NordVPN, the subject of today’s review is one of the biggest names in the VPN game. Based in Panama, it manages more than 5,000 servers spread across 62 countries. Almost all devices you can name are supported by NordVPN, which also offers military-grade encryption as well as other supporting features.
The Virtual Private Network (VPN) market has been on the rise and so has the number of providers. Yet how do most people distinguish one from another? With the stakes being personal privacy and security, choosing the right VPN is a matter that needs close attention.
NordVPN Review Table of Contents
- NordVPN Helps Keep You Anonymous
1.1 Based in Panama
1.2 Strict no Logs Policy
1.3 Server Obfuscation
- Top Notch Security
2.1 Military-grade AES-256 Encryption
2.2 Double VPN
2.3 CyberSec Blocks Ads
2.4 Kill Switch
2.5 Upcoming WireGuard protocol implementation
- Stable and Consistent Speeds
3.1 US VPN Server Speed
3.2 Europe VPN Server Speed
3.3 Asia VPN Server Speed
3.4 Australia VPN Server Speed
3.5 Thoughts on NordVPN Speed
- Customer Support Disappoints
- No Issues Streaming or Torrenting
- The User Experience with NordVPN
6.1. Works on Almost Any Device
6.2.Run NordVPN from Chrome
- NordVPN has Fantastic Prices
- Verdict: Is NordVPN Good?
Keeping your identity safe – that is one of the core pillars for any VPN service provider to adhere. You can imagine our surprise last year when it was discovered that IPVanish handed over user logs to the US Department of Homeland Security. Before anyone could protest, the company was sold, and the new owners clammed up, saying the incident was the sole realm of the company’s previous owners.
Thankfully, NordVPN has a better track record than that. The fact that the company is registered in Panama is even more reassuring, as we consider it a ‘safe zone’ which has little or no data retention laws.
We highly recommend that users do not seek out a VPN service provider which is based in any of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or Fourteen Eyes countries. NO matter how much companies deny keeping track of their users, this is lip service at best if the countries they are based in have laws demanding data retention.
When using any remote server under the control of a third party, in many cases they keep usage logs for various purposes. In the case of a VPN this is undesirable since one of the main reasons for using it is anonymity anyway.
Thankfully, NordVPN is very vocal about its strict no logs policy. This means that they don’t keep records of what you do via their servers or about your source device. That includes your real IP address or anything you do online, such as what sites you visit or files you download.
What all of this means is that even if somehow authorities tried to demand the company produce this information, there is nothing to hand over.
In some cases, you may not be able to connect to a VPN service due to firewall restrictions. This also applies to some situations where by there are country-wide bans on VPN services, such as in China. This may result in you not being able to use your NordVPN connection in the usual manner.
If this is the case, NordVPN offers some servers which it calls obfuscated servers. While it may offer a way out in limited situations, NordVPN does not recommend usage of these servers unless necessary.
Safety first as they always say, and aside from anonymity, NordVPN also offers extensive features to keep your data safe. This ranges from high-level encryption of the data being sent and received, as well as other tools.
A VPN connection consists of two main segments – a connection protocol (the handshake) and the encryption protocol. The encryption protocol sets the level of security applied to the data your device is sending or receiving.
As a general guideline, 256-bit encryption is extremely secure at this point of time and is still considered uncrackable. However, it does seem like there may be a possibility to overcome this in the future – but that’s another discussion altogether.
Suffice to say, as far as consumer encryption goes, this is currently the gold standard.
If one isn’t enough, take two! Jokes aside, for the truly paranoid, double VPN is exactly the way it sounds. You first connect to one VPN server, and the connection is then sent to another VPN server before heading out to whatever destination address you are looking for.
This means that not only does your source IP change twice, but encryption is doubled up on as well. By design, if using this service NordVPN changes connection types randomly between UDP and TCP as well for added security.
While not something to really write home about, CyberSec is what I consider sort of a value-add feature for NordVPn. While similar features have been seen on some other VPn services, CyberSec is uniquely NordVPN.
If enabled, CyberSec acts as a sort of Internet Security defence mechanism, blocking some suspicious websites and keeping you safe from Malware. It also secures your device from being used as part of a BotNet and best of all – helps you block Ads (well, some ads anyway).
This is the ultimate defence against the ‘oops’ syndrome. Any kind of data connections are fragile things and from time to time, connections are dropped. Most people would shrug it off and reconnections are often seamless, but if you’re using a VPN, when the connection to the VPN server is lost – your data is leaking and vulnerable.
NordVPN’s kill switch prevents this by terminating your Internet connection as soon as it detects a loss in Internet connection. If this is not to your liking, you can also choose to make use of a separate App Kill switch, to decide which of your applications are cut off and which are not.
Very recently, NordVPN announced that it would be moving towards adopting the WireGuard protocol. There has been a lot of talk about WireGuard and many anticipate that is will be the future gold standard of VPN protocols. It has been lauded for its simplicity and ease of implementation and will ultimately overtake OpenVPN usage.
WireGuard is still currently under development, but has so far shown to exhibit strong perfect forward secrecy and perform very well in identity hiding. Overall, it is expected to be lighter, much faster at encryption and decryption as well as more secure. Since NordVPN has been one of the first to jump on this bandwagon, we expect to see great things in this area from them very soon.
Speed testing for our NordVPN review was done on a 500Mbps line. However, due to hardware limitations and other factors, we ran an unfiltered speed test to establish a baseline speed for our setup. With no VPN running, we were able to achieve 270Mbps down and 293 Mbps up.
For the following speed tests in various regions, remember that the further your physical location is from a VPN server, the more likely your line speed is to drop further. This applies to ping responses as well. Our tests were performed from Malaysia, so we would likely get faster speeds connecting to VPN servers in the Asia region.
If you are in another country, the speeds will adjust according to your own distance from the VPN server you choose.
Connected to a US server gave us a ping of 214 ms which wasn’t too bad considering it is on the other side of the world. Line speeds were impressive for the distance, at rates of 51Mbps down and 17Mbps up.
For Europe, we went with the United Kingdom as our VPN server location, since that would allow us to also see if we could use the BBC iPlayer. Speeds were up a little through this connection, with a decent 47Mbps down and 22Mbps up at a ping time of 180 ms.
Closest to our location in the Asia region is Singapore, a good choice also because of its strategic location and excellent infrastructure. This was able to bring our line speed with NordVPN running up to 89Mbps down and 128Mbps up.
This is also another location relatively close to Malaysia, so it was not surprising that there were decent speeds of the NordVPN Australia servers. We got 28Mbps down and 16Mbps up with a 57 ms ping.
As you can tell by my comments by now, there is more to the speed you’ll get from NordVPN than just their service quality. A lot depends on other factors as well, such as your own Internet line speed, which VPN server location you choose, what networking equipment you run and even how powerful your own device is.
Suffice to say that aside from Singapore which is our neighbouring country, once the distance stretches on the line speed tends to drop. Yet despite all this, plus the overhead of data encryption, in our NordVPN review we felt that it managed to offer consistently decent speeds overall.
If you’re a gamer and decide to use a VPN for some reason, that does raise a bit of a problem due to increased server response times. If you do want to do that for some reason, we recommend you choose a server as close to home as possible.
If these is a single down point on NordVPN, we would consider it their customer support. Yes, NordVPn has various channels through which you can contact customer support which it claims is ‘24/7’ but – no, not really.
The ticketing system is a little slow and often it takes a day or two for any response to get back to you. This means that even trying to resolve small issues could take a couple of days if you’re lucky.
We also found NordVPN customer service staff to not be able to manage technical issues very well. The feeling is that they will attempt to remove every application on your PC in order to resolve an issue, even if the issue is only occurring with NordVPN.
As one of the top names in the VPN business, we really expected a lot more from NordVPN in this area.
However, we do note that this problem does not seem very prevalent and one of our readers who is a NordVPN user has had positive interaction with NordVPN customer service. He reports their assistance as prompt and effective. I guess even the best services have off days once in awhile.
We do stream movies from time to time, although to be honest it isn’t really that big a thing with us. After all, there is Kodi. Yet we can see the appeal to lovers of Netflix and other streaming service.
Normally it is quite easy for websites to tell if users are using their site via a VPN. This can be for various reasons, such as connection patterns, IP matching, and so on. While not many really care, some services dislike its users to use VPNs.
Take for example the case of Netflix, which needs to keep content for various regions of the world siloed. Mainly, this if due to copyright measures and to combat piracy. Theoretically, by using a VPN, users can circumvent these silos.
Thankfully in our NordVPN review geolocation services seemed to work fine for us. For example, we were able to use Netflix and the UK’s BBC iPlayer with no issues. iPlayer for example is normally restricted to UK zone devices, and using NordVPN and a UK server, it ran with no issues at all.
Most dear to our hearts is Torrenting though and we are happy to report that just by clicking on the P2P option in the NordVPN client, we were able to download to our heart’s content at any time. Heading over to ThePirateBay, we grabbed a bunch of torrents and just ran with it.
While the line did take a minute or two to stabilise, torrent downloads were fast and smooth. No issues whatsoever at all here. We were a little surprised that the ideal torrent connection for us was via Singapore, since the country is known for its strict copyright enforcement.
Singing up for NordVPN is easy and not unlike any other services. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the VPN client, all you need to know is your username and password (form when you registered your account).
Firing up the NordVPN client for Windows, a map of the world greets you. Yes – a virtual map. To connect to a VPN server, simply scroll the map and click on the pin points. For us, NordVPN for Windows worked right out of the box and we recommend you try that before fiddling with the other settings.
We’ve used this service on and off for close to a year now and it has never failed to run smoothly for us. I would say that as far as user experiences go, NordVPN offers one of the most seamless and pain-free experiences available in the market.
It’s normal that many of us at home would have multiple devices running on different platforms. For example, you might be using an iPhone which uses iOS, but run a laptop or PC which uses Windows and even perhaps a home WiFI router that is Linux-based. We have been trying NordVPN on various clients and it runs smoothly on all of them so far.
The regular ones we ran it off has been Windows 10 and Android (it even runs on an Android TV box we tested!). A note here however, should be brought back to the fact that the device you run it on is also part of what contribute’s to a VPN’s speed. Encryption takes up a lot of processing power, so if your device is older or has a slower processor, your VPN speed will be more limited.
We tried it out on our Asus Ac1300UHP which has a quad core processor each clocked at 1GHz and speeds there were pretty sad. To get it to any kind of bearable speed would require a high-end router – maybe the Asus ROG Rapture or one of the better Netgear Nighthawks.
If your main concern is just browsing security, you can opt to run NordVPN straight from Google Chrome with their own extension. Installation is just a click away and using it is just as simple. Also, remember that Chrome is cross-platform compatible. This means that you can actually use the NordVPN Chrome extension on Windows, Mac or Android platforms.
It should come as no surprise that NordVPN accepts almost all known digital payment methods including credit cards and so on. For the ultra-cautious who are deeply concerned about true anonymity, you can also pay with some forms of crypto currency including Bitcoin. The payment process was also smooth (we signed up with Paypal).
Update (6th March 2019): As of now, NordVPN has stopped accepting payments via PayPal. The company has not given any official reason for this but following information on a reddit thread, there appears to be some disagreement between the two companies. Reddit user caramel_member apparently asked NordVPN customer service why and the reason was given as follows;
“We are having an ideological disagreement with PayPal over how things should be handled, and our vision of cooperation clearly differs. For this reason, payments over PayPal are not available right now, but you can purchase our service by credit card or through any other payment method available. It’s a bummer, we know, and we are very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
Price-wise, this is where it really gets interesting. As far as we know, while priced in-line with market rates for shorter duration plans, NordVPN has a unique proposition that has been hard to beat in all the time we’ve known it.
It often offers extremely steep discounts for longer plan – as much as 75% off in some cases. To see if they are having any current promos just visit their site.
Even if you’re not ready to buy in right away, relax since you can test it out for yourself with a free 3-day NordVPN trial.
Should you decided to get in on their full plans immediately you can still cancel at any time and benefit from the 30-day money-back guarantee. This is a two step process. You first need to cancel your NordVPN subscription from your control panel online and then contact NordVPN customer support to request a refund.
Among the many VPNs we’ve tried, NordVPN is one of, if not the best. It has managed to hit the perfect sweet spot with a fantastic balance of advanced features, user friendliness and great pricing. There is so much to love that you really need to try it out for yourself.
If you’re the kind that likes to continuously tinker with all the settings an app has just to try and tweak it that little bit better, then you might be disappointed. NordVPN works out of the box mostly and is limited in what you can tweak. This is for simplicity, as well as to protect users from themselves.
What we especially like is that this company doesn’t just create a product and throw it out there with a full stop, but continually updates and improves on itself. Highly recommended for anyone who is seeking to explore the Internet safely and anonymously.