NordVPN is one of the best VPN providers out there, thanks to its ease of use, excellent security and wide server network. Find out more about what we liked and disliked about the service in this comprehensive NordVPN review.
We’ve always been fans of NordVPN, not because of what it is but what it could be. It could easily surpass our pick for the best VPN, ExpressVPN (read our ExpressVPN review). However, as you can see in our ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN comparison, consistency makes the difference, and NordVPN struggles when it comes to that.
In this NordVPN review, we’re going to talk about the pros and the few unfortunate cons. Over the course of the review, we’ll talk features, pricing, user-friendliness, speed, security, privacy, streaming, server locations and customer support. At the end, we’ll give you our verdict on whether NordVPN is worth it.
The short answer is yes. That comes with caveats, though. Inconsistent speed across servers doesn’t only mean you’re not optimizing your connection, it also means you may not be able to connect to the internet. If you’re willing to hunt down the servers that work for you, though, NordVPN can’t be matched.
- Easy to use
- Split tunneling
- Accesses all streaming platforms
- No ad or malware blocker
- Gets into Netflix
- Updated interface
- Automatic killswitch
- Lackluster split tunneling
- No killswitch controls
- Spotty ad blocker performance
- Easy to use
- Gets into Netflix
- No split tunneling
- Limited protocol options
- Large server network
- Inexpensive multi-year plans
- Included malware blocker
- Specialty servers
- No-logging policy
- Works with Netflix
- Fast on certain servers
- Inconsistent speed across network
- Broken server recommendation
- No split tunneling
If there’s anything that sets NordVPN apart from the rest of the virtual private network market, it’s its features. While maintaining a streamlined user experience, NordVPN packs a lot of features in. There are features that make the application more functional, as well as a variety of security features to protect you in the riskiest situations.
NordVPN allows you to specify the server you want to connect to during start-up. Given its specialty servers, that’s a useful feature. Most VPNs default to the fastest location detected.
On the general security end, NordVPN includes a killswitch and CyberSec. CyberSec is a malware and ad blocking tool included for free with any NordVPN subscription. Though not a replacement for the best antivirus software, it is one of the better ad blocking tools we’ve seen from a VPN.
Though having a killswitch isn’t anything special, NordVPN’s has an unusual feature. A killswitch makes it so you’ll only be able to use the internet when a VPN is active, ensuring no personal data slips through the cracks. NordVPN’s does that, but also allows you to appear invisible to devices on your local network and specify which apps to use it with.
“App kill,” as it’s generally referred to, is uncommon among VPNs. By setting applications, NordVPN will cut the connection to those apps when the VPN fails while keeping your normal connection intact. For example, if you want to run an online backup uninterrupted while protecting your browsing, it is essential.
It’s reminiscent of split tunneling but not the same. Split tunneling allows you to send some traffic through the VPN tunnel while other traffic uses your normal connection. Though any VPN can be set up that way, few providers include a way to do it in the interface (read our PureVPN review for an example). Despite its many features, NordVPN is missing this one.
NordVPN’s Specialty Servers
Though app kill, CyberSec and start-up control are useful, NordVPN’s specialty servers are, well, special. NordVPN includes four flavors: P2P, Double VPN, Dedicated IP and Onion over VPN. The peer-to-peer servers speak for themselves — you’d use them for torrenting — as do the dedicated IP ones, but the double VPN and Onion servers are interesting.
Double VPN servers use what’s known as a “double-hop” connection, which was introduced by Windscribe (read our Windscribe review). Instead of connecting to a single server, you’ll bounce from one server to another, effectively doubling your level of security. That, among other reasons, is why NordVPN made it in to our best VPN services for China guide.
Onion over VPN performs a similar function, allowing you to connect to the Tor network over a VPN connection. Tor has its downsides, as you can see in our VPN vs. proxy vs. Tor article, but it’s a decent option for true anonymity.
In addition to the specialty servers, you can set NordVPN to only connect to obfuscated servers in the options menu. We won’t get gritty on the details, but turning on the setting will allow you to bypass strict censorship by scrambling the data of each packet as it’s sent.
NordVPN Features Overview
When it comes to top-shelf VPN providers, NordVPN is among the cheapest. Though Private Internet Access has a cheaper rate month-to-month (read our PIA review), NordVPN pulls ahead of the competition with high-value, multi-year plans. That said, those who can’t commit $100 during sign-up will be forced to go monthly.
1-year plan $ 6.99 / month
$83.88 billed every year
Save 42 %
2-year plan $ 3.99 / month
$95.75 billed every 2 years
Save 67 %
3-year plan $ 2.99 / month
$107.55 billed every 3 years
Save 75 %
As far as monthly plans go, NordVPN’s isn’t bad, but it’s not the best, either. PIA and TorGuard are around half the price (read our TorGuard review), while Hide.me and Astrill are one and a half or even two times more expensive (read our Hide.me review and Astrill review). Though NordVPN isn’t as expensive as those two, the monthly plan is the worst option in its lineup.
The annual plan isn’t impressive, either. NordVPN might save you $5-$10 over other top-shelf providers, but going for a year-long contract doesn’t look great when compared to the two and three-year options.
NordVPN comes into its own with those plans. The price of two years is almost the same as a single year with most providers. Three years is only a few dollars more and most providers don’t offer a plan that long. The only competitor to NordVPN for multi-year plans is CyberGhost, which somehow makes two and three-year plans even cheaper (read our CyberGhost review).
Though it provides a lot of value, NordVPN’s pricing scheme isn’t without faults. Because the month-to-month and annual options offer little value, you’re forced into purchasing two or three years upfront. For example, CyberGhost has a higher monthly rate but is around $20 cheaper for a year.
It’s a criticism, but not a massive one. NordVPN remains one of the best values on the market because of its multi-year options, and its inclusion of six simultaneous connections makes the package even more attractive. Plans are refundable for 30 days, too, so you can try before you buy.
As far as payment methods go, NordVPN is better than most, but it doesn’t accept cash like Mullvad (read our Mullvad review). In addition to credit cards and regional payment options, it accepts bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple. It recently discontinued PayPal payments, though, which is a bummer.
Signing up for NordVPN is a breeze. After you choose a plan, enter your email and select a payment method, NordVPN will ask you to verify your email address and set a password. You can still use a burner account, but you’ll need to have access to it for the sake of activating your subscription. After setting your password, NordVPN will download the application automatically.
Before getting to the desktop application, let’s talk about about the account dashboard. You can find it by clicking “my account” in the top right corner. You may not access the area much, but it’s where you can manage billing settings, change your plan and purchase dedicated IP addresses. You’ll also find the apps NordVPN offers, including the Chrome and Firefox extensions.
The browser extension is basic, providing a stripped-back connection process, but it’s worth installing. By using the browser extension, you’ll have access to CyberSec and a tool that blocks WebRTC information. As far as connecting goes, it’s best to stick with the desktop app.
It only takes a few minutes for NordVPN to install its application and the virtual network card. After that’s done, all you need to do is log in and NordVPN will boot you to its main screen.
The interface is different from almost every other VPN we’ve tested. NordVPN opens with a massive map showing the countries where it has servers. The window is resizable, too, so you can see as much or as little of the map as you want.
Accompanying the view of the Earth is a list of countries, as well as NordVPN’s specialty servers. Navigation and connection are built in to the main interface, providing a streamlined and attractive approach to VPNs that’s seldom seen.
Clicking one of the map markers will connect you to the best server in that country. Note that the map only represents countries, not regions or individual servers. If you’re looking for a specific location within a country, you’ll have to go at it the hard way.
NordVPN’s attempt at cleaning up the VPN connection experience comes with design consequences. Using the left menu, you can click a country to connect to a server in it — much like you do on the map — but finding a specific server is difficult. There are three dots next to each country that allow you to specify what region you’re trying to connect to.
You can select individual servers, but only from the tiny drop-down menu in the region-select pop-up. In locations such as the U.S., which has almost 2,000 servers, finding the one you want can be a pain. Plus, NordVPN doesn’t label where the servers are. The most specification you’ll get is the country and general region.
Thankfully, you can favorite or search for servers. NordVPN will automatically create a new tab at the top of the server navigation menu with your favorited locations.
Above the list of servers are the specialty servers, which we talked about in the “features” section. As with the other locations, clicking a specialty option will automatically connect you to the fastest options available, and you can specify where you connect using the three dots next to each option.
At the top of the interface, there’s a tab for settings. As opposed to most VPNs, which put multiple tabs in the settings menu, NordVPN squeezes everything on a single screen. Every setting, including the killswitch and CyberSec, has a toggle switch to turn them on or off in this menu.
There’s also an “advanced settings” button at the bottom of the screen that allows you to change your transport protocol, set custom DNS and only use obfuscated servers. NordVPN warns that you should only mess with those settings if you know what you’re doing, though.
It’s difficult to provide a streamlined user experience when there are over 5,000 servers in your network, and NordVPN’s effort doesn’t go unnoticed. That said, as we’ll see in the next section, you’ll have to dig through the network to find the best server available and NordVPN doesn’t make that easy.
Judging NordVPN’s speed is quite a task. As we noted in our fastest VPN guide, if you cherry-pick servers, it’s the fastest option on the market. For the vast majority of the network, though, the speed is mediocre to terrible. For example, the recommended server based on our location wouldn’t even load the tool we use for speed testing.
We want to make a few notes before getting to the results. NordVPN has a massive network, and we know there are good and bad performers in it. Because of that, we always used the recommended server in a particular country. In some cases, that connection was quick and in others, it failed outright.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|United Kingdom #201||153||34.78||6.06|
|Double VPN (U.S. to Canada #4)||79||20.48||8.64|
Testing NordVPN was infuriating. Some servers connected quickly, while others would connect and not load any webpages. To say the performance is sporadic would be an understatement. NordVPN has the highest level of variance of any VPN we’ve tested, and, though the highs are high, the lows are low, too.
We assume there’s something wrong with NordVPN’s recommendation system. For example, when trying to test a Double VPN server, the connection continually failed. When we selected our own server, though, it was successful.
In the real world, that translates to headaches when trying to find a server. As we mentioned in the “user friendliness” section, we commend NordVPN for attempting to streamline such a large network, but whatever logic is behind the system isn’t cutting it. The performance across servers varies too much and NordVPN’s recommendation system doesn’t help the matter.
The upside is that you can get quick speeds. When NordVPN is operating at full steam, it trumps almost every provider on the market. Its latency stays low in the process, too, which is why it earned a silver medal in our best VPN for gaming guide.
Based on our testing, it’s best to select a region and attempt to find the server with the least load. We’re not sure if NordVPN is trying to fill a server before recommending another one, but the fact remains that, in nearly all cases, the recommendations are subpar and not representative of what its network is capable of.
NordVPN supports OpenVPN and IKEv2, which are the best options available, as you can see in our VPN protocol breakdown. Though both are available, that isn’t apparent at first. NordVPN only installs with OpenVPN on your desktop, so if you want to use IKEv2, you’ll have to install it manually.
As far as VPN security goes, though, OpenVPN with AES 256-bit is what we look for, and NordVPN satisfies on that front. Some less popular protocols, such as PPTP and L2TP, aren’t available. Though that isn’t relevant to most users, NordVPN can’t scratch the itch for those who want to use them.
What it lacks in protocol options it makes up for in security features. NordVPN’s specialty servers are almost all focused on security, and the ability to obfuscate packets secures the hatches more. Even without a proprietary protocol like VyprVPN’s (read our VyprVPN review), NordVPN builds on OpenVPN’s open source nature to go beyond standard security.
We tested NordVPN for DNS leaks, as well as IP and WebRTC leaks. It passed on all fronts and did so without multiple DNS redirects.
Creating an account gives NordVPN two pieces of information: your email address and payment method. You can use a burner email, but you must be able to access it to complete registration.
NordVPN’s payment partners also collect billing information if you use a credit card, but, unlike Buffered VPN, that information isn’t tied to your VPN usage (read our Buffered VPN review).
On its website, NordVPN also collects cookie information for affiliate tracking and analytics, as well as customer service inquiries. When using the VPN, the only data collected is server load information. That data doesn’t identify users and is used for gauging server performance and spotting outages.
Other than that, you’re off the record. As noted in our anonymous browsing guide, true online anonymity is a pipe dream, but NordVPN gets close with its strict stance on privacy. It operates under the jurisdiction of Panama, which has some of the best privacy laws in the world, ensuring the no-logs policy can be adhered to.
Testing streaming performance was as annoying as testing speed, with NordVPN consistently recommending servers that were so slow we couldn’t load content. Again, selecting a server ourselves was much, much better. The experience was so good, in fact, that NordVPN took a spot in our best VPN for streaming guide.
It also earned a place in our best VPN for Netflix and best VPN for BBC iPlayer guides, connecting to both platforms without fuss (outside of selecting a server, that is). Hulu and Amazon Prime Video were also fine.
Like speed, Netflix performance comes down to server selection. Using NordVPN’s recommended servers, we were able to connect to the website but not stream content. We didn’t get a proxy error, but the speed of the server was so rough that the website wouldn’t stream anything. Stick with choosing the server with the least load in a region and you’ll be fine.
When it comes to server numbers, NordVPN is an industry leader. It has 5,191 servers in its network at the time of writing, and the amount has only gone up since the last time we reviewed it. Though the number of servers is staggeringly high, the spread leaves something to be desired.
We’re not complaining. NordVPN’s presence in 62 countries is more than most providers, but the large number of servers sells a dream that isn’t true. HideMyAss, for example, has locations in almost 200 countries — read our HideMyAss review to see the bad side of that service.
Compared to most providers, NordVPN exceeds the bar, even if it’s by a thinner margin than the server count suggests. Most of the locations are focused on the Americas and Europe, but there are locations in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, even if most of the exotic options HideMyAss and ExpressVPN have aren’t offered.
Support is yet another strong point for NordVPN. The majority of questions can be answered using the knowledgebase. It is divided into four categories, and NordVPN does a good job explaining topics. Like some providers, it mixes frequently asked questions with the knowledgebase, which may make answers difficult to find.
That’s offset by the search bar, which seems like something you can’t get wrong, but we’ve found providers where only specific keywords would pull up articles. That isn’t the case with NordVPN, though. The search function always found articles pertaining to our topic quickly.
You can’t find direct support from the knowledgebase, but clicking “contact us” in the footer will bring up the options. Live chat is surprisingly good. A lot of VPNs have mediocre live chat that’s only suitable for answering basic questions and directing you to the knowledgebase. NordVPN’s is knowledgeable about the product.
It’s probably even better than email support. We sent the same question about protocols over live chat and email and got mostly the same response. Live chat only took a few minutes, though, while email took a few hours.
Overall, we’ve never felt like we were in such good hands. NordVPN’s support system is ideal, providing quick and through answers without hassles.
We want NordVPN to be everything it can be, but that isn’t the case. If the recommendation system was better and there was more consistency across locations, we’d have no issues. The problem is that there’s such a wide gap between good and bad servers, and finding the options that work for you is headache-inducing.
Ignoring that, though, NordVPN is about as good as you’ll get when it comes to VPNs. It includes a lot of features, has quick speeds on some servers and maintains a clear dedication to privacy. Out of our VPN reviews, you won’t find many better options.
What do you think of NordVPN? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.