Today’s review will be a little bit different. I don’t normally review software or services here. But the need for a VPN service has increased, perhaps significantly, due to many people opting or forced to work from home. I have been using NordVPN, and another VPN, for more than a year now. So, this review is based on my long-term experience with NordVPN. This review is a bit long, so, you might want to use the table of contents to skip to the portion you are interested in. Without further delay, let’s proceed to my NordVPN review below.
Review Disclaimer: NordVPN did not sponsor this review. We do not accept sponsored reviews here, ever. NordVPN is not a site advertiser as well. However, we are a participant in their affiliate program. We may earn a commission from a qualified purchase when using our affiliate link. If you want to support us, please considering buying or subscribing through our affiliate links.
NordVPN Review – Is This The VPN For You?
When looking for a good VPN, most people would search for “what’s the best VPN this 2020” or would ask questions like “is NordVPN safe to use, and is it trustworthy?” Perhaps some of you just want to access region lock or region-restricted (streaming) sites, like Netflix and some YouTube videos. Or access sites that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) blocked.
In this review, I’ll try to answer some of those questions based on my experience using their service for this past year. There are a lot of sites and media outlets claiming that “Brand X” is the best VPN or “Brand Y” is better and faster. In fact, in most sites, NordVPN is consistently on top of their recommendations.
Important Things To Remember Regarding The Use of VPN
When connected to a VPN, you are accessing the internet as if you are in the same country as the server you are connected to. For example, if you connect to Japan, Taiwan, Germany, or other countries where English is not the default language; do not be surprised if the language is different when you try to Google.
Websites like Facebook, Gmail, or bank accounts have security features that log where you usually access the site from. If they detected that you accessed from a different IP address or country, expect that you will be asked for verification. Some sites even block you, depending on the configuration. So, keep this in mind.
Also, take note that some websites or services are not friendly to VPNs. For example, Steam’s policy does not allow you to use VPNs. It could get your account banned or lock permanently. Some people want to use VPN so that they can access/use region-restricted games or game codes.
VPNs do not clear your browsing history at all. If you want no traces of your browsing history, better surf the web in incognito mode. Also, the incognito mode doesn’t “hide”, secure, or encrypts your data when browsing. Incognito is very different from a VPN.
This is just a “quick reminder”, especially for those who are not familiar with VPNs yet. Perhaps, I’ll add more to a separate article. On with the review…
Is NordVPN Safe To Use?
To answer that question, NordVPN is using an advanced encryption standard or AES with 256-bit keys. NSA recommended this for securing classified information including “top secrete” level. An AES 256-bit encryption is almost impossible to break. One would need a very powerful supercomputer to break it, plus a few thousands or millions of years.
On top of the encryption, NordVPN also uses three VPN protocols. These protocols are IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN, and NordLyx. NordLynx is the new feature here. In the past, NordVPN wasn’t the fastest VPN around. Some people experience a slow connection. NordLynx is the company’s solution to that while offering security at the same time. You can learn more about that here.
Speaking of data security, NordVPN’s security protocols sounds robust and strong. Almost unbreakable. But there could be “kinks in the armor” that will show up along the way. NordVPN does have CyberSec that block websites known for malware or phishing scams. However, if CyberSec isn’t activated or the bad site isn’t registered or discovered yet by NordVPN, there is still a potential that a user can be exposed to such risk or threat.
Their Data Security Policy That You Need To Know
“We take data security very seriously and take all steps reasonably necessary to secure your data (whether technical, physical, or administrative). However, no company can guarantee the absolute security of internet communications. By using the Services, you expressly acknowledge that we cannot guarantee the security of any data provided to or received by us through the Services and that any information received from you through the website or our Services is provided at your own responsibility.”
In short, even if you are on a VPN, you still need to be careful when accessing (bad) sites; as there is no guarantee. In the first place, why would you access a bad site? Unless you don’t know that it’s a malware-infested site or a phishing site.
Also, I’m not about to hide the fact that last year there was a big ruckus when NordVPN got “hack”. Well, unfortunately, it did happen to one of their rented servers in Finland. Expired keys got leaked for that server alone. Fortunately, users’ data were not compromised since they don’t log any activity. And it was somewhat an isolated case.
Is NordVPN Still Trustworthy?
Despite the unfortunate things that happened to NordVPN last year, I think they are still trustworthy. After the incident, the company has been doing a lot to regain its reputation. After all, VPN service is not only about protection, but it is also about trust.
However, this doesn’t mean, they are totally off the hook and I’ll simply say “go ahead get NordVPN… it’s the best out there”. There are things that I think need to be improved as well. For example, they really should enforce or at least encourage users to update their passwords regularly. Perhaps they should crosscheck if the email used was compromised or “got pwned”.
The company is based on Panama, and because of that, they can implement a strictly no-log policy. This means that they don’t log IP addresses, browsing data, traffic information and generally what you do in the internet when using their VPN. The company is also unable to link an individual user to a specific IP address, connection timestamp or other uncollected information.
Top NordVPN Features
To date, NordVPN listed 19 main features that they boast in their VPN. Most of these features are about security and encryption. So, I am just going to highlight some of the features that I think most people would be looking for in a VPN.
NordVPN has the following main features:
- Secure encryption with strict no-logs policy
- NordVPN works in multiple devices and platforms.
- There are 5400+ servers, in 59 countries to choose from
- You can connect up to 6 devices with one account
- There is a Kill Switch feature that instantly stops internet connection the moment you are disconnected from the VPN
- You can get a dedicated IP address and even mask your IP address. Well, masking the IP is one of the reasons why people get VPN in the first place.
- NordVPN supports P2P and other connection protocols like Onion Over VPN, Double VPN and even Obfuscated connection
- NordVPN also ensures that there are no DNS leaks
- You can also block ads and malware site by enabling they CyberSec feature.
- Access region restricted content and watch from Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, BBC, Hulu, etc. You can also access sites that were blocked or restricted by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
- Last but not the least, you also get 24/7 support via chat and email.
You can read a more detailed explanation of their VPN’s features here.
NordVPN Server Locations
As of today, NordVPN has a total of 5,404 servers across the globe. Not all of these servers are good though. Some have a bad connection and unfortunately, finding the best server for you isn’t integrated on the (desktop) software. They have it on their website though. But the rule of thumb, the closest server to your country is usually the fastest or more stable connection.
You can do a quick connect and it basically connects you to the “fastest server”. But based on my experience, it doesn’t always connect you to the “fastest server”. Most of the time, it will connect you to the server with the least load. Having the least load doesn’t always mean it’s the fastest. You may want to use the Server recommended tool, which unfortunately isn’t integrated on the software.
Last year, there was a “favorite” feature, where you can mark a server as favorite. However, that feature is no longer present in the current version. Not sure why they removed it. But I hope they add it back, but this time making it much easier to tag a server as favorite.
For the list of countries where NordVPN servers are available, including a breakdown of how many servers per country and what protocols are supported, kindly visit their page here.
NordVPN is compatible with most of the devices and operating systems that are currently available to the consumers. This includes Windows OS, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux systems. I’m using Windows 10, so in this review, I am just going to show you the user interface in Windows. I’ll include screenshots from my Android phone as well.
You Can Configure NordVPN Directly with Hardware or Proxy
Aside from supporting different platforms and operating systems, you can also directly configure NordVPN with your router or NAS. However, note that I haven’t tried this approach yet. And you have to check NordVPN’s support page and see if your router or NAS can be configured with their VPN.
NordVPN does support a wide range of routers, and some of the top NAS brands (Synology, WD, QNAP). But just to be safe, check first if your hardware is supported. I find this approach a bit of a hassle. And I think this is geared towards advanced users.
NordVPN User Interface
NordVPN has dedicated software for Windows OS and an app for mobile devices like Android smartphones and iPhones. Below, you can see screenshots of the user interface for Windows and Android phones. The user interface or UI is quite easy to follow and understand.
However, I would like to point out that there are features that are not available in the desktop software (yet), but it’s available on the Android app. I’m not sure why, but split tunneling is only available on the Android app. I understand that split tunneling isn’t completely secure, but I hope NordVPN would enable split tunneling on Windows as well.
Note: You the click the images below for a larger view.
After you have installed and login to your account, you will see a large map with pins on it. Those are the server location, and a list of servers and types of servers are listed on the left-hand side as well.
As you can see, connecting to a server is very easy. Just select the type of server you want to connect and choose the location. I recommend that you do a speed test to check if the server you got connected with has a good connection.
On the options menu, you will see the following selections and there are some configurations that you might want to enable or use. You can enable or disable CyberSec that block ad and malicious websites; you can also enable the Kill Switch feature. If you enable Kill Switch, it will automatically disable the internet when you got disconnected to the VPN.
Meanwhile, on the advanced menu, this is where you can enable Obfuscated servers. This option is turned off by default. You can also hide your device from the LAN by turning Invisibility, and you can set a custom DNS as well.
NordVPN’s mobile app is quite similar to the desktop version. There’s also a huge map that can be zoomed in and out; and you can see the list of servers by scrolling down. However, if you check the settings menu, notice that some options are not available on the desktop Windows version. Split tunneling is only available on the mobile app. Also, you can choose which VPN protocol to use.
On the mobile app, there’s also a Tapjacking protection that requires you additional steps to disable VPN. However, I noticed that there isn’t a Kill Switch on the mobile version. And I also noticed that it’s much faster to connect to a server with the app compared to the desktop software. Although internet speed or performance seems to be similar with desktop and mobile in general.
NordVPN Review Speed Test Benchmark Results
Speaking of speed, let’s now check how NordVPN performs by doing some speeds test. Let’s do a quick DNS leak test as well. I tested if there’s any leak using the tools provided by DNSLeakTest.com and IPLeak.net.
DNS Leak Test
In this test, I connected to one of NordVPN’s US server and looks like there are no leaks. Now let’s check out the performance of NordVPN by doing some speed tests.
How Much Speed Do You Lose When Using NordVPN?
Before I show you the speeds that I got using NordVPN’s servers, let me show you how much speed I got first without using a VPN. Currently, my data plan only allows me up to 30Mbps of upload and download speed. I have another plan from a different ISP; it’s faster, however, the speeds are not consistent. The speed from that ISP fluctuates from 40Mbps to 60MBps. So, I can’t use that despite having a faster bandwidth.
Like I said, with my current data plan, I get an average speed of around 30Mbps give or take. That’s very consistent, day in and day out. I also made sure that no other device was connected or using the internet, to avoid inconsistency in the results. So, let’s see how much speed did I lose when using NordVPN.
The first speedtest results are when I connected to a normal or non-specialty NordVPN server. As you can see, my ping time went up significantly, from tens to hundreds of ms. Fortunately, my download speed wasn’t affected that much. However, my upload speed was greatly affected as well.
Most of the time, my upload speed would drop to around 2-6Mbps. Sometimes, I can get an upload speed of around 20Mbps if I got connected to a “good server”. So, when it comes to download speed, I didn’t lose much when connected to NordVPN’s servers. However, I did lose a significant bandwidth for upload and my ping time went high as well.
NordVPN Dedicated IP and P2P Speed Tests
Above are the speed test results I got when using a dedicated IP server and P2P server. My ping time is very high and that is not good for certain applications or scenarios. It looks like a got a better-than-1Mbps upload speed in P2P server. But that’s still far from ~30Mbps of upload speed that I get without using a VPN.
Again, the upload speed isn’t very consistent. Sometimes I get a really low upload speed and sometimes I get an acceptable upload speed. This happens regardless of the protocol I use (normal server, dedicated, P2P, or Obfuscated).
NordVPN Double VPN Speed Tests
If you want to be a bit more cautious, you can try Double VPN or Obfuscated connection. Above you can see the speeds that I got with NordVPN’s Double VPN servers. Basically, what it does is it connects you to the two nearest servers.
So, if you opt for a US server, the pairing would be most likely the US then Canada. If you’re in Asia, it’s most probably Taiwan then Hong Kong. The same goes if you connect in European servers. So far, I didn’t see any cross-continent connection in NordVPN’s Double VPN.
What are obfuscated servers?
If Double VPN is not enough for you, then consider Obfuscated servers. In a gist, obfuscated servers “can bypass internet restrictions such as network firewalls. They are recommended for countries with restricted access.” It adds an extra layer of security/encryption and it hides the fact that you are using a VPN.
There was no significant loss in my download speed, similar when connecting to other servers. Ping time is still a bit high though, and surprisingly my upload speed was better. I was expecting that my speeds, especially upload speeds, would have a significant loss. I was a bit skeptical with the results, especially upload speeds. The next day I re-tested it and my upload speed was down to 5Mbps. The good news is that download speed was the same.
What were my speeds last year?
Unfortunately, I was not able to take some speed test screenshots last year (or previous years) when using NordVPN. But what I can say is that their speed has improved this year. In the past, I experience a substantial loss in my download speed, aside from the upload speed. I have to, tediously, test and find that “golden server” for a stable and consistent connection. But now, it seems NordVPN has sort things out and download speed is pretty much stable, regardless of server protocol.
Okay, before I wrap up this NordVPN review, let’s check out their current pricing and plans first.
NordVPN Pricing and Plans
As of today, NordVPN is offering 4 plans namely: a 3-year plan, a 2-year plan, a 1-year plan, and a monthly plan. The prices are as follows:
|Plan||Amount to Pay / Term||Cost per Month||Amount Saved vs Monthly||Link|
|3-year||$125.64 / 3 years||$3.49||$430.20||Get Plan|
|2-year||$119.76 / 2 years||$4.99||$286.80||Get Plan|
|1-year||$83.88 / year||$6.99||$143.40||Get Plan|
|1-month||$11.95 / month||$11.95||$0||Get Plan|
Right now, NordVPN is currently running a “sale” or “exclusive deal” for a “limited time”. Honestly, they do the 3-year plan deal regularly. Sometimes they do remove it, but eventually, they offer it again. Most of the time, what you will see is the monthly, yearly, and biennial plans.
Compared to paying monthly, you do save (a lot) when you opt for the 2-year or 3-year plan. That’s a lot of years if you ask me. But if you have the plan to stay and use NordVPN for a long time and regularly, you might want to consider the long-term plan. By the way, you are paying for the time or period here; not the speed.
NordVPN does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee in case their service didn’t work out for you. You can drop them a line within 30 days of buying and you will get a full refund.
Finally, let’s wrap up this review…
NordVPN Review Conclusion – Is It Worth It?
Let’s talk about the speed first, because I think this is the area where most people will be interested in. When it comes to speed, I think NordVPN delivers, especially if you are after the download speed only. But based on my experience the upload speed was a hit or miss. Sometimes the upload speed is good or acceptable, and sometimes it’s really slow. I already expect that ping time would be higher since you are connecting to another server.
When it comes to security, honestly, I am no server expert or an auditor or bug hunter. I don’t have the proper tools and knowledge to find kinks in their security protocols or firewall. However, I think NordVPN should check if the email of their subscribers were compromised or pwned, and they should advise their users to update their password regularly.
What I can say though is that the CyberSec feature does seem to do a great job at blocking ads and unwanted pop-ups. I also noticed that some non-ad elements in websites, like embeds, were blocked as well. Although, it wasn’t able to block ads served on Youtube, unfortunately.
There is not a lot to complain about their service. I think the price is reasonable, it’s not the cheapest but it’s not the most or one of the most expensive as well. Their marketing is a bit dodgy though, the “You’ll never see 3Y deal with 70% off again”. Yes, that 3-year deal has been running yearly and you will most likely see it again very soon.
There are a few things that I would like to see improved, aside from the upload speed. Most are on the software side and the user interface. I hope they re-enable and improve the favorites function. The favorites feature was present in the previous versions, but they removed it in the latest version. I’m not sure why.
When it comes to streaming, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test this area. NordVPN supports streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Hulu, BBC, DAZN, and perhaps other streaming services that were not on the list. However, you might want to check out the SmartPlay page here since NordVPN updates its configuration from time to time. From that page, it was mentioned that you should not connect on some servers if you are trying to access Netflix US. Be sure to check that if streaming is your concern.
Pros of NordVPN – What’s Good about it
- Affordable and reasonable price;
- Robust set of security features and encryption;
- Different connection protocols (IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN, NordLynx);
- P2P, Double VPN, and Obfuscated Servers;
- Security and privacy;
- Kill Switch and browser extension support;
- Support for multiple devices and connect up to 6 devices with 1 account;
- Split tunneling but for Android apps only;
- NordVPN has VPN for Business
Cons of NordVPN – What’s not so good about it
- “Find Best Server Tool” not integrated into software/app;
- The “fastest” server is not always the fastest;
- They removed the favorite function. And in the previous versions, it was inconvenient to favorite as server.
- Upload speed is a hit or miss
- No split tunneling – on desktop PC software
Finally, is this the VPN for you?
Different users may have a different need for a VPN. After spending a lot of time using NordVPN, I think it’s a good VPN for browsing and surfing the internet. I don’t consider myself an advanced VPN user, but I think it’s a must especially when you are connecting to a public WiFi or somebody else’s network. Upload speeds are a hit or miss though and expect that your ping time will be higher. In case you were not satisfied with the service or it didn’t work out, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee. Finally, I don’t see any reason why you should not try NordVPN.