NordVPN is lauded as one of the top VPNs, and on paper it’s not hard to see why. Based in Panama with a record number of servers, a strict no log policy and a ton of features, it all seems highly impressive. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? We put it to the test.
- Record server numbers
- 6 connections allowed
- 2 kill switches
- Specialist servers
- Some very cheap prices
- Slightly faster speeds
- 94 countries
- Record Netflix access
- Full access torrenting
- Easy-to-use app
Speed & Expectations
Speed is obviously extremely important to the user, especially if you are looking to use it for things like streaming or torrenting.
But when you connect via a VPN your speed usually goes down since it has to go through another server as well as the VPN’s encryption, protocols, etc.
VPNs obviously try to minimise this lag as much as possible.
The good news is with so many servers, you would hope Nord to have above average speeds due to lower server loads. In fact, Nord is one of the few VPNs to boast ‘the fastest VPN experience’.
In order to test this bold claim, we looked at three separate speed metrics:
- Download speed: The rate at which data is transferred from the server to your device. This is measured in megabytes per second (mbps) and a higher number is better.
- Upload speed: The rate at which data is transferred to the server from your device. This is also measured in megabytes per second (mbps) and a higher number is better.
- Ping (or latency): Tested by “pinging” the server, it’s the amount of time it takes for it to receive and process your request. This is measured in milliseconds (ms) and a lower number is better.
First we ran a baseline test without a VPN, using a 100mbps internet connection in Chicago, IL. Then we ran speed tests with the VPN on connecting to its various server locations, and measured the drop in speed.
We also ran 5 tests each time to avoid blips and increase reliability.
The results of our baseline tests were as follows:
So the average baseline score was:
- Download: 79.2mbps
- Upload: 12.0mbps
- Ping: 10ms
Next we connected to a NordVPN United States server:
US averages of the 5 different speed tests were:
- Download: 47.4mbps (40.2% slower)
- Upload: 10.5mbps (12.6% slower)
- Ping: 13.4ms (34% longer)
(As we were testing from the US, you’d expect this close server location to be the fastest result.)
Next we tested Europe:
Europe’s averages were:
- Download: 0.8mbps (99% slower)
- Upload: 6.5mbps (46.4% slower)
- Ping: 137.8ms (1278% longer)
Asia’s averages were:
- Download: 24.5mbps (69.1% slower)
- Upload: 8.9mbps (26.2% slower)
- Ping: 242.8ms (2328% longer)
South America’s average was:
- Download: 32.6mbps (58.9% slower)
- Upload: 10.1mbps (15.9% slower)
- Ping: 166ms (1560% longer)
And finally Africa:
Africa’s average was:
- Download: 19.4mbps (75.6% slower)
- Upload: 3.7mbps (69.7% slower)
- Ping: 279.6ms (2696% longer)
All these numbers are pretty overwhelming, so we compared these against some other VPNs to get a clear idea of how Nord matches up.
For this, we used the percentage difference to the baseline.
First up, how did download speeds compare?
Download speeds are well above average for South America, above average for the US and Asia, and just below average for Africa. But they are painfully slow for Europe, dropping by a staggering 99%.
Now let’s take a look at upload speeds:
Upload speeds are above average for Asia and South America, below average for the US and Africa,and again well below average for Europe.
And finally Latency:
Latency speeds are well above average for the US, above average for Asia and South America, and below average for Europe and Africa.
NordVPNs performed well in our speed tests for the US, Asia and South America, but was below average for Europe and Africa. I’d say just above average overall. But Nord’s ‘fastest VPN experience’ claim is in tatters for us at this point.
Performance & Features
NordVPN’s website markets heavily on its features, and it’s fair to say it does have a lot to offer.
Number of servers: 5,287 servers
How many active servers are available to connect to across all countries, regardless of their physical location
In case you’re wondering if that’s a lot, it is. No other VPN tops this or even comes close.The next highest one clocks in about 3,100.
Nord also offers several specialised servers, including Onion over VPN, Double VPN, and Obfuscated servers.
Number of countries: 62 countries
How many countries the total number of servers cover, regardless of how many are located in a single country.
With such high server numbers it’s strange NordVPN doesn’t bag first place. A couple of VPNs actually offer 159 countries. However, 62 countries is still high and should be more than enough for most. Here’s a full list of the countries and servers available.
Number of connections allowed: 6
How many devices can be connected to a server (or number of servers) based on a single VPN account or subscription.
This is slightly above average, as a lot VPNs offer 5 connections, and should be enough to connect all your devices.
However there’s a sneaky clause that states you can’t connect devices to the same server at once, unless you choose different protocols.
If you need more connections, check out Windscribe.
Torrenting allowed: Yes (most servers)
Whether you can download and share files on a peer-to-peer or P2P network as opposed to a single server.
Torrenting is allowed in 45 countries.
Furthermore, as an added trick Nord will automatically reroute your connection to a P2P-friendly server if you open a torrent client on a non- P2P server.
Nord are cautious with how they mention torrenting: they use the more polite term ‘P2P’ and have an article describing its perfectly legal uses…..but apart from that they seem pretty torrent-friendly.
Kill switch available: Yes.
Whether the VPN software can disable your connection to the network in the event you disconnect from the VPN server. This prevents your IP address from being exposed.
A surprising amount of VPNs don’t have kill switches, but NordVPN’s feature-packed offering actually includes two.
It has the standard kill-switch and also an app kill switch. Here you can choose apps you want to kill if the VPN drops, leaving your overall connection intact. A nice little extra that could come in handy.
Performance and Features (Summary)
NordVPN comes packed with a slew of features. It has a record-breaking number of servers in a high number of countries, two kill switch options, and torrenting is allowed on most servers. All with an above average 6 connections. Very little room for improvement here.
Privacy & Security
Not all VPNs are created equal, and based on various factors, some are more secure than others.
We looked at the following potential vulnerabilities:
Protocols/Encryption: OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec protocols with AES-256 encryption
A VPN hides your data you using various encryption methods and protocols. NordVPN’s are top-notch and robust, so you can be safe in the knowledge your data is protected.
In fact NordVPN goes above and beyond by offering special ‘Double VPN’ servers, where it encrypts your data twice. Whilst this is probably overkill and will slow your connection down, it’s there if you need it.
We also checked for DNS, IP, WebRTC and Chrome extensions leaks, as well as viruses:
DNS leaks: None found.
IP leaks: None found.
WebRTC leaks: None found.
Chrome extension leaks: None found.
Viruses/Malware: None found.
As you might expect the NordVPN giant came back completely clean, offering flawless protection against leaks and no viruses/malware.
Jurisdiction: Panama. However secure a VPN might be technically, it’s also beholden to its country’s laws. Fortunately, NordVPN is located in Panama, which isn’t subject to any collective jurisdiction like Five Eyes. This is great news, because it means NordVPN isn’t obligated to store or share data with any other countries if asked.
Logging policy: Strict ‘no logs’ policy.
You also want to pay close attention to how much data the VPN itself holds on you. The less the better of course, and definitely not your browsing history.
NordVPN sweeps in with another of its bold claims:
The term ‘no logs’ always gets my back up, as every VPN collects something. But this time it seems to (pretty much) hold true.
- Email address
- Payment info
- Server load information
- Customer service information (basically any communication you have with them via live chat, emails etc)
- Cookies for Google Analytics etc
Though this may seem like a long list, this is bare-minimum stuff that all VPNs have to collect.
The important thing is they don’t track anything to do with your browsing history: the time or duration of any online session, logs of IP addresses or servers used, websites visited or files downloaded.
This is less than most VPNs. In fact, they collect the least data I’ve seen. Way to go, Nord.
I should mention there was a bit of a furore when unsubstantiated claims emerged saying that Nord is owned by a shady data-mining company.
But in response to this NordVPN nobly volunteered for and passed an independent audit in November 2018. You can’t ask for more than that, and hopefully more VPNs will follow suit.
Privacy and Security Summary
NordVPN lands a rare perfect score for security, with top-notch encryption and protocols, no leaks or viruses, the strictest no logging policy I’ve seen, and to top it off it’s based in exotic Panama where there’s no data-retention laws.
We’ve covered speed, features and security. But what is Nord actually like to use?
This section looks at:
- Overall UI/UX
A major bonus to using a VPN is that you can Netflix and chill anywhere in the world. Geo-spoofing tricks Netflix (or Hulu, Youtube, or whatever floats your boat) into thinking you’re in a different country.
In theory anyway. Some streaming services are harder to trick than others, Netflix being at the top of the food chain.
To see how NordVPN fares against this, we tested access to Netflix and all major streaming services using servers from the US, Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
Netflix: Undetected. Nord actually states that Netflix currently works in only 5 countries: the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands and Japan. So we tested all these servers, and they all worked.
It’s actually hugely impressive Netflix works in 5 countries. Most other VPNs only work in the US, UK, or just plain nowhere. Even ExpressVPN, which many report as the top for Netflix, wasn’t working anywhere in our recent tests.
If you connect to any other country, you see the US version of Netflix. This is due to what they call their ‘Smart Play’ feature.
I guess this makes sense as it’s better than Netflix not working at all, even if it is quite US-centric.
In their words, “We do test other region content and if find servers that work with them or find a workaround we update the list.”
Hulu: Partially undetected. Hulu worked fine on US and Africa servers, but was detected in Europe and just timed out in Asia.
YouTube: Undetected. Unsurprisingly YouTube, the easiest to get around, worked in all locations.
Kodi: Undetected. Less surprisingly Kodi also worked fine in all server locations except Europe, which gave us a pixelated image.
Can you use Nord on all your devices? Compatibility varies a lot across VPNs.
We tested Nord with Tor, iOS devices, Android devices, Smart TV’s, Amazon Firestick, Mac, Windows, and routers.
The results are as follows:
- Tor browser: Supported. You can easily use Tor on NordVPN for maximum protection. In fact Nord makes this easy as pie with special ‘Onion over VPN’ servers that automatically use the Onion network . You don’t have to know anything about Tor or do anything different than usual. Genius. Obviously you can expect slower speeds, but it gives you that extra layer of protection if needed.
- iOS (iPad, iPhone): Supported. As expected, NordVPN works smoothly on Apple devices running iOS, including the latest versions of iPad and iPhone.
- Android: Supported. Nord also works with Google’s Android operating system which covers everything from smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even TV media sticks.
- Smart TV’s: Partially Supported. Unfortunately Nord only supports Android TV.
- Amazon Firestick: Not Supported. Unfortunately this is also not supported. But to be fair it’s the same with most VPNs. Firestick lovers should check out Windscribe.
- Windows: Supported. No surprises there.
- Mac: Supported.
- Routers: Partially Supported. NordVPN only supports routers with OpenVPN connections. L2TP/IPSec and PPTP was discontinued in December 2018, to much chagrin.
And finally, what’s Nord like to actually use? User experience is a major factor in most people’s VPN choice.
Whilst 5,000 servers is obviously a major plus for any VPN, it can present a problem interface-wise, and I feel Nord doesn’t handle it as well as it could.
Nord combines both a map and list-based interface. Whilst the map looks nice, it seems kind of pointless. There’s only one pin per country (for obvious reasons with 5000+ servers), and it’s quicker to use the list than waste time dragging the map around.
On the plus side the list is very minimalistic, showing the countries as well as with the Speciality Servers at the top for easy access.
If you click on a country name it auto-connects to the ‘best’ server available.
Clicking on the three dots to the right of the country name displays a pop-up giving you further options of ‘Region’ or ‘Server name’.
However, here’s where it gets a bit clunky. The regions aren’t listed in alphabetical order, and the servers are poorly named and also don’t include region info, e.g. ‘United States #7856’.
This gets confusing very quickly.
Servers are listed in order of server load, which is shown as a percentage to the right of each server. You can also select favorites by clicking the heart icon.
Settings only shows the basics upfront for the non-techies, which I like. Here you can control your kill switches, startup settings and Nord’s new Cybersec feature which attempts to blocks ads and harmful websites.
If you click ‘Show Advanced Settings’ you can also choose your Protocol (although you’ve only two choices: OpenVPN TCP or UDP), set up a custom DNS and run Diagnostics.
You can also turn on Nord’s Obfuscated Servers, useful for disguising your VPN use in really restricted countries like China. This changes your whole main interface to show only Obfuscated servers.
But you can change it back at any time so no biggie.
One annoying bug I encountered in Settings was the scrollbar not working unless I maxed out the screen.
That’s it for the desktop app. For mobile (I tested Android) again the app looks swish, but I found it quite fiddly to use.
Here’s the main interface:
At first I thought my only option was to use the map, however scrolling up reveals the country list.
It works much the same way as the desktop app, but instead of pop-ups or dropdowns, every click takes you to a whole new list of first regions, then servers.
This means you end up pressing your phone’s back button a lot. Like I said: fiddly.
Then again, at least you can sort the servers by best, distance, or alphabetical, an option not offered in the desktop version.
Extra auto-connect settings are also available for wifi, mobile networks or specific servers. Very handy.
There’s one other thing to mention. If you want to watch Netflix on anywhere but a desktop, Nord recommends you connect to a handful of servers. But instead of showing these in the app, they list them in a help article:
Frankly, this is the one of the most unuser-friendly things I’ve seen.
A simple fix would be to include Netflix in the Speciality Servers list. This seems like pure laziness on their part.
NordVPN’s results are rather mixed for this one.
Netflix works in 5 countries, and Hulu worked in the US, so streaming lovers will be delighted. Basic compatibility is there, but it doesn’t go the extra mile to support Smart TVs or Amazon Firestick, and router support isn’t that great either.
UX is OK but not great, especially in the mobile app and when accessing Netflix from non-desktop devices.
Pricing & Refunds
It’s fair to say NordVPN’s pricing goes from one extreme to the other.
It’s monthly cost (if you don’t commit) is very high at $11.95 a month. It’s 1 year plan is $6.99, which is still a bit high. But if you commit to 2 years, it’s only $3.99, and at 3 years, it’s just $2.99. Bargain.
Although not obvious, NordVPN also offer a 7-day free trial at https://free.nordvpn.com/trial/ . You do need to put in your credit card information, and you get put on the 3 year plan if you don’t cancel.
However, Nord offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so if this happens, you still have 30 days to cancel. This is nice, as not many VPNs offer this kind of guarantee.
In terms of payment, you can pay via credit cards, cryptocurrency, or other options like Alipay. Not all VPNs offer the crypto option for extra anonymity.
Lastly, they have a standard 30 day refund policy.
NordVPN has a high 1-month price but low 2 and 3 year prices. They also offer a 7-day free trial and a nice 30-day money-back guarantee. There’s a wide range of payment options including Alipay and Cryptocurrency.
Support is also a key consideration in case you run into trouble. What kind of support does Nord offer?
Well, the great news is Nord offers live chat support. It’s 24/7, it’s not a bot and it’s pretty good.
Everytime we contacted them we got a response within a couple of minutes. They do have an annoying tendency to paste help articles snippets first off, but if you ask again they default to human conversation.
You can also send files and email a copy of the transcript to yourself.
They don’t even push you to end the chat once you’re done, so you can just leave them hanging until another question comes to you.
Email and Facebook support is also available. No phone support, but overall this still knocks most VPNs out of the park, so if support is important to you, this is one to consider.
What about their online help articles? Frankly, these were a bit of a letdown compared to the live chat. They do have a lot of articles covering an extensive amount of issues, with a handy search bar at the top.
But overall organisation and ease of access of their website is subpar in my opinion. For example, they have a great range of set-up guides:
But they’re hard to find. These should be front and centre in their navigation.
Some articles are unclear. For example, this is how they describe their ‘SmartPlay’ feature on their website:
Not exactly crystal clear. I asked their live chat team and got a much better description.
They also have a whole page about their device limit, but they don’t mention the same-server clause.
A few things I read were also plain out-of-date, like their FAQs.
For example, this:
Right with their live chat icon visible in the bottom right-hand corner.
NordVPN gets a big thumbs up for support with their 24/7 high-quality live chat service. However, their website and online help, whilst fairly extensive, is sometimes disorganized and unclear.
What Do Other Reviewers Say?
Well that wraps up our testing and investigation of NordVPN, but what does the rest of the tech world have to say? Here’s a quick roundup for you.
Most of them rate NordVPN as having fast speeds, though a few mentioned some servers could be unreliable.
They raved over NordVPN’s features which they said go above and beyond, especially the number of servers, Netflix access, torrenting servers and Tor servers. Although in terms of the Double VPN opinions were mixed, with some labelling it pretty pointless.
Like us they were also unanimously impressed with Nord’s security and no-logs policy.
Surprisingly most were also wowed by the UI/UX for both desktop and mobile, describing the map-based interface as slick and incredibly easy to use. They used this as a main pro for buying Nord. A few however did call the app ‘clunky’.
Another difference was they were very impressed with NordVPN’s connectivity for Windows, Mac, iOS and Linux.
Most weren’t overly impressed with the Cybersec feature, labelling it as a good effort but not comprehensive enough to replace your usual antivirus/malware softwares.
In terms of price, some said it was expensive whilst some said it was cheap, depending on whether they were focusing on the monthly plan or 3 year plan.
They liked the simplicity of their plans though, as well as the free trial and money-back policy which they say doesn’t have any hidden clauses like most VPNs.
What Do Other Reviewers Say (Summary)
Reviewers seem to like almost everything about Nord: it’s features, security and speed, which they rated as fast. They also loved the user interface and device connectivity.
Criticism was few and far between, some mentioning the high cost of the monthly plan. A few said there were a high number of unreliable servers.
NordVPN mostly delivers on its stellar reputation. It offers a robust, secure service that spoils its users with server numbers and features, including Onion over VPN servers, torrenting, and 2 kill switches. It also seems to be in the lead at unblocking Netflix.
To top it off there’s high-quality 24/7 live chat support, and the trial and generous money-back guarantee gives the impression Nord really cares about its users.
The only drawbacks are the device connectivity, a fiddly app, and also the speeds just weren’t as strong as claimed by Nord or reported by other reviewers.
Prices are also high for the monthly cost, but low if you are willing to commit.
For this reason, we give NordVPN an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5, and we would definitely recommend if you are happy to commit long-term.
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