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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: This US-based VPN is fast and highly configurable

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2.79
per month

It won’t be right for everyone, but PIA is a speedy, fuss-free solution for location spoofing and streaming

Pros 
Decent speeds, especially in Europe
Unblocks US streaming services
Free seven-day trial for mobiles
Cons 
US jurisdiction could compromise your privacy
Disappointing long-range performance
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PIA is a VPN service that can keep all your online activity private – so that not even your own ISP can monitor which sites you’re visiting and which files you’re downloading. Like all VPNs, it works by encrypting your internet traffic and routing it through one of the company’s secure servers.

These servers are spread out across 74 different countries, which means you can also use the VPN to hide your location. By picking a server in, for example, the USA, you can access video streaming sites and other services that are normally blocked in the UK. You can also use your virtual presence to share and download files over BitTorrent, even if it’s not legal in your home country – although note that PIA doesn’t explicitly support file sharing.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: What do you get for the money?

A single month of service costs £8.09, which is around the same as most rival VPNs. As usual, it’s far more cost-effective to sign up for a full year, which in this case costs £32.49, equivalent to £2.71 per month. There are regular special deals, too: at the time of writing, you can sign up for a full three years plus three months free for £65, which works out at £1.67 per month. If you’re serious about protecting your anonymity, you can choose to pay with a gift card or cryptocurrency, so you never have to share your bank details with PIA.

A subscription lets you use the VPN on up to ten devices simultaneously. All the popular desktop and mobile platforms are supported, and PIA gets bonus marks for offering a proper graphical client for Linux systems – most VPNs only provide command-line tools. You can also install the VPN on a compatible router to protect all traffic from any number of connected devices, while a smart DNS service can be used to conceal your location when using a games console, smart TV or set-top box.

If you have any trouble setting up and using the service the company claims its online support service is available 24/7; when we tried it though the live chat feature was offline and we had to fill in a web form and wait several hours for a response.

If you’re still not satisfied for any reason you can exercise a 30-day money-back guarantee. It's possible to try PIA for seven days before you buy, which is very unusual for a VPN service – although the trial only covers Android and iOS devices.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: What’s it like to use?

We had no problem downloading the PIA client app from the provider's website and setting it up on Windows 11. Once installed it lurks in your system tray most of the time, popping up a small rectangular window when clicked. Here, a big round button lets you connect and disconnect the VPN, and you’ll also see details of the server you’re connected to.

Clicking a fly-out arrow brings up a scrolling list of available servers. You can type to search for a location, or sort the list by name or latency – the latter providing a handy clue as to how speedy that particular server is likely to be.

You can also expand the interface into a full-height strip with quick-connect buttons for your favourite servers, a performance graph, and easy access to options such as desktop notifications, port forwarding and so forth. It may look complicated, but you can close or reorder the different modules – and in truth you probably won’t need to use them every day. In fact, you can configure the VPN to connect automatically on launch or system startup and never have to interact with the software at all.

The Android app is laid out in much the same way, with a main screen that scrolls up and down to reveal various controls and information. Once again you can customise the order and visibility of the different panels, and configure automatic connection to keep you protected without having to open the app.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: How fast is it?

All VPNs slow down your connection to some extent, but PIA performed pretty well for us overall. We tested the service on our Windows 11 laptop with a Virgin Media fibre internet connection. Before activating the VPN we measured a download speed of 214Mbits/sec using Google’s Speed Test tool; when we connected to a London-based server, this fell merely to 200Mbits/sec – which in practical terms means there’s no noticeable slowdown at all.

When we switched to a server in New York, speeds fell further, to 142Mbits/sec. That’s a little below the scores of 170Mbits/sec we’ve seen from other VPNs, and a long way short of front-runner NordVPN, which delivered an amazing 196Mbits/sec. But we’re not complaining – there’s vastly more bandwidth here than you’d need for video streaming or browsing websites.

We then tried the same tests on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 tablet. Performance via the London server was very similar, with an excellent download speed of 198Mbits/sec. Again, though, things went more slowly when we connected to New York, with the download speed plummeting to 64Mbits/sec. That’s still all right for online video, but most other VPNs managed 100Mbits/sec or more in this test.

Still, the desktop and mobile apps both support split tunnelling, so you can send  only specified apps through the VPN while the rest go through your ISP’s servers at full speed. Another clever feature is that you can tap or click a handy button to temporarily snooze the VPN for a preset period, after which it will automatically re-engage.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: Is it good for video streaming?

For top-quality 4K video a download speed of 25Mbits/sec is recommended, and PIA easily exceeds that. You should even be able to watch multiple 4K videos at once on different devices.

As for content, we found that running PIA on our Windows laptop enabled us to access all the major US streaming services: Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu all happily served up their libraries of region-locked content. The one exception was Amazon Prime, but no VPN can help with that as video access is tied to the registered address of your Prime account.

Unfortunately, after switching to a UK-based server, we found we weren’t able to access any UK-based streaming services – not BBC iPlayer, not BritBox and not Now TV. That means PIA might not be the ideal choice for holidaymakers wanting to keep up with their favourite shows.

We didn’t have much success trying to stream on Android either. Even with our virtual location set to the US, the native Netflix and Disney+ apps still only offered UK content, while Hulu wouldn’t let us in at all. The one consolation was that BBC iPlayer did work on the tablet – although BritBox and Now TV stubbornly refused to play along.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: Is it secure?

PIA promises that it doesn’t keep any logs of your online activity, and the app is designed with an eye on security. On both Windows and Android you can create quite sophisticated rules to turn the VPN on or off for particular wireless or mobile networks; in the desktop client, you can also nominate certain IP addresses that should always be accessed through the VPN, which is a great feature that’s found in few other VPNs.

On the desktop, a multi-hop routing option can also make it harder for anyone to track your location, and all PIA apps offer a kill switch that shuts down internet activity when the VPN disconnects, to ensure that nothing gets inadvertently exposed.

There’s just one thing that makes us hesitant about PIA: it’s based in the USA, which is part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance. This means that whatever information PIA has about you could theoretically be obtained by US agencies and shared with British authorities. For peace of mind you might prefer a VPN that’s based in a more neutral location, such as NordVPN in Panama or ExpressVPN in the British Virgin Islands.

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Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: Should you buy it?

PIA might not be the ideal fit for everyone. Performance is a little below par, especially on Android, and the fact that the company falls under US jurisdiction means it shouldn’t be your first choice if anonymity is crucial to you.

However, if you just want everyday privacy and no-fuss location-spoofing, PIA is a good choice with a strong feature set and several stand-out features, including a user-friendly front-end for Linux users. The price is reasonable (especially if you’re able to grab a long-term deal), and the ten-device allowance is appealingly flexible.

Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: Quick facts

Based in:USA
Cheapest price:£1.67 per month
Money-back guarantee:30 days
Devices; SimultaneousUnlimited; 10 simultaneous
Servers:11,745, 78 countries
Speed:Fast
24/7 customer support:Yes
Netflix and Disney+:Yes
BBC iPlayer:Yes
Torrenting allowed:Yes
Killswitch:Yes
Multihop:No
DNS leaks:No
Activity logging:No

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