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Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On July 7, 2015
Last modified:July 15, 2015

Summary:

Private Internet Access Review Private Internet Access Review Summary

Private Internet Access provide a comprehensive VPN service focusing heavily on user choice and security. Their Android app gives notably great protection for public WiFi networks, and the service is overall priced very reasonably indeed.

Pricing & Plans

Private Internet Access offer three pricing plans for their service, which differ only in the monthly cost and total subscription period. Subscribing for one month is $6.95 – a more reasonable monthly figure than many providers out there – while subscribing for a whole year pushes the monthly cost down to only $3.33. As VPNs go, that’s impressively cheap for what’s on offer.

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A seven-day money back guarantee is available to help new customers feel secure when signing up. Payment can be made via a range of credit cards and web payment schemes, including PayPal, Amazon and Google Wallet. There’s also the welcome option to pay with complete anonymity through Bitcoin.

Video Review

We created a video review for Private Internet Access:

 

Features

Private Internet Access is based in the US and is a subsidiary of London Trust Media Inc., a fact about which it’s refreshingly open. Servers are offered in 29 locations across 18 countries including the US, Europe and Australia, with nearly 3000 servers available in total. Users are allowed up to five simultaneous connections to the VPN from any combination of devices.

Visit Private Internet Access »

Security & Privacy

Private Internet Access provider users with access to their VPN via OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP. A range of protocols and encryption strengths is available, with OpenVPN (rightly) being the focus and offering up to AES-256 for datastream encryption, SHA256 for data authentication and RSA-4096 for handshaking. Freedom of user choice is a big part of what Private Internet Access stands for, so users are free to choose their preferred type and level of encryption in the client options, and there’s a page on the website dedicated to helping users choose the right one for them.

The company’s policy of keeping no user logs whatsoever goes a long way towards mitigating the fact of their being based in the USA. Torrents and filesharing are explicitly permitted on all servers.

The website

The Private Internet Access website is perhaps a little cluttered, but it’s very usable and this doesn’t get in the way of the accessibility of information. Most of the important facts users might want to know are presented front-and-centre, and key policies like their terms of service and privacy policy are available without excessive poking around.

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There’s a forum linked to at the bottom of the site, which is well-frequented by users and staff and promises good lines of communication between the company and its users. There’s also a regularly-updated blog carrying great posts by Rick Falkvinge on security and privacy issues, with plenty of user comment and interaction too.

Support

Users can access support most easily through the live chat service on the website, though we were disappointed that doing so requires entering a name and email address. An ETA is displayed while you wait for a support agent, and though we had to wait a little longer than we’d expect – around five minutes – to talk to someone, we found the agents we did eventually speak to were knowledgeable and helpful.

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Clear and easy-to-follow setup guides are easily available for a number of non-standard VPN configurations as well as DD-WRT and Tomato routers, and – although users in a hurry may miss the link – further exploration of the website’s support section takes users to a fully-featured knowledge base with over 135 articles on a variety of subjects. Here users also have the opportunity to submit tickets, with estimated answer times being displayed on the front page. Ticket support allows users to upload files to support their query, and as with live chat, requires a full name and email address (as well as a captcha entry) before submission. Generally we found support to be helpful and accessible, if not as fast and open as some other providers.

The Process

Signing Up

How you become a user of Private Internet Access’ service depends on how you want to pay for it. Gift cards and bitcoin are completely anonymous, requiring only an email address, whereas paying by credit card requires entry of a complete billing address. Once payment is complete, new users are sent an email with the username and password they can use to connect to the VPN, as well as some helpful info such as where to find and how to install the client. It’s also possible to log in to the website and change the password if you prefer.

The Private Internet Access Windows VPN client

Private Internet Access provides one of the most functional clients we’ve seen, with particular standouts being the easy to access options for encryption and handshaking as well as DNS leak protection and a killswitch to disable users’ internet when the VPN disconnects. There’s an option to connect via TCP instead of UDP which is great for users of open WiFi hotspots. Options to launch and connect on Windows startup are presented right below the login area rather than hidden away in an options screen. Generally the options areas are easy to access and understand, and we appreciated the simplicity and ease of use of the interface.

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Once your settings are configured, operating the VPN itself is achieved through right-clicking an icon in the system tray. The option to connect to your pre-selected server is at the top of the list, and other servers can be accessed below. At the bottom is the link which takes you back to the settings window, and the option to exit the client completely.

While it’s not the most picturesque client we’ve ever seen, it still manages to be fairly easy to use and offers the user a wealth of great options without being messy or bulky.

Performance (Speed, DNS and IP Test)

With high expectations after such a great client, we found the speed tests for Private Internet Access to be generally pleasing. Connecting to the nearest UK server, most of our tests achieved results around the 25Mbps mark, which is around 85% of our 30Mbps test connection; results while connected to the US were only a hair lower than our non-VPN results to the same server. Connection times were generally OK, with most of being accomplished successfully within a small handful of seconds but some taking well over a minute to settle on a stable connection.


Ostrom speed test UK pia_speed2_uklondon pia_speed2_useast
UK test, no VPN. UK test, UK server. US test, US server.


DNS and IP checks were rock solid, with Private Internet Access making use of their own DNS servers, and the built-in DNS leak protection doing its job admirably to prevent our Windows test system spilling out unshielded requests to our ISP.

Other Platforms

Private Internet Access provide clients for Mac OSX, Android and iOS as well as Windows. Although the iOS app uses L2TP, setup guides are provided for using PIA’s service with the open-source OpenVPN Connect app, allowing iOS users access to the more secure OpenVPN protocol in the process.

Android app

Android users get a native OpenVPN-capable app with OpenSSL which provides one of the most secure and impressive suite of options we’ve seen on the platform. As with the Windows client, there’s the built-in internet killswitch and options to specify type and level of encryption. There’s also the very welcome option to start the client on boot and connect automatically. Combined with the killswitch and the option to connect via TCP instead of UDP, the Private Internet Access Android client is a complete solution for protecting frequent users of open WiFi hotspots where often security is already compromised before a user can even get their VPN client to connect. The obvious improvement we’d like to see to this already excellent combination of features would be the option to define which networks to protect with the VPN, rather than blanket on/off settings.

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Connection is lightning-fast and speeds are in the higher range for what we’ve observed on an Android app – we easily got mid-teens downstream figures using the default BF-128 protocol. The app is only moderately hampered by its somewhat pedestrian appearance, but for such excellent functionality and decent ease-of-use, we’re willing to overlook a lack of style.

Other/ Free Services

In addition to the standard VPN offering, Private Internet Access also provide a SOCKS5 proxy for all accounts – although there’s no setup guide for this, and despite a lengthy conversation with support we couldn’t get it to work.

Private Internet Access Review Conclusion

We liked

  • Wide range of user-selectable encryption options
  • High strength encryption and handshaking available
  • Good range of protocols
  • Clients for all major platforms
  • Excellent Android app and OpenVPN on iOS (through OpenVPN Connect)
  • Fantastic range of security options built-in to clients
  • Good speeds
  • No logs
  • Good prices and money-back guarantee

We weren’t so sure about

  • Speeds and connection times can be variable
  • Waiting times for support a little higher than some other providers
  • Couldn’t get proxy to work

We hated

  • Nothing

While its clients and website lack the visual pizazz of some other VPNs, Private Internet Access’ core service is excellent, its clients are powerful and it has some of the most accessible and useful user-configuration options we’ve seen on both Windows and Android platforms. Given all this is available for a price point reaching as low as $3.33 with a seven-day money back guarantee to boot, Private Internet Access makes for a very easy recommendation. Go give them a try today.

Visit Private Internet Access »


Written by Charles Tosh

I'm a freelance writer and English teacher who loves travel, technology and mushy movies.

6 responses to “Private Internet Access Review

  1. I’ve been with PIA since Jan 2015 and it’s a great service with everything I was looking for in a VPN provider. Which is good price and Socks 5 support. Since I have older equipment I use Socks 5 in uTorrent and it works really well, I get the same speeds as I would without it through my ISP.

    Maxthon web browser can now be configured with a Socks 5 proxy with authentication, it’s the only browser I know of that supports in browser Socks 5 proxy with authentication. If anyone else knows of another browser with proxy ‘authentication’ feature, please chime in.

  2. It’s a decent service , one word of warning though , it WILL keep disconnecting you periodically , especially if you download a large amount of data (at least I find it does) meaning unless you have a download manager or are using torrent downloader , you will have issues.

    1. My initial experience was the same as yours and it was frustrating to say the least. But once I understood how the PIA software worked and configured the firewalls and windows defender correctly(in windows XP and windows 8.1), I have not had sudden disconnects with the VPN or Socks 5 connections, there are days when my uTorrent runs overnight or for +24 hrs without a disconnect. The PIA software definitely needs to be better coded.

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    Thanks for the comments and feedback. If you’ve tried PIA, tell us about your experience!

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    PIA is the best vpn no disconnect no problem fast support.

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