The free version of ProtonVPN is one of the best complimentary VPN offerings we’ve seen. Not only are there no speed or data caps, but performance and privacy are also on par with the premium version.
With access to just three of ProtonVPN’s server locations, it’s not ideal for torrenters or streaming fans, but it’s still a fantastic way to try before you buy.
This is our review for the free VPN service by ProtonVPN. If you want to read what we think of the premium version you should read our full ProtonVPN review.
Speed & Reliability
Despite ProtonVPN’s website stating that free users will only benefit from ‘low’ speeds, the results of our performance tests proved quite the opposite.
In fact, speeds on the three available servers were exactly the same, if not better, than those we measured on the ‘Plus’.
As we test from the UK the closest server to us was in the Netherlands, from which we measured an excellent 80Mbps up and down.
Download performance extends to international connections too, reaching 35Mbps in the US and 25Mbps in Japan, although uploads weren’t as good.
Latency is above average, but that’s enough to make it around the best we’ve seen from a free provider, coming in at 13ms on the Netherlands server. Not ideal for gamers (take a look at IPVanish if low ping is your thing), but this won’t be an issue for the majority of everyday users.
To read more about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
The free version of ProtonVPN only allows you to access three different server locations – Japan, the Netherlands, and the US.
While this may not be a problem for users nearby, those elsewhere in the world will naturally experience poorer performance.
It’s not possible to drill down to city-level servers, but if you upgrade to a premium subscription you’ll be treated to seven US cities and a total of 29 countries worldwide.
Platforms & Devices
ProtonVPN currently offers custom apps for Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices, and there’s a simple manual workaround for Linux users too.
Be aware though, the Free plan only allows you to use ProtonVPN on one device at a time, so installing it at router level could be a huge advantage if you wish to protect multiple devices. You can find the list of compatible models on the support section of ProtonVPN’s website.
Streaming & Torrenting
The free version of ProtonVPN is not designed to provide quick, hassle-free access to popular streaming sites such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
As it’s not possible to connect to a server in the UK, you won’t be able to watch BBC iPlayer, and the US server didn’t work to unblock Netflix – the premium version does, though.
Torrenters are out of luck, too – P2P activity isn’t supported on any of ProtonVPN’s free servers, as support is a feature reserved exclusively for paid subscribers.
Encryption & Security
Users of ProtonVPN’s free service benefit from exactly the same level of security as its premium subscribers.
The desktop app runs exclusively on OpenVPN, the most secure VPN protocol, so you can be sure that your personal information will be protected. Encryption is via top cipher AES-256.
The VPN kill switch feature is absolutely essential, as it prevents your true IP address from being exposed in case of an unexpected connection drop.
You’re also protected against DNS and IPv6 leaks, as confirmed by independent leak tests.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of features that are limited to paid users, such as ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers or servers optimized for use with Tor. Nevertheless, it’s by far the most secure free provider we’ve seen.
- OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
- DNS Leak Blocking
- IPV6 Leak Blocking
- VPN Kill Switch
While its premium counterpart may be working to provide a (somewhat unreliable) service in China and other high-censorship countries, the free version of ProtonVPN is no good for bypassing government blocks.
Not only does it operate exclusively on OpenVPN, the protocol that’s easiest for censors to detect and block, free users also don’t have access to the Secure Core servers that are designed to provide an additional layer of obfuscation.
The only thing it collects is the timestamp of your last successful login attempt, and this gets overwritten each time you successfully connect to the VPN.
This is used to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks, and also to determine that nobody else is using your account.
It doesn’t contain any identifying information, such as your true IP address or physical location, meaning nothing you do while connected to the VPN can be linked back to you.
ProtonVPN is based in Geneva, Switzerland, meaning its users are protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy and data protection laws.
Ease of Use
ProtonVPN’s free apps are exactly the same as its premium apps, only with fewer server locations.
The main screen displays your new server location and IP address, along with some useful stats such as the server load and estimated upload and download speeds.
The server locations are usually arranged alphabetically, but ProtonVPN has helpfully pushed the three free countries to the top of the list and the premium servers are grayed out.
We’re not used to seeing any sort of configurable options from free VPNs, so it made a refreshing change to be able to configure the kill switch feature, DNS leak protection and toggle between UDP and TCP protocols.
Contextual information can be found next to most of these settings, which will be particularly helpful for VPN newbies.
Getting up and running with ProtonVPN is super easy and will only take you a couple of minutes from start to finish.
To sign up for the free plan, you’ll need to provide your email address, and ProtonVPN will then send you a verification code. Once you click on this code, you’ll be prompted to create a secure password before you can begin using the service.
After you’ve created your account, simply download the VPN onto the device you want to protect. Once the installation is complete, simply log in and you’re good to go.
ProtonVPN’s customer support is far better than that offered by most of our other free providers.
There’s an online support center that will cover basic queries and troubleshooting issues, and there are also step-by-step installation guides for all supported devices, including those that need to be manually configured.
ProtonVPN has a live chat feature but it’s unclear at what times of the day this is available, as sometimes the chat icon is there, but other times it’s inaccessible.
When we were able to get in touch with someone, we received timely, detailed responses that were able to help us solve all of our problems.
The Bottom Line
- Peak local download speeds of 80Mbps
- Custom apps for all popular platforms
- Kill switch and DNS leak protection
- Friendly live chat support agents
- Minimal logging policy
- Can only access three server locations
- P2P not permitted on any servers
- No access to Netflix or BBC iPlayer
The free version of ProtonVPN offers exactly the same level of protection as its premium counterpart but lacks a few of the more advanced features.
While performance was excellent, a lack of P2P support and no access to Netflix or BBC iPlayer is bad news for torrenters and streaming fans, though.
If you’re dead set on not paying for a VPN, ProtonVPN is one of the safest options out there, and it doesn’t skimp on performance either. Alternatively, have a look at our roundup of the Best Free VPNs of 2019.