ProtonVPN

Category VPN
Reviewed by Maria
Updated Jan 24th, ’22

Tekpon Score

9.3

Users Score

7.5

ProtonVPN Review

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Internet, how does it work? No, seriously, how? There’s a bunch of powerful internet nodes called ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Devices connect to them and send requests for web pages. ISPs share these requests and volunteer to fulfill them using BGP (Border Gateway Protocol). In short, the internet works on blind trust, which is a big weakness. A VPN service, such as Proton VPN is meant to address this weakness by routing your device’s internet traffic. Does it provide any benefit? Read my ProtonVPN review and find out.

UI/UX

9.3

Ease of use

9.2

Value for Money

9.4

Features

9.5

Customer Support

9.0
Pricing Details

Starting from: $48/year

Pricing Model: Subscription

No free trial

Yes, has free version

PROs
  • Has a free version
  • Accepts USD/EUR/CHF and cash
  • 1,500 servers in 63 countries
  • 30-day money-back policy
  • Proton merch
CONs
  • Clogged servers and dismal speed if you use the free version
  • Uneven feature distribution across plans
  • No refunds if paid with a cryptocurrency
Best for
  • Personal
  • Freelancers
  • StartUps
  • Family
  • Small business
Deployment
  • Desktop - Windows
  • Desktop - Mac
  • Desktop - Linux
  • Mobile - Android
  • Mobile - iPad
  • Mobile - iPhone

Proton VPN service

Originally, a VPN (a virtual private network) was meant to secure your internet connection against tampering and spying. A secure VPN would route the users’ internet traffic through known hardware using vetted software. Today, buying and using a VPN is a lifestyle statement, an act of rebellion against the unseen oppressors. As a result, security features take a backseat to the noble notions of challenging governments, training journalists, and educating the public.

It’s no wonder Proton lists those reasons as inspiration for the creation of ProtonVPN in the “About Us” section on the official website. The VPN definition has stayed the same, but the VPN meaning has changed. Again, it’s about drawing in as many people as possible, which is, in this case, done through the ProtonVPN free version.

What is ProtonVPN?

 ProtonVPN is internet security and privacy tool. It belongs to the “VPN software” category, meaning it connects your device to a network dedicated to routing internet traffic. ProtonVPN touts itself as a secure VPN, but I think the way you use it determines if it’s safe or not. ProtonVPN can make your internet browsing safer, more reliable, and neater than just your default ISP if used properly. But, of course, the best use case is when you’re explicitly blocked from accessing some content, such as a web page or streaming service.

How to use a VPN?

On the ProtonVPN main web page, click “Pricing.” To get ProtonVPN free, scroll down and click “Get Free.” Next, sign up for an account and go through e-mail verification. Once completed, you’ll enter the ProtonVPN dashboard. Here you can download clients for seven platforms. Next, you can get OpenVPN configuration files to help you set up your router as a VPN node. Then, start the ProtonVPN download for your platform of choice. Once installed, it will create a VPN connection to the server of your choice.

The dashboard shows the server stats, in particular their load. The more load a server has, the rougher your connection to it. Everything should be set up correctly by default. You’ll learn how to fine-tune the rest of the ProtonVPN as you go.

Checking your connection

 You don’t have to blindly trust anyone who says you’re connected to this or that server. Instead, you can find simple tools and commands that help you verify where your internet traffic is going. The best cybersecurity practice is regularly checking device behavior and using only the vetted ones.

Earlier, I said that internet nodes volunteer to accept and route internet traffic. When one of them fails, the others rise, rerouting your traffic. This makes the internet connection like a living thing that can adapt to injury. Now you’re going to see which nodes route your traffic by using the “tracert” command.

Doing a traceroute

On Windows, open the Command Prompt. For example, type in: traceroute google.com and hit Enter. The window will show 9–10 rows of numbers that reveal where your internet request traveled and how long it took to get there. The rightmost column is the most interesting tidbit. There you can see IP addresses of servers that took up your internet traffic and directed it forward. The first address will always be the same, something like 192.168.100.1. That’s the first internet node — your router, a small blinking box sat somewhere on your premises.

If you visit that address in your browser, you’ll get prompted for a username and a password. Yep, you can log into your router! The username and password should be on a sticker on the back or side of the router. If not, search for them online based on the model of your router. Once you log in, you can tweak all sorts of cool stuff related to your internet connection, such as blocking some IP addresses. But, be careful — this is where professionals slip up too.

You can research other IP addresses to see where they’re located. What you’ll notice is that the internet bypasses all borders. Also, some addresses show up in the same location. These are data centers, housing a lot of servers. In the case of google.com, the final few locations will always show up as being in California. If the servers were in other countries, they could be seized.

On Mac, the traceroute command is a bit different. Open the Terminal app and type in:traceroute google.com and press Enter. Everything else is much the same.

ProtonVPN features

Let’s see some of the great features this VPN software provides to its users.

  • NetShield

 This is the built-in ad-blocker that comes with paid ProtonVPN plans. You should start right now if you don’t already use an ad-blocker. Ads drain the battery on your smartphone, gum up your bandwidth, clog the display, and can be used to track you across the internet, even through a VPN.

An ad-blocker works by blocking content coming from the IP addresses of all the major ad-serving networks, such as those owned by Google, Facebook, etc. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? You can log into your router and add all those IP addresses, so ads are blocked by default across all devices on your home network. It takes some work, but it’s so satisfying. Besides ads, these ad-serving networks also send bits of data that they can use to track and identify you, no matter what you’re doing. NetShield can quash these trackers as well. You can change the protection level or turn off this native ad-blocker entirely.

  •  Proton merch

If you think Proton deserves more of your money, you can visit the shop to buy hoodies, T-shirts, tote bags, socks, and Proton gift cards. When you log in, visit the Proton dashboard. Then, click your name in the top right corner and click “Proton shop.”

The Proton shop accepts cards, PayPal, and these cryptocurrencies:

  • Bitcoin
  • Bitcoin Cash
  • Litecoin
  • Dai
  • Ethereum

They cannot refund crypto transactions.

  •  Free version

I downloaded and installed the Windows version in about 30 seconds. No bundled offers or hidden surprises there. After logging in, I was prompted to take a tour of the features, which I did. Quick Connect automatically makes a VPN connection to the fastest server nearby. You can make profiles to configure your ProtonVPN for different uses quickly. You can choose the country you would like to be your exit node. Finally, you can configure ProtonVPN using various settings.

There are 24 servers in three countries on the free version — the USA, Japan, and the Netherlands. Sadly, they are all under intense load 24/7, making the browsing unbearably slow; in some instances, I couldn’t even reach the page at all. I used Quick Connect, and it patched me through to the nearest server.

I tried opening 9gag, a meme aggregator website. Unfortunately, it took almost a minute to open when normally it opens instantly. Trying to use BitTorrent at this point caused ProtonVPN to notify me the free service doesn’t support peer-to-peer traffic. However, the normal connection kept working.

Next up, I opened YouTube. It took about a minute for the home page to load all the subscription feeds. Watching a 480p video went smoothly. I turned off ProtonVPN in the middle of watching the video; the playback quality bumped up easily, and the video resumed without a hitch.

  • Traceroute through ProtonVPN

 We learned a cool new trick, so let’s put it to good use. Activate Quick Connect through ProtonVPN and do the traceroute command. Wait a bit, and you’ll notice the results are different. The first IP address is no longer your router. Now it’s something like 10.2.0.1, the virtual router installed by ProtonVPN. Since ProtonVPN can’t tamper with your real router, it installs its own.

In my case, the next three IP addresses were obscured, returning a “request timed out” error. This could be intentional to hide the IP addresses of ProtonVPN servers. You’ll also notice that it takes a lot longer for the requests to come back. That confirms it wasn’t my fault the browsing was slow — it’s the ProtonVPN servers. The final three addresses were the same as without ProtonVPN, meaning the traffic did end up at Google. But I don’t know which servers routed it, which does not instill confidence.

  •  VPN Accelerator

Another fancy ProtonVPN feature is the VPN Accelerator. In short, it overcomes CPU limitations that hamper VPN network speeds. According to the ProtonVPN service update from July 2021, the VPN Accelerator increases browsing speed five times. This applies to ProtonVPN servers, not your device. This feature is available on all ProtonVPN plans and turned on by default. The real difference is seen when using it across long-distance, high-bandwidth connections.

  •  Open-source

ProtonVPN software is open source, meaning you can review its code. The Windows desktop app code was reviewed in 2019 by SEC Consult. Someone programmed all software you use. If you can’t peek inside the programming, you must trust that someone and can’t tell if the software is safe. Without that, you shouldn’t trust the device. Open-source software refers to programming that’s open to the public so anyone can review it.

For example, Windows is not open source. So you can’t tell if it’s sending your private data to Microsoft’s servers. What you can do is discover the IP addresses of Microsoft’s servers, log into your router, and block them there. Knowing how the internet works is a thing of beauty.

ProtonVPN pricing

There are four pricing plans:

  • Free for $0 a year
  • Basic for $48 a year
  • Plus, for $96 a year
  • Visionary for $288 a year

Plans can be purchased using USD, EUR, CHF, or cryptocurrencies.

ProtonVPN free version doesn’t require a card; you only need a valid e-mail address. If you have a ProtonMail address, you’re halfway there. Unfortunately, ProtonVPN pricing doesn’t reveal the true quality of the product you’re getting. The Plus plan costs double the Basic plan but offer a whole slew of upgrades over it. If you want top value for your dollar, go with Plus.

On the other hand, the Visionary plan doesn’t give that much. Plus — you only get a ProtonMail account extra for triple the price. You can even pay with cash! That’s amazing, giving users another layer of anonymity because it leaves no banking trace. Contact the ProtonVPN support team for further instructions.

ProtonVPN Alternatives

Now, let’s discover what other VPN services you can choose, other than ProtonVPN:

  • NordVPN

NordVPN is perhaps the best ProtonVP as a juggernaut in the VPN market alternative as a juggernaut in the VPN market. It consistently sets new benchmarks for the entire VPN niche by undergoing security audits. There is a sense of community around NordVPN, with education integral to the brand. Internet users don’t know what they’re dealing with every time they go online; NordVPN has free e-books and videos on how to improve their cybersecurity home and abroad. From managing cookies to securing your media profiles before traveling through customs, NordVPN has gone the distance to inform and educate in a clear, user-friendly way.

If you feel the mood to review code, NordVPN has a bug bounty program. Finding a bug in NordVPN can net you a nifty payout, though you’ll likely need a team to make out like bandits. Nevertheless, this one feature of NordVPN can easily best free VPN products. As for its features, NordVPN has consistently overcome geo-blocks put in place by streaming services. So if you want to watch a show on a geo-restricted streaming service, NordVPN is a good contender.

  • Surfshark

Established in 2018, Surfshark boasts 1,700 servers in 63 countries. It has quickly branched out into multiple niches, such as providing apps, browser extensions, and useful digital metrics. Surfshark underwent a penetration testing audit by Cure53, a white-hat hacker company from Germany.

One unique security feature of Surfshark is that its servers are 100% RAM, meaning there are no hard drives to seize. So in case an alphabet agency tries tampering with the servers, one of the staff merely must flip the power switch, and all the user data is purged. In addition, Surfshark invented the DQL (Digital Quality of Life) index, which supposedly measures internet quality worldwide. According to DQL, the best internet in the world is in Denmark. Other than that, Surfshark has a YouTube partnership program; content creators can get paid to promote Surfshark on their YouTube channel.

  • IPVanish

A US-based VPN that allows unlimited simultaneous connections is perfect for torrenting. It feels like a one-person show in terms of features. There’s Antivirus (charged extra) and Backup (also charged extra), but that’s about it. There is no glitz and glam, no merch, no high-brow plan, just the good old software. IPVanish has been the target of user data seizure by the Department of Homeland Security in 2016, against its claims to store no user activity logs. IPVanish still claims to store no user logs but has not undergone an independent security audit to prove it. If you’re a resident in the US, you should probably not use IPVanish to avoid legal troubles; everyone else is relatively safe using it. If you choose it, go with the yearly plan.

ProtonVPN Review Conclusion

If your internet is working as expected, there is no reason to use a VPN. It will slow your browsing down and force you to manage yet another piece of software on your device. However, if your internet is being censored or tracked, ProtonVPN is a good candidate for a long-term VPN. Despite the free version not always performing as expected, ProtonVPN is a well-rounded product.

At the start of this ProtonVPN review, I said the internet works on blind trust. Whenever your device connects to another device, it must blindly trust that other device. A VPN limits your device’s exposure by handpicking the devices it connects to, but that’s only one layer of online security.

Proper cybersecurity consists of layers of vetted software and hardware used with caution and understanding. Using the term “secure VPN” is a bit of a misnomer in that sense; instead, I would call ProtonVPN a “neat VPN.” ProtonVPN takes the networking mess, removes some of that blind trust, and makes your side of the internet a little bit neater. For that, I think it’s worth your time and money.

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