What’s the use? Do we need a VPN?
That’s the question that went on in my mind as I surfed the web recently. As a long time user of the internet, I’m used to the many caveats that come with it.
But at times, the various roadblocks that have been put around the web become a bit too frustrating.
It seems as if we’ve extended our “borders and checklists everywhere” mentality to cyberspace as well.
Everything you do is logged; every site you visit is tracked.
And don’t even get me started on geoblocks.
If you ask me, so many impediments to free will on the internet seem stifling. That’s why I’m on a quest: a mission to find the best VPN service there is.
Because the right VPN is the only solution that can help you get around the various hurdles that have been put around the internet.
Here, my destination is Private Internet Access, or PIA VPN as it’s popularly known.
I’d heard its name from a number of fellow VPN aficionados, so after going through many VPNs, I decided to take a tour of PIA as well.
The results, I must admit, are a bit mixed with a score of 71 over 100. Here’s my full checklist of the PIA testing report.
While in this PIA review, I opt to find out on some of the following aspects:
- Does it perform well with Netflix and other streaming services?
- Does it deliver consistent speeds across all server locations?
- Is it safe and secure?
- Are its privacy features worth the hype?
These are only some of the many parameters across which I tested the service.
In the following review, I’ll explain all my findings in-depth for you, so that you can make a good decision regarding whether PIA VPN is the one.
Let’s dive right in then.
PIA and Netflix
As always, the first thing that I do when testing VPNs is to try and get past Netflix geoblocks.
It’s no secret that streaming services are constantly finding new ways and means to protect their global content libraries.
And Netflix is particularly notorious for its location-based restrictions.
I first tested out PIA with a couple of US servers, as I was accessing the US library of Netflix. And I was glad to find that all of them could easily access the US libraries.
I next went in to test Netflix UK, Canada, and Australia, all of which worked really well with PIA. I was even able to access other services such as BBC iPlayer.
Encouraged, I decided to try out the service with some other Netflix libraries.
And this is where I hit a significant roadblock.
I first headed over to Netflix Mexico, only to find that PIA couldn’t unlock the content.
Next, I decided to visit the German libraries, but sadly the results were the same.
Even in Japan, PIA failed to unlock Netflix content. To my curiosity, I run a Netflix speed test and the screenshot below says it all.
I tried out other streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, but only to be disappointed.
I think it’s safe to conclude that while PIA does work well with Netflix in the US and UK, other locations and services might just disappoint you.
This isn’t something that I expected from such a well-known VPN service such as PIA.
If media streaming is your main concern, you should stop here and check out NordVPN instead.
PIA VPN Speeds
Next, I decided to check out the speed factor of the service, and here also the results were of a mixed nature.
I’d learned that PIA has a pretty large server base of over three thousand units spread across massive 46 countries.
So naturally, I was expecting blazing speeds and rock-solid consistency.
Expecting the best, I opted to use the Automatic Connection Feature, which connects the user with the best nearby server.
One-click later I was connected with an SG server that gave me average speeds of around 22 Mbps.
Considering that I started with a base speed of around 30 Mbps, this was a significant drop for a nearby best server location.
However, initially, I put the reason down to overcrowding at the server and decided to test it again after some time.
This time also I used the auto-connect feature, and PIA connected me to the same server.
And it was no surprise. Download speed and upload speed were almost the same as the first run with not much of a difference.
I continued this with other servers across Europe, this time to get speeds in the range of 25 Mbps, which is better if you factor in the distance.
However, South Africa and UAE significantly disappointed me with speeds in the range of 12 Mbps and 1.7 Mbps.
Slightly disappointed with the results of my speed test, I went out to see if PIA performed well on the security front.
It does claim to be a great proponent of security, but is it all that it claims to be?
By default, PIA keeps you safe with a standard firewall and 128-bit AES encryption, which is one of the best encryption services around.
However, I’d have felt better if the service provided the more advanced 256-bit encryption, which promises greater security, which they have in the first place.
So, I set about tinkering a bit, and soon enough was able to change this default setting to the one I desired.
I was thrilled to find that the service offers advanced security features such as IP masking, IPv6, and DNS leak protection.
Not all VPN providers provide IPv6 options. Check out IPv6 vs IPv4 here.
If you’re not aware of what all this means, don’t fret.
It all simply translates to the fact that PIA VPN successfully protects your IP and location data from becoming public on the internet.
Find out your IP address here and see what it means to you.
In case you’re a more advanced user, I encourage you to head over to the app’s security settings.
Here you’ll find further features such as port forwarding, anti-malware facilities, and the standard automatic kill switch.
I should mention an important difference between the iOS and Android apps for PIA.
While the default connection protocol on the Android app is OpenVPN, the iOS app uses IPsec.
However, the service also supports manual protocol configuration with L2TP, PPTP, and SOCKS5 proxy.
PIA and Its Privacy
The security features of PIA had me impressed, no doubt about that.
But I was more worried about whether the app provides the right amount of privacy.
That’s why I decided to be extra-careful and absolutely thorough when it came to the privacy front.
However, I needn’t have worried so much, as I soon discovered. PIA has a complete no logs policy, and the service strictly complies with the same.
I also found the fact that PIA is based in the US, which means it’s subject to the jurisdiction of international laws and spy alliances.
This made me a bit jittery.
This simply means that even if government agencies do compel the company to reveal access to their servers, they won’t get anything, because PIA doesn’t record anything.
Still, there’s a risk for being in the 14 eyes jurisdiction.
Next, I was happy to discover the MACE feature which the service boasts of.
This is a three-in-one feature that acts against malware, web trackers, and ads.
The feature is available across all major platforms, excepting iOS.
I tested it out on several sites, and I am happy to report that it worked beautifully.
Side note: There will be no MACE setting in your Android app if you installed the PIA VPN application from Google Play Store. You can download the apk file directly from PIA website and sideload them at https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/installer/download_installer_android
Torrenting on PIA
For most VPN users, P2P sharing via torrents is one of the important necessities, and here PIA doesn’t disappoint.
All PIA servers are entirely compliant with P2P sharing, and due to its no-logs policy, PIA doesn’t put your online activity at risk of being tracked.
What’s more, the service’s built-in kill switch ensures that your P2P activity remains anonymous even in case of a sudden service drop.
And the port forwarding feature offers an additional layer of security.
Overall, it can be safely said that PIA is completely on board with all torrenting requirements.
Did I mention that all servers are fully owned and maintained by PIA themselves? Yes, they are.
PIA Device Compatibility
The next thing I checked out was PIA VPN’s cross-platform compatibility, and here also I wasn’t disappointed.
Whether you’re on Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, or Android, there’s a PIA app waiting right for you.
Excusing a few minor differences in the iOS app (which I’ve already mentioned), PIA offers the same features on all platforms.
It even offers stellar extensions for major web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome.
The service can also be installed on major routers, and supports up to 10 connections in one go.
Though it’s not unlimited, you won’t know when 10 simultaneous connections will become handy in place.
PIA User Experience
With PIA, user experience has been given top priority.
The developers at PIA seem to be well aware that ease-of-use is a major criterion for success, and have taken extra care to integrate it at all levels.
Getting started with the service is as easy as installing the app and logging in.
You’ll be provided with your default log-in creds when you receive the subscription email.
The auto-connect feature is displayed in the form of a large and prominent button that operates with a single tap.
This connects you to the best server nearest to your location.
You also have the option of manually selecting the server locations. You’re provided with a list of all available servers along with ping times.
I suggest you select the one with the lowest ping time from your location. PIA even color codes and arranges the servers with the speedier ones listed first.
What’s more, once you’ve found a server of your choice, you can save it to the favorites list for greater ease of access.
The interface had been designed with optimal user experience in mind and provides for intuitive navigability and easy customization options.
In short, one of the simplest yet feature-rich VPN services around.
PIA Customer Support
This is one area where, apart from the unblocking and speeds, I found PIA to lack.
At a time when most VPN providers offer 24/7 live chat support, PIA does not. This is a real damper in my opinion.
What it does offer is a ticket-based request system through its website that makes the process time-consuming.
This is something many users might not want to contend with.
However, the customer reps are professionals and don’t leave anything unturned to help you out.
But, the chat function can be accessed if you are logged in as one of their subscriber. That’s how I access and managed to chat with the support regarding some of the technical issues such as if PIA owns all their servers.
Another way the service tries to make an effort to assist you is through numerous website resources.
The website contains guides, FAQs, and troubleshooting information that can really help you out in times of need.
It even has a searchable database of resources that simplifies the troubleshooting process.
Pricing on PIA
Finally, let’s tackle the money matters a bit.
I found the service to be reasonably priced, and even though it has good privacy and security features, it doesn’t charge as much as the bigger players in the VPN game. Guess this is one of the reasons for its popularity.
I was, nevertheless, disappointed to find that PIA doesn’t have a free trial option that allows users to test the waters.
However, you can always try out a suitable monthly plan.
What’s more, in case you’re dissatisfied with the results, you can opt for the 30 days money-back guarantee scheme.
The refund process however is not expedited as I would have expected.
Here’s the email I received after I filed a refund request through the email.
I’m sorry to hear you feel the need to terminate your account. If you’re experiencing issues with your service, I would love the opportunity to help resolve them with you. Rest assured we will still review your refund request if a solution cannot be found.
Customer Support Agent
So, should you go for PIA VPN?
The answer depends on what you’re looking for.
If security, privacy, and affordability are what you value above all, then PIA is a great choice.
Despite that, I personally would still go for Surfshark.
It’s compatible across a large number of platforms, is easy to use, and can be utilized for popular tasks such as torrenting.
If that forms the basis of your use-case, then you can opt for PIA without any doubt.
They make it to our best VPN for Singapore here.
However, when it comes to the streaming and speed factors, PIA VPN does leave something to be desired.
While it can access the US and UK libraries with ease, the service does have severe problems with less popular libraries.
Also, the speed fluctuations I observed were considerable enough to warrant a second thought.
Overall, it can be said that PIA VPN offers excellent capabilities, but also comes with significant downsides.
But should you give it a shot?
Most probably I’d say, try it out next time?
And the refund process is kind of slow.