Should you sign up for ExpressVPN to protect your privacy and unblock streaming sites?
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Cloudwards.net for a while, you probably know by now that ExpressVPN is our favorite by far when we’re talking about the best VPN providers. The service is fast, sleek and easy to use, and although other services come close, read our NordVPN review for one notable example, they never quite top it.
That’s not to say ExpressVPN is perfect: server switch times can be a bit slow and the service is pricey. In fact, it’s the most expensive of all the top-ranked services in our VPN reviews and we won’t blame our more cash-strapped readers for wanting to go somewhere else (though not IPVanish, read our ExpressVPN vs IPVanish piece to see why).
That said, if you have the money, we strongly recommend you make use of ExpressVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee and see if you like the service. It’s almost certain you will. Let’s take a closer look at its most prominent features.
- Easy to use
- 148 locations
- Split tunneling
- Linux client (kinda)
- 3 simultaneous connections
- Slow switch time
ExpressVPN is super simple to use and browsing through the options on the app can feel a little underwhelming at first, but this is just because all the good stuff is happening under the hood. We’ll get into details a little further down in our “ease of use” section, but what it boils down to is that ExpressVPN cares only about getting you connected, it handles the how for you.
Not that you’re left with nothing to do but twiddle your thumbs (or other forms of manual entertainment): ExpressVPN has plenty of nifty tools built in, including a speed test which lets you get an overview of all the servers at your disposal and their speeds. It takes around five minutes or so to run, but it gives you a handy overview to work with.
There’s also a diagnostics tool, which allows you to detect from within the program itself whether there are problems with your connection. Though it may not be of great use for most people, if a problem ever does occur all you need to do is run it, send the info that it belches out to ExpressVPN’s support staff, and you should be on your way.
Other tools include an IP address checker and DNS leak test, which are handy little tools that can help suppress any worry you’re feeling, though many other providers, even meh ones like Shellfire, include your “new” IP address in the app’s main window (read our Shellfire review to find out why we gave it our seal of mehproval).
ExpressVPN Security Features
With the toolkit out of the way, we’ll move on to ExpressVPN’s impressive array of security features. Though the service isn’t as tweakable within the client as TorGuard (then again, if you read our TorGuard review you’ll quickly see no one is) or even NordVPN, it all fits into ExpressVPN’s ready-to-go mentality.
ExpressVPN boasts 256-bit AES encryption (which will take several billion years to decrypt), and gives you the option to use even more secure protocols if you don’t mind getting under the hood for a while (more on that in our “security” section below). On top of that, it also keeps no logs, meaning you leave no trace anywhere.
Another critical feature, which many services leave out for some reason, is a killswitch, which severs your internet connection when your VPN server stops working for whatever reason. This is especially important for torrenters as well as people trying to stay off totalitarian regimes’ radar, making ExpressVPN a top choice in our best VPN for torrenting article as well as our best VPN for China roundup.
Last but not least, ExpressVPN is one of the very few VPNs that offers split tunneling (read our StrongVPN review for another one), the ability to pick which of your programs and apps make use of the VPN and which ones do not.
Though this may seem trivial at first, it’s fantastic for business users as you’ll be able to, say, keep your torrenting secure, but allow your backup upload to run at the full speed of your internet connection. For more practical applications of split tunneling, check out our best VPN for cloud storage article.
Streaming with ExpressVPN
If you’re into streaming shows and films, you’ll love ExpressVPN: the service didn’t win our article on the best VPN for Netflix for nothing. No matter if you’re consuming your media over Kodi, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, iPlayer or Netflix, ExpressVPN’s impressive speed and large server network will get you watching international content without trouble.
Kodi Guide: Everything You Always Wanted to Know
ExpressVPN is our top pick for not only Netflix, but also the best VPN for BBC iPlayer, so that gives you an idea of its raw power as an entertainment tool. Though it’s not the only VPN that does what it does, ExpressVPN is in a league of its own when it comes to streaming.
Now that we have talked about the good, let’s talk about the bad — well, not great. ExpressVPN is not cheap, as you can see in the table below.
$ 12 95monthly
$ 59 956 months
$ 99 99yearly includes 3 free months
|Bandwidth||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
As for payment, ExpressVPN accepts all major credit cards, PayPal, bitcoin as well as a host of local payment methods such as iDeal, GiroPay and AliPay; we won’t list them all as pretty much all are gobbledygook unless you actually live in a country that uses one of them.
At $13 for one month ExpressVPN is pretty much the most expensive service out there. Of course going month-to-month is rarely a good idea with VPNs as every service out there will sting you, except for maybe Private Internet Access — though as you can read in our PIA review, going for an annual plan is still a lot smarter.
Another example of a cheaper, but terrible service is PureVPN. If you’d like to know more about what a VPN should not be like, read either our PureVPN review or our ExpressVPN vs PureVPN comparison article.
Value gets a lot better with the semi-annual and annual plan, though the latter is better by far. Again, however, $99 gets you a lot when it comes to VPNs: NordVPN and CyberGhost both will give you three years of use for the same price (read our CyberGhost review to find out why it’s such a good buy).
When you add it all up, however, you do get a really good service with excellent speeds and great customer service. As with anything, you pay extra to get the very best. ExpressVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is always honored, so if you don’t like it or feel you’d prefer a different deal, there’s no real risk.
Setting up ExpressVPN is easy: go to the site at ExpressVPN, select a plan, enter your email address and choose a payment method. It’s as simple as that and fairly anonymous (you could use a throwaway email account and pay with cryptocurrency if you want to remain truly off the radar).
You’re then directed to your account page, where you can easily access downloads for your device of choice, see your account details and consult the knowledgebase and contact support staff.
For this review we used the Windows client of ExpressVPN, which works for all flavors of Windows going back to XP. We downloaded the package, clicked it and the installer did all the work for us. Install took around five minutes and we were in business.
One thing we liked was that the very first screen we were presented with gave us the option to have ExpressVPN always start when the computer does, so you’re protected all the time from the get go.
As we mentioned in the “features” section above, ExpressVPN offers a highly simple, set-it-and-forget-it interface that’s exactly the same on all OSes except Linux. There’s very little that can go wrong here, unless hitting a large, very obvious button is beyond your abilities. Even so, on your very first time you get a tooltip to see which button it is.
If you’re happy with your assigned “smart” location, just hit the button and it will connect, this usually takes a few seconds. With some VPN providers it’s hard to see at a single glance whether you’re connected or not, but not with ExpressVPN; the button gets a massive shield as a backdrop.
It should be noted that the smart server function has a mind of its own and you may want to swap around a bit if you’re not happy with the speeds you’re getting. Your reviewer has two anecdotal examples of this: smart connect used to always connect to the Amsterdam 1 server when in that city, while the number 2 was usually faster (and better for Netflix), but it’s sorrowfully enough discontinued.
Another example is during a holiday in Thailand smart connect always sent him to the Singapore server, even when the Thai server was just a few blocks up the road in Bangkok and got way better speeds. Again, your mileage may vary, but it seems better to manually find a server using the speed test function.
Switching locations is done by using the “choose location” button to the right beneath the big button and opens up a new window that is pretty easy to navigate, though it would have been nice to have a server map like NordVPN gives you, even just to give you that control room feel.
The list is split into three, with a “recommended” tab, useful but suffering from the same problems as the smart locations above, as well as an “all” tab and a “recents” tab. This last one is handy as it will show you not only where you recently connected to, but also your favorites, which is great if you’re doing the Netflix VPN ban dance (most of those worked at time of writing, by the way).
Under “all,” finding a specific server is easy: just find the country you want (or use the search bar above), then click it. If there is more than one server in a country, just click the little arrow next to the name of the country and you’ll get a secondary menu.
Once you’ve selected your server you’ll still need to hit that big bad button in the main panel, though, so beware.
Though there isn’t much tweaking to do, if you want to mess with the settings, you can do so by hitting the hamburger menu in the top left of the app.
“General” is used only for basic functions, such as letting ExpressVPN launch on startup and fiddling with the split tunneling features, while the “account” setting is a shortcut to the account section of the website. We don’t advise messing with the settings under “protocol” and “advanced” as these are serious business; we’ll talk more about them in the “security” section of this review.
More interesting perhaps is the “browsers” tab, which lets you install ExpressVPN extensions in your browser. These are pretty handy to have, as it’s basically a way for you to control your VPN through your browser. Note that this is unlike most VPN browser extensions, that usually only protect your browsing, leaving you vulnerable to spying eyes.
Installing an extension is a matter of clicking the button in the VPN itself and following the link once the browser opens. Extensions are available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
ExpressVPN has clients for Windows (going all the way back to XP, so bad luck for any Win98 users out there), Mac and Linux (though, as you can read in our best VPN for Linux article the word “client” is a bit of a stretch). On mobile ExpressVPN has apps for Android, iOS and BlackBerry, though there is something ironic about using a VPN with a CrackBerry. It also plays nice with routers.
How to Install DD-WRT on Your Router
As for browser extensions, ExpressVPN offers them for Chrome, FireFox and Safari, as well as MediaStreamer plugins for Playstation, Xbox, AppleTV and Amazon FireTV. Basically, if it exists, ExpressVPN has a client or downloader for it, which makes it great for technophiles who don’t want to tinker too much.
The downside is that ExpressVPN only allows three simultaneous connections (scoring it a poor position in our list of the best VPN for multiple devices). Though you can install it as often as you want, only three devices can be active at the same time, making it less useful for big families or students trying to defray the cost.
ExpressVPN has a massive network of servers, scattered all over the globe in 148 locations and 94 countries. Besides the usual suspects in Europe and North America, however, ExpressVPN stands out by having servers in all kinds of odd places, as well. Though we don’t expect many of our readers to need IP addresses located in Algeria or Laos, for some people this will be a godsend.
Not all these servers are dedicated servers, however, meaning that the server is virtual rather than a physical machine in Vientiane or Algiers. Though this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, there are some questions surrounding the security of virtual servers, so buyer beware seems to be the watchword.
Servers are on all continents except Antarctica and, unlike most competitors, the coverage on all is good. The Americas are represented with countries across North, Central and South America (including one in the Bahamas), while another underrepresented continent with most providers, Africa, has servers in Kenya, Algeria, Egypt as well as usual suspect South Africa.
Asia and Europe are of course well represented, with servers in every single European country as well as some Asian countries you’ll need Google to find. In short, if wide coverage is a priority for you, ExpressVPN should probably be on your list.
As we mentioned earlier, ExpressVPN is the fastest VPN service we’ve tested and is unique in that it stays relatively fast even over long distances. Below you’ll find a table of speed tests we did by connecting with different servers from all over the world from our chief editor’s location near Amsterdam, the Netherlands and then running speedtest.net.
All connections were made to the first server at a location, unless otherwise stated.
|Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Amsterdam, NL (2)||17||33.84||3.47|
|New York City||106||11.76||3.53|
As you can see, none of that is anything to sneeze at. The most surprising connection was that to Japan, which, despite being over 10,000 kilometers away did as well as Lisbon, which is less than 1,000 clicks removed. However, we do have to admit that we weren’t able to reproduce those speeds again and mostly got stuck around the 25Mbps mark (which is still better than the reading from nearby Taiwan).
Being able to get decent speeds while connecting to servers on the other side of the world is paramount when you’re streaming, which means that ExpressVPN almost automatically won our best VPN for streaming ranking.
If, however, secure browsing in general is your priority, ExpressVPN is also a great choice. A secure server roughly 20 kilometers away saw us only with a tiny drop in performance. No other service gets these kinds of speeds, over any distance. Its ping also stays relatively low, which is why it’s our top pick for the best VPN for gaming, too.
ExpressVPN’s security is, quite simply, great, though it scores a little less well than NordVPN here because it’s not as out-of-the-box as its competitor. Thanks to its use of the OpenVPN protocol (more on that in a bit), users can download several configuration files and mess around in their guts to improve certain aspects of security. This, of course, shouldn’t be attempted by novices.
ExpressVPN comes standard with 256-bit AES encryption which should prove enough to withstand most, if not all, attempts to decypher it. That said, to make sure that ExpressVPN can tunnel under the Great Firewall, you should set it to 4096-bit security to make sure the Chinese authorities don’t come after you.
Supported protocols are OpenVPN (TCP and UDP), L2TP/IPsec, PPTP and SSTP. In principle only OpenVPN connections are ever used — assuming you set it to “automatic” in the settings — all others can only be switched on manually. If you decide to switch to a server that doesn’t support more advanced protocols, you will get a warning.
We ran some third-party DNS leak tests, webRTC tests and IP leak tests (we like and trust ExpressVPN’s suite of built-in tools, but as the KGB always used to say: “trust, but verify”) and the service passed with flying colors on all fronts. This VPN is safe to use for everyone and anyone; you won’t have to worry about corporate or government surveillance.
ExpressVPN is strictly a no-logs service, meaning it doesn’t even keep temporary record of where you’ve been and what content you’ve viewed, meaning even if someone showed up with a warrant, there’s nothing to hand over. The corporation is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, which has some of the best privacy laws around, so you’re safe on that front as well.
ExpressVPN takes good care of its customers: the site has a massive knowledgebase that should get you through most issues and there’s always live chat and email to fall back on. Navigating through the FAQs is easy and the explanations are mostly clear; some of the more technical stuff (like configuring advanced security options) can get a little obscure.
Getting in touch with a real human being is done by clicking the tab at the lower right hand of the screen on the site; there’s no way to directly contact support in the app. In our case we had a few questions about servers, so we sent a message over live chat, we got a response within a minute.
In our experience live chat will be enough in almost all cases, especially since it’s so fast. Emailing support is also an option, though response times are a little slower in that case: expect to wait about an hour, maybe two depending on how busy it is. Overall, though, ExpressVPN offers friendly, polite and efficient support.
ExpressVPN has always been a Cloudwards.net favorite and hopefully you’ll agree with us after reading this review and making use of the 30-day money-back guarantee yourself. It is the fastest VPN around, offers great security and is the best VPN for watching any streamed content by far.
What do you think of ExpressVPN? Please let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.