Private Internet Access is a top-tier VPN provider with a wide variety of network servers, great speeds, and extremely attractive prices. Many hail PIA as the second coming, but today we’re taking a look at PIA and seeing if it truly deserves to rank among the best.
PIA has an extremely competitive pricing scheme. The basic subscription cost $6.95 a month while a yearly subscription offers a reduced overall rate at a bigger annual commitment of $39.95 (3.33 per month). Another option is $35.95 for a small six-month subscription. While $6.95 for a month of VPN is a good price for someone looking to dive into the world of VPN security, PIA doesn’t offer any free weekly trial. There is a refund policy for the first seven days, however, don’t expect it to go very smoothly. PIA offers great payment options including Bitcoin and even gift cards.
PIA might just have the lightest and most basic client operation out of any VPN provider. The setup process is so smooth and small it makes it slightly confusing. It’s not all bad, it’s just that PIA’s approach is getting the user inside a VPN server as quick as possible without getting in the way at all.
The process works by purchasing a license, receiving an email, downloading the client, installing the client, and entering in login information. Once that happens, the client minimizes and becomes a green (or red if it’s off) little icon down in the taskbar menu (PIA’s icon, and thus the icon in the taskbar has an unmistakable resemblance to that of the Android alien-guy icon). There isn’t an interface for the application being active–which is the strange part. The application interface is simply the icon, and right-clicking the icon shows information in an enormous vertical drop-type menu on various servers. The interface makes it very easy to swap between servers if that’s something you’re interested in doing.
From here, you can click settings and bring up VPN preferences by clicking on the advanced tab. These settings are what little meat the application has–which includes various options like connection type (UDP or TCP), port, local port, port forwarding, a VPN kill switch (useful for disabling internet connection if VPN disconnects), and security must-haves like DNS leak protection and IPv6 leak protection.
Overall I was impressed with PIA’s application and it’s “behind the scenes” approach, but I think not having an actual interface showing a connection can be confusing for newcomers trying to understand VPN software. Also, I would have liked to see more power in the application so that you can switch between protocols without having to do it manually.
Getting to the options and understanding how the application is laid out doesn’t feel traditional (for example you can’t even exit out of the preferences pane, you just have to save and then it closes), but with a little tinkering, semi-advanced users should find what they are looking for and other users probably will be content once they know they are just connected to a VPN.
Mobile Software 10/10
The mobile application feels very standard. It borrows some of the same minimalist design, but unlike the computer application, it visibly says “connected” with an option to toggle the connection. This simple on/off approach is simple but effective. The application isn’t going to win any rewards in the design department or snag you with extra features, but it gets the job done well. It’s just as easy to get it set up as its PC counterpart.
Extra Services 7/10
While PIA’s VPN application works great and has enough support for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux (support for up to 5 simultaneous connections)– I was disappointed to see that PIA VPN service doesn’t offer any extra security additions or additional services like encrypted email services, viscosity clients, DPI protection / VPN usage protection in censored countries, or other neat things like VPN routers.
I like PIA’s simplified approach to VPN. However, the service might prove too “easy” for power users or someone who wants a one-stop solution for all of their encryption needs.
One thing I really like about Private Internet Access, however, is that they do include a free BitTorrent proxy with their main VPN subscription.
The site is a little bit menu crazy (ok there’s menus and landing pages everywhere), which makes it hard to find specific information that you may need (like tutorials). The website has a TON of content on it to get you to find every use for a VPN but why does the main page have bikers on it? While it’s not a terrible site, I’ve seen better websites that feel more helpful and less SEO oriented. PIA does have a lot of support links through their knowledge base, but it’s all clumped together which makes it very unorganized and hard to navigate.
However, one of their saving graces is that they have a very active forum community.
According to their website, PIA offers 3023+ servers in 21 different countries. Some of the countries include the United States, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, and Romania and Canada.
One recent notable server addition is a silicon valley server–that gave me some impressive speeds (but I’ll get to that later). None of the locations gave me any issues, and I could connect to different servers in different locations quite easily.
PIA has doesn’t keep user logs, and their primary supported protocol is OpenVPN through their main client. Decent support pages for setting up L2TP and PPTP connections are available as well as an SOCKS5 proxy. While it’s nice PIA included this proxy; I couldn’t help feel that they just included it to have it be a feature that is included.
I couldn’t find information about it in the client, and the website’s tutorial section didn’t contain any useful information on how to get it to work. While rare, some other competitors have their supported proxies which are more appealing.
As far as encryption strength goes, PIA is very solid. They support 256-bit AES encryption as well as a handshake bit rate that you can increase up to 4096 bits.
Speeds for PIA are quite fast. I tested out the new Silicon Valley server first through a BitTorrent file download. Without PIA VPN active, I averaged around 21 Mbps and downloaded a 1GB file in 00:01:12. With PIA VPN active, I got an average of 20 Mbps, and it took me 00:01:29 to download a 1GB file. From these results, I was very impressed.
My next step was to test out the same server’s speed on a speed tester website. My results were recorded at night time activity first with a slight decrease in speed with 156.73 Mbps download speed, an 11.44 Mbps upload speed, compared to the inactive VPN download speed of 175.37 Mbps and a 12.20 Mbps upload speed.
Here are some other results from various servers from daytime speeds:
From these comprehensive tests, there are some significant drops in speeds depending on how far away the servers are, but that can be expected. If you’re looking for a fast VPN, PIA is an excellent choice.
Ideally, chat support on PIA would work similar to how you might expect. Once you are on the site long enough, a window pops up prompting you to chat with a representative if you need help with something.
My experience wasn’t exactly ideal since I couldn’t manage to connect to an agent. I waited for twenty minutes but didn’t receive a response. Their average response time is way too long. What’s the point of live chat if you have to sit around waiting for 10-20 minutes? Given this, this is a small sample of what could be varying wait times. Another day I only received a few minute way time–but with support, consistency is key.
However, before you venture on over, I should warn you about their annoying chat notification sound. I had my volume up, and my ears are still bleeding from the high pitched ping meant to attain a user’s attention.
While the live chat was a letdown, the support did eventually get me what I wanted but it took four emails to get a simple refund through Bitcoin.
The support representative wanted to sign up with a Bitcoin pay account or email them for the transaction information when I didn’t have to go through those extra steps with other VPNS like ExpressVPN or HideMyAss.
PIA is a great VPN for those looking to enter the VPN space and reap the many benefits. I would recommend the VPN to beginners, or the nontech-savvy–or those looking for quick yet reliable speeds with strong encryption options.
Since PIA’s setup is so barebones and easy, you can just jump right in and get connected quickly. PIA handles the interface and application in a minimalist fashion that might prove awkward at first, but the various iterations of the client work well enough for dedicated use.
PIA’s website is a bit cluttered, and it can be hard to find support guides or information about PIA’s services (or lack thereof). If you’re looking for a more multi-featured VPN, I would recommend checking out something like Torguard VPN.
That said, PIA is a great deal for what they offer. They have a simple service with great security.
Thanks for reading our Private Internet Access review. Comment below with your experiences–head over to our forums to participate in discussion, or rate the VPN yourself to contribute to our community rating!