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NordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed

Last updated on 21/01/2020

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NordVPN

NordVPN stays on our list of best 2020 mobile VPNs for many reasons, including its status as the reigning champion of the bang-for-buck ratio. Hands down, you aren’t going to get a VPN anywhere else that can do more than NordVPN does, as cheaply as NordVPN does it. Despite a security breach reported last year (more on that below), you’d still be hard pressed to find another VPN that can do what NordVPN does at all. 

Like

  • Reliable, competitive speeds
  • RAM-disk servers
  • Feature-rich software

Don’t Like

  • Visual server map could use additional functions
  • Discounts steeper for longer contracts
  • Only six simultaneous connections allowed

Sure, NordVPN could offer a little more privacy if it boosted the number of servers it owns, but we’re talking about 5,000-plus servers in 62 countries, a strict zero-log policy and a jurisdiction in Panama. It’s an encryption powerhouse, and has a feature that allows you to VPN into Tor. 

It’s no surprise NordVPN racked up more than 59,000 ratings in the App Store for a score of 4.6 out of 5, and 132,871 reviews in the Google Play Store for a 4.4 out of 5 rating. Also no surprise it’s snagged my trophy for best value. 

With all that security, NordVPN has no business being as fast as it is. As a speed bonus, its SmartPlay feature lets NordVPN do with ease what so many other VPNs struggle with: streaming video. It’s available for not only iOS and Android, but also Windows Phone and even Blackberry. 

Read more: How we review VPNs

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 32%
  • Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
  • Number of server locations: 62 
  • Number of IP addresses: 5,000

We ran our NordVPN speed tests over the course of three days, in two locations, using both wireless and Ethernet connections — one location offered slower broadband speeds, and the other offered higher speeds via fiber-optic internet. Internet speeds in the US vary widely by state and provider. And with any speed test, results are going to rely on your local infrastructure, with hyperfast internet service yielding higher test speed results. 

That’s one reason we’re more interested in the amount of speed lost, as the use of any VPN can typically cut your internet speed by half or more. NordVPN only reduced our speeds by 32% on average. While not as fast as some of its competitors like ExpressVPN, we found NordVPN’s speeds were reliably fast; there were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected them to underperform, they proved themselves up to the task. 

We charted peak speed when using servers in Singapore, although the average for Singapore servers was on par with those in London. At peak speed, an exuberant moment of seeming lossless internet occurred when our connection speed surpassed any speeds we’d measured without the use of a VPN, resulting in an eyebrow-raising instance of -4% speed loss and a hasty math-check. 

London and western European servers held strong (we tested in both France and Germany), with the highest among multiround average speeds found on Australian servers, an astonishing feat given current infrastructural threats across the country. 

Read more: All the VPN terms you need to know

Security and privacy 

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

We like that NordVPN is headquartered in Panama, which is generally considered a privacy-friendly country due to its lack of surveillance-sharing agreements with other countries.

Its encryption is standard AES-256-CBC, and it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, which means it frequently changes encryption keys to avoid security compromises. NordVPN also uses 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 testing.

The company offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Those unfamiliar with the software should note the additional customizable kill switch that allows you to select which apps to kill in the event of a VPN drop-out. Keep in mind that any apps not on that list will still transmit information over the internet and could therefore become a privacy liability. 

Additional features include a site filter to block out a broader swath of malicious sites, along with optional ad and tracker blocker. The latter goes a long way toward keeping speeds up for the average user. We also like Nord’s double VPN feature, which allows users to leap across multiple servers for a bit of extra encryption. And we found its obfuscation (the process of making a VPN not look like a VPN) effective in every instance of testing. 

While NordVPN has lived on our list of recommended vendors for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. 

While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was very limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. And NordVPN’s subsequent move to full RAM-disk use — meaning it’s not storing anything on hard drives — as a breach response went a long way toward convincing us of the company’s security commitment. As a result, Nord remains on our list of recommended vendors.

Read more: After the breach, Nord is asking people to trust its VPN again

Cost 

We like NordVPNs clean, easy-to-use interface, its toggle controls, and its server search functions. The interactive map graphic is pleasant in design, but could be made more useful if its default setting identified cities instead of only the countries.

NordVPN offers 24/7 customer service support through live chat, with an email option. It also has a well-built support section on its website, which contains a veritable library of FAQs and tutorials.  

NordVPN imposes no data caps and allows unlimited server switching and torrenting. We had no problems using it to access Netflix. Unlike some competitors, however, you can only run six devices simultaneously on a single subscription.

Since the world of VPNs moves at a fast pace, we’d prefer to see NordVPN’s steep discounts applied laterally toward all of their contracts in order to report better overall purchasing value. That would be a sharper criticism if NordVPN wasn’t already a long-standing industry leader with a lengthy history, and it’s certainly a criticism that could be applied to nearly all VPN providers. As it stands, their best deal is via their 3-year contract at $3.49 per month, a 70% discount, billed once every three years for $126. NordVPN does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, however. 

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


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