t a one-off. But it wasn’t: they really were that slow.
Adam Patrick Murray / Foundry
If you want to unblock Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer and others, you’ll need subscribe to Proton VPN Plus, as streaming isn’t supported on the free tier. Instead of tapping on a country name, you need to look at the list of individual servers and connect to one that has the triangle streaming symbol.
And Proton’s unblocking is very good. I had no issues watching US Netflix and Disney+ from the UK. It also works with Amazon Prime Video so you can watch videos when away from your home country. ProtonVPN also unblocks BBC iPlayer.
Price & plans
Almost all other VPNs have one offering, and charge different amounts depending upon how long you subscribe for.
ProtonVPN has ditched a couple of tiers and now offers Plus – just the VPN – and Unlimited – a bundle that adds email, calendar and 500GB of cloud storage. But compared to, say, Google’s offerings, Proton’s are all end-to-end encrypted. Don’t confuse these with the ‘free features from Mail, Calendar and Drive’ that don’t offer the same level of security and privacy.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Plus costs $9.99 per month (approximately £8.30), but this goes down to $4.99 (£4.16) per month if you subscribe for two years, or $5.99 (£4.99) per month for 12 months.
You can have 10 devices connected at once to the service, which is more generous than a lot of VPNs.
Even at those discounted prices, other VPNs work out cheaper per month and some – including NordVPN and Surfshark– are considerably faster, especially on their global upload speeds.
If you’re a power user after a VPN for privacy and security, ProtonVPN Plus might well appeal. Download speeds are good, there are lots of servers in the US for streaming and P2P downloads, meaning the relatively high monthly price might be acceptable. However, if you specifically want to use split tunnelling on Windows, the fact you can’t also use the kill switch could be a dealbreaker.
For everyone else, ProtonVPN Plus is hard to recommend, especially if all you want to do is watch streaming services as plenty of rivals can unblock them for a lot less money.