Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the more venerable VPN services out there. Founded in 2010, it’s practically a dinosaur compared to some of the other services out there. I took PIA, as it’s better known, out for a spin to see if it still has what it takes.
In short, it does. I’ve tested Private Internet Access many times over the years and it has managed to stay consistently decent. Its main strength is its pricing—PIA is the cheapest top-tier VPN out there—but it does well in all other aspects, too. You won’t get quite the performance that most of the other best VPN services offer, but at these prices, chances are you won’t mind.
Here’s What We Like
Can get through to Netflix
And What We Don’t
App is slightly annoying
Streaming servers can be slow
Torrenting may be an issue
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How Much Does Private Internet Access Cost?
Let’s kick off by looking at Private Internet Access’ greatest asset, how much it costs, or rather how little. Of all the top-tier VPNs, it’s by far the cheapest, offering plans for as little as $2 a month, though you do have to sign up for three years to get that deal.
Still, though, 80 bucks for three years of use is a steal, especially for a VPN as good as PIA. It gets even better when you take into account that you renew your subscription at that price, too. No shenanigans where you pay a very low price initially, only to get stung when the time to renew rolls around. Surfshark and NordVPN are the examples I like to use the most, though there are plenty of other VPNs that do it, too.
That said, there are VPNs that are cheaper than PIA, at least at first. One example is FastVPN, which isn’t very good, but it’s $1 per month the first time you sign up. A buck per month is a really good deal, even if the VPN in question leaves a lot to be desired.
RELATED:FastVPN Review: What’s In a Name?
Note about PIA and Debit Cards
As much as I like PIA’s pricing, there’s one thing you may need to be aware of when paying for the service: it does not accept debit cards, at least not until you contact support and have them whitelist your email address. Though I understand using a credit card is better when paying online, it’s still a bit odd that you can’t use a debit card, but there you go.
What Private Internet Access Can Do
At $80 for three years, Private Internet Access is a good buy, but let’s see what that money gets you. As I mentioned in the introduction, PIA doesn’t perform as well as some of my other favorites, but that by no means makes it a bad VPN. Sure, everything PIA can do, another service can do better, but PIA is pretty good at everything. At $2 a month, “pretty good” is, well, pretty good.
Let’s kick off with the interface, so how you use PIA. The app works the same across platforms and is a small, mobile-type app. Plenty of competitors go the same route, Mozilla VPN, for example, also does this. However, what sets PIA apart is that when I say “small,” I mean it: the app is simply tiny. It practically drowns on a large desktop screen.
The app is more or less the same across all operating systems. I tested PIA on Linux, but there are downloads available for Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone/iPad, consoles, smart TVs, and VPN routers. There are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
I like the simplicity of the app. It’s essentially just two buttons, one that selects the server and one that switches the VPN on. Easy as pie. For those interested, you can choose whether to use light or dark mode, something I wish PIA’s designers would explain to the people who designed Proton VPN.
RELATED:Proton VPN Review: Safe As a Swiss Bank
What I like less about PIA’s app is how it handles more advanced functions. To do anything besides the basics, you need to delve into one of three extra screens. The first are options associated with the connection and a few extras. To access these, you click on the down arrow at the bottom of the app and it extends.
As you can see, the app extends to roughly three times its size and I genuinely hope this screenshot doesn’t break the How-to Geek layout. I have trouble describing exactly how much I dislike this approach. While I like having usage information and a summary of the connection’s characteristics at my beck and call, this fold-out system doesn’t really work as I needed to move the app to see it all. Also, the main button disappears, which is annoying.
Servers and Network
If you want to select a different server, the app also does the extendo-matic thing, but not to the same degree. I like how the menu looks, and the colorful way it’s presented with the country’s flags and all that, but again I do find myself questioning the app designer’s decisions.
The app displays the servers and their locations in a very singular way, namely in ascending latency, better known as ping. Not gonna lie, it took me a sec to figure out why Montenegro was above Malta. There’s no other way to filter servers, it’s either ping or use the search function. The search function is really good, thankfully, but I do wish there were other ways to filter the lists.
That said, there are plenty of servers to choose from around the world, though Europe and North America are represented best. There are also specialized streaming servers, which are an important draw for PIA.
Private Internet Access and Netflix
These streaming servers are special VPN servers that PIA has optimized for streaming. It doesn’t offer these for every location, but the most important ones are represented, such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and several in the United States, among others.
Overall, these do a pretty good job of unblocking Netflix, though they’re not perfect, either. For one, not all of them will work, at least two kicked me to the generic Netflix page that only shows the so-called Netflix Originals. On top of that, many of these were also a lot slower, I suspect because they were experiencing a pretty heavy load, something I talk more about in the speed section.
Overall, if streaming were my priority, PIA wouldn’t be my first pick—that honor goes to ExpressVPN. However, the price difference comes into play here: ExpressVPN is $100 per year, so roughly four times more expensive than Private Internet Access. If you’re looking for a reliable streaming option that costs less, check out my Mysterium VPN review.
Finally, let’s also take a look at some of Private Internet Access’s settings. These are accessed through the three dots at the top of the app. These are, thankfully, presented in a normal-sized screen and offer a massive array of options that you can mess around with to your heart’s desire. If you like to tweak your VPN just so, PIA is a very good pick.
That said, the defaults are fine, too. There’s no real reason to go into these settings if you don’t want to. For example, PIA has its kill switch on by design, one of the few VPNs to do so—read my Surfshark review for one example where this vital feature is off by default.
The settings menu is also where you get an overview of all the extra features PIA has on offer, including handy stuff like split tunneling, multi-hop, or even dedicated IPs, a service that costs $5 per month extra.
Outside of the elastic app, I really like how PIA handles, and I like how so many of its features can be switched on and off in the app, something I wish more VPNs would include.
RELATED:What Is a VPN Kill Switch, and Do You Need One?
How Fast Is Private Internet Access?
Besides price, the other thing that has made Private Internet Access stand out over the years are its speeds: they’re usually pretty good. When I tested this time around—using speedtest.net—I wasn’t disappointed, though there seem to be some issues with server load on the streaming servers. Let’s first look at the readings I got testing from Cyprus early in the morning.
New York City
My base connection of just under 100 Mbps barely took a hit that time of day. Israel underperforms a little despite it being pretty close, but that seems normal compared to all other reviews. Most surprising was Japan which, despite being on the other side of the world, was still really, really fast. Only Mullvad and IVPN test better than PIA, and even then not by much.
However, there’s a caveat: the streaming servers are a lot slower. I ran a second set of tests in the evening, when people are watching Netflix with a VPN, and then the speeds on the streaming servers could take a hit of 50%, sometimes even more. If, like me, you’re on a fast base connection, it won’t be too bad, but those with slower connections may want to be aware of this issue.
Security and Privacy
Let’s polish this review off by going over Private Internet Access’s security and privacy policies. Security-wise, I like how the service focuses on two of the best VPN protocols, OpenVPN and WireGuard. These are solid choices that are safe, yet still fast. You can’t go wrong with either, I like OpenVPN, though, as the tried and true option.
That said, there is an issue for torrenters: since PIA is located in the United States, there is a chance it could become the target of torrent-related lawsuits or warrants. If you like sailing the high seas, you may want to avoid U.S.-based VPNs in general, and definitely avoid using servers located in the U.S.
Should You Sign Up for Private Internet Access?
Private Internet Access is a solid VPN. Sure, it doesn’t excel in any one area, but at $79 for three years, it’s a good choice. Still, though, there are a few things from being a truly excellent VPN, like the mediocre performance of its streaming servers. Add to that torrenting issues, and PIA becomes a VPN for people that mainly want to browse anonymously, and don’t want to break the bank doing it.