Extensive advertising campaigns have made it very difficult not to have an opinion on NordVPN. Yet, opinions don’t equal knowledge, which can be tricky to come by with all the flashy marketing promises.
For this reason, in this NordVPN review, I’ll dissect the service, going through their security setup, privacy practices, features, pricing, customer support reports, to the apps. Let’s see how good NordVPN really is.
|Support:||knowledge base, FAQs, email, chatbot, 24/7 live chat|
NordVPN pros & cons
- Easy to use
- Strong security suite
- Unblocks streaming websites
- Independently audited no-logs policy
- Great customer support
- Fast connection speeds
- Kill switch on all clients
- Linux support
- Large server fleet
- Specialized servers
- Dedicated IP option
- Works in China
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Affordable price
- Linux client has no graphic interface
- No router app
Speed performance: Is NordVPN fast?
Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Location||NordLynx||IKEv2 (manual connection on Windows)||OpenVPN (TCP)||OpenVPN (UDP)|
NordVPN’s speeds are blazing fast. Especially when using their NordLynx protocol. The only registered drops were in Argentina and Australia, the furthest locations from Europe. Everywhere else, the speeds were much better, even in remote areas. For example, the speed in Latvia only had a 15% dropdown. Meanwhile, the connection to Florida, US, saw only an 11% drop off despite a major distance increase. Those are astounding numbers.
Even when we look at the older protocols, the speeds are high. IKEv2, despite being less secure than WireGuard, does manage to catch up with NordLynx. The worst recorded reduction was 97% in Argentina, the lowest – 7% in Latvia. So, it also has use cases.
As expected, OpenVPN (TCP) version is pretty slow, but that’s a tradeoff for security. Although the numbers don’t seem at all impressive, that’s pretty much a standard of what you see across the board with many competitors. OpenVPN (UDP), however, is a much faster option. Depending on your location, the speed reduction can be as low as 3% (UK, Switzerland) and as high as 87% (Japan).
Only NordLynx and OpenVPN(UDP) have the luxury of reductions as low as 13% in terms of upload speed. IKEv2 and OpenVPN(TCP) will be much slower, the further away you are. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to upload large data files.
What all this data tells us is that NordVPN is indeed a pretty fast VPN. If you’re picking a location that isn’t too far off, you’ll barely even notice you’re using a VPN. If the location is further away, there will be some speed drops, which in some cases can be solved by switching tunneling protocols. Otherwise, the service provides all the tools to ensure that you won’t have to wait long for webpages to load and for videos to buffer.
Streaming: Netflix, Kodi, and Roku
At first, it seemed that streaming would be what ruins the seemingly perfect NordVPN streak. When testing Netflix, the US library refused to be unblocked. However, after removing Cloudflare from the custom DNS address in settings, the issue was resolved. So, do keep in mind that you should stick to default DNS settings if you want to enjoy streaming.
NordVPN unblocked BBC iPlayer without problems, triggering no proxy errors. So, if you’re a British expatriate, you’ll always have it available. There are no problems with YouTube geo-restricted video unblocks.
When the testing came to DAZN, it didn’t work with the US servers. However, when I switched to UK servers, everything went smoothly. It’s a good idea to try several countries, so even it fails somewhere, there is a very real chance that it will work with another server location.
If you want to set it up on media devices, your mileage may vary. Roku stick isn’t supported, but Kodi does the work. It has extensions for NordVPN and OpenVPN, so it’ll have to be a manual setup. If you are using this on an Android box, the easiest route of getting it to work will be the NordVPN client.
Streaming with NordVPN went well. SmartPlay technology does make a difference when unblocking streaming media platforms. Plus, you can also use their SmartDNS for devices that don’t have support for VPN clients.
Is NordVPN good and safe for torrenting?
NordVPN can be used with P2P clients and even has specialized servers for torrenting. Most countries have a P2P version of the server alongside other servers. So, they won’t be hard to find if you’ll be looking for one located as near as possible.
You’re free to use whichever server that you want for torrenting. However, if P2P traffic gets detected on a non-P2P server, you’re automatically reconnected to a server supporting P2P. So, keep this in mind if you notice a strange server switch.
SmartPlay is a special feature for bypassing streaming media blocks. It automatically kicks in when you’re using a NordVPN and are trying to access streaming sites likes Hulu, HBO Now, and others.
NordVPN is also making sure that you could access the same content on the devices that lack the support for their clients. Most devices with internet connectivity allow you to change their DNS settings, which can be a gateway for their SmartDNS. It allows you to take advantage of their SmartPlay technology unblocking without the client.
So, if you’re looking for a VPN with streaming media as one of the main reasons, NordVPN has you covered. Just keep in mind that it’s not a security feature, and it doesn’t add any layer of encryption when used without the client.
The majority of NordVPN servers are standard. This means that when connected, they change your IP, location and provide all the encryption benefits. However, the service has quite a few specialty servers that have particular use cases.
Note that some of these will only appear when you’ve chosen the appropriate tunneling protocol.
Double VPN servers – combines two VPN servers to make a VPN-VPN connection. So, to reach your intended destination, your data passes through two of their servers for maximum privacy. It can be used with OpenVPN either in UDP or TCP mode.
Onion over VPN servers – these servers combine the Tor network with VPN to create a VPN-Tor connection. Your traffic passes through the VPN server and then goes through (at least) 3 Tor nodes. This adds a layer of misdirection, making it harder to trace any online activity back to you.
Obfuscated servers – useful only in extreme censorship cases, these servers scramble your VPN traffic to look like regular HTTPS. Governments that limit VPN usage sometimes rely on traffic analysis to block VPNs. Obfuscated servers solve this problem by fooling such analysis methods.
P2P servers – optimized for P2P traffic and best used when downloading files using torrents. However, they are great for any type of P2P traffic.
Dedicated IP servers – these will be reserved for those who have purchased a static IP. When connected, your IP will always remain the same. This may be useful if you’re not that concerned about staying anonymous and have other use cases. They’re only available with OpenVPN either in UDP or TCP mode.
One of their most recent and requested additions is the split tunneling feature. This lets you choose which apps to use the VPN connection for, and which can connect normally. On Windows, you can configure it to disable VPN for specific apps or enable VPN for selected apps only.
This allows you to control better how you want your VPN to be used in your setup. If you’re using a VPN to unblock streaming libraries, it does make sense to use it for those apps only (usually, the browser app). That way, every time you’ll launch the app, you’ll also turn on the VPN.
The Android version has fewer customization options. It’s only possible to configure apps through inverse split tunneling. That way, you can disable VPN for selected apps, which means that they’ll be routed directly through your ISP.
Sadly, if you’re on Mac, Linux, or iOS, you won’t get split tunneling. Though, with continuous support, you should expect it in the future.
NordVPN’s CyberSec feature uses its proprietary DNS servers to filter out dangerous websites. Once you toggle the CyberSec feature from the options screen, it will start cross-referencing your accessed webpages in real-time.
CyberSec filters out blacklisted webpages associated with malware and spyware spreading, trackers, and other threats. When it triggers, you’ll be notified with a message and won’t be able to enter the website. It’s a hard block, and it’s only bypassable if you turn off CyberSec altogether. The feature is available on all the platforms that have client support.
Dark Web Monitor
This spooky-sounding feature checks dark web marketplaces and pastebins for data associated with your email address. If it ends up there, there’s a good chance that some of the services that you’ve been using were breached by hackers. Hackers can take the accounts with login information and run cross-checks with other pages using credential stuffing. So, if you’re using the same password everywhere, all your accounts can be compromised.
To prevent this from happening, the email you’re using with your NordVPN account can be protected. If your email ever ends up in a dark web marketplace, you’ll be notified by the app. The feature is only available to iOS users. There are rumors that the Android version will also arrive soon.
Pausing and auto-connect
Auto-connect saves you a lot of clicking around if you want to fire up your device and go online. It also means that you can’t disconnect from the VPN if you don’t disable auto-connect. So, when you need to turn it off, it puts you in the awkward position of having to disable auto-connect only to forget to enable it later. The more clicking involved, the more opportunities that this misstep will be a gap that may be enough to expose your real IP.
So, there’s also a more straightforward solution in the form of a pause button. Most VPN services can only be connected or disconnected from a VPN server. There’s no middle ground. NordVPN allows you to pause your connection for some time instead of having to disconnect and manually connect again. After you click pause and select the time, the connection will automatically reinitiate after the time runs out.
It’s a very simple quality of life feature that can be best appreciated when you switch VPN service and find out that it’s missing. Only Windows and Android users will be able to take advantage of it.
Presets is another recently added feature that you can customize to infinity. You can create your custom VPN settings that you can access directly from the app’s main screen. It allows you to choose the type of servers you want to connect to and toggle other features like CyberSec.
There’s even a possibility to include shortcuts to certain apps that are accessible from the main screen of the app. If you’re using different VPN servers for different services, this feature is a godsend. To make your setup more straightforward, there are some pre-made presets. Presets are currently only available on macOS.
Is NordVPN secure?
The key area for VPNs to get right is security. After all, you’re routing your Internet traffic through a third-party – it had better be secure. NordVPN has approximately 14 million customers, so the stakes are high. Here’s what they do right and wrong in terms of security.
After creating your account and installing your client, you can connect to any server on NordVPN’s network. This connection is encrypted, making your traffic unreadable for external watchers. For that, NordVPN uses the AES-256-CBC cipher, which is the gold standard. Many VPN services and financial institutions rely on this to encrypt data.
When your connection is initiated, you’re granted access to the server through the use of the SHA-512 hash function. It scrambles your credentials into 512 binary digits, which to all outsiders are meaningless chunks of data. These are then compared to the cryptographic hashes generated and stored on their servers when you were creating your account, and if they match – you can come in.
It’s worthwhile to point out that many competing VPN providers use SHA-256. So, NordVPN is really pushing the envelope here in terms of what’s possible. The SHA-512 function not only increases the length of the hash – it’s also more algorithmically complex, granting much better safety for its users.
Your data is transferred between the VPN server and your device using tunneling protocols. NordVPN supports these:
OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) – unlike many VPN providers, NordVPN allows you to choose between UDP and TCP version, enabling you to choose a safer (TCP) or faster (UDP) method. You’ll find it available on all clients.
IKEv2/IPsec – best used on mobile devices because you can seamlessly switch between wifi and cellular data. Sadly, it’s only available for iOS (client), Windows, Linux (manual setup), and macOS (on sideload app).
WireGuard (NordLynx) – this custom modification of WireGuard randomizes your IP address on each connection. So, it’s much better than the vanilla WireGuard protocol, which uses the same IP address for each connected user. It’s also ridiculously fast and is the #1 culprit for making other tunneling protocols obsolete. You’ll find it on all apps. NordLynx connection speeds have drastically improved since it was first introduced. Now, there truly is little sense to opt for OpenVPN in terms of safety and speed.
Note: If you’re setting up a VPN connection on Windows manually – beware of DNS leaks. During tests, the IKEv2 connection on Windows leaked DNS addresses. This was fixed by setting NordVPN’s DNS addresses as default on my Ethernet, and IKEv2 adapters instead of Cloudflare’s. So, if you’re planning to go through the route of manual set up, make sure to use their proprietary DNS servers, and you should be in the clear.
Most VPN service providers are merely renting the servers they’re offering to customers. This often means they only manage them by installing custom software, leaving some control to the third-party owning the data center. This can easily backfire (which it did for NordVPN – more on that later).
Following a data breach at a third-party data center in 2018, NordVPN has taken steps to ensure such issues cannot happen in the future. They have converted almost all of their rented servers into an owned, maintained, and fully managed network. This allows them to adhere to strict privacy standards that their clients expect.
Such servers only store data in RAM and don’t even have disk drives, so no data can be written into them. Their network is much larger than the closest competitors that also own their own servers. For example, IPVanish has only ~1300 servers, and they own only a part of their fleet. So, in this regard, NordVPN is truly a trailblazer.
An effective kill switch can make a world of difference. Suppose you’re trying to remain anonymous, but your connection to the VPN server drops. In that case, you could expose your location, IP and not even know about it.
For this reason, NordVPN has a system-wide kill switch, as well as an app kill switch. The former will disable all Internet access if the client detects that you’re not connected to a VPN. The latter will close selected apps when you disconnect from the VPN or the connection drops.
Imagine that you’re using a VPN for torrenting and don’t want any of the P2P traffic to go directly through your ISP. You can set up an app kill switch by adding a µTorrent client. In cases when the VPN connection drops, the app will be closed to prevent data leaks.
On the iOS and macOS apps downloaded from App Store, the system-wise kill switch is enabled by default and built into the client. You won’t see an icon, but it will kill your connection if the connection to the VPN drops. On Windows and macOS (sideload app), you can configure the kill switch on a per-app basis. On Linux and Android you can only enable a system-wide kill switch.
It wouldn’t hurt if their feature handling were more homogeneous. That said, as a user, you get a functional system-wide kill switch on all platforms. On some, you can go as far as configuring it for specific apps. Considering that some platforms like iOS rarely even get such features, that’s a technical achievement in itself.
NordVPN is based in privacy-friendly Panama. If some government would like to ask for your usage logs, they would have to contact a Panamanian court. Given that Panama has no data retention laws, NordVPN isn’t legally required to keep the data that they have on their users. This is why it’s essential to select a VPN service provider that isn’t located in a Five Eyes country, or an otherwise invasive country.
Nord guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN Services, meaning that your internet activity while using NordVPN Services is not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party.
The only data their apps collect is related to crash error reports and application diagnostics data. Suppose you find that this is unacceptable to you. In that case, you can easily opt-out of anonymized app usage at any time from their client. Although, it’s hardly a dealbreaker.
Security and privacy audits
If you were reading the previous section and thought, “Well, that’s all very nice, but how do I know that these promises mean anything”. Well, NordVPN hired an independent agency, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), to perform an audit.
For reference, last year, PwC ranked #5 on Forbes’ America’s Largest Private Companies and is one of the Big Four accounting firms. NordVPN’s no logs policy was audited twice: in 2018 and 2020, both times concluding that their privacy claims are valid.
NordVPN also put themselves through app security audits, as well. In 2019, cybersecurity consulting agency VerSprite conducted various penetration tests on their apps and infrastructure. You can familiarize yourself with the full report here. All the discovered bugs were patched even before the release of the report.
Currently, they’re still trying to improve their service and are offering bug bounties for those testers who manage to find bugs on their HackerOne page. So, as a cybersecurity products vendor, NordVPN is taking the necessary steps towards transparency.
NordVPN servers and locations
As a VPN service provider, NordVPN is truly a global player. Their fleet consists of 5542 servers distributed across 59 countries.
As for locations, Europe, Asia, and the Americas are the continents with the best coverage.
Europe: 36 countries, ~2200 servers
Asia: 11 countries, ~700 servers
Americas: 7 countries, ~2500 servers
So, if you’ll want to connect to those countries, you’ll have the most options to choose from. Otherwise, Africa may feel lacking, but it’s a similar sight across many VPN providers.
As for the servers themselves, most of them will eventually be collocated. There won’t be a single plugged in hard drive in their fleet, as everything will run on RAM.
Does NordVPN work in China?
To find out whether NordVPN works in China, I’ve contacted a customer support agent. I’ve found out that NordVPN does indeed work in China. However, with most operating systems, you’ll have to use a manual setup. So, if you’re traveling there, you won’t have the option to use their handy clients.
The setup can be a bit lengthy, but it mainly consists of installing NordVPN configuration files. For example, here’s a list of tutorials on how you can set it up.
Plans & pricing
NordVPN doesn’t have elaborate pricing schemes or complex plan options. All of their subscription tiers come with the same features and same benefits. They also allow up to 6 simultaneous connections, so you’re getting pretty good value.
In total, there are three pricing tiers that differ in their length and subscription price.
1-month plan for $11.95 a month
1-year plan for $59 a year (or $4.92 a month)
2-year plan for $89 for the first two years (or $3.71 a month)
The longer the plan is, the better the savings. If there’s any chance that you’ll be using a VPN longer than 5 months, you’re shooting yourself in the leg by not taking a yearly plan. For example, for 6 months, each month individually would cost you $71.70 in total. So, it makes more sense to pay $59 and get it for the full year. The same goes for the longest plan: in 8 months, you could spend the same amount for individual months, which could be used to buy a two-year subscription.
As for payment options, there are quite a few of them. You’ll find the usual credit cards, PayPal, AmazonPay, Sofort, and even prepaid cards. There’s also the option to pay using iTunes or Google Pay if you find that more convenient. For most privacy-cautious, there are also options to buy with cryptocurrencies and even from retail stores.
With longer subscriptions, NordVPN is on the lower end of the pricing spectrum. Considering the package of features and subscription benefits, the price seems like a steal.
Can you get NordVPN for free?
In the past, NordVPN used to have a free trial. However, after the system was being abused, so they decided to leave it as a paid-only service. If someone is offering you their free subscription, you’re probably being scammed.
With that said, you can try NordVPN without paying. They have a 30-day money-back guarantee policy. You can subscribe to their service (which will involve providing your payment details) and then ask for a refund. That way, you can try the service for almost a month, so if you’re having doubts about whether you should jump into lengthy subscriptions, that’s an excellent method to try the service before you leap.
Interface and ease of use
NordVPN has a wide variety of clients and manual setup options. If you’re planning to go that route, you can pretty easily find guides for routers that support IKEv2 and OpenVPN. That said, VPN setup on a router will almost always decrease your connection speed a lot more than using the app. That’s because routers are usually not as powerful hardware-wise when compared to smartphones and computers.
The most feature-full version of NordVPN is Windows. Not only do you get several types of split tunneling, but also invisibility on LAN, auto-connect, and pause features.
The only available tunneling protocols from the client are NordLynx, and OpenVPN (UDP/TCP). If you need IKEv2, you’ll have to use a manual setup. However, seeing the speeds, there’s hardly any point to bother.
You’re also getting a clickable map interface, which makes choosing the country to connect easier. However, you can also use the country list in the sidebar. If you click the three dots, you can select a particular server or connect to the fastest one available. So, whichever method is more convenient to you, NordVPN has you covered.
NordVPN took a really strange approach on macOS, which seems to be mostly Apple’s fault. Since Apple are pretty meticulous when allowing updates for existing apps on their App store, the review process often takes longer.
So, in turn, NordVPN has two apps for macOS, which are quite different. One is available from the App Store. The other is downloadable from their official website. The latter is commonly known as the sideaload version and usually has more recent updates, but it only has OpenVPN tunneling protocols, and the kill switch works a bit differently. It also supports older versions of macOS.
The version from the app store supports IKEv2, OpenVPN, and NordLynx tunneling protocols. Plus, the kill switch is enabled by default without the option to disable it. Yet, both versions support the most recent Presets feature.
So, there are certain upsides to choosing one or the other. NordVPN, rather than sticking to one option, introduces some confusion by introducing two Mac versions. However, in the long run, this approach does provide additional benefits for its users. Especially since Windows, sideload macOS, and App Store apps look and feel almost identical.
NordVPN supports Linux, although the only downloadable packages are RPM and DEB from their official site. There is a community-made Arch Linux port with guides for manual and OpenVPN and IKEv2 connections.
You won’t get a graphical application if you’re a Linux user. You’ll have to set up everything using OpenVPN stack with a command line terminal. So, the experience seems lacking when compared to what Windows or macOS users have. At least a minimal graphical interface would be a welcome addition and would save you numerous trips to their website when you want to switch server.
That aside, everything else works fine and even includes DNS leak protection. However, there was a strange bug with the kill switch.
When it’s enabled, the app thinks that my subscription has expired, and doesn’t allow me to connect, redirecting me to their order page. At other times, the app was a bit slow when responding to commands.
NordVPN mobile apps
There are little to no differences between iOS and Android versions from the UI. Both clients use a map/country list hybrid to select the server. Even settings and notifications are accessible by clicking identical icons in the corner of the screen.
The key differences are some platform-exclusive features. For example, iOS has a favorites tab just below recent connections. The kill switch is on without an option to turn it off, and there’s dark web monitoring.
Meanwhile, Android has split tunneling, a configurable kill switch, pausing, and auto-connect. There is a difference in tunneling protocols, as well. iOS can use IKEv2, OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), and NordLynx, while Android doesn’t have IKEv2.
Considering the restrictive nature of Apple’s policies, it is refreshing to see an iOS app that has so much going on. The developers clearly put thought into how to create value in NordVPN clients, even in cases when iOS policies work against them. Android is still slightly better mainly because of split tunneling and the customizable kill switch. However, by now, this is something that many mobile VPN users are used to.
The service also has Firefox and Chrome browser extensions for those who prefer a more lightweight solution. In other cases, it may be a workaround for those using older systems that don’t have their own apps. It’s much easier for users using macOS 9 or Windows XP to install a browser extension than to set up a manual connection.
The most recent feature is Bypass List, which allows you to exclude specific websites from the proxy connection, essentially functioning as split tunneling for websites.
If you are using this on Windows, you can have even better control of your traffic. If you’re on macOS, it provides a sort of workaround to compensate for the lack of split tunneling in the apps.
NordVPN has quite a lot of support options, as you would expect from a premium service. Their support webpage with guides and FAQs aside, they also have a Chatbot to direct you to the solution for most common issues.
Their crown jewels, however, are the 24/7 live chat and email. With the former, you can get an answer in minutes. The customer support agents that I was been assigned were helpful and knowledgeable. If your issue is a bit too complex to solve via chat, they’ll get back to you via email. Still, they responded within a few hours, which is great.
Overall, NordVPN’s customer support is good. You can even contact their support agents via live chat even without registration. The accessibility and quality of provided assistance are the top qualities of this VPN service.
Is NordVPN any good and worth getting?
Despite an over-the-top approach to marketing, NordVPN does follow through with its promises. Their package leaves little room for doubt when considering their encryption capabilities and privacy practices. Plus, their movement for better transparency and server control makes them a worthwhile recommendation when considering lengthier pricing plans.
You are getting a great deal of value in terms of connection speeds, usability options, and other features. Windows and Android users will be getting the best clients. Still, Apple users also get a bunch of nice additions. No matter which platform you’re using, your device won’t feel left out.
I wholeheartedly recommend this VPN service. No matter why you need a VPN, you can be sure that NordVPN will deliver.
Is NordVPN free?
No. NordVPN used to have a free version, however, it was discontinued. Now the service is paid-only. However, you can try it for free for a month using their 30-day money-back guarantee.
Can NordVPN be traced?
Everything that you do with NordVPN stays hidden. Your traffic gets encrypted, and no one can tell you who you are or what you’re doing online. Plus, the service doesn’t collect user data, so your privacy is safe.
Can I cancel NordVPN anytime?
You can cancel your account or recurring subscription at any time from the main NordAccount screen.
How many devices can I use with NordVPN?
You can use the same account on 6 devices at a time. If you set up NordVPN on the router, you can use it with as many devices as the router supports.
How much does NordVPN cost?
NordVPN costs $11.95 for a month, $59 for a year, and $89 for the first two years.
Is NordVPN faster than ExpressVPN?
Based on our tests, NordVPN is faster than ExpressVPN. Also, it has more servers to choose from.