Whoa is what I kept thinking as I tried ProtonVPN, a Swiss-based VPN service that is dedicated to providing only privacy to all. When I first tried to use it on my Mac desktop, I began to be mysteriously logged out. I had to restart my computer, try another browser and clear the browser cache in order to get the VPN to work on the desktop. Yet on my Mac laptop, the VPN worked just fine.
Yet, the immediate draw for me was that ProtonVPN touts top-notch security and a 30-day money-back guarantee that draws a loyal fan base.
Intuitive interface, but not great for Mac users
Overall, I liked how easy the desktop interface is with the use of ProtonVPN. It was intuitive and not cluttered so even VPN newbies could navigate it. And while Proton doesn’t host as many servers as NordVPN or SurfShark, what it makes up for in quantity is quality. To be honest, as long as my connection is fast and there is a diverse enough selection of servers, I don’t mind how many servers a service can provide.
I will note that I am exclusively a Mac user and Proton only offers split tunneling on Windows and Android only. There are other VPNs that have features that are not limited to specific platforms, but this one isn’t that.
Logging onto ProtonVPN for the first time.
Credit: screenshot: emily lu gao/protonvpn
The pricing is broken down into four categories: Free, Basic, Plus, and Visionary. I only tested Free and Basic, but out of many VPNs, ProtonVPN’s free version did have substantially faster speeds than other free options on the market. If you’d prefer more features — no-logs, access to blocked content, more connections — paid versions are the way to go, but there is a big price jump between each one.
Basic: $4/month or $48/year
Plus: $8/month or $96/year
Visionary: $24/month or $288/year
ProtonVPN features broken down by pricing.
Credit: SCREENSHOT: EMILY LU GAO/PROTONVPN
Is it safe?
Yes! ProtonVPN has 1,048 servers located in 54 countries to choose from. It also comes with a kill switch, which reliably cuts off your internet connection if your link to the VPN server times out.
Since Switzerland isn’t part of the Five Eyes Alliance, an agreement between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that shares specific internet information, it’s less likely to share data back to the U.S.
Streaming is available and even the free ProtonVPN version unblocks Netflix. This VPN allows users to watch all their favorite shows on Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video. However, I had to consult the ProtonVPN help page to improve my streaming experience. I ended up having to erase my cookies and cache, and in order to streamline my streaming, I followed the guide to learn how to disable my DoH on my Chrome browser.
Although the free version accesses steaming for you, it does have slow speeds so if that’s your primary use, I’d recommended paying for a higher tier.
This is a peer-to-peer file sharing through a decentralized network. ProtonVPN offers this! But you have to pay for it. This is likely due to the company’s personal stance on torrenting. Its help page bluntly states, “ProtonVPN does not condone the use of BitTorrent to share copyrighted material illegally.”
ProtonVPN offers three torrent-friendly plans: Basic, Plus, and Visionary. It also maintains a few servers expressly for torrenting. When you load up the client, these servers will be identified by a double-arrow icon.
It should be noted that due to the speed of ProtonVPN, it isn’t the best option if you plan to torrent a lot.
The difference between Free vs. Plus
The biggest downside to sticking with the free version is certainly speed. If you are trying to stream services, like Disney+, HBO Max, or Amazon Prime, it behooves you to at least invest in the next tier up. I can attest to this as it was far easier to download media via the paid versions of Proton versus the free version. My favorite feature from Plus was its secure core feature — routing traffic through protective dating centers through their safe locations in Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland. On other VPNs, this feature is known as “double-hop” or “multi-hop”.
Both low-cost versions allow you to create a profile that saves which servers you prefer. If you are using a family desktop, like I was when I wrote this review, this is a great feature. Hypothetically speaking, your brother can hop on his VPN right after and you won’t forget which Japanese one you were testing.
ProtonVPN speed is nothing to write home about. In the world of VPNs, mediocre speed seems to be the common denominator with using the free version of most VPNs.
I appreciated that the high low connection speed was easily discernible by color: Red, yellow or green. Even the free version (before I upgraded) offered this. Yellow or red means more people are connected to, meaning it’ll be slower. If you want to evade censorship (ex: In China, you can’t access Google), you can even do that on the free version.
Download speed from ProtonVPN.
Credit: SCREENSHOT: EMILY LU GAO/PROTONVPN
As someone easily confused and has to juggle different devices for work, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a live 24/7 help or chatbot feature like other VPNs on the market. There is a support form that users have to fill out to get ProtonVPN’s customer support number or to request a callback. However, European ProtonVPN users have access to customer support agents via chat since the company is located in Europe.
Is it worth it?
It is impressive how secure even the free version of Proton can make a user feel. Yet, I’ll still pass on this pricey VPN. Due to my loyalty to Mac, I don’t think I would invest in ProtonVPN as I can access some of the features, like split tunneling. It certainly seems non-Mac users have a better time with this service. There is a lot to love about the secure ProtonVPN, but there are cheaper and more well-rounded VPNs, like Cyberghost that I would choose beforehand.