Private Internet Access, or PIA for short, is one of the most highly rated VPN providers currently available at the moment giving its users access to over 802 servers spread across 10 different countries. It is also one of the most competitively priced VPN services around that lets users use the service on a monthly, bi-annual or annual basis. It also highly regarded, in that they put client confidentiality as their main priority and do not retain user usage logs.
The cost of the service for one month is $6.99 but that price is greatly reduced to only $3.33 a month if you buy a years subscription. PIA also supports the use of P2P and BitTorrent on all of their servers.
Every type of subscription gives you the same type of protections which are:
- Secure VPN Account
- Encrypted WiFi
- P2P and VoIP Support
- PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec (OpenVPN is the default protocol used by PIA)
- 5 devices simultaneously
- Multiple VPN Gateways
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- SOCKS5 Proxy Included
- No traffic logs
Private Internet Access is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iPhone, iPad, iTouch and Android.
Mobile version (Android app) of Private Internet Access Review
PIA have provide a pre-configured Android app for your mobile device that will connect to the server with the best Ping, which will normally be the closest one to you. In the example below, it automatically connected me to the UK London server, but switching to another server is very simple. The tests using the mobile app below were done using my Nexus 5 running KitKat 5.5 and my Three mobile network. (I am only able to get 3G not 4G)
When you have installed and run the PIA app for Android via The Play Store, you will be asked to log in using your given credentials. Note that as noted above, you will be connected to the server that has the best ping, which will typically be the closest one to you.
If you would prefer to switch to a different server, then simply tap the Server Selection area (highlighted above) to see a list of available servers.
The speeds I had when connected to the PIA UK London server were great as were the results when connecting to the US-West server. When loading the BBC iPlayer there was no buffering issues at all, and general browsing was great when connected to either the UK or US servers.
Random TV Show playing on BBC iPlayer via Nexus 5, play without any issues.
If you wish to change which protocol that your Android (or iPhone) uses then you can also manually add the Private Internet Access VPN service and select the type of protocol. Here is an older tutorial I wrote showing how to do this, or check the Guide Section which contains some great instructions on using the VPN on most devices or OS’s.
By default, the Android app will use the OpenVPN protocol (recommended and more secure) which is the same for the desktop (Windows) version.
Conclusion: It’s very simple to use and install, plus they have made switching between various servers a breeze. Also, having access to a VPN connection when using free, and often completely insecure free public wi-fi connections, is a good idea. This is also something that journalists travelling abroad would benefit from especially in countries that have very different laws when it comes to privacy laws. Connecting is made a breeze, giving you piece of mind to do what you want without worrying who else may be watching.
Standard Windows desktop version review
Private Internet Access VPN provides two desktop installers; one for Windows and one for Mac OS X. Below I will be taking a look at the client version for Windows as well as providing some of the speed test results that I had. The Windows and Mac OS X installers can be downloaded here and only take about 30 seconds to install. If you wish to manually add a new VPN connection (without the standalone installer) then find the appropriate guide for your OS here.
Firstly, download the Windows installer and then right-click on the executable and choose Run as administrator. You will see a small command screen open during the install which will close as soon as the program has been installed. Once you open the PIA client you will see the main window. Note that you can always access this window by right-clicking on the PIA icon in your taskbar and choosing Settings. Now simply add your user credentials to connect.
By default, your region will be set to auto, which means that when the VPN service starts it will connect to the closest server to you with the best ping. You can easily change servers here by selecting the one you want via the drop-down menu.
To get to some of the advanced settings, select Advanced at the bottom of the window. Here you can choose which connection type you want (TCP or UDP) your remote and Local port, use Port Forwarding, the in-built VPN Kill Switch (this will kill your internet connection should the VPN server fail) DNS protection and IPv6 Leak Protection. For the purposes of this article I have left everything at the default settings.
Please note: If you are going to use the Kill Switch function, then make sure that you only have one kind of connection enabled on your computer. If you have both wired and wireless enabled, then the Kill Switch (when activated should the VPN connection drop) will kill the first instance of connectivity it sees. If you have a wired internet connection, then make sure that wireless is disabled (if available) so should the VPN connection drop out, which would initiate the Kill Switch, your computer won’t immediately switch to a wireless connection putting your anonymity at risk due to the VPN no longer running.
Making sure that you don’t have a DNS leak is actually pretty simple and I have written an article here showing you how to go about it. IPv6 Leak Protection can also be done by the user by unchecking it in your Local Area Connection properties window, however if you are unsure, just leave the box ticked in the client.
To change what encryption PIA uses, select Encryption at the bottom of the advanced window. As before I am using the default settings for the VPN which is fine for most people to give you anonymity online. pia supports the following data encryption algorithms:
Supported data authentication:
Once you have made any changes that you feel necessary, hit Save, to close the window.
How do I switch between the different servers?
There are two ways to do this, of which I have mentioned one above. The easiest way though, is to simply right-click on the PIA icon in your taskbar and simply select the server of choice. If you want to switch again, then right-click on the PIA icon, choose Disconnect and then go back and select another one. This is one of the main things that I like about PIA, as they have made getting around and switching between servers very easy. Below, you can see the list of available servers that show when you right-click on the icon. The same servers are also available via the settings area, mentioned further up.
Accessing geo-restricted sites
Apart from wishing to remain anonymous online, this is probably one of the main reasons that people will want to start using a VPN service. Accessing Hulu for example is simple, as you just have to connect to a US server and simply head on over to Hulu.com. The same can be done for non-UK residents wishing to access the iPlayer. People would be more than happy to pay for a subscription service for sites like Hulu, but until they can make that possible, then people will have to find other means to access the site, like via a decent VPN.
I used Hulu as an example below for being able to easily access geo-restricted sites, and even when connecting to the US Texas server which is many thousands of miles away from here, the speeds were easily enough to play the video without issues like buffering.
PIA does support the use of BitTorrent P2P usage, and allows it to be used on any of its servers, although they do advise that you try to choose one close to your physical proximity as that will help with your speeds. Talking of speeds, there are absolutely no restrictions whatsoever on bandwidth use when you are using their services, nor is there a limit to how many times you switch between the various countries or gateways. Also, they do not maintain user log s, period.
Whenever I review a VPN service, one of the first things I like to do is to run speed tests on some of the servers provided by the VPN provider I’m looking at. The speed tests below were run from my home connection (my ISP is SKY Broadband in the UK) using a wired connection. In total I tested 16 of PIA’s servers so that any one thinking about using PIA will have a decent idea of what kind of speeds they can expect when using the service. For the purposes of the tests I used SpeedOf.Me, which is a free HTML5 Internet speed test service that doesn’t require Java or Flash, and gave the most accurate results.
First here is what my normal connection speeds are when not connected to any of PIA’s servers. For comparison, my ISP gives me an advertised 40Mbps download speed and a 10Mbps upload speed. The speed hits that you can get when connecting to a VPN can vary greatly due to many things, including distance from the server you are connecting to, server load (how many users are also using that server) to the type of encryption or protocol you may be using. When I ran these test, I did so at a time when the servers would have been under quite a heavy load, but I was still pleasantly surprised as when using other VPN services, I would be surfing at a crawl when trying to connect to a server in Asia or the US.
Not connected to PIA
Connected to PIA London Sever
CA North York
The desktop version of Private Internet Access is not only very simple to set up, but also easy to navigate which is important as using a VPN can be a daunting thought for people new to this. I like the fact that they have an in-built internet kill switch, although I would also like to see an app specific kill switch (eg. kill a particular program if the VPN drops out, but won’t affect the whole connection) as an option to the user. The three main protocols are easy to configure manually should the user wish, and having OpenVPN running as the default protocol when the application starts is great.
Speed wise, I was quite impressed with what I saw on the servers I tested and used. I was easily able to access geo-restricted sites like Hulu and ABC Networks and didn’t suffer from any buffering or quality issues when watching and of the shows I chose. To test P2P and torrent usage I connected to The Netherlands server which for me was very fast and again, very simple to do. I also like the fact that I can use their service on 5 different devices at the same time, which is some thing many providers won’t allow.
All-in-all PIA have provided their customers with a great service at a price that is hard to beat, so if you are thinking about signing up for a VPN then you can’t really go wrong with this company.