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


NordVPN deserves a spot on our best VPN list for a number of reasons. Its status as the virtual private network provider that will deliver the most bang for your buck is probably the first thing you’ve heard about NordVPN, but there’s more: Hands down, you aren’t likely to find a VPN anywhere else that can do more than NordVPN does as cheaply as NordVPN does it. Despite a security breach reported in 2019 (more on that later), you’d still be hard-pressed to find another service that can do what NordVPN does at all. 

Sure, NordVPN could offer a little more privacy if it boosted the number of servers it owns, but we’re talking about more than 5,200 servers in 60 countries, a zero-log policy and a jurisdiction in Panama. It’s an encryption powerhouse and has a feature that lets you VPN into Tor

It’s not shocking that the NordVPN app has racked up more than 218,000 ratings in the App Store for a score of 4.6 out of 5, and over 451,000 reviews in the Google Play Store for a 4.3 out of 5 rating. It’s also not surprising that the VPN client earned my trophy for best value. 

As a speed bonus, NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature lets it do with ease what so many other VPNs struggle with: streaming video. It’s available for not only iOS and Android, but Windows Phone and even BlackBerry.

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

Read moreHow we review VPNs

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 53% speed lost in autumn 2020 tests
  • Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
  • Number of NordVPN server locations: 60 
  • Number of IP addresses: 5,000

We ran our NordVPN speed tests over the course of three days using both wireless and Ethernet connections. 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 reduced our connection speed by 53% on average, compared to the 32% speed loss we measured when we tested it in 2019. While not as fast as some of its competitors like ExpressVPN and Surfshark, we found that NordVPN’s speeds were reliably fast; there were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where we expected it to underperform, it proved itself up to the task. 

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NordVPN

NordVPN’s overall global average speed was 91Mbps during my testing, in a dataset with average non-VPN speeds of 194Mbps. While it’s normal for a VPN to cut your internet speed by half or more, the notable context here is that across the averages of my five test zones, I never saw NordVPN fall below 85Mbps. It’s still one of the most consistent, stable VPNs I’ve worked with.

Singapore led the testing averages at 98Mbps, while UK speeds beat European speeds by a hair’s breadth. At 99.93Mbps, UK connections squeaked ahead of French and German ones, which averaged 91.90Mbps. NordVPN also had another photo finish during testing, with Australia beating US scores, 88Mbps to 86Mbps. None of these are scores that you can look down your nose at. 

Read more: Fastest VPN of 2021

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 leak or other potentially user-identifying data leaks were detected during our testing.

The VPN tool offers a useful kill switch security 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 VPN 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 the VPN service 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 VPN server security. 

While we’d have preferred that the NordVPN team 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 NordVPN’s 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.

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

The VPN service provider 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 its 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, its best deal is via its two-year contract at $3.71 per month, a 68% discount, billed once every two years for $89. NordVPN does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, however. 

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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