If NordVPN really has all those premium features they promote, how can it possibly be so cheap? With this question in mind, I dug into NordVPN, hoping to find the catch and prove that it isn’t as fast and secure as their ads promise.
After testing it thoroughly for two weeks, I found that:
I did find some drawbacks that might bother you if you are a more advanced user or need access to smaller streaming websites, such as DAZN. But the bottom line is that I started using NordVPN and it’s become my favorite choice on both my PC and mobile.
Coronavirus Stay-At-Home Update April 2020
NordVPN now has a special stay-at-home offer to help make your lockdown time more enjoyable. You can access more online streaming platforms (e.g. US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ etc.) that may not be available in your country PLUS get fast speeds to ensure your shows are not interrupted by buffering. It’s worth checking out NordVPN’s current offer to see if you can still get the best deal available.
With a huge network of over 5,700 servers across 60 countries, fast speeds, and military-grade encryption, NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN services available. It has all the security features you’d expect from a VPN, like a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and a strict no-logging policy. There’s also a whole host of more advanced features like double encryption, obfuscated servers, and P2P support. Additionally, NordVPN is one of the few providers which can geo-unblock Netflix and other streaming sites.
NordVPN is available for Windows, Linux, and macOS. It can also be used as a browser extension in either Firefox or Chrome, or as an app for Android, AndroidTV, and iOS. When you buy a subscription, you can use NordVPN on up to six devices. And if you experience any issues, 24/7 customer support is available via the live chat feature.
In this review, I test NordVPN thoroughly to see whether it lives up to its reputation. One of the most affordable VPNs on the market, you can try NordVPN out for just a few dollars a month, and get a full refund within 30 days if you aren’t satisfied. On top of that, you can also take advantage of the 70% discount that NordVPN is currently offering for a much better deal.
NordVPN has a feature called SmartPlay which claims to unlock over 400 sites with geo-restrictions. I tested geo-restricted content from the US, Australia, and Europe, including the regional news sites ABC News, France2, and SBS Australia. I also tested the streaming sites Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. The results? I was able to successfully stream all the content I attempted to watch on these sites.
NordVPN wasn’t able to unblock DAZN though (which has very sensitive VPN detection), but very few services are able to do this.
Netflix attempts to detect and block VPNs, and many VPN services fail to access it. I ran tests using Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, and iPad and had similar results. I did run into trouble with Android TV and the Amazon Fire Stick (as of now, NordVPN doesn’t support these devices). I will update this review when this issue is resolved.
NordVPN allowed me to view content exclusively available in the US, UK, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy — the countries with the most content available. I had my research assistant test 56 different servers in different countries and we discovered that while connected with servers outside the 7 countries listed above, you can still receive Netflix US.
I contacted NordVPN customer support to try and understand why I was getting Netflix US while connected with a server in India or Bulgaria, but they didn’t really have an answer.
So you’ll be able to access those 7 major Netflix libraries using NordVPN, and you may even find servers outside those countries that work too.
NordVPN’s speeds allowed me to stream in HD with optimal image quality and no buffering, which was a great performance. Whilst it’s not the fastest VPN in the market, it was completely adequate for everything I tested it for.
All VPNs slow down your Internet connection somewhat — it’s just a matter of how much. I ran speed tests from the UK using Fast.com to find out how NordVPN fares. The tests were conducted using WiFi over a fiber broadband connection.
|UK (VPN disconnected)||79 Mbps||0% (baseline)|
|UK (recommended server)||46 Mbps||-42%|
|UK (London)||55 Mbps||-30%|
|UK (Manchester)||53 Mbps||-33%|
|US (New York)||46 Mbps||-42%|
|New Zealand||5.2 Mbps||-93%|
Though some of these results may seem like big drops in speed, it’s worth noting that performance was still good. Even when connecting to the server in New Zealand, which was furthest away and had the slowest speeds, I was able to stream Netflix and YouTube in HD with no buffering or lowering of resolution. So, let’s dive into the details.
First, I tested the Internet speed with the VPN disconnected and found it was 79 Mbps. This was my baseline. Next, I connected to NordVPN’s recommended server within the same country and the speed was 46 Mbps, a significant drop of about 42%. I tested another two servers within the same country and yielded better results, with a drop of only 30% and 33% to 55 Mbps and 53 Mbps respectively.
Using a server elsewhere in Europe (Spain) led to a significant drop of 70% to 24 Mbps. But using US server (based in New York) was comparable to using one in the same country, with speeds of 46 Mbps despite it being on the other side of the Atlantic. Connecting to the other side of the world in New Zealand led to significantly slower speeds. There was a drop of 93% to 5.2 Mbps, although this is to be expected over such a long distance.
NordVPN provides recommendations for the best server in any given country, but when I tested this over long distances, the recommended servers often didn’t have the best speeds. For countries outside of Europe, I found that my results were generally better when I manually chose servers from the list, as shown in the table below. If you find a particularly fast server, you have the option to save it so you can use it next time.
|Country||Recommended Server||Manually-Chosen Server|
|US||19 Mbps||33 Mbps|
|Japan||14 Mbps||18 Mbps|
|France||45 Mbps||43 Mbps|
|Australia||4.2 Mbps||16 Mbps|
|Canada||15 Mbps||19 Mbps|
|Germany||43 Mbps||42 Mbps|
I repeated the tests at a different time of day, with very similar results. Using another speed test service (AT&T) also didn’t make a significant difference, with variations of no more than a few megabits per second.
I’d be lying if I told you that the speed was always fast. There were some frustrating times where I had to do some troubleshooting to see why things weren’t moving at a faster pace.
The first thing to do is to try changing the server. Even with several thousand servers, the server you connect with may simply be overloaded and running slow. NordVPN gives you the option of choosing the “Fastest” server for each location.
Another helpful tip I discovered is to check which security protocol you are using. The two options that come with the native app are UDP and TCP. If you are looking for faster speeds, then you should be using UDP (this is the default security protocol).
The final tip is to make sure that you aren’t connected using the DoubleVPN feature. This is an added security feature that gives your data encryption but will also slow down your internet connection.
Speed determines how fast content uploads, so if you're torrenting or streaming, you want the speed to be somewhat identical to your regular internet speed. Since a VPN encrypts your data, it usually takes a bit longer to send your data back and forth, which can slow down your connection. However, if your ISP deliberately slows down your connection (also known as throttling) a VPN might increase your internet speed. Testing a VPN is somewhat pointless because new servers pop up and affect speed. Your speed can also differ according to your location, so your speed test might not match ours. Having said that, we tested the speed in numerous locations to provide you with the average.
NordVPN has one of the most impressive networks of servers of any VPN, with over 5,700 servers spread across 4 regions and 60 countries. You can manually choose a server, but there’s also an algorithm which will select the best one for you, factoring in load, location, and any requirements you specify (e.g. type of server and security protocol).
It also offers a number of specialty server types, including:
To get an idea of the performance of NordVPN’s servers, I tested servers in several countries to see whether there were any connection issues and how long it took to connect to them. Again, all tests were conducted from the UK using a fiber broadband connection. There were no connection issues with any of the servers tested, and all connected in a reasonable time given the distances involved.
|Country||Connection Issues||Time taken to connect (seconds)|
I also ran tests to check whether NordVPN’s servers were in the locations they claimed to be. Many providers use virtual server locations as a cost-cutting measure, which could be a problem if you want to avoid routing your traffic through certain countries.
To establish the servers’ likely locations, I used a tool to run ping tests from 90 different locations. By looking at the time it takes to ping from each location, you can get a good idea of where the server is. For example, pinging a UK server from Ireland should take much less time than pinging it from the US. If none of the numbers seem to check out, the server’s location may be spoofed.
I pinged servers in 10 different countries (the UK, South Africa, Georgia, Hong Kong, Latvia, Israel, Malaysia, Slovakia, Serbia, and South Korea), and the results suggested that they were all where they claimed to be. Whilst this isn’t proof that NordVPN doesn’t use any virtual locations, it does suggest that at least the majority are genuine.
NordVPN’s obfuscated servers are even capable of bypassing the Great Firewall of China — something many services aren’t able to do. The only caveat is to make sure you install the service before traveling. Otherwise, you may not be able to access the site. There might still be certain sites you can’t visit, but this is the case with any VPN.
I had a member of our review team in China to test NordVPN against China’s firewalls. It was tested on multiple devices including Windows, macOS, Android, and iPhone. There were some issues with iOS and Mac devices, but we found a pretty easy workaround that allowed us to freely browse the web.
The best way to access the internet from China is to connect using the Obfuscated Servers. You have to go to the Setting Tab > Advanced Option > Obfuscated Server > then toggle on.
Important: Obfuscated servers only work with OpenVPN. This means that if you’re using an iOS device, you will need to download the OpenVPN app and create a manual connection.
NordVPN’s strong encryption is also a big plus if you’re visiting China.
NordVPN’s specialty P2P servers are designed with torrenting in mind. They ensure your activity stays private, and NordVPN states on its website that it never throttles your bandwidth or otherwise interferes with your internet connection to discourage you from using the service with P2P.
NordVPN will even reroute you to a P2P server if it detects that you’re trying to use torrenting. However, it doesn’t quite compare to services like ExpressVPN, where P2P is available on all the servers.
You also have the option to use a SOCKS5 proxy with your torrenting client instead. This is faster and will still hide your IP address, but your traffic won’t be encrypted.
NordVPN’s leak protection, no-logging policy, and other privacy features are also ideal for torrenting.
The NordVPN website is well laid out and easy to navigate. Downloading and installing the NordVPN apps is also a straightforward process, and I was connected within four minutes of getting a subscription. In every version (desktop or mobile), the menu makes it simple to choose between servers in different countries and select from the specialty servers.
There’s also a map feature, which allows you to pick a server by clicking on a pin. However, this feature is somewhat limited. For instance, Europe has so many servers that there are pins everywhere and you have to zoom-in a long way to work out which one is where. It’s a nice visual, but picking from the list of countries is much more practical.
The mobile apps are very similar to the desktop version, the only difference being that you access the list of servers by swiping up if you’re on mobile.
The one exception to NordVPN’s user-friendliness is the Linux version, which is command-line only. Then again, if you’re using Linux, you probably know your way around the command line so this may not be an issue.
Another app that we’ve used that still needs improving is the Fire TV app. When I first started testing NordVPN, it didn’t have a native app for Fire TV, and I had to jailbreak my Fire Stick to install it. Since then, NordVPN has released an app that works with Hulu, ESPN, HBO, and more.
But there are still slight inconveniences with the Fire TV app that could be improved on. For example, if you want to choose a server other than the default, you have to know the server number. You can’t search a list or by region like you can on the desktop and mobile apps. Additionally, it won’t automatically connect to that same server each time you log in, which means that you’ll have to either remember the server number, or hope to get lucky and find a good one the next time.
You can rest assured that NordVPN makes sure your true IP address remains hidden. I ran five different IP and DNS leak tests, and each time the IP address and location of the server were displayed instead of my own.
NordVPN also offers auto-connection to the VPN when you start up your device, and the option to make your device invisible on the LAN.
NordVPN has a number of other security features too, like double VPN servers and a kill switch. The kill switch works by disconnecting you from the internet if the VPN stops working, making sure your traffic remains private. You also have the option of setting the kill switch to only stop certain programs or apps if the VPN goes down. Unlike with some services (e.g. ExpressVPN), the feature isn’t enabled by default, but it’s very straightforward to use. You can activate it with one click in the “Settings” section of the app.
One disadvantage is that the Mac OS OpenVPN client doesn’t have an internet kill switch, only an application-level switch. That means the apps you specify will be blocked from the internet if the VPN goes down, but not all your traffic will be hidden. So NordVPN may not be right for you if you want to use the internet kill switch with this client. However, It’s worth noting that the Mac OS IKEv2 client does have both types of kill switch.
Another feature NordVPN has is CyberSec, which blocks ads, pop-ups, and DDoS attacks, as well as protecting you from malware and suspicious websites. I tested ten ad-heavy sites with and without CyberSec, and it blocked all the ads and pop-ups every time. This included YouTube ads, which is a big plus!
For most applications, NordVPN uses the protocol OpenVPN with highly secure AES-256-CBC encryption. You can choose between the UDP and TCP versions — UDP is the default, and should work faster. On Apple devices, IKEv2/IPSec with AES-256-CGM encryption is used instead. AES-256 is the industry standard and the strongest encryption available.
Additionally, NordVPN uses Perfect Forward Secrecy, meaning the encryption key changes for each session. This avoids the security issues that can occur due to stolen keys. NordVPN uses Diffie-Helman keys — 2048-bit for OpenVPN and 3072-bit for IKEv2/IPSec.
Older protocols like L2TP/IPSec and PPTP aren’t supported, but since they use weaker encryption and have known security vulnerabilities, they’re generally best avoided. Overall, it’s difficult to fault NordVPN’s encryption.
NordVPN has a live chat feature available 24/7. I tested this and found that the responses were always prompt and thorough.
There’s an extremely detailed knowledge base on the website and in the mobile apps. There are articles about virtually anything you might want to know, from setting up the service on a router to troubleshooting connectivity issues on any device.
If you’re still having trouble, you can email the company. This may be more convenient than using the live chat for more complex queries. When I sent an email, I received a response within 3 hours.
NordVPN’s customer support is comparable to that of other leading VPN services like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Surfshark. These services all offer a choice between email and a live chat feature. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of NordVPN’s customer support.
We personally test the customer support team of every VPN we review. This means asking technical question through the live chat feature (where applicable) and measuring the response time for email questions. Whether you need to connect to a specific server, change your security protocol, or configure a VPN on your router, finding a VPN with quality customer support should be important to you.
Limited Offer April 2020: NordVPN is giving you a free gift for Easter! Subscribe to NordVPN's 3-year plan (with 70% off) and win an additional 1-month, 1-year, or 3-year plan completely free. This offer runs out on 15th April 2020, so grab it while you can!
So how much does NordVPN cost? That depends on the length of subscription you get. Whichever subscription you choose, all of NordVPN’s features are included.
The longer your subscription, the better the value, but it does mean paying out more upfront. Given that the 3-year plan is cheaper than a 1-year gym membership, and you can save big with this 70% coupon, I think it’s highly worth investing in. This also makes NordVPN one of the most affordable VPNs on the market.
NordVPN accepts the following payment methods: Credit card, direct debit, cryptocurrency, Alipay, Amazon Pay, and UnionPay. Note that it doesn’t accept PayPal in most locations.
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