Positives

Free trial lets you know if the service is right for you
Connection wizard makes things easy

Negatives

The applications aren't the most intuitive
learning curve involved

Bottom Line
8.5
8.5
NordVPN – one of the best VPNs you can buy

NordVPN offers everything we could want from a VPN service: a multitude of security features, nicely coupled with impressive performance. Even better, you can get it pretty cheap if you're willing to pay upfront vs monthly.

We’ve already told you why you should use a VPN and taken a look at the best VPN apps (including those for China). But now it’s time to take a closer look at the best VPN services out there. Some of the VPNs we’ve reviewed so far are ExpressVPN, SaferVPN, PureVPN, and IPvanish. Today we are focusing on NordVPN. 

This VPN goes above and beyond the competition when it comes to keeping your information, online activity, and presence private and secure. Does that lead to a compromise as far as speed and performance are concerned though? We find out in our official NordVPN review.

Getting started

Creating an account

NordVPN requires an email address to set up an account. This is used only for account creation and any direct communication or customer service requirements. If you are hoping to keep your VPN activity completely anonymous, you can always setup a dummy email account for this purpose.

Payment and pricing

NordVPN is priced starting at $11.95 per month, with a monthly billing cycle. It’s more expensive than most VPNs, but long term plans have massive discounts that actually make the service cheaper than most. These long term plans include an annual plan for $69 billed every 12 months ($5.75 per month) and a 2-year plan for just $79 billed every 24 months ($3.29 per month).

SPECIAL OFFER: Right now NordVPN is offering our readers 3 years of VPN service for an upfront cost of $99. That works out to $2.75 a month! To say that’s cheap would be an understatement. 

Standard payment options include debit and credit cards and Paypal. This service allows payment via a variety of cryptocurrencies, unlike other VPNs like IPVanish and ExpressVPN, which only offer bitcoin. Supported regional payment options and wallets include AliPay, WebMoney, Yandex, iDeal, UnionPay, SOFORT, and GiroPay.

The Android app lets you get started with a free seven-day trial. The option is hard to find on the website, but I got an email offering it after creating an account and closing the page. This VPN service is one of the few premium services that provide a free trial, and also offers a no questions asked 30-day money-back guarantee as well.

Installation

This service can be used with most devices and operating systems. Apps are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and they’re all easy to download and install. It also offers installation guides for setting the service up directly on a variety of Wi-Fi routers and Linux systems.

Browser extensions are also available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Guides aren’t available to install NordVPN on media streaming devices and gaming consoles though, so you might have to figure that out on your own, or just use another VPN service like ExpressVPN.

You can find all the links and guides here, and the iOS and Android apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store respectively. In this review, we will be taking a closer look at the Windows and Android apps.

Setup & settings

Windows

Once you log in, you will see a world map with available locations and servers marked. If you are looking to simply connect, just press the power button up top and the app will automatically select a server for you based on distance and server load. You can also manually make a selection of a server location by clicking the pin on the map.

To pick a specific server, you will have to switch over to the “Countries” tab. Tapping on the country name will once again automatically pick the best server for you in that country. You can further expand the list to find all the servers available and sort based on server load, distance, and alphabetical order.

You won’t really need to go into these lists unless you know what you’re looking for or need something specific. For example, only select server locations work with Netflix, so you will then need to look up that exact server number to connect to it.

Another tab in the “Countries” page lets you connect to speciality servers that provide additional security and privacy. These specialty servers include Anti DDoS, Dedicated IP, Onion over VPN, Double VPN, and P2P, which we will dive into more in the “Security” and “Speed” sections.

The final tab at the top opens the Settings menu, which has a number of options:

  • CyberSec – CyberSec is a new feature which lets you avoid ads, and protects you from malware, phishing, and other online risks when connected to the VPN. It’s definitely worth activating to keep your information safe and secure.
  • Auto Connect – Once you figure out which server works best for you, you can set the app to automatically connect to that server when tapping the power button on the main page.
  • Internet Kill Switch – This ensures network connectivity is stopped if the VPN loses its connection, keeping everything protected.
  • App Kill Switch – You can also choose specific apps to disable if the VPN connection goes down, like a web browser or a media streaming app.
  • Other settings – Other settings available include the ability to choose whether to launch the app when Windows starts up, notification settings, as well as the system for distance measurement.
  • Advanced settings – Here you can make the VPN protocol selection, set a custom DNS, and enable obfuscated servers. Obfuscated servers let you use NordVPN in restricted locations. There is also an option to run diagnostics in case any technical issues come up.

Android

The Android app is largely similar to its Windows counterpart, but with a few differences. It features the same world map when you open the app, but instead of a power button, you can tap on “Quick Connect” to starting using the VPN. The “List” tab takes you to the same list as what is seen in the “Countries” tab in the Windows app, including access to an identical list of specialty servers.

Related: These are Best VPN Apps

Tapping on the icon at the top left corner opens the Settings menu. The layout is the same once again, but options like the Internet Kill Switch, App Kill Switch, and advanced settings like Custom DNS are missing. Other important security features like CyberSec and Obfuscated servers are available, as are more detailed auto connect options.

Ease of use

Both the Windows and Android apps are pretty easy to use. It may take a bit to get familiar with them, especially when you switch to the Countries tab and are greeted with a long list of random server numbers. The sorting system makes it easier to connect to the best server at any location though. Information like the specific servers you need to connect to access something like Netflix is readily available online as well. The Settings menu is not complicated and the various security features and options are well explained.

Security & privacy

This service comes with a lot of security and privacy features to ensure everything you do online is protected. Most of these options are available on other competing services and are generally expected from a good VPN service. These include IP and DNS leak protection, obfuscation, zero activity logging, and the best encryption protocols.

The service makes it very easy to pick the right server based on your needs. There are speciality servers for Anti-DDoS and P2P. If you are looking for extra security, you have the option to enable Double VPN that runs everything through two servers. While a network kill switch is standard, the service also comes with an App Kill Switch which lets you set certain apps to automatically close if the VPN connection drops.

Both apps also recognize if you are in a restricted location and load obfuscated servers, which it did for me while I’m in Muscat, Oman for a couple of weeks. You can also connect to Tor over VPN, or Onion over VPN as this service calls it. Finally, you can request a dedicated IP service, which will set you back an additional $70 a year.

We tested for IP leaks, WebRTC detection, and DNS leaks using ipleak.net and found no issues. With its many security and privacy features and zero logging policy, this is one of the most secure VPN services around.

NordVPN is based in Panama, which has no mandatory data retention laws, no government spying, or links to the NSA. There was some controversy surrounding where the service was based with the Android app developer address showing a company in the U.S. called CloudVPN. The company cleared up any confusion when it revealed CloudVPN is basically just a U.S.-based proxy acting as a payment processor and has nothing to do with the actual service.


Speed

 

(top) Original speed – Oman (Row 1 left to right) Singapore, India, Germany (Row 2 left to right) UK, US, Australia

Speed is always an important factor when picking a VPN, and NordVPN has been extremely impressive in this regard. There have been reports of low speeds and consistency issues in the past, but the service  has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year. Connecting to a server took an average of 10 seconds, which is quite fast.

As you can see in the tests above, the speed is has been incredible. While close to original speeds are expected when connected to the closest servers (India and Singapore), there was no drop when connected to Germany either and barely one when connected to the U.K.. Even the drop when connected to a U.S. server is around 40 percent, which is excellent. Streaming video wasn’t an issue regardless of the server to which I connected.

If you use a VPN for gaming, this service doesn’t make the cut. Latency was consistently on the high side. There were some initial consistency issues after I installed the Windows app, where the speed would fluctuate a lot. I haven’t been able to reproduce that problem since, though.

(Left to right) Original speed – Oman, Obfuscated server – Singapore, Double VPN – Russia/Netherlands

There was a larger drop in speed when using obfuscated servers, but it was still good enough for me to get things done.

That unfortunately wasn’t the case when trying to use the Double VPN feature. It  has a limited group of server “couples” to choose from, and the one closest to me barely worked. The one I was able to test managed a speed wasn’t very usable. It’s definitely an interesting idea, but the implementation is still lacking.

Key features

 

  • Allows up to six concurrent connections, which is more than most.
  • Zero activity or connection logging.
  • Over 3350 servers in 60 countries around the world.
  • Torrenting works fine, but remember to respect your country’s copyright laws. We do not condone or encourage any illegal activities. 
  • You can unblock or circumvent geolocation restrictions for sports streamers, media streamers, and social media sites. Unlike a lot of other VPNs out there, Netflix works as well! Not every server works, but the number available servers for this purpose is far higher than others. You can find the full supported server list here.
  • Lots of security features like obfuscation, Network and App Kill Switch, IP and DNS leak protection, and more.
  • Additional security features include CyberSec, Double VPN, Onion over VPN, and more.
  • 24/7 customer service available.
  • Comparatively expensive monthly rate. Significant discounts make the annual and two-year plans very reasonable.
  • One of the few premium VPN services to offer a free seven-day trial, as well as a 30-day no questions asked money back guarantee.

NordVPN – Final thoughts

NordVPN

NordVPN offers everything we could want from a VPN service: a multitude of security features, nicely coupled with impressive performance, on a service that’s easy to access and able to do just about anything online.

The apps take some getting used to, but they’re pretty easy to figure out. The monthly rate is on the expensive side, but if you are happy with the service after the free trial period, it’s definitely worth opting for a long term plan. Everyone has varying experiences when using a VPN service, but NordVPN has proved to be one of the best we’ve reviewed so far.

If there is a particular VPN you would like us review, let us know in the comments!

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