NordVPN Review

NordVPN Review

NordVPN logoScore:
9.6/10

NordVPN is a provider that does everything right. It has a large number of lightning fast servers with great global coverage, it works well with streaming, doesn't log a thing, and offers a ton of privacy features. And it’s all wrapped up in a super friendly and intuitive client. Simply put, NordVPN is one service you can’t go wrong with.

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Pros
  • Excellent download and upload speeds
  • Large ever-expanding server network
  • Great privacy with independently verified no logging policy
  • Specialty servers (including double VPN, obfuscated, and Tor over VPN)
  • Clean, easy to use client
  • Works with Netflix and other streaming services
  • Allows torrenting and P2P
  • Offers dedicated IP addresses
Cons
  • No split tunneling feature
  • A bit pricey on shorter-term plans

It’s fair to say that NordVPN is one of the largest and most widely-used VPNs on the market. But, just because everyone uses something doesn’t always make it the best choice.

So, as I do with every popular VPN service, I decided to put NordVPN to the test. Is the trust so many of us put in it is well placed? Can it deliver the functionality, performance, privacy, and security any top-tier provider should?

Stick around as my 2020 NordVPN review walks you through everything this provider has to offer, and all the bits it could, perhaps, do better.

An Overview of NordVPN

One reason for NordVPN fame is that it has been around for the better part of a decade – since 2012, to be exact.

According to the company’s website, it was founded by “four childhood friends” (whose names aren’t disclosed), and currently operates out of Panama.

NordVPN’s stated mission is to advance the ideals of an open internet for everyone, free of restrictions, interference, and censorship – that’s something I can definitely get on board with.

And indeed, it all sounds pretty good.

Panama is an excellent jurisdiction for privacy, and NordVPN has, so far, maintained a solid reputation for defending user anonymity and internet freedoms.

The only concern that jumped out me initially was that NordVPN processes subscriptions via a US-based company called CloudVPN. But, let’s put that on the back burner for a bit – until we’re talking privacy – and start by looking at NordVPN’s features.

Features

When you dig into the list of features NordVPN offers, you quickly realize it’s one of the most complete and useful packages around. It offers just about anything every other competing VPN does and several things few others do.

NordVPN and Security

Many of us use VPNs for security, so let’s start there.

NordVPN uses 256-bit AES encryption on all connections to its servers. For OpenVPN, it implements AES-256-CBC, while IKEv2/IPSec uses AES-256-CGM.

Since those numbers and letters may not be meaningful to everyone, know that both options are as hack-proof and secure as it gets.

All server connections also use Perfect Forward Security (PFS) for encryption key exchanges, which prevents anyone from stealing session keys and, ultimately, reading anything encrypted.

NordVPN also gives you both a kill switch function and DNS leak protection to make sure none of your data ever makes it to the internet at large unsecured.

Enabling NordVPN's kill switch

Put together these features make for a robust solution that will protect you from anyone trying to look over your shoulder while online.

Double VPN and Onion Over VPN

If you’re not comfortable betting your data security and privacy on just a single VPN layer, NordVPN offers a couple of additional options. Both can take your anonymity to a whole new level.

First is what is known as a multi-hop or double VPN configuration. In this setup, your data goes through two separate – and often distant from each other – VPN servers before exiting onto the internet.

A double VPN is a bit like a game of telephone, but without the funny mistranslations that garble the message.

With a second hop in the path, no single point in the chain knows both the source and the destination of your data – thus increasing anonymity and security.

NordVPN currently supports the following double VPN server pairings:

Country
Through
Canada
United States
France
United Kingdom
Hong Kong
Taiwan
Netherlands
Sweden, Switzerland, or United Kingdom
Sweden
Netherlands or Switzerland
Switzerland
Netherlands or Sweden
United Kingdom
France or Netherlands
United States
Canada

The other feature that NordVPN offers to increase your privacy even further is the ability to use TOR over your VPN connection.

The outcome of this method is similar to a double VPN, but you get many more server hops along the way as well as a random path selection.

The downside of a TOR over VPN setup is that it tends to be quite slow, even compared to a double VPN solution. But, if it’s bulletproof privacy at all costs that you’re after, it’s a great feature to have.

NordVPN With Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Others

One of the most popular uses of VPNs is to get around geographical content restrictions when streaming video. NordVPN not only supports this, they even designed a whole feature around it called SmartPlay.

SmartPlay makes it possible for you to simply connect to a VPN server in whatever country the content is restricted to, and NordVPN handles the rest.

That means Netflix US (as well as every other Netflix library), Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, the BBC’s iPlayer, and many more are all within reach.

And indeed, in my tests, using NordVPN for Netflix worked very well. I was able to stream the US, UK, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, French, German, and several other libraries with zero issues.

NordVPN unblocking Netflix US

I also had no problems accessing the BBC’s iPlayer, which is something many other providers struggle with.

NordVPN unblocking the BBC iPlayer

In short, if it’s streaming you’re after, NordVPN makes an excellent choice. Few competitors will give you access to as many locations and streaming services. And now you know why they’re always hovering at or near the top of my best VPNs for Netflix list.

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Torrenting and P2P Support

Other than streaming, plenty of us also like to use VPNs to download files with BitTorrent and other P2P software safely. While not every VPN supports this, NordVPN has you covered.

NordVPN is a no-logs provider. That means that even court order in hand, copyright trolls can’t get any data about any of its users. And NordVPN’s Panama jurisdiction would make such a court order near impossible to get anyways.

The app’s kill switch feature also makes sure you don’t end up exposing your real IP address should there be a connection problem – something that can happen (though very rarely) with any VPN provider.

Then there is NordVPN’s performance, which is tops in the industry.

All that to say, with NordVPN, you can download torrents with complete confidence that you’re anonymous and safe – and do it incredibly quickly too.

NordLynx

The newest addition to NordVPN is the company’s implementation of the WireGuard protocol. NordLynx, as it’s called, has been rolled out in all major versions of the app (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) in April 2020.

And, based on what I’ve seen, you may want to start using it. Why? Because it’s incredibly fast.

I’ll touch on NordVPN’s performance in greater detail a little later. But, at the risk of spoiling that section of the review, in some cases, NordLynx tested nearly twice as fast as OpenVPN over UDP. That’s right – twice. And NordVPN’s OpenVPN speed was no slouch, to begin with.

NordVPN is currently one of just a handful of providers to ship with WireGuard and kudos to them for continuing to be at the bleeding edge.

For the time being – presumably, because NordLynx is still so new – NordVPN is keeping OpenVPN as the default protocol. So, if you fancy better performance, you’ll have to pick it manually through the settings menu.

Selecting NordLynx in the NordVPN settings menu

A word of warning, though. Once you go NordLynx, you’re never going back.

NordVPN Dedicated IP

NordVPN is one of the few providers where you can get a dedicated IP address – often also called a static IP. You can currently get one in the following five countries:

Country
City
United States
Buffalo, NY
United States
Dallas, TX
United States
Los Angeles, CA
United States
Matawan, NJ
United Kingdom
London
France
Paris
Germany
Frankfurt
Netherlands
Amsterdam

You will have to pay extra for a dedicated IP to the tune of $70 per year on top of the regular subscription costs, though the price is the same regardless of which location you pick.

Whether you want to use a shared IP or dedicated IP will depend entirely on why you’re using a VPN. But, if you decide you need the latter, NordVPN is arguably the best VPN for a static IP.

Does NordVPN Work in China?

I’m happy to say the answer is yes, NordVPN works from behind China’s Great Firewall.

While the regular servers can be a little hit or miss, you shouldn’t have trouble connecting with one of NordVPN’s special obfuscated servers.

Obfuscated servers use sophisticated packet re-writing technology and well-known ports instead of the VPN standards. By doing so, they fool the censors into thinking the connection is nothing more than regular web traffic.

The same technology can, of course, be used in other countries where VPNs are frowned upon, like Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Turkey.

CyberSec

Yet another major feature that NordVPN offers is CyberSec, a malware and ad blocking solution you can turn on anytime you’re connected to the VPN.

CyberSec automatically blocks suspicious websites and ads and gives you a safer and less annoying browsing experience. After all, who likes ads?

It’s a useful feature that works quite well – much better than similar attempts by NordVPN’s competitors. It’s disabled by default but easily turned on through the app’s Settings menu.

How to turn on NordVPN's CyberSec

The only thing I think NordVPN got wrong was the name. Unless you already know what it’s all about, the term CyberSec doesn’t mean much.

That small marketing issue aside, it’s a great addition to the NordVPN platform.

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NordVPN and Privacy

As I mentioned at the top of this review, NordVPN is one of the better-positioned VPNs when it comes to privacy. Here is why.

Jurisdiction

NordVPN is based in Panama, which happens to be an excellent jurisdiction for data privacy.

Panama is not a member of any major international intelligence-sharing agreement. So, something like the authorities compelling NordVPN to hand over user data doesn’t happen.

The country also has no data retention laws and allows completely unrestricted internet access.

That said, there is one privacy caveat worth mentioning.

NordVPN uses a company called CloudVPN to process subscription payments, which comes with a couple of potential concerns.

First, the company does business in the US and, therefore, falls under its jurisdiction. In theory, the most that CloudVPN could know about NordVPN’s users is that they exist, so perhaps this is not such a big deal.

What is a bigger problem, though, is that CloudVPN is operated by a company called Tesonet, which is in the data-mining business.

And while that too shouldn’t theoretically be an issue – there is, after all, no data but the payment transactions themselves – affiliation with a data mining company is not a great look for a VPN that prides itself on privacy.

Ultimately, NordVPN’s relationship with CloudVPN shouldn’t much affect your anonymity and is not a reason to avoid NordVPN. But, it is something to keep in mind.

NordVPN’s Logging Policy

Put simply, NordVPN is a no-logs provider, period. And that’s not just a marketing claim, either.

NordVPN is one of only a handful of VPNs that have submitted to an independent audit of their systems. The purpose of the review was to confirm there is no consumer data collection and that no information is stored about the use of the platform.

The audit was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has a sterling reputation around the world, and NordVPN passed with flying colors.

At the time of this writing, only NordVPN subscribers can read the details of the audit – why exactly, I have no idea. But, I have seen it, and it is pretty airtight.

DNS Leaks

All the latest and greatest encryption protocols and the no-logging policies NordVPN employs won’t mean much if they leak DNS information.

As you’re browsing the internet over a VPN, if your ISP sees the DNS requests used to translate a human-readable URL to an IP address, you might as well not bother using a VPN. Your real IP is exposed, and online activities trackable.

That said, after running my standard battery of DNS leak tests, I’m happy to report they’re not something you need to worry about with NordVPN.

NordVPN passing the DNS leak test

There were no IPv4, IPv6, or DNS leaks detected.

I also tested if NordVPN leaks data over the WebRTC channel built into most modern browsers. There too, I didn’t discover any issues.

NordVPN keeps you safe, secure, and does a great job of hiding your IP address and location.

Apps and Clients

Few things can spoil your VPN experience as quickly as a poorly implemented client app – well, maybe performance too, but we’ll get to that shortly. With NordVPN, lousy software is, however, not something you’ll find.

In fact, I would easily rate their client as one of the top three in the industry.

To begin with, NordVPN supports a huge variety of devices. You can download clients for the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Android TV
  • Linux (this is a command-line client)

NordVPN also has extensions for both Chrome and Firefox, which are great options if your browsing activities are all you want to protect.

You also have access to various OpenVPN configurations that let you connect to the service from devices with OpenVPN support. That means routers, firewalls, NAS devices – and indeed almost anything connected to the internet – can run NordVPN.

In focused my testing on the Windows client, since that’s the one the majority of us use.

Default view of the NordVPN client application

The app is clean, responsive, and intuitive to navigate.

Almost all user settings are configurable with a simple on or off switch. And, if you’re more of an expert user, you’ll find some of the more advanced settings – like specifying custom DNS servers – easily accessible.

On the whole, the software worked as expected and didn’t deliver any surprises. And it’s certainly easy enough to use that someone who’s never seen it can be up and running in mere moments.

macOS IKEv2 vs. OpenVPN Client

One oddity I should mention is that the NordVPN client for macOS comes in two flavors: OpenVPN and IKEv2. In other words, you have to decide at install time which protocol you want to use.

Other than the protocol, the big difference is that the OpenVPN app does not implement a full kill switch feature, which is a bit disappointing. You can kill specific apps on disconnect, but it’s on you to add them one by one.

Kill switch feature in NordVPN's macOS app

It’s not a secure and rather error-prone method to rely on if you ask me.

Luckily, by default, NordVPN’s download page pushes the IKEv2 macOS client, which does have a proper kill switch implemented. As such, I would advise that’s the one to use.

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NordVPN’s Servers

Though NordVPN’s server list is not the largest – PureVPN beats them comfortable here – it’s still impressive. We’re talking 5063 servers in 81 locations and 59 countries.

There is not one location I can think of that I would ever want to connect to that’s not available.

You can select the country you would like to connect to either by picking it on a map or from a list box on the left side of the client.

Each country entry in the list box is expandable to show all servers and locations available there. Individual servers can also be marked as favorites for easy access later.

NordVPN's server list shown in the client

The country list box is searchable too, down to individual locations. Once you know a location exists – say the US city of Atlanta – the simplest way to connect to it is to start typing in its name.

NordVPN also offers plenty of specialty servers few other providers do. Double VPN servers, obfuscated servers, onion over VPN servers, and servers optimized explicitly for P2P are all available.

Is NordVPN Fast?

Like many providers, NordVPN advertises itself as the fastest VPN in the world.

The problem is there can only be one. Fortunately for NordVPN, they’re actually it – at least according to my tests.

With a best download speed of 219.7 Mbps and an average of 193.3 Mbps across all tested locations, no other providers come close.

Uploads are quick too, with the fastest recorded speed of 143.7 Mbps and a tested location average of 127.2 Mbps.

NordVPN owes its excellent performance to NordLynx, its implementation of the WireGuard VPN protocol.

NordLynx was only recently made available to us. And while NordVPN was already one of the quickest providers over OpenVPN, the new protocol takes it to unheard-of levels of performance. Here are a couple of examples of the differences in speed you can expect.

Best Server OpenVPN vs. NordLynx
NordVPN best VPN server speed test results using OpenVPN
OpenVPN over UDP
NordVPN best VPN server speed test results using NordLynx
NordLynx
United Kingdom OpenVPN vs. NordLynx
NordVPN United Kingdom speed test results using OpenVPN
OpenVPN over UDP
NordVPN United Kingdom speed test results using NordLynx
NordLynx

Below is a sampling of the numbers I saw when running my full suite of performance tests using NordLynx. Included is my closest server, as well as servers in the US and the Netherlands. For the complete (and very impressive) results, please head over to the NordVPN speed test page.

Best Server
NordVPN best VPN server speed test results
With VPN
NordVPN best baseline speed test results
No VPN
United States
NordVPN United States VPN server speed test results
With VPN
NordVPN Unites States baseline speed test results
No VPN
Netherlands
NordVPN Netherlands VPN server speed test results
With VPN
NordVPN Netherlands baseline speed test results
No VPN

Customer Service

Another vital but often forgotten feature of a VPN service is competent and helpful customer support. Software is software, and hiccups can happen anytime – even to the best of them.

NordVPN, I’m glad to report, offers excellent customer service.

You can contact them via online chat 24 hours a day right from the website. But, best of all, you get to talk to agents that know what they’re doing – and I don’t take that lightly, despite dealing with VPNs as much as I do.

I test-contacted them a couple of times, and it never took longer than a minute or so to get connected. Every time, I found the representatives easy to talk to and helpful.

If you’re not in a hurry, you can also send in questions to NordVPN’s support team via email. It’s a good way to go if you need some more complex or technical advice.

For the do-it-yourselfers among us, NordVPN’s website has a very helpful knowledge base too. It covers every common issue I could think of.

Altogether, should you need it, you’ll have no problems getting help with NordVPN. It’s comforting to know, especially if you’re a less advanced user.

NordVPN Price and Value

Everything comes at a price, and NordVPN’s excellent service is no exception. But, while it certainly isn’t the cheapest VPN provider you’ll find, it’s by no means expensive, either.

If you’re willing to commit to a three-year subscription, you’re currently looking at paying only $3.49 per month. That’s a great deal for everything NordVPN gives you and well worth it.

And if three years seems too long, you can, of course, get a shorter subscription too. The downside is your monthly cost will go up.

NordVPN subscription cost

Also, keep in mind that VPN providers change prices and run promotions all the time. So, don’t hesitate to come back here or visit my NordVPN deals page for the latest discounts.

Payment options with NordVPN include all major credit cards, Amazon Pay, Alipay, UnionPay, and a variety of cryptocurrencies. PayPal is the odd man out.

Refunds and Free Trial

While NordVPN doesn’t offer a free trial, they do have an unconditional 30-day money-back guarantee. And they seem to be pretty good at issuing refunds without delay when they’re requested.

The refund policy even includes payments made with cryptocurrencies, which is something most VPNs don’t do.

The 30-day window should give you plenty of time to play around with the software and figure out if it’s right for you. With the guarantee in your back pocket, there’s little reason not to take NordVPN for a spin.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, NordVPN is an easy recommendation. Like so many of us, it’s a service I use on a nearly daily basis, and, hopefully, my NordVPN review made it obvious why.

NordVPN comes with plenty of great features, offers excellent security and anonymity, and, thanks to its NordLynx protocol, has the fastest server network of any provider. It also does an outstanding job of unlocking geo-blocked streaming services. And, if that wasn’t enough, customer support is among the best in the business too.

Best of all, it manages to do all of the above without charging an arm and a leg.

If you’re looking for a VPN service, look no further than NordVPN. Premium providers don’t get better than this.

NordVPN logoScore:
9.6/10

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