Last update: 08.16.2019
Top-notch security, an absurd number of servers all over the world, great features and speed – all these factors make NordVPN’s industry-leading status well-deserved.
In today’s context of growing threats to online privacy, a secure and transparent VPN is worth its weight in gold. Yet unlike gold, NordVPN comes very reasonably priced and allows up to 6 people to use the same account.
It was developed with the neediest users in mind, but regular folk will benefit from it just as well: defeating geo-blocking on popular streaming platforms, secure streaming, and beating government censorship are all in this tool’s wheelhouse.
Is this the right VPN service for you? Read our NordVPN review to find out.
Security features and privacy
Security and privacy are the main selling points of NordVPN. Where many VPN services claim to provide complete anonymity on the internet, few can back it up in features and evidence. Here’s why NordVPN is favored by sensitive user groups, such as journalists and political activists.
NordVPN is the product of Tefincom S.A. – a Panama based company. This is important because VPN service providers operate according to the laws of the country they’re based in. Panama is a small country in the Americas, which doesn’t belong to any far-reaching intelligence alliances like the 5 Eyes global surveillance group.
Moreover, Panama doesn’t require VPN companies to collect data on their users. This allows NordVPN to have a real “no logs” policy, meaning they know very little about you.
No logging policy
No IP or DNS leaks
This VPN service has all the right features to prevent leaking your identity via your IP address, or your online activities via your DNS requests. However, the only way to be certain is to run some tests.
We connected to a French server and were assigned the IP address 188.8.131.52.
Then we checked whether our IP address or DNS queries were leaking – here are the results:
This is the NordVPN-given IP address, meaning there is no IP leak.
This is the IP address of a NordVPN DNS server (as you can see the two IP addresses are connected).
The list of security features in the NordVPN suite is very impressive:
- Military-grade AES-256 encryption
- The most secure tunneling protocols: OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) and IKEv2/IPSec
- App kill switch AND internet kill switch
- Double VPN (multi-hop)
- DNS leak protection
- IPv6 leak protection
- Onion over VPN (integration with the Tor network for even more encryption and traffic rerouting)
- CyberSec (browser security feature)
- Free Socks5 proxy
- Obfuscated servers
- Invisibility on LAN
By meeting the significant security and privacy needs of people in high-stakes situations (think dissidents in totalitarian regimes) NordVPN provides an answer for any everyday issue as well. Whether it’s anonymous torrenting you’re interested in or secure public wifi use, these features have you covered.
NordLynx – a safe implementation of WireGuard
In the end of July 2019, NordVPN announced NordLynx and became the first major VPN to implement WireGuard. At the moment, NordLynx is already available on Linux.
The introduction of NordLynx is exciting due to the capabilities of WireGuard. This is a super-secure protocol with significant performance benefits over others. Perhaps most importantly, the code of WireGuard is extremely easy to audit because it has only 4,000 lines of it in comparison to IPsec’s 400,000 or OpenVPN+OpenSSL’s 600,000.
To make NordLynx possible, NordVPN had to solve a privacy issue:
The WireGuard protocol alone can’t ensure complete privacy. Here’s why. It can’t dynamically assign IP addresses to everyone connected to a server. Therefore, the server must contain a local static IP address table to know where internet packets are traveling from and to whom they should return. It means that the real IP address of a user must be linked to an internal IP address assigned by the VPN.
NordLynx fixes the issue by developing a double NAT (Native Address Translation) system, allowing the VPN to establish a secure connection without logging any identifiable details.
Signing up for NordVPN doesn’t require any personally-identifiable information, such as your name, address, or contact details. The only thing you’ll need is an email address (which can be a throwaway account). Similarly, you can buy the subscription using a variety of payment methods, including anonymous ones such as cryptocurrencies.
NordVPN has the most servers of any VPN service. The number is constantly growing and was 5,200+ at the moment of writing this review. An overwhelming majority of NordVPN server locations are in Europe and the Americas (2,419 and 2,128 respectively). A further 601 servers are spread out across the Asia Pacific region, and 78 are in Africa, the Middle East, and India.
In total, the number of countries where you’ll find NordVPN servers numbers 60. Recently, the number was larger, but after the clamp-down by Russian authorities, the VPN decided to shut down its Russian servers rather than meet government demands.
The NordVPN server fleet doesn’t seem to be artificially inflated through the use of Virtual Private Servers, ensuring the highest level of performance possible. Moreover, NordVPN has made their server list more efficient via specialization. There are P2P-optimized servers, Double VPN, Onion Over VPN, and Obfuscated servers. The latter make NordVPN a reliable service in China and other countries that block VPN traffic by employing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
Finally, NordVPN also has Dedicated IP servers for those who’ve acquired a personal static IP address.
Speed and performance
We ran some speed tests using different NordVPN servers. The results show that while this is not the fastest VPN service on the market, it’s certainly above average.
First, we tested our baseline connection speed (without a VPN connection).
- Download: 231 Mbps
- Upload: 232 Mbps
Then, we connected to a series of NordVPN servers in different parts of the world and ran the same test.
- Download: 72.78 Mbps (68.51% drop-off)
- Upload: 63.35 Mbps (72.81% drop-off)
- Latency: 50 ms
- Download: 44.36 Mbps (80.81% drop-off)
- Upload: 44.03 Mbps (81.10% drop-off)
- Latency: 140 ms
Tel Aviv, Israel
- Download: 17.15 Mbps (92.68% drop-off)
- Upload: 3.15 Mbps (98.65% drop-off)
- Latency: 87 ms
- Download: 9.14 Mbps (96.05% drop-off)
- Upload: 15.59 Mbps (93.31% drop-off)
- Latency: 206 ms
- Download: 29.02 Mbps (87.45% drop-off)
- Upload: 1.19 Mbps (99.49% drop-off)
- Latency: 367 ms
To contextualize these results, we can say that the connection speed in each location is enough to stream in HD without buffering issues. Perhaps more importantly, the latency (and speed, to a lesser extent) changes consistently with distance and level of infrastructure development. Simply put, this means you’re getting almost the same product performance-wise regardless of your location.
Apps and extensions
NordVPN has custom apps for all major device types and platforms:
- Android TV
- Chrome (extension)
- Firefox (extension)
You can also use the NordVPN network via third-party apps, such as OpenVPN and others. This way, you’ll be able to install it on routers and other devices.
The apps are all user-friendly and very similar in terms of functionality – none of them leave any gaping security holes you should worry about. Here’s a look at the NordVPN Windows client.
This is a fairly minimal, yet powerful app. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the world map. Click on any of the pins and the app will connect you to the fastest server in that country. The menu on the left of the screen has more connection options: you can choose servers you’ve recently used, specialty servers, or go through the list of countries, each of which you can expand to choose a specific server.
On the top of the screen, you’ll see a button for the Settings menu, where you can control all the security features, notifications, auto-connect settings, and more. We advise you to go over these because some of the defaults are not ideal for maximum security.
Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms
We tried taking NordVPN on a ride to popcorn land and had a magical time. Netflix wasn’t blocked on any of the US servers we tried – that’s quite a stunning achievement.
The situation was just as good in other popular Netflix locations – Japan, UK, Germany, Netherlands. Only several of the servers we tried were blocked, but there were always more in the same country we could try.
If you prefer other streaming platforms than Netflix, such as HBO, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and others, NordVPN will be able to help you as well. Here we are watching The Handsmaid’s Tale on Hulu:
P2P and torrenting
Torrenting and using BitTorrent based streaming apps (such as Kodi or Popcorn Time) is risky, but a good VPN can keep you completely anonymous. NordVPN meets all the criteria for being a great torrenting VPN. They have P2P-optimized servers in 45 countries, great encryption and other security features, good speeds, and unlimited bandwidth.
Additionally, NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that offer a free SOCKS5 proxy. This is a convenient way to protect yourself from those situations when you load up your torrent client but forget to turn on your VPN.
Finally, NordVPN doesn’t keep your personally identifiable information and thus can’t be compelled to hand it over to the authorities.
NordVPN has many customer support options:
- 24/7 live chat support
One way to access chat is to visit the Help page, type “chat” in the search box and press Enter. A window will appear right below the box, which will display a Chat icon in its bottom-right corner.
It’s a rare thing, but if NordVPN won’t connect – you’re in luck. The support agents are top-notch, very responsive and knowledgeable. If the issue is too complex to solve during a chat session, you can expect an answer via email within hours. We were relieved that they were ultimately able to solve our imaginary connection problems.
Both the FAQ and the Tutorials sections are detailed and cover the most common issues.
Pricing & plans
For a top-tier product, NordVPN is very cheap. Here are the available subscription options:
- 1-month plan: $11.95/month
- 1-year plan: $83.88 ($6.99/month)
- 2-year plan: $95.75 ($3.99/month)
- 3-year plan: $107.55 ($2.99/month)
All NordVPN pricing plans offer the same suite of features and allow up to 6 simultaneous connections. There are anonymous payment options available, such as crypto, for those concerned about privacy.
If you’re getting buyer’s remorse, NordVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. This comes with no strings attached and no small print. The only thing to be aware of is that you can’t get a refund if you paid in Bitcoin or something similar.
The cost may not be the lowest on VPN on the market. That said, no other VPN offers as much value for money.
At the end of this NordVPN review, we can say that this is one of the best all-around tools for security as well as entertainment. It will work wonders for both regular users and those with very significant privacy needs. For the price you’ll be paying with a longer VPN subscription, you won’t find a better deal anywhere else.