NordVPN [2019]: Is it the Best VPN? In-Depth Test & Review

In this detailed NordVPN review, we test and rate its most crucial features to find out how fast, private and secure this popular VPN service really is.

NordVPN shows up near the top of every list of the best VPN services. We recently looked at this VPN service in a head-to-head competition against ExpressVPN and found it to be a worthy challenger for the top spot as you can see here: ExpressVPN vs NordVPN.

Check out our extensive NordVPN review for 2019 below.

In this article, we’re going to cover NordVPN in more detail so you can decide for yourself whether you’ve found the VPN service you are looking for.

Here are the aspects of NordVPN we will look at today:

  • Device Support
  • Speed
  • Security and Privacy
  • Geographic and Legal Considerations
  • Global Coverage
  • Streaming and Torrenting
  • Connections, Price, and Value
  • Special Features
  • Customer Support

Let’s dive right in.

Device Support

It doesn’t matter how good a VPN is if it won’t work with your devices. Fortunately, that won’t be a problem with NordVPN. These guys support all the major operating systems and quite a few of the more exotic devices. These include:

NordVPN Home

Partial Client List

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Android TV
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Several types of routers
  • Even more

Speed

Lots of VPN reviews publish speed test results with definitive upload and download results. Or weighted averages over some period of time. Or some system of their own.

All these tests are useful to a certain extent. But speed-testing a VPN is complicated by the many variables that need to be taken into account. Here are some of the factors that can affect the results:

  • The location of the computer doing the testing
  • The speed of the Internet connection of the computer doing the testing
  • The location of the VPN server (or servers) being tested
  • The time of day at the testing computer
  • The time of day at the servers being tested
  • The type of data used in the test

Instead of trying to set up the be-all and end-all VPN speed testing environment (if such a thing even exists) we decided to take advantage of some existing data. Specifically, we consulted the VPN Comparative Test report published in 2018 report by AV-TEST GmbH. This report was commissioned by AnchorFree, the publisher of HotSpot Shield Elite. It compared 12 VPNs on a variety of metrics, including NordVPN.

NordVPN Receives SpeedTest Recommended Badge – Source: NordVPN.com

In its speed testing, it considered the upload and download speed of the connection as well as the latency. If you are a real-time gamer, latency is probably at least as important to you as download speed. This is true even though you don’t often see it quantified in VPN speed testing.

Digging into the AV-TEST GmbH report, we learned that NordVPN scored well for latency as well as upload and download speed. While not the fastest VPN in the world, it provides better than average performance that should be adequate for any use.

Since Security and Privacy are the main reasons most of use a VPN, let’s go there next.

Security and Privacy

While people often mix up security and privacy, they are two separate characteristics you need to browse the Internet safely. With regards to VPNs, security is the ability to prevent others from reading the messages that flow between your computer and the VPN service. Using strong encryption without any backdoors provides security.

Privacy is the ability to control who gets to see your personal data. With regards to VPNs, the privacy conversation usually centers on what kind of logs a VPN retains and how long it keeps them.

NordVPN Security

NordVPN provides excellent security for your Internet activities. It uses top-end encryption to keep snoops from seeing what you are doing online.

For iOS and macOS operating systems, NordVPN defaults to using the IKEv2/IPsec VPN protocol and secures your data using Next Generation Encryption (NGE).

NordVPN Selects the best Encryption Settings

For Windows, Linux, Android and other operating systems, NordVPN defaults to using the OpenVPN protocol. As the name implies, OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol. For maximum security, their OpenVPN system uses the AES-256-GCM encryption algorithm with a 2048-bit DH key.

Beyond the powerful encryption, NordVPN protects you against IP and DNS leaks. It did sometimes allow WebRTC leaks during the 2018 AV-TEST testing program. But that was then. According to this September 2018 blog post, NordVPN claims to have WebRTC leaks stopped.

Most NordVPN products have a built-in Kill-Switch. When you are connected to the Internet through a VPN’s network, your communications are encrypted and secure. But what happens on those rare occasions that you lose the connection to your VPN? You would then be connected to the Internet through your old, non-encrypted connection. In other words, your connection would no longer be secure.

NordVPn Kill-Switch – Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The NordVPN Kill-Switch is meant to address this problem. If you lose your connection to the NordVPN network, the Kill-Switch is designed to stop your computer from communicating with the Internet, thereby protecting your information from being exposed.

Depending on your operating system, the Kill-Switch works in two different ways. If you use mobile devices running the Android or iOS operating systems, the Kill-Switch completely disables all Internet access instead of blocking specific applications. This is the safest way to go as it ensures that your unencrypted data cannot leak out onto the Internet.

On Windows and macOS desktop systems, you tell the Kill-Switch which applications it should block if the connection drops. Other applications will revert to sending data without encryption. While this is a decent approach, it is less secure than blocking all communications.

The NordVPN team realizes that this is an issue. On its website, it says that:

“…we are on the way to improve our Kill Switch feature, so it could terminate the Internet connection on the system level instead of shutting down the apps.”
NordVPN Website
NordVPN Website

To summarize, with the exception of their still evolving Kill-Switch technology, NordVPN gives you the highest security possible, regardless of what device you use it on.

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Proxy Servers

Sometimes you don’t need the security that a VPN can provide. If all you need is the ability to change your IP Address, and don’t care if your communications are encrypted, you can use a Proxy Server instead of a VPN.

One such situation might be when you want to connect to a streaming service in another country. Many such services block connections from outside their geographic region. They do this by checking the IP Address of every device that tries to connect. By connecting to the service using an IP Address that the service recognizes as valid, you can get around their attempts to keep you out.

How a Proxy Changes Your IP Address

A VPN gives you the ability to connect to servers that have different IP Addresses so you can pull this trick with NordVPN. But the encryption/decryption that the VPN must do adds to the resources you need and slows down the connection.

To give you the benefits of changing your IP Address, without the costs incurred by the encryption, NordVPN includes access to its high-speed Proxy Servers. To take advantage of this, go to this page and follow the instructions for your particular web browser.

NordVPN Privacy Policy & Confirmation of No-Logs Status

NordVPN has an excellent “no-logs” policy. And in 2018 it decided to prove that this was more than just idle marketing talk. They engaged PriceWaterhouseCoopers AG to audit the claim. According to this post in the NordVPN blog:

“The auditors’ goal was to see if our service lives up to our claims of providing a no-logs VPN service, and we believe we’ve passed the test.”
NordVPN Blog
NordVPN Blog

The full results of the audit are not publicly available. However, we have seen no evidence that contradicts NordVPN’s claim of providing a no-logs VPN service.

Note: There is some controversy over the use of the term “no-logs” because all VPNs have to keep some logs to function properly. We consider the term “no-logs” to be shorthand for, “no connection or activity logs that could be used to connect specific users to specific activities.”

Geographic and Legal Considerations

A few years ago, we often didn’t know or care where a web server was physically located or where a website was legally based. But these considerations are extremely important when it comes to a VPN.

Countries have very different policies when it comes to online activities. Online activities that are completely legal in one country can get you thrown into prison in another. Countries (and their spy agencies) also have very different ideas about online privacy. Some countries respect everyone’s privacy. Others believe that no one has a right to privacy and do whatever they can to spy on everything you do.

So when choosing a VPN service, it is important to know where they are based and what requirements that location imposes on them. Let’s talk about NordVPN specifically:

Legal Jurisdiction

NordVPN is located in Panama, a privacy-friendly jurisdiction. Panama doesn’t impose any mandatory data retention policies on VPN services. As we saw in the Privacy section, NordVPN takes advantage of the freedom Panamanian law provides and is a no-logs service.

Legal Jurisdiction

However, reportedly under pressure from the United States, in 2012 Panama enacted an extremely strict copyright law. With fines potentially running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading copyrighted material, streaming content here could lead to big problems. While the Panamanian government doesn’t require NordVPN to log user activity today, that policy could change in the future.

That said, the odds of a country going after a non-citizen for violating local laws are far smaller than for a citizen. Assuming you don’t live in Panama, the risk that you would be targeted by any such changes seems very small.

Physical Distance

While signals travel quickly across the Internet, they are not infinitely fast. The further they must travel, the longer it takes. When you visit a website without a VPN, the only distance involved is that between your computer and the server that the website is on. When you visit the same website with a VPN, the messages have two legs to travel: between your computer and the VPN server, and between the VPN server and the website.

Server Physical Distance – Source: Shutterstock.com

The longer these two legs are physically, the longer it takes to pass messages back and forth. Using a VPN server located physically close to you or to the website you want to connect to allows you to minimize the delays. NordVPN has over 5,100 servers distributed across 60 countries around the world. This greatly increases the chance that you will be able to connect to a VPN server close to you or to the website or other resources you want to view, thereby minimizing the impact of this factor.

Note: As far as we know, the speed of light is the maximum speed in the universe. Very roughly, light travels at less than 300 km per millisecond. If you use a VPN server that adds 1,500 km to the total distance messages must travel (less than the distance between London and Madrid) that distance along can add 10 ms latency (5 ms in each direction) to the connection. Considering that a great latency is less than 20 ms total, adding 10 ms because of the location of the VPN server is a problem.

Censorship and Surveillance

Some countries censor news and information that the government doesn’t want the local populace to see. In other countries, they let locals do whatever they want, but the police and intelligence agencies record what they do to use it against them in the future.

While Panama doesn’t do things like this to its own population (as far as we know), if you are Panamanian, you should probably avoid NordVPN to avoid future problems.

Global Coverage

NordVPN List of Servers

When it comes to global coverage by a VPN service, bigger is indeed better. More servers mean more IP Addresses to use when logging in to services. It also means more options for getting around a server that is busy (hence slow), down for maintenance, or otherwise not useful to you at the moment. If speed is an issue, more servers mean more options for minimizing the physical distance messages must travel between your computer and whatever Internet resource you are connecting to.

More countries mean more options for logging into services that are geo-restricted or censored.

NordVPN has over 5,100 servers in 60 countries. This is one of the largest VPN networks in existence. This great size gives you the benefits we just covered. It also gives NordVPN the ability to offer specialized servers and services like those we cover later in this article.

Streaming and Torrenting

One of the prime use cases for a VPN is viewing multimedia content. Whether streaming (viewing content real time) or torrenting (downloading a copy of the content first) people are usually most concerned with the speed of the VPN. But there is more to this story than raw speed. We’ll cover speed and related factors quickly, then move on to ensuring that you are safe when you stream or torrent content.

Speed and Related Factors

Assuming you have a decent ISP, NordVPN is fast enough for streaming and torrenting. They provide fast servers and impose no bandwidth limits or per-month download limits. According to the 2018 AV-TEST GmbH report, NordVPN was far faster for streaming and torrenting than most VPNs tested. In fact, NordVPN took the number one spot in our best VPN for torrenting guide.

But this doesn’t take into account some related factors. As we touched on earlier, the physical location of the VPN server you use can slow things down by making messages travel further. With so many servers in so many locations, NordVPN gives you lots of options to avoid this problem. NordVPN also offers special servers that are optimized for P2P sharing.

Bandwidth Throttling

As you know, even the fastest VPN will slow down your connection somewhat. However, there is one scenario where using NordVPN might speed up your streaming/torrenting. Some ISPs use Bandwidth Throttling to slow down people who are streaming content. They do this to reduce the load on their network.

In situations like this, the fact that NordVPN encrypts your messages may let you avoid this throttling. If the ISP doesn’t know you are streaming or torrenting, it doesn’t know to throttle your connection. That could result in higher downloads speeds than when you are not using the VPN.

Security While Streaming or Torrenting

When streaming, but particularly when torrenting, it is imperative that your VPN won’t expose your real IP Address. While rare, content creators have been known to track down torrenters using their IP Address and then sue them for huge amounts of money in hopes of discouraging others from downloading content in this way.

Streaming

Luckily, NordVPN’s Kill-Switch and WebRTC leak protection will keep your IP Address safe.

What about Netflix?

Netflix goes to great lengths to try to force you to use the only the regional Netflix library you subscribe to, and only if you are within the geographic region covered by that regional library.

Here’s an example. Assume you are not using a VPN at the moment. If you are subscribed to Netflix USA, and you try to log into the service using a United States IP Address, you should have no trouble connecting to Netflix USA.

Netflix Vpn

But say you are vacationing in London. Now if you try to log into Netflix USA, you won’t be able to. Why? Because you are trying to log in using a UK IP Address. To get Netflix now, you would need to subscribe to Netflix UK and connect to that. This would give you access to the Netflix UK library, which will have different content than the USA library.

Or you can use a VPN. Not many VPNs can get you past Netflix security so you can use your normal subscription. NordVPN is one of the VPNs with a good track record of getting around or past or over the blockades Netflix throws up to keep you out.

Now understand that this doesn’t mean that NordVPN outsmarts Netflix 100% of the time. No VPN can do that. Netflix engineers are in a constant war with VPN engineers, with temporary victories for one side or the other. All we can say for sure is that if you want to beat Netflix geo-blocking, NordVPN has more success than most VPN services.

Connections, Price, and Value

Here are some more factors that you will want to consider when evaluating NordVPN.

Connections

The majority of people today have several Internet-connected devices in the house. I typically use two computers, a smartphone, and a tablet during a day. It would only make sense to protect all of them with a VPN.

Most VPN services allow you to install their software on as many devices as you want. But they put limits on the number of simultaneous connections you can have. That is, they only allow a certain number of devices to be actively connected to their network at the same time.

NordVPN Allows up to Six Simultaneous Connections

NordVPN allows you to have six (6) devices connected to the VPN network simultaneously. This is a generous policy as most VPNs support fewer simultaneous connections.

But what do you do if you need more than 6 simultaneous connections? Before you sign up for a second NordVPN subscription, consider installing the service on your router. If you can do that, every device connected to the router will automatically use the VPN.

NordVPN has apps that can be installed on several models of router. As you can imagine, getting this setup is more complicated than setting it up on a computer or smartphone. But if you have a bit of computer savvy and your router is one of the ones that NordVPN supports you could protect your entire household at once.

If putting NordVPN on your router sounds appealing, you can find out more here.

Price

If you are willing to invest in a multi-year subscription, NordVPN has some great pricing. Here is NordVPN pricing as of April 2019:

Length of PlanPriceTotal Price Billed Up Front
1-month$11.95 per month$11.95
1-year$6.99 per month (billed once per year)$83.88
2-year$3.99 per month (billed once every 2 years)$95.75
3-year$2.99 per month (billed once every 3 years)$107.55

A month-by-month subscription is expensive, at $11.95 per month. But look how the prices drop as you extend the term. A three-year subscription runs $2.99/mo and costs only $24 or so more than a one-year subscription. $2.99/mo ($95.75 billed upfront once every three years) is a good price for a quality product like NordVPN.

NordVPN doesn’t offer a free trial. But don’t worry about getting locked in before you get to really put the service to the test. The company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can check it out thoroughly without locking yourself into a long-term contract.

Value

The value of a VPN is a personal judgment. It depends on exactly how you will use the service and how important things like online security and privacy are to you. However, assuming that you are a typical VPN buyer looking to protect your privacy and security while using your computer, then a multi-year NordVPN subscription offers a lot of value.

Is NordVPN a good Value?

You get high-end protection for six simultaneous connections from a proven no-logs VPN with a huge network of servers and support for pretty much anything you might want to do online. All for less than $3 per month if you wish.

That sounds like a good value to us.

Additional Features

As we’ve already seen, NordVPN gives you some useful features beyond basic VPN functionality. Things like free Proxy Servers and dedicated P2P servers are great bonus features. Here are a few more:

YouTube Proxy – YouTube applies all sorts of restrictions on who can view videos and where you can view them from. The NordVPN YouTube Proxy gives you an encrypted connection to YouTube that allows you to bypass these restrictions. It takes the form of a Chrome or Firefox extension.

YouTube Proxy

Onion over VPN – With Onion over VPN, NordVPN does all the hard work to get you connected to the Tor anonymity network. While we think it is better to set up Tor browser and your VPN separately, (see our Tor with VPN guide) this could be a good solution for occasional Tor use.

Onion Over VPN

CyberSec Security Suite – This feature automatically blocks malicious websites, kills ads, and prevents botnets from taking control of your computer. To find out more, click here.

CyberSec

Double VPN – If you feel that the protection provided by one VPN isn’t enough, and you don’t want to add a secure browser like Tor to the mix, NordVPN offers Double VPN. As the name implies, this involves connecting to one VPN server, which then connects to another VPN server, resulting in double encryption of your messages.

Double VPN

We’re not convinced of the benefits to this approach, but if you need extra strong security, it might be for you. Click this link to find out more about the benefits of Double VPN.

Customer Support

Nobody wants to contact Customer Support, but it is sure nice to know that it is there if you ever need it. NordVPN offers a full range of support options including:

  • 24/7 Live Chat
  • Email Support
  • Knowledge Base

While we haven’t had to use NordVPN Customer Support, it has earned good marks from people who have used them.

Conclusion

NordVPN should do the job for anyone seeking a quality VPN service that ranks near the top in virtually every category.

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References

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