NordVPN full review
NordVPN is one of the best-known names when it comes to VPNs and while that isn't a good enough reason to sign up and use it, it also happens to be one of the best all-round VPN services out there.
It ticks just about all the boxes:
- Over 5500 servers across 59 countries
- Unblocks Netflix, iPlayer & many other streaming services
- Uses custom WireGuard protocol for super-fast speeds
- 24/7 live chat support
- Apps for all popular devices
- Audited no-logs policy
Why use a VPN?
VPNs have many uses, but the primary reason most people consider one is to unblock videos. Streaming services such as Netflix offer different content in different regions. Sometimes more seasons of a TV show are available in one particular country and simply by connecting to a NordVPN server in that country lets you watch those extra episodes and movies.
And NordVPN does a great job of unblocking many video services in multiple countries.
All VPNs - because of how they work - offer extra privacy while using the internet. Your data is precious and you don't want to give too much away, so using a VPN whenever you're browsing websites or doing anything else online means your ISP, your government and anyone else who has an interest will be prevented from knowing what you're up to. How? By encrypting everything that travels to and from your device.
Ignore the claims that VPNs make you anonymous: this isn't really true. As soon as log into Amazon, your Google account or any other website, that site or company knows who you are and what you're doing: you're not anonymous just because you're connected via a VPN.
However, if you don't use a VPN, your internet activity can be traced right back to your exact location, which many people consider an invasion of privacy. So though you're not always anonymous, a VPN can obscure your true location.
Plus, the encryption stops anyone hacking you when you're connected to open public Wi-Fi which tends to be unencrypted.
- See the latest deals on NordVPN's website
Features & Apps
- Apps for iPhone, Android, Windows, macOS, Amazon Fire TV & more
- Double VPN
- Browser extensions
- Split tunnelling
- Kill switch
At the time of writing NordVPN had 5532 servers in 59 countries. Big numbers of servers and locations aren't reasons in themselves to choose a VPN. What's important is that those locations are where you want them: i.e. they're locations near you (for the best speeds) or where you want to appear to be from, in order to unblock region-locked content.
And NordVPN covers all the popular locations, including the US, UK, plenty of European countries, the Far East, South America and Australia.
You'll also want to use NordVPN on all your devices and - within limits - you can. Apps are available for iPhone, Android, Windows, macOS, Amazon Fire TV and other devices. The apps all have the same easy-to-use interface and let you scroll around a map to pick your location or browse from a list of servers.
If there's an annoyance, it's that you can't pick the specific server from, say, the 154 available in Toronto, when you're using one of the mobile apps. You used to be able to do this in the Windows app but that ability was removed recently. Plus, none of the apps tell you which server has the lowest ping or the least amount of users. Some rivals do tell you these details, but it's a minor quibble really since - unless you're a gamer - you're very unlikely to ever have any problems. And if you did experience a slow connection, you can simply disconnect and reconnect.
Connections typically take just a couple of seconds and you can change the default setting of not automatically connecting to to auto-connect on any Wi-Fi network that isn't in your trusted list. Or you can choose 'Always' which covers mobile connections as well as Wi-Fi.
You can have up to six devices connected to NordVPN at the same time. That's fewer than some rivals, including Surfshark which allows an unlimited number of connections. But six should still be enough for most people, including families.
Where NordVPN used to have a 'SmartPlay' feature, that has disappeared and there's no need to pick a server based on the type of activity you want to do: whether streaming video or browsing the web, you can just choose your country (or server) and click the Connect button.
The only exception to this is P2P which, for the uninitiated, is the downloading of large files - typically videos but it can be operating systems, apps and games as well. For this, the NordVPN apps have a subset of 'P2P Speciality' servers, and you should choose one of those before beginning your download.
Unlike some VPN apps which have a bewildering list of settings, NordVPN keeps it simple. When you go into the settings, you'll find you can choose a specific protocol (NordLynx is the one we'd recommend) but it will pick one automatically by default.
The only setting you'll have to change is the kill switch, which is off by default in the Windows 10 app (but on in Android and iOS). In Windows you can either have it stop the internet connection to all apps, or close those in the list you create if the VPN connection stops for any reason or you manually disconnect from a server.
It's good that the kill switch is present in the Android, iOS and macOS apps too, but here it simply stops the connection for all apps: there's no exception list.
Split tunneling was one tick-box that NordVPN hadn't checked off until fairly recently. It allows only some apps use the VPN connection while others don't. You might only want your web browser to use the VPN connection as there's no reason for Windows updates to be downloaded over the VPN, for example.
Some VPNs offer browser extensions as a kind of alternative to (and in some cases as well as) split tunnelling, but you have to be careful: some so-called VPN browser extensions are merely proxies which don't encrypt traffic.
Getting back to split tunnelling, this feature is now available in NordVPN's Windows and Android apps. It's not uncommon for this feature to be absent from iOS and macOS apps, but it's still a frustration if you are a Mac user. (Read our Mac-focused review of NordVPN on our sister site Macworld for more.)
What you do get is double VPN. This routes your connection through two different VPN servers, changing your IP address twice for an extra layer of protection. That's a feature not often seen, but it is offered by Surfshark.
Dark Web monitoring
A relatively new feature is the Dark web monitor. This watches out for 'leaked info linked to your email address'. If any is found, you'll get an alert so you can change your password or take some other action.
Don't get too excited though: it only monitors for the email address you use for your NordVPN account and you can't add other emails or credit card details: it's not a fully fledged ID protection service.
When you first begin using NordVPN you’ll be asked whether you’d like to turn on CyberSec, which is essentially an ad blocker with some malware protection built in. This is a reasonably new feature for the service, and one that several of its rivals have also adopted. It’s designed to protect against intrusive ads, malware, phishing attempts and other threats.
Don't confuse this with fully-fledged antivirus software and we prefer it if our readers don't block ads as they are part of what keeps our content available to read for free. You can turn CyberSec on or off at any time.
- One of the fastest consumer VPN services
- NordLynx based on WireGuard protocol
As mentioned, NordVPN has exceptionally good performance thanks to the fact that it has added WireGuard to its range of protocols, and this is available across all the various apps.
It's called NordLynx because no VPN service can use plain WireGuard (for some boring technical reasons which you can read about if you're really interested. They're do to with the way the connection is established and to ensure your identity is protected).
Much more important is the speed you get when using NordLynx, which goes far beyond the average broadband connection speed. Even our office connection - at 100Mbps for both upload and download - isn't quick enough to show how fast NordVPN is.
Instead, we have to look to third-party testing, such as results from VPNpro. You can see these for yourself, over the past 7, 14 or 30 days in five different countries. This is a much better gauge of how quick a VPN is than a 'snapshot' test taken at only one point in time.
The speed of a VPN varies all the time and is affected by many factors, but the point is this: NordVPN is the fastest VPN service currently, delivering between 1000Mbps and 2000Mbps in both the US and UK.
Note than ExpressVPN's speed here is tested with OpenVPN, because its own protocol, Lightway, isn't yet the default. The only other service tested with WireGuard is Surfshark which isn't as fast as NordVPN, but still very quick.
- Based in Panama
- Servers being upgraded to RAM-only
- Some owned & operated servers
NordVPN is based in Panama. This means it is outside the jurisdiction of the ‘14-eyes’, a collective of countries that has agreed to exchange information freely with one another, with a view that this will enhance everyone’s security. Any VPN provider based within those countries can be asked to share the data of its customers and is legally obliged to comply, which some say impinges on our freedom and privacy.
NordVPN chose Panama for its favorable privacy laws and the fact there is no mandatory data retention, so even if a Panamanian court requested it to hand over any customer data, the most it would have is an email address and payment information.
It runs a no-logs policy and, like VyprVPN, has been audited (by PWC) to verify that it sticks by this rule. You can read more about that here.
NordVPN still works in China and the Middle East thanks to the help of obfuscated servers designed to get around heavy restrictions on internet access in those regions. Nord doesn't have any servers in China, but this isn't a problem: you can still connect to servers in Hong Kong.
Do bear in mind there are no guarantees: VPNs and governments - and video services - play a cat-and-mouse game of blocking and unblocking each other, and things change on a daily basis.
NordVPN can also connect to The Onion Router (Tor) if you're using the Windows app. This is free software designed to enable anonymous communication by directing internet traffic through a huge overlay network. This conceals the user’s location, therefore making it tricky for anyone to trace the internet activity and protecting the privacy of its user.
Usually you’d be required to have an Onion browser in order to access this, but NordVPN has Onion over VPN servers that mean you are not required to do so.
Price & Availability
As with most VPN services, subscribing to Nord for just one month costs a lot, but if you’re willing to commit to a longer subscription, prices drop sharply.
The cheapest option at the time of writing was for two years, which works out at £3.29 (inc VAT) / US$3.71 per month but - like other VPN services - requires the whole amount to be paid all in one go, so works out at £79 / US$89.
You don't need a coupon code: just click through to see deal on NordVPN's website.
Note that after the two years are up, your subscription will automatically renew for a year. The prices are subject to change, but at the time of review, that was £106.08 for those in the UK and $143.40. That's not at all competitive, so you're better off cancelling and looking for another deal at that point.
If you've been researching VPN services, you'll know that there are cheaper services out there even when looking at the first two years. If you want to pay less than £2 / $2 per month, you can. But you won't get such as well-rounded service that offers the features, speeds, support, apps and other things that make NordVPN so attractive.
If you prefer to be totally anonymous, you can pay via various Bitcoin services, but there are the usual credit and debit card options, among others.
If you are concerned about whether or not NordVPN is right for you, there's no free trial. But you can take advantage of the 30-day money back guarantee (which the company says it will honor for “accounts in good standing” that purchased the subscription outside of the Apple App Store).
For alternatives see our roundup of the best VPN services.
With 24/7 live chat support, reliable, fast connections, an audited no-logs policy and the extra security offered by Double VPN, NordVPN ticks all the important boxes. It'll give you extra privacy and security online and will unblock a lot of the popular streaming services.
There are cheaper options, but Nord remains the best all-rounder.
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