Virtual private networks, or VPNs, as they’re more commonly known, have been growing in popularity over the past decade thanks to the rise of streaming services and location-restricted content. VPNs aren’t just for Silicon Valley techies or security engineers anymore, and providers have taken aim at the mainstream market.
Since launching in 2012 with just one server, NordVPN has emerged as one of the market leaders, gaining a mainstream following. Today, the company has 5,400 servers in 59 countries, with over 14 million users.
NordVPN operates out of Panama, which has no data retention laws, and the provider runs a strict no-logging policy, so none of your online activity will be saved or sold off to the highest bidder.
With hundreds of VPNs out there, you might be struggling to whittle them all down. To help you out, we’ve rounded up our top picks in our guide to the best free VPNs and the best VPNs – in which NordVPN makes an appearance.
But how good is it really? We decided to put NordVPN through its paces to find out. We checked out its features; tested its reliability when trying to access region-specific streaming services; trialled server speeds; looked at the overall user experience; considered its privacy credentials and more. Here’s our in-depth review.
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- Number of servers: More than 5,400
- Server locations: More than 80 servers in 59 countries
- Devices supported: Up to six
- Operating systems supported: Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android and Android TV
Security, privacy and encryption
NordVPN has all the security features you’d expect from a good VPN provider, including AES-256 encryption. It supports connections over NordLynx – the company’s own WireGuard-based protocol – as well as OpenVPN. These are essentially two high-security protocols for establishing a secure, encrypted tunnel between the NordVPN client and the server of your choice. By default, NordVPN uses the recommended protocol, but you can change this in the settings. You can also install the VPN on your router.
On top of that, there’s a nifty in-built kill switch that is turned on by default. This blocks your device from accessing the internet if your connection drops, acting as the final line of defence so that your data is never exposed.
But while those features are pretty standard nowadays, NordVPN is packed with a whole bunch of more advanced additions that give it the edge over its competitors. It even has a feature called Double VPN, which essentially passes your traffic through two VPN servers instead of one.
Want to up the security a step further? NordVPN also lets you route your internet activity through a VPN server and then through the Onion network, which lets you access the Onion network without having to use The Onion Router (Tor). The Onion network is often thought of as for facilitating illegal activity on the dark web, but the Tor browser was also what Edward Snowdon used to leak NSA documents, and he recommended everyone used the Tor browser to maintain their anonymity.
There are dedicated servers for P2P torrenting – something that many VPN providers don’t include in their subscription packages. When we tried it out, we got the exact same download speeds as our regular internet provider. The company also offers a dedicated IP address – a service that’s ideal for corporate users. It costs an additional £48.33 a year.
One really underrated feature which many other VPN providers don’t have is the pause function. If you’re as forgetful as us, chances are you’ve left your VPN on at some point while streaming, and then got confused when you’ve tried to access Amazon and you’ve ended up on the German site. But with NordVPN’s feature, we were able to pause the VPN for up to an hour and then have it turn back on once we had finished shopping. It’s simple but incredibly convenient.
If you have concerns about how private your internet traffic is, NordVPN has also undergone an independent no logs audit of its service, and yes, it’s true, they really don’t keep any logs of your data.
While it isn’t illegal to use a VPN to stream geo-restricted content on Netflix and other streaming platforms, it does go against most streaming services’ terms of service. That said, NordVPN should technically work great for streaming because it runs obfuscated servers, meaning whenever you access geo-restricted content from a streaming service, the fact you’re using a VPN will be masked.
We tried NordVPN on a few different devices and with various different streaming services and it performed admirably. We were able to unblock American Netflix, American Prime Video and American Disney+ on our iPhone, Mac and Windows laptop, simply by hitting the United States server.
We were also able to access the American streaming service Hulu from the UK on our iPhone, but we ran into a brick wall trying to access Hulu on the browser – funnily enough, we got a Fastly error after logging into the site.
Overall, however, streaming worked like a charm, and we didn’t have to jump servers trying to find one that would work with our streaming service of choice. Speeds were decent too – we didn’t experience any issues with buffering on either platform.
User experience, interface and speed
The desktop application isn’t the most visually appealing thing we’ve seen, nor the most straightforward. The map on the right can get a bit confusing to navigate and takes up a huge amount of screen real estate compared to the country list on the left. We found ExpressVPN’s user interface far simpler, especially for beginner users.
That said, there are features that we touched on above that we really liked. The pause button is really easy to get to, you can easily search for servers in the menu and things like the kill switch are already set up, so you don’t need to fuss. The surface-level interface is just simple enough for pure streaming users, and the advanced tools are hidden away in preferences.
Another feature we’re big fans of in the user interface is the handy presets that appear above the server list. You get presets designed for speed, browsing and downloading. You can also design your own presets for whichever situation – settings include your choice of protocol, server and more. It’s a feature reserved for the Mac app at the moment, but hopefully it’ll come to the brand’s other platforms in the near future.
Speaking of speed, how fast is NordVPN? We ran the “quick connect” UK server through a speed test and found that it was about 10 per cent slower than our normal connection in terms of download speeds. Connecting to the US server was about 12 per cent slower. That’s still pretty darn snappy.
NordVPN has 24-hour live chat support, which can be accessed through the provider’s website. There was no live chat in the mobile app, but we were able to send a message through the contact us button located inside the app settings.
NordVPN’s support staff were extremely responsive. There was only one person in the queue in front of us, so we only had to wait a couple of minutes to speak to a human. And speaking of humans, you may not need one – the chatbot is surprisingly thorough, providing answers to anything we could throw at it. Chances are, you’ll be able to figure out what you need to do just by talking to the robot. We just wish it was available via the mobile apps.
Let’s be frank – NordVPN isn’t cheap. It’s one of the more expensive platforms out there, and you can only use up to six devices at once. Yet its feature set still elevates it to being one of the best VPNs around.
NordVPN costs £73.26 if you sign up for two years, working out at £3.05 per month – that’s the cheapest possible price at the moment. If you sign up for a year, you’ll pay £43.66, working out at £3.64 a month. If you want to pay monthly, it will cost you a whopping £8.84 a month. While it’s expensive, it’s still cheaper than ExpressVPN. There’s also a 30-day free trial available if you just want to take it for a spin before committing.
Saying that, we currently have discount codes available specifically for NordVPN, and this will drop the price considerably.
The verdict: NordVPN
NordVPN is one of the most feature-packed VPNs on the market right now – you get all the regular encryption and security features, but also some more advanced settings like access to The Onion Network, “Double VPN” and lots more.
We particularly liked the presets on the Mac app but thought that the user interface could have been a little less cluttered – especially the map. For streaming users, NordVPN was able to unblock all the Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video content we could ever want, it just had a few issues with Hulu. And the fact that we didn’t have to jump servers trying to find one which worked with our streaming service of choice – thanks to that obfuscated server functionality – was incredibly helpful.
While NordVPN might not be the cheapest platform, costing a fair bit for just six devices, it works hard for that price tag. Speeds are fast, connections are quick, and it just does what it says on the tin. It’s well rounded and will serve any type of user well.
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