NordVPN Review 2020 - Premium VPN, Low Prices (What's the Catch?)

NordVPN
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What do we look at?

NordVPN Overview October 2020

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:

  • NordVPN is much faster than it used to be — in fact, it’s now one of the fastest VPNs on the market.
  • NordVPN is one of the only services that can reliably unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Kodi, and other popular streaming services.

Regretfully, NordVPN still charges a higher price if you arrive on the homepage, so make sure you check out the hidden discount page to find the cheapest deals. You don’t have to commit to a plan immediately either as there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee. But the bottom line is that I started using NordVPN and it’s now become my favorite choice on both my PC and mobile.

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NordVPN Key Features

With a huge network of over 5,700 servers across 60 countries, fast speeds, and military-grade encryption, NordVPN is one of the best services available.

NordVPN offers industry-standard security features in its affordable subscription plan, including 256-bit encryption, OpenVPN/IKEv2/WireGuard protocols, a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and a strict no-logging policy. It also offers unique safety features that most other providers don’t, like double encryption, Onion Over VPN servers, obfuscated servers, and P2P support.

Additionally, NordVPN’s technology is so advanced that it is one of the few providers that can unblock Netflix and other top streaming sites. Most providers are blocked because of weak encryption or limited servers, but you won’t have to worry about that with NordVPN.

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.

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NordVPN Unblocks 400+ Streaming Platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, and More)

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.

NordVPN Unblocks Netflix in More Than 10 Countries (Including the US)

Screenshot of NordVPN streaming Stranger Things on Netflix
Screenshot of NordVPN streaming Stranger Things on Netflix

I easily streamed Netflix US from my location in the UK with NordVPN

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 didn’t recommend NordVPN for Android TV and Fire Stick in the past as they weren’t supported, but I certainly do now that their new app fixed all previous issues.

NordVPN’s SmartPlay technology allows you to access local Netflix content (only in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Spain, and India) by connecting to one of those country’s servers. If you connect to any other server, NordVPN will take you straight to the US Netflix page. I thought I would be missing out on some local content because of this small restriction, but I found that these libraries contain 99% of Netflix’s exclusive shows anyway, so I didn’t need to access any other country’s library at all.

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Important to know

Panama
2008
No
6
30 days guaranteed
windows mac linux android ios blackberry windows-phone router

Contact Details

[email protected]
www.nordvpn.com

Speed9.6

To test NordVPN’s performance in terms of speed, I ran speed tests from my location in the UK using WiFi over a fiber broadband connection.

It’s important to know that many factors, including distance and time of day, can affect server speeds. For this reason, I performed the following tests at different times throughout the day:

    1. Speed tests while connected to a recommended server using the “Quick connect” feature
    2. Speed tests while connected to servers close to my UK location
    3. Speed tests while connected to servers far from me

While my tests proved that NordVPN isn’t always the fastest VPN on the market, it was more than enough for streaming, downloading, and torrenting. Here are my results:

Server Location    Speed Reduction
UK (VPN disconnected)  79 Mbps  0% (baseline)
UK (recommended server) 46 Mbps  -42%
UK (London) 55 Mbps -30%
UK (Manchester) 53 Mbps -33%
Spain 24 Mbps -70%
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.

What to Do If the Connection Speed Is Slow?

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.

NordVPN find fastest server

Picking the Fastest server is a way to increase your speed

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.

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Why Most Speed Tests are Pointless & How We Correctly Test VPN Speeds

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.

Servers9.8

NordVPN has one of the most impressive networks of servers of any VPN, with over 5,400 servers spread across 4 regions and 59 countries. This is second only to CyberGhost’s network of 6,600+ servers in 90+ countries.

The majority of NordVPN’s servers are in the US and the UK, which is great for unblocking streaming content. I’m also impressed to see that NordVPN offers wide coverage in underserviced parts of the world, including South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of these regions are often ignored by VPN services.

Notably, NordVPN doesn’t have any servers in Russia or China. This is common among VPN providers as both countries are known for their oppressive internet laws. Fortunately, you can still use NordVPN to access servers abroad if you’re in Russia or China. The closest server locations are Ukraine (for Russia) and Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea (for China).

NordVPN choose by US city

Choosing a server to connect to is simple

It also offers a number of specialty server types, including:

  • Double VPN servers. Your traffic will pass through two different servers, meaning it’s doubly encrypted. Be aware that this will reduce the speed of your connection, and it shouldn’t be necessary for general use.
  • Dedicated IP servers. You’ll have an IP address unique to you — it won’t be shared with anyone else.
  • P2P servers. Many of NordVPN’s servers are optimized for P2P sharing. None of your activity is logged and there aren’t any bandwidth limits.
  • Obfuscated servers. These can be used in countries with heavy censorship and restrictions on Internet usage.
  • Onion over VPN servers. To maximize anonymity, your traffic is routed through the Onion network, keeping it private from your ISP and the authorities.
Screenshot of the NordVPN app for Mac highlighting the specialty servers for Dedicated IP, Double VPN, Obfuscated, Onion Over VPN, and P2P
The NordVPN app categorizes its servers based on location and online activity

Server performance

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)
UK None 1.943
US None 2.371
France None 1.663
Japan None 3.571
Canada None 2.426
Australia None 4.222
South Africa None  3.22

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.

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Does NordVPN Work in China? (Yes, but Do This First)

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.

Is NordVPN Good for Torrenting? (Yes, It’s Fast and Safe)

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 P2P servers
NordVPN suggested the fastest P2P servers available to help me torrent quickly

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.

Security Features

Leak Test Results — Successfully Passed All Tests

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.

Only my new Romanian IP address was visible when I connected to NordVPN’s server in Romania

Kill Switch — Blocks Internet Traffic When Connection Drops

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.

NordVPN internet Kill Switch

Turning on the Kill Switch

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.

VPN Connection Dropped

The kill switch prevented me from connecting to the internet when the VPN connection dropped

CyberSec Feature — Blocks Malware, Trackers, and Ads

NordVPN cybersec block ads malware

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!

3 Security Protocols — NordLynx (WireGuard), OpenVPN, and IKEv2/IPSec 

NordVPN recently introduced its best (and fastest) protocol yet — NordLynx. This hybrid protocol combines WireGuard’s security and speed with “double NAT,” a system that ensures your personal data isn’t ever written to the server. Better yet, unlike other protocols NordVPN offers, NordLynx is available on Linux, Windows, iOS, MacOS, and Android. To set it up, just navigate to app settings and select it from the protocol list under “VPN Protocol.”

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.

Additional Security Measures

  1. NordVPN is now working with ethical hackers to find and fix any security issues in the system quickly. This helps reduce the potential security risks to you from any unsolved issues.
  2. Unlike other VPNs, NordVPN is building a network of collocated servers that are fully owned by them. This ensures they will be in full control, and that no one else will have access to the servers — which increases the security of your online activities.

Privacy Features

Strict No-Logs Policy

Its privacy policy states that it doesn’t keep IP addresses, session information, traffic logs, or other data. It does store your email address and payment information, but many other VPN services do this as well.

Located in Panama

Since it’s based in Panama, NordVPN isn’t required to retain any data about its users, which allows it to have a strict no-log policy.

Server Locations

Albania
Argentina
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brazil
Bulgaria
Canada
Chile
Costa Rica
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
See all supported locations...

User Experience10

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.

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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.

Comparing Mobile and Desktop apps

The mobile and desktop apps have a very similar UI

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.

Support10

NordVPN has a live chat feature available 24/7. I tested this and found that the responses were always prompt and thorough.

NordVPN Customer Service Chat

NordVPN’s live chat feature

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.

How We Test Customer Support and Why Should You Care

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.

Pricing10

Top Tip: NordVPN is constantly changing its pricing to keep up with the competition. If you want to get the best deal, don’t forget to check out this page for the best deal.

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 2-year plan is cheaper than a 1-year gym membership, and you can save big with this 68% 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.

NordVPN offers the following plans

Final Verdict

So do I recommend NordVPN? The answer is a resounding yes. The service is reliable, performs well, and works excellently for unblocking content, especially on Netflix. It may not be the fastest VPN out there, but the speeds should be more than adequate for most users. Additionally, performance is excellent for the price.

The fact that NordVPN doesn’t accept PayPal is a disadvantage, but a minor one. Overall, the service is effective, easy to use, and provides excellent value for money. You don’t have to take my word for it though — it’s completely risk-free to try NordVPN for yourself with the 30-day money-back guarantee.

Try NordVPN risk-free for 30 days!

Common FAQs

🤓 Is NordVPN good?

NordVPN is one of the best premium services available because of its many features. Thousands of reliable servers and fast connection speeds make it a great option for streaming your favorite shows, playing games online, and downloading torrents quickly. As for security, military-grade security keeps your data safe when you’re P2P file-sharing, banking, shopping online, or just browsing the web. Have any questions or issues? 24/7 live chat and customer support is always available to help.

🤑 Can I use NordVPN for free?

Yes, you can use NordVPN for free with the 30-day money-back guarantee. Just make sure you request a refund from the customer support team before the 30-day period is complete. I tested it myself, and it’s quick and easy to get a refund via 24/7 live chat. Better yet, it only took 4 days for the money to return to my bank account (even though I was told it could take 5 to 10 business days!).

Try NordVPN for free for 30 days!

😇 Is NordVPN really safe?

Yes, NordVPN really is safe. To begin with, NordVPN is headquartered in Panama and outside of the world’s most powerful intelligence-sharing alliances. That means it’s under no legal obligation to keep data about you or share your information with authorities.

Additionally, NordVPN has a strict no-logs policy so your browsing history stays completely anonymous. This policy has even been verified by the cybersecurity firm PwC, which reassures me that my privacy is truly protected. Combined with an automatic kill switch, DNS leak protection, and military-grade encryption, NordVPN provides enhanced security and privacy features to keep your devices and data safe.

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