An easy-to-use VPN with some unusual extras
NordVPN's Netflix-unblocking, P2P-optimized servers, malware blocking and Bitcoin support make for an appealing service. The app interfaces need work and we'd like more configurability and control, but overall this is a quality VPN with plenty to offer all levels of user.
- Privacy audit of no-logging claims
- Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer
- Effective kill switch
- Speedy live chat support
- Basic apps and browser extensions
- Some client UI issues
- Fractionally above average prices
- Support site needs work
- Editor's note (22/10/2019): We are currently reviewing NordVPN's rating and positions in our buyers' guides following the recent news that the popular virtual private network was hacked in 2018 . The fallout of this has yet to be fully understood and assessed; we will, in due course, make any changes if deemed necessary for the benefit of our audience.
NordVPN is a Panama-registered service that provides VPN products for more than 12 million customers across its plethora of products (that include an encryption tool and a new password manager) as it tries to become a privacy suite provider.
The company sells itself very much on features, and it's easy to see why. The VPN offers 5,600+ servers in 60 countries. You get Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux and other apps. And with support for six simultaneous connections, you can probably use all your devices at once.
- Want to try NordVPN? Check out the website here
There are all the technical features you'd expect, including OpenVPN support for strong encryption and high performance, a kill switch and DNS leak protection to keep your identity safe. Not-so-common extras include double data encryption and Onion support for extra security, and ad, malware and phishing protection via NordVPN's CyberSec technology. P2P support is a major plus, and a clear no logging policy and NordVPN's Panama registration give above-average reassurance that your internet activities won't be visible to anyone else.
NordVPN says it's testing the new high-speed WireGuard protocol, but there's no date for its likely availability, yet. Our tests suggest that the protocol is officially available on only 408 out of 5,604 servers, so users might be waiting for a while longer.
If you're intimidated by this feature overload, or just run into some unexpected problems, NordVPN's 24/7 support is on hand to point you in the right direction, via email or live chat. Prices are fair, and if you're not quite convinced that this is the VPN for you, a 30-day money back guarantee gives you a risk-free route to sampling the service for yourself.
Plans and pricing
TODAY'S NORDVPN PRICE PLAN DEALS:
NordVPN has a clear and simple pricing structure with four straightforward plans.
You can opt to pay $11.95 a month with the monthly plan, falling to an effective $6.99 a month (a chunky 41% discount) if you pay for a year up-front.
NordVPN's two-year plan is now $4.99, up from $3.99 last time, while the three-year plan has increased from $2.99 to $3.49.
The recent price increases mean NordVPN is a now a little more expensive than average, and bargain hunters can find significantly better deals elsewhere. Private Internet Access‘ annual plan costs just $3.33 a month, for instance, while Surfshark's two-year plan is an effective $1.99.
Still, NordVPN is far from the most expensive VPN around, and we think it's fairly priced for what you get.
There are plenty of payment options, with support for cards, PayPal, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (via CoinPayments), and assorted other systems (Alipay, UnionPay, SOFORT Banking and more).
The company has dropped its 7-day trial since our last review, apparently due to ‘widespread abuse.' That's a pity, but we can understand the reasoning, and if you're not satisfied, there's still the protection of NordVPN's 30-day money-back guarantee.
This isn't one of those guarantees which doesn't apply if you've logged on ‘too many' times, or transferred ‘too much' data, either. NordVPN doesn't have any sneaky small-print clauses, so you're able to use the service as much as you like, and if you're unhappy, cancel in the first 30 days and you'll get a full refund.
The privacy value of all VPNs starts with the support for encryption technologies. NordVPN scores well here for its strong IKev2/IPsec support. This gets you AES-256-GCM for encryption, and supports perfect forward secrecy to regularly change keys (this time using 3072-bit Diffie-Hellman), ensuring that even if an attacker manages to penetrate one session, they'll be locked out of the next one. It's an excellent system which is now NordVPN's default for Mac and iOS, and is also available in some of the other clients (including Windows).
Once you're connected, NordVPN has other tricks it can employ to improve your privacy. These include Onion over VPN, which routes your traffic first through NordVPN's own network, then directs it over the Onion network and on to its final destination.
This double layer of obfuscation will slow the service down, but also makes it extremely difficult for anyone to trace an action back to you. Best of all, you don't have to know or understand anything at all about Onion to make this work. There's nothing to install or set up, just use your client to connect to one of NordVPN's specialist Onion over VPN routers and the system will handle everything automatically.
NordVPN also offers a Double VPN system where your traffic goes to one VPN server, then is re-encrypted and sent to a second NordVPN server, before heading off to its destination. This isn't going to be necessary, or even useful for most people, but it's there if you can find a reason to use it, and the technology doesn't slow you down as much as you might expect. A quick check on our review system showed download speeds of 70Mbps when not connected, 55Mbps when using the best Double VPN for us (UK to France).
However you're connected to NordVPN, its kill switches work to prevent any data leaks if the VPN connection drops. NordVPN stands out here for having two kill switches. A general internet switch blocks all net access when you're not connected to the VPN (this can be easily turned off if it's inconvenient), while an app kill switch kills your chosen applications if the connection goes down.
NordVPN claims the service blocks DNS leaks, too, and our checks with DNS Leak Test, IP Leak and other sites confirmed this. Our DNS address was always the same as our IP address, with no DNS, WebRTC or other leaks detected.
‘NordVPN guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN services, meaning that your activities… are not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party. We do not store connection time stamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or other data… Further, NordVPN have a strict no logs policy when it comes to seeing user activity online: NordVPN is based in Panama, which does not require data storage.'
That covers not only general logging of your internet activities, but also session logging details such as recording your incoming IP address when you connect to the service, and the IP you're allocated. (When other VPNs say ‘no logging', they often carry out some form of session logging, so it's good to see NordVPN rule it out).
A VPN can say anything on its own website, but unlike most of the VPN competition, you don't have to take the company's claims on trust. In late 2018 NordVPN hired Price Waterhouse Cooper to run an independent audit on its infrastructure and services, and verify that its logging policy description is accurate. A November 2018 blog post confirmed that the company had passed.
The report doesn't have much in the way of technical detail. There are lots of legal restrictions on the content, too, and for instance we can't even quote from it. NordVPN customers and trial users can take a look, though, and we have to applaud the company for taking this step. It means NordVPN has far more evidence to support its no-logging claims than most other VPN providers.
While privacy features are normally the top priority for a VPN, performance is almost as important. Uncrackable encryption isn't nearly as appealing if it reduces your internet speeds to a crawl, which is why we put all our review VPNs through some intensive performance tests.
Our checks began in the UK by connecting to a sample set of 26 NordVPN servers spread around the world. In each case we were looking to confirm that the server was up and how long it took to connect, before running ping tests to check for latency issues, and using geolocation to confirm that the server was where NordVPN claimed it should be. None of these would give us specific information on download speeds, but they're all important factors in the experience of using NordVPN.
We've seen some connection issues with NordVPN in previous reviews, but not this time. We were able to connect to every server first time on two consecutive runs (that's a 100% success rate from 52 connection attempts.)
OpenVPN connection times were good, too, at a typical 3-5 seconds. (Connection times were much longer when using the apps, unfortunately, but we'll talk more about that later.)
The positive news continued elsewhere, with minimal latencies, and every server appearing to be in its advertised location.
Our speed testing began by using Ookla's SpeedTest and TestMy to measure the performance of our nearest UK servers. The results were as good as we could expect at an average 64-66Mbps on our test 75Mbps line, a minimal 2-4% speed drop from our speed with the VPN turned off.
To check NordVPN's maximum performance, we ran the same tests from a US location using a 475Mbps line. The results were very inconsistent, but NordVPN peaked at an acceptable 100-110Mbps. Some providers delivered more – ExpressVPN was twice as fast – but others lagged well behind, and on balance, NordVPN seems speedy enough for most tasks.
We completed our performance tests by checking speeds from the UK to some of NordVPN's more distant servers.
Performance was inevitably more inconsistent, but still very reasonable at 30-60Mbps. There are some exceptions, though. Indonesia was so slow that we struggled to log in at first, and even once we connected, speeds were always under 5Mbps.
Overall, NordVPN isn't the fastest VPN we've seen, but it's better than most, and we got above-average speeds from the vast majority of its locations.
The ability to access geoblocked websites is a key advantage of any VPN service. NordVPN doesn't explicitly claim to unblock any particular website or service, but statements that it allows you to “keep access to your favorite websites and entertainment content, and forget about censorship” sound good to us.
We began our tests by attempting to access US-only YouTube content. This is a very easy test which just about everyone passes, but we try it anyway to confirm a VPN is doing something useful. And sure enough, NordVPN is, with the site giving us full YouTube access on every one of our test servers.
BBC iPlayer is more difficult, as the service makes a real effort to block some proxies and VPNs. Some of NordVPN's servers couldn't get us in, though apparently not for location-related reasons: iPlayer instead displayed a ‘this content doesn't seem to be working' error. We're unsure whether this is VPN-related or not, but it turned out not to matter. When we saw the error, we reconnected to a different server and iPlayer streamed content correctly.
Netflix is usually the biggest challenge, and many VPNs can't unblock it at all, but NordVPN had no issues, successfully allowing us in with every server we tried.
That's a very good performance, and although it doesn't prove NordVPN will unblock other websites, its large network and wide range of security, privacy and encryption tricks give you a better than average chance of success.
VPNs generally don't shout about their P2P support, and NordVPN is no exception. Although the company claims to be the ‘Best VPN for P2P‘, the front page of the website no longer mentions its P2P status at all.
Torrents aren't supported on all servers, but the company doesn't restrict you to a couple of options in Amsterdam, either. NordVPN provides hundreds of P2P-friendly servers in the US, UK, and many other locations around the globe. Wherever you are, there should be a suitable server nearby.
VPNs which only support some P2P on some servers can be inconvenient to use, particularly if you connect to a non-P2P server, launch your torrent client and find it doesn't work. But NordVPN is smarter than you might expect. A ‘P2P' option in the apps gets you connected to the best P2P-friendly server for your location, without you having to know where this is. And even if you forget to do this, if the service detects P2P activity, it can automatically re-route your connection to a torrent-friendly alternative.
NordVPN points out that it doesn't have any bandwidth limits, so in theory you can download as much as you like. The service small print includes a fair usage-type clause stating that you must not “take any action that imposes or may impose an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our infrastructure”, which might allow the company to take action against very heavy users. But many services have something similar, and we've seen no reason to believe that NordVPN has used this unreasonably.
Along with its direct P2P support, NordVPN has a number of other features which could make it a good torrenting choice: a strict no logging policy, multiple layers of DNS and traffic leak protection, payment via Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and privacy extras including Double VPN and Onion Over VPN.
It's a strong all-round package, although if you're a torrent fan, ExpressVPN is also worth considering. The core features are similar, and while ExpressVPN doesn't have quite as many extras (no Double VPN, for instance), it supports P2P on all its servers and is arguably easier to use.
Sign up for a VPN and you'll probably want to install a client and try it right away. Some providers make this more difficult than it needs to be, but NordVPN does a very good job. Tap the VPN Apps link, and the website automatically offers you the client download link for the device you're using, presenting you with further links for its other supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux and Android TV.
A lengthy list of more than 50 tutorials explains how to manually set up the service, and includes coverage of a further 20 platforms and device types (Chrome OS, Windows Phone, Raspberry Pi, routers, NAS devices, more).
There's far more detail here than you might expect. NordVPN has no less than 11 Windows tutorials, for instance, covering installing the regular client, OpenVPN, or manual setup guidance for various protocol types on Windows XP, 7, 8 and 10.
Or maybe you want to know how to set up NordVPN as a Socks 5 or browser proxy? No problem: there are tutorials covering Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, uTorrent, BitTorrent, Vuze, Skype, Deluge and more.
The only minor issue crops up if you're trying to download the appropriate OpenVPN configuration files. While many providers offer a single archive containing all the necessary OVPN files, NordVPN asks you to generate and download them, one by one. And even then, you're left to translate the rather cryptic file names (cr1.nordvpn.com.udp1194.ovpn, kr12.nordvpn.com.udp.ovpn) into something more meaningful.
This isn't exactly convenient, and most providers use much more straightforward file naming conventions (ExpressVPN uses names like ‘my_expressvpn_usa_-_new_jersey_-_1_udp.ovpn'). Still, it's not a huge deal. If you use OpenVPN, you'll only have to figure this out once; if you don't, you won't even realize there's an issue.
NordVPN made it quick and easy to install the Windows client. We visited the download page, it detected our platform, displayed the Windows download link, and we grabbed and installed the software in something under a minute.
The client opens by displaying its many locations on a map. This works much like any other dynamic map you've used – left-click, hold and drag to pan around, spin the mouse wheel to zoom, hover your mouse over a highlighted location to see a tooltip of its name – and left-clicking any location will connect you to the service.
While this looks good, it's not a very practical system. To access a specific European location, for instance, you'll have to pan to that area of the map, zoom in so that the location marker isn't overlapped by the others, and find your location amongst the others (not everyone will look at a caption-free map and immediately recognize which country is Slovakia, and which is Hungary, for instance). Your map location and zoom level are lost when you quit the app, too, so reboot your system and you'll need to start again.
Fortunately, a left-hand sidebar displays a more standard alphabetically sorted list of countries. At its most basic, you can scroll to the country you need, click a button and connect to the best server in that location. Very easy.
Tap a More button and NordVPN displays a list of servers within that country, organized by city where possible, or a unique server ID (‘United States #3678'.) Alternatively, enter the name of any city in the search box, and if NordVPN has servers there, you'll see any matches.
The client also offers separate Speciality lists, where you can choose servers for a particular task: P2P access, using Onion over VPN, the double encryption of Double VPN, or giving you a dedicated IP. These work much the same as the regular list, so for example you can click P2P and allow the software to choose the fastest server for you, or browse the full set and choose something manually.
If this sounds like hard work, you might have a point. You can add any server to a Favorites list with a click, making it much easier to find later, but NordVPN's odd naming conventions mean it's not always obvious what they're for. We added the client's best P2P choice as a favorite, for instance, but it was displayed in the list as ‘United Kingdom #959', alongside our other favorites ‘United Kingdom #565' and ‘United Kingdom #768'. These couldn't be renamed, so we were left to remember which were the best for general use, and which was for P2P.
One client issue we quickly noticed is that the client takes longer than usual to connect – typically 25-30 seconds. Other apps might take 10-20 seconds to connect via OpenVPN, and we've seen some apps connect via IKEv2 in around 3 seconds.
While that can make for an annoying wait, the NordVPN interface suggests most of this time is spent finding the best server, which could make the delay worthwhile. Yes, there's a pause before the session can start, but a smarter choice of server could make for a faster and more responsive connection later.
The client handles the rest of the connection process very well, updating the interface to display its status and the current location, and using Windows desktop notifications to tell you when the VPN is turned on and off.
Switching servers is easy, too. If you're connected already, you don't have to close that connection before you can open another. Just click any server and the client will automatically disconnect and reconnect to your choice.
Right click the NordVPN system tray icon and you'll see a list of your recent connections, making it simple to access them again. That's a real convenience which could mean you rarely need open the full app.
Elsewhere, an interesting Settings dialog has some unusual plus points. It doesn't just allow you to launch NordVPN on startup, for example.
You can also have the client automatically connect whenever you access an insecure wireless network, and it's possible to specify a particular country or region you'd like to use. (Curiously, although you can't choose to connect to a city from the Servers screen, that option is available in the Auto Connect settings.)
NordVPN's kill switch (a system to avoid data leaks if the VPN connection drops) also offers more control than most. An internet kill switch blocks all access to the internet unless you're connected to the VPN, while a separate app kill switch closes particular apps if the VPN drops (your torrent app, for instance).
We tried various ways of forcibly closing the VPN, but in all cases the client correctly blocked our internet traffic and warned us of the problem. The only small omission is that the client doesn't have an ‘auto-reconnect' option, leaving users to restore their connections manually.
Protocol support is limited, at least with the Windows client. You can toggle between OpenVPN TCP and UDP only, and even that is hidden away in an Advanced Settings panel.
By way of compensation, NordVPN provides the option to set your preferred DNS for all VPN connections. Most users should probably leave this alone, but if you know what you're doing, switching DNS could improve browsing performance, help block access to malicious websites, or add other benefits. Even better, you can add multiple DNS servers and switch between them as and when required.
A bonus ‘Obfuscated Servers' features claims that it may help you connect even in countries and locations which block VPNs. And there's also the option to block ads and malicious websites via NordVPN's CyberSec, which is turned off by default.
Put it all together, and although NordVPN's Windows client has some issues, it's generally well-presented and easy to use. Once you're over any initial setup hassles, it's a comfortable place to view and control your VPN status.
The NordVPN Android app is one of the most popular around, with more than five million downloads, and a very impressive 4.4 rating on Google Play (even ExpressVPN ‘only' manages 4.2).
While we never assume that app store ratings are accurate, we've also regularly seen VPN apps get 1-star reviews for no good reason, as users blame them for many other network and internet issues. To rate 4.4 is a real achievement, for sure.
Setup follows much the same route as any other service. Click Install, the app downloads, and you can launch it with a tap.
The app opens with the top part of the screen displaying your available locations on a world map, the lower part being reserved for a server list. You already know the basic operating principles here, as they're the same as any other map you've ever used: pinch to zoom in on the area with the location you need, drag to pan around, tap a location marker to connect to it. But it's just not very practical.
You might have to zoom in a long way to see the area you need. Do that on Europe, say, and you could be faced with 40 location markers but no text captions, so if you want to choose Macedonia, you'll need to know where it is on the map.
And switching somewhere else in the world might require zooming out, panning around and zooming in somewhere else. While this isn't difficult, you're still spending more time navigating the app interface than we would like.
Fortunately, and just like the Windows client, NordVPN's Android app also supports a conventional countries list. Swiping up gets you an alphabetical list of countries, and you can scroll down to the US (or anywhere else), tap it, and immediately get connected to the best server in that country.
If you need more control over your location choice, tapping a Menu button displays the full list of locations in that country.
You can expand locations to list all their individual servers, too, although as there's no server load or other information, this probably won't help you very much.
As usual with mobile software, the Android app has fewer settings than its desktop cousins.
These start with ad, phishing and malware-blocking via NordVPN's CyberSec, and a smarter auto-connect option. For example, you could set up the app to automatically connect on all Wi-Fi hotspots apart from your home and other trusted locations, ensuring you only turn on the VPN when you know you need it.
Recent improvements include a new option to set a custom DNS server, and you can also use TCP to perhaps improve connection reliability.
The app isn't perfect, then, and we're not sure the map element of the interface adds a lot. But otherwise it's a likeable and capable application which outperforms most of the competition.
The NordVPN iOS app installed easily and with precisely zero surprises. Find it in the app store, install, open, log in and you're ready to go.
The app opens with the same slightly awkward map interface as the other clients, although the iOS developer has done a marginally better job of implementing it. You can't zoom out as far as the Android app allows, which means the individual location markers are never left overlapping and hiding each other. And when the map is displayed, the lower panel reduces to just enough space for a Quick Connect button, leaving the maximum screen real estate for map details.
We still think a map isn't the best way to switch between locations, but if you agree, swiping up displays the regular country list. Here you can connect to any country with a tap, or choose individual regions and servers if you prefer.
It's not all good news, though, and unfortunately the iOS Speciality Server list is a little shorter than the others. You can view and select servers optimized for P2P or that support Onion over VPN, but there's no Double VPN or Dedicated IP option. That's not a huge deal and the Double VPN feature won't be necessary for most users, anyway, but if NordVPN is trying to sell itself on that kind of extra, we'd like to see it available on all clients.
The iOS app's Settings panel has expanded a little since out last review. Along with the kill switch and the malicious website-blocking CyberSec, a new Auto-Connect feature can automatically connect to VPN on untrusted networks, only on wifi, or keep the VPN active all the time.
If that's not quite convenient enough, you're now able to add NordVPN connections to Siri from within the app. As NordVPN points out, connecting is then as easy as ‘asking Siri nicely.'
There are still a few omissions, including no TCP or UDP protocol control, and no Obfuscated Servers feature (handy for getting online with countries with restrict the use of VPNs).
That isn't entirely NordVPN's fault – Apple's security model places strict limits on what apps can do – but it's something to keep in mind if you'll be mostly using the VPN on your iPhone.
VPN clients are generally easy to use, but getting yourself connected can still take a little work. If you need to unblock a website on your Windows laptop, for instance, you might have to click to display your system tray icons, click again to display the client, click the Countries tab, expand the full list of servers, click your preferred option, wait to see when you're connected, and finally Alt+Tab back to your browser.
NordVPN offers Chrome and Firefox proxy extensions which can simplify this process by allowing you to choose a VPN location, then connect and disconnect directly from the browser window.
Installing the Chrome extension added a NordVPN icon to our address bar. We tapped this and logged in to the service when prompted.
The extension interface doesn't have the map you'll see in the clients, but that's no great loss. Instead you're presented with an Auto Connect button which connects you to the fastest server, and a Choose Location option which enables selecting a particular country only. (This time there's no ability to choose a server by city name or number.)
A small Settings dialog allows you to block WebRTC leaks in Chrome, reducing privacy risks, and you can also enable or disable the ad, phishing and malware-blocking CyberSec feature.
We checked out NordVPN's Firefox addon, too. Sometimes VPN capabilities can vary between browser extensions, but not this time – NordVPN's Chrome and Firefox addons had identical interfaces and functionality.
Overall, this isn't as capable a setup as you'll see with some of the competition. ExpressVPN's browser extensions control and work with the full ExpressVPN client, so once you enable them within your browser, they protect your entire system. The NordVPN extensions are simple proxies, and protect your browser alone.
Still, the proxy approach is perfect for simple website unblocking, connections are much faster, and using NordVPN within a browser could be useful in a few situations (some of your apps don't work with a VPN, for instance, or the VPN reduces your system performance). We're happy that NordVPN offers browser extensions at all – most VPN providers don't – and overall, it's a plus point for the service.
NordVPN's first line of defense is its support website. Articles are sorted into multiple categories, and a search box allows you to find content by keyword.
The site organization is, well, less than intuitive. The FAQ section only contains setup instructions. The questions you'd expect to be in a FAQ are actually in a section titled Features. And for some reason, NordVPN has decided to put all its troubleshooting articles in a section titled Connectivity, rather than, say, Troubleshooting.
Despite these small hassles, there's good news here, too. If you browse the menus or use the search tool to find what you need, there's a lot to like here, including a large number of quality setup tutorials.
The company offers 24/7 live chat support, and in our experience it works very well. We posed a simple question and received a friendly opening response from a support agent in around 30 seconds.
Email support is available, too. Replies take a little longer – hours, rather than minutes, in our experience – but that's comparable with many other VPNs, and NordVPN responses are generally accurate and detailed enough to solve our problem.
An appealing VPN with loads of servers and an excellent no-logging audit. It's not the cheapest, or the fastest, or the most powerful VPN we've seen, but overall, it's a likeable service which will deliver good results for most users.