NordVPN is inexpensive but can it compete with pricier rivals like ExpressVPN?
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, but 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, but you get the picture. It costs money to run a good VPN service, which makes me suspicious about those that cost as little as NordVPN. After all, app stores are full of cheap and free VPNs making big claims about their speed and privacy, but most of them fail to deliver (and some of them are simply lying).
And yet NordVPN scores highly on many review websites. It’s widely regarded as one of the best VPNs by many sites. 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 2023 NordVPN review, I put the service through its paces on both desktop and mobile to find out:
- Can NordVPN securely access 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 my barrage of tests?
- 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 what I 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 securely access websites and apps like Netflix. NordVPN works in China and it’s easy enough for beginners to the hang of after a few minutes of usage. NordVPN’s apps include a handful of specialty servers including some designed for browsing the dark net, P2P file-sharing, or getting a dedicated IP address.
NordVPN operates more than 5,000 servers in 60 countries, and that number will probably have gone up by the time you read this. NordVPN employs effectively-uncrackable 256-bit AES encryption and even offers its own protocol, NordLynx, which is based on WireGuard. protocol by default. Torrenting is allowed, and the service doesn’t store any identifying logs (barring mobile advertising IDs, which can be deleted).
NordVPN Key data
|OVERALL RANK: #1 of 75 VPNs|
|Average Speed*:||196 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K UHD|
|Other Streaming Services:||Hulu, Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Max, Disney+, Crunchyroll, Sky Go, All 4, ITVX|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES|
|Log Policy:||Limited logs|
|Protocols:||NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$3.29|
|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
- Works with sites like Netflix that cause problems for most VPNs
- Extremely fast
- Has had infrastructure and applications audited
- 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 ranks among the fastest VPNs, after CyberGhost, IPVanish, and ExpressVPN. It’s fast enough to stream video in 4K resolution, live stream HD video, and high-quality video conferencing without sacrificing security.
That said, its average speeds have declined recently — it still ranks among the fastest services we’ve tested, but this is worth mentioning anyway.
I ran speed tests at multiple times of the day on NordVPN servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Across all times and locations tested, NordVPN averaged a download speed of 196 Mbps. That’s exceptional, but a far cry from its average speed from last year, which were well over 300 Mbps.
Here the results are broken down by region:
- North America: 267 Mbps
- Europe: 174 Mbps
- Asia: 147 Mbps
Most users won’t notice much difference unless you’re on a high-speed 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 could play fast-paced online games like Brawlhalla and Rocket League by choosing a VPN server 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. Nord now also offers 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 (on iOS and MacOS devices). 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 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 simultaneously on one account, so it’s a great option if you want to share with family or a roommate. Apps are available for:
The desktop apps have had a fresh new redesign recently. The split map/list server selection is still there, but the interface is sleeker and there’s a Threat Protection tab that provides a few quick and easy ways to improve your digital security.
NordVPN also offers encrypted proxy extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge browsers. Think of these as VPN-ish tools that only encrypt and reroute web traffic from your browser and not from your entire device.
NordVPN has spent time addressing previous complaints we had about cross-platform functionality. For instance, previously, split tunneling wasn’t available on desktop versions.
That’s now been fixed. And its latest Desktop apps also bring a few new features, like Meshnet and its Dark Web monitoring service.
Meshnet is a new service from NordVPN that allows you to route your traffic through another one of your devices. It’s similar to setting up your own VPN server at home and remotely connecting to that server, except everything here is done from inside NordVPN’s network, and the “server” is another device you own.
To use the service, you first need to link a device.
You can link up to 10 of your own devices and up to 50 external devices. External devices are devices that you allow access to your mesh network. The NordVPN app needs to be installed on all devices participating in the mesh network.
Once you’ve linked a device you own, NordVPN assigns it an IP address and hostname that other devices can use to connect.
To link an external device, you enter the device owner’s email address. NordVPN will send them an email inviting them to join NordVPN and set up their device to participate in your mesh network. When you use Meshnet, the allowed external devices will access the internet through the remote computer’s connection and will be able to reach any LAN devices the host computer has access to (as long as you provide those permissions). Connections to your mesh network are encrypted using WireGuard (NordLynx).
Meshnet is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
Dark Web Monitor
NordVPN’s Dark Web monitoring service works pretty much as its marketing describes. Once activated, the service will continuously monitor the Dark Web for any breaches of your personal information. If any of your personal data is found to be compromised, you will be immediately notified and prompted to change your password(s).
Dark Web monitoring is available on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.
NordVPN has clearly made efforts to get closer to feature parity across all of its apps. We were pleased to see that Android users could now take advantage of the mult-hop servers, since previously, these were the only subscribers that couldn’t.
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.
NordVPN also supports a wide range of routers:
- ASUS WRT
- ASUS Merlin
Setting up a VPN connection on your router allows you to bypass the limit of simultaneous connections set by the provider (six, with NordVPN). It also enables you to connect to the VPN service without a dedicated app – just connecting to the router does the trick.
If you’d like more information on setting up a VPN connection on a router, check out our guide on VPN routers.
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 works with several streaming sites, including but not limited to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ABC iView, and Hulu. NordVPN accomplishes this through its trademarked SmartPlay feature, which essentially activates a built-in Smart DNS service whenever you visit a supported streaming site. 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.
Most VPNs prioritize the US library, but NordVPN actually works with plenty of others too. We were able to securely access Netflix Australia, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and USA, among others. Interestingly, you can connect to pretty much any server to use Netflix from abroad; if that location’s library isn’t supported, you’ll just be redirected to the US version of the site.
Not all servers in a given country will work for streaming video. Unfortunately, NordVPN doesn’t show you which servers work with which service 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 working with streaming services 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. The Linux and Amazon Firestick NordVPN apps benefit 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 designated explicitly for torrenting, but it’s up to you whether you want to use them.
Kill switches are built into the Windows, macOS, and iOS apps (the setting is not exposed in the iOS app – it is enabled by default). 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. You’re also able to choose whether it simply protects against dropped connections, or whether it’s only possible to use the internet when the VPN is active.
NordVPN lacks a kill switch on its Android app as of time of writing, but does explain how to replicate this feature using Android’s own security settings.
Security and logging
Here are 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 industry standards and goes above and beyond the security needs of an average user.
The breakdown is as follows:
- 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’s operating system and can be reset from your device’s settings.
- Username and timestamp of the last session. This limits 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 your use of 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 has twice undergone a third-party audit of its logging policy, in which PWC Switzerland validated NordVPN’s logging claims. Further, it has had independent audits of its Android, iOS, MacOS, and Windows apps, which isn’t something many other providers can say.
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.
IP Test – Without VPN
IP Test – With VPN
DNS Test – Without VPN
DNS Test – With VPN
When it comes to dropped connections, which Nord has thankfully few of, 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.
NordVPN’s Threat Protection, formerly called CyberSec, is an in-app feature that blocks ads, malware, and phishing threats. It’s available on Windows and macOS.
Enabling Threat Protection Lite blocks ads and trackers, can prevent me from landing on a malicious website, and scans for malware. With it enabled, any time I download an executable file, that file is first uploaded to Nord’s cloud servers, where it’s scanned for malware before being downloaded to my device. You can alternatively toggle Threat Protection Lite, which has all the same features minus the malware scanning.
NordVPN recently added automatic wifi protection. 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 wifi networks. On mobile, I can choose whether auto-connect engages on a cellular connection, wifi, 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 now, the company has almost 600 colocated servers in 19 separate locations. Eventually, NordVPN aims to expand this to its entire network.
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 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?
Yes, though it has admitted it’s had some issues lately. This provider has a great track record of finding workarounds, though, and usually resolves any problems in a matter of days.
NordVPN announced in late June 2017 that it could 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 live chat and email support. It’s unclear what its live chat’s hours of operation are. When I attempted to get support through the live chat, I wasn’t able to get past NordVPN’s support bot – despite waiting for over an hour to be transferred.
I sent NordVPN an email instead and received a polite and knowledgeable answer within 9 hours. Anything under 24 hours is very good support in my book. But NordVPN should sort out its chatbot issues. Or make it clear on what schedule its agents are available for live chat support.
NordVPN’s website also includes a decent array of searchable 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 video review
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 is cheap, especially if you opt for one of 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.
NordVPN offers three subscription tiers: Standard, Plus, and Complete. The screenshot below lists the differences between the three. The differences are the inclusion of NordVPN’s other security products, such as its password manager, data breach scanner, and encrypted file storage service.
NordVPN’s pricing structure is as follows:
- Monthly: $12.99
- Yearly: $68.85 – works out to $4.59/month
- Bi-yearly: $88.83 – works out to $3.29/month
- Monthly: $14.19
- Yearly: $86.85 – works out to $5.79/month
- Bi-yearly: $121.23 – works out to $4.49/month
- Monthly: $15.69
- Yearly: $109.35 – works out to $7.29/month
- Bi-yearly: $161.73 – works out to $5.99/month
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.
See NordVPN prices in your local currency here.
NordVPN also has a custom offering for businesses that want to protect their entire workforce, called NordLayer (previously NordVPN Teams). With NordLayer, staff can connect to the company network remotely, and all of the connections are managed from a single dashboard. You can select one of the existing subscriptions or choose the custom solution, where NordLayer will create a package based on your business’s specific needs. You’ll 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 a truly premium experience comes with that extra cost. 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 separate 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).
|No value||NordVPN||ExpressVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Website||NordVPN.com||ExpressVPN.com||PrivateInternetAccess.com||OpenVPN data encryption||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||Kill Switch||Desktop only||Allows Torrenting||Connection logs||Some aggregated data||Unblocks Netflix US||Unblocks Prime Video||Unblocks Hulu||Unblocks BBC iPlayer||Money back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days||Overall rating||9.7||9.3||7|
|Best deal (per month)||$3.29|
SAVE up to 63% + 3 months FREE
SAVE: 49% on the annual plan
SAVE 82% on the 2 yr plan + 3 months free
NordVPN testing methodology
Comparitech puts all VPNs through a series of extensive tests. Our VPN testing methodology includes:
- VPN speed tests
- Testing VPNs for leaks of any information
- Testing compatibility with popular streaming services
- Using virtual servers to test locations that block many VPNs, like China
- And much more. You can see our full VPN testing methodology here.
What does NordVPN's split tunneling feature do?
NordVPN's split tunneling feature allows you to route specific apps through NordVPN's secure connection. You can also set up split tunneling to only enable certain apps or websites to run on the VPN while others use your regular internet connection. This is especially useful if you want to access geo-restricted content or protect yourself from malicious activity on the web. In addition, with split tunneling, you can save bandwidth and reduce your data usage, as only certain apps will run through the VPN.
Does NordVPN offer a student discount?
If you're a student, you can get an exclusive discount on annual subscriptions via MyUnidays. You can get NordVPN at a much lower price than the regular subscription and enjoy all the same security and privacy benefits as a regular user. All you have to do is verify your student status with MyUnidays, then sign up for NordVPN with a discounted rate!
Does NordVPN work on game consoles?
Yes, NordVPN works on most gaming consoles. So, for example, you can set up NordVPN on your Xbox Series X/S and PS5 to enjoy secure gaming with improved speeds and connection stability. It'll also help you to play games in restricted countries for more extensive gaming sessions.
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