ExpressVPN vs. ProtonVPN
We compared two of the most popular VPNs on the market and put them through our rigorous testing.
- Based in British Virgin Islands, so not subject to international surveillance alliances’ jurisdiction
- Over 2,000 servers in 148 locations
- Split tunneling available
- Company headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, which means it isn’t compelled to cooperate with international surveillance alliances.
- Strict logging policy and annual transparency reports keeps data untraceable and secure.
- Free version available in addition to competitively priced subscription options.
We’ll be honest: when it comes to VPNs, we’d trust both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN to protect our privacy online. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t keep putting them on our best VPNs lists. That doesn’t mean they’re the same, though. For example, ExpressVPN used rotating IP addresses to hide our location, while ProtonVPN used static, shared addresses. Which of these two VPNs is right for you? We get into all the subtle details to help you make that decision below.
All the Deets
Our ExpressVPN review and our ProtonVPN review offer the complete details on these two software packages, but somehow just writing these two separate reviews didn’t feel like enough to us. It’s so much easier to make a decision when the two products are right there, side-by-side.
|Location of headquarters||British Virgin Islands||Geneva, Switzerland|
|AES-256 bit encryption||✓||✓|
|No traffic logging||✓||✓|
|IP Addresses||Rotated||Static, Shared|
|Ping speed differences with VPN on vs. VPN off||35.7 percent||20 percent|
|Download speed differences with VPN on vs. VPN off||36.75 percent||41.97 percent|
|Upload speed differences with VPN on vs. VPN off||23.97 percent||3.7 percent|
|Year-long subscription price||$99.84||$96.00|
|Google Play app||4.6 rating||4.2 rating|
|Apple app||4.0 rating||4.2 rating|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox, Safari||X|
|Number of devices||Unlimited||1, 2 or 5|
|Customer service||24/7 live chat||Online ticket|
What These Two Have in Common
So, the first thing we discovered, almost immediately, is that ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN actually share a number of important similarities:
- Privacy: Both companies are located in countries that hold privacy in the very highest regard. ExpressVPN’s corporate headquarters are in the British Virgin Islands, while ProtonVPN is located in Switzerland, both countries with strict privacy laws. In addition, both companies have staunchly refused to participate with the international alliances Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, countries that have agreed to cooperate in turning over data to federal authorities.
The More You Know: Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes are consortiums of countries who have agreed to share online intelligence with one another, including users’ internet data such as IP addresses.
- Security: ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN don’t just pay lip service to privacy, though. They’ve both taken measures to make sure they couldn’t turn over our data even if someone did manage to serve them with a warrant. Their security measures include:
- AES-256 bit encryption: Both companies encrypted our data using AES-256 bit encryption, the current industry standard.
- No traffic logging policies: Both companies have a strict no traffic log policy. This means they didn’t collect any information we transmitted through their network, so no one could find out about our secret Barry Manilow obsession. Even our families don’t know about that one, and we intend to keep it that way. Of course, all VPN companies collect some personal information, for billing purposes for example. Here’s a list of what ProtonVPN and ExpressVPN say they keep.
- Kill switches: Both companies provide built-in kill switches. This means if our router had shut down for some reason all of our browsers would have immediately shut down as well. There was no chance our site history might accidentally be discovered.
- No leaks: Finally, when we ran these two VPNs through thorough DNS and WebRTC leak tests, both passed with flying colors. There were zero security flaws, meaning our IP address was completely hidden.
- Split tunneling: Both software packages allowed for split-tunneling. That means we could connect to multiple public and private servers at once and still be protected within the VPN.
- Netflix: Both also worked seamlessly with Netflix, so we could easily skip across the pond and see what U.K. Netflix has to offer that we don’t get here in the U.S.
- Torrenting: Both companies also offer completely anonymous torrenting, so we were able to download music, movies, and TV series without worrying about being tracked. Maybe we should have said this upfront, but we like our entertainment, and both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN gave us secure access to plenty of it.
No Two VPNs Are Ever Completely Alike
Bottom line: both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN have it where it counts. Both offer a unique blend of security and functionality. So then how does one decide between them? The answer, as usual, is in the fine details. So let’s zoom in to take a closer look at the subtle differences between these two and what those differences actually mean in practical terms.
- IP Addresses: Let’s go back to the topic of security, for example. Both companies concealed our IP address while we were connected to their VPN networks, so our surfing remained completely anonymous. But they used completely different processes to do their concealing. ExpressVPN regularly rotated our address so we were never attached to any single location. ProtonVPN, on the other hand, used a sharing system, in which multiple users on the same server shared the same address so that no activity could be traced to any single user. Ultimately, both these methods are pretty effective at keeping us hidden from prying eyes. However, shared IP addresses can be blocked by certain websites, so dynamic addresses are preferable overall.
- Servers: With ExpressVPN, we had access to over 2,000 servers. With ProtonVPN, that number was far less at only 568. Generally speaking, more servers means stronger connections, especially should we suddenly decide to jet over to the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China as we sometimes do.
- Multi-hop: If ExpressVPN outperforms ProtonVPN in terms of servers, though, ProtonVPN has its own advantage: multi-hop technology. Basically, multi-hop meant we weren’t simply connected to one server. Rather, two or more servers were chained together, adding an extra layer of encryption and doubly protecting our location and identity.
FYI: A multi-hop or “double” VPN chains two or more servers together, making it twice as hard for anyone to track your IP address.
- Speed: Adding any VPN to a device is going to make that device run just a little slower. How much slower, though, can vary considerably depending on the software. Here’s what our tests showed about speeds for both ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN:
Tests ExpressVPN ProtonVPN Ping rate 14 ms 10 ms Ping rate using VPN 19 ms 12 ms Ping rate difference between VPN on vs. VPN off 35.7 percent 20 percent Download speed 62.88 mbps 157.52 mbps Download speed using VPN 39.77 mbps 91.41 mbps Download speed difference between VPN on vs. VPN off 36.75 percent 41.97 percent Upload speed 40.61 mbps 28.95 mbps Upload speed using VPN 30.95 mbps 27.88 mbps Upload speed difference between VPN on vs. VPN off 23.97 percent 3.7 percent
So what do all these numbers reveal? When it came to pings, how quickly our computer queried the network, ExpressVPN slowed things down just a bit more than ProtonVPN. The opposite was true, though when it came to download speeds, with ExpressVPN showing a slight edge in efficiency. Finally, when it came to upload speeds, ProtonVPN was especially impressive, slowing our computer’s normal processing down by only 3.7 percent, compared to ExpressVPN’s 23.97 percent. That’s a pretty important number when we’re in the middle of a conference call. When it comes to speed, then, it was a bit of a toss-up.
- Price: Who has the best price was a bit of a toss-up as well. For comparable plans, the two were actually pretty similar.
Contract Length ExpressVPN ProtonVPN 1 month $12.95 X 6 months $59.94 X 12 months $99.84 $96.00
However, ProtonVPN’s pricing varies based on which features we prefer. They even had a free option, though it didn’t offer the tools we needed. ExpressVPN’s pricing, on the other hand, was based on the length of our contract. That meant we could have bought just a single month if we had wanted, though it would have cost a bit more: $12.95.
- Number of devices: ExpressVPN definitely won out when we compared them. ExpressVPN allowed us to utilize up to five connections at once, and we could use those on an unlimited number of devices. In contrast, ProtonVPN would have allowed us only one device on its free plan, two on its basic plan, and still only five on its Plus plan.
- Apps: Both companies offered convenient apps for both Google and Mac. Curiously, ExpressVPN received a better rating—4.6 vs. 4.2—for its iOS app, while ProtonVPN received a slightly better rating—4.2 vs. four—for its Android app.
- Browser extensions: ExpressVPN came with handy extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. ProtonVPN offered no browser support, at least not as of yet.
- Customer Support: Finally, ExpressVPN seemed to have better customer support, with 24/7 access to live chat with a customer representative. ProtonVPN, in contrast, offered only online ticket support. When we need support for VPN, we typically need it now rather than later.
When it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, which one’s “best”? It was close, but ultimately, ExpressVPN won this head-to-head challenge. With over 2,000 servers in 148 different countries, it’s clearly the superior choice if you’re an international traveler. Likewise, it offers much faster download speeds, crucial if you spend any time on streaming services. That said, there are some users who may prefer ProtonVPN. It is a couple of dollars cheaper, and it features fast upload speeds for those who spend a lot of time on Skype, Zoom, and Facetime.
ExpressVPN is the perfect VPN if you’re looking for
- Short and long-term contracts
- More servers in more countries
- Faster download speeds
- Unlimited devices
- Browser support
ProtonVPN might be a better choice though, if you prefer:
- Faster upload speeds
- Multi-hop security
- A slightly lower price
Want to see even more options? You can always check out our best VPN of 2021 page for more great choices.