Proton Mail is the world’s largest secure email service. It offers end-to-end encryption and lots of other great security features to keep your communications private. Even the company hosting your emails has no way of reading them, so you can rest assured that they can’t be read by third parties either.
But for all this talk, how secure is Proton Mail? Are there any loopholes? And how much does it cost to sign up? Luckily we have all this info and more in this Proton Mail review.
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Proton Mail features, pros and cons
- No-logs policy
- Encrypted messages to anyone
- CSV contact import
- Self-destructing emails
- Over 20 account languages
- Unlimited plan is expensive
- POP3 not supported
If you value productivity, organizing your mailbox can be tedious if the service developers didn't care for user experience. Many service providers have folder options to group emails, but it may not be enough. To increase their service's flexibility, Proton Mail has custom labels that you can add separately from folders. The best part is that you can add emails to labels, and it will not interfere with your folders categorization. Should you decide to remove a label from email, it will not change their folder. Also, if you no longer need a label, you can delete it without second thoughts – it will not delete any emails.
Short domain addresses
If you find the protonmail.com domain daunting, why not make it shorter? You can receive emails to your associated inbox by keeping your mailbox name and switching out the domain name. For example, if your email address is [email protected], you can swap out protonmail.com and instead use pm.me domain [email protected] All users can receive pm.me emails, but replying from pm.me addresses is only reserved for premium users. Plus, this address does not count towards the total limit of addresses you can create with a single account.
Multiple layouts and themes
Previously Proton Mail used to have the only layout option. Looks weren't its particular strength. Though, recently they have redesigned their whole UI. It was a complete revamp which hadn't changed since the start seven years ago when they first launched.
You can select a color theme out of 6 templates. So, whether you prefer darker themes or want to stay with the classics, you will have options to choose from.
Secondly, there's an option to customize layout options. It applies to inbox, composer, and icon sizes. All of them can be adjusted independently from one another. You can completely recreate Gmail feel if you're more used to their inbox.
All of these additions make Proton Mail one of the most customizable and convenient secure email providers.
Proton Mail has drastically expanded its search capabilities. You can search for particular keywords and email addresses, inboxes, dates, and whether the messages were read or not. This is very convenient since many encrypted email providers don't choose to include the feature.
It's worth mentioning that this feature will help you to some extent. As you can see, you can't search email content. It's because the emails are stored on their servers with zero-knowledge encryption. In turn, they can't be indexed, which also means that they can't be searched.
If you want to use Proton Mail faster, it might be a good idea to tame their keyboard shortcuts. Using them, you can quickly save drafts, open the previous message, show the original message, etc.
It gives you more flexibility when using Proton Mail. Not to mention, if you stick with it for a longer time, the shortcuts become second nature. They are a bit different from Outlook keyboard shortcuts. Still, they are intuitive enough to pick up even for novice users.
If you're hesitant to jump into the other service because you'd have to start from scratch, this might be a severe drawback. It's especially true for business users who cannot spend the valuable resources at copy-pasting their contacts in the mailboxes one by one. For this reason, Proton Mail has developed a proprietary app that allows you to export and import your data from other inboxes like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo. The feature is only for Plus, Professional, and Lifetime accounts.
Free Proton VPN
When you register for a Proton Mail, you also get a free ProtonVPN account. This service enables private and secure internet access through their Virtual Private Network of intermediary servers. It means that you're not browsing the web directly but through the guise of an IP address of one of their servers. Thus, it's one of the best ways to protect your anonymity and privacy when browsing the web. ProtonVPN is popular among people who value their privacy, and it's a great pairing to your encrypted email account.
Proton Mail also adds an additional layer of protection in the form of two-factor authentication. This means that, if someone manages to steal your password, they won’t be able to get into your account unless they also have access to your mobile phone.
For this reason, you’ll need to make sure you’ll always have access to your mobile phone whenever you want to login to your email account before opting to add this in.
In order to enable two-factor authentication, you’ll have to install an authenticator app on your mobile phone. We’d recommend one of the following:
Once you’ve got two-factor authentication set up, you’ll use the unique six-digit code from your authenticator app to login to your mailbox. And you won’t be able to access your account until you’ve entered that code.
Alternatively, you can secure your account with hardware keys, like YubiKey, instead of authenticator apps. The provider supports any security key that complies with U2F or FIDO2 standards.
Is Proton Mail safe and secure?
If you’re looking into getting a secure email account, chances are your main priority is security and privacy.
So here are the central Proton Mail privacy and security features:
- End-to-end encryption
- Based in Switzerland with some of the strictest privacy laws
- Stores your data in secure data centers
With Proton Mail end-to-end encryption, no one except you and the recipient can view your emails. And you can send encrypted emails to non-Proton Mail users as well. For even more security, Proton Mail adds two-factor authentication as an additional layer of protection. So, you can rest assured that no one will be snooping through your inbox or successfully intercepting your correspondence.
That said, in 2021, Proton Mail disclosed the IP address of a French climate activist after the Swiss authorities requested it. The company went public, stating that they aren't logging their users by default. It's done only in criminal prosecution cases. While Proton Mail didn't cooperate after the requests of French authorities, they had to after Europol became involved with the case and contacted the Swiss government directly. As they have to comply with their local laws, they gave up the suspect. Proton Mail revealed the date when the email address was created, the IP address linked to it, and the device identification number. However, they didn't reveal any mailbox contents, which are encrypted, and non-decipherable on their end. This amount of logging is standard in the industry.
To avoid such situations, it could be an option to use their .onion website version. That way your IP address would be hidden. Also, make sure that you're not giving away any personal details, pay in cryptocurrencies, and use a VPN provider to keep your information safe.
Proton Mail encryption
As we mentioned above, Proton Mail offers end-to-end encryption for a much more secure service. But how does Proton Mail work? Let’s break it down.
End-to-end encryption is a really secure way of preventing third parties from being able to access data while it’s being transferred between systems or devices. If your email service uses end-to-end encryption, it means that your data is encrypted throughout the entire communication process. So, only you and the person you’re sending the email to will be able to access the information.
Proton Mail also stores all your emails in an encrypted format, which means that even the developers in charge of the email service won’t be able to read the messages in your inbox or outbox.
You can also send end-to-end encrypted emails to non-Proton Mail users. This works by sending a link to your intended recipient which loads an encrypted message onto their browser. They’ll then be able to decrypt your email using a passphrase you can share with them.
To do this, you will have to enable the Encrypt for Outside option. When you compose an email, click the lock icon on the bottom left of the screen and set a password (and password hint, if necessary).
If you didn’t set a password for your email, it will be encrypted using regular TLS, assuming the receiver’s server allows it. The same goes for emails sent to you by non-Proton Mail users.
PGP (or Pretty Good Privacy) is encryption software for email communications. Generally, it's a secure method to encrypt your emails but it might be too complex to set up manually. Proton Mail has a built-in PGP encryption that you can use with zero technical expertise.
Between Proton Mail users, PGP has to be enabled. Once you do, PGP will encrypt all the emails that you exchange. If you want to communicate with the external accounts, you can allow PGP for outside users.
It works by generating two pairs of public and private keys. When you send an email, the sender exchanges a public key with the recipient, which they can decrypt with their private keys. That way you can be sure that only the intended recipient gets the message.
Proton Mail anonymity
Another great thing about Proton Mail is the fact that it allows you to get complete anonymity if you want it. You don’t even need to input any personal data when you create your account, so your privacy will be completely protected.
And by default, Proton Mail doesn’t track IP addresses, so there’s no information that an outsider could use to tie you to that account. That way, you know your emails are completely private.
Proton Mail’s self-destructing messages
You can even set an optional expiration time on any emails sent from your Proton Mail account. This means that your email will be automatically deleted from the recipient’s inbox once it has expired.
This not only works for emails sent to other Proton Mail users, but also for ones sent to recipients using other email providers. It works in a similar way to Snapchat by removing messages once the allotted time has passed.
Proton Mail data centers
When it comes to storing your data, Proton Mail’s security sounds rather like something out of a James Bond film. Proton Mail controls its server hardware at several secure locations in Switzerland. Its main data center is under 1,000 meters of granite rock in a heavily guarded bunker built to survive a nuclear attack.
If you know anything about cybersecurity, you’ll likely have heard that Switzerland is one of the safest places for data to be hosted. This is because the Swiss Federal Data Protection Act (DPA) and the Swiss Federal Data Protection Ordinance (DPO) offers some of the strongest privacy protection in the world for both companies and individuals.
And because Proton Mail is based in Switzerland, this places it outside of US and UK jurisdiction. This means that nothing short of a court order from the Cantonal Court of Geneva or the Swiss Federal Supreme Court would lead to Proton Mail releasing the very limited information it will have stored. So it’s very unlikely anyone will ever be able to read through your emails.
Protection against batch GCD attacks
Since Proton Mail relies on public key infrastructure, individual instances are near impossible to crack. However, there are cases of acquiring large volumes of public keys and deriving private keys. It works with the assumption that an algorithm's randomness isn't that random, and with a large pool of data, it could be possible to reverse engineer a password.
However, Proton Mail checked their measure on their whole database of accounts. Among it, it identified only 90 public keys belonging to spam accounts. This test goes to show that Proton Mail remains secure even to advanced measures of encryption cracking.
Block unwanted senders with Proton Mail
When it comes to security, Proton Mail also allows you to block unwanted senders to have a better email experience. Once the sender is blocked, their emails are automatically deleted without even reaching your inbox.
This is an excellent feature that can help you improve your security. For example, if you identify a phishing email, you can block the sender and avoid receiving malicious emails in the future.
Proton Mail plans and pricing
|Free||1 GB storage, 1 address, 150 messages per day, 3 folders.||Free|
|Mail Plus||15 GB storage, 10 addresses, unlimited folders and messages per day, 1 custom domain, email filters, autoresponder, access to Proton Calendar, and Proton Drive.||$3.49/month|
|Proton Unlimited||500 GB storage, 15 email addresses, unlimited folders and messages per day, 3 custom domains, email filters, autoresponder, access to Proton Calendar, Proton Drive, and Proton VPN.||$7.99/month|
You might well imagine that storing your emails in a heavily guarded bunker under 1,000 meters of granite rock would cost you quite a bit of money. But Proton Mail actually offers a free plan that gives you all these security benefits.
The free plan does limit the number of emails you can receive per day. But the limit is fairly generous and if it’s not enough for you, there are other very reasonably priced plans that increase your daily allowance.
So which plan is right for you and how much do they cost? Let’s have a closer look:
Proton Mail Free
Proton Mail’s free account comes with 1 GB of storage. This isn’t loads, but it’s enough if you delete your emails regularly and you don’t receive a lot of large files like hi-res images and videos. Since you can always see how much space is left, you can easily manage how it's used.
You can only create one email address, and the limit is capped at 150 emails a day, which is a large enough allowance to suit most people. 3 folders and labels aren't quite enough if you like your things neatly organized – but it's still enough for basic things.
Proton Calendar for better productivity and planning is also included: but you can only add one personal calendar and there are no options to share calendar entries and invitations via a link. Proton Drive secure file storage is available as well, but having to share the same 1 GB of storage, your options are very limited.
The only other drawback you may find with the free version of Proton Mail is the limited customer support. There are, as you might expect, lots of FAQs on the website to help you resolve basic issues and there’s an online form and a customer support email address if you need more help. But the paid plans come with more dedicated support, which is much more useful if you have issues with Proton Mail’s service.
But aside from that, Proton Mail’s free service offers a really secure email service with some extra features and only a few slight drawbacks. And because you can upgrade at any time, if you’re not sure what limit you need, it might be worth starting off with the free version and upgrading to a paid plan if it doesn’t suit your needs.
So, to reiterate, Proton Mail’s free account comes with:
- 1 GB
- 150 messages a day
- Limited customer support
- Limited access to Calendar and Drive tools
Proton Mail Plus
Mail Plus is the company's only true premium email plan, offering premium features and some additional organization and productivity tools. At a fairly low price of $3.49/month, you get a solid list of features. 15 GB of total storage on 15 email addresses should be enough for just about all main personal needs. Support for a custom email domain is also there if you want to use a personalized email address instead of a protonmail.com one. Also, the Plus plan will include contact groups, email client support, as well as auto-reply and catch-all email functions.
Folders, labels, filters, and the number of messages is entirely unlimited. Customer support is also available, so you can easily reach out to the company's representatives if you have any questions or issues.
On top of that, Proton Mail Plus plan gives you a full version of Proton Calendar, with 20 personal calendars and link sharing options. Proton Drive is also available – but you'll be still confined within the limits of 15 GB storage.
So, to sum up, the Proton Mail Plus account offers:
- 15 GB storage
- 1,000 messages a day
- Support for 1 custom email domain (for example, [email protected])
- Labels, custom filters, and folders
- The option to send encrypted messages to external recipients
- Full Proton Calendar access
- Limited Proton Drive access
- Priority customer support
As the name would suggest, Proton Unlimited comes with unlimited features from the entire Proton product family – going far beyond basic email. Starting at $7.99/month , the plan allows for 15 email addresses and 3 custom email domains. Other email features remain unchanged from the Plus plan.
But the real star here is the additional features – the Proton Calendar stays, and you'll get a whopping 500 GB of storage. Of course, it's not just for emails. That's plenty of storage to get the best out of Proton Drive, and use it as one of your main drivers for important files and media.
Additionally, this plan comes with a premium version of Proton VPN – one of the best VPNs in business, allowing for 10 simultaneous connections, and including super-fast servers for seamless streaming, gaming, and secure browsing.
If you're looking for an all-in-one package for emails, productivity, and full online privacy, Proton Unlimted offers exactly that. It's the most expensive one of the bunch – but there's a good reason for that.
The full list of Proton Mail Unlimited features are as follows:
- 500 GB storage
- Up to 15 email aliases
- Support for up to 3 custom domains (for example, [email protected])
- Labels, custom filters, and folders
- The option to send encrypted messages to external recipients
- Full Proton Calendar access
- Full Proton Drive access
- Premium Proton VPN
- Priority customer support
Is Proton Mail easy to use?
Proton Mail is really easy to set up and very straightforward to use. We’ll walk you through the features, layout, and mobile app to help you decide if it’s the right service for you.
How to set up a Proton Mail account
It’s really easy to set up a Proton Mail account. All you need to do is visit the Proton Mail sign-up page, select the plan you want, and follow the instructions.
One of the best things about it is you don’t have to put in any personal information so you can retain your anonymity. The site does suggest that you add a recovery email in case you forget your password, but you don’t have to.
Proton Mail design and layout
Unless this is your first ever email account, you’ll find Proton Mail’s layout very familiar and easy to navigate. The inbox looks very similar to anything you might be used to with Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo, and it’s really easy to find all the basic functions like creating new messages, adding contacts, and accessing your draft emails.
New emails are shown in bold and you can choose to allow notifications on your desktop or mobile phone app so you’ll be alerted as soon as you get a new message.
The paid versions also let you create custom folders, filters, and labels to help you organize your emails.
Meanwhile, the free version still lets you create basic folders and labels that you can color-code to help you find things easily.
Proton Mail app
As well as a really user-friendly desktop version, Proton Mail also has a really useful app that’s available on Apple and Android devices.
We tested out the Android version and found it fast, smooth, and easy to use. At the time of writing, the Proton Mail app has been downloaded over 1 million times on the Google Play Store and has received more than 28,000 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Meanwhile, the Proton Mail app for Apple users has 4.2 stars and has roughly 1,500 reviews. So it’s safe to say the app is pretty popular with its users.
Like most mainstream email services, Proton Mail also offers a calendar app. But unlike other calendar apps, ProtonCalendar has end-to-end encryption to keep your schedule completely secure.
Everything from the event title, description, and location to the people you’ve invited are encrypted on your device. That means that no third party (not even Proton Mail) can see the details of your events. Only you will know your plans.
Proton Mail performance
Despite all the layers of strict security, we actually found Proton Mail pretty speedy. It sends and receives emails with hardly any lag. And uploading and downloading documents doesn’t seem to take any longer than it does on mainstream email services, like Gmail.
While we can’t know for sure whether it starts to lag once you’ve got thousands of emails in your inbox, early signs are that the extra security doesn’t noticeably slow things down.
Proton Mail customer support
Proton Mail doesn’t offer much in the way of customer support. If you opt for the free version, all you really have access to is the online FAQs. Or you can email [email protected] if you need help with a specific problem.
There’s also an online form you can fill in. Apparently the only way you can actually speak to someone is by filling this in and requesting a call-back. Which isn’t ideal if you just want to speak to someone about an urgent issue.
Proton Mail alternatives
While Proton Mail might be the most well-known secure email service, it’s certainly not the only one. In fact, there are quite a few alternatives that are worth considering.
Proton Mail vs Tutanota
Tutanota is arguably even more secure than Proton Mail as it offers complete end-to-end encryption on emails, including subject lines. It also offers a more generous free version with up to 1 GB of storage instead of Proton Mail’s 500 MB.
However, Proton Mail offers more customization, from setting auto-responses to importing themes to make your inbox look exactly the way you want it.
Overall, the two are fairly evenly matched, although if we had to choose, we’d probably opt for Proton Mail for the added customization. It also has better customer support, which is really useful if you ever have an issue. Check our full comparison between Proton Mail and Tutanota for the details.
Proton Mail vs Fastmail
Fastmail promises to keep your data safe from third parties and boasts full transparency with its data practices. However, unlike Proton Mail, it doesn’t deliver end-to-end encryption, so it’s not as secure.
Also, there’s no free version and the price of a Fastmail account starts at $3 a month. For those reasons alone, Proton Mail is definitely the better choice. Check out our Fastmail review for more information.
Proton Mail vs Gmail
Gmail is incredibly popular and offers a reasonable amount of security. But Proton Mail offers a lot more. With its end-to-end encryption, no one can access your messages except you and your intended recipient, not even the people who work at Proton Mail.
Gmail, meanwhile, can not only view your data but can actually share it with third party companies who can then send you targeted ads.
Having said all that, Gmail does have its good points. For one thing, it’s owned by Google, so its app and desktop version are really easy to use and it offers much more in the way of customer support. But for us, there’s no contest: if you’re even slightly concerned about your online privacy, Proton Mail is a much safer choice.
Proton Mail review: the bottom line
If you’ve got an email account with a mainstream provider, chances are it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption. As you've seen from our Proton Mail review, the big difference between a secure email service like Proton Mail and a standard email service such as Gmail or Outlook is that it provides a lot more security and privacy for its users.
Proton Mail is really simple, easy to use and it offers end-to-end encryption, so you’ll have real peace of mind, knowing that your emails can’t be read by anyone other than you and whoever you’re emailing. There’s no coincidence that the protagonist from TV series Mr. Robot is seen using this service in Season 1, and it was also featured in the movie “Knives Out” for sending ransom notes. Proton Mail is just that secure.
Want to know more? Check out our complete guide to secure email providers. The company behind Proton Mail also offers one of the best free VPN services out there. You can read more about it in our Proton VPN review.
More secure email provider reviews
Zoho Mail review: great security features and more
Tutanota review: why we recommend this secure email provider
Fastmail review: good, but not the best choice
Is Proton Mail safer than Gmail?
Yes. End-to-end encryption is king when it comes to data protection. All data stored on Proton Mail is encrypted, so neither hackers nor ProtonMail employees can read the contents of your messages. Meanwhile, Gmail has logs of your every login and can access every single email in your mailbox.
Can Proton Mail hand over my data to law authorities?
In cases when law enforcement asks Proton Mail for your data, there is little that they can do. First of all, Proton Mail encrypts the emails, they cannot decrypt them at will. Moreover, they won’t act on data requests unless approved by the appropriate Swiss authority. Suppose you don’t provide detailed account information. In that case, there’s not much to go on that would tie your identity to the email account.
Can you switch between paid and free Proton Mail versions?
Yes, Proton Mail allows switching between the free and paid versions. Before downgrading, you’ll have to make sure that you give up previously set up premium functions. This includes custom domains and addresses. Once you do that, you’ll be able to reset it to the basic free version. If you want again to set up custom domains, you’ll have to subscribe anew.
What is Proton Mail Bridge?
Proton Mail Bridge is a Premium user’s feature that allows encrypting ingoing and outgoing emails. The best part is that you can integrate it with your current mailboxes like Outlook or Thunderbird. The requirement is that it should support IMAP and SMTP protocols. With the Bridge app, you can also download all offline copies of your emails to your device.
What is Proton Mail Plus?
Proton Mail sees all its paying customers as its Plus customers. Every other plan such as Unlimited, Professional, etc. falls into the same category. This gives more financial support for the developers who improve the service. Plus, as a user, you get more expanded functionality with the client.