NordVPN is cheap…
When it comes to security, cheap products worry me. It’s not an area I advise skimping on.
Substandard cheap VPNs have been caught with flawed technology, however, Nord seems to rank highly in the VPN industry. We explore if NordVPN really can offer a low price as well as a high-quality VPN.
So what are the biggest issues with cheap VPN providers? DNS and IP leaks are a particular blight of many VPN services (I’ll share my findings from leak tests I ran on NordVPN later in this review).
‘Low-cost’ VPNs are often slow or won’t work with your favorite streaming services such as Netflix.
I could go on about the dangers of cutting corners with a VPN, but you get the picture. It costs money to run a good VPN service, which makes me suspicious about services costing as little as NordVPN. App stores are full of cheap and free VPNs making big claims about their speed and privacy, but most of them fail to deliver. No VPN should take chances with your cybersecurity, and you shouldn’t settle for a sub-par experience.
And yet NordVPN scores highly on many review websites. It’s grown to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest name in VPNs. You’ve probably seen or heard it advertised on your favorite website, podcast, or Youtube channel.
I wanted to see for myself if NordVPN was too good to be true.
In my 2021 NordVPN review, I put the service through its paces on both desktop and mobile to find out:
- Can NordVPN unblock websites (Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC and others)?
- Is NordVPN fast enough to stream video?
- How good is NordVPN’s security and what data does it log on users?
- Does it allow torrenting on its network?
- How would NordVPN stand up to the barrage of tests I put it through.
- How does NordVPN compare with its more expensive rivals such as ExpressVPN?
And pretty much everything else you’d want to know. My time with NordVPN ranged from rigorous performance testing to day-to-day usage to find out how it stacks up against the crowded field of competitors.
I’ve summarized my thoughts on NordVPN but you’ll need to read the whole review to see the full extent of I what uncovered during the testing process.
Do I recommend NordVPN?
I recommend NordVPN to people who value both privacy and speed, need something inexpensive, and want something that can unblock websites and apps like Netflix. NordVPN works in China and it’s easy for beginners to pick up in a few minutes. NordVPN’s apps include a handful of specialty services including double VPN, P2P, and dedicated IP addresses.
NordVPN operates more than 5,400 servers in 60 countries, and that number will probably have gone up by the time you read this. NordVPN employs military-grade 256-bit AES encryption. The apps use the NordLynx protocol by default. Torrenting is allowed, and the service doesn’t store any identifying logs.
|OVERALL RANK: #1 of 45 VPNs|
|Average Speed *:||115 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Hulu, Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, HBO Now|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES|
|Log Policy:||Limited logs|
|Protocols:||NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN|
|Value for Money|
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$3.71|
|Money Back Guarantee:||30 days|
NordVPN Pros and Cons
I summarized what I liked and what I didn’t from my time reviewing NordVPN. I’ll go into detail on each of these points and more later in the review.
- Strong security
- Unblocks sites like Netflix that most VPNs can’t
- Extremely fast
- Works in China
- Up to six simultaneous connections
- Huge global server network
- Streaming servers aren’t labeled
- No kill switch on Android
- Limited logging, including device identifiers
Speed: Is NordVPN fast?
In 2020, NordVPN launched a proprietary VPN protocol called NordLynx that vastly improved its speeds. This secure protocol is an extension of Wireguard, which is newer and more efficient than older protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2. We saw NordVPN nearly double its speed compared to pre-Wireguard results.
As a result, NordVPN now tops the list of the fastest VPNs, second only to ExpressVPN. It’s fast enough to stream video in 4K resolution, live stream HD video, and high-quality video conferencing without sacrificing security.
I ran speed tests at multiple times of day on NordVPN servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Across all times and locations tested, NordVPN averaged a download speed of 115 Mbps.
Here are the results broken down by region:
- North America: 112 Mbps
- Europe: 122 Mbps
- Asia: 112 Mbps
Most users won’t notice much of a difference unless you’re on a really fast connection, like 100 Mbps or more. I had plenty of bandwidth for high definition on-demand video streams and decent quality live streams without buffering. I was able to play fast-paced online games like Brawlhalla and Rocket League by choosing a VPN server either near myself or the game server.
It’s worth noting that I encountered the occasional slow server, or one that just wouldn’t connect. It seems like the NordVPN app isn’t that great at automatically selecting the best server, and I had better luck going into the server list and choosing one myself. In its latest redesign, Nord finally added the option to select a specific city in countries where it operates servers in more than one location, such as the US and UK. Choosing a nearby server improves speeds overall.
Note that these tests can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see and cannot be considered definitive. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness. Users with faster connections will likely see larger discrepancies in speed.
NordLynx is twice as fast as other protocols
NordLynx is the new default VPN protocol on NordVPN apps, though you can also choose from OpenVPN and IKEv2. These are also good, secure options, but NordLynx offers almost double the speed according to our tests.
NordLynx is an extension of Wireguard, a modern VPN protocol that claims to be more efficient, simpler, and easier to audit than rivals like IKEv2 and OpenVPN. Wireguard, however, assigns each user a static IP address, which requires storing user data on the VPN server.
Because NordVPN is serious about its zero logs policy, it created its own “double NAT” system to establish a secure VPN connection without storing any identifiable user data on its servers. NordVPN dubbed the new and improved protocol “NordLynx”.
The company explains:
“The double NAT system creates two local network interfaces for each user. The first interface assigns the same local IP address to all users connected to a server. Once the secure VPN tunnel is established, the second network interface with a dynamic NAT system kicks in. Dynamic local IP addresses remain assigned only while the session is active and allow not to store any identifiable data on the server.”
Apps: What devices work with NordVPN?
NordVPN allows up to six devices to connect at the same time on one account, so it’s a great option if you want to share with family or a roommate. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and Amazon Fire TV.
NordVPN offers encrypted proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers. Think of these as VPN-ish tools that only encrypt and reroute web traffic from your browser and not from your entire device.
Some features that are available on the desktop app aren’t available in the mobile apps, and vice versa. For example, split tunneling is supported in the Android app but not the Windows app. This allows you to disable the VPN for selected apps and not others.
Conversely, the Windows version has an option for double VPN servers, but the Android app does not. Make sure the features you want are available on the apps you plan to use.
A new feature in the apps allows users to “pause” their VPN connection instead of switching it off entirely. When I un-pause, the VPN instantly reconnects. Switching off my VPN entirely would disable the auto-connect feature, which could leave me exposed, so the Pause feature lets me turn off the VPN without resetting the auto-connect.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does NordVPN work with Netflix?
Yes, and better than most at that.
Check out this video of me accessing US Netflix from Canada with NordVPN to see just how easy it is.
NordVPN unblocks several streaming sites including but not limited to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ABC iView, and Hulu. NordVPN accomplishes this through its trademarked SmartPlay feature, which is toggled on in the settings by default. A quick test by us proves NordVPN works as promised with Netflix. We’ve rounded up here a list of other VPNs for Netflix which have worked in our testing and here are more details on NordVPN and Netflix.
If I want to access another country’s Netflix library, NordVPN can unblock Netflix Australia, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and USA. You can connect to pretty much any server to unblock Netflix from abroad, but all of them except those I just mentioned will redirect you to the US version.
Not all servers in a given country will unblock streaming video. Unfortunately, NordVPN doesn’t show you which servers unblock what in the app. For some streaming services, I had to check NordVPN’s knowledge base on the web to find out which servers to use. Thankfully, this is just a small detour and I can favorite the servers that work so I can find them more quickly later.
NordVPN has been unblocking streaming services a lot longer than most providers, which makes me optimistic that it will continue to do so.
The apps work with all of the Kodi add-ons we’ve tested them with. The Linux and Amazon Firestick NordVPN apps are particularly useful to Kodi users who stream on those devices.
Does NordVPN allow torrenting?
NordVPN allows users unlimited P2P filesharing over BitTorrent or any other protocol. Some servers are specifically designated for torrenting, but it’s up to you whether you want to use these or not.
Kill switches are built into the Windows, MacOS, and iOS apps. When enabled, the kill switch feature will cut off internet to your device to prevent leaks of unencrypted data onto your ISP’s network.
On desktop, you can specify which apps are protected by the kill switch and which are not. For example, you can protect your BitTorrent client from unexpected disconnections, but not your web browser. Unfortunately, NordVPN lacks a kill switch on its Android app as of time of writing.
Security and logging
Here’s the encryption specs:
- 256-bit AES channel encryption
- SHA384 authentication
- 3072-bit DHE-RSA key exchange
- Perfect forward secrecy
If none of that means anything to you, don’t worry. NordVPN’s encryption meets military-grade standards and goes above and beyond the security needs of an average user.
- Device identifiers. Perhaps the most concerning of NordVPN’s data collection practices, NordVPN can record your mobile device’s identifier for marketing or analytics purposes. These are set by your device operating system and can be reset from your device’s settings.
- Username and timestamp of the last session. This is used to limit simultaneous connections and is deleted within 15 minutes after the session is terminated.
- Whether you’ve used NordVPN in the last 30 days.
- In-app telemetry data about how you use the app’s features, notifications, etc. Users can opt-out of this one and I recommend you do so.
- Device info including model, operating system, and other non-identifying info
NordVPN underwent a third-party audit of its logging policy, in which PWC Switzerland validated NordVPN’s logging claims.
We’d prefer if NordVPN kept no user logs at all. Collecting device identifiers is particularly concerning as these can be tied to a specific user. Timestamps can be used to correlate activity with logs of other services to identify users. That being said, NordVPN does not log your browsing or other online activities, your IP address, the server IP address, or any other personally-identifying info while using the VPN.
As of 2021, NordVPN has completed a transition to RAM-only diskless servers. The VPN server application—and in fact the server’s entire operating system—exist only on temporary memory (RAM). That means no data is ever permanently stored on the server. So if a server is ever seized by authorities or compromised by hackers, there will be nothing on it. RAM-only servers is an emerging trend originally adopted by ExpressVPN, but it is picking up steam among a few top providers.
The apps don’t leak any DNS, WebRTC, or IP traffic while connected. This is an improvement since the last time I reviewed NordVPN, which previously leaked my IPv6 address over WebRTC.
When it comes to dropped connections, which Nord has thankfully few, NordVPN has my back. I can opt between an all-or-nothing kill switch that completely disconnects the internet if the VPN connection drops, or an app-specific kill switch that lets me choose which programs are protected.
A recent addition to the NordVPN apps is CyberSec, which when enabled blocks ads, malware, and phishing threats. If you’re like me, you’ve already got most of that stuff set up on your browser and antivirus program, but another layer of security never hurts.
NordVPN recently added a security featured dubbed WifiSec. With this enabled, the app automatically initiates a VPN connection whenever I connect to a new wifi network. I can set it to auto-connect to Nord on both secured and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. On mobile, I can choose whether auto-connect engages on a cellular connection, wi-fi, or both.
NordVPN is in the early stages of establishing colocated servers. Most VPNs simply rent out servers in data centers around the world. NordVPN says it is now in the process of setting up servers that are fully owned, maintained, and managed by NordVPN, although they still reside in data centers owned by third parties. This allows NordVPN to better control the configuration and security of individual servers, while the data center provides power, internet connectivity, and physical security. The transition to colocated servers started in Finland, and NordVPN hopes to have more of its network overhauled in the coming months.
If you want an additional layer of anonymity, you can opt to use one of NordVPN’s onion over VPN specialty servers. These servers will route your data through the The Onion Network (Tor), allowing for anonymous browsing and access to dark web sites. This is similar to using the VPN with Tor Browser, except it covers all of your apps and services instead of just a web browser.
In 2019, NordVPN was the first VPN provider to launch a public bug bounty program on HackerOne. This program invites hackers to inspect NordVPN’s code and apps for security vulnerabilities in return for a cash reward.
Does NordVPN work in China?
NordVPN announced in late June 2017 that it can unblock websites and content that are censored in China. Most users in mainland China should be able to simply connect to a server the normal way to bypass the Great Firewall.
If that fails, however, Nord instructs users to go into its app’s Settings menu, select Advanced Settings, and toggle on Obfuscated servers. Note that you’ll need to switch the protocol to OpenVPN TCP first. This makes encrypted internet traffic look unencrypted, which prevents China’s deep packet inspection system from identifying VPN connections. It might add a small amount of latency, but most users probably won’t notice a difference in speed overall.
The obfuscated servers feature is currently only available in the Windows, Android and MacOS versions of the app. Read more on using NordVPN in China here.
In 2019, NordVPN established an “emergency VPN” service that grants free NordVPN accounts to people under extreme web censorship and heavy internet restrictions.
Is NordVPN’s Customer Service Any Good?
NordVPN offers both round-the-clock live chat support and a ticket submission system.
I was connected to a representative on live chat support within two minutes. The rep seemed knowledgeable about the product and not like an outsourced firm that copies and pastes answers.
The website includes a decent array of search-able help and tutorial articles in the support section, including which servers to use to unblock streaming sites. Both the website and app are ad-free, and I didn’t receive any unsolicited emails during the test period.
NordVPN is incorporated in Panama, a country with no data retention laws located outside of the 14-Eyes intelligence sharing alliance’s jurisdiction. It has offices in Lithuania and Cyprus.
The company was founded in 2012 and has grown to more than 14 million users worldwide, according to NordVPN’s website.
From March 2018 to October 2019, NordVPN was the victim of a data breach due to an exposed private key stolen from a server in Finland. This allowed attackers to create their own NordVPN servers and trick users into connecting to them, which could have led to man-in-the-middle attacks. No user data was stored on the Finnish server from which the key was stolen, and no other NordVPN servers were affected.
In 2019, NordVPN became a founding member of the VPN Trust Initiative, an industry group of top VPN providers that sets quality standards and educates the public about the security benefits of VPNs.
On a budget? No worries.
NordVPN’s two-year plan costs $3.71 per month, the one-year plan rises to $4.92 per month, and the 1-month long plan costs $11.95 per month.
NordVPN is cheap, especially if you opt for the multi-year plans. And if you’re splitting the bill with a close friend or loved one, it’s basically pocket change. At the current price, it would be tough to find a better all-round VPN.
|2 year plan||1 year plan||1 month plan|
|$3.71 per month||$4.92 per month||$11.95 per month|
It’s worth noting that all plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try the service risk-free and cancel if you are not entirely happy.
NordVPN also has a few other security products including a password manager and file encryptor. These are standalone products and are not included with the VPN, but they are connected to the same account if you buy them.
See NordVPN prices in your local currency here.
Finally, NordVPN Teams is a custom offering for businesses that want to protect their entire workforce. With Teams, staff can connect to the company network remotely, and all of the connections are managed from a single dashboard. The price for Teams is negotiated individually for each business, so you have to contact sales to find out how much you’ll be paying.
Should I buy NordVPN?
Now that I’ve used NordVPN for a few weeks, would I recommend it to others?
Despite its low price, NordVPN offers a quality service with a sterling reputation. I strongly recommend it if you want to unblock region-locked content from abroad, bypass censorship in countries like China, or just hide your torrenting activity from your ISP. The apps are easy to learn whether you’re new to VPNs or have been using them for years.
The desktop apps can be a bit sluggish and the Android app sorely needs a kill switch, but those are minor complaints on the whole. NordVPN keeps more logs than I would like, but none of them can directly identify a user.
Here’s the latest and only NordVPN coupon
NordVPN is great, but it has some strong contenders.
ExpressVPN is more expensive, but with that extra cost comes a truly premium experience. It’s about the same as NordVPN when it comes to unblocking streaming sites, speed, and security, but it offers better router support and includes a smart DNS proxy service to unblock streaming video on devices that don’t normally support VPNs. The apps also support split tunneling.
If you want a more budget-friendly alternative than Express, consider CyberGhost. It’s the fastest VPN I’ve tested and costs about the same as NordVPN, while offering competitive security. It doesn’t work well in China, though, and it doesn’t unblock quite as many streaming sites.
Here’s a breakdown of how NordVPN compares to two of the most popular services, ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA).
|NordVPN||ExpressVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Average speed *||115 Mbps||135 Mbps||68 Mbps|
|Encryption Type||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||128-bit AES|
|Kill Switch||desktop only|
|Records Identifying Logs|
|Unblocks Netflix US|
|Unblocks Amazon Prime|
|Unblocks BBC iPlayer|
|Lowest monthly cost||$3.30 per month||$6.67 per month||$2.69 per month|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days|