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NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN services out there. If you’ve watched cable TV in the past year or so, you’ve likely seen a commercial for it. How many VPN services have TV commercials? Only the big ones! NordVPN is a heavyweight in the VPN market.
But popularity and deep pockets alone aren’t a good reason to recommend a VPN. In this review, I’m going to take a look at what NordVPN does well, where it falls short, and where it might fit into your life.
I’ve come to expect pretty similar core functions from VPN services, and NordVPN didn’t let me down. Like its top competitors, NordVPN makes it easy to protect your privacy. When connected, NordVPN hid my real IP address and routed my traffic through another server. It encrypted my data and made my internet usage appear to come from somewhere else in the world.
Using NordVPN, I could choose which server I wanted to connect to — meaning that I had control over where I would appear to be. Again, this is standard stuff for a VPN. What really sets VPNs apart are the bells and whistles — and NordVPN had those, too.
Servers are the pride and joy of most VPN service providers. They’re the stat companies most often want you to look at. “Check out how many servers we have!” they’ll say, before reciting a very larger number. For the most part, their theory of the case — servers are important — isn’t wrong. The more servers a VPN service has, the better. With more servers, you’re more than likely to find one in your preferred region, and you’re more likely to experience stable performance. You’ll also be more likely to find a server that Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming giants haven’t blocked — meaning you’ll be able to explore a foreign country’s streaming library.
NordVPN boasts 5,518 different servers, which are located in 59 different countries around the world. You won’t find one for every corner of the globe, but that’s not unusual for a VPN service (to be honest, that may not be practical or even feasible). That said, you stand a pretty good shot at finding one that’ll get the job done for you, which is really all you can ask for. NordVPN's server count is very respectable, though it is beaten out by the high server counts of some competitors, like Private Internet Access (see prices).
As for my experience, I connected to a few and — despite the increased ping that comes with using far-flung servers — didn’t have any other issues. I was able to maintain a connection for as long as I wanted to, and I didn’t have any problems with websites that I could directly attribute to the VPN service itself.
If you don’t want to bother choosing between different servers, don’t sweat it: All of NordVPN’s apps surface a “quick connect” feature that makes it easy to get off and running with a secure VPN connection.
NordVPN also offered “split tunneling,” a feature that lets users send some information over the VPN while using a regular, unprotected internet connection for other data. This is a useful feature for a few different reasons, the most obvious of which is that not all services and websites play nice with VPNs. If you run into an issue with Netflix or another app, it’s nice to be able to disable your VPN for just that troublesome service, rather than having to drop protection from every site you visit just so that you can stream a video. Unfortunately, NordVPN’s dual tunneling feature is available only through its browser extensions. I couldn’t use dual tunneling with the desktop app.
One of NordVPN’s strongest features is its mobile app. The NordVPN apps for iOS and Android are really elegant and easy to use. I’ll talk a bit more about the different platforms that NordVPN supports later on in this review.
One great reason to use a VPN is to access foreign streaming libraries. With a VPN, you can convince Netflix that you’re somewhere else and thereby unlock another nation’s streaming selection on the app. The problem comes when services like Netflix disapprove of this practice and start blocking IP addresses known to be associated with VPN servers.
That’s why I always test services like NordVPN with popular streaming services like Netflix. In my trials, I found it pretty easy to find servers that worked well with Netflix. Netflix definitely blocks some NordVPN servers, but if you keep trying, you should be streaming in no time at all.
NordVPN’s apps were elegant and easy to use — to me, they felt pretty simple. That’s not to say that they lacked detail, though. Some VPN apps simply show you a list of regions with servers, then a list of servers in those areas. NordVPN not only provides that list but also supplements it with a full world map that has server icons you can click on.
And as for how stable the apps were, I have nothing but good news. I didn’t have any problems at all — no crashes or glitches or anything of the like. Besides, I don’t think you’ll spend much time in the apps themselves. They’re meant to activate, then sit in the background while you go about your business. The crucial factor for me was how stable the VPN service would be in the background, and NordVPN gave me no problems there.
The best and most legitimate reason to use a VPN is to protect your privacy. So when it comes to evaluating VPNs, I always put privacy first. NordVPN does very well in this department.
For starters, NordVPN has a pretty strict no-logs policy. A lot of VPN services make similar promises, but NordVPN is relatively unusual for its clarity and transparency: Unlike most competitors, NordVPN has submitted to a third-party audit of its privacy policies. NordVPN has aced a third-party audit as recently as the summer of 2020.
Another thing I like about NordVPN is that the service is based in Panama. That’s good news, because Panama does not have the kind of data oversight laws that many other countries have. Even if NordVPN were to keep logs — which, again, it doesn’t — it would be unlikely to ever fork them over to the powers that be. That’s not necessarily true of companies that are based in countries like the United States, which is a member of the “Five Eyes” alliance and has committed to sharing data with its allies — data that the government has the power to compel companies to release, at least in certain cases. That’s the sort of thing that makes privacy fans uneasy, so NordVPN’s relatively oversight-free location is almost as big of a deal as its no-logs policy.
NordVPN uses a variety of different encryption standards, including OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, and WireGuard. You can change between those options in the service’s settings.
You can tell NordVPN puts a lot of stock in how fast its connection speeds are. The company has a whole page on its website devoted to speed, even going so far as to tell users it “increased the computing load” of its servers in order to make things quicker. That page even has tips for users on how to choose the server that will give them the best performance.
While using NordVPN, I didn’t have any perceivable slow down when going about routine tasks like visiting my bank’s website, reading news in Feedly, and obsessively clicking the refresh button on Amazon’s PlayStation 5 product page. I got steady performance and strong speeds regardless of the device I chose to use NordVPN with.
Speed is crucial to cord-cutters and other streaming video fans because serious slowdowns can mess with video playback. In my trials, streaming videos from YouTube also worked as expected.
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t some difference between NordVPN’s speeds and my regular connection speeds — all VPNs slow you down at least a little bit, and NordVPN is not immune. I’m not sure I’d use a VPN for, say, online gaming. The increased ping might cause an issue on that front. What NordVPN does is at least minimize this slowdown, and my testing showed that it did quite a good job at that. If you want to protect your traffic while not really sacrificing overall internet speed, NordVPN seems to handle that task just fine.
Not so long ago, I only accessed the internet through a desktop or laptop computer. But times have changed, and modern VPNs have a lot more internet-connected devices to worry about. Sure, you may do the vast majority of your work sitting in front of a large screen, but think about all those other times you’re accessing the web and potentially transmitting sensitive data: Do you do any banking or financial transactions from on phone? Do you shop with Amazon via your tablet?
Fortunately, NordVPN supports just about every device you can think of, which means you can always stay protected.
As of this writing, NordVPN has apps available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, iPad, and Android. There are even specific extension-based apps for browsers like Chrome and Firefox — just in case you want to limit your VPN usage to web browsing only.
The bad news? NordVPN does not have a simple way to cover streaming devices like your Amazon Fire TV Stick.
I used the Windows, iPhone, and iPad apps for this review. I found all of them to be pretty straightforward to use. Smaller screens can sometimes make complex interfaces look jumbled, but I actually found NordVPN’s mobile apps to be fairly neat.
A typical monthly price for a VPN service sits somewhere between $10 and $13 a month. At $11.95 a month, one standalone month of NordVPN fits right into that window. Perhaps you don’t anticipate needing the service any longer than that one month. If that’s the case, maybe that $12 won’t seem like such a big deal. But, as with so many other VPN services, the real value here comes with long-term commitment.
If you’re willing to commit with an upfront payment for a year or more of service, then NordVPN becomes significantly less expensive. It’s downright crazy how much cheaper NordVPN gets when you pay upfront: If you pony up for one year of NordVPN right away, your effective monthly cost suddenly drops to just $4.92. If you decide to up the ante a bit and pay for two years upfront, the effective monthly cost goes all the way down to $3.71 per month.
These are pretty dramatic discounts. I’m typically not a fan of this method of enticing customers into longer and longer commitments, but if a service is going to do it, they should at least deliver really remarkable prices — and NordVPN’s pricing does.
NordVPN does a lot of things well and does almost nothing poorly. It might be one of the best VPN providers out there, if not the best VPN. The apps offer a fairly polished experience. Those apps are available for a number of different devices. NordVPN does serious work to keep a lot of servers online, as well as keep them fast. It does all that, and it may be one of the more affordable options out there, too.
At this point, it’s tough not to recommend NordVPN if you’re in the market for a VPN service. It does what it promises to do, it does so reliably, and it won’t break the bank.