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.
- Above-average speeds
- Excellent Netflix access
- Good technical security
- Up to 10 connections
- 30 countries
- Easy to use
- No kill switch
- Very basic
- No torrenting
- US location
- Won’t disclose server numbers
- Poor support
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: 5,569 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: 60 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, 60 countries is still very 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 a whopping 45 countries out of 62 countries. Although this isn’t full access, it’s still an incredible amount of torrenting.
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.
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.
They’ve also worked it so that any other server gets access to US Netflix instead of being blocked out. Pretty amazing.
Hulu: Undetected. Hulu worked fine on US servers.
YouTube: Undetected. Unsurprisingly YouTube, the easiest to get around, worked in all locations.
Kodi: Undetected. Kodi also worked fine in all server locations.
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: Support. Amazingly, Nord has an app for Firesticks.
- Windows: Supported. No surprises there.
- Mac: Supported.
- Routers: Partially Supported. NordVPN supports various brands of routers with OpenVPN. You can also buy preconfigured routers.
And finally, what’s Nord like to actually use? User experience is a major factor in most people’s VPN choice.
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 server 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’.
You can select all of its 5,000+ servers, which offers excellent control. However, regions aren’t listed in alphabetical order, and the servers are poorly named and don’t include the city, e.g. ‘United States #7856’.
This can get a bit confusing.
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 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) the app looks swish, but is a bit more fiddly.
Here’s the main interface:
Swiping 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.
However, 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.
NordVPN has amazing streaming with Netflix access in 5 countries, plus Hulu, so streaming lovers will be delighted. It also has incredible device compatibility, covering everything from routers to Firesticks.
The interface is packed with features and highly-configurable. It’s generally easy to use but the server list can be a bit fiddly with so many servers available.
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 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.
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 length of guarantee.
In terms of payment, there’s a wide variety including 3 cryptocurrencies and Alipay. Not all VPNs offer the crypto option for extra anonymity.
NordVPN has a high 1-month price but incredibly 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 3 cryptocurrencies.
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 even Facebook support is also available, so if support is important to you, this is one to consider.
What about their knowledgebase? This is pretty extensive, with a handy search bar at the top.
This includes a great range of set-up guides:
Although they’re hard to find, which is odd.
They also have quite a lot of general information and a lot of troubleshooting articles.
Overall, pretty excellent.
NordVPN gets a big thumbs up for support with their 24/7 high-quality live chat service. Their knowledgebase is also extensive, with great setup guides and a lot of troubleshooting articles.
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 totally delivers on its stellar reputation. It spoils its users with record server numbers and features. It’s got both excellent streaming and torrenting, 6 connections and works on most platforms.
To top it off it’s incredibly secure with 2 kill switches, specialist secure servers, a Panama location and detailed no-logs policy. They’re also one of the few to have done an independent audit. This is one VPN you can trust.
The interface is easy enough to use, but also packed with settings, so it appeals to both beginners and advanced users.
Prices are also low aside from the monthly cost, and ultra-low for its 2 or 3 year plans. This is a total steal for such a premium VPN.
For this reason, we give NordVPN an overall rating of 4.9 out of 5, and we would definitely recommend.
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