Since 2010 Private Internet Access has been seen as one of the top names in the VPN industry.
Ever since then, they have been devoted to specializing in secure, encrypted VPN tunnels that deliver multiple layers of privacy and security, providing you safety as you go about your daily tasks on the internet.
Just because it one of the more notable names out there, this doesn’t mean the service is the best. In this PIA VPN review, we will see if they deserve to remain as a popular choice, or there are drawbacks with this VPN service.
- Users who are after the best security measures
- Users who want a VPN client on their Linux system
- Unlimited torrenting
- Users who are only interested in the USA and European connections
Plans and Pricing
Earlier this year, PIA increased their prices. They claim it is so they can improve and add features, and increase the number of simultaneous connections from 5 to 10.
Like most other providers, there is now just one plan that has different rates for the tie in period. This makes things much easier for the consumer.
Billed $69.95 for 24 months
Billed $39.95 for 1 year
Billed $6.95 for 1 month
When checking the website against the 2-year plan, it says they bill this as $65.95, which is incorrect. $2.33 multiplied by 24 equates to $55.92.
When signing up, subscribers have lots of payment options aside from their credit cards. Payments can be made by PayPal, Amazon Pay, credit cards, and a few different cryptocurrencies. PIA also accepts gift cards from Best Buy, Walmart, and Starbucks.
Potential subscribers should be aware the above prices are the current promotions for Black Friday and will revert to regular pricing when Private Internet Access feels like changing them back.
You can currently get three months, and six months free tacked onto the end of the more extended plans.
With each lock-in period comes a 7-day money-back guarantee. There is one thing to note, and that is when it comes to a refund.
There have been complaints from current PIA users who say the time it takes to receive a refund runs at around 2-weeks.
For a service, you know it isn’t right for you, and you cancel with one week, waiting double the amount of time to get your money back doesn’t appear to be very professional.
On the whole, PIA is a basic VPN service provider specializing in VPN tunnels that create secure routing for your sensitive data.
This they do as well as many other market leaders; however, their default settings use 128-bit encryption and SHA1 authentication.
This will have an impact on speeds, and when you raise these levels to the same as premium VPN’s of AES-256 bit and SHA256, you will see a further drop-off in connection speeds.
Protocols in use are PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec, and all these are the default standards. All-in-all, the secure encrypted VPN tunnels they create are not going to be broken into any time soon.
This PIA VPN review saw a service that was as secure and private as many of the competition.
Many VPN services claim they retain no logs as a selling point. The entire aim of a VPN is to remain anonymous and maintain your safety on the internet.
PIA goes a step further and has audits to prove as such. They are one of the few which are proven to be a zero-log VPN. Two court cases subpoenaed PIA, and in both instances, the company had no data to hand over to the FBI or other governing bodies.
PIA is under American ownership by London Trust Media, and even though it locates itself in the middle of 5-eyes jurisdiction. The company maintains user privacy.
The only user information the company retains from its users is their email addresses and payment information.
Ease of Use
PIA VPN only used to have a 5 device connection limit; however, we saw as part of their price hike they now increased this to 10 devices that can have simultaneous connections.
One of the first things we saw during testing with Private Internet Access VPN is they have a VPN app for Linux. This is rare as not many other providers offer this kind of app.
There are also dedicated client apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. There are other devices you can set up the VPN, such as routers.
Public Wi-Fi security is also beefed up when using this VPN. Once they create several layers of encryption, no one frequents these public hotspots, who can see what you are doing when you use one of the mobile VPN apps.
Once you visit the website, you may be struck how dated it first looks. By clicking on the orange ‘Get Started Now’ button, you are taken to the page with the plans.
You will need to scroll down as you face a page full of text and Editor ratings from various sites.
Select your plan, and a popup window opens up where you choose your payment option. Once you fill in payment details, you will come to see, and the company doesn’t ask for your email at this stage.
The rest of the steps are straightforward once you receive your welcome email with all your account details.
Setting up the PIA VPN download is like installing any other software for the devices which have client apps.
You can download the apps before you sign up, so there is no waiting. All you have to do is log-in once you have your username and password.
Users will be presented with updated apps. These are now user-friendly and look much better than something which used to appear very dated.
Now you see a top bar that shows if you are connected, and under this is a substantial (industry standard) power button.
Below this, you have the server you are connected to and the VPN IP address that others will see.
It is good to finally see the leading VPN service is making their service more approachable. You can choose from light or dark modes, change settings to connect on the launch of the app on operating system startup, as well as changing DNS options for the multiple gateways worldwide your data can travel.
Users can also change how port forwarding works inside the app. There are other features you can easily toggle on or off depending if you wish to use them or not.
PIA offers plenty of features, as you would expect from one of the top VPN names. There is a kill switch that should be standard in all VPNs.
The apps offer DNS and leak protection, and then there is the “Mace” feature. Here the service will block the domains that serve ads, malware, and web trackers.
The company also includes a SOCKS5 Proxy, which is a part of your subscription. This adds even more anonymity when P2P file sharing. It can also help hide IP’s if using web scraping software. This isn’t in the app and does require a second separate log in.
One other thing you can use with the VPN is it is compatible with the TOR browser. This can make it almost impossible to trace your location or activity.
PIA offers browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera web browsers. These allow users to quickly and efficiently defeat censorship, unblock websites, and go around the internet without too many restrictions.
These show their worth when using them in Public Hotspots. All traffic through a browser will have encryption, so you remain out of sight.
We saw early on that PIA uses a lower means of encryption by default. This means the Private Internet Access download speeds will be faster than if you set the encryption levels to the highest.
Carrying out speed comparisons against other VPN providers will need this raising to be fair.
When testing, there were two lots of tests for around Europe and then more remote locations such as the USA and Canada.
Asia being the slower of the bunch, which we can presume is down to lack of server support.
PIA has 3335 + VPN servers, which span 30 countries. This, in comparison to many other VPN companies, is a low number of country support, yet the server count is a decent amount.
It may be this, which causes the speeds to be a mixed bag when testing to relatively unsupported areas.
However, when testing in the typical regions where there are many servers, then performance is very different.
Speeds were way above average between the three primary locations. Around Europe, the ping times were in the high twenties to low thirties, and the download speeds only saw a 10% drop-off.
This was excellent and more than fast enough for nearly all online activities.
Here are a few examples taken for the three days of testing:
- Austria: Ping 28ms. Download 85.16 Mbps. Upload 9.28 Mbps
- United Kingdom: Ping 33ms. Download 65 Mbps. Upload 8.34 Mbps
- Denver (USA): Ping 162ms. Download 55.24 Mbps. Upload 4.39 Mbps
- Asia: Ping 283ms. Download 69 Mbps. Upload 13.04 Mbps
During testing, we also looked to see if there were any virtual servers in use. Maybe because of the network size, we saw all servers appear to be in the destinations they advertise.
It does make little sense to use a virtual server while a VPN has a large user base in one country.
Even if PIA isn’t the most feature-packed service, up until this point, they were appearing to be a decent enough provider of VPN services.
Nevertheless, when it comes to customer support, they are way behind the times.
You can get hold of support staff around the clock if you reside in North America. This, however, isn’t that reliable, and they do state they are having increased amounts of tickets they have to deal with.
On the website, their support page has a large user forum, knowledge base, and service news updates regarding the service.
Here they cover FAQs, account, billing, technical, and best security practices.
Overall, the customer service was prolonged, with the ticketing system being delayed, and weekends were even worse when there was hardly a response.
Live chat is a must for any good, reliable VPN company, and even new providers are offering this right out of the gate.
The company does have an active Twitter support page so that it can be reached via that platform.
This, in operation, is better than their dedicated support. Here they deliver decent responses no matter if Twitter limits the number of characters.
If PIA was to fail in an area that was crucial for many users, then it is bypassing geo-restrictions.
For a lot of individuals, this can be the primary use of a VPN. They are accessing content that sits behind geo-restrictions need to work for that service to cover most of what a user desires.
PIA fails here worse than their customer support. US Netflix is seen as the yardstick with what to measure how good a VPN network is.
In defense of PIA, they don’t claim to bypass any restrictions for specific streaming platforms.
So, users who sign up thinking the service is suitable for streaming from this place, may have a rude awakening.
It is easier to say PIA doesn’t grant access to US Netflix. While it worked on one occasion, this is far from reliable, and it would be wrong to paint the picture any different.
Perhaps another library may deliver better success; however, this was the same damp squib, and it wasn’t possible to get in no matter which library was tested.
To put the final nail in the coffin, when testing other streaming services, we saw things were far worse for streaming fans than first realized.
If you want a Hulu or Amazon Prime account, you can forget it. Add to this, the lack of support for any UK streaming service. BBC and other UK channels blocked access to the PIA servers.
PIA redeems itself a little when it comes to P2P file sharing and downloading torrents. If this is your pastime, then they may be a decent option. With good speeds and the use of port forwarding, users can optimize the torrenting experience.
This port forwarding is available for Windows, Mac, and Android. Once set, you will have to select one of the servers which allow port forwarding. Downloading torrents, in general, is allowed on all servers.
One thing to note is the company doesn’t explicitly claim they are open to allowing users to download torrent files.
But, they do say the service is open to P2P file sharing if this means the same, all well and good because there is a fine line of whether it means the same thing or not.
The primary concern will be the company location, and they are in the USA, who was a co-founder of the 5-eyes coalition along with the UK.
Although PIA has a no-log policy, it isn’t the best situation for anyone downloading copyrighted files.
For the majority of individuals, PIA is a good option. They cover privacy and security as well as most other VPNs, and they manage to deliver good speeds.
However, if users are after anything different than they offer with their basic feature set. They may be slightly disappointed.
Although the prices are very affordable, this means a long lock-in period to attain these. If users wanted to try for a month or so, they would see the price isn’t much different from other VPNs that offer a host of features not available in the PIA plan.
There is a lot to like, and it is easy to see why it is a crowd favorite. Generally speaking, there are far better options you can choose from for a similar price or cheaper.