NordVPN review: An encryption powerhouse with the best VPN bang for your buck

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NordVPN

NordVPN stays on our list of the best mobile VPNs for 2020 for many reasons, including its status as the reigning bang-for-buck champion. Undoubtedly, you won’t get a VPN anywhere else that does more than NordVPN, as cheap as NordVPN. Despite a security breach reported last year (more on this below), you’ll still have a hard time finding another VPN that can do what NordVPN can do.

To like

  • Reliable, competitive speeds
  • RAM disk server
  • Functional software

I do not like it

  • The visual server mapping could use additional functionality
  • Discounts steeper for longer contracts
  • Only six simultaneous connections are allowed

Sure, NordVPN could offer a little more privacy if it increased the number of its own servers, but we’re talking about 5,300 servers in 59 countries, a strict zero-protocol policy, and a jurisdiction in Panama. It’s an encryption powerhouse and has a feature that allows you to do a VPN in Tor.

It’s no surprise NordVPN has received over 59,000 reviews on the App Store for a rating of 4.6 out of 5 and 132,871 reviews on the Google Play Store for a rating of 4.4 out of 5. No surprise, either, that it snapped my trophy for best value.

With all that security, NordVPN doesn’t have a business as fast as it is. As a speed bonus, NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature can easily do what so many other VPNs struggle with: streaming videos. It’s not only available for iOS and Android, but also for Windows Phone and even Blackberry.

Continue reading: How we review VPNs

speed

  • Average speed loss: 32%
  • Number of servers: more than 5,300 servers
  • Number of server locations: 59
  • Number of IP addresses: 5,000

We ran our NordVPN speed tests over a period of three days in two locations with both wireless and ethernet connections. One location offered slower broadband speeds and the other offered higher speeds over fiber optic internet. Internet speeds in the United States vary widely by state and provider. For any speed test, the results depend on your local infrastructure. The hyper-fast internet service delivers higher speed results.

This is one of the reasons we care more about the speed loss, as using a VPN can usually cut your internet speed by half or more. NordVPN only reduced our speed by 32% on average. While NordVPN wasn’t as fast as some of its competitors like ExpressVPN, we found that NordVPN’s speeds were reliably high. There have never been any sudden slumps or business interruptions, and where we expected them to underperform, they did the job.

We recorded the top speed when using servers in Singapore, although the average for servers in Singapore was similar to that in London. At top speed, there was an exuberant moment of seemingly lossless internet as our connection speed surpassed all speeds we’d measured without using a VPN, resulting in an eyebrow-drop of -4% speed loss and a hasty math check.

The servers in London and Western Europe stayed strong (we tested in both France and Germany), with the highest among the rotating average speeds on Australian servers. This is an amazing feat given the current infrastructure threats across the country.

Continue reading: All the VPN Terms You Need to Know

Security and privacy

  • Place of jurisdiction: Panama
  • Encryption: AES-256, 4096-bit RSA key, Perfect Forward Secrecy
  • No leaks detected
  • Includes a customizable kill switch

We think it’s good that NordVPN is headquartered in Panama, which is generally considered a privacy-friendly country due to the lack of agreements on sharing surveillance with other countries.

The encryption is standard AES-256-CBC and supports Perfect Forward Secrecy. This means that the encryption keys are changed frequently to avoid security risks. NordVPN also uses the OpenVPN protocol (one of the most secure protocols available) and IPSec / IKEv2 (which is less secure, but still quite fast). No IP address, DNS or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our tests.

The company offers a useful kill switch function that prevents network data outside of the secure VPN tunnel from being lost if the VPN connection fails. People unfamiliar with the software should note the additional customizable kill switch that lets you choose which apps to kill in the event of a VPN outage. Note that apps that are not on this list continue to transmit information over the Internet and can therefore represent a data protection obligation.

Additional features include a site filter to block a large number of malicious sites, and an optional blocker for ads and trackers. The latter goes a long way towards increasing the speed for the average user. We also like Nord’s dual VPN feature, which allows users to hop across multiple servers for additional encryption. And we found its obfuscation (the process of making a VPN not look like a VPN) effective on every test.

While NordVPN lived on our recommended provider list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report was released that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018 according to the Discovery – eventually – resulted in multiple security reviews, a bug bounty program, and increased investment in server security.

While we would have preferred if Nord had disclosed the issue themselves much sooner, the fact that the breach was very limited and contained no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN is not keeping logs of user activity. The subsequent switch from NordVPN to full use of the RAM disk – which means that nothing is stored on hard drives – in response to a breach convinced us significantly of the company’s security commitment. As a result, Nord remains on our list of recommended providers.

Continue reading: After the violation, Nord asked people to trust his VPN again

costs

We like NordVPN’s clean, easy-to-use interface, toggle controls, and server search features. The interactive map graphic is nice to look at, but could be more useful if the default setting identifies cities rather than just countries.

NordVPN offers 24/7 customer service support via live chat with email option. It also has a well-developed support area on its website that has a veritable library of FAQs and tutorials.

NordVPN does not impose any data limits and allows unlimited switching and torrenting of servers. We didn’t have any problems accessing Netflix. However, unlike some of its competitors, you can only run six devices at a time with a single subscription.

With the world of VPNs moving fast, we’d prefer NordVPN’s high discounts applied sideways to all contracts for a better overall purchase value. That would be a harsher criticism if NordVPN weren’t already a long-time industry leader with a long history, and it’s certainly a criticism that could be applied to almost any VPN provider. Right now the best deal is a two-year contract for $ 3.71 per month, a 68% discount billed every two years for $ 89. However, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

While NordVPN no longer accepts PayPal payments, you can pay with a credit card or cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, AliPay, WeChat Payments, iTunes, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, and UnionPay.


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