NordVPN review

If you’ve heard of one virtual private network, it’ll be NordVPN. With far-reaching advertising campaigns that you’ll see on sport teams’ uniforms and on prime-time TV, it’s as close to a household name as anything CyberSec is likely to come. However, is this all bluster and marketing, or is NordVPN genuinely one of the best VPN services on the market?

In this review we’ll explore our findings from our in-depth testing of the software on numerous systems and its browser extensions, analyse NordVPN’s privacy, security, streaming and torrenting performance, and more – and then you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s the right VPN for you.

Now, we’ll briefly run down our review in a few paragraphs. Then you can take a deep dive into each specific area in our full review below.

NordVPN 1-minute review

NordVPN isn’t bad value, with prices starting at $3.71 a month on its two-year plan, and topping out at $11.95 if you want the freedom of a monthly rolling contract. There are a number of options that look like better value on paper, but Nord’s support for PayPal, credit card, Bitcoin, and other crypto payments mean there’s plenty of options.

You’ll be covered by industry-standard AES-256 encryption, plus some excellent extra features such as Onion over VPN and Double VPN. Nord’s obfuscated servers also provide great performance in countries like China which restrict VPN use. You also get a kill switch in case your connection drops, and reliable DNS leak protection.

Recent independent audits have confirmed NordVPN’s no-logs status – a real draw for those interested in true security – and this goes a long way to redeeming the well-publicised 2018 server hack and the company’s arguably poor response to it.

NordVPN’s connection speeds are excellent, especially if you use the NordLynx protocol – our UK tests reliably delivered speeds of around 350Mbps. Combined with excellent streaming service unblocking, this means Nord’s a good choice for streaming. Plus, torrent support on most, but not all, servers means it’s useful for P2P.

The desktop apps are smart, powerful, and easy to use. However, the mobile apps can be a little awkward thanks to the map-based interface. It works well on larger screens, but handheld versions suffer. However, while device support is good, you’ll only be able to use your plan on six devices at a time, though.

Nord’s 24/7 support team is excellent, and the knowledgebase is packed with good articles – although finding the correct article can be tricky.

Overall, NordVPN is absolutely one of the best services on the market, and a great all-rounder. However, to learn more, just keep reading.

nordvpn ui

(Image credit: NordVPN)

Latest updates

NordVPN’s rollout of the WireGuard-based NordLynx has been somewhat transformative, and has really upped connection speeds across the board. This looks like it’ll soon become the norm, with many large providers either adopting WireGuard (Surfshark, CyberGhost) or developing their own alternatives (ExpressVPN’s LightWay, Hotspot Shield’s Catapult Hydra).

Undertaking a second independent audit of its servers is also excellent recent-ish news from Nord. As more and more VPNs endeavor to become truly zero-logging, proving so is also becoming ever-more important.

NordVPN on paper

Number of servers: 5,400+
Number of countries:
59
Platforms supported:
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Fire TV, Android TV, Xbox & PlayStation (SmartPlay Smart DNS), Chrome, Firefox
Simultaneous connections: 6
Split tunneling:
Only with browser extensions and Android
Kill switch:
Yes
Supported protocols:
OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2, NordLynx (Wireguard), SSTP
Country of registration:
Panama
Support: 24/7 live chat, knowledgebase, email

NordVPN homepage

(Image credit: NordVPN)

NordVPN price: how much is it, and is there an NordVPN free trial?

One of the first things that strikes potential customers is the price of any service, so that’s where we’ll start.

Opening up at $11.95 on a one-month plan, NordVPN is about average in terms of a short contract. However, as with almost all VPNs, we start to see some significant savings if you decide to commit for longer – on a six-month plan you’ll pay $9 a month (albeit paid upfront).

Sign up for a year and that’ll drop to $6.58 a month, but the best savings comes on the two-year plan – just $3.71 a month. That offers a pretty hefty 69% discount compared to paying monthly.

If we’re honest, we’d recommend going for the longest plan. It’s not so long that you’re tied in forever, and with the 30-day money-back guarantee you can make sure it’s right for you. However, if you’re being really cautious, we might recommend paying for one month to avoid the initial outlay, and then either claim that back or sign up to a long-term plan once you know it’s for you.

In terms of price, NordVPN isn’t quite a cheap VPN, and is thoroughly undercut by the likes of Surfshark ($2.49/m) and CyberGhost ($2.25/m).

Payment options include credit card, prepaid card, PayPal, UnionPay, AmazonPay, GooglePay and iTunes. However, privacy fans will be pleased to know that Nord takes crypto payments (through CoinPayments), and accepts Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Monero, Ethereum and a whole host more.

If you want a VPN free trial, you can bag 7 days free on Android and iOS. However, if you really want to test out the service and see if it’s right for you, we’d recommend signing up to a paid plan and then using the 30-day money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work out. You won’t be out of pocket, and you’ll have a whole month to make up your mind.

NordVPN review

(Image credit: NordVPN)

How private is NordVPN?

NordVPN prides itself as a serious bit of privacy kit, and it certainly delivers. Starting with the basics, Nord uses the industry-standard AES-256-GCM encryption, combined with 4096-bit Diffie-Hellman keys. 

Users are also treated to perfect forward secrecy, which ensures new keys are used on login and every hours. This means that in the very unlikely event any session is compromised, the longest the attacker will get is an hour.

However, it doesn’t stop there. You can choose to use Onion over VPN, which routes your connection over the encrypted Tor network (sacrificing speed for absolute privacy), and you can also use Double VPN, which routes your traffic through two separate servers.

In countries where VPN use is restricted, NordVPN’s obfuscated servers will prove useful – these are more effective at hiding the fact they’re VPN connections at all, and can get access to sites and regions where VPN use is banned or limited. In fact, we rate Nord as one of the best China VPN services because of this.

How secure is NordVPN?

NordVPN also provides excellent security for its users. You’ll get a kill switch that automatically cuts your connection if your VPN drops (great for anything that demands utmost security), and another that closes certain programs in the same scenario. Both of these are must-haves for those looking for a torrenting VPN – but we’ll explore that a little more later.

The VPN effectively blocks DNS and WebRTC leaks – which we tested on DNS Leak Test, IPLeak, and others services. All sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it had to happen at some point – let’s discuss the 2018 server hack, and how Nord dealt with it.

Blamed on a ‘third-party data center,’ a single Finnish NordVPN server was compromised. There’s no data on who or what was affected, but it was made through a compromised account at the data center, which was subsequently terminated. You can read more about the NordVPN hack here.

In the aftermath, NordVPN kept quiet and didn’t announce the issue until about six months later – bad – but took steps like upgrading every server so they run on RAM only – good.

Taking into consideration the recent independent audit and subsequent sweeping infrastructure upgrades – things that very few other providers have done – Tom’s Guide is comfortable recommending NordVPN to the security conscious. In fact, while what initiated the reforms certainly wasn’t positive, it seems to have spurred NordVPN on to deliver the most security-conscious VPN service on the market.

NordVPN features

(Image credit: NordVPN)

Does NordVPN keep logs?

NordVPN claims not to collect any logs on users’ activity. Outlined in its no-logging policy:

‘Nord guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN Services, meaning that your internet activity…is not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party. We do not store connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or browsing data.’ Nord also claims not to collect session logs, which many VPNs do and still claim to be ‘no-logging.’

Barnstorming stuff, then, but can we trust it? 

Well, it comes back to the audit again. PricewaterhouseCooper deeply investigated NordVPN’s servers and compared them to the provider’s stated policies. While we can’t reproduce any of the findings here, the audit is available online for Nord trialers and users, and it found ‘no signs that [NordVPN] had in any way violated [its] no-logs promise.’

How fast is NordVPN?

Although privacy and security should be at the top of your list, connection speed is likely a very close second – if not, you’ll be browsing at a snail’s pace, with videos buffering left, right and center. We tested NordVPN on our UK and US internet connections, and collated the results. Both test lines average at around 600Mbps.

NordVPN averaged about six second to connect to a server, which isn’t the fastest, but is perfectly acceptable. For contrast, ExpressVPN tends to take around four seconds to connect. When using OpenVPN to connect to a UK server, Ookla’s SpeedTest and TestMy.net showed us that our line averaged at around 140-160Mbps. While that’s not blistering, it’s certainly serviceable.

On our US line the OpenVPN results were down compared to our last review, and speeds averaged at around 75-100Mbps – not quite the 125-300Mbps we had last time. However, there’s more to come.

When we switched to NordLynx – available in all apps, and the default protocol in some – speeds went through the roof. We got 340-350Mbps pretty reliably, and that’s considerably faster than almost all the competition. If we’re honest, only Hotspot Shield beats it in this department.

So, for now, NordVPN is an excellent choice if you want a fast VPN. However, as more and more VPNs start embracing WireGuard or developing their own protocols, these incredible speeds seem set to become the new normal – and then we’ll have even headier heights to aspire to.

NordVPN

(Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN for streaming?

The streaming performance of any VPN is becoming more and more important, and it’s evident that NordVPN has made great effort to ensure its customers can access both domestic titles and geo-blocked services and shows. While guarantees of accessing certain services aren’t made on-site (unlike Surfshark, for example), there’s some reassurance that your favorite sites will be unblocked.

Starting off with the big one, NordVPN’s performance as a Netflix VPN is excellent. In our testing we were able to unblock the service reliably, and on every server we tried. That’s impressive, considering the amount of work Netflix puts into trying to stop VPN access.

YouTube is usually a walk in the park, and as expected it was no match for Nord. Even Disney+, with its Netflix-rivalling VPN detection, couldn’t stop us from accessing the service from UK, US, and Australian servers.

NordVPN did have a hiccup when it came to BBC iPlayer, though. It’s notoriously tricky and often more difficult than Netflix to crack, and when only using Nord’s desktop client we couldn’t watch anything. However, undeterred, we headed over to the support center and read the iPlayer troubleshooting article.

It told us that in the event of the desktop client not working, we should use the browser extension. We did and, lo and behold, we were in. In our last review we also had to use a similar tactic to get access to Amazon Prime, but this time it was much easier.

While the iPlayer issues present a small blot on Nord’s copybook, in the grand scheme its streaming unblocking performance is very impressive – and if you’re willing to read a couple of guides to make it work, you should be able to get access to just about every streaming service out there.

How good is NordVPN for torrenting?

NordVPN boasts about being the ‘Best VPN for P2P’ on its site. While we’d take that with a pinch of salt, it’s certainly encouraging that it overtly advertises the fact – although it’s no longer a main feature of the homepage.

You’ll get access to ‘hundreds’ of torrenting-friendly servers worldwide, and while that network isn’t going to be as widespread as a VPN that has every server P2P-enabled, it should give a pretty good spread.

However, an issue with VPNs that aren’t fully P2P optimized is that when connected to a non-torrenting server, when you launch your torrenting client you may find it simply doesn’t work. However, NordVPN has taken the pain out of that by automatically rerouting you to a server that is suitable if it detects P2P traffic.

Overall, combined with Nord’s excellent no-logging policy, good speeds, features like Double VPN and Onion over VPN, plus good DNS protection, it’s a decent choice for torrenting. If it’s just one use out of many you’re looking for from your VPN, it’ll definitely do the job – but it’s not the absolute best torrenting VPN on the market.

How easy is it to install NordVPN?

The process of installing NordVPN is pretty simple on just about any operating system. Users have a huge range of tutorials and guides available, and we’ve even put together our own on how to download NordVPN. If you want to know the details of installing the apps, you might find that useful.

Beyond the dozens of guides for just about every OS, you’ll also have detailed instructions on how to set up more niche uses, including things like setting it up as a SOCKS 5 proxy, plus info about setting it up to work with tons of different browsers.

How good are NordVPN’s desktop apps?

Once you’ve installed them, NordVPN’s desktop apps are clean and attractive. You’ll be faced with a large map-based interface, and you can select your server by clicking on a location on the map.

However, while it’s good looking, in practice it’s not incredibly intuitive. In areas with lots of servers clumped close together (Europe, for example), you’ll be doing a lot of scrolling and dragging to find the one you want. If you’re not sure example where Lithuania or Hungary is, for example, you might feel a bit lost, and if you reboot your system your map location and zoom level will be lost.

Nord’s saving grace here is the fact that you can open up a regular server list, just like any other VPN. While we understand that the map is a somewhat defining feature of the NordVPN brand, we think it could be implemented a little more effectively.

In terms of the client’s power, you’ll have quick access to just about every feature Nord provides in just a couple of clicks, and a search feature lets you find the exact server you’re looking for.

However, it’s disappointing to see that the favorites system seems to have been replaced by a ‘Recents’ list. While this will probably be fine for most, we can’t really see the logic in removing a useful standard feature just to replace it with a slightly less useful one. Why can’t we have both?

Stability in use is excellent, though, and that’s the main thing. Connections are swift, switching servers is quick and easy (something some leading VPNs struggle with), and you’ll even be treated to a system tray/menu bar icon which lets you connect to your favori… sorry, recent servers without opening the full app.

Switching protocols, activating kill switches, and using other extra features is easy in the settings dialog, and overall the NordVPN desktop apps are very useful. We’re pretty sure most people could forgive the map interface, and otherwise it’s an attractive, functional package.

NordVPN mobile

(Image credit: NordVPN)

How good are NordVPN’s mobile apps?

Again, NordVPN’s mobile apps on iOS and Android are both dominated by a map-based interface, and here it’s even more awkward. On a handheld screen there’s very little room to scroll around, and we’d be tempted to forget about it entirely and just use the server list – but on iOS it’s marginally more usable than on Android.

Installing and setting up is much like any other app on either OS. After signing up on the NordVPN site, you’ll be directed to the app store. Download, accept some permissions, and then get going. In use, connecting and disconnecting is simple and doesn’t take more than about five seconds on average, and the all-important settings are easy to access.

Auto-connect is available on both, and allows Nord to connect on unknown networks and stay off when you’re using ones you’ve whitelisted – very useful if you want automatic protection. Plus, with CyberSec, you’ll get ad blocking, and malware and phishing protection.

Differences between the two are fairly minimal. The Android app lacks a true kill switch, but you can create a serviceable simulacrum by doing the following: System Settings > NordVPN settings > Enable ‘Always on VPN’ and ‘Block connections without VPN’. However, the iOS app has a kill switch in-built, but it’s not user-selectable – it’s always on.

The Android VPN app is the only NordVPN client to actually offer split tunneling, and it also has the power to set up a custom DNS server and protect you from malicious popups.

The iOS app, on the other hand, has none of that, but is still one of the more powerful iPhone VPN services thanks to Apple’s limitations. You’ll be treated to Siri support and dark mode, plus a good selection of protocols. That’s should be enough for most users day-to-day.

So, overall, pretty good mobile VPN apps from NordVPN, and while they’re by no means perfect, they’re very usable and can certainly provide quick, easy protection on the move.

NordVPN browser extension page

(Image credit: NordVPN)

How good is NordVPN’s browser extension?

As mentioned before, NordVPN’s browser extension is often the only way to access BBC iPlayer, so if you’re a Brit or an Anglophile, this bit will be important.

NordVPN’s Firefox and Chrome VPN extension is a proxy extension, which means that while it can work without the desktop client installed, it doesn’t provide any encryption. Instead, it just provides the ability to very quickly change your location and, if you activate the settings, block WebRTC leaks, ads, and malware with CyberSec.

The main draw is the fact you don’t have to fire up the whole client, and within a couple of clicks you can appear to be wherever you want – plus, you connection won’t be affected by any possible slow-down from encryption. However, the browser extensions do have their limitations. You’ll only be able to select countries – not cities – and obviously only your browser traffic is affected.

Compared to the competition, NordVPN’s extensions are good. While ExpressVPN’s extension is probably the best around, it’s essentially another interface for the full app – Nord’s is standalone software that’s not as powerful, but performs a different task.

What customer support does NordVPN offer?

If anything goes wrong or you need some help, you’ve got a few options with Nord. Your first port of call should be the knowledgebase, which compiles tons of articles on loads of topics. While it’s rather confusingly laid out, once you find what you need the info is excellent.

However, many people will prefer to use the 24/7 live chat. The chatbox doubles as a chatbot, which can help you find certain information, but if you want to talk to a real person, that’s possible too. In our experience the operators have been friendly and helpful, and have resolved any issues within minutes of asking the question.

Finally, email support is also available, but expect to be waiting a little longer for a reply.

NordVPN review: Final verdict

NordVPN certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the best services on the market, and boasts serious privacy and security credentials, not least in the no-logging audit. 

Although the apps can be a little awkward, we really appreciate the extra features packed in on all operating systems, and overall, Nord is great if you want a true Jack-of-all-trades VPN – while not the absolute greatest in any area, it can turn its hand effectively to just about anything.

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