NordVPN has always had a special place in our hearts here at Cloudwards.net and we were happy to sit down this year and do a completely new review from scratch. Though on the one hand we were happy to see much of the service is like it was, with several improvements, even, a deeper search found a handful of things that should have been changed, but haven’t.
Not that NordVPN is in danger of losing its spot in our top three of VPN reviews, it’s an excellent service that will find a broad appeal among people interested in keeping their data safe, yet also want a user-friendly experience. However, a few niggles keep it from beating our best VPN provider, ExpressVPN, from the top spot (read our ExpressVPN review to see what we think).
ExpressVPN VS NordVPN: Two Titans Throw Down
However, NordVPN has ExpressVPN’s number in one key regard: price. Though its regular plans are reasonably priced, to say the least, NordVPN is currently running a deal where, if you sign up for three years, you only pay $99. That works out to $2.75 per month, which may be the best deal on the market today.
Read on to find out more about NordVPN, its features and what we like and dislike.
- Well priced
- Highly secure
- Six simultaneous connections
- Gets into Netflix
- Gets into BBC iPlayer
- Double-hop servers
- Lack of detail on server location
- No split tunneling
NordVPN has several interesting, useful and even exciting features that offer users plenty of flexibility and customization, though true tinkerers may want to look toward TorGuard instead, read our TorGuard review to find out why.
As out-of-the-box VPNs go, however, NordVPN may be the most secure out there, or at least caters to people looking to secure their internet usage above all. The first of these features you’ll come into contact with is CyberSec, which you’ll be offered, free of charge, at install.
CyberSec is an add-on that blocks adware and malware, detects phishing attacks and prevents all kinds of other cybercrime-related unpleasantness. Turning it on means an extra layer of protection while surfing along on top of the protection that a VPN offers, and should be a must for people worried about hackers and the like. As it’s free, we see no reason not to install it.
NordVPN and Torrenting
Another nifty feature are NordVPN’s “speciality servers,” which are aimed at very specific types of internet behavior, such as torrenting (P2P servers) and gaming (dedicated IP servers). Most interesting for NordVPN’s target audience are probably the server types aimed at combating specific threats, such as DDoS attacks and governmental snooping.
Onion over VPN means that you’ll be connecting to the internet using a VPN while also using TOR, an anonymous browser used to access, among other things, the so-called dark net (for other uses of TOR, check out our article on the differences between proxies, VPNs and TOR).
Last but not least are the DoubleVPN servers, also known as “double-hop” encryption, which route your traffic over a VPN after connecting to another one, meaning that if somehow an intelligence agency managed to crack one VPN tunnel, they’d still have to deal with a whole other one.
NordVPN also boasts a killswitch, like any good VPN should, but rather than sever the internet connection when your VPN fails for whatever reason, it will not even let you access the internet unless NordVPN is engaged (you’ll also want to set NordVPN to launch at startup to avoid a minutes-long frustration as you figure out why the damn machine isn’t connecting to the damn internet).
If you want a more conventional killswitch, NordVPN offers it for specific apps and programs, which is great for torrenters, for example. When the VPN fails you’ll still be able to stream or check your email, but your torrent client will stop in its tracks.
This is very useful and slightly reminiscent of split tunneling, but that feature is for some reason absent, a real shame as lower end competitor like StrongVPN do offer it (read our StrongVPN review to find out why we classify it as being on the low end).
Streaming with NordVPN (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu)
All this security is wonderful in and of itself, of course, but NordVPN is also good at cracking geoblocks. We’re happy to report that during testing we were able to access several streaming services, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
NordVPN has always had pride of place in our lists of the best VPN for Netflix and the best VPN for BBC iPlayer and it seems the team behind the service hasn’t missed a beat since we last reviewed it. If it’s available to stream, NordVPN will get you in, though as you’ll read in the “speed” section, distance is definitely a factor.
NordVPN Features Overview
As we said during the introduction, NordVPN scores high on value for money. Though the month-to-month plan is rather prohibitive at $12 per month, the one-year and especially the three-year plan are great deals, as you can see in the table below. Please mind that this plan will be off the market at the end of August, so sign up now if you want to make use of it.
$ 11 95monthly
$ 54 006 months
$ 83 88yearly
$ 99 003 years
|Bandwidth||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
Some providers may work out a little cheaper, but none of them will be as secure or user-friendly as NordVPN, with the exception of maybe Private Internet Access, which also offers fantastic value as you can read in our PIA review. For an example of a cheaper service that just sucks, feast your eyes on our PureVPN review.
The downside of NordVPN’s pricing structure is that you’re forced to sign on for longer, which may make some hesitate. However, the service also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee which, as far as we know is always honored, meaning you have plenty of time to decide if you like NordVPN enough to take a multi-year plunge.
As for payment methods, the signup page offers the usual options of all major credit cards, as well as PayPal (signup email needn’t be the same) and a host of local options, such as AliPay, Sofort, iDeal etc. For those of you who want to stay anonymous all the way, NordVPN accepts bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple as well.
Overall NordVPN scores well on how easy it is to use. We doubt even the worst of technoklutzes could do any significant damage, though seeing as how people drop their phone into the toilet regularly, we’re not taking bets, either.
To start using NordVPN you need to first sign up for an account via the website, which is a question of entering your email address and choosing a payment method. If you decide the three-year deal is for you, BTW, you’re best off following this link and your coupon code will be automatically filled in.
Once you’re signed up you’ll receive an email with a link to the password creation page. Even though NordVPN keeps no information on you besides the email and payment method, you’ll want to set a strong password just to ensure nobody can access what you’ve paid for.
With that done, all that remains is to activate your account with a single button in the web interface and then download the client. NordVPN runs natively on Windows 7 through 10, as well as Mac, iOS and Android, though you’ll need some know-how to get it to work on Linux (which is why the service never came farther than the “honorable mentions” section in our best VPN for Linux roundup).
The whole process takes about five minutes, if that, and is definitely one of the smoothest around. That sensation carries over to all the different interfaces you’re presented with, including the NordVPN website. The layout of the secure area is simple and intuitive and the fact that your account termination date is the first thing you see is a nice touch.
The desktop client interface isn’t much different in that everything you need is right in front of you: if you can’t find it, you need new glasses more than anything. The home screen is a map of the world with markers in each country where NordVPN has servers, something we’ll talk more about in another section. You can see if the VPN is working, as well as your new IP address if it is, right at the top.
Moving Around the NordVPN Map
Clicking on any of the markers on the map will connect you to whichever server in that country matches the best with you, a choice which seems based on your preferences as well as server load and distance. If you have a specific server in mind, you’ll have to go over to the “countries” tab in the top left of the screen, where you’ll be presented with a full list.
Here is where we come to one of those niggles mentioned in the intro. Though the list of countries is comprehensive (60 at last count) and the amount of servers in each is staggering (3357), servers are numbered per country, with no idea where in the country they are located.
This isn’t a problem in the Netherlands or Latvia (though still, it’d be nice to know), but is downright silly when it comes to massive countries like the U.S., Canada or Russia.
There is a distance counter (default is miles, but you can switch to more widely used kilometers in the setting menu) that shows how far a server is located from your current location, but it would still be nice to know you’re opting for a server in L.A. rather than have to guess how many miles it is away from you.
The upside to the counter is that you can figure out where a server is in reference to you without a topography lesson, so that particular sword cuts both ways. However, taken altogether, we would prefer if locations were named as well as being given the miles between here and there.
Getting back to the good news, switching between servers is pretty smooth. All you need to do is switch off the one you’re using, then click on the one you would like to use. The whole process takes under five seconds and is another example of where NordVPN beats ExpressVPN.
The upshot of this entire paragraph is that NordVPN is a joy to use and should be at the top of the list for anyone that does want to use a VPN, but dislikes working with technology.
NordVPN supports all major OSes (even Linux, provided you put in some brain sweat), including Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as MacOS. On mobile it will run equally well, if we’re to believe the general feedback, on both Android and iOS. There are also plugins for Chrome and Firefox, meaning you can protect your browsing directly (though only your browsing).
On top of being versatile, NordVPN also gives you the option to connect up to six devices at a time, meaning you can really put this wealth of OSes to good use. In fact, NordVPN is the best VPN for multiple devices out there, meaning it gets a gold star from us in this category (though loses a few points for not having a Linux client; we’ll avenge you, Tux!).
When it comes to server network, NordVPN is definitely a market leader: the service boasts 3357 servers in 60 countries, with most larger countries also offering several locations, though as we mentioned before you kind of need to guess at those a bit.
Moaning aside, it’s one of the best networks out there, with servers on every continent except Antarctica. It has to be said, though, that Latin America is a little underrepresented and Africa is reduced to only South Africa. At first glance you may think Asia is, too, except that most of the countries there have close to a hundred servers each, especially Japan.
All of the servers on offer are “dedicated,” meaning that they are physical machines located where advertised. NordVPN does not employ virtual servers (spoofed locations, in short), something that is borne out by our testing.
The upshot is that NordVPN is more than likely to have a physical server near your general location, meaning that you’ll usually have decent speed wherever you go. This wide net is also one of the reasons NordVPN is one of the best VPN for gamers, since ping will generally be low.
NordVPN claims to be one of the fastest VPN services around, but since the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, we connected to several servers worldwide from our chief editor’s location just outside Amsterdam, the Netherlands and checked ping and speed using speedtest.net. The results are below (we’ve put the number of the server we used in parentheses).
|Location:||Ping (ms):||Download (Mbps):||Upload (Mbps):|
|Amsterdam, NL (#229)||23||16.35||3.60|
|Riga, Latvia (#7)||59||5.90||3.67|
|Secaucus, NJ (#1249)||104||9.55||3.65
|Los Angeles, CA (#538)||186||1.58||0.16|
|Tokyo, JP (#5)||377||1.05||0.74|
The first thing you may notice is that the results vary wildly between servers. This was generally our experience connecting with NordVPN: it’s the luck of the draw whether the server you’re connecting to is at its best that day.
An example is the connection with Latvia, which had an almost 80 percent reduction, while our connection to New Jersey two minutes later showed a drop of under 60 percent; a massive difference, even more so if you consider that the eastern seaboard is quite a bit further away than the church towers of Riga.
The biggest and most shocking drops were the connections to Japan and California, which showed massive downturns that would prohibit streaming just about anything. We connected to both using the automatic connection feature and thus assume that these two were, in fact, the best servers in these places.
The upshot is that, while NordVPN is one of the best VPNs for circumventing the Netflix VPN ban, you may want to think twice if you want to stream content from particularly faraway places. Though your mileage may vary, if watching Japanese anime or Chinese content on Youku is a priority for you, we suggest trying another service.
That said, for short hops NordVPN almost beats the fastest VPN around — ExpressVPN — and we were also impressed with the speeds of the DoubleVPN servers, which rerouted our traffic twice and still got around 60 percent of the original speed. If you’re planning to use NordVPN for stuff close to home, speed shouldn’t be an issue.
Security is another section where NordVPN shines as it not only offers the very best in encryption and protocols, but also because it lets you choose from a wide range of both as well as the “speciality servers” we mentioned before. It even beats ExpressVPN, though just by a smidge, thanks to its double-hop servers.
The DoubleVPN servers are a cool and almost unique feature that should serve you well if you’re worried that someone on the other end is capable of cracking your tunnel, making them perfect for anyone doing anything risky on the internet. It’s one of the reasons why NordVPN is one of our best VPN for China picks, as it is capable of punching through the Great Firewall as if it were made of paper.
Another interesting feature we mentioned earlier is CyberSec, which you’ll be prompted to install when you get started. As it protects you from annoyances like ads as well as dangers such as malware and being enslaved in a botnet, we see no reason not to allow it.
Besides these features, NordVPN has taken good care of the basics, as well. All connections are encrypted using AES-256 (meaning that cracking it will take a billion years, give or take) and use the OpenVPN protocol by default. Other protocols on offer include PPTP, L2TP/IPsec and IKEv2/IPsec, though only people who know what they are doing should mess with these.
NordVPN also uses SOCKS5 and HTTP proxies, so your connection has an extra layer of security, besides an easy reroute. Using SOCKS5 will slow down your connection, though, which probably explains the drops we mentioned earlier. All in all, there’s little that can beat NordVPN, making it a great fit in any DIY online security setup.
We ran a DNS leak test, as well as a WebRTC test and IP leak test and NordVPN passed with flying colors. If you use the service, nobody will be able to track your location.
NordVPN users are thus well protected from outside attack, but at the same time can rest assured that they have nothing to fear from their VPN provider, either. NordVPN has an excellent track record when it comes to user privacy. It keeps no logs and barely knows anything about you, except for your email address.
You have nothing to fear from NSA agents and their pesky warrants when using NordVPN and thus the service not only made it to the top of our list of top VPNs to beat the Chinese censor with, but is also one of our best VPN for torrenting.
Though you can expect few issues when using NordVPN, even the best software in the world will sometimes give you trouble. NordVPN’s approach to support is centered around its large knowledgebase, which should be enough for most enquiries. The questions in the FAQ are laid out well and navigating it is pretty easy.
If the FAQ isn’t enough for you, you can always contact support directly either by email or chat. Email isn’t too fast and we had to wait a while before getting an answer, so we suggest using chat instead, which is very, very fast indeed.
You access the chat the same way you do the FAQ, through a speech-bubble icon in the lower right side of the NordVPN website. In our case we asked a few silly questions, one or two of which had some deeper layers to them which not all support staff always react to.
In all cases, however, staff not only replied quickly, but also well. In one case, even, we ended up doing a scan of our connection together with our NordVPN employee simply to check why we were getting certain readings (because we messed with them beforehand, of course). As this is the first time we were almost found out, we’re more than happy to give NordVPN the crown for most thorough support.
As you can see, we really like NordVPN here at Cloudwards.net. Not only is it very secure, it’s also extremely user-friendly, affordable and gets you into all the streaming services we regularly test.
Besides a few tiny whines (and even we realize they are a bit far-fetched) there is little to spoil the NordVPN experience. In fact, it’d be the perfect service, maybe even beating ExpressVPN, if it weren’t for the bad speed drops over long distance. If that is no problem for you, however, we recommend you give NordVPN a try using its 30-day refund period.
What are your experiences with NordVPN? Like it, love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.