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Proton VPN review: An impressive privacy-focused VPN that goes the extra mile

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
8.53
per month

Not quite as fast or cheap as some other VPNs, but Proton VPN is one of the best privacy-focused options

Pros 
Superb privacy and security features
Good overall connection speeds
Straightforward user interface
Cons 
No 24/7 live chat support
Not the cheapest VPN around
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If you're looking for a country with a strong tradition of individual privacy, you can't do much better than Switzerland – and that’s where Proton VPN is based. The company offers a range of privacy-first services, including the encrypted Proton Mail messaging platform, plus secure calendar and cloud-storage offerings.

Proton VPN doesn’t rely solely on local laws to protect your online activity. It provides unique features to conceal your identity and activity, including multi-hop “Secure Core” connections and an option to route traffic through Tor. No doubt, this is a service that goes the extra mile to protect your privacy.

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Proton VPN review: Price and competition

You can use Proton VPN on a single device completely free of charge. There are no data caps or annoying ads, and you can choose between server locations in Japan, the Netherlands and the US. It's a fantastic option for covering your online tracks, but note that free users are blocked from streaming video over the VPN, or sharing files via BitTorrent.

Moving up to a paid-for subscription unlocks these services, and gives you access to the full range of servers in 63 countries. Up to ten simultaneous connections are supported, with clients available for all the major desktop and mobile platforms, plus Amazon Fire TV devices and router configurations. A monthly subscription costs £8.53 (billed in euros), while annual and two-year packages come in at £61.40 and £102.29 – equivalent to £5.12 per month and £4.26 respectively.

Those are quite high prices by VPN standards: Private Internet Access (PIA), for example, gives you 39 months for £65. However, Proton VPN’s outstanding security credentials might justify the extra cost.

READ NEXT: Best VPNs for Mac

Proton VPN review: What’s it like to use?

The Proton VPN Windows app opens with a sci-fi-style dashboard, centred on a scrollable, zoomable map view that calls to mind the movie WarGames. To the side there’s a scrolling list of servers, with icons indicating which ones are preferred for file sharing, video streaming etc, and a ring icon showing each one’s current load level. After you’ve connected to one of them, the graph at the bottom shows connection statistics.

A few additional controls are accessible from this main window. Clicking the Profiles tab above the server list switches it to show options to connect to the fastest server, or to a random one, to throw off anyone to piece together your online activity. You can define your own profiles for favourite connections and they'll appear here too.

Hitting a button above the server list activates Proton VPN’s clever Secure Core mode, which replaces the regular location browser with a selection of more than 40 double-hop routes. While these cover locations all around the world, they all pass through at least one privacy-friendly country on the way, ensuring a degree of legal as well as technical protection. Other buttons control the NetShield filter that attempts to block adverts and malware, plus the kill switch and port forwarding features.

With all these controls, the Proton VPN interface can feel a bit overwhelming, but on the whole we like the way it puts all the key controls at your fingertips. It's better than having to click back and forth between different views, as with other VPNs. To be fair, Proton VPN also has a separate Settings window, but it contains mostly technical controls which typical users won’t want to tinker with.

Indeed, in everyday use you don’t even need to bring up the full-sized window; you can conveniently activate your predefined Profiles directly from the system tray icon. Curiously though Proton VPN doesn’t offer any browser integrations.

The Proton VPN Android app looks similar to the Windows one, but perhaps wisely it doesn’t attempt to cram all the same information onto the smaller screen of a laptop or tablet. Rather, it opens with a plain-looking server list, with links at the top to switch to the map view or browse your custom profiles. You can also browse Secure Core routes from here, while the kill switch and NetShield features can be configured from the Settings menu. It's a more bitty experience than the Windows client, but all the same key features are here.

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Proton VPN review: Privacy and security

Proton VPN's geographic location is a definite plus point for privacy. If agencies outside of Switzerland – such as the UK or US authorities – want to access subscriber details, they first need to prove to a Swiss court that there’s a specific case to be answered. That means you shouldn't need to worry about casual surveillance.

Even if the court does order Proton VPN to hand over information, it’s unlikely to be holding anything that could expose you. The privacy policy prohibits it from storing any logs of user identities or activity, and independent auditor Securitum has recently confirmed that the company is as good as its word.

Proton VPN also scores strongly on technical privacy measures. We’ve mentioned the Secure Core feature, and some servers connect to the Tor network for secure access to hidden “darkweb” sites. Fresh encryption keys are used for every session, so even if a key is compromised, it can’t be used to spy on future activity. The one thing that’s notably missing is an option to automatically engage the VPN whenever you connect to an insecure network – presumably the idea is that you should just have it enabled all the time.

Even the physical locations of the firm’s core data centres have been selected to emphasise security. The one in Switzerland is located in a fallout shelter 1km underground, while its Iceland servers are situated in a former military base.

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Proton VPN review: Performance and speed

Using a VPN always has an impact on performance, but Proton's “VPN accelerator” claims to give a big boost to download speeds. We tested it on a Windows 11 laptop, connected to a 200Mbits/sec Virgin Media fibre broadband line.

With the VPN disconnected, Google’s Speed Test tool reported an average download speed of 214Mbits/sec. After we connected to a Proton VPN server in London, the download speed fell to 137Mbits/sec. That’s quite a big drop for a short-range connection, but it’s still more than fast enough for everyday internet duties.

And Proton VPN went on to redeem itself with excellent connection speeds to the US: after switching to a server based in New York we got 188Mbits/sec downstream. That’s not quite the best performance we’ve seen – NordVPN managed a redonkulous 196Mbits/sec over the same distance – but it’s still a hell of a lot of bandwidth, and well above what we’re accustomed to seeing from a desktop VPN.

We also tested Proton VPN on an Android tablet – specifically a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 – and were again very pleased with its performance. This time the UK server gave us download speeds of 187Mbits/sec, while the New York connection averaged 110Mbits/sec. Again, that's not far off the fastest we’ve seen (in this case that was ExpressVPN with 124Mbits/sec).

If you enable the Secure Core feature then a warning pops up that this will have an impact on performance, but we found this wasn’t bad at all: in fact, connecting to a server in London via Switzerland proved faster than going directly through a UK server alone, giving us excellent download speeds of 193Mbits/sec. Even when we connected to the US via Iceland we got a very usable 104Mbits/sec.

Both the Windows and Android clients also support split tunnelling, so any apps that don’t need privacy protection can use your regular ISP connection at full speed, while more sensitive connections go via the VPN.

READ NEXT: How to watch US TV abroad

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Proton VPN review: Torrenting and streaming

Swiss law permits the downloading copyrighted movies and music for personal use – and Proton VPN is more than happy for you to use its network for this purpose. It even offers servers specifically optimised for file sharing in 18 countries – including high-speed locations such as the Netherlands and the US, and more remote jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Nigeria.

The Proton VPN website includes some guides to accessing popular video streaming services too. We found these weren’t necessary, however: as soon as we’d connected our Windows laptop to the New York server, we instantly gained access to the US libraries of Netflix and Disney+. Even Hulu let us sign in without a quibble.

Likewise, we didn’t encounter any hitches when watching any of the major British streaming services (BBC iPlayer, BritBox and Now TV) via a UK-based server. That means Proton VPN is great for travellers wanting to keep abreast of their favourite shows.

Those British services worked equally well through their respective Android apps, while the Proton VPN was enabled. Sadly, the Netflix and Disney+ apps were less amenable: even with our tablet connected to a US server, they insisted on serving up their UK libraries.

Probably for the same reason, we weren’t able to get into Hulu on Android at all – the service is completely barred outside of the US. Nor could we watch region-restricted titles on Amazon Prime, but no VPN can help with that as Amazon goes by your registered home address rather than your IP address.

Proton VPN review: Customer support

Should you hit a problem while using Proton VPN, the website includes an online knowledge base, and there’s also an active a Reddit forum.

If you need interactive help, however, your options are limited. There is a live chat service, but it’s only available on weekdays, between 10am and 6pm UK time. Alternatively, you can fill out an email form, but the site warns that you could be waiting one or two days for a response. It’s an acceptable level of support, but there’s no shortage of other VPNs offering 24/7 live chat – something worth bearing in mind if you’re not a technical expert.

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Proton VPN review: Verdict

If you primarily want a VPN to unblock region-restricted video services then Proton VPN is overkill. It’ll certainly do the job, but in our tests we've found that Hotspot Shield, NordVPN and Windscribe will unblock all the same services for less money.

If you’re serious about protecting your privacy, though, Proton VPN is an absolutely top-tier choice. It provides a whole stack of protections that very few other VPNs can match, yet it remains easy to use – and it’s fast enough that you can leave it switched on at all times for complete peace of mind.

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