As its antiquated app icon and the stock image on its website indicate, Private Internet Access has been covering people’s tracks on the internet since 2010. Based in the U.S. but bought by London-based Kape Technologies in late 2019, Private Internet Access offers a pile of internet privacy and security features at a low price. But is the service as out of date as it looks? We downloaded Private Internet Access and put it through its paces to see if it has kept up with the times and has what it takes to be 2020’s best VPN.
Design and Features
While it has options for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows computers, as well as Android and iOS on mobile devices, Private Internet Access lacks apps for Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. In addition, it doesn’t offer solutions for playing nicely with subscribers’ routers, though it does offer routers for sale that come with the FlashRouters Privacy App pre-installed. These shortcomings already have Private Internet Access falling short of the competition, right out of the gate.
To its credit, Private Internet Access has plenty of servers at the ready, offering users access to 3,300 tunnels across more than 47 countries, worldwide. Claiming to be a no-log VPN, the service maintains an ongoing transparency report on its website, outlining how many court orders, subpoenas, and warrants the company has received and supplied logs in response to.
Private Internet Access’s desktop app is slicker than the company’s outdated marketing might lead a user to expect, but it’s not particularly intuitive. A small window that can either pop out of the taskbar or float on its own, it has a large power button that turns Private Internet Access’s VPN on and off. Below that button, there’s a map showing the location of the server it connects to. To the right of the map is a small arrow that, which clicked on, springboards the user to a list of all the other servers available on the VPN. Favorite servers can be saved, but there’s no recommendation from Private Internet Access on which tunnels are better for certain online activities.
Below the map and server information, there’s another arrow, this one pointing down, that unfurls a dashboard that highlights the VPN’s performance, offers quick access to popular settings, shows subscription information, and more. Also, at the top of the app, next to the VPN’s activation button, there’s a hamburger menu that opens up more settings in a separate window, where users can customize options from the app’s appearance, encryption and protocol configurations, and more.
Private Internet Access makes no claims of providing fast internet access while its service is securing Internet users web activity, and that’s probably a good thing, because it proved to be one of the slowest VPNs we reviewed. For context, our Internet connection averaged 65 mbps when unprotected by a VPN. While running Private Internet Access, it slowed down to around 20mbps.
To test the service’s speed, we used SpeedOf.Me to take the average download and upload speeds in both the afternoon and evening of our internet connection when it wasn’t cloaked by a VPN, and then took the same measurements when it was protected by Private Internet Access.
But speed isn’t everything. To measure the VPN’s responsiveness, we also used ping-testing on the servers of three popular online multiplayer games – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, and League of Legends – to be able to measure their performance both when using Private Internet Access and when not. Then, to add real-world context to all those numbers, we played the titles while connected to the service, to see if its the best VPN for gaming. And finally, we kicked back with a movie, streaming the fast-paced action film Extraction, to see Private Internet Access has what it takes to be the best VPN for Netflix.
On average, there was no big change between ping responsiveness on Counter-Strike with or without Private Internet Access enabled. And, unsurprisingly, the game performed well while our computer was protected using the VPN service. This is not just because Private Internet Access’s tunnel played nice with Counter-Strike’s server (though it helped), but the VPN’s upload speeds were comparable to our unprotected rate.
Fortnite performed similarly well, which is surprising on one hand because Private Internet Access’s download speeds were so poor. But on the other hand, the VPN’s upload speeds were good and its responsiveness to Fortnite’s servers were a pleasant surprise, so that speaks to the results.
League of Legends, meanwhile, slashed and clashed as steady as ever while using Private Internet Access. Though the game server’s ping response rate was a bit slower while using Private Internet Access, it wasn’t markedly worse. As such, the game hardly wavered from its typical speed.
Netflix, however, was another story. Queuing up Extraction, the internet speed slowed to a crawl, taking almost a minute to launch the film. It wasn’t until at least another minute that the movie became clear enough to show any detail, but even that was only temporary. The streaming title’s fast-paced action continually devolved into a blocky soup of film. It’s not the way to watch a movie.
One of the less expensive VPNs we reviewed in 2020, Private Internet Access offers a range of pricing plans to its subscribers. It also makes it somewhat convenient to subscribe to its VPN by offering Amazon Pay and Paypal electronic payment options, though it leaves out Android Pay, Apple Pay, and cryptocurrency as methods. Users looking for a one-month Private Internet Access subscription only need to shell out $9.95 per month. If you’re willing to commit to six months of Private Internet Access, you will have to pay $35.95 up front, but that trims the monthly rate back to $5.99. But for just four dollars more, you can get one year of Private Internet Access for just $39.95, a deal made even sweeter because it gives users two months free. At the annual rate, the VPN costs just $2.85 per month. All plans offer a 30-day money back guarantee.