Private Internet Access review

There's no shortage of servers on offer with this VPN

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Our Verdict

Private Internet Access is slightly off the pace in performance terms compared to rival VPNs, but it boasts some impressive features, and if you pay annually the asking price is more than reasonable.

For

  • Vast selection of locations
  • Low yearly price
  • Clear privacy policy
  • Ad, tracking and malware blocking

Against

  • No free plan or trial
  • No live chat support
  • Lower mid-range performance

Some VPN companies ask you to choose from only five or 10 servers, but Private Internet Access offers a huge selection of 3300+ servers in 24 countries, leaving everyone else trailing in its digital wake.

The company doesn't give you any surprising bonus features, but the service is still better than average. There's support for five devices, PPTP/OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec protocols, a SOCKS5 proxy, and no obvious restrictions on P2P.

There's real value here, too. The firm has three plans, all with identical features and differing only in the billing period. The baseline costs $6.95 (£5.30, AU$9.30) per month, you can pay $35.95 (£27, AU$48) for 6 months or an impressively cheap $39.95 (£31, AU$54) per year. Payment options include Bitcoin as well as credit cards, PayPal and others.

There's no free account or trial, unfortunately. Private Internet Access does offer a 7-day refund. You have to request this via email but it appears to be "no questions asked", and this worked well for us.

Privacy

Private Internet Access has a surprisingly short privacy policy, with many of the usual lengthy jargon-packed paragraphs replaced by clearly written bullet points.

Unfortunately the Terms of Service page is heavyweight in the extreme, consisting of more than 4,400 words of densely-packed legalese.

We ploughed through everything, and found most of the conditions were very standard. "We try to make the service available at all times but can't guarantee it". "We record basic personal details (email, payment info) but don't share them with anyone else". "You shouldn't use our services to do illegal things."

The conditions do offer some scope for throttling or perhaps closing someone's account if they're hogging too much bandwidth. It's reasonable for a company to allow the possibility of this, and just because they can do it, doesn't mean they ever have.

It's also worth noting that the service does have age restrictions. Under 13-year-olds can't use it, and 13 to 17-year-olds aren't allowed to sign up or activate the service themselves.

Performance

After signing up with Private Internet Access, an email arrived with a link to a custom installer. This set itself up without difficulty, even automatically entering our account user name and password to avoid us having to do it ourselves.

Basic client operations are simple. You can opt to run it when Windows starts, and optionally auto-connect, but otherwise you just have to select a region (or "auto" to select the fastest server) and click Connect.

The regions available are individual countries, or specific areas in some countries (US, Canada, Australia and UK all have multiple options). You can't select a specific server within a region as you can with some other services, although of course they don't usually offer thousands of locations.

The client also hides away a good number of extra settings and options, including connection type, kill switch, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, encryption control, and even advert, tracking and malware-blocking.

The service connected to whatever region we selected without difficulty. We noticed a very few issues with individual sites not displaying correctly – we're unsure why, but the problem disappeared when we disconnected, and wasn't visible in other VPNs we tried – but this wasn't widespread and we didn't see any connection errors.

If you do have any difficulties, there's a web knowledgebase to explore. You can also contact support, but this is email only, not live chat, and the company says there's a four to six hour response time.

In our performance tests*, Private Internet Access was lower mid-range in all areas (latency was increased by 85%, upload speeds were down 29% compared to our normal rates, and download speeds dropped by 16%), but overall the service was very usable.

Final verdict

Private Internet Access is a good choice on balance. Its performance levels might not be the best, but it's relatively nicely priced and offers a number of benefits including advert and malware blocking, not to mention a huge range of locations.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we've reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.