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Few providers are called the best in the VPN industry as often as NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN. But what exactly makes them consistently earn the podium positions?
To find out, let’s break down the essential features of these three services to see what makes them so appealing. We’ll pit NordVPN vs Surfshark vs ExpressVPN in many aspects, such as connection speed, geo-restriction unblocking, security features, and much more.
NordVPN vs Surfshark vs ExpressVPN overview
|Review||NordVPN review||Surfshark review||ExpressVPN review|
January 2022 speed and performance
Let’s kick things off with a connectivity comparison between the three. The results are pretty fascinating because each provider is using a different method to achieve top speeds. For example, NordVPN uses the proprietary NordLynx tunneling protocol, which is based on the open-source WireGuard. Similarly, ExpressVPN has also developed its protocol called Lightway. Meanwhile, Surfshark is utilizing WireGuard without any bonuses.
To get up-to-date results, we’ll be looking at their performance with our VPN speed test. It shows the connectivity of the past few weeks from a few different countries.
NordVPN vs Surfshark VPN vs ExpressVPN: 14-Day Speed Average
|Download Speed||1,427 Mbps||1,017 Mbps||171 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||1,406 Mbps||1,096 Mbps||376 Mbps|
|Download Speed||1,220 Mbps||826 Mbps||111 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||1,043 Mbps||728 Mbps||282 Mbps|
|Download Speed||364 Mbps||427 Mbps||257 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||526 Mbps||668 Mbps||483 Mbps|
The next area of comparison is server networks. All three providers have extensive fleets with great country diversity. In terms of numbers:
- NordVPN – 5200+ servers in 60+ countries
- Surfshark – 3200+ servers in 65+ countries
- ExpressVPN – 3000+ servers in 94+ countries
Curiously, NordVPN has the most significant number of servers available, yet also the smallest country selection. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN is quite the opposite. It has the smallest server fleet of the three but also the most significant country variety. It’s also worth mentioning that ExpressVPN and Surfshark are using occasional virtual servers, while NordVPN is using bare metal servers, meaning there are no virtual locations.
A common feature between all services is the use of RAM-only server technology. It ensures that no personal data is stored on hard drives and gets exposed in the rare case of server seizure by third parties. Plus, there are no limitations on P2P traffic when using either one of these VPNs.
NordVPN vs Surfshark vs ExpressVPN 2022 price comparison
Subscription costs are where the three VPNs diverge. Naturally, there are some aspects that all three share, such as a 30-day money-back guarantee and anonymous payment methods. But if you’re after the most cost-effective VPN service, you should go with Surfshark. On the other hand, ExpressVPN is the most expensive option, while NordVPN is in the middle.
NordVPN offers three different subscription options:
The lengthiest plan grants you a generous 68% discount. You can also find alternative deals by using a NordVPN coupon. Plus, if you’re not 100% certain about this service, you can test it out by grabbing the NordVPN 7-day free trial on the Google Play Store. You need an Android device to claim it, but there are no other limitations after that.
In addition to cryptocurrencies, customers can pay for the service using credit cards, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, ACH transfer, or Union Pay. Another unique payment option includes buying a copy at a retail store with cash, enhancing anonymity, and avoiding any paper trails. Furthermore, you can buy a dedicated IP from five locations (USA, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands) for $70/year.
Similarly, Surfshark also provides three subscription plans:
You’ll save 83% when opting for the most extended subscription. Alternatively, you can snag the Surfshark 7-day free trial first, available both on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Otherwise, an exclusive Surfshark coupon code can unlock even greater benefits.
One thing that sets this service apart is the addition of antivirus protection, which is available with the Surfshark One package. It also includes data breach monitoring and a private search engine to get rid of personalized search results.
Payment methods are abundant with Surfshark and include credit cards, PayPal, Sofort, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, Giropay, WebMoney, and cryptocurrencies.
The most expensive of the three also has three pricing options:
Unsurprisingly, customers get the best 35% discount when signing up for the annual plan. Sadly, there’s no free trial available, so you’ll have to read some ExpressVPN reviews or utilize the 30-day money-back guarantee to see if ExpressVPN is the right fit for you. However, you also have the chance to unearth better offers by perusing the available ExpressVPN coupons.
You can claim a subscription by utilizing various payment options, such as credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, or Paymentwall.
Naturally, the VPN food chain champions are equipped with numerous security features for different use cases. First off, let’s start with some common ground and what’s available on all services.
Besides these, there are other noteworthy bonuses with each that we’ll cover further below.
NordVPN security features
Let’s start with the service that’s the best overall, according to our research. We should note that this is just a general overview of what this VPN brings to the table. Visit our NordVPN review for a detailed breakdown of what you can expect from this service.
- Obfuscated servers (Stealth VPN). Connecting to these servers is necessary to avoid DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) and other internet censorship measures.
- Double VPN (multi-hop). In some cases, a single layer of encryption is not enough. That’s when you should utilize Double VPN technology and reroute your connection through multiple VPN servers. Unsurprisingly, this does have the side effect of reduced connection speed.
- CyberSec. Cookies and other online trackers are rampant when browsing the web. Luckily, a VPN can block such privacy-destroying technology and keep malicious ads and phishing domains out of sight.
- Onion over VPN. Privacy enthusiasts should rejoice as these servers utilize the Tor network to facilitate a secure and private connection.
Surfshark VPN security features
The next provider that we’ll cover is Surfshark. Just remember that this isn’t the full extent of what this service is capable of. You can peruse its full arsenal by reading the extensive Surfshark VPN review.
- CleanWeb. This feature keeps your browsing experience free from annoying ads, trackers, and malware.
- MultiHop (Double VPN). Surfshark gives you a selection of multi-server connections for bonus security and privacy at the cost of speed.
- NoBorders Mode. As the name suggests, this feature is meant to tear down digital borders and prevent online censorship in authoritarian countries.
- Camouflage mode. Similar to NoBorder Mode, this feature is enabled automatically when you’re using the OpenVPN tunneling protocol.
Surfshark One. This optional package allows you to keep an eye out for data breaches with your data. Additionally, it includes a private search engine and even protection against viruses.
ExpressVPN security features
Finally, there’s ExpressVPN. With its exorbitant price, you’d expect the number of security features to be mind-blowing. However, you can check our ExpressVPN review and see that that’s not exactly the case.
- Port forwarding. ExpressVPN stands out from its two competitors by permitting port forwarding, which is essential for providing exceptional P2P performance.
- Stealth Servers. This feature is enabled automatically when DPI is detected. It prevents online censorship and surveillance.
- Zero-knowledge DNS. Top-notch privacy is guaranteed with encrypted DNS servers to hide your web queries.
|Jurisdiction||Panama||Netherlands||British Virgin Islands|
|Logging policy||Independently-audited no-logs policy||No-logs policy||Independently-audited and court-proven no-logs policy|
Confidentiality is another aspect where the services have varied implementations. While all three provide anonymous payment methods, each one has jurisdiction in a different country.
For starters, NordVPN is based in Panama, a country known as a bastion of secrecy. Additionally, the service completed two independent no-logs policy audits by PwC Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Surfshark is located in the Netherlands, a member of the Fourteen Eyes alliance. However, it went through third-party audits of its server infrastructure and browser extensions. For now, we’re still waiting for an independent review of its no-logs policy.
Lastly, ExpressVPN has its base in the British Virgin Islands and the most battle-tested no-logs policy. First off, its no-logs claims were confirmed during an audit by PwC. Moreover, this fact was further reinforced when Turkish authorities seized some servers and could not gain any information for an ongoing investigation.
However, all of this is undermined by the fact that the CIO of ExpressVPN, Daniel Gericke, worked on project Raven for the UAE. He conducted cyber-espionage operations and has been fined for violating US hacking laws. Furthermore, ExpressVPN is owned by Kape Technologies, which is notorious for distributing adware in the past and also owns a number of other VPN providers. These issues are so severe that even Edward Snowden can’t recommend using ExpressVPN.
A VPN is only good if it’s compatible with your most-used devices. Plus, the majority of services permit a limited number of simultaneous connections with a single subscription. Luckily, this limitation is less relevant when a VPN is manually configurable on routers.
When comparing the three, there’s some overlap in terms of what devices are supported. Unsurprisingly, all three support the most widely-used platforms – Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. Streaming devices like Android TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick are also compatible with these VPNs. Lastly, you can use either one as an extension on Chrome and Firefox browsers.
And now for some differences. While you can set up a router with a VPN with either service, only ExpressVPN provides a dedicated router app to make the process easier. Furthermore, it has a broader selection of apps for different devices. For example, you can use ExpressVPN with Chromebook, Kindle Fire, plus a good selection of smart TVs. The main downside is that ExpressVPN only permits five simultaneous connections.
Meanwhile, Surfshark is the most generous of the bunch and allows unlimited simultaneous connections. Combine that with its good variety of supported devices and the Smart DNS feature, and you can get around geo-blocks on practically all of your household devices. On the other hand, NordVPN is in the middle and provides six simultaneous connections at a reasonable price.
Opinions may differ, but we believe that Surfshark is the best with its affordability and infinite connections. And while ExpressVPN is compatible with a wide range of devices, the price to simultaneous connection ratio is abysmal.
Streaming in January 2022
It’s not surprising that these cream of the crop VPN services are excellent for streaming. They are exceptionally reliable at getting around geographical restrictions on various streaming services. For starters, all three are great options for Netflix, unlocking libraries from numerous countries. Other platforms, such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, or HBO Max, are no match for these VPNs.
Best of all, each service has implemented Smart DNS in some capacity to allow easy geo-unblocking on devices that don’t typically support VPN software. However, it’s worth mentioning that NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature also adds encryption.
Furthermore, you’ll experience zero stuttering issues and have no trouble streaming in UHD and 4K, thanks to their wicked-fast connection speeds. And with NordVPN, you can grab a dedicated IP to have exclusive access to an unblocked streaming IP address.
Torrenting and P2P
A common VPN use case is torrenting. And although these VPNs are a solid choice for P2P in terms of speed and privacy protection, some features set each one apart.
Let’s have a look at NordVPN first. It facilitates torrenting through specialized P2P servers, which are optimized specifically for this activity. Alternatively, you can secure your torrent client without a VPN connection by using the SOCKS5 proxy that NordVPN provides.
On the other hand, ExpressVPN should be appealing to hardcore torrenters thanks to port forwarding. This feature is needed if you want optimal performance when downloading obscure torrents with very few peers.
Unfortunately, Surfshark doesn’t have any bonus features to optimize P2P activities. Although fast and secure, torrenting enthusiasts might find the service lacking and would prefer a different VPN for torrenting.
Not all countries provide the digital freedom that most of us expect. For example, China and Russia are notorious for online surveillance and censorship. They frequently block VPN traffic, and providers need to develop specialized Stealth VPN features to fight against DPI and other ways of curbing free speech.
With NordVPN, you have the choice between Obfuscated Servers and Onion over VPN. The first feature masks that you’re using a VPN and allows you to enjoy the internet without restrictions. Meanwhile, Onion over VPN utilizes the Tor network to reroute your traffic through volunteer-operated servers across the globe.
ExpressVPN uses the aptly-named Stealth Servers, which are so sneaky you’ll have trouble finding any mention of them. They are enabled automatically if anti-VPN measures are detected on the network.
Lastly, Surfshark gives you two options – Camouflage Mode and NoBorders Mode. The first mode is enabled automatically when using the OpenVPN tunneling protocol. Meanwhile, NoBorders needs to be enabled in the settings menu and should work in censorship-heavy locations.
It’s difficult to measure the efficacy of these features since the situation in China is constantly changing. However, we can rank these VPNs for China by judging the number and variety of features against online censorship.
As such, NordVPN gains first place for offering two features with different underlying technology (obfuscation and the Tor network). Second place goes to Surfshark for offering two similar-looking modes of circumvention. Naturally, ExpressVPN is left in third with its one auto-enabled feature.
No matter how good your service is, some customers may come across issues while using it. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have high-quality customer service available.
Unsurprisingly, these three VPN musketeers have all the necessary pillars to support the needs of their customers. Users can get help via 24/7 live chat, email, or by perusing the online self-help sections. Plus, the apps of each provider are easy to use and shouldn’t cause much trouble for customers of any tech-savviness level.
Best VPN by category: NordVPN vs Surfshark vs ExpressVPN
Here are the final results of our three-way comparison. To clarify, more trophies mean a better score. And we can see that NordVPN accumulated the biggest stash of prizes.
|Speed and servers||🏆🏆🏆||🏆||🏆🏆|
|Total points||21 out of 24||16 out of 24||11 out of 24|
NordVPN vs Surfshark vs ExpressVPN 2022 results
Finally, it’s time to tally the results of this epic VPN rumble. Hopefully, our Surfshark vs NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison showed you the strengths and weaknesses of each provider.
NordVPN had no trouble defending its title of best VPN overall. While not the cheapest of the three, it offers substantial security, top-notch privacy, and excellent performance in various use cases. This VPN is a solid choice if you need the most effective and versatile provider.
Surfshark is the most affordable option yet doesn’t disappoint in most cases. However, it has room for improvement in terms of privacy and torrenting when compared to its opponents.
Lastly, ExpressVPN is the costliest of all. And with its tarnished reputation by Kape Technologies and their CIO, it’s difficult to recommend this service under any circumstances.
Which of these VPNs is your favorite? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
Is NordVPN really the best VPN?
According to our research, yes, NordVPN is the best overall VPN. It’s affordable, blazing-fast, performs well in many scenarios, and provides excellent privacy.
Is Surfshark VPN or NordVPN better?
NordVPN is better, but Surfshark has some advantages as well. For example, Surfshark is more affordable and provides unlimited simultaneous connections. However, NordVPN has an audited no-logs policy, more servers, and faster connection speeds.
Is Surfshark VPN better than ExpressVPN?
Yes, Surfshark VPN is better than ExpressVPN. It’s significantly cheaper, allows infinite simultaneous connections, and can be used for protection against viruses. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive services and only provides five simultaneous connections.
Ethan is a security researcher and digital privacy advocate. He spends his time unraveling various anonymity and security tools, plus contributing to open-source projects. Otherwise, he keeps a low profile by hiking or cycling around the countryside.