Private Internet Access VPN Review: is it really that good?

PIA is a virtual private network that has plenty of features and a fairly robust offering compared to many other VPNs on the market. It offers users two free months, which is unique among its competitors. It also advertises itself as having the most extensive server network in the world. But if you’re looking for a VPN, how does it really fare? We’ve collected a range of information below so that you can make a decision on whether PIA is the right VPN for your purposes.

Overall, we think PIA is one of the top choices out there, though its wide range of features might be a bit overwhelming for new users. As far as pricing goes, the VPN goes out of its way to provide value, but it still ultimately costs on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to long-term contracts.

 

Available on:
7.57
“Middling”
25026
Servers in
77 Countries
30 Days
Moneyback
¥17.43 Per
Month
Plans & pricing

Private Internet Access VPN Review: is it really that good?

Updated on 23/02/2021
7.57

Middling
25026
Servers in
77 Countries
30 Days
Moneyback
¥17.43 Per
Month
Plans & pricing
Available on:
Written By: Adam Dagan

Read our “What is a VPN?” page to learn more about what virtual private networks do, how they work, and why you need one.

A VPN is a network of servers spread across lots of different countries around the world. By using a VPN, online users can hide browsing history, internet activity, IP addresses, and personal data. That extra level of security is important to many users. Additionally, VPNs are often used for streaming and torrenting (or sharing files between groups of users). The main goal of a VPN is to increase a user’s privacy and anonymity in pursuit of a truly free internet.

PIA is good at all these factors and more. It provides a wide range of features, including unblocking for all the major streaming sites, multiple gateways for the VPN tunnel, a simple interface for users, encryption, and the WireGuard protocol.

Pros & Cons

It’s important to weigh the positives and negatives of any VPN before deciding which one to choose. We’ve collected our thoughts on PIA for quick reference.

Pros
  • Incredibly large and expansive server network
  • Runs a variety of protocols, including WireGuard
  • Highly effective at unblocking geo-locked streaming services
  • Military-grade 256-bit encryption
  • Pricey, but great for the number of features you get
  • 30-day money-back guarantee on top of two months free
  • Offers Boxcryptor add-on for additional cloud-based security
  • RAM-disk mode
  • Works with:
Cons
  • No live chat support
  • Not always effective at unblocking BBC iPlayer
  • Has not been audited by external security agencies
  • Speeds can vary depending on location

Pricing

9.00
“Excellent”

Paying month-to-month costs you $9.95. A year’s subscription is only $3.33 per month, though.

Also, the two-year plan has the best value at $2.65 per month for the first term with the added bonus of the first two months free and a year’s subscription to cloud-based Boxcryptor. You can pay with a range of options, including your normal credit cards as well as Bitcoin, gift cards, and more.

Given that this VPN is quite possibly the largest in the world as far as numbers of servers go, it uses high-level security and privacy measures, and doesn’t have any significant problems, we think the pricing structure is very reasonable and it provides you with excellent value.

Speed

7.00
“Middling”

Unfortunately, VPN networks can often have spotty speeds or rates that are difficult to predict, since the speed may depend on the location you connect to.

PIA’s speeds vary based on the location of the server you connect to and your own IP address. However, even though it’s slow in some areas, its connection speeds are typically good. That’s especially true if you use WireGuard rather than OpenVPN, as the former can reach speeds in excess of 300 Mbps in comparison with some locations that use OpenVPN and comparatively crawl at less than 70 Mbps.

When you use the internet, you don’t want to be bogged down by slow speeds.

Servers

Simply put, PIA has an industry-leading “next generation” server network that contains nearly 25,000 servers. That’s astonishingly large, but that’s not even the best part. Its servers use RAM-disk mode, which is among the cutting-edge offerings of VPNs and means that any user data stored on the server is automatically lost when the server is rebooted or loses power.

We can’t stress enough how impressive this is. It provides users with a mind-boggling array of servers from which to choose, so veterans with specific needs will enjoy that flexibility.

Generous connection limits connect up to 10 devices under the same account
Simple installation one-click instant set up
No logs PIA provides users with a no-log guarantee
Apps iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux, plus browser extensions
Security measures uses 256-bit encryption
Many protocols OpenVPN, WireGuard, L2TP, IPSec, and PPTP
Extraordinarily large server network has the largest network we’ve seen, at over 24,800 worldwide
Highly robust plenty of customizability for veteran users
Subscription packages monthly, yearly, and two-year intervals
Free trial first two months free
24/7 site support round-the-clock availability through email and phone, but no live chat

However, its user interface is simple enough and allows for automatic connection, so new users won’t feel overwhelmed.

User Experience

PIA provides extensive assistance with installation and set up, and its user experience is great. The company provides both 32-bit and 64-bit download options, catalogs all updates so that you can revert to a previous version if you have issues, and has open-sourced all its code so that community members and other developers can help spot any bugs or problems.

The actual interface is simple and easy to use. It has a Connect button prominently displayed so that you can connect to the nearest VPN server. But it also allows you to change up preferences and protocols, switch locations, and configure your set up as needed. This means it’s perfect for both experienced and new users.

PIA continues to shine in the mobile device arena. Its apps retain the features of the desktop and laptop clients, including the kill switch (which many other VPNs drop for mobile apps). Simple installation, one-click connection to the nearest server, and a list of easy-to-understand locations and server names are available. The iOS and Android versions are virtually identical and allow for supreme customization, including various encryption methods, protocols, and packet sizes.

Also, the actual user interface retains the simplicity of the desktop client. For example, it displays a list of server locations, but there is a giant connect button that will automatically take users to the nearest server. In short, it’s as simple or in-depth as users want to make it, and we like that a lot.

Languages

  • English (US)
  • English (UK)
  • Japanese
  • English (AU)
  • French

Security

8.00
“Good”

PIA has a no-logs policy that it refers to as “verified” even though it has not undergone an outside audit. The reason for this is that the company has actually been tested in court. Ordered to provide user log data, the only information it has been able to hand over in court cases has been the general location of its servers. Plus, it publishes a transparent report that catalogs the subpoenas the company receives and any data that is given to authorities.

Coupled with its RAM-only storage on its servers and its open-sourcing of its code, we’re fairly confident that it lives up to its promises. Still, it should probably get an external audit for added user confidence.

Split tunneling is a feature many VPNs offer that allows you to hand-select which apps or websites will go through the VPN’s services and which will use your usual ISP. Often, many veteran VPN users like this feature as it provides a measure of control over data and speeds.

PIA provides split-tunneling options on desktop as well as mobile versions, allowing you to select which apps or websites use its protected server and which go through your usual connection. This can help you improve speed and gives you added control over your internet usage.

PIA defaults to 128-bit encryption, but you can switch that to the much better AES 256-bit encryption. We’re not sure why it defaults to the lower option when the better version is available, but chalk that up to increased configurability. Mostly, the apps use the best protocols out there, including OpenVPN and the more recent WireGuard. There are DNS and IP leak protection measures, data authentication, and handshake method flexibility. In short, the encryption and security measures at work here are the real deal. You should never fear for exposure when using PIA.

For ease of use, PIA offers browser extensions for Google Chrome, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox. These browsers are protected via the above-listed encryption and protocols, as well as IP leak prevention and even port forwarding, which can help performance and get you into apps or websites that usually block VPNs.

A kill switch cuts you off from the internet if you lose connection to a VPN server. It’s a standard feature among most VPNs, as it prevents your computer from reconnecting to the internet via your ISP when you think you’re still protected by the VPN’s server’s security measures. Thus, it keeps you from being exposed to outside threats without being aware.

PIA has an effective kill switch that, surprisingly, is available on mobile devices as well as the desktop client. It stands up to rigorous testing and usually reconnects the user quickly to a secure server.

PIA is among the few cutting edge VPNs that have moved to RAM-disk storage. Any information that is logged by the server regarding user data is stored as Random Access Memory, which is totally and completely wiped whenever the server is rebooted or goes down. That means there should be no chance for any outside influence to snag hold of your usage data. It means you’re much safer with PIA than many other VPNs.

Privacy

8.00
“Good”

PIA is based in Colorado, in the United States. While the company touts this as a good thing due to the US’ lack of data retention laws, it’s still somewhat at issue. That’s because the United States is one of the prominent members of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance and shares information with a host of other countries.

Regardless, the good news is that PIA can point to its track record of court subpoenas that have led to no user data being supplied. Even though it exists in the US and not some offshore, privacy-friendly location, it has not succumbed to authorities’ requests for user data.

As we’ve stated above, the firmware you use for your router needs to be able to support WireGuard, OpenVPN, L2TP and some additional protocols. Other than that, you’ll need to speak with a member of the company’s customer service team for more information.

PIA has not been audited by external entities for its privacy or security measures. That isn’t rare among VPNs, as only a handful of the most popular companies have done so. External audits mean that an outside entity comes in and evaluates whether or not the company abides by its promised no-logs policy and other security and privacy policies.

Still, though we’d like to see an external audit here, PIA has serious clout. Its courtroom documents show that it has never provided user data even when requested (which means that it didn’t have that data on hand to provide). It also regularly pushes out a report for transparency regarding information requests and the data it provides.

ExpressVPN is a competitor of PIA that has developed a new protocol called Lightwave. It is reportedly more secure than OpenVPN or WireGuard, but some users have suggested that it tends to be slower on average than VPNs that use the older protocol. Regardless, only ExpressVPN is using Lightway at this time.

Support

6.00
“Middling”

How to install

PIA is easy to install and simply requires you to download the program and click through the set up wizard. Once you’ve got it installed, however, you can format and customize it however you see fit. For new users, the default is best, as it is super user-friendly and has a nice, big Connect button for you to get started.

Veterans will enjoy the customizability of this VPN, as you can configure different protocols, encryption levels, use split-tunneling to decide which apps and sites go through the VPN and which don’t, adjust location settings, and more. You can even alter its inherent data authentication procedures and encryption handshake protocols.

 

24/7

Customer support is available around the clock by phone or email. However, one area that PIA lags behind its competitors is that it lacks an online chat option. This could cause frustration, as you won’t necessarily get quick answers for your issues by emailing or calling.

Service Agents

That said, there is a wealth of information available through PIA’s site. Sometimes, the search function takes you to some hardly relevant pages, but the information is there and the company seems dedicated to helping customers understand and use its product.

Summary

Written By: Adam Dagan

CyberGhost is the real deal. It boasts an impressively large network of available servers, takes security seriously, has strong language in its policies regarding privacy measures, is headquartered outside of a 14 Eyes surveillance state, and offers a complete array of features. While its month-to-month pricing structure is at the high end for VPNs, it’s worth the money. Plus, it clearly incentivizes long-term subscriptions, with its year-long and three-year subscription packages prices at extremely low monthly rates.

PIA is the real deal among VPNs. It provides an extremely large network system, high configurability, loads of features, effective streaming site unblocking capabilities, torrent-friendly RAM-only storage, and much more. It’s also got a proven track record of not giving up user data, which really boosts our confidence in its privacy measures. Better yet, it doesn’t seem to sacrifice usability for these matters.

The two areas that are a bit behind include customer support and gaming. While there is plenty of available information to help customers on the company’s website, the lack of live chat can be frustrating and the information can be difficult for some new users to understand. And while it is great for streaming, torrenting, and web browsing, it seems to hedge its promises when it comes to online gamers.

The final note is that, while PIA isn’t flawless, it is one of the best out there in the VPN industry. It is certainly worth the money and is accessible to both new VPN users and old hands.

Go with Private Internet Access

FAQ

Does PIA help unblock Netflix?

A: PIA effectively unblocks most streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and others. However, it has trouble in some cases, especially BBC’s iPlayer.

Is PIA free?

PIA is not free. You pay for a subscription on a monthly, yearly, or two-year basis. However, it does allow users a 30-day money-back guarantee that renews after a few months, so you can test it out in its current form to decide whether you want to pay for it.

Is PIA good for torrenting?

PIA’s RAM-only servers make it excellent for torrenting, coupled with the fact that it has a long history of not providing user data when requested by governments.

Is PIA legal?

VPN services like PIA operate legally and are legal services. However, some countries restrict or ban the use of VPNs, so its legality for you is largely based on where you live. You’ll need to check your local laws regarding the use of VPNs and internet privacy to be sure, but PIA as a company is doing nothing illegal.