Private Internet Access Review: Cheap US-based VPN
|PIA pros||PIA cons|
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A big player in the VPN market, Private Internet Access (PIA), reduced its prices and improved Netflix support in 2019. It also repeatedly updated apps and developed its technical facilities.
All these became a perfect reason for updating the PIA review. I carried out an in-depth analysis with complex technical tests to find out all the pros and cons of the latest Private Internet Access apps and the whole service.
So, I got a mixed result.
But first things first.
If you wonder about:
- the updates in the latest version of PIA;
- the features PIA offers;
- platforms compatible with this it and servers available;
- all the truth about the VPN client operation;
- facility to use PIA VPN free of charge;
- real test results;
- the company owner;
- pluses and minuses of the provider;
- best alternatives to PIA.
Then you’ll like this review and find lots of surprising facts about this VPN created by London Trust Media Holdings.
As I have already mentioned, PIA was greatly updated in 2019.
- The service claimed that it finally improved Netflix support:
“We are happy to announce that you should now be able to access and stream on some of your favorite platforms, such as Netflix, while connected to our U.S., U.K. and Canada servers. While this is not a total solution (some sites may still be inaccessible), it is a significant step toward ensuring that you are able to access these sites and services, securely and anonymously.
Please ensure that you are using the PIA DNS servers when attempting to connect to these sites.”
Read about the latest test results for Netflix and Hulu further in the article.
- 8$ discount is now available. The prices are $5.45 per month and $2.42 for a one-year subscription.
- The number of servers has increased to 3300+, the number of countries is 30.
Features of PIA VPN
Private Internet Access isn’t on the list of VPN providers who offer their services free of charge. However, the prices are moderate, and even a low-income person can afford it.
1 month – $9.95 per month
1 year - $5.99 per month
2 years - $3.49 per month
Now I’m going to look up what you’ll get when buying one of the PIA packages.
What’s their logging policy?
On its official site, Private Internet Access VPN mentions “No Traffic or Request logs” as a plus point.
But whether this is the case?
To answer such a question, I need to study the documents presented on the VPN’s site.
Here’s what exactly:
- email address;
- payment information;
- a temporary cookie for affiliate partners;
- Google Analytics information;
- data people use when contacting the support service.
Does it mean that if the purpose of a request is non-marketing, PIA provider can share such information?
This is not surprising because Private Internet Access VPN provider is headquartered in the USA (Denver) – a member of the 14-eyes alliance. It’s owned by London Trust Media, Inc.
At the same time, according to the information on the official site, the provider doesn’t keep activity logs. All users’ traffic is hidden.
Zero logs are always a plus point for a VPN.
What encryption methods are applied?
While preparing this PIA VPN review, I caught myself thinking that not all VPNs in the market possess so many diverse methods of ciphering as PIA does.
PIA uses symmetric encryption by means of either AES-128 or AES-256 bit key.
It’s worthy of note that the method of encoding can be changed by a user within a couple of clicks. The change of the ciphering algorithm serves to achieve maximum protection on the Internet or make the connection faster.
Maximum protection is possible when you show preference to AES-256 encryption with SHA-256 authentication and RSA-4096 handshake.
Private Internet Access also provides an opportunity to surf the web without traffic encoding. It’s rather risky for your security. But having chosen this option, you can speed up your internet connection significantly.
What protocols are used?
The service offers 3 tunneling protocols to choose from:
PPTP – like a dinosaur in the market these days. A number of vulnerabilities (in MSCHAP-v1 and MSCHAP-v2) were detected across multiple tests.
OpenVPN – the most widespread protocol to use in 2020. Despite some troubles with the speed, it performs perfect security results. PIA client allows switching between connection type for this protocol (UDP or TCP).
L2TP/IPSec – rather contradictory in view of the information the NSA has neglected the effectiveness of this protocol. But there aren’t facts to support this inference. Still, it’s less secure than OpenVPN and slower.
What are other useful features?
Apart from strong ciphering algorithms, PIA offers a set of features I find very beneficial:
- Kill Switch (this function can be enabled or disabled optionally; besides, it’s allowed to choose “Auto” mode, and it’ll block outside traffic when PIA is on);
- Mace (facility to block domains which are used by third parties for ads, trackers and malware)
- Port Forwarding (it’s available for PIA clients by request, but keep in mind that some locations don’t support this feature);
- LAN Traffic (enabling it, you permit traffic between gadgets on your local network, even when using the Kill Switch);
- Use Small Packets (it serves to achieve lower transfer speed but improved reliability on poor connections);
- 10 multi-logins (it’s possible to use up top 10 gadgets simultaneously without speed or bandwidth limits).
Remember! To save changes, it’s required to reconnect!
Servers and platforms
The number of Private Internet Access servers can happen to be unspectacular for some of you. As well as the device you are going to use with PIA is not always compatible with the service.
With an eye to prevent such troubles, I’ll traverse these points.
What platforms are supported?
Private Internet Access can be set up on a set of all popular gadgets running on:
- Android (4.1 or later);
- iOS (9 or later);
- Linux (Arch, Debian, Mint 18+, Ubuntu 16.04+);
- macOS (10.11+);
- Windows (7, 8.1 or 10).
Along with that, PIA introduces extensions for browsers:
- Chrome (v48 or later);
- Firefox (v57 or later);
- Opera (v52 or later).
Provided that most of you use gadgets running on Android, iOS, macOS or Linux, there’s a reason to suppose that PIA will strike a chord with you.
However, the ones who look for the VPN solution for their game consoles, routers, and smart TVs, might be disappointed.
If you are among them, I hasten to inform you that there are other providers that DO work with such platforms. CyberGhost VPN is a good example of a service that can be used for routers.
How many servers does PIA provide?
All the information I’m going to describe in this section of our PIA review is taken from the official site of the provider and is compared with the data I’ve found when using the desktop application.
The number of VPN servers is remarkable – 3322. And what’s more, the provider points out that its network is growing on a regular basis.
PIA servers are dotted around the world – in 32 countries (or 52 regions).
Well, if it’s rather problematic to count the servers, then I find it an easy task to check the number of countries where they are placed.
I’ve done and found out that the data presented on the site are correct.
The majority of countries possess PIA VPN servers in 1 region, whereas there several PIA servers in Germany, the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia.
It’s explained by the fact that people tend to use VPN servers in these countries more often. Consequently, the provider has placed more servers there in order for users to experience good speed.
How to use PIA VPN?
As I’ve already pointed out, the VPN under the label Private Internet Access can be used on all popular platforms from Android smartphones to Linux PCs.
Looking further forward, I’d like to mention that the manual setup is not required. The process of installation is handy and fast.
To run the PIA VPN app on your device, you are to:
- visit its site and create an account;
- pay for the service by means of one of the variants (even Bitcoins are accepted);
- open the download page and save the file installer on your device (the site detects the operating system of a device you’re going to run PIA on).
Service use is very convenient.
It’s handy to switch between the servers and change settings.
Here’s what I find useful:
- the application is available in 19 languages (the interface language can be changed any time);
- it’s allowed to change the theme color (you can choose dark or light one);
- there’s a facility to enable/disable the launch on System Startup and the connect on Launch);
- privacy settings can be changed as well (Kill Switch and MACE);
- the app allows choosing a connection type, data encryption, ports and whatnot;
- the developers offer to join the beta program to test new features;
- debug logs can be enabled to make technical support help more efficiently.
What I like most of all about PIA client:
- easy switch between the servers;
- facility to add servers to the list of favorites;
- latency is presented in order for readers to choose the optimal ones for their locations.
Considered all, PIA VPN is the service which is well regarded due to its user-friendly nature and a large variety of functions.
How to get PIA for free?
If you want to get a VPN free of charge, PIA will not meet your requirements.
The provider offers neither a free package nor a trial period.
However, I’ve found information on the Play Store that PIA can be downloaded with in-app purchases. This phrase threw me for a loop, as well as many other users.
As soon as I’ve opened the app, it offered me to sign in by means of my credentials or to purchase a subscription.
The result is: PIA VPN is not available free of charge!
A 7-day money-back guarantee is offered instead.
Here are the terms:
- request for a refund is to be submitted no later than within a 7-day period after the purchase;
- you blow your chances to purchase a new PIA account for 3 months after the refund;
- cryptocurrency payment is refunded only if you provide the PIA team with your Wallet address;
- troubles with the direct refund will take place if you pay for the service through the App Store, third-party websites or gift cards.
Speed and security tests are always of prime importance for me. Thus, I’ve used 3 tools for my testing:
I’ve been using these services for many years already, and there were no incidents they would provide me with fake results.
IP leak test for PIA: two services to check it
While testing the VPN by PIA, I have tried approximately 35 servers in different locations. And no one of them performed leaks.
As you can see on the screen, the IP address of the VPN servers is detected by “Whats My IP” service. Whereas my IP was hidden.
The location was also identified correctly – London (the UK).
Having tested PIA servers on another service, the results were just the same – no IP leaks!
The locations and IPs were detected correctly by both services.
PIA speed test: optimal server is not always the fastest
Making sure that PIA is safe to use in view of no leaks, it’s time to check if it slows down the speed or not.
My ISP performs average speed. You can see it in the screenshot below.
This speed is fast enough to stream music or video, as well as download torrents. As for games, that’s good enough.
But unfortunately, when getting unrestricted access to the Internet, a VPN can take a toll on the speed of your connection.
As a result, streaming becomes an uphill struggle.
Here’s what I have when testing PIA servers’ speed:
The general conclusion regarding the speed of PIA services is positive.
I experienced the maximum speed drop when using a USA server – 25.09 Mbps (download). However, this speed is still not bad. This speed is even faster than the average internet speed in Japan (20.2 Mbps), Hong Kong (21.9 Mbps) and even Singapore (20.3 Mbps).
It’s remarkable that the optimal server the provider offered me (based on my geographical location) came to be slower than the one I’ve found myself.
The conclusion is: try different servers to find the fastest one!
Test for Netflix and Hulu: not all PIA servers cope with the task
Not long after Netflix made its webcasting available throughout the world, this streaming service picked a fight against Virtual Private Networks, proxy servers, and other “unblockers”.
The common practice to stop VPN users from streaming restricted content is “the blacklist of IPs which belong to VPN providers” used to hide users’ identities.
Still, VPNs are the best services to access Netflix from every corner of the world.
But of course, not all of them are worthy.
Here’s what I’ve found out when testing the facilities of Private Internet Access VPN.
Note! I’ve tested the VPN servers located in the US namely. It’s related to the fact that the full Netflix library is available in the United States only.
All PIA servers placed in the USA cope with the task to find the restricted content.
However, not all of them allow streaming US-restricted movies, series and TV shows. If you see error code M7111-5059, it means that the IP address of the VPN provider you use has already been included to the blacklist.
Unfortunately, some PIA IPs are on this list as well. Thus, I failed to stream Netflix when using PIA servers in:
- New York;
- US East;
- Washington DC;
- US West;
- Silicon Valley;
- Las Vegas;
At the same time, I’ve found two locations that I can use to get access to the content available in the USA – Houston and Texas.
I also tested PIA with Hulu. I liked the results much better. All of 5 from 5 US locations managed to cope with this task:
We have an ambiguous situation. On the one hand, PIA is still not working properly with Netflix, but on the other hand, it is good with Hulu. So, it is up to you to decide if it is a fit for streaming.
I only can recommend a provider that supports both, Netflix and Hulu. It is Surfshark.
There are many things to tell about the owner of Private Internet Access, the USA company - London Trust Media.
On the one hand, this company takes an active part in WireGuard development and sponsored projects in the field of Internet security.
On the other hand, London Trust Media fiercely competes with other companies. It is represented by Mark Karpeles, who is infamous for being a participant of the Mt. Gox failure, as a result of which crypto investors lost their money and failed to find it.
Mark Karpeles was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court of tampering with financial records for fraudulent reasons. He received a 30 months suspended sentence.
Should you trust such a company? It is up to you.
London Trust Media Ltd:
4643 S Ulster St
Denver, CO, United States
Conclusion: pros and cons
While working on Private Internet Access VPN review, I’ve managed to test over 30 servers in 35 regions out of 52.
Not all of them have performed great results in terms of speed or Netflix unblocking.
At the same time, PIA has shown its strong sides:
- 2 out of 13 US locations can be used to access Netflix;
- IP leaks were not detected;
- diverse server network (available in 32 countries);
- 10 allowed devices per subscription;
- advanced features like Kill Switch, Port Forwarding, MACE, allowed LAN Traffic;
- a 7-day refund is available for PIA subscribers who are not completely satisfied with this service;
- strong ciphering and 3 VPN protocols;
- fast and easy setup on all popular platforms.
As for the minuses that make me think twice before paying for a more long-term subscription, they are:
- lack of a trial period to test the service for free;
- not a very attractive discount system (the cheapest plan allows paying $3.49 per month);
- the support service is available through email only (no live chat).
I recommend this service because of the number of functions it offers, the facility to unblock Netflix (at least some servers work) and fast speed. However, the US jurisdiction can play a low-down trick with its subscribers.
Top 3 alternatives to PIA
In the event, you’ve read this PIA review and leaped to a conclusion that this provider is not exactly what you are looking for, I recommend to have a look at top VPN providers:
In contrast to PIA, this provider allows using this service free of charge for 3 days (on Android and iOS only). Its price is $3.49 per month (a 3-year package).
You’ll also like it if you’re concerned about trying a VPN free before subscribing to it on a paid basis. The provider offers a 24-hour trial period (the payment details aren’t required). All the functions are available during CyberGhost free trial.
A 7-day trial is enough to check whether this service meets your requirements or not. If so, $1.99 per month is a moderate price for the VPN with the servers in 49 countries and an unlimited number of allowed devices per subscription.