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BSN’s ProtonVPN Review: The Elitist

Dominik

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Proton VPN Review

Despite being far from the best-funded VPN provider out there, ProtonVPN made a name for itself over the years as a reliable and versatile solution for protecting both one’s privacy and data on the World Wide Web.

Born out of the marvelous ProtonMail, this service may not have decades of tradition on its side, but it’s certainly doing a great job at building its own legacy, right at this very moment. But let’s stop romanticizing ProtonVPN and instead take a deep dive into its functionalities so as to explain how and why this solution keeps on landing so many powerful hits above its weight.


ProtonVPN Review Summary
4.38 BSN Score
Pros
Extreme customizability. Third-party VPN client support. Swiss HQ paired with a no-logging policy.
Cons
Can be overwhelming. Popular servers often get crowded even at highest subscription tier. Basic plan doesn’t support video streaming.
Summary
ProtonVPN offers great value for money and backs its versatile capabilities with an extremely consumer-friendly no-logging policy, support for five operating systems, and a transparent pricing policy, as well as a strong focus on physical security. With that said, the ambition to physically secure its infrastructure requires it to compromise on server count, meaning overcrowded nodes are a bit too frequent of an occurrence. This is why one’s decision on whether to invest in ProtonVPN will largely depend on how much bandwidth they plan on using every month.
Performance4
Privacy & Security5
Ease of Use3.5
Pricing4.5

ProtonVPN Performance

Every VPN lives and dies by its network performance, which is where Proton’s solution ranges from above-average to excellent, depending on the time of the day.

You see, ProtonVPN is technologically on par with the best providers on the market, but it sometimes struggles to prove that’s the case. That’s why following extensive testing of this virtual private network’s Plus (near-ultimate) tier, we reached a conclusion that ProtonVPN is simply too light on actual server volumes in order to keep up with popular demand.

E.g. if you want to do some torrenting, it’s a complete toss whether you’ll be able to find an unencumbered peer-to-peer server in ProtonVPN’s network, which will in turn significantly affect your overall experience with the service.

Proton Technologies may not be a multinational conglomerate, but the fact it only has a dozen or so employees can hardly be an excuse for this lack of scalability, as inconsequential as it often is. The interest is obviously there, so why isn’t the company expanding its operations? It’s difficult to say; for all we know, they may be perfectly in the right to be conservative, but for the time being, the immediate result of that strategy is a VPN that offers whose speeds and consistency are pretty good but fall just short of greatness simply because there’s just too. Many. People. on its servers nearly all the time.

The tested speeds and drop-offs you can see here aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re also meant to represent a worst-case scenario. We had zero issues with watching Netflix using ProtonVPN, for example, and participating in peer-to-peer sharing also wasn’t an issue. Well, assuming you don’t consider a 15-30% drop in download speeds an “issue”.

ProtonVPN Privacy & Security

Proton Technologies AG, the company behind this virtual private network platform, is based in Switzerland. Why are we leading with this fact? Newsflash: Switzerland is, like, the country for privacy-minded netizens. There’s probably no other jurisdiction in the world that’s less likely to stomp on people’s personal rights than this small mountainous nation in the heart of Europe is.

We’re not saying Switzerland is perfect, but we’re definitely choosing it as our HQ of choice relative to pretty much every other alternative out there.

Coupled with the company’s no-logs policy, ProtonVPN does everything right to ensure your online identity is as protected as possible. 256-bit AES encryption is naturally supported as well, leaving nothing to be desired on the security front.

If you’re on the lookout for a comprehensive, unified solution taking care of every single one of your browser-equipped devices, ProtonVPN boasts standalone clients for Windows, macOS, GNU/Linux, Android, and iOS.

It’s also largely made of stuff from a tinkerer’s wildest dreams; not only does it come packed with a broad range of operational modifiers you can fiddle with to your heart’s content, but it does so while providing native support for third-party VPN clients. That’s right, you don’t actually need to use ProtonVPN’s apps to benefit from the actual encryption and IP anonymization at the core of its cloud-based systems.

This level of control isn’t completely unheard of in the space but it does stand out, further boosting ProtonVPN’s appeal to users who know what they’re doing. That isn’t to say we’re advocating for everyone who ever thought of using a VPN being forcibly enrolled into a network administration course before suffering through a cryptography boot camp, followed by two months’ worth of cybersecurity conferences.

It’s just that the type of people who review VPNs for a living tend to appreciate software that wasn’t necessarily designed for people whose computer literacy ends with an abacus. Yes, yes, that’s an elitist exaggeration and there’s nothing wrong with super user-friendly programs but those are a dime a dozen these days, so meaningful alternatives should be something to celebrate as their very existence contributes to a more consumer-friendly market.

ProtonVPN Warrant Canary

Warrant canaries are another subject wherein the location of ProtonVPN’s headquarters comes into play. The beautiful thing about Swiss law is that it doesn’t allow Bern to act like Washington and spy on its unsuspecting subjects for indefinite periods of time – or any, really.

In fact, any data request issued by Swiss authorities must also be made known to the subject of such an inquiry so that they are able to contest it. This is supposedly part of this crazy legal concept called “innocent until proven guilty” or something of the sort. It’s not something that appears to concern American authorities but it will keep you protected if you go with ProtonVPN nonetheless.

If you want to learn more about the subject and why it’s important (but not crucial) to the functioning of the modern VPN landscape, check out our in-depth overview of warrant canaries here: What is a warrant canary and why should you care?

ProtonVPN Ease of Use

At the end of the day, it’s not like ProtonVPN requires you to tinker with its countless settings until you dehydrate; you can just as easily have it set up and ready to go in a matter of minutes if you choose its first-party client.

Signing up for ProtonVPN is a straightforward process, regardless of the service tier you opt for. Getting an account with the platform takes a grand total of 15 seconds, and that’s assuming you’re actually following best security practices and aren’t just reusing the same password already assigned to your Gmail, Facebook, PayPal, Battle.net, Pokemon Go, Adobe Creative Cloud, Etsy Store, and local furry boards.

Things can get a little hectic once you decide it’s time to start optimizing your performance and begin switching between servers as it’s easy to lose track of what you did and did not do.

ProtonVPN Pricing

First, let’s just mention that ProtonVPN has a completely free service tier that isn’t absolutely terrible, and we mean that in the best possible way. Moving on to grown-up stuff, a ProtonVPN Basic subscription will set you back $4 a month, assuming you bite the bullet on an annual plan and save 20% by paying $48 in advance.

While this review is largely based on ProtonVPN Plus, it’s the basic version of the service that is the Swiss firm’s bread and butter. Frankly, paying double for the Plus subscription doesn’t give you priority over Basic users, which we ironically found annoying even though we fully acknowledge this is the right, consumer-friendly thing to do.

The main difference between Basic and Plus comes down to the fact the former can’t be used for circumventing geolocation restrictions imposed on video content. That’s right, you’ll have to shell out the equivalent of another Netflix subscription in order to watch a show that someone was too cheap or stubborn to license in your jurisdiction.

Other than that, the equivalent of $8 per month also gives you five device licenses, whereas the Basic plan only comes with two. Before you proclaim most private VPN users don’t need to run five clients simultaneously, remember that ProtonVPN supports five of today’s most popular operating systems on both desktop and mobile platforms.

A 30-day money-back guarantee is on the cards at every subscription tier, no questions asked.

ProtonVPN Review Summary

ProtonVPN offers great value for money and backs its versatile capabilities with an extremely consumer-friendly no-logging policy, support for five operating systems, and a transparent pricing policy, as well as a strong focus on physical security.

With that said, the ambition to physically secure its infrastructure requires it to compromise on server count, meaning overcrowded nodes are a bit too frequent of an occurrence. This is why one’s decision on whether to invest in ProtonVPN will largely depend on how much bandwidth they plan on using every month.


Editor’s Note

BSN’s Proton VPN Review has been written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.

If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.

The overall score doesn’t represent an average of all individual ratings but a weighted average which values Performance as 33%, Privacy & Security as 33%, Ease of Use as 12%, and Pricing as 22% of the final figure. It’s meant to standardize our reviews by giving more weight to the attributes we value the most in VPNs (speed, privacy, and security) without completely disregarding the rest. Naturally, much like any other review out there, the starting points/ratings are still inherently subjective to a particular reviewer’s experience.

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