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I tested ExpressVPN hoping to find the best VPN service on the market. For a frequent traveler, a VPN tool fit for any purpose is essential. ExpressVPN often gets praised as just that sort of VPN, but so do many others.
Is ExpressVPN safe to use? Does it offer top-of-the-line AES-256 encryption? Can I stream Netflix with it? How good is it for torrenting? And finally, how fast is ExpressVPN – really? After all, this is not the cheapest VPN service out there, and I want to get my money’s worth.
I explore these and other questions in this new ExpressVPN review, so stick around.
Security and privacy features
ExpressVPN is one of the most secure and private VPN services on the market. To protect user anonymity, VPNs must consider many different aspects. Few do this as well as ExpressVPN, which has a particularly rich set of cybersecurity features.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
With ExpressVPN, your data is protected by the strongest encryption on the market – AES-256. This is an unbreakable cipher, currently used by government institutions, banks, and the military.
In other words, your data is safe even if a hacker (or the NSA) intercepts your connection. 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is simply too much to handle for brute force attacks.
ExpressVPN uses the following tunneling protocols (not every one of them is available on each platform):
- OpenVPN (UDP and TCP)
These security protocols are responsible for creating encrypted connections between you and the VPN server. OpenVPN (default on most apps) and IKEv2/IPsec are the primary tunneling protocols – they will be enough for most users.
Of the other available options, take care not to use PPTP unless you know what you’re doing. This is an outdated tunneling protocol with weak cryptography and serious vulnerabilities.
To summarize, you can rest assured that ExpressVPN is one of the most secure services available.
The ExpressVPN kill switch is known as the Network Lock. If you’re doing something sensitive and your VPN connection drops, the kill switch will stop all traffic and protect your real IP address from leaking.
The kill switch is a crucial security feature – any serious service should have it.
You can use the Network Lock feature on all desktop apps and routers. To activate it, go to the General settings menu and tick the first box under the Network Lock section. You can also make it ignore LAN traffic or specific apps – some will find this very convenient. There’s also an unbranded kill switch for Android, in addition to its native Always-on VPN feature. Unfortunately, there was no kill switch for iOS at the moment of writing this article.
ExpressVPN‘s Network Lock is a very reliable kill switch. We tried several ways to interrupt our VPN connection, but the app managed to protect our identity every time.
No identity leaks
VPN services are susceptible to various kinds of leaks – DNS, IPv6, WebRTC leaks, the list goes on. ExpressVPN has features addressing all these risks. The virtual private network has private, zero-knowledge, encrypted DNS servers, and leak protection measures built into the apps and extensive tests reveal no leaks of any kind.
As the image above shows, the VPN doesn’t leak your IP, WebRTC requests, or DNS queries.
To prove their commitment to a leak-free service, ExpressVPN offers various leak testing tools on their official website. Under the Products section of the site, you will find an IP leak test, a DNS leak test, and a WebRTC leak test. Give them a try to make sure your security has not been compromised.
Privacy-friendly location: British Virgin Islands
The company behind ExpressVPN is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). This puts it outside the scope of the Fourteen Eyes intelligence country group. It is not subject to EU data protection laws or the far-flung reach of US Intelligence. While the BVI is a British overseas territory, it enjoys a high level of autonomy and has no data retention laws.
Operating under the jurisdiction of the BVI allows ExpressVPN to maintain a strong user-privacy standard. For example, they are not legally obliged to collect sensitive user data or honor subpoenas from the US (and other Western states).
No logging policy
This bold claim has already been proven on at least 2 occasions:
At the end of 2017, Turkish authorities seized an ExpressVPN server. They were hoping to obtain information related to the killing of a Russian ambassador in Ankara. Unfortunately for them, all this did was give ExpressVPN some free advertising.
The no-logging promises were also independently audited by PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) – one of the most respected auditing firms in the world. After rigorous testing, they were able to confirm the truth behind ExpressVPN’s claims about their logging practices.
In April of 2019, ExpressVPN announced their TrustedServer Technology. It eliminates the need to use hard drives on VPN servers, which instead run purely on RAM.
TrustedServer reduces the risk that user data can fall into the wrong hands. Whereas the data on regular servers has to be deleted periodically, on ExpressVPN servers it gets destroyed automatically with each reboot — yet another example of privacy by design approach.
If you’re worried about visiting the ExpressVPN website or are unable to reach it, you can visit their Tor (.onion) website instead. This is useful if VPN websites are blocked in your country or if you want to keep buying one a secret.
The onion website is only reachable via the anonymous Tor network. In other words, it’s very difficult to find out you’re using a VPN if you got it off the ExpressVPN Tor site.
Speed: the fastest VPN?
Indeed, ExpressVPN has some of the best speeds on the market.
However, where ExpressVPN impressed me most is consistency. We ran speed tests with servers on four different continents and got very similar download speeds across the board.
Perhaps with 3000+ servers in 160+ locations across 90+ countries, this is only natural. So just how fast is ExpressVPN?
First, we tested our connection speed without a VPN:
- Download: 236.04 Mbps
- Upload: 238.56 Mbps
- Ping: 4 ms
ExpressVPN USA server speed results
- Download: 63.92 Mbps (73% drop-off)
- Upload: 49.13 Mbps (79% drop-off)
- Ping: 142 ms
ExpressVPN Netherlands server speed results
- Download: 55.99 Mbps (77% drop-off)
- Upload: 49.48 Mbps (79% drop-off)
- Ping: 42 ms
ExpressVPN Australia server speed results
- Download: 59.38 Mbps (75% drop-off)
- Upload: 4.20 Mbps (98% drop-off)
- Ping: 324 ms
As you can see, the download speeds are similar despite the USA and Australia being on opposite sides of the globe. The numbers are virtually the same in Europe as well. The upload speed and ping change, but there’s little ExpressVPN can do about that.
Reviewers tend to agree that ExpressVPN has great performance. Yet speeds depend on many variables, so testing for yourself is a good idea.
Does ExpressVPN support my device?
Most likely yes: ExpressVPN has apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Android TV, Kindle Fire, Chromebook, Fire TV & Fire Stick, and Routers. There are also ExpressVPN web browser plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox.
Fortunately, one ExpressVPN subscription will let you connect with 5 devices at a time. This means you’ll probably be able to use the service on all your devices with just one subscription.
Most ExpressVPN apps have an almost identical interface, focusing on simplicity. The home screen has only a few buttons, and all the features have clear explanations. While experienced users might miss customization options, newbies definitely won’t feel lost.
ExpressVPN desktop apps: Windows, macOS, and Linux
ExpressVPN apps for Windows and Mac are very similar. They have the same interface and features, including the most crucial ones: AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN, a kill switch, and Split Tunneling.
The home screen of each app only has a large connection button, a smaller hamburger menu button at the top left for more options, and the “Smart Location”/”Choose Location” buttons.
Crucially, ExpressVPN for Mac is just as secure as it is for Windows. Rigorous tests show no leaks with either app – as expected with the VPN’s solid security suite. Typically, VPN apps for Windows are less secure than they are for Mac, but ExpressVPN ensures this is not the case.
The Linux app of ExpressVPN is available on Ubuntu and Fedora. Rather than being a complete graphic interface, the Linux version of ExpressVPN is command-line based. Still, this is more than most VPN providers offer.
ExpressVPN mobile apps: Android and iOS (iPhone & iPad)
The simple, intuitive design of ExpressVPN makes it the ideal VPN app for mobile devices – Android and iOS. With only a few caveats, ExpressVPN for Android and iOS are just as secure as the desktop versions.
Android users will have to use the native Android kill switch (Always-on VPN), and both apps offer fewer tunneling protocols, but nevertheless, they remain among the safest on the market. Unlike many VPN providers, ExpressVPN doesn’t like to water down the features for mobile devices.
The ExpressVPN Android app can either be found on Google Play or downloaded directly as an APK file found on their website. It is based on OpenVPN – the most secure VPN protocol.
The iOS app is available via the App Store. iPhone and iPad users are given a choice between the OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec protocols, both of which have AES-256 encryption. Unfortunately, ExpressVPN is yet to implement a kill switch in its iOS app.
ExpressVPN for web browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari
You will find browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari as well. These are not fully autonomous – rather they let you control ExpressVPN straight from your browser of choice.
The browser extension can also help users spoof their HTML5 location, features HTTPS Everywhere, and blocks WebRTC leaks, among other features.
ExpressVPN Router app: unlimited connections
Using the ExpressVPN app for routers solves quite a few issues:
- You will never have to worry about forgetting to connect.
- It’s a good way to bypass ExpressVPN’s 5 simultaneous connection limitation. The router is just one device, but it works as a funnel for all the traffic that goes through your wifi.
- It’s a good way to make use of the ExpressVPN Split Tunneling feature. Used on the router client, split tunneling allows you to split your traffic by device rather than by app.
You can find a list of router models that support the ExpressVPN router firmware on their website. There are some things you should consider before picking a router for your VPN service—you can read more about it on their website.
Other platforms and ExpressVPN MediaStreamer
If there’s no custom ExpressVPN app for your device, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the service. You can still access the network via freeware OpenVPN apps or MediaStreamer.
This way, you will be able to use ExpressVPN on game consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch), SmartTVs (Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV), and other devices, such as Chromecast, Roku, and Nvidia Shield.
ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer is a SmartDNS tool. It is useful for unblocking restricted content when there is no need for encryption. Do not use it if you’re doing something risky!
Netflix and other streaming services
ExpressVPN unblocks Netflix USA regardless of where you are located. There are plenty of servers to choose from in the United States and other Netflix-critical areas, such as the Netherlands. I tried several, and they all worked without fail. Also, the focus on performance means your streams will look almost as good as using a regular connection (the speeds were enough for Ultra HD across the board).
Using ExpressVPN SmartDNS, you’ll also have access to the MediaStreamer feature. This will let you watch on more or less any device (Amazon Firestick, PS4, Xbox, etc.). Finally, ExpressVPN Kodi is definitely a thing—although there’s no custom app, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better for Kodi.
Does ExpressVPN support torrenting?
Additionally, the VPN’s strong security features (particularly the kill switch) and absence of leaks make it great for torrenting in countries where copyrights are robustly enforced.
Torrenters will also appreciate that this service has no bandwidth limit and the speeds are great. Moreover, if you want to save bandwidth, ExpressVPN’s Split Tunneling feature will let you choose to protect only your torrent app.
Perhaps the only thing lacking is that ExpressVPN does not offer a free SOCKS5 proxy, but Split Tunneling mostly makes up for it.
Does ExpressVPN work in China?
Yes, the Great Firewall of China is no match for ExpressVPN – at least for now.
Whether it’s censorship or more sinister things you want to avoid in China, ExpressVPN will do the job. You can even get the subscription from their .onion page to avoid being seen entering the “shop.”
Yet there’s some reason for skepticism with regard to ExpressVPN in China. Namely, the service doesn’t have a “stealth protocol.” China is known to employ Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) – an efficient method for finding VPN traffic on the network. A stealth protocol helps to hinder the effectiveness of DPI by scrambling the traffic. Although reports maintain that ExpressVPN functions in China reliably, the absence of a stealth protocol makes it potentially less secure.
Support: live chat, email, extensive guides
ExpressVPN has great customer support. It will please both those who prefer dealing with issues themselves and those who would rather ask for assistance. You will find:
- A 24/7 live chat
- Support tickets
- An extensive list of troubleshooting guides
- The ExpressVPN Internet Privacy How-to guide page
There will always be cracks in the support system, but with ExpressVPN, these seem to be minimal. The customer service agents available via the chat are knowledgeable and quick to respond.
When I couldn’t get an answer the quick way, the self-help resources on the website gave me a way out. There are guides and FAQs available in English, French, Dutch, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Finally, if you can wait, ExpressVPN support will give you a detailed answer by email.
Pricing: is ExpressVPN a good deal?
ExpressVPN is very expensive, even though the price is justified. If you use a VPN as often as I do, you will see that you can get almost the same feature package for half the price.
ExpressVPN has the following pricing plan options:
- 1-month plan: $12.95/month
- 6-month plan: $59.95 ($9.99/month)
- 1-year plan: $99.95 ($8.32/month)
All ExpressVPN plans offer the same features (AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN, DNS leak protection, kill switch, etc.), so you won’t feel forced into a more expensive deal.
There is no free version, lifetime subscription, and no free trial for the desktop versions. With that said, ExpressVPN does offer an unconditional 30-day money-back guarantee. While we haven’t tested it, all sources seem to suggest the refund comes quickly!
Each subscription allows 5 simultaneous connections. This means you can probably get away with one subscription for your whole family or team.
Is ExpressVPN worth your money?
No, even though ExpressVPN is one of the best. In today’s VPN market, you can find a secure and transparent VPN service for a much better price.
In terms of quality, there is no question that ExpressVPN is at the top of the market. Its security is as great as its speed test performance, and you’ll have someone to help you troubleshoot 24/7.
Those who are only looking for an entertainment tool will also appreciate ExpressVPN because of its ability to unblock online content and support for P2P (torrenting) traffic.
Power users may want more advanced options to tinker with, but for most, the high cost is probably the only serious issue.