Pia advanced settings

Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review

A News page once had regularly updated information on server additions, app releases, service issues, and other need-to-know information. It hasn’t been updated for several months, unfortunately, which makes me wonder if PIA just forgot about the page. Hopefully, it’ll come back to life soon.

PIA VPN and qBittorrent – Correct/best settings for torrenting? Some specific questions. Screenshots included.

Hello. This is for torrenting. I use Private Internet Access (PIA) as my VPN, qBittorrent (QB, that I switched to recently) as my torrent client, and mostly 1337 or RARBG. I like movies and tv shows. I want to ensure I have good/correct settings to remain anonymous/not leak/etc. I’ve searched/read a lot about it, but info is scattered in many different places/posts, and sometimes outdated or contradicting; so I appreciate any advice or corrections.

Screenshots of my current settings from both PIA VPN and qBittorrent here: IMGUR LINK

===== VPN SETTINGS =====

Protocols > Protocol – Originally kept default “OpenVPN”, but I’ve read a lot about WireGuard being faster and more secure so I’ve switched to it. Any changes on this screen?

Protocols > MTU – Not sure why I had this on “Large Packets” since “Auto” is default. I’d guess small packets would be faster for torrents specifically, but I will switch it back to Auto for now.

Network > DNS – Kept default “PIA DNS”. I read 1-2 times not to change this. I’ve heard about “Handshake” before, and I see “Handshake DNS” as an option here; not sure if they’re the same, just haven’t messed with it.

Network > Request Port Forwarding – Originally kept default Disabled, but I recently Enabled it. My understanding is that port forwarding has some minor risks, mainly related to how secure/trusted the app you’re port forwarding is itself (qBittorrent in this case), and any issue would be incredibly rare (if any ever at all with qBittorrent?), so I’m using it. Having enabled it, I can connect to a port-forward enabled server (non-US), PIA gives me a 5-digit port number which I then open QB and paste it into QB settings > Connection > Listening Port > “Port used for incoming connections”. Using this allows connection to more seeds/peers, and overall has increased my DL/UL speeds.

Network > Allow LAN Traffic – Kept default Enabled. Should I disable this? If I understand its meaning, as in devices on my home network (my router), then this is not necessary for me and probably safer to disable. I only use my VPN with 1 hardwired PC. Maybe if you had a server or Plex (I’m not familiar with that though) on your network and saving files to, it’d be necessary to have this Enabled, idk.

Privacy > VPN Kill Switch – Enabled. Although I’ve read it can possibly fail and still leak (depending on how it fails; which is why it’s important to also bind QB to your VPN), I see no reason to disable it.

Privacy > Advanced Kill Switch – Disabled. I don’t see a reason to use this if you’re already binding QB to your VPN. It sounds like this stops any normal internet usage when VPN is off, which I do not want.

Privacy > PIA MACE – Disabled. Should I Enable this? I’m not familiar with it, but it seems more relevant to normal VPN internet browsing rather than for torrents as long as you’re using common/familiar torrent sites and not clicking obvious ads (or have ad-blocker). Could potentially block a site you don’t want it to (or Enable and test/use it until it does this).

Dedicated IP – Not used. I read a few places that said this is needed when port forwarding, but hard to find info on. I ended up contacting PIA and they said technically it can’t be used with their port forwarding.

Automation – Not used.

Split Tunnel – Not used. Some people use this, like to VPN the QB connection only, but use other stuff (like internet browser) at the same time going through their normal internet connection (not the VPN). Optional, sounds useful/helpful. However, I’ve read a few times this leaks (IP or DNS, I forget). No idea if that is true/accurate. Others seem to use it just fine idk.

Multi-Hop – Not used.

===== QBITTORRENT SETTINGS =====

Connection > Peer connection protocol – Kept default “TCP and uTP”. I’ve read you can try changing this to only “TCP” which can sometimes be faster, but since there is now a default advanced option to “Prefer TCP”, it’s best to keep this default to both.

Connection > Listening Port > Port used for incoming connections – If not using port forward, I randomize this to a port between 45,000-65,000 which works for me. With port forward, I set it to whatever 5-digit port number the VPN provides.

Connection > Listening Port > Use UPnP / NAT-PMP port forwarding from my router – Disabled. I’ve read UPnP is considered unsafe by some. In theory, you would not want this router port forwarding to be bypassing your VPN and cause a leak. You also wouldn’t want/need this if you’re already using VPN port forwarding. Either way, QB is said to ignore (not use/disable) this if you’re using a VPN anyway. I just find it best to Disable this, having VPN port forward, and noticed no issues.

BitTorrent > Automatically add torrents from – I’ve read that you should get a list of ~20 or so top public trackers (like from github) and add them (replace existing) here often, perhaps every 2 weeks or so, to supposedly help with each torrent item finding more seeds/peers. Also read it’s unnecessary. Advice?

Advanced > Network interface – In order to bind QB to the VPN, this needs to be selected as the network interface used by the VPN. For Windows 10, I went to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change adapter settings. When using PIA VPN “OpenVPN” setting, for me it was default “Local Area Connection”. When using PIA VPN “WireGuard” setting, for me it was default “wgpia0”. I could see their connections turn on/off here when I turned my VPN on/off. I then right-click Rename and added “(VPN)” to the end so it is more easily identifiable… I restart QB, go to Advanced > Network interface, and select the one I am using from the drop-down list, then click Apply. Now QB is binded to my VPN. To test it, I start DL on an opensource torrent, and when I manually click to disconnect/turn off my VPN, the QB DL/UL speeds all stop.

===== MISC =====

So I’m using a VPN, binded QB to my VPN, and using port forwarding… When I test IP, I correctly get back the VPN IP and not my own. When I test DNS leak on a few different sites, it seems to correctly not leak. However, I’m not sure how good/reliable some of these sites are. One said I was leaking DNS (dnsleak.com), but the data it showed all matched to my VPN… I tested again later, and it said no leak. Thoughts? Anything else I should do/check?

Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN review

A high value VPN with a pile of interesting features

last updated 14 September 2023

Private Internet Access Running On Various Devices

(Image: © Private Internet Access)

TechRadar Verdict

Speeds aren’t the best, but otherwise this is a likeable VPN which gives you plenty for your money: loads of features, powerful apps which run almost everywhere, quality privacy tools, an audited no-logs policy, plus it unblocked almost every streaming service we tried.

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Pros

  • + Great value for money
  • + Unlimited devices / simultaneous connections
  • + Unblocked Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus
  • + Excellent kill switch
  • + Audited no-logs policy
  • + Plenty of features
  • + Open source apps
  • + Servers in more than 80 countries

Cons

  • – Below-average WireGuard speeds
  • – Apps aren’t always easy to use
  • – No significant app updates in over a year

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  • Pricing
  • Privacy
  • Performance
  • Virtual locations
  • Netflix and streaming
  • Torrenting
  • Installation
  • Windows apps
  • Windows settings
  • Command line tool
  • Mac apps
  • Android apps
  • iPhone apps
  • Browser extensions
  • Customer support
  • Final verdict

Private Internet Access review – quick menu

Private Internet Access (commonly known as PIA) is a capable VPN provider, now owned by Kape, which also owns CyberGhost, ZenMate, and ExpressVPN.

The company’s network has speedy 10 Gbps servers spread across 84 countries, including many that are often neglected by other providers: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Qatar, Sri Lanka, UAE, and more.

PIA told us that 30% of those servers are co-located (owned by the company rather than leased). This gives the VPN more control over the hardware and even improves speeds.

The service is also widely supported with apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Head to the PIA website and you’ll also find detailed setup tutorials for routers and other platforms, and smart DNS to unblock sites on games consoles and other devices that can’t run apps.

    Private Internet Access subscription options:
  • 24 month plan – $2.19 per month ($52.56 total cost)

Previously, PIA offered 10 simultaneous connections, but recently removed the limit entirely—now, you can set up and use the service on as many devices as you need. That’s far more generous than most of the competition, although Atlas VPN, Surfshark, Windscribe, and a few others also support unlimited connections.

Extras range from the straightforward (built-in blocking of ads, trackers, and known malicious websites) to the more low-level and technical: a SOCKS5 proxy for extra speed, port forwarding support, the ability to select your preferred encryption, authentication, and handshaking methods, and more.

If that sounds a little complicated, don’t worry—there’s 24/7 live chat support to talk you through the tricky bits.

Private Internet Access pricing

The Private Internet Access monthly plan is fair value at $11.95. The annual plan is cheaper than most at a low $3.33 a month, but opt for the three-year plan and this drops to just $2.03. Putting that into perspective, Hotspot Shield’s Premium plan costs $95.99 for one year of protection; PIA only asks $79 for your first three.

PIA offers dedicated IPs in Australia, Canada, Germany, Singapore, the UK, and the US, and recently added Japan and Switzerland to the list. These give you the same IP address every time you log on and, because no one else shares it, you’re less likely to find yourself on a block list due to someone else’s dodgy activities. However, using the same IP also means there’s more chance of being recognized by websites, so it’s not an ideal option for everyone.

Pricing for a dedicated IP is reasonable at $5 a month, $4.25 on the one-year plan, and $2.50 over three years. NordVPN is significantly more expensive at $8.99 billed monthly or $5.39 on its annual plan, and Ivacy undercuts everyone at just $2.41 a month billed annually, $1.99 over two years.

You can pay for PIA via Bitcoin if you’re looking for extra privacy, by card or PayPal, or take your pick of another method depending on your region (Amazon Pay is supported in the US, for instance).

There’s a free 7-day trial for mobile users and you’re also covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee—so, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to try the service for yourself, in your own time, without risking a penny.

PIA’s Terms and Services has another surprise (and unusually for small print, it’s a good one). Many VPNs say customers are only allowed one refund, ever. Private Internet Access says that as long as you purchased your new account more than three months after the last refund, you’re always eligible for another. Works for us.

Privacy and security

Good VPN privacy starts with a strong set of core features, and Private Internet Access delivers more than most.

PIA’s apps only use the latest and most secure protocols—like WireGuard and OpenVPN. There’s also DNS leak protection and a kill switch that’ll disable your internet access if the connection drops. PIA’s MACE feature blocks ads, trackers, malware, and more, and its Chrome extension adds a bunch of bonus privacy features (like block location access, third-party cookies, and website referrers).

The best providers also prove that they respect your privacy, and plenty of VPNs have the option to send anonymous troubleshooting data back to the company. Some turn this on by default, with the VPN presumably hoping users never realize what’s happening. With PIA, however, nothing gets sent unless you head into the settings panel and enable the feature yourself (it’s the ‘Help improve PIA’ option in the Help area, if you’re curious).

It’s important for a VPN to show transparency—to offer real evidence that it’s living up to its promises. Again, PIA has way more to boast about than most of its rivals.

The company’s apps are open source, allowing users to examine the source code, look for bugs, and see whether it’s doing anything that might compromise their privacy.

Recently, PIA introduced a new incentive for experts to check its code with the announcement of a Bug Bounty program. If a researcher finds and reports a genuine vulnerability, they could receive up to $1,250. Some providers offer considerably more (ExpressVPN has a $100,000 bounty for critical flaws in its TrustedServer technology), but I’m glad to see the incentive take off: anything that encourages more experts to check the code is pretty awesome.

PIA’s Android app is certified by the ioXt Alliance, verifying that it complies with standards in areas like cryptography, software verification, and updates.

The company has a very clear logging policy, and states that the service does not ‘store or share… incoming and outgoing traffic information, including user and destination IP addresses, browsing history/ websites visited, amount of data transferred, the VPN servers used, DNS queries or files downloaded… [as well as] VPN session information, software used, connection date, and duration.’

There’s no need to take PIA’s words on trust, either, because the company has now had its no-logs policy independently audited. The company invited Deloitte to interview staff, inspect its VPN and other servers, evaluate its policies, procedures, and more. Deloitte’s report found no evidence of privacy issues and concluded that the policy was a fair description of how PIA sets up and manages its systems to prevent any logging.

That’s great news, and gives potential customers genuine reassurance that PIA really is looking after their privacy. There’s scope to go further, though. TunnelBear has its apps, servers, website, and backend systems audited every year—but this is an excellent start and I’ll be interested to see what PIA does next.

Private Internet Access performance

Every VPN promises a high-speed, ultra-reliable network, but the reality can be very different. That’s why we look past the enthusiastic marketing and put every VPN we review through our own intensive tests.

I started by installing Private Internet Access’ latest Windows app on systems in a UK data center and a US location, each with a 1 Gbps connection. I connected to my nearest location, then measured download performance using several speed testing sites and services (SpeedTest’s website and command line app, Cloudflare, Measurement Lab, and more). Then, I ran tests using WireGuard and OpenVPN connections, and did it all again in an evening session.

PIA’s WireGuard performance averaged 290-340 Mbps in the US and 350-360 Mbps in the UK. That’s far behind the fastest VPNs (NordVPN, IPVanish, Surfshark, and others hit over 950 Mbps in their last tests), but would most users feel frustrated if they ‘only’ got 350Mbps from their VPN? I suspect not.

WireGuard is enough for most users, but if you’re setting up PIA on a router or other device then you may have to use OpenVPN. I tested OpenVPN speeds, too, and they reached an excellent 280-310 Mbps in the US. (Surfshark’s OpenVPN connections only managed 100-130 Mbps, VyprVPN just 100-105 Mbps.)

Private VPN virtual locations

VPN performance can sometimes be affected by its use of virtual locations. Connect to ExpressVPN’s India location, for instance, and it’ll give you a new IP address, but the servers are actually located in London. There’s a good reason for this, seeing as it means that ExpressVPN doesn’t have to comply with India’s controversial data logging laws, but if you’re connecting from somewhere near India, routing traffic through London will slow you down a little.

We’re not objecting to virtual locations, but we do think a VPN should be up-front about their use. On that note, Private Internet Access apps earn major credit by highlighting every virtual location with a ‘geo-located region’ icon, so you’ll have no trouble picking them out of the list.

The company doesn’t tell you where these servers are really based, though. Because this can impact your speeds if they’re on the other side of the globe, I decided to test a few locations to find out more.

The results were positive, with PIA appearing to host its physical servers not too far away from the virtual locations. India’s servers looked to be closer to Singapore, for instance, while I think Algeria and Morocco might really be hosted in Spain. That’s better than many (Hide.me’s Morocco location is nearer to Ontario), and reassures me that PIA is doing its best to meet its user’s expectations.

Netflix and global stream unblocking

Connecting to a Netflix VPN can get you access to all sorts of geoblocked sites and streaming services. Plus, they can help you get around those annoying ‘not available in your region’ error messages.

To test the unblocking abilities of Private Internet Access, I tried to access the US (and other) libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, UK’s ITV and Channel 4, and Australia’s 9Now and 10 play, from several test locations.

Accessing Netflix is usually the biggest and best indicator of a VPN’s unblocking chops. PIA breezed past its anti-VPN technology as though it wasn’t there—I had no trouble getting through to Netflix US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Japan.

The good news didn’t end there. Elsewhere in US, PIA unblocked Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus with both of its streaming-optimized locations.

My Australian test results kept up the pace, as PIA gave me access to both 9Now and the very well-defended 10Play.

A great UK finish saw PIA defeat BBC iPlayer, ITV, and Channel 4, giving it a perfect 100% unblocking score.

You can’t do any better than that, but a few providers managed the same feat. ExpressVPN, NordVPN, ProtonVPN, PureVPN, and Surfshark all unblocked every site in our most recent tests.

Torrenting capability

Private Internet Access supports P2P, and I don’t just mean on a couple of specialist servers hidden away somewhere. You can use torrents from any location, with no bandwidth or other limits to restrict your activities.

I verified this by connecting to three sample locations and successfully downloading torrents—and I’m happy to report that there were no connection issues.

With PIA, you’ll get the unusual bonus of port forwarding support. This lets you redirect incoming connections to bypass a NAT firewall and, in some cases, may even help improve P2P download speeds.

PIA’s website doesn’t offer much help with any of this, however. The knowledgebase has a Torrent section, but it only has a single article on ‘How do I enable port forwarding?’, and that doesn’t even mention P2P.

Still, the company scores well on the fundamentals—a large network, decent speeds, no logs, Bitcoin support—which makes a fair torrenting choice.

Private Internet Access installation and setup

When you head to the PIA website to sign up, you’ll be pointed to a bunch of download links for its Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS apps—as well as some browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Opera), and even the raw Android file (handy for experts who need to manually install it somewhere).

I like that there are some thoughtful touches here. Wondering why you should update, for instance? The site lists the changes for every new build. Has a recent update broken the app? Simply download a previous version. If only all providers were this helpful.

The changelogs did highlight one concern, though: most of the apps haven’t seen a significant update for more than a year. That doesn’t exactly feel like a company that is full of ideas on how to improve the service.

Experts might notice another issue. PIA’s web dashboard supports generating manual configuration files for OpenVPN, but nothing else. Paying Windscribe users can generate profiles and connection files for OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard, too.

Windows apps

The PIA app installs quickly and opens up into a simple and straightforward client window. Tap the big ‘Connect’ button to join your nearest server, tap it again to disconnect, and check out the status areas to see whether you’re connected and display your original and new IP addresses.

The client’s excellent and feature-packed location picker lists countries and city-based locations, where available, and ping times indicate which is closest. You can sort the list by location name or ping time, and a search box and favorites system help you find and access the server you need in just a click or two.

Looking for more functionality in the app? Click the arrow at the bottom of the UI to display a host of panels that you can add to the default layout. The ‘Quick Connect’ section lists your recently used servers, the performance graph charts speeds, usage figures track how much data has been uploaded and downloaded, the subscription pane is supposed to display account information although it was blank for us, the connection panel shows details about your current connection (protocol, encryption algorithm, etc), and finally, the snooze option lets you turn the VPN on or off for a set amount of time.

I thought the Quick Connect (“Recently Used”) and Quick Settings panels looked most useful, and added them to the standard app display without any hassle. I could even rearrange the panel positions by dragging and dropping; easy.

If you want to simplify things further, it’s possible. For example, you can remove the location list and just display the Connect button if you only ever need to connect to the nearest location.

These tweaks might not matter much if you’re happy with the standard interface, but it’s always nice to have to option to fine-tune a VPN app to suit your needs—and PIA offers more tweaks, options, and possibilities than I’ve seen from any other provider.

Windows settings

PIA’s Windows app Settings dialog gives you a lot of expert-level control over how the VPN works. Choose OpenVPN rather than WireGuard, for instance, and you’re able to select UDP or TCP connection types and encryption (AES-128/256-GCM), maybe avoid VPN blocking by using a custom remote port (53, 123, 853, 8080), and define how your MTU is set (potentially important for connection speed and reliability).

Some locations support port forwarding, which makes it easier to set up and accept incoming connections to your system.

The app includes split tunneling, a clever feature that allows you to decide which traffic goes through the VPN and which uses your regular connection (handy for anything that doesn’t work when the VPN is active.) This is easy to use at a basic level, but the Windows and Linux apps include some expert-level features that go way beyond what I usually see elsewhere.

Split tunneling works with Microsoft Store apps, for instance, along with regular Windows executables. You can exclude specific IPs and entire network subnets from the tunnel—which is a lifesaver when you’re trying to access work networks that object to VPNs. You even get control over DNS queries for excluded apps, with options to use your regular servers or PIA’s own DNS.

PIA’s Multi-Hop feature is unlike any I’ve seen before. NordVPN and Surfshark’s multi-hop routes your traffic through two VPN servers; in the PIA world, your traffic passes through a VPN server first, then a Shadowsocks server or SOCKS5 proxy.

The extra layer of encryption makes it more difficult for attackers to locate you and even conceals the fact that you’re using a VPN. So, if you’re traveling to a country that actively blocks VPN usage, it could be just what you need to get online.

Elsewhere, a kill switch protects your traffic if the VPN disconnects. I found that it worked perfectly with both WireGuard and OpenVPN connections, blocked my internet as soon as the connection dropped, and warned me with a desktop notification before quickly reconnecting.

PIA’s MACE system, which blocks ads, trackers, and malware, can also be enabled via the settings menu. I switched MACE on and found that it tackles trackers best, blocking 95.5% of my test set. The malware and ad scores were more mid-range at 74% and 81% respectively. Still, that’s an acceptable range for a feature you’re getting for free.

PIA’s Windows VPN client for PC might look a little basic initially, but spend a few minutes playing around and you’ll find it easy to use with some interesting, advanced features.

Command line tool

PIA’s desktop clients now include piactl, a simple command line tool that’ll enable you to use the VPN from a script.

With piactl, you can do all sorts of things that you can’t with other VPNs. Want to set up a scheduled task to automatically connect at a certain time of day? Or automatically connect when your system boots, but only after it’s performed some local network tasks first? What about creating shortcuts that connect to different locations before opening a website or app that you’d like to use with that country’s IP address?

Getting all this working could be easier than you think. The command ‘piactl connect’ connects you to the current default connection, for instance, while ‘piactl disconnect’ closes the connection. You don’t need to be a developer to recognize what ‘piactl set region us-atlanta’ does, and there are commands to get and set more options, and monitor the service state.

Mac apps

PIA’s Mac app opens with the same stylish interface as the Windows edition. It’s so easy to operate that even total VPN newbies will quickly figure out the basics: tap the Connect button to use your nearest server, choose another from the location list if you like, and you’re ready to go.

There’s a lot of power here if you need it—like a sortable location list, ping times that can pinpoint the closest servers, a favorites list for sorting your most commonly used servers, and more. The Mac app also lets you customize the interface, like its Windows counterpart, with ‘recently connected’ lists, speed charts, upload and download data transfer figures, a Snooze option to pause the VPN connection, and more.

If you’re impressed by that, though, just wait until you see the Settings panel, which is absolutely crammed with useful features.

These start with the app basics. You might choose a light or dark theme, select a protocol (WireGuard or OpenVPN), or set up the app to connect whenever your system starts.

Unusually, Mac users get just about all the advanced features available on Windows. There are custom DNS settings; split tunneling; proxy support; Multi-Hop VPN; a sophisticated rules-based system to automatically connect (or disconnect) when you access particular networks; and more.

Some options assume a lot of technical knowledge, and there’s not much guidance to be found in the app. Even experts might have to play around for a while before they figure out how everything works.

Sensible defaults mean you may never need to explore Settings, though, and overall PIA’s Mac app works well. Connect times are super-fast (sometimes under a second), it’s easy enough for beginners to use right away, yet also has the power that even the most demanding experts need.

Android apps

PIA’s Android VPN app opens with a very conventional interface featuring white space, a large On/Off button, plus your chosen region and IP address. Swipe up and you’ll find more buttons, icons, and status details.

Here, you can use the quick settings links to toggle the kill switch on and off or launch PIA’s Private Browser (which isn’t installed by default), and flag icons to quickly access a number of countries. There are also snooze options that’ll allow you to disconnect from the VPN and automatically reconnect in 5, 15, or 60 minutes, and connection status detauls that cover everything from your preferred protocol (WireGuard or OpenVPN) and encryption method to the amount of data you’ve uploaded and downloaded.

This looks a little cluttered, but as with the other apps, it’s easily customizable. If you’re pretty certain you won’t need the snooze button and don’t need to know that you’re using AES-128-GCM every time you connect, you can hide those panels in a tap or two.

Tapping the current region displays a list of other locations. Each one has a latency figure, giving you an idea of its distance, and a simple favorites system lets you move your most-used servers to the top of the list for easy access.

The app has more options and settings than many desktop VPN clients. WireGuard and OpenVPN support, auto-connect when accessing Wi-Fi, a kill switch, split tunneling—it’s all here. You can even have your handset vibrate to indicate when you’re connected, far more convenient than the usual notifications.

As with the desktop builds, PIA’s Android app is very well put together, and a nicely judged mix of power and ease of use. Recommended.

iPhone apps

PIA’s iOS app looks and feels much the same as the Android version. It sports a stylish interface, a capable location picker with server latencies and a Favorites system, and an array of customization options to make the console look exactly as you’d like.

There are a decent amount of options and settings, especially for an iOS app, and a wider choice of protocols than the desktop builds. Take your pick of WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2, choose between UDP or TCP connections, set a custom port, use your favorite DNS, or take fine-tuned control over encryption and enable a kill switch to protect you online.

An Automation pane makes it easy to set particular networks as trusted or untrusted, and instruct the app to automatically connect or disconnect whenever you access them.

There are a handful of useful iOS-specific features, too, including optional support for Siri shortcuts to connect or disconnect the VPN, and a Safari content blocker.

Overall, this is a quality app, easy to use and far more capable than most of the iOS competition. A must-see for more demanding Apple users.

Browser extensions

Using the Private Internet Access apps isn’t difficult, but switching between your regular apps and the VPN client can still be a hassle.

PIA’s Firefox and Opera browser extensions allow you to connect to the VPN from a button on your browser address bar. This only protects your browser traffic, but if that’s enough, the extensions save time and make PIA much easier to use.

Plus, there’s no learning curve—the extension looks very similar to the apps. You can’t miss the big ‘Connect’ button on the opening interface, and hitting it will connect you to the closest nearby server. The location list reports latencies and has its own Favorites system, so you can curate your own hand-picked list, and you can turn the VPN on or off via your browser with a click.

However, it’s worth noting that the location list only has around a third of the countries you’ll find in the app. I don’t know why this is the case, but if you’re wondering, here’s the current list: Austria, Australia, Brussels, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK, USA.

Bypass List is a split tunneling feature where you can specify which websites should and shouldn’t use the VPN. This is useful if certain pages don’t work as they should when you’re connected—just add them to the Bypass List and your traffic will be rerouted through your regular connection when you visit them.

I like that PIA has bonus privacy tools that prevent websites from accessing your location, camera, and microphone. They’re able to stop WebRTC leaks and block (or disable) Flash, third-party cookies, website referrers, hyperlink auditing, address and credit card auto-filling, and more. You can also use PIA’s MACE to block ads, trackers, and malware, too. I’ve seen dedicated privacy extensions which do less.

All of this functionality means that there are a lot of settings to explore—but if you’re looking for simplicity, you can just pick a location and hit Connect, just like any other VPN extension. More experienced users can take a deeper dive into these settings, however, where they’ll find more features and capabilities than just about any other VPN browser add-on we’ve seen.

Private Internet Access customer support

The Private Internet Access Support Center has a web knowledgebase with articles covering troubleshooting, account problems, technical complications, and more. These pages don’t always have the detail you’d see from ExpressVPN or NordVPN, but they’re not just bland descriptions of app features, either.

For example, a ‘Security Best Practices’ article gives users some technical (but very accessible) background on encryption and authentication handshaking methods.

A Guides section has setup articles and tutorials for all supported platforms. Some of these are relatively basic, but there’s still a lot to explore, with, for instance, 12 articles on Android alone.

Entering a keyword or two in the search box gets you a list of helpful articles. This didn’t always work as expected, often displaying articles that weren’t in the current website language. Still, it’s improved since our last review, and you should find what you’re after with minimal effort.

A News page once had regularly updated information on server additions, app releases, service issues, and other need-to-know information. It hasn’t been updated for several months, unfortunately, which makes me wonder if PIA just forgot about the page. Hopefully, it’ll come back to life soon.

If you don’t find the answers you’re looking for online, you can try PIA’s live chat and email support for more direct assistance. I opened a chat session and asked a potentially tricky question about the old authentication and handshake options which were dropped in a previous update.

Would the agent know the product in that much detail, especially when the change had only just happened? Mostly. The agent didn’t give me any real technical details but explained that the options had been cut and pointed me to a support page where I could learn more. That’s as good a reply as I’d expect from any provider.

Private Internet Access review: Final verdict

PIA is, and has been, a solid contender in the VPN sphere for a while—and it’s easy to see why. You get tons of servers to choose from, it runs on just about any device, apps are easy to use and crammed with advanced features, and you’ll have no trouble unblocking Netflix (as well as other streaming services from around the globe).

Admittedly, PIA’s speeds are relatively ordinary, but seeing as the service is about a quarter of the price of some of the top competition, it’s well worth a look.

TechRadar rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

Subscribe if:

✔️ Unblocking is your priority: PIA unblocks all of your favorite streaming services, like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and then some.
✔️ You need advanced customization: take a deep dive into PIA’s extensive settings to explore features and tailor the app interface.
✔️ You want proven privacy: rest assured that your information is safe from snoopers with PIA’s audited no-logs policy.

Don’t subscribe if:

You want the quickest provider around: PIA is no slouch, but its WireGuard speeds can’t match the likes of NordVPN and Surfshark.
You need simplicity: the sheer amount of customization options and advanced features mean that PIA apps can feel overly complicated.
You expect frequent updates: unfortunately, PIA apps haven’t seen an update in over a year, and some of the support pages are similarly out of date.

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ExpressVPN test results:

Attributes Notes Rating
Design Tons of customization, but can get confusing in a hurry ⭐⭐⭐
Ease of use Advanced users will feel right at home, though beginners might need time to adjust ⭐⭐⭐
Performance WireGuard speeds fall short to super-speedy competitors NordVPN and Surfshark ⭐⭐⭐
Unblocking Easily unblocks popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacy Independently audited no-logs policy and robust security features provide peace of mind ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer support Lots of online guides help manual troubleshooting, with live chat and email support available, too ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Price A low-cost provider, and long-term plans are a bargain ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.