Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review: a great value, middle-of-the-road VPN

The VPN you can't go wrong with, find out what makes Private Internet Access a fantastic choice in terms of bang for your buck

Private Internet Access review
(Image credit: Romana Cross / Shutterstock.com)
T3 Verdict

A stronghold of servers spread across the globe, Private Internet Access offers great value for money with a vast amount of features and fantastic clients for each device.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Great smartphone clients for Android and iOS

  • +

    Unblocks Netflix, Disney Plus, and Prime Video

  • +

    Big network of servers

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Can't unblock BBC iPlayer

  • -

    WireGuard speed performance not great

Go big or go home, Private Internet Access (PIA) brings one of the biggest networks of servers across an extensive amount of locations around the world to the best VPN market. Get the lowdown on what makes Private Internet Access a great service, as well as its drawbacks in our 'One minute review', or take a deeper dive with full testing details thereafter.

One minute Private Internet Access review 

Private Internet Access presents one of the biggest server networks in our list of favorite VPN services to recommend, boasting over 30,000 servers across 78 countries. It's an impressive feat and works into its arsenal, helping too to pick up the slack elsewhere.

At the forefront of its strengths are its array of interesting, customizable features, allowing you to set up the client to truly work for you and your endeavours - and not just on desktop either. While PIA doesn't have a long list of clients, apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and browser extensions have been primed to work as beautifully as the expectation of a fully, multi-faceted Windows client. 

We are fans of its smartphone and tablet apps across iOS and Android, bringing the full experience to these smaller blueprint devices, as well as assimilating interfaces to work uniquely for each operating system.

Streaming is another strength. While you'll have to give BBC iPlayer a miss this time, PIA soared through our testing of geo-unblocking for Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney Plus.

It also shows great efforts into being more transparent in terms of privacy with plenty of features to back it up. You'll find a beautifully efficient kill switch and its very own DNS set-up, alongside a choice of encryption and protocol settings at your fingertips.

The stats:

  • Servers: 30,000+
  • Locations: 78 countries
  • Devices: 10 connections
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Opera
  • Protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
  • Top features: Kill switch, smartphone apps, MACE, DNS, browser blockers

Private Internet Access review: PIA price and is there a free trial?

Want in on PIA's extensive VPN service? Luckily for you, you can get a lot for some very affordable monthly rates, making this a great option if you're after one of the best cheap VPN providers available. Considering Surfshark and Hotspot Shield set the mark for the most affordable VPN services out there, at $2.49 for 2-years and $2.49 for 3-years respectively, PIA isn't too far behind at $2.69 when committing to its 2-year plan. Better still, you can benefit from an additional two months free on top, making this contract run for a total of 26-months.

  • 1 month: $11.95/£9.99 a month
  • 1 year: $3.33/£2.71 a month (billed $39.95/£32.49 ever year)
  • 2 years: $2.69/£2.19 (billed $69.95/£56.99 every 2 years)

Much like its competitors, PIA offers a money back guarantee period of 30-days, allowing you to try before you buy - or, at least, get a full refund for your first month if you're not happy with your experience and decide it isn't the VPN for you. While this isn't a PIA free trial, then, it's fair to say you get all the buyer security of one and for a far longer period than the more standard 7 days.

It's also worth noting, when customers sign up for PIA's 2-year plan, you can benefit from a 1-year BoxCryptor licence, worth $48. This freebie allows you to benefit from cloud storage on the likes of Google Drive and Dropbox with added encryption, keeping your sensitive files safe and secure.

Does Private Internet Access work on Netflix? What other streaming services can it unblock?

For those after a good Netflix VPN, PIA might very well fit the bill. When it came to our testing, we were able to access the US Netflix library with no trouble at all on all three tests - a great sign considering Netflix is usually one of the streaming platforms we test that puts up the biggest fight. For Netflix, though, it was a great success.

It was the same story with US Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, which, this time around, we were able to view content on without any trouble. A great success considering the last time we used PIA to access these two platforms, we'd faced some problems. Clearly PIA is dedicated to becoming a serious contender in the VPN market and righting any of its wrongs - or near-misses.

Unfortunately, it fell just short of ticking all four boxes. PIA was no match for BBC iPlayer, which, admittedly, is known for its solid VPN blocking infrastructure. While there are more competent iPlayer VPN services out there, it's fair to say PIA is still a fantastic streaming VPN option for those who don't want to watch TV shows and movies on BBC's on-demand platform.

Private Internet Access review - features and streaming

(Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Private Internet Access review: What security features can you expect?

With VPN services often throwing around much of the same lingo, it's difficult to discern one from the other and decide which is actually offering the most reputable tool, especially when it comes to privacy, which can get very complicated. However, PIA attempts to offer something slightly different when it comes to its amalgamation of protocols, encryption, and features.

Utilising OpenVPN and WireGuard, you can set encryption from AES-128 to AES-256 CBC or GCM for more secure coding of your information, with the choice of WireGuard, too. This, combined with its own DNS and kill switch, intends to catch anything that's likely to fall through the net, as well as its MACE feature, which helps to detect and block websites using trackers, malware, etc. And this is just on its Windows VPN client.

Throw into the mix PIA's Chrome extension, and you can play around with additional features like a URL website whitelisting, WebRTC blocking, and more.

Private Internet Access review - features

(Image credit: Private Internet Access)

While PIA has yet to carry out a full security audit, it has made many of its clients open-source. This means developers and the like can freely dive into its code and have a snoop and see for themselves if there is any kind of compromise in privacy. This in itself is PIA giving its users full disclosure. You'd have to know what you were looking for, of course, but it certainly shows confidence in its product.

Alongside NordVPN and ExpressVPN, PIA has been certified by the ioXt Alliance for its Android app. While not quite the extent of a full audit, this does show one of PIA's clients to be trustworthy in its functionality.

When it comes down to a VPN for torrenting, PIA is a great choice with little on limits. No need for specialist servers, you can torrent from any of PIA's locations. You also won't run into any bandwidth throttling issues. PIA also offers port forwarding, which could help to improve speeds with any P2P transfers.

Private Internet Access review of speed and overall performance

Though perhaps not quite as important as security, speed performance is still fairly integral to the overall running of a VPN in ensuring that it doesn't completely deplete your connection. We tested speeds on both PIA's protocols, OpenVPN and WireGuard across both UK and US locations.

UK servers

OpenVPN: 240-320Mbps

WireGuard: 280-350Mbps

UK results proved faster and more consistent across OpenVPN and WireGuard, with WireGuard offering fantastic middle-of-the-mark results not dissimilar from Windscribe on the latter protocol.

On OpenVPN, PIA's speeds were in close competition with NordVPN, which scored 250-325Mbps. On the other hand, PIA's US results were a touch less promising, with WireGuard reaching maximum speeds of 35-40Mbps. It's fair to say this may have been a temporary issue at the time - but compared to some of the leading providers, this result isn't what we'd call hugely impressive.

US servers

OpenVPN: 250-270Mbps

WireGuard: 35-40Mbps

Still, even on OpenVPN, PIA's US performance didn't quite reach the same heights as in the UK, but topping out at 270Mbps, it's very usable and should be nippy enough to keep up with all but the most powerful domestic Wi-Fi connections.

With well over 30,000 servers across 75 locations, though, there's a huge network at your disposal. This means plenty of options for more promising connections. Of these results, it's also fair to say results are still very capable, especially when using OpenVPN. In terms of consistency, PIA may leave something left to be desired, and it certainly isn't matching the likes of ExpressVPN's 490-630Mbps with its Lightway protocol, or even CyberGhost's 350-450Mbps.

Client set-up and available support from Private Internet Access

Installation of PIA is straightforward. Once you've subscribed to the service, it will direct you to a page of the devices it is compatible with, proceeding to then download the dedicated client for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, or your chosen browser extension. Select your chosen device and it will not only install the file you need to set-up, but also direct you to a guide on its website to follow.

For those wanting to dig a little deeper with their VPN, an Android APK file is also available for manual configuration.

When it comes to its interface, each client offers a sleek grey/green colour scheme that is easy on the eyes and sharp in design. Its easy to navigate, with the option to scroll through a list of cities/countries, and dive further into a whole host of settings, including selecting encryption type, protocol, and so on.

Of course, you've also got a kill switch for shutting down internet access when the VPN loses connection, as well as the aforementioned MACE system and DNS specific servers.

Private Internet Access review - device

(Image credit: Private Internet Access)

If there is one thing that PIA excels at, it's smartphone apps. You can expect much of the same features you'll get on the full desktop clients on iOS and Android, making it not only a great iPhone VPN, or Android VPN, but also a great choice for those after an iPad VPN.

What's more, it again offers an intuitive interface that assimilates well from desktop to a smaller blueprint in a clean and clear design. You'll be presented with the standard On/Off button, as well as the server you previously connected to, and other Quick Connect options. From there you can dive into a number of the great features available on desktop, including those tailored to the operating system like Siri shortcuts and a Safari content blocker for iPhone users.

Private Internet Access review: Our final verdict

While Private Internet Access may not be the fastest VPN on the market, it offers some of the niftiest, feature-packed smartphone apps available, and works beautifully at unblocking Netflix. For those after a middle-of-the-road VPN that is both affordable and good value for money, PIA is a great shout.


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