ProtonVPN may have an app design that looks like it’s from the ’90s, but this fully featured VPN service is worth considering.
ProtonVPN Review: Advanced Made Easy
Most virtual private networks (VPNs) we’ve tested tend to marry form and function, with minimalist designs that are easy to use and advanced features tucked beneath the hood. ProtonVPN bucks this trend and wears some of its depth at face value, which may be intimidating to some.
Get past its ’90s-era look, though, and you’ll start to appreciate the additional at-a-glance info on server load and session traffic. The low server, country, and location counts aren’t flash compared to ProtonVPN’s peers, but 10 simultaneous connections is comfortably above the norm. More importantly, ProtonVPN boasts top-tier encryption, no-logging, third-party auditing, and some great extended features.
ProtonVPN has a few different options when it comes to paying. There’s a free version with limited connection, server, and country options, or a Basic option for US$5 a month if you want more features. For our tests, we used the Plus version, which costs US$10 a month, US$96 per year, or US$159 every two years. The Plus version has the most servers, lots of simultaneous connections, and effectively uncapped speeds, alongside other advanced features.
ProtonVPN will refund up to 30 days of whatever you’ve paid for, but that’s only the unused portion of your service period. There is also a separate Visionary option, which includes a ProtonMail Visionary account, but that’s beyond the scope of VPN and prices start at US$30 per month.
It’s a good thing ProtonVPN has cheap monthly pricing because it takes some initial hits when comparing other numbers with its closest peers. ProtonVPN has a low server count (1625 vs 7,618 for CyberGhost VPN), small-ish country count (63 vs 94 for ExpressVPN), and the second-lowest location count (89 vs 160 from ExpressVPN).
Where things start to look better in terms of numbers is the 10 simultaneous connections, which is double the industry standard (e.g. ExpressVPN), four more than NordVPN, and three above CyberGhost VPN. The main close competitor that has ProtonVPN beat on this metric is the unlimited simultaneous connections from Surfshark VPN.
Privacy and security are incredibly important for our VPN evaluations, though, and ProtonVPN offers strong data/channel encryption-- Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit data and RSA 4096-bit—plus it has open-source apps that are independently audited. For extra peace of mind, ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, which is great for privacy rights and legally accountable for privacy breaches. We also like that ProtonVPN has inbuilt advanced features, including antimalware, privacy-friendly data routing, and a kill switch that can be toggled between basic and severe.
ProtonVPN user experience
We tested ProtonVPN across the Windows and Android versions of the app. The Android app has a more simplified user interface, so definitely start with the mobile version if you’re new to VPNs. The Windows app connects and disconnects in seconds, with a global view of ProtonVPN’s server locations. ‘Quick Connect’ makes things easy by connecting your device to the nearest VPN server with the least load.
Unlike other VPNs that limit connection options to countries and/or locations, ProtonVPN has a country view that shows you the locations and server loads. Green indicates a light server load and should be prioritised if you’re manually connecting, while yellow shows moderate load, and red servers should be avoided.
More advanced features are accessible with a couple of clicks or taps, some of which are disabled by default. Enable Secure Core to route internet traffic through multiple servers, adding an extra layer of security and privacy, albeit with slower speeds. Handily, the global map view shows the initial server hop before connecting to your nearest location, with a couple of options for Australia (via Switzerland or via Sweden). Note that toggling this feature disconnects the VPN.
NetShield is disabled by default but can be enabled to just block malware or to block malware, ads, and trackers. If you have trouble visiting particular sites after enabling this feature, disable it to see if that’s the issue. There’s also a kill switch, disabled by default, that can be set to halt your internet connection if ProtonVPN drops out or to block the internet entirely on your device except when ProtonVPN is running. Other advanced features like split tunnelling are found under the settings tab.
Connecting only takes a few seconds, while disconnecting is almost instantaneous. Despite the intimidating server list, we like how easy it is to activate advanced features or switch servers with minimal input.
ExpressVPN Australian privacy
ProtonVPN may have a lowish server count, certainly compared to its closest peers, but it’s got some decent options for Australia. At the time of writing, ProtonVPN had seven servers in Sydney, eight servers in Perth, plus three separate servers apiece in Adelaide and Brisbane. This is a better spread of server locations than competitors like CyberGhost VPN, but the lack of servers for Melbourne, Central Australia or up north in this big country isn’t great.
This server issue is compounded somewhat by comparatively slow speeds in our tests. Using ‘quick connect’ put us on a Sydney server, but while the change to latency and the 4% drop in upload speed were both negligible, the 26% hit to download speeds was the slowest out of ProtonVPN’s closest competitors. Using the double-server protection of Secure Core reaps much slower speeds: latency leapt from 6ms to 494ms, download speeds slowed by 71%, and upload speeds were down by around 30%.
If our speed tests are indicative of your Secure Core experience, we’d only advise using this particular feature if you want additional privacy as you will absolutely notice those speed changes during all everyday online activities. With Secure Core disabled, speeds were more manageable for everyday use, even if you will likely notice a noticeably slower download speed when downloading larger files.
Conveniently, ProtonVPN has an easy-to-use profile feature for personalising your connection and server experience, which can be synced across devices. Digging into the settings, you can manually change the connection protocol between WireGuard, OpenVPN TCP, or OpenVPN UDP (by default, it automatically selects one for you). Under the ‘Advanced’ tab, adept VPN users can tweak settings that cover DNS leak protection, alternative routing, and split tunnelling.
Importantly, ProtonVPN passed our DNS and IP leak tests—including single-server connections, so you don’t need to use Secure Core—without any issues.
ExpressVPN vs other VPNs
The table below outlines the key differences between ExpressVPN and its closest VPN peers.
|US $11.99||US $59.88||5404||60||83||6||Zero||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||AES 256-bit||4096-bit||30-day money-back guarantee|
|US $12.95||US $99.95||3000+||94||160||5||Zero||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||AES 256-bit||4096-bit||30-day money-back guarantee|
|US $12.95||US $47.88||3200+||65||111||Unlimited||Zero||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||AES 256-bit||2048-bit||30-day money-back guarantee|
|AU $17.99||AU $72||7618||91||113||7||Zero||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||AES 256-bit||4096-bit||45-day money-back guarantee|
|US $10||US $96||1625||63||89||10||Zero||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||AES 256-bit||4096-bit||30-day money-back guarantee|
Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.
*ProtonVPN Plus plan used for comparison. Cheaper plans are available, but offer limited servers, connections, speed, and more.
ProtonVPN isn’t the prettiest VPN around and while it has cheap monthly pricing, the value gets worse next to its peers when you spend more. It’s also a VPN service that’s light on servers, countries, and locations.
Still, it ticks the right boxes when it comes to privacy and security, allowing for 10 simultaneous connections and more advanced features that include click-to-activate antimalware. ProtonVPN won’t hold your hand like other VPN services, but the more you’re willing to dig into its features, the more rewarding it is.
How we evaluate VPNs
We compare VPNs on several factors, starting with the price and whether you’re paying in Australian currency. After this, we weigh up the numbers: servers, countries, locations, and simultaneous connections for a single account. The bigger the number, the better the ranking. Most VPNs don’t offer a truly free trial, but we like when they do, and we value a reasonable money-back guarantee.
In terms of all-important security and privacy, a no-log policy is considered essential, and we look favourably on VPN providers that are open to third-party security audits. From here, encryption is evaluated alongside meaningful inclusions, such as antimalware and antivirus features, as well as the inclusion of a kill switch and split tunnelling.
Testing is conducted with the VPN running in the background and evaluated through a variety of everyday tasks to rate it in terms of convenience. We also run tests for speed and latency, IP address and DNS leaks, as well as for a kill switch (where available).
Below are the answers to some of the most pressing ExpressVPN questions.
For our tests and comparisons, NordVPN is the better VPN choice over ProtonVPN, particularly for first-time users. NordVPN is faster, easier-to-use, and has more servers (5,404 vs 1,625). That said, ProtonVPN offers more countries (63 vs 60) and locations (89 vs 83) than NordVPN, plus it allows for more simultaneous connections (10 vs 6).
ProtonVPN supports 10 simultaneous connections and is compatible with the following devices:
- Android TV
- Apple TV
- Amazon Fire TV
- Nvidia Shield
- Xiaomi Mi box
- OpenWRT routers
- Invizbox routers
- AsusWRT routers
- DD-WRT routers
- pfSense routers
- Tomato routers
- Fresh Tomato routers
- Vilfo routers
- PlayStation 4
- PlayStation 5
- Xbox One
- Xbox Series X|S
- Nintendo Switch