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Lucas Novac

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Published: January 10, 2024

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Proton VPN Review – Is It Safe in 2024

When choosing a VPN provider, consumers can rely on the information that is published on the main pages of their official websites. Each vendor promotes itself as the fastest, the most anonymous, and so on—”the  most and the best” advantages. These promo texts that you will face there are often just primarily marketing rather than veracity; not always, but really often.

In order to provide a clear imagination about the provider’s capabilities, we broadcast our expertise in the form of such reviews. The investigation of each VPN includes aspects of the server’s network, security, connection speed, privacy policy, cross-platform compatibility, and other factors. And of course, the main focus is on the free version of a product because our task is to reveal the opportunities of a non-budget version.

Every provider matches definite, specific requirements. There is no point in claiming titanium security measures if you just want to watch a film that is restricted to your location. And otherwise, it is essential to know who exactly can offer you strong protection of a user’s private data when it is necessary. We hope that our job will help you to find answers.

Pros
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Flexible security options almost for each app
  • No logs or gathering users data
Cons
  • Low speed connection for the majority of tests
  • Google Chrome extension does not support free plan
  • Mozilla Firefox extension does not support free plan
  • A few locations for free version

Proton VPN Features

This is a provider with headquarters in Switzerland, where privacy laws are very strong. Proton VPN keeps a no-logs policy, provides DNS leak protection, and uses the TOR network to enhance privacy.

ChaCha20 and AES-256 are the main encryption standards in their system. Such protocols as WireGuard and OpenVPN complement security. As we have found on their website, the kill switch option is implemented in all their apps, and they ensure to hide your browsing history.

Proton’s servers are high-speed and support connections up to 10 gbps. The VPN accelerator benefits speed and, as they state, can boost it up to 400%. The split tunneling feature for Windows and Android adds points to the security.

They took care to develop apps for a bunch of popular platforms and browsers: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. Proton VPN is compatible with different streaming platforms around the world. “Over 1900 servers in 65+ countries”, you can find these words on the official website.

The free plan is filled with with such opportunities:

  • 1 simultaneously connected device;
  • 3 countries to connect (NL, US, and JP);
  • no-logs policy;
  • unlimited bandwidth;
  • no advertisements.

The descriptive text collected from their promo pages is very promising. Nevertheless, we conducted tests of the apps on different systems and immersed ourselves in the depths of their privacy policies to comprehend the real situation.

Privacy and Logging

Their privacy policy is quite hoarded; it is divided into separate pages and contains various aspects. The very first information that catches one’s eye outlines the information about the account activity of their app.

Proton is no-logs VPN
Current VPN provides no-logs service

As far as we see, no logs are collected. Proton VPN does not block, throttle, or limit access depending on the type of gadget (mobile, tablet, or desktop), the protocol (such as TCP or UDP), or the source being accessed (streaming services, file-sharing platforms, or social media).

We have a vague impression about the data for account maintenance.

Proton VPN security keep information for account maintaining on their servers
Data security description; users data for account maintaining

What is that exact required information it would be nice to know? The text on the screenshot says that the data is always stored on their servers. Is it viable sensitive information or some common data that has no importance in terms of privacy?

Monitoring the information across the website, we revealed one more notice about the logging.

Strict no-log policy
Strict no-logs policy

In theory, Proton’s user can be confident that the IP address is invisible and that the outer side will not know the visited internet sources or the traffic shared during the sessions. The location-based information is also encrypted by the Swiss provider.

Their privacy policy fixed one fact that proves their rigorous respect to no-logging standpoint.

Fact that proves strict no-logs approach
Fact that happened in 2019

This case is really a serious one, consolidating trust in Proton’s services. Even in a legal situation, they were unable to comply with the request as Proton VPN does not log user data. 

Speed Tests – How Fast is Proton VPN

The main purpose of our examination is to study the influence of Proton VPN on the initial ISP speed.

The impact of the VPN on the ISP’s (internet service provider) speed may diverge from provider to provider. It hangs on the quality of the whole provider’s infrastructure adjustment—what protocols they use, encryption standard, server configuration, etc. The distance from the server to you also affects the connection speed.

Our test consists of three divisions:

  • PC Test;
  • Browser’ Extensions Test;
  • Mobile Test.

Terms for each division are pretty similar; we do measures for the US location and one randomly picked European country and compare the results against the pure ISP speed.

The first on the go will be PC tests.

PC Tests

Within this section demonstrated the inspection for two very popular PC systems: macOS and Windows. The tests have been taken under the same circumstances:

  • same ISP;
  • same countries;
  • same speed tester.

Herein, the countries are the same for the reason that Proton VPN furnishes only three available countries with a number of locations within each. So the USA and Netherlands will lead further on the PC tests.

Windows
The screenshot below depicts the ISP speed, the US server speed, and the Netherlands server speed.

Photo collage of the connection speed made on Windows for the US and Dutch servers
Windows’s speed tests

Vertical image shows the results of the ISP. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 45.95 mbps;
  • upload speed is 65.68 mbps;
  • ping time is 3 ms.

The top-right image shows the performance of the US server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 58.04 mbps;
  • upload speed is 73.7 mbps;
  • ping time is 170 ms.

The outcome achieves very high results, except for the ping time. The download speed is about 25% above the ISP speed, and the upload speed is nearly 12% above it too. Ping time has increased from 3 ms to 170 ms.

The bottom-right image shows the performance of the Netherlands server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 39.35 mbps;
  • upload speed is 46.06 mbps;
  • ping time is 38 ms.

The NL location has speed losses, and ping time has also increased. The download speed has been cut by nearly 14%, the upload speed has decreased by 30%, and the ping time has elevated from 3 ms to 38 ms.

Now a few words to outline the received information. The speed indicators are good and especially efficient for the US. But the ping time for the US location is very high; this index is important for online events like team meetings or online gaming. The server responds with too much latency, which impacts the content received by the user.

MacOS
The test on the current operating system was conducted under the identical conditions as the Windows test. Let us see the results.

Proton VPN speed test photo collage for the US and Dutch locations
Speed test made on MacBook

Vertical image shows the results of the ISP. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 58.3 mbps;
  • upload speed is 55.1 mbps;
  • ping time is 3 ms.

The top-right image shows the performance of the US server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 28.5 mbps;
  • upload speed is 3.35 mbps;
  • ping time is 190 ms.

Results of the current operating system for the US server are not promising. The download speed is about 51% below the ISP speed, and the upload speed is nearly 94% lower. Ping time has increased from 3 ms to 190 ms.

The bottom-right image shows the performance of the Dutch server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 29.4 mbps;
  • upload speed is 14.7 mbps;
  • ping time is 35 ms.

NL location has also shown worse losses than the Windows system. The download speed has been cut by nearly 50%, the upload speed has decreased by approximately 73%, and the ping time has increased from 3 ms to 35 ms.

Rates of the macOS app declined much with results compared to the Windows app. The US geo is leading with significant losses, while the NL geo has a bit better result, but in general it is poor too.

Browsers’ Extensions Test

Browsers are the key players in the internet traffic arena, and users share a tremendous volume of sensitive information. It is not obligatory to install the whole application on your PC if an extension fits your needs. Proton VPN has issued extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, which we installed in order to test them.

But what dismay we felt after revealing that there are no available locations for the free plan, either for Chrome or Firefox. Let’s see what we have received.

VPN for Chrome and Firefox do not have free locations
Browsers extensions failed speed test

They pointed out on the website that their products have a free version but did not note the restrictions for some of them. We would suggest writing down such information in a well-visible area. We had no satisfaction in wasting our time installing and registering a product that was unusable.

Mobile Test

Proton VPN application is available for iOS and Android systems. The conditions of the test are the same as for desktop apps.

Android

Photo collage of the Proton VPN speed test on Android for the US and Dutch servers
Speed test made on the Android device

The first image in a row shows the results of the ISP. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 38.0 mbps;
  • upload speed is 39.7 mbps;
  • ping time is 3 ms.

The central image shows the performance of the US server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 44.1 mbps;
  • upload speed is 19.5 mbps;
  • ping time is 172 ms.

Android app presented moderate results in performance. The download speed is about 16% higher than the ISP speed, and the upload speed is nearly 51% lower. Ping time has increased from 3 ms to 172 ms.

The right image shows the performance of the Dutch server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 23.8 mbps;
  • upload speed is 23.4 mbps;
  • ping time is 37 ms.

NL location demonstrated a meaningful downgrade. The download speed is nearly 38% lower, the upload speed is approximately 51% lower, and the ping time has increased from 3 ms to 37 ms.

IOS

The speed tests on the iPhone were conducted under the same circumstances as for all previous platforms. The first screenshot displays pure ISP speed.

Internet connection speed of the internet service provider
Internet Service provider connection speed tested on the Iphone device

The indexes are:

  • download speed is 42.0 mbps;
  • upload speed is 4.86 mbps;
  • ping time is 28 ms.

The next screenshot shows the result of the VPN connecting to the US and NL locations.

Speed test on iOS for the US and Dutch locations
IOS’s speed test; the US and NL locations

The top pair of images show the performance of the US server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 7.39 mbps;
  • upload speed is 0.6 mbps;
  • ping time is 374 ms.

We expected something more from the app devoted to the premium technique. The download speed is about 82% below the original ISP score, and the upload speed is nearly 88% lower. Ping time has increased from 28 ms to 374 ms.

The right image shows the performance of the Dutch server. The indexes are:

  • download speed is 5.98 mbps;
  • upload speed is 1.69 mbps;
  • ping time is 72 ms.

NL location demonstrated a meaningful downgrade. The download speed is nearly 86% lower, the upload speed is about 65% lower, and the ping time has increased from 28 ms to 72 ms.

The general perception is as follows: the iOS developers have missed an important nuance, which suppresses the speed potential; the descending of values is too intensive.

About Safety – How Secure is Proton VPN?

Why is the audience interested in VPN? There are two basic wishes: to get the restricted content and to provide a high level of security for private, sensitive data. In this section, we are going to be talking about the security side.

Given that Switzerland is a country with a very strict privacy policy, it would be natural to assume that the security measures of Proton VPN should also be of a high standard.

What is the catchy phrase we found on the website.

Quote from the website that Proton VPN is the best free VPN
They are sure that they provide the best service

We have explored the technology stack they use and will see soon if it matches their own claim. On the website, it is easy to find the promo section about security.

Security features of Proton VPN
This is the main security core

AES-256 and ChaCha20 encryption standards are built into the system. These types of encryption are known as fast and secure protocols. WireGuard and OpenVPN are also modern, reliable protocols that ensure the highest level of protection. Kill switch feature protects against data leakage in case of a sudden disconnection. 

On macOS, we went into the settings of Proton VPN and discovered some flexible security configurations.

VPN for MacOS obtains flexible security features
Apple desktop device contains a decent pack of the security settings

An application implies the ability to select the protocol for the free version. On macOS, IKEv2 is set up by default, and you can select another one. A convenient possibility is provided to choose WireGuard or WireGuard (TCP). Typically, the WireGuard protocol uses the UDP transport protocol for transmitting encrypted data. It is a modern and lightweight transportation layer. TCP transport layer has higher latency but possesses stronger protective properties. Stealth is Proton’s own protocol developed to bypass internet censorship and VPN blocks.

On the bottom image, there is a NAT switcher. NAT (stands for Network Address Translation) is a technology that allows sharing several devices on a private network with a single public IP address. The client’s IP is hidden behind the VPN server’s IP address during the connection between the client and the server. In other words, the traffic transmits to the IP of the VPN server before reaching the internet. When a VPN connection is established between a client and a server,

The Windows application is also stuffed with flexible security configurations. And the selection of available features is richer than on macOS.

Proton's VPN security system on Windows OS
They have managed to create a powerful security system designed for the OS issued by Microsoft

On the bottom image, you may observe a bunch of security settings that are absent on macOS.

The Swiss provider is an honest VPN that is true to its word. Information that is written on the website is proven by technologies integrated into their products.

Current VPN provider tries to implement into the free version solid, high-qualified security solutions. You are able to set up an appropriate stack that will fit the specific situations. Windows’s app is filled with a richer set of configurations than macOS.

Desktop Apps

Visual interfaces of the apps are very resemblant. The installation of both apps is smooth and simple. After the app is installed, you are obligated to process a registration; only after that, the product is accessible in full mode. Desktop free apps, both for macOS and Windows, offer only three available countries for connecting.

We will explore them one by one. Let the macOS app be the first, followed by the Windows app.

MacOS

After the product has been installed, you will encounter the first registration pop-up. And it is a mandatory phase that you can not skip.

Proton VPN for iOS request your login data
MacOS’s app; first screen

Process of registration is common and should not cause difficulties. Now we can observe the main window of the app.

dark interface of the Proton VPN for MacOS
MacOS’s main screen

The main screen is divided into two logical sections. The left side places all the main interactive elements, and the right section displays the world map with servers’ pointers. Also, the map contains a zoom scale.

Each location field includes a dropdown on the right edge that unfolds on-hand locations for the particular country.

Proton's VPN servers with a subset of locations
MacOS unfold locations 

In the Japanese region, there are three servers; the Dutch networks consist of 70+ servers,  and the US has 13 servers. You need to choose the specific location and press the “Quick connect button” to establish the connection. The left part has three additional clickable elements responsible for changing hot security options. We ensured that the kill switch option workes under the free plan.

The settings page of the app is well built; except for the general preferences, there is a tab with flexible security options. You can select the encryption standard from the four suggested and set up other controls described in the section “About Safety”.

Apart from the main display, the Proton team developed a hot pop-up located in the macOS toolbar. It is a convenient feature.

VPN for MacBook has an additional minimised pop-up
Interesting solution to create a secondary main screen of the application

The next in line is the app for WIndows.

WIndows

Design for the Windows and macOS apps is similar, with minor differences. It involves three free countries with locations within: Japan – 39 geos, Netherlands – 75 geos, the USA – 12 locations. The total number of countries is 66. The settings page here is as versatile and flexible and has the same options as its macOS sibling.

Mobile Apps

Each enterprise that presents itself in the global digital arena has to care about the penetration of mobile gadgets. And our VPN provider managed to develop applications for iOS and Android devices. 

We have explored both apps and will share the description here. Android will be the first.

Android

The screenshot below shows how the app looks.

main screen of VPN for the Android device
Android’s app

As for all previously explored apps for distinctive platforms, the Android application contains only three available countries: Japan with three locations within, the Netherlands with 70+ locations, and the USA with 13 locations. The total number of countries is 66. 

The interface is simple: six interactive elements on the main screen. The button in the bottom-right corner is a connection toggle. Android app also has a map with servers’ pointers. A settings page is also well built and contains enough security options.

Security settings of the Android application
Security settings

Quite a diverse selection for a free plan. Here are included various protocols, a split tunneling switcher, and other properties to edit.

The overall impression of the Proton’s software for Android is pleasant enough. We think that it would be awesome to expand the location limit for the free version.

IOS

The mobile apps for iOS and Android have a very similar design with minor distinctions in some elements. The difference has any impact on productivity.

VPN for iOS has similar design as Android's app
IOS’s application

The same three available countries for the free version, the map module, connection button, and the settings gear icon. The app for the current platform holds repeated settings as on Android. The ability to choose a protocol, kill switch toggler and other items to set up are here.

Browser Extensions

This part of the review is going to be very short, seeing that the free plan for extensions is absolutely impossible to utilize. We are confused because the extension does not have any available locations for connection. So, there is only one option you have with the free version: installation of the app, and that is all. 

We can only demonstrate what it looks like.

Free locations are not not available in the unpaid version
Chrome extension

There are some optional settings embedded, but we do not get why they are needed if we can not use the app on the free plan.

Performance

The best performance has demonstrated the Windows’s app. The US server even boosted the downloading and uploading connection speeds. But there can be an issue with live events because the ping time rapidly increased and will cause delays in traffic delivery. NL geo showed moderate results.

The macOS’s app revealed low capacity of speed opportunities for the US location. An uploading score achieved a downgrade of 94%. The NL geo also shows significant speed losses. 

The browsers extensions did not participate in our tests for the reason that the software is not prepared to be applicable for the free plan.

Android mobile app performed temperate speed loss for the US location and decent speed reduction for the NL location.

MacOS application did not achieve even a moderate speed rate for either location.

Outlining all the arguments, we believe that the connection speed appears to be a weak element of Proton’s VPN architecture.

Work in Highly Restricted Countries

No data on the official source about the query.

Server’s locations

For the free version only three locations are available for all Proton’s products apart from browsers extension: there are no available locations for free plan.
However, in total, the vendor has servers in 69 countries.

Proton VPN servers and locations
Technical characteristics of the Proton’s network

We counted on some apps the total number of locations, and it was really 60+. The already-noticed three free locations encompass multiple servers inside.

What Bonuses Does the Paid Version Offer, and How Much Does It Cost?

Subscription implies advanced opportunities for users who are ready to pay.

Proton VPN subscription plan is called Proton VPN Plus
Proton subscription offer

You can connect up to 10 devices; all geos will be accessible, and there is no speed limitations. Also, you receive P2P/BitTorrent support, an ad-blocker, and a few more bonuses.

About Support

The support service of the current company has a page with spread questions and in advance prepared answers.

Customers support page with prepared blocks of answers
Proton subscription offer

We were curious about the live support and sent the message by email. In a day we received an answer. On the site’s support page you can find the details for communication.

Correspondence via email with live support
Proton support details and live chat

Client support is decent and thoughtful. Maybe you will not need to chat by email thanks to the extensive support page with prepared queries and solutions.

Proton VPN Review: Final verdict

Proton VPN has presented facts that do not allow us to think of it as a low-qualified provider. The security measures for the free version are rich enough and consolidated by a strong and confident privacy policy. 

Notwithstanding that the provider embodies plenty of benefits it also has drawbacks. The weak component of their system is a slow connection. In some cases, the downfall is +90%. Only Windows’s app performed at tangible speed on the US server. Three available locations is better than one; however, we know vendors who offer far more positions.

The browsers’ extensions are an individual and unclear query. They do not have any opportunities or options for utilizing the free version. We have been trying to find any mention of the activity in countries with strict restrictions but could not manage to do it.

Proton VPN is a skilled player who can offer real and qualified service. But the real speed rates will be available to you only after you pay. If the speed of the connection is a valuable asset for you, then it would be better to check another provider who can offer better conditions.