NordVPN, the subject of today’s review is one of the biggest names in the VPN game. Based in Panama, it manages more than 5,000 servers spread across 62 countries. Almost all devices you can name are supported by NordVPN, which also offers military-grade encryption as well as other supporting features.
The Virtual Private Network (VPN) market has been on the rise and so has the number of providers. Yet how do most peopled distinguish one from another? With the stakes being personal privacy and security, choosing the right VPN is a matter that needs close attention.
- NordVPN Helps Keep You Anonymous
- Based in Panama
- Strict No Logging Policy
- Server obfuscation
- Top Notch Security
- Military-grade AES-256 encryption
- Double VPN
- CyberSec Blocks Ads
- Kill switch
- NordVPN has a Ton of Apps
- Stable and Consistent Speeds
- US VPN Server Speed
- Europe VPN Server Speed
- Asia VPN Server Speed
- Australia VPN Server Speed
- WireGuard Adoption on NordVPN
- Thoughts on NordVPN Speed
- Customer Support Disappoints
- No Issues Streaming or Torrenting on NordVPN
- The User Experience with NordVPN
- NordVPN Price
- NordVPN vs ExpressVPN – Which is Better?
- Verdict: Is NordVPN Good?
NordVPN Helps Keep You Anonymous
Keeping your identity safe – that is one of the core pillars for any VPN service provider to adhere. You can imagine our surprise last year when it was discovered that IPVanish handed over user logs to the US Department of Homeland Security.
Before anyone could protest, the company was sold, and the new owners clammed up, saying the incident was the sole realm of the company’s previous owners.
Based in Panama
Thankfully, NordVPN has a better track record than that. The fact that the company is registered in Panama is even more reassuring, as we consider it a ‘safe zone’ which has little or no data retention laws.
We highly recommend that users do not seek out a VPN service provider which is based in any of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or Fourteen Eyes countries. NO matter how much companies deny keeping track of their users, this is lip service at best if the countries they are based in have laws demanding data retention.
Strict No Logging Policy
When using any remote server under the control of a third party, in many cases they keep usage logs for various purposes. In the case of a VPN this is undesirable since one of the main reasons for using it is anonymity anyway.
Thankfully, NordVPN is very vocal about its strict no logs policy. This means that they don’t keep records of what you do via their servers or about your source device. That includes your real IP address or anything you do online, such as what sites you visit or files you download.
What all of this means is that even if somehow authorities tried to demand the company produce this information, there is nothing to hand over.
In some cases, you may not be able to connect to a VPN service due to firewall restrictions. This also applies to some situations where by there are country-wide bans on VPN services, such as in China. This may result in you not being able to use your NordVPN connection in the usual manner.
If this is the case, NordVPN offers some servers which it calls obfuscated servers. These are specially designed to fool networks into thinking that VPN traffic are simple normal data streams.
However, while it may offer a way out in limited situations, NordVPN does not recommend usage of these servers unless necessary.
Top Notch Security
Safety first as they always say, and aside from anonymity, NordVPN also offers extensive features to keep your data safe. This ranges from high-level encryption of the data being sent and received, as well as other tools.
Military-grade AES-256 encryption
A VPN connection consists of two main segments – a connection protocol (the handshake) and the encryption protocol. The encryption protocol sets the level of security applied to the data your device is sending or receiving.
As a general guideline, 256-bit encryption is extremely secure at this point of time and is still considered uncrackable. However, it does seem like there may be a possibility to overcome this in the future – but that’s another discussion altogether.
Suffice to say, as far as consumer encryption goes, this is currently the gold standard.
If one isn’t enough, take two! Jokes aside, for the truly paranoid, double VPN is exactly the way it sounds. You first connect to one VPN server, and the connection is then sent to another VPN server before heading out to whatever destination address you are looking for.
This means that not only does your source IP change twice, but encryption is doubled up on as well. By design, if using this service NordVPN changes connection types randomly between UDP and TCP as well for added security.
NordVPN is one of the few service providers that offers this double vpn routing service. It isn't available on all providers. Double VPN is also sometimes called multi-hop.
CyberSec Blocks Ads
While not something to really write home about, CyberSec is what I consider sort of a value-add feature for NordVPn. While similar features have been seen on some other VPn services, CyberSec is uniquely NordVPN.
If enabled, CyberSec acts as a sort of Internet Security defence mechanism, blocking some suspicious websites and keeping you safe from Malware. It also secures your device from being used as part of a BotNet and best of all – helps you block Ads (well, some ads anyway).
This is the ultimate defence against the ‘oops’ syndrome. Any kind of data connections are fragile things and from time to time, connections are dropped.
Most people would shrug it off and reconnections are often seamless, but if you’re using a VPN, when the connection to the VPN server is lost – your data is leaking and vulnerable.
NordVPN’s kill switch prevents this by terminating your Internet connection as soon as it detects a loss in Internet connection. If this is not to your liking, you can also choose to make use of a separate App Kill switch, to decide which of your applications are cut off and which are not.
NordVPN has a Ton of Apps
As with all the best, NordVPN has developed multiple applications for use on almost any platform existing. This means that aside from your PC and mobile devices, you will also likely be able to use NordVPN on other smart / connected devices.
As an idea of what you can use; some smart TVs, various brands / models of routers (Asus is a fairly popular choice) or even on routers that run custom firmware like TOMATO or DD-WRT. You can view the full list of what you can run NordVPN on or download the apps from their site.
Stable and Consistent Speeds
Speed testing for the NordVPN connection was done on a 500Mbps line. However, due to hardware limitations and other factors, we ran an unfiltered speed test to establish a baseline speed for our setup. With no VPN running, we were able to achieve 270Mbps down and 293 Mbps up.
For the following speed tests in various regions, remember that the further your physical location is from a VPN server, the more likely your line speed is to drop further. This applies to ping responses as well. Our tests were performed from Malaysia, so we would likely get faster speeds connecting to VPN servers in the Asia region.
If you are in another country, the speeds will adjust according to your own distance from the VPN server you choose.
Note: The speeds below were achieved on the highest encryption settings using the OpenVPN protocol.
US VPN Server Speed
Connected to a US server gave us a ping of 214 ms which wasn’t too bad considering it is on the other side of the world. Line speeds were impressive for the distance, at rates of 51Mbps down and 17Mbps up.
Europe VPN Server Speed
For Europe, we went with the United Kingdom as our VPN server location, since that would allow us to also see if we could use the BBC iPlayer. Speeds were up a little through this connection, with a decent 47Mbps down and 22Mbps up at a ping time of 180 ms.
Asia VPN Server Speed
Closest to our location in the Asia region is Singapore, a good choice also because of its strategic location and excellent infrastructure. This was able to bring our line speed with NordVPN running up to 89Mbps down and 128Mbps up.
Australia VPN Server Speed
This is also another location relatively close to Malaysia, so it was not surprising that there were decent speeds of the NordVPN Australia servers. We got 28Mbps down and 16Mbps up with a 57 ms ping.
WireGuard Adoption on NordVPN
NordVPN has been assessing the suitability of the WireGuard protocol. This new and still under development protocol has been showing great promise where VPN performance is concerned. However, it is overall not completely ready for use.
NordLynx, a special service by NordVPN, seeks to open the benefits of WireGuard to its users while keeping them safe. It combines the basic WireGuard framework with other tools in order to maintain user privacy.
Thoughts on NordVPN Speed
As you can tell by my comments by now, there is more to the speed you’ll get from NordVPN than just their service quality. A lot depends on other factors as well, such as your own Internet line speed, which VPN server location you choose, what networking equipment you run and even how powerful your own device is.
Suffice to say that aside from Singapore which is our neighbouring country, once the distance stretches on the line speed tends to drop. Yet despite all this, plus the overhead of data encryption, NordVPN managed to offer consistently decent speeds overall. For a shared line VPN service, it actually is pretty good.
If you’re a gamer and decide to use a VPN for some reason, that does raise a bit of a problem due to increased server response times. If you do want to do that for some reason, we recommend you choose a server as close to home as possible.
Customer Support Disappoints
If these is a single down point on NordVPN, we would consider it their customer support. Yes, NordVPn has various channels through which you can contact customer support which it claims is ‘24/7’ but – no, not really.
The ticketing system is a little slow and often it takes a day or two for any response to get back to you. This means that even trying to resolve small issues could take a couple of days if you’re lucky.
We also found NordVPN customer service staff to not be able to manage technical issues very well. The feeling is that they will attempt to remove every application on your PC in order to resolve an issue, even if the issue is only occurring with NordVPN.
As one of the top names in the VPN business, we really expected a lot more from NordVPN in this area.
Important note: Recently (October 2019), NordVPN was thrust into the highlights by having a third-party reveal that one of its servers was hacked. Although that is a teardrop in the ocean in terms of their server pool, what was alarming was NordVPN's sitting on the matter for so long and not informing customers.
This attitude simply doesn't fly in this day and age and many of their customers were soon demanding refunds and answers. Although we still believe that the service itself is pretty good, how NordVPN handled the crisis was very questionable – with excuses that did not address the reason it did not alert customers to a potential problem.
No Issues Streaming or Torrenting on NordVPN
We do stream movies from time to time, although to be honest it isn’t really that big a thing with us. After all, there is Kodi. Yet we can see the appeal to lovers of Netflix and other streaming service.
Normally it is quite easy for websites to tell if users are using their site via a VPN. This can be for various reasons, such as connection patterns, IP matching, and so on. While not many really care, some services dislike its users to use VPNs.
Take for example the case of Netflix, which needs to keep content for various regions of the world siloed. Mainly, this if due to copyright measures and to combat piracy. Theoretically, by using a VPN, users can circumvent these silos.
Thankfully, NordVPN seems to work fine for us and we were able to use Netflix and the UK’s BBC iPlayer with no issues. iPlayer for example is normally restricted to UK zone devices, and using Nord and a UK server, it ran with no issues at all.
Most dear to our hearts is Torrenting though and we are happy to report that just by clicking on the P2P option in the NordVPN client, we were able to download to our heart’s content at any time. NordVPN has dedicated P2P servers for you to torrent with and this shows in the speeds we were able to achieve;
While the line did take a minute or two to stabilise, torrent downloads were fast and smooth. No issues whatsoever at all here. We were a little surprised that the ideal torrent connection for us was via Singapore, since the country is known for its strict copyright enforcement.
Many VPN services today boast of offering P2P capabilities but the proof is in the pudding in this case with NordVPN.
The User Experience with NordVPN
Singing up for NordVPN is easy and not unlike any other services. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the VPN client, all you need to know is your username and password (form when you registered your account).
Firing up the NordVPN client for Windows, a map of the world greets you. Yes – a virtual map. To connect to a VPN server, simply scroll the map and click on the pin points. For us, NordVPN for Windows worked right out of the box and we recommend you try that before fiddling with the other settings.
We’ve used this service on and off for close to a year now and it has never failed to run smoothly for us. I would say that as far as user experiences go, NordVPN offers one of the most seamless and pain-free experiences available in the market.
It should come as no surprise that NordVPN accepts almost all known digital payment methods including credit cards and so on. For the ultra-cautious who are deeply concerned about true anonymity, you can also pay with some forms of crypto currency including Bitcoin.
The payment process was also smooth (we signed up with Paypal). Do note though that NordVPN no longer supports payment via PayPal.
Price-wise, this is where it really gets interesting. As far as we know, most VPNs come similarly priced for short term plans and NordVPN is no different. However, even with the company's most recent price hike you can get NordVPN on a three-year plan for only $3.49 per month.
That's a massive savings of around 70% and for a top-tier VPN service like NordVPN, an offer that is very hard to resist.
NordVPN vs ExpressVPN – Which is Better?
NordVPN has always been compared to many other VPN service providers simply because they are one of the more popular choices. However, when it comes to a comparison with ExpressVPN there is often heated debate.
We've tested both NordVPN and ExpressVPN thoroughly and extensively and to be honest, face difficulties in making a final decision. ExpressVPN offers one of the most solid experiences we've ever encountered but a big issue many people face with them is pricing.
Because of that, we have long agonized over the top choice when it comes to a VPN and for a long time gone with the one with better pricing. After all, we pay for our own VPNs as well. Yet for the first time ever, we feel that ExpressVPN at the end of the day is still the superior choice – although it is still a close fight.
Verdict: Is NordVPN Good?
Among the many VPNs we’ve tried, NordVPN is one of, if not the best. It has managed to hit the perfect sweet spot with a fantastic balance of advanced features, user friendliness and great pricing. There is so much to love that you really need to try it out for yourself.
If you’re the kind that likes to continuously tinker with all the settings an app has just to try and tweak it that little bit better, then you might be disappointed. NordVPN works out of the box mostly and is limited in what you can tweak. This is for simplicity, as well as to protect users from themselves.
What we especially like is that this company doesn’t just create a product and throw it out there with a full stop, but continually updates and improves on itself. Highly recommended for anyone who is seeking to explore the Internet safely and anonymously.