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 - device
(Image credit: Private Internet Access)
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 US Netflix, Disney Plus, and Prime Video

  • +

    Big network of servers

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Can't unblock BBC iPlayer

  • -

    WireGuard speed performance not great

  • -

    No security audit yet

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Offering one of the largest networks of servers (so big it no longer gives a number - though it's somewhere beyond the estimated 10,000+), Private Internet Access (PIA) sets out its intention as one of the best VPN providers by its sheer reach alone. More than just a (big) number, we give the lowdown on what makes its strengths and drawbacks with our digestible 'one minute review' below, or you can get a more extensive look further down the page.

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 10,000 servers across 83 countries (up from 78). It's an impressive feat and works in its favor, helping to pick up the slack where PIA falls short 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 well as the 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 US Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney Plus. It's worth noting, though, it's certainly slower than its competition. However, for the average Joe, it's 320Mbps speeds on WireGuard will be more than enough for most.

It also shows great efforts in 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: 10,000+
  • Locations: 83 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 sets the mark for the most affordable VPN services out there, PIA actually finds itself at an even more affordable rate with our exclusive deal, costing $2.19 a month for its 2-year plan.

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.

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

As streaming service unblocking goes, PIA isn't the strongest, but depending on what platform you want access to it could be a fine option. In terms of Netflix, like many VPN, it's struggled against the streaming giant's latest crackdown on IP addresses. However, it still manages to access US Netflix exclusives. It also continues to unblock Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video without trouble.

This time around, however, it couldn't bypass geo-restrictions in place on BBC iPlayer. BBC iPlayer has certainly been one of the trickier ones for VPNs to circumvent, and this time around PIA was a victim of its fierce anti-VPN infrastructure. However, while it didn't work for us this time around in our testing, it's fair to say it could very easily work in the future. While not our choice BBC iPlayer VPN, then, it may be a fine choice depending on what you want to watch, as a streaming VPN.

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.

Unfortunately, speed is certainly where Private Internet Access has began to lack. While its competitors soar ahead, PIA remains below average in both its WireGuard and OpenVPN performance. With highs of 320Mbps, in our testing it performed better in the UK than the US, though it's fair to say even these figures are faster than the average person needs. It's worth taking these results with a pinch of salt, then, unless you're doing heavy duty tasks online that require optimum performance to avoid lagging.

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 Best VPN

(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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Alice Marshall
eCommerce Editor

Alice is eCommerce Editor at Future, with a focus on streaming services such as Disney Plus, Hulu, and HBO Max, as well as VPN. Nowadays she looks after and writes guides and how to watch articles across TechRadar and CinemaBlend. Previously a Commercial Content Writer for Trusted Reviews, Alice has worked in the eCommerce space for over five years and over two years writing about consumer tech.